Friday, 23 December 2011

The Sublime Quran

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Very interesting. An American Muslim woman publishes her version of the Quran. She's an atypical scholar, and it's an atypical translation. Tribune:
Bakhtiar follows Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. In Iran, she lived in a Shiite community. In Chicago, she has lived for 15 years in a Sunni community. She says she doesn't belong to any one sect: She's simply Muslim. She also doesn't think she's a feminist.
Good for her. American feminists are anti-family and in favor of the death penalty for innocents in the womb. Describing herself as a feminist would get in the way of her beliefs and muddy her message.

And since Sept. 11th she no longer wears a hijab.

Up until now the most common translation of the Quran in the US has been the Saudi Wahhabi version, found in countless mosques and prisons, which is explicitly and murderously anti-Semitic and anti-Christian.

Her version, according to the Tribune, differs most notably in defining kufr as "ones who are ungrateful" rather than infidel, and I assume does not mention Jews and Christians in this context. She's also taken on one of the primary obstacles to the acceptance of Islam in the civilized world---its treatment of women justified by most authoritative interpretations of the Quran:
Some of her critics and supporters also are labeling "The Sublime Quran" a feminist translation, citing a controversial verse about how a husband can treat a straying wife. Though some translators render the word in question as "beat," Bakhtiar believes "go away" more closely conveys the meaning. Because Muslims are taught to read the Quran in Arabic, English translations are used only as supplements. There is no single authority that governs whether a translation is valid.
NY Times earlier story on Dr. Bahktiar:
Laleh Bakhtiar had already spent two years working on an English translation of the Koran when she came upon Chapter 4, Verse 34.
She nearly dropped the project right then.
The hotly debated verse states that a rebellious woman should first be admonished, then abandoned in bed, and ultimately ''beaten'' -- the most common translation for the Arabic word ''daraba'' -- unless her behavior improves.
''I decided it either has to have a different meaning, or I can't keep translating,'' said Ms. Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American who adopted her father's Islamic faith as an adult and had not dwelled on the verse before. ''I couldn't believe that God would sanction harming another human being except in war.'' [snip]
There are at least 20 English translations of the Koran. ''Daraba'' has been translated as beat, hit, strike, scourge, chastise, flog, make an example of, spank, pet, tap and even seduce.
And here's the crux--if terrorists can use the Quran to justify their murder, why can't this American grandmother advance her peaceful, bridge-building interpretation? She is a brave woman. I look forward to reading her book. (here are some of her other books.)

Study Puts Politics, Not Religion, at Heart of Tension Between Muslim World and The West

By Steve Mort
14 December 2006


UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who commissioned the study, backs its calls for a regional Mideast conference and a white paper on solving the crisis. "As long as the Palestinians live under occupation exposed to daily frustration and humiliation and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed."
The report says passions have been inflamed since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent events in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report says both Muslim and Western extremist groups have tried to further stoke these passions.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says a wide range of steps is needed to tackle the problem. "The Secretary General of the UN was quite clear that he didn't want for this so-called high-level group to be a talk-shop, that we had to make specific recommendations which could be implemented and I think we've done that. It's in areas such as youth, the media, migration, education."
The "Alliance of Civilizations" initiative, set up following riots in Muslim areas of Paris and protests over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, recommends more youth exchange programs between the United States and the Middle East, greater tolerance for immigrants, and respect for religion within the media.
It also calls for a special UN representative to be appointed to help defuse crises.
The group's report was launched in Istanbul, the geographical bridge between Europe and Asia. Brazil will host a summit in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the findings.

Status Of Muslim Women: A Historic Review By Sana Laila Ehtisham & S.Ehtisham MD
Status of Muslim women under a) pristine Islam b) Umayyad period immediately following the Prophet and the first four caliphs c) Abbasid period following the Umayyad d) Turkish period e) Muslim rule in India f) Colonial rule g) current crop of Wahabi regimes h) secular regimes like Turkey, Algeria and a few others h) religiously anomalous regimes like Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria.i) Western Governments in Europe and North America is based on such criteria as education, exposure to other cultures, social/economic/political development of society, symbiosis between religion and establishment and individual financial status.

The subject with its manifold aspects is not amenable to instant or easy definition and analysis as Muslims do not constitute a homogenous society, and Islam, as Edward Said very aptly put it in his book “covering Islam”, in popular western perception seems to mean one simple thing, but in fact, is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion. Following discussion paints the picture with a broad brush and of necessity contains broad generalizations.

Followers of Islam are broadly divided into a) Sunnis (overwhelmingly adherents of the teachings of Imam Abu Hanifa) and b) Shias (predominantly mainline Twelve Imamites). They are roughly 5:1 in proportion.
Hanafis, so called moderate Sunnis venerate the period of the first four Caliphs as pious, vilify the Umayyad as: usurpers, have chauvinistic respect for Abbasids, Turkish Caliphs, and other Muslim rulers, put saints and holy men on pedestals of different heights, and by and large subscribe to Sufi thought.
Shias, on the other hand believe that Imam Ali was the designated successor of the Prophet, and caliphate should have passed to the progeny of Imam Ali and Bibi Fatima, the Prophets favorite daughter. Since the disappearance of the last Imam a legitimate Muslim ruler can only act as deputy to the Imam as Ayatollah Khomeini did.
Sunnis and Shias, though accord the same status to their women folk. Women are clearly subservient to men, but not commodified as they are in Wahabi households.
To analyze the impact of Islam on the status of women we have to look at the immediate pre-Islam Meccan society. It was tribal but had an active mercantile class. Mecca was at the crossroads of caravan routes and its denizens were exposed to diverse cultures. It was, of course, male dominated, but there were note- worthy women too. The prophet’s first wife was a businesswoman; the prophet had actually been her employee. The first Umayyad ruler’s (Muaviya) mother Hinda actually controlled her clan and incited them to fight against Muslims. Women used to openly propose to men. Infact when the prophet accompanied by his uncle, was going to visit his future wife Bibi Khatija to propose to her, a woman stopped him on the way and offered him a hundred camels if he would marry her.
A male issue, specially the first one, was preferred to a female one and occasionally a father on the lunatic fringe would bury a female first born alive. Women did not have well-defined property rights, were given away to cement tribal deals or friendship between families or to compensate for damage done by one family to another . They were regarded as property. Education rare in any event, and was not deemed very useful. (The prophet had no formal education) so it is not surprising that girls would not get it. Remarriages and divorces were, however, not stigmatized . The contention of Muslim publicists that women were totally downtrodden in pre Islam Arab society is thus not entirely true. They, in fact, enjoyed a better position than their contemporaries did in Europe.
The prophet wrought great changes in the status of women, though they were never quite given parity with men. Newborn female murders were prohibited and women were given inheritance rights; girls getting half of what boys would get, if there was no male issue, the boy’s share would go to a paternal cousin etc The given wisdom was that girls would be the beneficiaries of what their husband would inherit from their families. In actual fact the logic was entirely with in feudal norms; system kept the larger part of the property in the family. If a girl was given equal share, she would take a greater part to her husband’s house. Giving two third share of the property to a paternal cousin makes a lot of feudal sense . Women continued to be regarded as property, they continued to be given away to influential/wealthy families regardless of disparity in the age between bride and groom Female consent was made a requirement but was usually taken for granted. They continued to be regarded as emotionally unstable and rather feeble minded and unclean during the menstrual period and were not entitled to head an organization or the state , had only half a vote in evidence and were not allowed to enter a mosque during their monthly periods.
Over and above the legalistic changes, women did acquire higher social status. Prophets last wife Ayesha led an army against Ali and his grand daughter (Imam Husain’s sister) held soirees at her home.
Women continued to hold their own during the rule of the first four caliphs and the following Umayyad period though segregation was introduced to keep family women from being “contaminated” by the influence of female slaves captured during wars. They lost ground (as did liberal, rational, analytical, progressive thought) during the Abbasid period. To consolidate their rule, they physically obliterated the leading Umayyads. They dare not treat the prophets family the same way, so wrested spiritual leadership from them by getting a collection of Islamic Scholars to ban for ever all “Ijtihad” Imam Ghazali needs specific mention. He wielded great influence on Muslim mind and did the greatest disservice to the religion by proscribing rational thought.
What right did the rulers or for that matter scholars had to prohibit rational application of scholarship when the prophet had not done it has never been satisfactorily explained. The only excuse offered was the patently lame and self-serving explanation that what needed to be done had been done already, and further analytical thought would only lead to dissention. Only the collected work of eminent scholars (Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafai, Imam Malik and Imam Hambal) could be relied on for Law/Jurisprudence/interpretation of Quran, the word of God, and Hadith, the prophet’s traditions, which is a collection of his sayings and narratives of his acts of life . The Abbasid are known to have coerced scholars to introduce several self serving “Hadiths” into collections of The Prophet’s sayings.) Only the adherents of the prophet’s family, the Shias (Shia literally means adherent, Imam Ali’s (The Prophet’s son in law, and the fourth caliph) supporters were called Shian Ali) continued to (and still do) accept “Ijtihad”
Because of the obvious lack of authenticity of all the Hadiths, learned scholars had to sift the“Sahih” ones from the doubtful ones and produced such work as Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Tirmizi etc. Bukhari accepted a few hundred out of tens of thousands as credible. Women, as a result lost many rights including many including the right to consent to marriage. A Wali ((father/guardian) could do it on her behalf.
During the transition between early Islam, which chose Caliphs by some kind of consensus, and the later period when the office became hereditary society had undergone a sea change too. Abbasids saw the advent of feudal society with a caliph at the head of the hierarchy. Turkish caliphate was also based on feudal system. Historically women have had lesser status in feudal societies than they did in tribal ones. Roots of commodification of women go back to the advent of feudalism. Their status did not change through the whole period of Turkish rule and the later satrapies.
Muslim period in India saw the intermingling of Arab/Muslim and Hindu/Indian cultures. Sanctity of motherhood was common to both. Successful invaders invariably impose their mores and norms. But they cannot escape the influence of the subject people. Muslims adopted the mores of sequestration of women, the stigma of divorce and loss of property rights, and female consent to marriage came to be taken even more for granted. . Motherhood, however, acquired a higher status.
Things went along much the same way during one thousand years of Muslim rule in India. Except for building roads and palaces, the rulers didn’t do much; there was no emphasis on education, research, science or industry. Indians lagged behind, women even more so and were easily over whelmed by Europeans who were hungry for resources and accidental beneficiaries of Industrial revolution.
British, French, Dutch, Italian, German, Nothern Europeans and even lowly Portugese acquired colonies.
Turks had in the mean while run out of steam. Though their Empire lasted till the after math of W.W.1, they had already been dubbed sick man of Europe in the nineteenth century. In later period of Turkish rule, Arabs tribal chiefs started resenting foreign over lord ship. They initially undermined Turkish rule covertly Eventually they rebelled and conspired with The British and French colonial agents and became the beneficiaries of the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire. Turkish rule was no longer dynamic; cracks appeared in “ Fortress Islam”
. Arabs had never entirely given up pagan customs. Islam had adapted some of them. The society had been decaying for centuries. Clerics had given a fatwa that printing press was a devilish invention and Quran could not be printed. By corollary all printed material was unholy. That set the clock of learning among Arabs by centuries. Together with ignorance and partially as a result of a form of non-divine worship had crept in the belief system. People would go to shrines and tombs not just to ask the saints ( long since dead ) to intercede with God but actually to grant their wishes.
Abdul Wahab a minor cleric, not by any measure a towering intellect, launched a campaign to rid the society of “heathen” practices. But in conformity with the mind set of all fanatics to throw the baby along with bath water, he forsook the basic tenets of the religion’s respect and tolerance for different views, non compulsion in adoption of a faith, sanctity of the brothehood among the faithful, protection of minorities and substituted it with a culture of hate, intolerance, bigotry, harsh restrictions on women and general violation of human rights.
. Wahab did not make much headway till he made a compact with tribal chieftains who were conspiring with the British/French. Together they used the movement as a weapon against the Turks. They not only sold their souls to the British and French butundermined even early Islamic “Ijtihad” leaving the faith with pretty much sterile- pray, eat and procreate- claiming that the Quranic and Hadith injunction on acquiring knowledge meant learning only Quran and Hadith and introduced the concept of division of rights in Saudi Arabia. Progeny of Saud will look after the state. The ruling clan is legitimized by the clerics who turn a blind eye to the doings of the princes. Fahd when he was the crown prince lost six million dollars in a casino in one night. On his return home his elder brother King Faisal “grounded’ him to his country. Rulers in their turn support the mullahs .
Wahabi influence remained confined to Saudi Arabia for a long time. They did not amount to much till oil money started flowing into the country and the rulers, in order to keep fanatics at bay, and to divert their attention from the lavish and ostentatiously un-Islamic life style of princes, persuaded the clerics to export their creed to poor Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan and several other such countries.
In the mean while with the advent of British rule in India, Indians did become the beneficiaries though peripheral, of industrial revolution. Britain had to develop infrastructure in India for exporting raw material, train people for low-level jobs and develop an army to fight other colonists. The much vaunted railway system primarily served the purpose of transporting cotton, jute, indigo and soldiers from the hinterland to ports and the finished products manufactured by the British industry in the other direction.
Women benefited too. Muslims had to concede the rights Islamic jurisprudence had given them and which the feudal/Mullah reactionary clique had usurped. A few even got educated.
Muslims in India practiced the mainstream (HANAFI) tolerant version of Islam. They had good relations with Hindus and Christians. Shias were regarded as wayward though very much in the pale of Islam. Shrines and tombs of saints were frequented, the educated ones only asked the saints to intercede with God on their behalf, while the illiterate asked them for favors. They would fraternize with Hindus and attended their festivities during Holi/Diwali etc. Their Moharram processions, though separate from Shia processions were as solemnly attended. The British were initially not very successful, even with the help of Wahabis, in inciting Shia- Sunni riots .
Things went on pretty much the same way even after independence. Muslims continued to be governed under their personal law in India. Half hearted attempts were made in Pakistan to enact “Pure” Islamic laws. But there was substantial resistance to the move in urban centres of Pakistan especially in the then East Pakistan.
World had been undergoing rapid change since WWII. The pace accelerated during the fifties and sixties. Muslims countries had essentially secular governments and were making progress in Education and Industry. Standard of living was gradually rising. Dogmatic, fundamentalist movements were on the fringes of the society. People were optimistic. French had to leave Algeria, Egypt had managed to stand up to British/French/Israeli aggression. Nasser had gone toe to toe with Eisenhower/Dulles and forced the latter to blink.
Then came the catastrophic humiliation of the six-day Suez war in 1967. In historical terms Pakistan Army surrender to Indian Army in 1971, Dacca was only a moment later.
Wahabi clerics had finally come into their own. They preached that Muslims were humiliated not because they lacked education, scientific and technological, but because they were no longer good Muslims. They had immensely rich sponsors. Saudi rulers bloated with oil wealth, had resources to spare and funded twenty two thousand religious seminaries in Pakistan alone and many more thousands all over the Muslim world. These schools offered food and shelter and attracted essentially young boys from indigent families, who were indoctrinated into flaming fanatics passionately ready to give their lives for the lure of paradise with all the alluring visions of a luxurious life forever afterwards.
Fate played further into their hands. A few communist generals took over Afghanistan. Soviet Union government undertook to rescue them from certain over throw and American government jumped on the opportunity to avenge their defeat in Vietnam, which they had attributed to Russian intervention. Neither the Americans nor the Russian had the good sense to realize than you cannot cow down a whole population and crush their will, even with your technological superiority. U.S. poured in money and arms, trained seminary students in guerilla warfare. They were aided and abetted by the Pakistan Army/ Military Government.
Soviet Union collapsed due to their internal contradictions, the process hastened by the drainage of resources in Afghanistan and now have been reduced to the status of a vassal to US Government They have all the evils of a capitalist society with out the benefit of respect for law and order. Americans are suffering at the hands of fanatics they nurtured – Bin-Laden, Al Quad and Taliban.
Pakistan inherited Klashnikov/ Heroin culture with resultant turf, ethnic, linguistic and opportunistic civil wars with near anarchy prevailing in the eighties and nineties of the last century in its premier city- Karachi.
Wahabis have become dominant, imposing their will on public and government alike ( even the army cannot stand up to them). Discriminatory laws like Hudood ordinance, wholly repugnant to the word and spirit of Islam cannot be abrogated as political leadership belongs to feudals and religion is a key pillar of the system. One leading cleric, a deputy chief of Jamaat Islami , going by the name of Ghafur Ahmad publicly stated not too long ago that murder committed under the umbrella of Honor killing was Islamic.
The upshot of the resurgence of Wahabi creed is that women are fast losing ground. They are harassed, made to wrap themselves up into a veritable sack like a bag potatoes, have their movements restricted and generally life made intolerable for them. The reverberations have reached Europe, Canada and USA as well. Honor killings are committed in the UK, girls are forced into marriage and incidents of abduction ( after being drugged) are on record in Canada and USA. One can only conjecture upon the number of killings/abductions/forced marriages not reported. In most Islamic centers in North America and Europe, women are not allowed into the front door, have to pray in a separate room and are otherwise relegated to a second-class status.
All hope is not lost at least in the USA, the land of promise. A vibrant and courageous scholar Irshad Manji has taken up the cause and has confronted fossilized religion. Another valiant fighter Asra Nomani also took up the challenge and has faced off male chauvinists among the Muslims. There was a huge commotion but Professor Amina Wadood of Virginia was able to lead a male/female group in prayers. Amna Buttar of Asian American Network Against Abuse (ANAA) has made considerable gains in the field of Human rights.
Status of women, Muslim or otherwise, is related more to diverse sociological, cultural educational and economic factors than to theological doctrine European women lag behind American women in empowerment, because Europe still retains vestiges of feudal society . The vast majority of Muslim girls in western countries are confident, independent and worthwhile members of society, very much at par with men. Even the ones not born and brought up in America or Europe catch up with the natives very quickly.
There is light at the end of the tunnel and they can reach it if only Muslim women in the USA stand up for their rights, use all the freedom offered by the American Society to break the bonds of serfdom, which are patently unfair even from the religious point of view.
1) The fact that in India Muslims were the majority community in the North-West and the East with a solid Hindu belt in between potentiates the contention that Islam spread in Asia, Africa and else where through teachings and example of the saints, though the substantial role played by Muslim conquests and over lordship can not be entirely discounted
2) Popularly known as Imam Ghaib, he was a child at the time, had hidden in a cave to escape persecution at the hands of the Abbasids and has not been seen since. Shias believe that he is still alive and will return as a redeemer.
3) It is the case even now among the majority of world’s population. With the advent of ultra sound it has become possible to determine the sex of the child white it is still in the womb. In India and China female fetuses are frequently are so frequently aborted that there is serious disbalance in male-female population ratio. Unfortunately scarcity has not added value to females.
4) This is still done in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, though it is a norm only in the tribal/feudal section of the population. Honor killing is the most ugly face of the customs. If a girl wants to marry outside the clan she and her friend would be accused of illicit relations and both would be killed with consent of the tribe.
5) Widow marriage and remarriage after divorce were not permitted in India. Hindus who converted to Islam retained most of their customs. Muslims who immigrated adopted a lot of customs prevalent in the country.
6) In Sindh girls are frequently wedded to the Quran. The holy book does not demand a share in property. The leader of Peoples Party in Pakistan, a leading feudal of Sindh has married two of his sisters to the holy book.
7) Non-eligibility of a female to office as head of the state is not that cut and dried. When Miss Jinnah contested the election for the office of President of Pakistan, no less a scholar than Maulana Maududi declared that in an emergency a woman could become head of the state. He regarded usurpation of power by Ayub Khan as an emergency. Considering that Western Style democracy in not compatible with Islam, in the sense that in democracy as known and defined in the west, the state may not give religion precedence over all the others, Maulana Sahib was presenting a rather uncertain argument.
In our corner of woods, the twin tiers area of upstate New York, the Islamic center has broken tradition and elected a woman President and vice-President too. At one time the office of treasurer was also held by a lady as well. Instead of subverting Islamic traditions this female regime is, if anything, more conforming. (ISNA recently elected a woman as President. One of my Indian friends gleefully said that India has had three Muslim Presidents for all the good it did to the community.
8) For all its emphasis on women’s rights it is curious that Islam allows Muslim men conjugal relations with slave girls, but proscribes such relations between male slaves and Muslim women. The prophet’s only son was a product of such a liaison with a slave Mary. It is perhaps a reflection of class, but points to retention of the relegation of women as commodity.

9) Interpretation in the light of analytic, rational and innovative discourse.
10) The prophet himself gave explicit instructions that his sayings not be recorded, lest people take them at par with the Quran.
11) A binding religious edict. The most infamous in recent times was the death sentence issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdi for denigrating the prophet and the creed. Who can issue a fatwa, what education, qualifications and rank should the person have is not codified. The credibility however goes with the acknowledged prominence of the person.
12) The first verse of the Quran is “Iqra” read. The prophet exhorted his followers to go to China, a long and arduous journey in those days, to learn. He must have known that the country was bereft of Islamic scholars. Moulvis interpret it to mean that the greatest effort should be put in learning about Islam.
13) There is a strong element of hypocrisy in their behavior. Large number of wahabis live in the west inevitably getting involved in interest based financial system, being exposed to females in skimpy dresses etc They could easily live in their countries if they were prepared to give up the affluent life style they enjoy here.
14) The first track was laid between Bombay and a town in cotton district.
15) Commemoration of the Prophets grandson Imam Hussein’s martyrdom. The imagery and athletic exhibitions are derived from Hindu celebration of the defeat of Rawan who had abducted Sita wife of Hindu god-king Rama.
16) (Maulana Abdul Shakoor of Frangi Mahal a well-known house of scholars in Lucknow UP, India insisted on leading a highly inflammatory procession chanting the praise of the first three caliphs whom Shias do not accept through localities dominated by the latter. Maulana Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari of the Punjab followed the Maulana on an elephant back. The government disclosed after independence that the two Maulanas were financed by the secret services. Pakistan’s ISI is following in the footsteps.
17) I know the person. He is an accountant by profession, was a lecturer in Urdu college Karachi and self-promoted to professorial status. Another self-styled professor is N.D.Khan of PPP, but one would expect from a leader of a religious party.
18) A Brooklyn N.Y. nurse of Greek ancestry, who worked with my father during the nineteen seventies, went to visit Greece and stayed with her cousins. Her hosts demurred at her desire to go shopping alone. She sputtered with rage, swore at them in Brooklynese, called a cab and flew back to good old U.S.A.

Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine

By Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

Jimmy Carter says his recent book is drawing knee-jerk accusations of anti-Israel bias.
His newest book is "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," published last month.

I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.

We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast ballots.

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes), the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.

The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status.

Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas.

The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the terrible casualties on both sides.

The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.

Some terrorist events not listed on the Dept. of State website

By Sheila Musaji

·         1955 Emmett Till murdered, KKK
·         1957 Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, guilt disputed
·         1963 Medgar Evers murdered by Byron de la Beckwith
·         1963 Four little girls killed in Birmingham church bombing by white supremacists
·         1964 Three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi by KKK
·         1963 John F. Kennedy assassinated in Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald
·         1964 Malcolm X murdered in New York, responsibility unknown
·         1967 Israeli attack on USS Liberty
·         1967 Martin Luther King is killed by white supremecist James Earl Ray
·         1968 Robert F. Kennedy assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan (a Palestinian Christian)
·         1969 Dennis Michael Rohan of the Church of God (Protestant) sets fire to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem
·         1970 pipe bomb exploded at NY offices of Aeroflot, JDL suspected
·         1971 Bomb attack on British soldiers in Belfast, IRA
·         1971 - 2 Russian gift shops bombed, one in NY and one in Minnesota, Jewish Armed Resistance claimed responsibility
·         1972 JDL members firebombed NY offices of Sol Hurok
·         1972 Bloody Friday Bombings, IRA
·         1974 Biringham Pub bombings, IRA
·         1976 Bomb kills British Ambassador, PIRA
·         1976 - 3 pipebombs found near UN library, JDL claimed credit
·         1976 bombing at building housing Czech and Soviet national airline offices in NY, Jewsh Armed Resistance Strike Force claimed credit
·         1978 The Jewish Armed Resistance planted a bomb in the Manhattan offices of Novoye Russkoye Slovo, a Russian-language daily newspaper. The 3:30 am explosion heavily damaged the first two floors and the printing facilities.
·         1978 firebomb on stairwell of Soviet tourist office in U.S., Jewish Armed Resistance claimed credit
·         1979 Earl Mountbatten killed in bomb attack by PIRA
·         1980's Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber
·         1980's 20 bombings in NY area alone attributed to JDL
·         1981 Israeli attack on Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem
·         1981 Iranian bank in San Francisco firebombed, JDL
·         1981 - 2 bombings in London, IRA
·         1982 IRA bombing in Hyde Park, London
·         1982 JDL claimed responsibility for an attack on Air France offices in Paris
·         1982 JDL claimed credit for a bomb that exploded outside the Lufthansa offices in Manhattan
·         1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christians while the camps were surrounded by Israeli soldiers.
·         1983 bombing of Harrod's in London, IRA
·         1983 JDL claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion at the Aeroflot Soviet airlines
·         1984 Brighton Hotel bombing, IRA
·         1984 Anti-Sikh riots and massacres in India
·         1986 Bombing of ADC offices in Santa Ana, California killing Alex Odeh, JDL suspected
·         1986 Firebombing outside Lincoln Center, New York, JDL suspected
·         1987 Tear gas grenade fired into Metropolitan Opera House, New York, JDL
·         1987 "Enniskillen Massacre", the PIRA bombs a Remembrance Day parade
·         1989 bombing of Royal Marine base in Kent, IRA
·         Genocide of Bosnians by Serbs (Christians)
·         1990 car bombings in Northern Ireland, IRA
·         1991 Victoria Station Bombing, PIRA
·         1992 London Bridge Railway Station Bombing
·         1994 PIRA bombing in Warrington
·         1994 Paul Hill murders abortion doctor
·         1994 Rwandan genocide of 800,000 Tutsi's by Hutu's
·         1995 thousands of Bosnian Muslims murdered by Serbian soldiers at Patachari
·         1995 Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli (Jewish)
·         1995 Srbenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs
·         1996 Olympic Village Bombing, Eric Rudolph
·         1996 Belgrade, Serbia Mosque bombed
·         1997 Bombing of Abortion Clinic in Atlanta, Eric Rudolph
·         Human Rights lawyer killed in car bombing by Protestant Red Hand Defenders in Ireland
·         1998-1999 massacres of Kosovo Muslims by Serbs
·         1999 Buford Furrow attacks Jewish day camp in Southern California
·         2000 Memphis, TN Mosque attacked by shotgun fire
·         2001 Dallas, TX Mosque firebombed
·         2001 Belfast Mosque attacked
·         2001 Three Palestinians killed in roadside ambush by Jewish settlers
·         2001 Halifax, Canada Mosque attacked
·         2001 Earl Krugel of JDL plots to bomb a mosque and field office of U.S. Arab American congressman (sentanced in 2005)
·         2001 James Kopp indicted for murder of abortion doctor
·         2002 Charles Franklin drives truck into Florida mosque
·         2002 Riots and massacres of Muslims in Gujarat by Hindus
·         2002 Jewish settlers kill 14 year old Palestinian girl and injure 9 in funeral rampage
·         2002 Robert Goldstein plots to blow up 50 mosques in Florida
·         2002 Jewish settlers plant bomb in Palestinian school yard
·         2002 massacres of Muslims at Ahmedabad, India by Hindus
·         Mossad agents arrested inside Mexican Congress carrying explosives
·         British UN official shot in back by Israeli soldier
·         2003 Rachel Corey murdered in Gaza by Israeli
·         2003 Chicago Mosque attacked, unknown perpetrator
·         2003 Mosque bombed in India
·         2004 Mosque attacked in Katmandu, Nepal
·         2004 - 630 Muslim nomads killed by Christians in Nigeria
·         2004 Islamic School bombed in Holland
·         2004 Israeli forces fire on peaceful Palestinian protest in Rafah
·         2004 Gale Nettles was accused of targeting the Everett McKinley Dirksen Federal Building in a bomb plot
·         2004 Jewish Settler kills Palestinian driver
·         2005 Israeli West Bank settler kills 4 Palestinians
·         2005 Jewish settler shoots 15 year old Palestinian boy in the back
·         2005 Palestinian child stabbed to death by Israeli settlers
·         2005 Israeli soldier kills 4 Arab bus passengers
·         2005 Jewish terrorists attack Al Aqsa mosque
·         2005 arson attacks on 2 Mosques in England

Sleepless in Tehran

By William Grassie

2:00 AM. I woke up suddenly from a nightmare.1 It takes a few days to get over the jetlag. It may take a lifetime to get over this trip. Since arriving a few days ago, I plowed through a busy schedule and crashed each night after eleven, only to wake up again an hour or two later. Should I take a sleeping pill a fourth night in a row? Run the math. The pill takes one hour to take effect. I will be out for four-to-five hours. I need to be up by seven and meet my colleagues at eight to head to Summit Hall, a short bus drive up the hill through the crowded traffic. Short enough to walk, but not easy given the six lanes rush hour with which to contend. My mind kept racing, but I knew I needed sleep.
We stayed at the Esteghlal Grand Hotel in North Tehran. My room was on the twelfth floor. I had a small balcony which looked out on the Alborz Mountains north of the city, still covered with snow in early May. From the elevator side, I had a view of the smog filled sky looking south into this bustling city of 14 million.2
Through Metanexus Institute, I had helped to organize a delegation of Western scholars to participate in this International Congress on Religion and Science. This was the first conference of its kind to be held in the Islamic Republic of Iran, even as our governments battled it out with harsh rhetoric and reciprocal threats. Our delegation was composed of seven Americans, one Brit, an Aussie -- all of us Christian scholars in the rarified field of religion and science. There were other Westerners too who had responded to the Call-for-Papers on our website, who had made their way to Tehran.
I was disappointed and relieved that the two Jews originally part of our delegation had backed out. The anti-American slogans and rhetoric, I could abide. The anti-Israeli slogans had a different edge, recalling my argument the year before in Tehran with a British-trained Iranian psychiatrist, who went on at length about the Protocols of Zion. Other Western scholars had been invited, but declined. Iran!? I was responsible for bringing these people here, to this very complicated country. I wanted it to go well for all involved. I had cajoled and corralled everyone in the group to make this long journey into Bush’s “Axis of Evil”. Although I had been here the year before, the truth is I still had no idea what to expect.
A small grant request to support the delegation, including a reciprocal visit planned from the Iranian side, had languished at the Templeton Foundation for eight months. After the always, protracted correspondence with the officers at the Foundation, the grant was finally approved six weeks prior to our departure. Good thing too, because our tickets were already booked. The conference was going to happen no matter what. Our arrival was expected.
It took a lot of paperwork and several phone calls to the Iranian Interest Section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., but our visas from the Iranian-side also cleared a few short weeks before our departure. Unfortunately, it was not so easy for the seven Iranians we had invited to the Metanexus Congress in Philadelphia in June 2006. They had to make their application outside of Iran at great cost in time and money. They were interrogated by harried and rude young U.S. Foreign Service officers working “the line” in Istanbul. Three were rejected without explanation, including Gholamhossein Ebrahimi Dinani, one of Iran’s greatest living philosophers, an elderly gentleman with ten books to his name, presumably a clear terrorist threat in the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of Homeland Security. In the end, only one of the seven actually got a visa to come to the United States. Now we were arriving into their care, knowing that our hosts had already been rudely rejected by the U.S. government. How does one say diplomatic faux pas in Farsi? So very sorry.
As a condition of funding our travel, the Templeton Foundation required us to all sign a hold-harmless release, acknowledging that “visiting Iran involves numerous substantial risks to my health and safety, including without limitation, risk of kidnapping, murder, physical and mental torture, mutilation, decapitation, and extreme psychological and emotional distress.” We laughed it off. They’re confusing Iran with Iraq, but we all had secret fears.
Few Americans who lived through the 1979 Iranian Revolution can easily forget. For 444 days, the hostage crises at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran dragged on. Images of radical, revolutionary Islam were etched into our collective TV unconscious. As far as Ayatollah Khomeini was concerned, overthrowing President Jimmy Carter by dragging out the hostage crisis was pay back for the 1954 CIA overthrow of Mossadegh and the installation of Shah Pahlavi. If it had not been for Ayatollah Khomeini, Ronald Reagan would probably never have been elected President of the United States. The Iranians wanted to make it all perfectly clear by finally releasing the hostages on the very day of Reagan’s inauguration, January 20,1981.
Reagan did not express any gratitude to the back-handed Iranian support. On June 28, 1981, a political faction in Iran with possible support from the CIA planted a bomb that killed Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti and 72 senior statesmen. (At the conference, we met Beheshti’s son, a German-trained philosopher specializing in Heidegger). In August of 1981, the new president and prime minister were killed in another bombing. In the midst of all of this post-revolution chaos, Ayatollah Khomeini, his Islamic Republican Party, and his Revolutionary Guard consolidate power by arresting or assassinating numerous opposition leaders.
Saddam Hussein attacked Iran on September 22, 1980. By 1982, Reagan’s National Security team led by Donald Rumsfeld was helping build up Saddam Hussein’s army to wage a proxy war of “containment” against the new revolutionary government in Iran. The war with Iraq went on for eight years, a bloody stalemate that cost Iran and Iraq almost a million deaths between them. The U.S. played off both sides of the war, supporting Iraq in the beginning, but later also providing military support for Iran through the infamous Iran-Contra deals. Is it any wonder people in the region distrust the United States? Still the Iranians were not altogether displeased by the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the history, though, they cannot help but also be very suspicious of the United States.
As for the torture and dismemberment clause in the Templeton contract, Iranians are a very warm and hospitable people. Contrary to the official rhetoric, Iranians tend to be genuinely fond of Americans. Of course, there was the hot ten-hour bus trip from Shiraz to Isfahan that dragged on and on. And then there was also the noxious congestion of Tehran traffic. That was tough. “Extreme psychological and emotional distress” just goes with the territory and the history. We were after all Americans in Iran.
The U.S. State Department had recently increased funding to “overthrow the Iranian government” through increased “citizen-to-citizen exchanges” even as the Pentagon was planning various military strategies for attacking Iranian nuclear sites. The former meant that we, the citizens-to-citizens involved in this exchange were all suspect of being agents of the U.S. government.
The funding from the Templeton Foundation did not help matters either, which is closely identified with the Neo-cons in the White House and its conservative Christians base in the pews. Weeks prior to our departure, another email rant by Muzzafar Iqbal crossed the wires. Iqbal is a Pakistani Canadian Muslim intellectual involved in science and religion work, editor of the journal Islam and Science, and former staffer of the CTNS-Templeton-funded Course Program. Iqbal circulated an email accusing Templeton and Metanexus of harboring “nefarious” plans of “aggression” against Islam, trying to establish “a fifth column” in the U.S. war against Islam in general and Iran in particular.
Oy Vey! I was here precisely to try to undo some of the damaged done by my government, because I strongly disagreed with it on the war in Iraq, because of the long history of our failed policies in the region, and because I was sick of the violence and arrogance that characterizes my country’s misguided foreign and military policies. I harbored a profound and perhaps naïve hope that the constructive engagement of religion and science is more than just esoteric scholasticism, that it can also be practical and powerfully transformative. I was also here because I believe that God is “compassionate and merciful,” as the Qur’an so often proclaims.
3:00 AM. I smoked a cigarette outside on the balcony with the moon lit mountain before me. The air was still, save for a cool breeze dropping under its weight from the snowfields high above me.
The conference we were attending was officially hosted by Dr. Bagher Larijani, an endocrinologist by training and now Chancellor of the Tehran University Medical School. (The Larijani brothers are an institution in Iran, not unlike the Kennedy brothers, a dynastic branch of government. For instance, Ali Larijani is the chief Iranian negotiator at the International Atomic Energy Commission talks in Vienna.)
Larijani was a gracious host, but his particular interest in medical bioethics was not where we were coming from. In our different ways, we were all trying to figure out how to incorporate contemporary science into our religious worldviews, working our metaphysics from the bottom-up and theologies from the top-down to see where they might meet using the insights of science and the teachings of our traditions.
The gathering, five years in gestation, was not without problems. The main organizer, Dr. Shiva Khalili, a psychologist by training, had worked diligently with an interdisciplinary committee of scholars from different universities to make this conference a reality. They worked without adequate institutional protection and support. The previous year, they had successfully organized a National Congress on Religion and Science, which I had attended as part of planning for the international congress this year. Khalili had managed to obtain the sponsorship of Dr. Gholamreza Avani’s Institute on Wisdom and Philosophy and most critically the Ministry of Health. The interdisciplinary committee’s work was opposed, however, by the powerful Mehdi Golshani, director of the Institute on Culture and Education, and previous partner in science-and-religion dialogues with the West. Most of the funding came through the Ministry of Health. The organizational demands of managing such a large event, outran Khalili and her small team. Dr. Lakranjani, head of the Ministry of Health, appointed Dr. Larijani to take charge just two days before the opening of the conference. The President’s office made the spectacular Summit Hall available, a detail that evidently still had not been resolved. Our Iranian hosts continued to argue throughout the conference through me about who deserved credit, who deserved blame, who was trustworthy, and who we should and should not associate with. That and not really knowing any details about the schedule also made for a lot of stress and these sleepless nights.
I turned some pages of a book by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a much revered scholar of Islam now at George Washington University. Nasr was the former Vice Chancellor of Tehran University and a refuge from the 1979 Revolution. Dr. Nasr has not visited his homeland in twenty-eight years, though he continues to be a revered scholar in Iran. I felt a pang of vicarious loss, imaging how painful it must be to have to leave the country of one’s birth, one’s mother tongue, and to not be able to return for fear of reprisals.
In 1973 Nasr founded what is now known as the Institute for Wisdom and Philosophy, when he bought up a pair of old houses and a garden in an old neighborhood of Tehran near the University. They now host a network of philosophers and religious scholars from around the country with offices, a library, meeting space, and a steady stream of visitors, seminars, and conferences. Earlier that week, Dr. Avani had been our host for a day of lectures by the visiting delegation.
Robert Russell, a physicist turned theologian and founder of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, gave a magnificent lecture on quantum mechanics to a small audience of Iranian scholars. Russell showed how different philosophical and religious commitments played out in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, comparing Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr, and Einstein. Russell went on to present his understanding of ontological freedom and the possibility of naturalistic Divine Action at the quantum level.
Georgetown University theologian John Haught then spoke of the scientific challenge to religious notions of purpose in the cosmos and ways that theology could fully embrace evolutionary science. Haught dissected the medieval metaphysical hierarchy and showed how contemporary cosmology and evolution challenge our sense of cosmic and human purpose. Using resources from Whitehead, Teilhard, and Polyani, Haught then presented a reconstructed Christian theology to be consonant with contemporary science.
Nancey Murphy, a philosopher of science and theologian at Fuller Seminary, introduced the Iranians to the possibility of a completely non-dualistic account of body-spirit through her understanding of “non-reductive physicalism”. A nuance lost on our Iranian hosts was that these three Americans had some profound philosophical and theological disagreements. It was difficult for us to follow the nuances of Iranian-Muslim-Shiite philosophical and theological disagreements, even though they were much evident in the conversations.
The conversations were all fresh and new. Philosophy is a vital part of Iranian religious and political culture. We were humbled not only by our Iranian counterparts’ facility in English, German, and French, but also by their ability to engage modern European philosophy and philosophy of science, in addition to knowledge of the great philosophical debates in Islam. We were introduced the subtleties of al-Kindi, Abu Bakr ar-Razi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajjah, Al Ghazzali, Ibn Rushd, al-Arabi, and Mulla Sadra. Indeed, the best of the best in Iran are really fantastic.
4:00 AM - The city outside my window was now covered with a velvety silence. Nothing moved. The air was now fresh and clean. A loud truck with a broken muffler passed by on the highway below belching black diesel smoke. In another hour, the traffic would start to build and with it the stifling air pollution.
Iranians receive their patrimony from the government-owned oil industry in the form of cheap gas – we figured about $0.40 per gallon. Iran consumes domestically about a third of its annual production of oil and natural gas. Like Americans, Iranians love their cars and drive everywhere. I could never get used to the air pollution. On a clear day higher up in the hills of North Tehran, one sees South Tehran progressively disappear into a thick brown haze by early morning. Soon I would no longer need cigarettes, just breathing the air at street level was smoking enough.
The memory of yesterday evening’s dinner lingered in my stomach and my thoughts. Kebabs, pickled vegetables, and saffron rice had never been so good. We had dinner in the lovely garden of the Tehran University’s Museum of Medical History. Our host was Dr. Larijani. Special guest was Gholam Haddad-Adel, speaker of the Iranian Parliament, who had opened the Congress three days prior. I sat at the head table with Haddad-Adel, Larijani, Russell, and Haught. The discussion ranged from his undergraduate and graduate studies in physics to his switch to philosophy resulting in a doctorate in 1975 from the University of Tehran. Haddad-Adel had been a student of Seyyed Hossein Nasr. It was reading a book by Ian Barbour in London that caused him to change his major to philosophy. In those days, Haddad-Adel made a point of telling us, he was still good friends Abdolkarim Soroush, the Iranian philosopher and dissident. Both were hoping for a revolution to overthrow the oppressive Shah. Soroush now challenges the infallibility of the theocractic government and argues for a different vision of Islam and democracy. Our discussion wandered from interpretations of quantum mechanics to the political crisis between our two countries. Haddad-Adel expressed a kind of weary impatience with the United States and hoped for better relations. We pressed him on what he might do. Would he come to the United States? Would he support additional exchanges? Haddad-Adel shared a vision of Iran creating an international research institute dedicated to exploring these interdisciplinary issues and a pledge to find the funds. Haddad-Adel was elected to the Majlis, the Iranian Consultative Assembly, and serves as head of this 290 member parliamentary body. Presumably he had access to significant government support.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a democracy of sorts. There are local and national elections in Iran, unlike most of the other countries in the neighborhood. There are competing parties. Civil society in Iran is more robust than any other country in the region. While the press is still heavily regulated, there is more freedom of expression and real debate in Iran than in many other countries, for instance China, with which the United States maintains cordial diplomatic and extensive economic relations. There are many political parties contending for different visions of Iran’s future and numerous private organizations, businesses, and non-governmental organizations.
The ultimate power, however, resides with the Guardian Council, a supreme court of twelve unelected ayatollahs and lawyers. In 2004, the Guardian Council disqualified eighty percent of the reform candidates in the election for the Majlis. The reform movement that started with the election of President Khatami in 1997 was essentially dead. The next year, the young, largely unknown populist mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected in a run-off campaign against the old, well-known, former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Instead of delivering promised economic reforms for the poor, President Ahmadinejad is now known the world-over for his confrontational rhetoric. And of course, the Bush administration is only too happy to reciprocate. Throughout the spring, there were reports of a pending U.S. military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The Iranian constitution leaves a lot to be desired. In effect, it centralizes religious, political, and petroleum power. With oil prices at an all time high, there certainly is no need to change the system. Iran has accumulated a foreign currency reserve of some $45 billion. The government oil revenues create a rather bloated and inefficient patronage system; but with so many being patronized, it is not likely to change anytime soon.
There is perhaps a kind of natural history to revolutions. A society can only muster such utopian fervor and ideological sacrifice once in a lifetime. The memory of how bad it really was means that an intolerable status quo is always better than another hoped for revolution. The generation that lived through the Iranian revolution and the upheavals that followed will have to all die out, before another revolution is possible. Or at least, so my theory goes. Besides, with oil at $60 per barrel and promising to go higher, life is getting better all of the time.
The status quo, however, cannot really hold. Iran is changing due to powerful demographic forces. After a dramatic doubling of Iranian population in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, birth rates in Iran have now dropped to 1.7 children per woman. Seventy percent of the population is under thirty. Literacy rates are approaching 80 percent. University enrollment has gone from 30,000 before the Revolution to over 300,000 today.
Over 65 percent of the university students today are women. This latter fact was certainly visible at the conference we attended and at the universities we visited. We were impressed with the bustling female energy and industriousness of Iranian women, a power that could not be contained or hidden within the full-length black chadors still favored, if not always required, in schools and work places. The female dress-code is the outward symbol of the Iranian revolution. It is not optional. In spite of this, I was struck by how much power women have. Not only do women run the household, they drive cars and vote, in striking contrast to Saudi Arabia. Women also hold positions of significant responsibility in education, medicine, and business. Only in religious institutions and government are women excluded and the latter is more de facto than legal with some few exceptions.
There are many strikingly beautiful Iranian women, who somehow struggle to be fashionable in spite of the dress code. The wealthy young women are making quite a different fashion statement in the hotels, boutiques, teashops, and restaurants of North Tehran. At school and at work, however, the old dress code still reigns. Female head cover is the outward symbol of the revolution, no less so in Khomeini’s Iran than across the border in the opposite sense in Ataturk’s Turkey. The U.S. women in our delegation struggled to adapt to the official dress code and this frequently provide us with much needed comic relief.
There were eight of us in the Metanexus delegation. In addition to those already mentioned, the delegation included: Noreen Herzfeld, a computer scientist and theologian at St. Benedict’s College, working on artificial intelligence and the doctrine of Imago Dei; Barbara von Schlegell, an Islamic scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who provided a deep familiarity with Islam that we all lacked; Christopher Southgate, a poet-philosopher-biologist, associated with the University of Exeter; and Mark Worthing, an American theologian down under at Tabor College Adelaide, Australia. We were also accompanied by Faeze Woodville, an Iranian American from Philadelphia, who had helped me the previous year in visiting Iran and who would again provide invaluable assistance. There were a number of other international speakers participating, most notably Kurt Richardson, a theologian from McMaster University in Ontario working on comparative scriptural reasoning.
We met with Iranian scientists, clerics, intellectuals, government officials, and others in the context of the conference and other meetings. Our impressions were varied. Iran may be our mortal enemy, but it is also our natural ally. We looked beyond the “Death to America” posters and the harsh rhetoric of its leaders to see a complex society in the midst of seismic changes.
Iranians frequently complain about their government and privately ridicule the mullahs. Sometimes they also get in severe trouble for doing so. Iranians are a fiercely proud and nationalistic people. They are also a philosophical and literary people. They read a lot. They relish debate. Common people recite the verses of the great Persian poets – Hafez, Saadi, Rumi and Khayyam – along with the Qur’an. The mullahs receive twelve years of formal training, including significant exposure to Western philosophy. Iranian clerics are not of one mind and also engage in significant debate amongst themselves and with their colleagues in the universities.
Iran can be characterized as a series of dichotomies – traditionalists and modernists, rationalists and mystics, conservatives and reformers, xenophobic suspicions and extravagant hospitality, male and female, rich and poor, and young and old. What one cannot do in making these generalizations is line up individuals in neat columns and categories. It is all mix and match, embracing dichotomies differently in unpredictable combinations. There are no simple stereotypes of Iranians, contrary to the caricatures often presented by the U.S. media.
In the conferences and meetings we attended over two weeks, we encountered a great deal of enthusiasm in Iran for a thorough going dialogue between science and religion. As in the United States, we encountered ridiculous fundamentalist interpretations of scriptures, in this case the Qur’an, but also sublime metaphysical interpretations of scripture consonant with the fine points of contemporary science. Unlike the public debate in the United States, evolution and other sciences are taught in schools and universities with their own internal integrity, independent of the powerful religious authorities. Iran, a deeply and overtly religious culture, is also committed to growing scientific and technological excellence.
5:00 AM. The sky behind the Alborz Mountains to the East began to lighten ever so slightly as the city began to stir. Today was the day that I would present my paper “Science, Religion, and the Bomb”. Never one to avoid controversy, I wanted to directly address the topic which had so poisoned relations between our two great countries. I pulled out the paper one more time to massage it, to make sure that every word was right. My paper was mostly a review of the alliance between scientists and religious leaders in the anti-nuclear weapons movement in the West and the continued ambivalence about nuclear power. This was sensitive stuff, I knew, but I figured I had the liberty and obligation to speak factually and frankly in a way that few Iranians could.
After reviewing the history in the United States, I turned to the situation in Iran. In the 1970s, Iran received significant assistance from the United States and Europe in developing civilian nuclear power. The Shah had plans to construct 23 nuclear power stations. Iran spent many billions of dollars in contracts with Western companies to build these plants. In 1976, U.S. President Ford (with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz running the show) authorized helping Iran build fuel reprocessing facilities without any thought of the proliferation issues; other U.S. plans existed to help Iran build a uranium enrichment facility. All of these agreements ended with the Iranian Revolution in 1979.3 The Iranians today want to assure their independence and are entitled by the flawed Nonproliferation Treaty to do so.
So what of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb? I also noted that strategic planners in Iran might feel well justified in seeking their own nuclear weapons. Iran is surrounded by the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. Many of its neighbors already have nuclear weapons, including India, Pakistan, Israel, and Russia, not to mention the United States with forward deployment of weapons on our navy fleet in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Given the United States’ own lack of compliance with the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, along with our support for Israel, Pakistan, and India, most Iranians believe that the U.S. is hypocritical and harbors designs on overthrowing the Iranian government (again) in order to dominate the region and its oil resources.
An Iranian bomb will hardly change the balance of power in the world. An Iranian nuclear first strike on Israel, for instance, would result in a massive Israeli retaliation. Therefore any rational leader should be deterred from using these weapons. Even the prospect of a nuclear terrorist attack on Israel would probably result in a massive “retaliation” against Iran, so hypothetically Iranians should be concerned about the proliferation of these weapons and possible transfer to terrorist groups. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is coming to rule the region, much as it did between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. This might have a sobering effect. The only other rational option to a MAD strategy, strange and improbable as it may seem at first glance, is to pursue détente with Israel, with the United States, and with its neighbors. Rationality, regrettably, is not in great demand in the world politics today.
Religion and science, I argued, were inextricably tied up in this mess, both as sources of the problems and resources for solutions. The paradox is that we are so much more powerful than our ancestors, but not any wiser, not more compassionate, not more moral. I ended by quoting Martin Luther King -- “We have guided missiles and misguided men” – and by calling us to pursue the love, justice, mercy, and compassion that we affirm as God’s nature and desire for humanity.
There was polite silence in the room. None dare comment; none dare talk openly about this aspect of government policy. So our discussion turned quickly back to metaphysics and mysticism with veiled commentary about the political situation. Copies of the paper were circulated. I gave copies to all of my hosts, but the intended audience was as much the American reader, as any Iranian. But I am getting ahead of myself. I still had to get through a sleepless night.
6:00 AM. The sky had brightened. The sun already shown behind the mountains, which still cast a shadow over North Tehran. I sat on the balcony and waited for the shadow to recede and the sun to cross the ridge above.
While we were in Iran, news spread about a long personal letter written by President Ahmadinejad to President Bush. It would not be until we returned to the United States, however, that a published translation was available. The letter began, as everything here does “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” It continued:
“Mr George Bush,
President of the United States of America,
For sometime now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena -- which are being constantly debated, especially in political forums and amongst university students. Many questions remain unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hope that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them...”
The long hand-written letter from Ahmadinejad goes on to question apparent Christian hypocrisy, to question the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to condemn Saddam Hussein, and to criticize the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The letter displays some ignorance of European history, even as it queries the premise of the Israeli state and deplores the last 60 years of violence that followed from the creation of “the Zionist regime”. The letter notes the hypocrisy of the United States in enforcement of UN Security Council Resolutions. Ahmadinejad historically frames debate about nuclear technology in light of colonialism. He deplores the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. As one leader to another, he discusses the sacred duty of government to defend their countries. Circuitously, Ahmadinejad suggests that United States was justified in attacking Afghanistan. Ahmadinejad wonders what purpose can be served in the US spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the Iraq War. He criticized liberalism and Western-style democracy. Like Bush, he expressed confidence that God was on his side. He ends with list of rhetorical questions shared by many around the world today:
“How much longer can the world tolerate this situation?
“Where will this trend lead the world to?
“How long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers?...”
[A week latter, back in the United States, I met with Henry Wooster, head of the Iran Desk at the U.S. State Department. I told him that the letter from Ahmadinejad was an example of religiously-based moral reasoning and that this was a great opportunity to establish diplomatic dialogue. Wooster confirmed what had already been said publicly by the Bush administration. He ridiculed the letter, denouncing it as “the work of a madman”, and the U.S. government “would not dignify it with a response”. This may be the second largest foreign policy mistake made by the Bush administration, because there will be no exit strategy from Iraq without the cooperation of Iran.]
The U.S. first came into significant contact with Iran during the Second World War, when it was used as a route to re-supply the Soviet armies in the battle against the Nazi Germany. At that time, the Soviets and the British both had imperial designs on Iran. Cordell Hull, the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, wrote in a memo to FDR in 1943 stating “It is to the advantage of the United States to exert itself to see that Iran’s integrity and independence are maintained and that she become prosperous and stable.” This is still good advice. Unfortunately, the CIA got involved in over-throwing the Iranian government in 1953 and installing the Shah.
Today in the post 9/11 world, Iran has been an enemy but also a de facto ally of the U.S. Their intelligence service has provided active assistance to the U.S. military in Afghanistan and passive support for the U.S. in Iraq. Right after the 9/11 attacks, over one million Iranians held a candlelight vigil in Tehran in support of the United States. Continued or expanded hostility towards the Iranian government could result in a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Iraq and has already backfired by retarding the reform process in Iran itself, as is clearly the case in a crackdown on liberal academics and the press over the last year. It is time for the U.S. to try a different approach.
I came away from Iran feeling that the United States should reestablish diplomatic relationships with Iran without any preconditions. All through the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union maintained diplomatic relations. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, the U.S. and Soviet Union also pursued détente building treaties and exchanges. Why should we not have a similar approach to Iran? Because the demagogues on both sides always say “don’t talk”.
The future of Iran belongs inextricably to the Iranian “baby-boomer” generation – highly educated, increasingly cosmopolitan, and increasingly led by women. We should be pursuing scientific, religious, educational, cultural, and economic exchanges to our mutual benefit and increased understanding. We should not think of Iran as a mortal enemy, but as our natural ally, and we need to engage the country at every level to make that vision the future reality. It won’t be easy, but to our amazement, it may be precisely in addressing the profound questions at the intersection of religion and science that we will best succeed in this most philosophical of all nations.
7:00 AM. The city is awake. The rush hour here was already in full force. The highway below seemed liked a congested beehive of activity from my perch on the twelfth floor balcony. Back home, eight and a half time zones a way, it is finally time for bed. I was ready to fall asleep, but now it was time to wake up. One more day in Tehran and then the conference would be over.
I suddenly remembered that today was my birthday. Last year I also celebrated my birthday in Tehran. This year, though, I was turning forty-nine and in so doing had now outlived my father, who died of a heart attack when I was twelve. I threw out the pack of cigarettes.
What a strange and wonderful journey I have been on. So much for which to be thankful. So much left to do. So little I really could do in this troubled world. So I did my morning yoga and said my prayers, putting my forehead to the ground as Muslims do. Submit. Peace. This is the double-meaning of the word, Islam. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Allah Akbar. God-by-whatever-name is great indeed! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now, off to breakfast, a lot of tea and coffee, and back to work.
In another day, our rag tag group of academics would leave Tehran for meetings and sightseeing in Qom, Shiraz, and the magical city of Isfahan. I had fallen in love with Isfahan, the previous year, and I could not wait to get back. I wanted to pray again at the beautiful Imam Mosque in the morning, bargain for crafts in the covered Bazaar during the day, and walk along beautiful bridges by the river in the cool of the evening. Perhaps I would also finally get a decent night’s sleep. Perhaps I would awake next time not from a nightmare, but with a dream of salaam, shalom, peace, in the region and in the world.

The Second Coming of Jesus (SWS)

By Tariq Hashmi
    Response: I posted a question regarding your views on the second coming of Jesus (sws) as mentioned in the Aug 2002 issue of your journal ( to the website, ‘Islamweb’, and I got the response that your views on the issue are unfounded1. I would like your response on their critique.
    Comment: I appreciate your concern on religious matters and your endeavor to get to the truth by pursuing the matter with interest. We should accept everything about Islam only after careful analysis and thorough intellectual investigation. In what follows is our response to the Fatwa issued by Islamweb.
    The author of the Fatwa writes:
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all his Family and Companions. Allah, the Most High, informed us in the Qur’an that ‘Isa (Jesus), the son of Mary (rta) will descend from the heavens to earth in the last days.
Many Ahadith of the Prophet (sws), for whose narrators it is impossible to lie, confirmed this as well, so there is no room for doubt about his descent.
Allah says: ‘And there is none of the people of the Scripture [Jews and Christians], but must believe in him [‘Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam [Mary], as only a Messenger of Allah and a human being], before his [‘Isa (Jesus) or a Jew’s or a Christian’s] death [at the time of the appearance of the angel of death]. And on the Day of Resurrection, he [‘Isa (Jesus)] will be a witness against them’ (4:159)
    The author of the Fatwa has failed to substantiate his first statement. He has not presented any Qur’anic verse that can form a definitive argument about his claim that Jesus (sws) will descend before the Hour. I seek refuge in the Almighty from putting my words in His mouth. All that the author has been able to present are traditions – which only speak conspicuously about the second coming whereas the Holy Qur’an itself says nothing – ascribed to later authorities mentioned in the commentaries on the Qur’an.
    Before I comment on the verse quoted by the author, I would like to draw your attention to the words used by the author for the narrators of the traditions regarding the second coming of Jesus (sws). He has repeatedly used the words ‘narrators for whom it is impossible to lie.’ This assertion about humans, I humbly submit, cannot be true except in case of the Messengers of God. If however the author means that so large a number of narrators have transmitted the related sayings that they cannot be deemed to have agreed on a false statement, then he has to establish his claim. Any historical report does not reach the status of Tawatur (generation to generation channel of transmission) unless it is transmitted by the entire generation. If one studies the bulk of the traditions in this regards, one comes to know that there are only about twenty reports of which only a small number speak unequivocally regarding the second coming. It is only in the later centuries that the narratives got currency among the Muslim scholarship. Therefore the claim that the narratives regarding the second coming of Jesus (sws) reach Tawatur needs to be substantiated.
    As for verse 159 of Surah al-Nisa, which the author presents as a clear proof from the Qur’an, I have the following to say. In fact, the verse is no definitive proof and has been interpreted to mean something else by other scholars. From a cursory look at the translation of 4:159 done by the author of the Fatwa, it is evident that he himself is not clear about the following questions. Do the People of the Book in the verse refer to the Jews and Christians of all times? Is the reference only towards the People of the Book of the time of Jesus (sws) or the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws)? Do all the People of the Book throughout history believe in Jesus (sws)? For we see that the scholars differ a lot on the issue. Ibn Jarir Tabari himself has mentioned three possible interpretations of the verse; firstly, all the People of the Book will believe in Jesus (sws) before his death; secondly, all the People of the Book will believe in Jesus (sws) before their death and thirdly, all the People of the Book will believe in Muhammad (sws) before their death2. There is also another possible interpretation according to which everyone from among the People of the Book, before the Prophet Muhammad’s death, will believe in the Qur’an3. Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr in his book Al-Tamhid has said that Imam Tabari opined that the verse is specific for the People of the Book of the times of Jesus (sws) and not for the People of the Book of all times4. Therefore, this verse cannot be presented as definitive proof of the fact that Jesus will descend on earth before the Last Day.
    The author has further presented some opinions of the scholars which we do not believe can be taken as a proof from the Qur’an itself; rather they are only some of the possible implications of the Qur’anic text.
    The author writes:
Allah says in Surah Al-Zukhruf after mentioning ‘Isa, son of Mary, ‘And he [‘Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)] shall be a known sign for [the coming of] the Hour [Day of Resurrection] [i.e. ‘Isa’s (Jesus) descent on the earth]. Therefore have no doubt concerning it [i.e. the Day of Resurrection]. And follow Me [Allah] [i.e. be obedient to Allah and do what He orders you to do, O mankind]! This is the Straight Path [of Islamic Monotheism, leading to Allah and to His Paradise]. (43:61)
Al-Tabari said: ‘This means that the coming back of ‘Isa is a sign of the coming of the Hour [Day of resurrection].’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘ “and he” means the descent of ‘Isa. Mujahid said: ‘and he will be a known sign for the closeness of the Hour; that is to say that one of the signs of the hour is the descent of ‘Isa before the Day of Judgment.’ This is also the opinion of Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Al-Suddi, and Al-Dahhak.
    What we understand of the verse is that Jesus (sws) is a sign of the Hour and there is nothing in the verse, which specifies that his status of being a ‘sign’ is to be manifested in future. We believe that Jesus (sws) is a sign of the Hour not for those who are supposed to witness his second coming – because it is never going to be – but for all those who know his supernatural birth. The Qur’an has made a subtle reference to this reality at other places. In 3:59, the Qur’an compares the creation of Jesus (sws) with that of Adam (sws). The purpose is to make it clear that the Almighty is all-powerful and can execute his plans without material means or resorting to natural laws. He can raise people to life after they are dead. We believe that all these interpretations though they are not decisive have been influenced by the narratives about the second coming. The verse, if studied in the light of the Qur’an, makes much better sense but sadly has been misconstrued to accommodate the narratives.
    The author of the Fatwa remarks:
So both the verse of Allah and the sayings of the interpreters of the Holy Qur’an; the Companions (rta) and the pious predecessors indicate that ‘Isa (Jesus) will descend again before the Day of Judgment. Therefore, it becomes evident that the statements of the said website that the Qur’an did not mention this is not correct.
    I have not yet seen any clear Qur’anic statement which mentions that Jesus (sws) will return before the Day of Judgment. I could not find it except for the opinions of the scholars which in turn need to be substantiated by clear Qur’anic verses.
    The author has also referred to some narratives and views of the scholars of the past on the issue which we do not think are relevant here. This is because the discussion is about the beliefs and viewpoints of the early Muslim scholarship and not about the validity of the traditions ascribed to the Holy Prophet (sws). The traditions, he has brought in, are actually the ones which need to be substantiated.
    While dealing with the Mu’atta of Imam Malik he observes:
The statement of the website that you have mentioned that Imam Malik did not mention anything about the descent of ‘Isa is not correct. Indeed Imam Malik reported in the Mu’atta a Hadith in which the description of ‘Isa and Al-Masih Al-Dajjal are mentioned; this proves that he believes in their descent.
Imam Malik reported in Mu’atta that ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet (sws) said: ‘In my dream, I was asleep circumambulating the Ka‘bah; suddenly I saw a man of brown complexion and lank hair walking between two men, and water was dripping from his head. I asked, ‘Who is this?’ The people said: ‘He is the son of Mary’. Then I looked behind and I saw a red-complexioned, fat, curly-haired man, blind in the right eye which looked like a bulging out grape. I asked, ‘Who is this?’ They replied, ‘He is Ad-Dajjal’. The one who resembled to him among the people, was Ibn Qattan.’ (Al-Zuhri said: ‘He [Ibn Qattan] was a man from the tribe Khuza‘ah who died in the pre-Islamic period.’
The fact that Imam Malik reported the above Hadith is evidence enough that he believed in the descent of ‘Isa, and the appearance of Dajjal. That’s why Ibn ‘Abdu’l-Barr, a Malikite scholar, said in Al-Tamhid, which is a book about the interpretation of the Mu’atta when interpreting the above Hadith: ‘In this Hadith, - Allah knows best - there is evidence that ‘Isa will descend on shrines and will make Tawaf (circumambulation) around the Ka‘bah.’ He also said in his book Al-Istidhkar: ‘Ahl-i-Sunnah believe in the descent of ‘Isa’.
We conclude from the above that the descent of ‘Isa [Jesus] is mentioned in the book of Allah, in the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), and mentioned in the Mu’atta which is before Bukhari and Muslim, and this is also the opinion of Ahl-i-Sunnah of the Malikite school of thought and others.
    This is indeed the strangest kind of argument presented thus far. Please read the translation of the narrative by the author himself. I do not see anything in this report from the Mu’atta, which implicitly or explicitly refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ (sws). In the very same report and some other reports, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have told that he saw Moses (sws), Abraham (sws) and many other prophets. Does this also mean that they all are to come in future? Those who believe in the second coming of Jesus (sws) may interpret the narrative as the author does but I do not find it referring to the future event for the Holy Prophet (sws) is also reported to have observed other prophets as well which, of course, are not believed to be alive and are to return to earth again.
    I am afraid the writer of the Fatwa is too eager to prove his point and in doing so has disregarded objective analysis of the matter. He has not referred to the difference in opinions of the scholars on the death and resurrection of Jesus (sws). Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr in his book al-Tamhid has quoted some authorities who have differed on the issue of death and resurrection of Jesus (sws). He writes:
وروى علي بن أبي طلحة عن ابن عباس متوفيك أي مميتك
‘Ali Bin Abi Talhah has reported that Ibn Abbas said: Mutawaffika connotes Mumayyituka (I am going to give you death)5.
    As for the statement of Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr, we can only say that he formed this opinion because of the other narratives in this regard which, of course, got spread afterwards. There is a great gap of time between the author of the Mu’atta and its commentator. You can see that the narrative in question does not mention resurrection. It only says that the Prophet (sws) saw both Jesus (sws) and the Dajjal in his dream. The author of Al-Tamhid has submitted other narratives from various books of Hadith and has postulated that the scholars of Ahl-i-Sunnah believe in his second coming as reported by reliable narrators from the Prophet (sws). He has also very honestly discussed the differences of opinion of the scholars of the same Ahl-i-Sunnah faction on the issue. Please see his words from his other book Al-Istidhkar:
وقد ذكرنا الآثار التي أشرنا إليها ها هنا في التمهيد بإسانيدها ومتونها وذكرنا من أخبار عيسى بن مريم - عليه السلام - هناك في رفعه وكيف كان الأمر في ذلك ومعنى توفيه واختلاف العلماء فيه
We have mentioned the evidence towards which we have made reference here in our book Al-Tamhid along with their text and the chain of narrators. We dealt with the traditions regarding the resurrection of Jesus and how did it happen and the meaning of his being taken up and the difference of opinion among the scholars on that issue6.
    Is it not interesting that the author of the Fatwa lost this line of objective study and mentioned only what favored his own views?
As for the source of the notion of second coming, Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr clearly states that it is the individual reports:
وأهل السنة مصدقون بنزول عيسى في الآثار الثابتة بذلك عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم من نقل الآحاد العدول
The Ahl-i-Sunnah testify to the decent of Jesus mentioned in the authentic sayings from the Prophet (sws) transmitted through the individual reports by narrators who are of sound characters7.
    It should be noted that it is an acknowledged fact with the scholars of the Hadith and is known to all notable scholars of Muslim history that individual reports (ie. Hadith literature) do not form a source of certain knowledge. I cannot understand why the author of this Fatwa repeatedly makes statements such as ‘who cannot lie’ regarding the transmitters of Ahadith. We do believe that the works of the greater scholars of the past on the narrators of the Hadith literature have enabled us to distinguish the reliable Ahadith from the fake ones but none ever claimed that their works and research were definitive. By taking this position, the author is actually negating the Muslim stance in this regard. Imam Malik has rejected many sound traditions after mentioning them in his book for he found that they ran contrary to the consensus of the people of Madinah, for example, his views on transfer of reward and about a dog that licks a pot.
    The revered scholar concludes:
As regards the website which is mentioned in the question, after visiting it, we discovered that this site is stating that Islamic creed (belief) is not taken from the Sunnah but from the Qur’an only. This is a misguidance and a complete ignorance.
None of the Muslim Imams said this. Indeed the Sunnah explains the Qur’an and clarifies it, and the Prophet (sws) did not speak of his own desires. We are bound to believe in what the Prophet (sws) informed us about the ‘Aqidah (creed).
The Prophet (sws) said: ‘Indeed I was given the book and something similar to it.’ As reported by Abu Da‘ud and others.
Therefore, the Islamic creed is taken from the Qur’an and from the Sunnah.
Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: ‘The Sunnah interprets, clarifies and explains the Qur’an. And the authentic Ahadith of the Prophet (sws) in which he describes his Lord, and which the people of knowledge acknowledged, received, and believed in, and passed on to us we have also to believe in them.’  Allah knows best.
    This of course does not represent the complete picture of our view. I’d suggest that you go through the material published under the banner of ‘Renaissance’ and see what we believe in and what we do not. I think that we must do enough research before we accept something as truthful and before forming opinions about the views of other people. The word, Sunnah, has never been used in the Arabic language to connote ‘sayings’ or ‘beliefs’ or ‘concepts.’ It was only Imam Shafi‘i who held this view; he had to write volumes to prove his point. If you may, I will ask you to translate the following sayings of the Prophet (sws) replacing the word ‘Sunnah’ with the word ‘Hadith’; the absurdity of such rendering will manifest itself in no time.
النكاح من سنتي
Nikah is from among my Hadith. (Ibn Majah, No: 1846)
    Yet another example:
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول الله خلفت فيكم ما لن تضلوا بعدهما ما أخذتم بهما أو عملتم بهما كتاب الله وسنتي
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of God said: ‘I have left among you two things after receiving which or practicing which you will not lose way as long as you hold on to them: the Book of God and my Hadith. (Bayhaqi, No: 20124)
    The word ‘Sunnah’ has been replaced by ‘Hadith.’ It is obvious that the Prophet (sws) did not institute the transmission of Hadith.  Hence, the inappropriateness of using Hadith in place of Sunnah is apparent.
    Early Muslims never took ‘Sunnah’ to mean Ahadith and it was only applied to established practices. All the sayings quoted above refer to the Sunnah which is, of course, part of religion and we practice all the Sunan that have been handed down to us through an infallible mode of transfer (i.e. generation to generation mode of transmission). As regards the matter of Hadith, we see that even the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws), right after his death, would not accept anything which they found in contradiction to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. ‘Umar (rta), Abu Bakr (rta), ‘A’ishah (rta) and many other senior Companions (rta) would never believe in individual reports if these were against the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Just study the Hadith literature, you will find ample evidence to prove the fact that Muslim  scholars used to analyze whatever is reported from the Prophet (sws) very carefully. ‘A’ishah (rta) even rejected reports by ‘Umar (rta) who himself took extreme care in this regard. They did not think that the reporters among them were liars; rather, they knew the defects inherent in individual reports. An individual reporter is prone to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and being divested of the true context. This is the reason we find that the Caliph ‘Umar (rta) would not accept individual reports unless corroborating evidence was produced. ‘Ali (rta) would make the narrator swear in order to establish his claim. The risk involved increases manifold when many links are involved in the chain of reporters. That is why the scholars of the science of Hadith and Fiqh were conscious of the fact that the Hadith is a Zanni source (i.e. of probable truths). On the contrary, the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) is the living practice perpetuated by all the Muslims without a break. What do you think people used to do before the Hadith was compiled?
    If the belief in the second coming of Jesus (sws) is part of our faith then a majority of the Muslims has been lacking in faith. It was only many years later after the demise of the Prophet (sws) that the Ahadith were compiled and only then it became known to the scholars. Why did it find no mention in the Holy Qur’an in explicit terms? On the contrary, we see that the Holy Qur’an clearly negates that Jesus (sws) was raised to heavens alive (3:55) – the very foundation on which the belief of second coming is based. The fact is that the notion of second coming itself is unfounded and utterly fallacious.