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CSID 7th ANNUAL CONFERENCE:  Pre-Registration Deadline -  4
Friday, April 14,2006 00:00


Pre-Registration Deadline -  4 DAYS LEFT.

Pre-registration (discounted) reg. fees extended to April 14.


            The Challenge of Democracy in the Muslim World

            May 5-6, 2006 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

            Washington, D.C.


I hope you are doing well, and I would like to remind you that the DEADLINE for pre-registrations for the CSID 7th Annual Conference has been extended to Friday, April 14, 2006.


To look at the program for conference, and/or to register for the conference, please go to http://csidonline.org/.   CSID has negotiated a rate of $159.00 per night (Single or Double occupancy) with the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.  To receive this special rate, you need to make your own reservations directly with the hotel by calling (202) 328-2000, on or before Wednesday, April 19, 2006.


The CSID Annual conference is the largest and most informed international conference on "Islam & Democracy" in the world, attracting experts, scholars, political and religious leaders from the United States and all over the Muslim World. This year, we are expecting between 300 and 400 of the top scholars, policymakers, and activists to attend the conference and participate in its deliberations, including between 30 and 50 Leaders from the Middle East, North Africa, or the Muslim World. You will have a wonderful experience, learn much about Islam and democracy, and make lasting friendships and connections with other scholars, activists, and experts who are interested in promoting and strengthening democracy in the Muslim world.


Please do NOT forget to pre-register by tomorrow to take advantage of the lower registration fees. Please remember that the registration fee covers both luncheons, 4 coffee breaks, and the banquet dinner on Friday. CSID members benefit from a substantial discount in the registration fee, so we urge you to renew your annual membership before the conference. Seats are limited, so please register as soon as possible.


We look forward to seeing you on May 5-6!




In this Issue:


Editors note: Greater Maghreb and the fate of political prisoners

Morocco: What is in the report of the Justice and Reconciliation Commission?

Financial support for Arab reporters and producers

Maghreb: Towards unity in rights in the Maghreb

Seville: An Islamic-Jewish dialogue

Cairo: An Islamic-Christian dialogue

Europe: in the aftermath of the Collapse of the Barcelona Road

Algeria: From a civil war to peace and national reconciliation

The First Annual Conference of the American Syrian Congress

Tunisia: 50th Anniversary

Egypt: The Ruling National Democratic Party confronts itself

Bahrain: Towards a Family Code

Mauritania: Is it the beginning of Suspicion?


To download Democracy Watch; please go to:

English version: http://csidonline.org/

Arabic version:  http://csidonline.org/arabic/


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with Radwan Masmoudi


Thursday, April 13, 2006 @ 7:30 PM

Geo Corner - Building 370-370

Stanford University, California


Even as President Bush has made democracy in the Middle East a centerpiece for his new vision of the region, the political experience of countries in the region has been tumultuous at best. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Lebanon to Morocco, the process of democratization has proved difficult, slow and often lethal. Iraqs political system has fanned vicious sectarianism, Palestinian elections have yielded victory to militant Hamas and Afghanistans government has floundered under poor regional security. Pundits are divided over whether such developments can be seen as progress or chaos as questions over democracys compatibility with Islam have been raised.


Is the Muslim world capable of reform?


Join us for an event with speaker Radwan A. Masmoudi, President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy, who will address the divided prospects for democracy in the Muslim world.





A new Study/report from CEIP.


Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World:

Exploring Gray Zones




By Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, Marina S. Ottaway

Publisher: Carnegie Endowment Carnegie Paper No. 67


In a new Carnegie Paper, Carnegie Endowment experts Brown, Hamzawy, and Ottaway discuss the continuing ambiguity amongst Islamists on fundamental democracy and human rights issues.


Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring Gray Zones seeks to move beyond stark views of the Islamist challenge as either a democratizing force or an extreme threat to democracy and to present a nuanced view of the position of Islamist parties. The authors consider mainstream movements in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain, analyzing not only where the movements stand but also where they have yet to develop clear positions. In view of the recent victory by Hamas in Palestine and the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections, understanding the thinking of Islamist movements is more important than ever.



A limited number of print copies are available FOR FREE from CEIP.


Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway are senior associates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Combined, they have authored more than ten books on issues including democracy promotion in the Middle East and Arab politics.




Encountering Islam Today:  Beyond the Clash of Fundamentalisms


How can Americans better understand Muslims and contemporary trends in the Muslim world?


CMES Conference on Islam,



Thursday, April 27, 2006

7:30 p.m.       Keynote Address

"American Power in a World of Religion"

Dr. Michael Sells - University of Chicago Divinity School


Friday, April 28, 2006

8:30 a.m.       Registration and coffee

9:00 a.m.       Session II

"Islamic Movements in Egypt and the Levant: A Historical Assessment"

Dr. Ghada Talhami - Lake Forest College


Responder followed by questions and discussion

10:30 a.m.      Coffee

10:45 a.m.      Session III

"The Political Theology of al-Qaeda"

Dr. Emran Qureshi - Harvard University Law School


Responder followed by questions and discussion

12:00 p.m.      Lunch


Lunch in neighboring restaurants

12:45 p.m.      Friday prayers

Depart for Friday prayers at neighboring mosques (optional)


2:00 p.m.       Session IV

"The Roots and Present State of Revivalism"

Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub - Temple University

3:15 p.m.       Coffee


3:45 p.m.       Session V

"Where Do We Go From Here?

Constructive Dimensions and Challenges

Dr. Michael Sells - University of Chicago Divinity School


Free for University students with valid ID. There is a registration fee of $35.

Checks should be made out to:

*North Park University - Center for Middle Eastern Studies *


You may register via e-mail by sending your information to:

[email protected]







(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/21/06) - Members of the United States Institute of Peace U.S.-Muslim World Advisory Committee met yesterday in Washington, D.C., with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes and top officials of the National Security Council, including Senior Director Michael Doran.


The meetings focused on issues such as the American Muslim community’s role in outreach efforts to the Islamic world, how to address growing levels of Islamophobia in the West, Muslim condemnations of terrorism and religious extremism, and proposals for joint initiatives.


Muslim participants included representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), and the Islamic Center of America in Michigan.


"We thank the United States Institute of Peace for bringing together American Muslim leaders and senior government officials," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, who took part in yesterday’s meetings. "It is our hope that such dialogues will continue in the future with other elected and administration officials."





Muslim Leaders, Scholars Confer with US Government Officials on Relations and Responsibilities


March 17, 2006


Ambassador Hank Crumpton, national coordinator for counterterrorism, told a dinner audience of invited Muslim leaders and scholars that he welcomed the idea of a task force on matters of mutual concern and looked forward to recommendations coming from their conference with selected US government officials.


Ambassador Hank Crumpton was the key note speaker at dinner on the first day of the conference "Muslims in America: Challenges, Prospects, and Responsibilities" co-sponsored by International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) and the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) on March 14-15, 2006 in Alexandria, Virginia. A senior FBI official also spoke at the dinner.


Professor John Esposito of Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding was the keynote speaker at lunch on the second day. Professor Esposito was introduced by Admiral Blair, president of IDA, who also made remarks welcoming the conferees and their timely effort.


The conference was planned to bring together about thirty invited Muslim scholars and leaders with an equal number of US Government officials from the Defense and intelligence community as well as the State Department.

Governor John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff to former President George H. W. Bush, opened the conference with thoughtful remarks and advice to the Muslim community. He urged the conferees to focus on the message they wanted to deliver to the community at large and deliver it unambiguously.


The `invitation-only conference recommended ways to help develop an improved working relationship between the U.S. government and the American Muslim community, as well as improved relations between the United States and Muslims overseas. Recommendations focused on how the U.S.

government and the American Muslim community leaders and scholars could establish lines of communication and cooperation to work together in areas of common interest.


The conference program included plenary sessions with presentations about paths of influence, the role of ijtihad, and questions of domestic security and public diplomacy. The conferees carried the discussion further in workshops, leading to specific recommendations by three working groups.  These recommendations will be referred to appropriate government agencies for their consideration.


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New Southland group will aim to deepen ties to law enforcement and raise

awareness of Islamic efforts to curb extremist beliefs.


By Teresa Watanabe

Los Angeles Times, 2/22/06




When suicide bombers blew up a London subway last year in an attack that British police suspect involved several local Muslims, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca began questioning what else he could do to help prevent homegrown terrorism here.


So he called a man he thought could offer some answers: Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.


In 2004, the council launched a national terrorism prevention campaign, endorsed by more than 600 Islamic centers nationwide, featuring religious education against violence, partnerships with law enforcement and scrutiny of literature, sermons and sources of donations in mosques.


One call led to another, and today Baca and several Southern California Muslim leaders plan to unveil the result of more than six months of discussion: a Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress to consolidate, expand and publicize Islamic efforts against terrorism. The new organization plans to deepen ties with law enforcement, encourage more religious leaders to speak out against terrorism, form a youth council and reach out to alienated Muslims to prevent any drift toward extremism.


"I dont think we can ever believe for one minute that the battle against terrorism can be won by secular society alone," Baca said this week. "Muslim Americans are in the position of playing the greatest role."


Muslim leaders said they were eager to use the new congress as a showcase for their anti-terrorism efforts, which many believe remain little known by most Americans. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, for instance, has routinely issued public condemnations of terrorism, collected more than 690,000 signatures in a petition campaign denouncing hatred in the name of Islam and coordinated a group of North American scholars to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, reiterating Islams repudiation of religious extremism and violence against innocent people including suicide bombings.


Yet Baca and Muslim leaders say there is little public awareness about such actions. In her various meetings with interfaith, educational and other community groups, "the common question is why Muslims haven’t condemned terrorism," said Sireen Sawaf of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.


But Sawaf and others say they hope the congress will help them do even more in the fight against terrorism especially building greater trust among a broader swath of Muslims toward law enforcement.


"Muslims are not the problem, they are an essential part of the solution," Hathout said.


Indeed, Baca said he hoped the community would serve as the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement to alert them to any potential criminal acts, a role many Muslims say is part of their civic and religious duty.


Baca said that extremism among Southern California Muslims was a "small but real" problem. He cited ongoing multi-agency investigations into local money laundering schemes, possibly to support Mideast terrorism; the indictment last year of four California Muslims for allegedly plotting attacks on U.S. military facilities and synagogues; and the _expression of "extremist views" at some local mosques.


At one Culver City mosque, for instance, Baca said he was given a Koran by the imam and invited to read from it during an interfaith service after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he was approached by a man afterward who told him that non-Muslims such as him were forbidden to touch the Koran. "That’s extremism at its worst," Baca said.


Several Muslim leaders, however, said they had not personally encountered anyone ever advocating violence in the name of Islam at any Southern California mosque. According to Hussam Ayloush of the American Islamic Council, imams in fact are becoming so concerned about inflammatory sentiments that some are banning political speech in mosques entirely a move Ayloush disagrees with.


Many community leaders said they were more worried about selective targeting of mosques for surveillance and of Muslims for immigration violations, according to Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization of more than 60 mosques.


Syed said imams at two mosques had been deported on visa violations in recent years, and wondered why they were targeted. In addition, he said, his Islamic council was disturbed over reports from at least four or five Muslims who said they had been asked by law enforcement to monitor certain mosques, including the sermons of the imam. He declined to identify the mosques and said he has been unable to obtain information about why such targets were chosen and who approved them.


Syed said he hoped that building deeper ties with law enforcement through the congress would help ease such concerns.


The new organization has a nine-member executive board. The congress will draw membership from mosque members, students, civil rights advocates, educators, religious scholars and others. An advisory council will include law enforcement officers, elected officials and business leaders. U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) has signed on.


Baca said he hoped to take the idea of the congress across the country.


"What I think this congress will achieve is another level of security for our country," he said. "Whoever is thinking of trying to infiltrate America is going to have a harder time."






Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani



London - One of the criticisms levelled against Islam is that it is a religion frozen in time, one that has not embraced new paradigms of the modern world. In reality, Islam has always been a living, vibrant faith that adapts to new and changing circumstances.

Though some scholars have attempted to freeze the interpretation of Islam, most accept the view that Islamic Divine Law, or sharia, is subject to ongoing re-evaluation according to the principles of juristic reasoning, known as ijtihad. The purpose of this ongoing process of ijtihad is to adapt sharia to changing societal circumstances. Thus, most Islamic scholars say that "the door of ijtihad" remains open.


Ijtihad has a rich and controversial history that is worth examining in order to understand the issues surrounding it today. The concept of ijtihad emerged out of necessity in a highly eventful period when the Muslim community was expanding rapidly into new lands and cultures. With expansion, Islams ability to adapt to new environments was tested, and the community of believers saw the need to develop and formalise methods of adjusting Islamic regulations to various socio-cultural contexts. Brilliant scholars emerged to lead this effort. Each of these luminaries had a direct connection to the Prophet, his companions or their successors a practice that guaranteed the authenticity of their understanding of this complex process of adaptation.


While the Quran and Hadith (traditions of the Prophet and his companions) were grounded in a fixed time, place, and socio-cultural milieu of seventh century Arabia, Islams message and the law it brought was for every time and place. So, scholars sought to penetrate the principles behind the thousands of rulings made in the time of the Prophet and his successors in order to build a system of precedent-based law that would provide a solid foundation for jurists in the future.


These principles include the consensus of scholars, analogy to prior rulings, pursuit of the greater good, the idea that a lesser harm is preferable to a greater harm, and the importance of pre-existing customs and practices. These principles stipulate that law can depend on precedence, not unlike the way contemporary American laws must conform to the precedent of existing law and court case history, or the way in which Jewish Kashrut law builds on the rulings of earlier scholars, which depend on analogy with situations addressed in the Torah or in the tradition of Moses and the Judaic prophets.


Over time, different scholars developed different schools of jurisprudence based on these principles, and after three centuries, there were more than 400 different schools with subtle variations of interpretation. Unfortunately, instead of benefiting from the diversity of opinions, adherents of one school sometimes became adversarial to other schools, insisting their own interpretation and methodology was the only correct one. This resulted in debate, conflict and finally open bloodshed between adherents of different schools something their founders never intended.


In order to stop this confusion, fourteenth century Sunni Islamic scholars banned the creation of new schools. Then, the number of "acceptable" schools was whittled down to the four with the largest followings, each named after their founding scholars: Maliki, now found primarily in Africa; Hanafi, found in Central Asia, Turkey, the Balkans and the Indian sub-continent; Shafii, followed in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; and Hanbali, followed mainly in the Arabian Peninsula.


With the establishment of the four schools, the process of ijtihad was restricted, in order to prevent the factionalist strife that ensued with a proliferation of methods of interpreting Islamic law, but it was not eliminated. Rather, as time passed these schools refined their founders principles of deriving law and legal judgments. By the time they emerged as the four Sunni schools, each had established a complete methodology for legal questions in light of changing times, places, circumstances and social milieus.


An oft-cited example is that of Imam Shafii who, when first formulating the basic rulings of his school in Baghdad, took a relaxed approach to social interaction between men and women in public places. However, after moving to Cairo, he called for stricter rules of separation between genders. When asked why, he cited the cultural differences he observed between Egyptians and Iraqis which necessitated stricter regulations to prevent adultery. 


A more recent example of this sort of reasoning is found in the legal ruling, issued by Shaykh Ali Jumaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, which permits Muslims living in non-Muslim lands to buy, sell and serve alcoholic drinks. This ruling came as a shock to many, but was based on solid Islamic juristic reasoning. While it appears to directly contradict the Quran and Hadith, it was based on an earlier ruling by Imam Abu Hanifa, whose school is by far the largest in the world. Imam Abu Hanifa argued that in a place where sharia is not observed, Muslims may circumvent the law in accordance with vital need. Thus, Shaykh Jumaa derived his ruling not from a newfound openness to alcohol in Islam, but from a principle enunciated early in Islam by Imam Abu Hanifa, founder of one of the four Sunni schools.


These examples demonstrate the living, vibrant nature of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as its ability to respond to new challenges and changing times. However, it must be stressed that this practice of juristic reasoning, or ijtihad, is strictly limited to those with the required legal and spiritual training and knowledge.


Jurisprudence requires not just knowledge and understanding of the sacred texts, but a deep comprehension of the circumstances around the issue being addressed and an intuitive spiritual wisdom that guides the jurist towards a decision that fulfils not just the letter of the law, but also the practical realities of a given time and place. The spiritual wisdom needed to derive well-rounded and valued rulings is not something that comes from excessive study or memorisation. Rather, it is an inner light that comes from sincere devotion to God and a spiritual connection to the source of guidance. That light is developed and maintained by means of rigorous exercises under the guidance of masters of spiritual training and enlightenment.


The history of Islam shows that ijtihad and juristic reasoning, conducted by competent and spiritually enlightened scholars, have enabled the social, cultural and intellectual adaptation of Islam to innumerable contexts. This living, vibrant heritage, that is open to change and adaptation, will continue to sustain the faith through many centuries to come. 


Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani is a scholar and Sufi shaykh from Lebanon. He is a founding member and chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, an organization that promotes the tolerance and moderation inherent in traditional Islam.

Common Ground News Service (CGNews), April 12, 2005





Seek harmony between Islamic, democratic values


By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff  |  April 3, 2006


An increasingly prominent group of Muslims and former Muslims in the United States -- ranging from soft-spoken Islamic scholars to outspoken intellectuals and professionals -- are defying death threats and ostracism to campaign for changes in the way their religion is practiced.


In the process, they are directly challenging the virtual monopoly on interpreting Muslim traditions that has been held by conservative clergy for 200 years.


Much attention in the media and the non-Muslim community is being directed at critics such as Irshad Manji, a brash Muslim lesbian author who is a fellow at Yale University; and Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist in Los Angeles whose recent condemnation of Muslim attitudes toward violence on the Arabic satellite station Al Jazeera created an international furor.


Within the Muslim community, a larger, more cautious group is also speaking up: people who remain devout even as they call for a reexamination of subjects ranging from the role of women to national loyalties to the governance of mosques.


One of those people is in the middle of the biggest controversy over Islam to arise in New England. Ahmed Mansour, a scholar and refugee from religious persecution in Egypt, was recently sued by the Islamic Society of Boston over his attacks on anti-American and anti-Semitic statements he said he read and heard inside the society’s mosque.


Others include Ebrahim Moosa, who fled radical Islamists in South Africa and now teaches at Duke University, and Radwan Masmoudi, a former worshiper at the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cambridge gatherings who now heads the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington.


’There is an effort afoot to create more harmony between American democratic values and Islamic values, and to teach and preach that to Muslim youth," said Marc Gopin, director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. ’’We are seeing a struggle to bring together foundational virtues of democracy and Islam."


Reasons for this movement include the seemingly unending stream of crises besetting the Muslim world, the heightened fear and anger directed at American Muslims after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the realization that Muslims in the United States are freer to organize and to debate their issues than most other Muslim communities in the world.


Masmoudi, who attended Islamic Society prayer services on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus while earning his doctorate in robotics at MIT, gave up a highly paid career in private industry in 2002 to work full time on modernizing and democratizing the practice of Islam.


Raising funds and attracting members was tough in the early years, he said, but more recently his center has been able to expand its staff and scope of activities.


’People in other countries have reason to be afraid" if they openly question longstanding practices, Masmoudi said in a telephone interview. ’’They could lose their jobs, they could be thrown in jail, they could even be killed. We American Muslims are finding that we must lead whether we want to or not. We have the freedom, we have the resources, we have the experience with democracy."


Mansour, who earned his doctorate in Islamic studies at Al Azhar in Cairo -- perhaps the most prominent university of the Islamic world -- has experienced both worlds. He was jailed and fired from the faculty of Al Azhar for expressing unconventional ideas about traditional practices and theories.


For example, he asserts that the hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed on which large parts of the tradition are based, are unverifiable and should be set aside in favor of a concentration on Koranic values of peace, tolerance, and democracy.


He fled Egypt after the appearance of fatwas -- religious decrees -- that made him fear for his life. In 2002, he was granted political asylum in the United States.


The following year, while working as a visiting scholar in the Islamic law project at Harvard Law School, he went to prayers at the Islamic Society and was shocked by what he heard.


’It astonished me, after my escape from Egypt, to find the same kind of ideas and the same kind of people here that I was struggling against in Egypt," he said in an interview last week in the downtown Boston office of his lawyer.


Literature and speakers in the mosque said ’America is the enemy of Islam, America is killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. They said that the Jews are enemies of Muslim people and are conspiring against Muslims with the Americans. . . . To be a good Muslim, you have to defend America," he said, ’’because this country defends the Islamic values of democracy and free speech."


Mansour joined Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, a group formed to raise concerns about the Islamic Societys fitness to develop a big new mosque on a prominent site in Roxbury, and spoke out against the sentiments he said he found inside the group’s Cambridge center.


The mosque project ran into financial difficulties after the Sept. 11 attacks, and allegations in the media that some Islamic society leaders had ties to terrorist organizations and criticisms from the citizens group plagued the society. Last November, the Islamic Society sued the Boston Herald, WFXT-TV (Channel 25), and numerous individuals and organizations, alleging an illegal conspiracy to block the mosque project.


Initially, only Christian and Jewish leaders of Citizens for Peace and Tolerance were accused, but early last month Mansour was added as a defendant.


Lawyers for the Islamic Society did not respond for calls to comment on their allegations against Mansour. The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that Mansour is ’a biased and nonauthoritative source on matters relating to the Islamic faith" who made false statements to aid the conspiracy against the mosque project.


Ebrahim Moosa, a Duke professor who fled Cape Town after radical Muslims bombed his house, says the new assertiveness of Muslim scholars in the United States is actually a return to a 1,000-year tradition of debating and updating Islamic practice in response to changes in time and place -- a tradition that was put about 200 years ago in the face of Western colonial threats.


’There is no statement in the Koran that says a woman cannot be a prayer leader," he said, citing a role for women that would be unthinkable to most conventional Muslim authorities.


Peter Skerry, a Boston College political science professor who is writing a book on Muslims in America, said the effort of US Muslims to embrace democratic values and find commonality between those values and Islam is at least in part related to President Bush’s statements on democracy and Islam.


’It is in the wind in a way it wasnt before," Skerry said. ’’It is on the agenda, and Muslims, like earlier groups of immigrants, are learning to take their cues from the society around them."






By Anwar Ibrahim

Los Angeles Times

March 25, 2006





SINCE 9/11, the United States has pursued what the White House calls a "forward strategy of freedom" predicated on the belief that a dearth of democracy in Muslim countries has led to the spread of a deadly strain of Islamic extremism. Emboldened by a hard-won ideological victory over the regimes in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, the U.S. once again has sought to foment democracy abroad to ensure security at home.


However, as the first returns come in on this democratization effort in the Muslim world, there is growing anxiety in the U.S. about the resulting character of these nascent, freely elected governments. Some have begun to even question whether these countries have the innate ability to sustain democracy.


Although it cannot be denied that U.S. initiatives for reform have contributed significantly to developments in the Middle East, fear is growing that radicals may hijack democracy. Recent Islamist electoral successes in Iran, Egypt and the Palestinian territories have given rise to questions about the ability of liberal forces to prevail against fundamentalism.


For the United States, the fear is real, though perhaps tinged with a bit of Islamophobia: How terrible an irony it would be if this grand effort to spread liberty abroad resulted in anti-U.S. Islamic states imposing Sharia, or Islamic law, on their people.


The example of Hamas ascension in Gaza and the West Bank presents obvious difficulties. But it would be fallacious to assume that it was democracy that voted in Islamic extremism. More correctly, it was the years of corruption and abuse of power of the Fatah-led administration that voted Hamas into power. If the exercise of democracy is about venting the people’s anger and dissatisfaction with the powers that be, then the outcome was a foregone conclusion.


Be that as it may, there are some who say that "stability" not liberty is what the U.S. should be promoting throughout the Islamic world. Their view is that championing electoral democracy does not immediately serve U.S. interests abroad, particularly in the war on terrorism, and that the hearts and minds of terrorists and suicide bombers are not turned by the virtues of democracy. They say the war against terrorism must be waged with an iron hand, not kid gloves woven from the fabric of constitutional liberties.


These views on democracy and stability in the Muslim world are not only wrong but carry grave consequences.


In a way, Washington’s strategy may be viewed as expiation for past sins, when the U.S. was a stumbling block to democracy in the Middle East. Iran was a democracy in 1953 when the CIA engineered the coup that transformed it into an absolute monarchy. The U.S. also has supported other tyrants in the region, including, of course, Saddam Hussein. All of this in the name of stability and security in the decades-long confrontation with the communist bloc.


Is Washington really caught between the Scylla of supporting dictators and the Charybdis of promoting democracies that could bring Islamist radicals to power?


THE BEST ANSWERS to the question of whether America should reassess its strategy lie in Indonesia and Turkey, refreshing examples of Muslim democratic self-assertion.


Seven years ago, Indonesia plunged headlong into democracy after more than 30 years of autocratic dictatorship. As the largest Muslim nation in the world, it stands out as perhaps the most significant political phenomenon in the recent history of democracy. Indonesians have gone to the polls twice since, and they overwhelmingly rejected the Islamist radicals, who then tried to push their agenda through other avenues. Again, this was met with a resounding "no" by the Indonesian people, including major Muslim organizations.


The press in Indonesia is free, and the elections are fair. Fundamental liberties are enshrined in the constitution and fully recognized and respected by the powers that be. For example, unlike in neighboring Malaysia, Indonesians may gather to protest government decisions and policies without fear of reprisals. Arbitrary arrests and political detentions are unheard of.


As fledgling democracies, Indonesia and Turkey still have a long way to go. In Indonesia, it is in fulfilling the socioeconomic objectives of democracy that can only happen over time. In Turkey, the containment of an unrestricted military establishment has aided in that country’s European Union ascension. Nevertheless, they now stand as beacons, both for Muslim nations and for those who seek to help them.


To be successful in its efforts to spread freedom, the U.S. must remember that constitutional democracy cannot take root in a society, whether secular or Islamic, without the firm commitment of the politically empowered to protect the fundamental rights to liberty, equality and freedom of all.


The true cultivation of democracy requires more than simply the introduction of elections. It also requires the establishment of democratic processes and a leveling of the political playing field. It needs the guarantee of a separation of powers and the liberation of the judicial system from the stranglehold of autocrats and tyrants. Most of all, it requires the protection of fundamental liberties and a free press.


It is in these prerequisites of democracy that the U.S. and the Muslim world need to invest, with far more significant effort, for the causes of liberty to truly prevail.


ANWAR IBRAHIM is a former finance minister and deputy prime minister of Malaysia. He is a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington.






By Abdul Aziz Said and Ben Jensen


Philadelphia Enquirer - Thu, Mar. 16, 2006



Are democracy and Islam incompatible?


From the growing tide of sectarian violence in Iraq to Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections, many are pessimistic about the possibility of an Islamic democracy. Yet to assume that these events are indicative of some kind of latent incommensurability is specious reasoning at best. Not only are democracy and Islam compatible, the combination may prove the only exit route for a clash of civilizations.


First, the premise of incompatibility rests upon a faulty assumption of a magical "democratic cocktail": rising wages, an active civil society, and secularization. Yet countries with high poverty rates and deeply held religious convictions animating their cultures, such as India, are functional democracies. Furthermore, America’s democratic experiment has withstood numerous economic depressions and resurgences of faith-based politics.


Rather than looking for magic cocktails, there is a need to understand what democracy is: a global process of organizing political needs on an equal basis, one rooted in the dreams and hopes of individual citizens. It is an open experiment. Its substance is a human society that has a sense of common goals, community, safeguards for dissent, and open participation in decision-making. The form it takes is always cast in the mold of a culture that links people together. Forms vary, as the cultural fabric from which free individuals emerge is diverse and ever-changing.


Thus, democracy is NOT a Western product. When we conflate the culturally distinct American liberal form with the substance of democracy, we assume other experiments, be they Palestine or Iraq, have to look like us, animated by the same cultural logics and institutional designs. But that approach risks imperialism, and reduces the potential for democracy within the diverse cultural fabrics that mark human civilization.


To embrace that there may be many forms of democracy is to remember the wisdom of American pragmatism. The citizen and believer are only meaningful when regarded as an inextricable part of his or her society and culture. This cultural fabric in turn has no meaning apart from its realization by individuals.


This is easy to say, but hard to see amid the current chaos. Consider Iraq. While it is tempting to write off the spiraling sectarian violence, corruption, and continued stalled attempts at forming a government as a democratic failure, they can also be seen as the growing pains of a society reconstituting itself. Despite the massive cost in Iraqi and American lives and the manipulation of Iraq by fundamentalists and inept U.S. foreign policy, there is still hope.


The lack of democracy in the Middle East is not due to a fundamental incompatibility with Islam. Blame a lack of preparation, an inheritance from colonialism and brutal authoritarianism. In fact, Islam can serve a practical role in politics by offering diverse cultural molds from which a new form of democracy can emerge. Just as our forefathers rooted their progressive political vision in Protestant values and Christian notions of natural law, Muslims can inspire and invigorate their political imaginations through the teachings of Islam - despite fundamentalist efforts to control the religion.


To realize an emergent form of democracy within Islam, Muslims must ask themselves: What kind of citizens, animated by Islamic values, can their societies create? What kinds of solutions can Islam bring to participatory decision-making, which rests at the heart of all pluralist forms of governance?


Muslims will realize a democratic society that differs from our own. This should neither surprise us, nor worry us. Rather, we should become advocates of hope. We should strive to help Muslims engage in an internal dialogue to liberate themselves as our forefathers did more than 200 years ago.


Abdul Aziz Said is professor and director of the Center for Global Peace at American University in Washington.  Ben Jensen is a research associate of the Center for Global Peace.  Contact the writers at [email protected]






By Hassan M. Fattah

New York Times
Published: April 10, 2006




DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, April 9 Steps toward democracy in the Arab world, a crucial American goal that just months ago was cause for optimism with elections held in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian areas are slowing, blocked by legal maneuvers and official changes of heart throughout the Middle East.


Analysts and officials say the political rise of Islamists, the chaos in Iraq, the newfound Shiite power in Iraq with its implication for growing Iranian influence, and the sense among some rulers that they can wait out the end of the Bush administration have put the brakes on democratization.


"It feels like everything is going back to the bad old days, as if we never went through any changes at all," said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, editor in chief of Forbes Arabia and a prominent Saudi columnist and advocate. "Everyone is convinced now that there was no serious or genuine belief in change from the governments. It was just a reaction to pressure by the international media and the U.S."


In Egypt, the government of President Hosni Mubarak, which allowed a contested presidential election last year, has delayed municipal elections by two years after the Muslim Brotherhood made big gains in parliamentary elections late last year, despite the governments violent efforts to stop the group’s supporters.


In Jordan, where King Abdullah II has made political change and democratization mandates, proponents see their hand weakened, with a document advocating change put on the back burner. Parliamentary elections in Qatar were postponed again, to 2007, while advocacy groups say that laws regulating the emergence of nongovernmental organizations have stymied their development.


In Yemen, the government has cracked down on the news media ahead of presidential elections this year, intimidating journalists who had been considered overcritical of the government.


In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has refused calls that the country’s consultative council be elected, while the arrest last month of Muhsin al-Awaji, a government critic, raised questions about how far the country’s newfound openness would go. And in Syria, promises for reforms have been followed by a harsh crackdown on the opposition.


Administration officials do not deny that there have been setbacks in the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, but say that recent negative trends do not discredit their approach.


"Democratic development isnt always linear," said a senior State Department official, insisting on anonymity in commenting for this article. "Its a process that takes time, is evolutionary and requires strong consistent support, which is what our policy is all about."


Arab nations in the Middle East are largely led by monarchies and authoritarian governments, many of which have been unable to keep up with explosive population growth and development needs.


After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Bush administration made democratization of the Middle East a strategic goal, to answer the extremism that had taken root in many parts of the region. Arab governments, prodded also by emboldened opposition movements, made some moves toward democracy. But Arab rulers now emphasize that change is a slow process, or simply focus on economic changes instead. With many economies booming, especially in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, governments are in no hurry to bring about change. At last month’s meeting of Arab League leaders, there was no mention of an Arab reform program launched in Tunis in 2004.


The slowdown comes at a critical time for the Bush administration, which has been increasingly seen as weakened both at home and abroad by its occupation of Iraq. Many Arab leaders appear to be betting that the American public is losing its appetite for major interventions, giving them a freer hand.


"Iraq has allowed people to say, Forget the American style of reform,’ " said Taher al-Adwan, editor in chief of the Amman-based newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm. "The Americans are not able to present anything to the reformers to encourage them."


In Egypt one of the United States closest allies in the Middle East, receiving about $2 billion a year in military and financial aid President Mubarak promised during his re-election campaign last summer to further amend the Constitution and allow room for other political parties to grow. But so far there has been virtually no movement on either front.


The government continues to restrict the creation of opposition parties, and judges who questioned the integrity of the recent parliamentary elections have become the focus of criminal investigations.


In December, when an Egyptian court sentenced the political opposition leader Ayman Nour to five years in prison on charges that had been widely viewed as politically motivated, Washington responded harshly, calling for his release. But Washington expressed only mild disapproval over the February announcement of the delay of municipal elections.


The delay is widely seen as an effort to preserve the monopoly on power held by Egypt’s National Democratic Party following the success of the Muslim Brotherhood at the polls. It is also considered an effort to halt the Brotherhood’s promotion of an independent candidate for president in 2011.


"America had a problem with violent Islamic groups because of a lack of democracy in the region, but when people choose nonviolent Islamic groups, they don’t want to deal with it," said Essam el-Erian, a senior member and spokesman for the Brotherhood. "Even if Islamic groups win elections and have poor relations with the U.S., they should at least appreciate that they will not be violent."


In Bahrain, where sectarian tensions between the majority Shiite population and the Sunni-dominated government prevail, a flurry of official maneuvers apparently intended to reduce the Shiite vote has preceded the municipal and parliamentary elections expected this year.


Bahrain, a tiny nation of 700,000, is often held up as a model of reform and democratization. Opposition figures say that elections, if they happen this year, will be a symbol of backtracking, not of a growing democracy. But government officials accuse the opposition of fanning sectarian tensions for political gain and point to the expected participation of opposition groups as a sign that conditions are improving.


"The question many people are asking is this: did reform slow down, or did it just never happen?" said Toby Craig Jones, who recently worked as a Persian Gulf analyst with the International Crisis Group, in independent research and advocacy organization. "This was never an example of real reform, it’s an example of controlled reform."


Nabeel Rajab, vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which was shut down by the government in 2004, said: "The Americans seem to think this is enough. They will only get involved when things get very bad. We enjoyed the honeymoon, but now its over."


When King Abdullah of Jordan entrusted a group of 26 prominent Jordanians to map out a reform agenda for his kingdom in February 2005, the stated objective was a plan for comprehensive reform and democratization efforts. But when the group presented the 2,500-page document to the king more than nine tumultuous months later, not long after the multiple suicide bombings at Amman hotels, it made little impact.


"For some reason, it was not publicized, it was not advertised, and it’s got into the hands of very few people," said Taher al-Masri, a member of the drafting committee and, for a brief time, prime minister of Jordan. "We went, we took a picture, and that was it," he said of the ceremony.


The effort toward what was called the National Agenda set off a contentious battle between Jordan’s elite Western-educated reformers, who were accused of debating issues behind closed doors, and entrenched forces in the Parliament and Senate, who sought to have greater say in the program.


Advocates like Marwan Muasher and others were quickly tainted, perceived as serving an American agenda rather than seeking reform.


Jordan’s elected Parliament sought to stymie any laws presented out of the effort, dismissing them as an effort aimed at appeasing the West, while the Senate, appointed by the king and comprising predominantly old-guard powers, also worked to preserve its hold.


Meanwhile, the changes in government only served to interrupt the reform dialogue. The king, who appoints the prime minister, went through three governments last year. The latest government of Prime Minister Maarouf al-Bakheet appointed shortly after the agenda was presented, has billed itself as a reform government.


Appointed shortly after the Nov. 9 multiple suicide bombings in Amman, the government was specifically charged with pursuing the National Agenda, its officials said. Some in the government accuse the National Agenda authors of sour grapes, continuing a practice of former government officials insulting current ones.


"There’s no contradiction between the government plan and the National Agenda," said Sabri Rbeihat, minister of political development and parliamentary affairs. "But it’s a long-term plan, while the government platform is annual."


The government has drafted numerous laws that will change various sectors of government. But for many who took part in drafting the National Agenda, the sense that it has been placed in the background suggested that the new government was pursuing its own agenda.


"For some reason, the system seems to cave in to the first signs of resistance, then it follows with policies of appeasement, and the reformers are abandoned," said Mustafa Hamarneh, a committee member and director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Jordan. "The national agenda was going to be a road map to reform in the country, but it suddenly disappeared off the radar screen. It is no longer part of the official discourse."



Reporting for this article was contributed by Abeer Allam and Michael Slackman from Cairo, Suha Maayeh from Amman, Jordan, and Steven R. Weisman from Washington.





Human Rights Watch



(New York, April 11, 2006) The government of President Bashar al-Asad must put an end to the recent wave of arrests of activists in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today.


In a letter to President al-Asad, Human Rights Watch documented the arrests in the last three months of 26 Syrian activists that appear to be tied solely to the exercise by these activists of their guaranteed rights to freedom of _expression and association. 


President al-Asad needs to rein in his internal security forces, said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. As long as people like these are hauled off without a charge, it is hard to believe that anything has changed in Syria. 


The letter to al-Asad highlights the recent arrests of Syrian activists following their return to Syria after attending conferences abroad, and the continued detention by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence agency of eight young men mostly university students for what appears to be their participation in a peaceful pro-democracy forum. 


Human Rights Watch also requested information on the whereabouts of the writer Ali al-Abdullah and his son Muhammad, who have been in incommunicado detention for more than 18 days. 


Attached to the letter is an annex detailing the 26 arrests of activists during the past three months.








By Neila Charchour Hachicha

The Daily Star



As a Tunisian citizen trying to help in the democratization of my country, I would like the world to know through my own experiences how things work within an autocracy, and why most people don’t stand up for their own liberties.


When I decided to enter politics, I sought to create a politically moderate party, since I had the conviction that the Tunisian opposition was too radical to succeed. The theocrats, I believed, were only using democratic tools in order to get to power. I did not understand, though, why many secularists were as radical.


I used to see the Tunisian regime as a prudent one that was succeeding - perhaps too slowly when it came to political reform, but advancing when it came to the economy. So I entered politics with moderate political stances. I was so inoffensive that President Zein al-Abedin ben Ali himself thanked me for the positions I advocated. It was difficult building credibility. Because I did not preach fire and brimstone, many other oppositionists considered me a regime agent. I communicated exclusively through the Internet and, despite a lack of immediate traction, I maintained a faith in my own values.


For four years, I was neither repressed nor intimidated, but I also never received legal authorization for the party which I had formed, although this is my constitutional right. During that time, however, I discovered the hidden and repressive face of my country that more vocal opponents had seen. During the United Nations World Summit for the Information Society in 2005, my partys Web site was censored.


I decided to speak out publicly at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The institute had brought together a number of activists from different Arab countries for a five-day seminar and panel session. This led to my appearance on the Al-Jazeera satellite station. My thoughts were no longer read by a few thousand people on my Web site; I was heard and seen by millions in the Arab world.


It did not take long for the repressive machinery to kick into action. Within a month, the government had made bogus charges against my husband for a real estate transaction, which led to a 10-month prison sentence. Eyewitnesses watched the police confiscate my car, although they continue to deny involvement. Plainclothes police surrounded my house and registered the license plate numbers of all visitors. Some friends told me they received instructions not to visit or contact me. Others alerted me that they were receiving by mail an indecently doctored photo taken of my daughter during her engagement party. The government blocked my Internet connection. Finally the police summoned me for hours of questioning. They asked me to sign a statement never to blame the police again for its abuses. I refused.


Friends and relatives began to pressure me: If I wanted my children to be safe, I should withdraw from politics. They were right. Continuing alone is suicidal in an autocracy. If I want my children to be safe I should stop, since no one can protect us on a daily basis from abusive and illegal terrorization. But if I want my country to be ruled by law, we must all resist and denounce together these cheap methods that divide families and friends and encourage enmity at all human levels.


The problem is that most Tunisians do not want to admit that they are terrorized. On the one hand, acknowledgment of the fact means accepting an incapacity to react. On the other hand, to do nothing in the face of abuse suggests implicit support for autocracy. It becomes natural then to avoid any political criticism of the region. It is far easier to blame the West, the United States, or Israel. It is very rare that Tunisians or other Muslims will admit that our destiny is in our own hands. Because people who acknowledge responsibility are rare, it is easy for governments to isolate them socially and politically.


This is why throughout the Arab world democratic movements are very weak while religious ones are getting bigger and stronger. Autocrats want the status quo. Liberals want responsibility. And theocrats do not hesitate to act as demagogues while encouraging continued fatalism. When an autocracy terrorizes its people and suppresses free civil society, it leaves very little space to react freely and positively. While most people keep silent, destroying each iota of their political and human values to become the safe and secure clients of a regime, the pressure on the few outspoken opponents is so high that they often end up reproducing the violence and repression they have suffered from. God becomes their unique resort.


My harassment continues, and as a mother I fear for my family’s safety. I realize now that Ben Alis job-security trumps the rule of law. I also realize that while officials in Washington and Brussels know about these autocratic methods, they still give flowery speeches about democracy even as their commitment is empty, since they publicly continue to support autocracies. The American and European embassies in Tunis have been silent. The State Department in Washington and the Quai d’Orsay in Paris apparently care little for the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.


Given the unwillingness of the West to seriously defend liberal values, we can only resist silently. Hopefully justice will prevail, but if it doesn’t the price will be too high to bear for the whole world.


Neila Charchour Hachicha is the founder of Tunisia’s Parti Liberal Mediterraneen (www.plmonline.info).





New York Times Editorial




Published: April 11, 2006




Iraq shows just how badly things can go wrong when an administration rashly embraces simple military solutions to complicated problems, shutting its ears to military and intelligence professionals who turn out to be tragically prescient. That lesson has yet to be absorbed by the Bush administration, which is now reportedly honing plans for airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.


Congress and the country need to ask the administration just what is going on, and just what it hopes to accomplish by this latest saber rattling.

If the administration
s real goal is to change minds in Iran and energize diplomacy, it is not going about it in a very smart way. If, instead, it intends to proceed with a bombing campaign when and if diplomacy fails, Congress and the public need to force the kind of serious national debate that never really took place before the American invasion of Iraq.

Routine contingency planning goes on all the time in the Pentagon, but the discussions on Iran seem to have progressed beyond this level, with high administration officials pushing the process and dropping indirect hints of possible future American military action in language that sometimes recalls statements made before the invasion of Iraq.


The Washington Post reports that two main options are being seriously considered a limited strike against Iranian nuclear-related sites or a broader campaign against a wider range of military and political targets. The planners are also looking at ways America could use tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate Iran’s heavily reinforced underground uranium enrichment complex at Natanz. The British government is said to take Washington’s planning exercises seriously enough to have worked out security arrangements for its own diplomats and citizens in the event of American air attacks.


War with Iran would be reckless folly, especially with most of America’s ground forces tied up in Iraq, where they are particularly vulnerable to retaliation from Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies. Nor is there any guarantee that such a conflict would remain limited to airstrikes. Bombing alone probably cannot destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, some of which are underground and fortified, and possibly others in unknown locations.


In fact, Iran already has much of the material and know-how to make nuclear bombs, and is believed to be about 10 years away from building them. The best hope for avoiding a nuclear-armed Iran lies in encouraging political evolution there over the next decade. It is important to make clear to the Iranian people that they have no need for nuclear weapons and would actually be better off without them.


Years of frustrating diplomacy have not managed to deflect Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but American airstrikes are not likely to either. The best they could hope to achieve is delay, but that result would be far outweighed by the likely consequences.


An American bombing campaign would surely rally the Iranian people behind the radical Islamic government and the nuclear program, with those effects multiplied exponentially if the Pentagon itself resorted to nuclear weapons in the name of trying to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs.







Experts say nothing in the Koran forbids conversion, but some Muslims believe it demands a death penalty.


By Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent

March 28, 2006




An Afghan Muslim appears to have escaped execution for converting to Christianity. But his case will long be a reminder of the gulf between Islam as it originated and Islam as interpreted by its extremist followers.


Experts on the faith say there is nothing in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, nor the teachings of the prophet Mohammed that bans conversion, let alone that requires a convert to be executed. Only after Mohammed’s death did the idea of punishment emerge, and then as much for political reasons as for religious ones.


During the early years of the Islamic empire, when the state’s authority was threatened by hostile tribes, renouncing Islam was considered treason. Even then, however, it "did not always merit capital punishment - it was at the discretion of the judge," says Asma Afsaruddin, an expert on Islamic civilization at the University of Notre Dame.


Judges "didnt have this simplistic black and white view. A number of Muslims (today) do adhere to this simplistic view and will assert this kind of punishment, but they have lost touch with their own diverse legal and ethical traditions."


According to Afghanistan Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshak Aloko, the Christian convert was released from prison in Kabul on Monday. Abdul Rahman, 41, whom prosecutors previously said was mentally unfit to stand trial, faced the death penalty for renouncing Islam 16 years ago when he worked for a Christian missionary group helping Afghan refugees in neighboring Pakistan.


Rahman has appealed for asylum in another country out of fear Islamic extremists will kill him once he goes free. Hundreds of Afghans, including Muslim clerics, demanded Monday that he be put to death.


The case has outraged Christians worldwide. It has also dramatized how far Afghanistan remains from the tolerant, democratic nation President Bush envisioned when he committed thousands of troops and billions of dollars to ousting the extremist Taliban in 2001.


Afghanistan’s new Constitution proclaims Islam as the official state religion but says, somewhat ambiguously, that non-Muslims are free to worship "within limits of the provisions of law." The nations legal system remains based on a strict interpretation of sharia law that permits the death penalty for "apostasy" or converting to another faith.


Before Rahmans arrest last month, the U.S. State Department said reported violations of religious freedom in Afghanistan were on the decline. It noted, however, that there were unconfirmed media accounts of five male converts to Christianity being killed between June and August 2004.


The Taliban and many other Afghans have been influenced by a highly conservative strain of Islam known as Wahhabism, founded three centuries ago in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabi doctrine still governs everyday life in the kingdom, a close U.S. ally that is considered one of the worlds most repressive countries.


In 2004, a Christian from India who was working in Saudi Arabia was jailed for more than seven months for allegedly "spreading Christianity." Brian O’Connor, an Anglo-Indian, said he was strung upside down by his feet, then kicked, whipped and beaten.


"In between torture sessions, (a guard) forced me to sign statements confessing that I had in my possession biblical DVDs and CDs," he later said. O’Connor was released only after an international campaign to free him.


In another incident in 2004, a Saudi newspaper reported that a Muslim teacher had been sentenced to 40 months in jail and 750 lashes for "mocking religion" after he discussed faiths other than Wahhabi Islam in his classroom.


"There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia," the State Department said last year.


Islam is like Christianity and most other faiths in that it considers itself the right religion and strongly disapproves of those who convert, says Radwan Masmoudi, founder of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, in Washington. He stresses, however, that not all Muslims agree with Wahhabis that conversion should be punished by imprisonment or even death.


Growing up in the predominantly Muslim nation of Tunisia, Masmoudi read the Bible as well as the Koran "because I was interested to learn what’s out there" before settling on a faith he could follow. He was struck by the many similarities between Islam and Christianity, including stories about Adam, Moses, Noah, the Virgin Mary and the miracles of Jesus.


"The only thing that made a difference for me is the issue of the Trinity - I was not comfortable with the idea that God has a son," Masmoudi said.


Just as Muslims try to convert others to their religion, he said Christians should be allowed to proselytize in Muslim countries so long as they don’t try to woo converts with food or cash, as reportedly occurs in parts of Africa.


"Where people are dying from hunger, they’ll convert to anything if you give them food. People should feel free to decide - if somebody is convinced Christianity is the way to go and wants to become a Christian, I have no problems with that," Masmoudi said.


Afsaruddin of Notre Dame agrees that Muslims should be receptive to letting those of other faiths talk about their religions. However, she said, Christian proselytizing is often seen as attempt to impose Western values and culture when many in the Muslim world feel especially defenseless and vulnerable.


The experience of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suggests that Muslim governments do not want citizens converting to Christianity even if it is not expressly forbidden.


The church has one of the worlds largest missionary programs, but "wherever we go, we go in the front door, with permission," church president Gordon B. Hinckley said in 2000.


As a result, the church does not proselytize to Muslims anywhere in the world.




Apostasy and Religious Freedom


By Louay Safi  




The issue of apostasy under Islamic Law (shariah), brought recently to public attention in the widely publicized case of the conversion of an Afghan citizen, raises troubling questions regarding freedom of religion and interfaith relations.[1] The Afghan States prosecution of an Afghan man who converted to Christianity in 1990 while working for a Christian non-governmental raises in the mind of many the question of the compatibility of Islam with plural democracy and freedom of religion. Although the state court dropped the case under intense outside pressure, the compatibility issue has not been resolved as the judge invoked insanity as the basis for dismissing the case.[2]


The case was presented as an example of conflict between Islam and democratic governance, but in many respects the case is rooted in, and influenced by, the forced secularization of Muslim society, and the absence of free debate under authoritarian regimes that currently dominate much of the Muslim world.[3]


The issue of apostasy, like many other issues stemming from the application of shariah in modern society, is rooted more in the sociopolitical conditions of contemporary Muslim societies than in Islamic values and principles. More particularly, it is rooted in the incomplete transition from traditional to modern sociopolitical organization. It is rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law (shariah), in favor of European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies. The new laws where enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal codes in public morality.


Islam is the foundation of moral commitments for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and is increasingly becoming the source of legitimacy for state power and law. Yet the post-colonial state in Muslim societies has done little to encourage debate in the area of Islamic law. The increased interest in adopting legal codes based in Islamic values, leaves the majority of Muslims with outdated legal codes that were intended for societies with markedly different social and political organizations and cultures.


The apostasy controversy highlights the importance of allowing Islamic reformers more say in public debate about political and legal reforms, and demonstrates the extent to which world powers undercut cultural and religious reforms by backing autocratic regimes that crack down on Muslim reformers in the name of combating political Islam. To legitimize their political rule and enlist the support of religious voices, autocratic rulers often align themselves with traditional religious scholars, who embrace a literalist understanding of shariah and perpetuate rigid and anti-reform agenda in Muslim societies.


Traditionalist scholars have long embraced classical positions on apostasy that consider the rejection of Islam as a capital crime, punishable by death. This uncritical embrace is at the heart of the drama that was played in the case of the Afghan convert to Christianity, and which will more likely be repeated until the debate about shariah reform and its relevance to state and civil law is examined and elaborated by authentic Muslim voices.


Tradition and Traditionalism


At the heart of the apparent conflict between Islamic and democratic traditions is a static and stagnant approach to understanding Islamic law. The conflict stems mainly from a literalist understanding of the revelatory sources, i.e. the Quran and Sunnah (the Prophet tradition), and the body of Islamic jurisprudence derived from them through the exercise of juristic reasoning. The latter includes customary traditions (urf) incorporated by jurists into the body of Islamic Law, as well as the various inferential tools used to derive the rules of Islamic jurisprudence from their sources, such as analogy (qiyas), pubic interest (maslaha mursalah), and community consensus (ijma). With the marginalization of Islamic juristic learning and the restriction of public debate on Islamic Law by the state, and the traditionalist jurists allied with it, a literalist approach of Islamic law has become rampant in many Muslim societies.


Under such climate, the most rigid and literalist interpretations of Islamic sources prevail, while enlightened and reformist views are suppressed and marginalized. The voices of many enlightened contemporary scholars such as those of Rashid al-Ghanoushi, Hassan al-Turabi, Jawdat Said, and others, who reject the literalist interpretation of the Islamic sources are pushed to the side, as these individuals have been persecuted for taking critical positions against the authoritarian regimes that rule their societies.


The Quran is Clear on Religious Freedom


There is ample evidence in the Quran that individuals should be able to accept or reject a particular faith on the basis of personal conviction, and that no amount of external pressure or compulsion should be permitted: No compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error.(2:256) If it had been the Lords will, they would have believed All who are on earth!  Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! (10:99)


By emphasizing peoples right to freely follow their conviction, the Quran reiterates a long standing position, which it traces back to one of the earliest known Prophets, Noah:  He [Noah] said: O my people! See if I have a clear sign from my Lord, and that he has sent mercy unto me, but that the mercy has been obscured from your sight?  Shall we compel you to accept it when you are averse to it! (11:28).


The message of freedom of belief and conviction, and the call to religious tolerance is reiterated time and again through various Prophets, as it is quite apparent in the message of Prophet Shuaib to his people: And if there is a party among you that believes in the message with which I have been sent, and a party which does not believe, hold yourselves in patience until Allah does decide between us: for He is the best to decide. When Shuaibs people threatened him with expulsion, he protested strongly citing his freedom to choose his faith: The leaders, the arrogant party among his people, said: O Shuaib! We shall certainly drive you out of our city, and those who believe with you, or else you shall have to return to our ways and religion.  He said: What! Even though we do not wish to do so.(7:86-7).


Not only does the Quran recognize the individuals right to freedom of conviction, but it also recognizes his/her moral freedom to act on the basis of their conviction: Say: O my people!  Do whatever you may:  I will do (my part).  But soon will you know on whom an anguish of ignoring shall be visited, and on whom descends an anguish that abide(39: 39-40).  Say:  Everyone acts according to his own disposition:  But your Lord knows best who it is that is best guided on the way. (17:84).


The principle that the larger community has no right to interfere in ones choices of faith and conviction can be seen, further, in the fact that the Quran emphasizes that the individual is accountable for the moral choices he or she makes in this life to their Creator alone: O you who believe!  Guard your own souls:  If you follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray.  The goal of you all is God:  It is He that will show you the truth of all that you do. (5:105). So if they dispute with you, say:  I have submitted my whole self to God and so have those who follow me.  And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: Do you (also) submit yourselves?  If they do, they are in right guidance.  But if they turn back, your duty is to convey the message; and in Gods sight are (all) His servants.(3:20)


Indeed, one cannot find in the Quran any support for the  apostasy (ridda) penalty.  The Quran makes two references to ridda: Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can.  And if any of you turn back (commit ridda) from their faith and die in that state of unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life; and in the hereafter they will be companions of the fire and will abide therein.(2:217). O you who believe!  If any from among you turn back (commits ridda) from his/her faith, soon will God produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him humble with the believers mighty against the disbelievers, thriving in the way of God, and never afraid of the reproaches of detractors.  That is the grace of God, he bestows on whom He please; and God encompasses all and he knows all things. (5:54).


In both cases the Quran does not specify any physical punishment here and now, let alone a death penalty.  The Quran rather warns those who renounce their faith of disgrace and ill-fate.  To the contrary, the Quran provides direct evidenc that ridda is not punishable by death: Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief God will never forgive them nor guide them to the path. (4:137)  Obviously, a death penalty would not permit repeated conversion from and to Islam.


Faulty Reasoning and Selective Reading


Yet despite of the Quranic emphasis on freedom of conviction and moral autonomy, many classical jurists contend that a person who renounces Islam or converts to another religion commits a crime of ridda (apostasy) punishable by death. However, because the Quran is unequivocal in supporting religious freedom, classical jurists relied, in advocating death penalty for ridda (renouncing Islam), on two hadiths (Prophetic statements), and the precedent of the Muslims fighting against Arab apostates under the leadership of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. Although the two hadiths are reported in Bukhari and are considered authentic, they are both shaky and do not stand to close scrutiny:  Kill whoever changes his religion, and Three acts permit the taking of a persons life: a soul for a soul, the adultery of a married man, and renouncing religion while severing ties with the community.


Now both hadith statements cannot stand as credible evidence because they contravene numerous Quranic evidence.  According to most established juristic schools, a hadith can limit the application of a general Quranic statement, but can never negate it.[4]  In addition, the hadiths even contradict the practices of the Prophet who reportedly pardoned Muslims who committed ridda.  One well-known example is that of Abdullah bin Sad who was pardoned after Osman bin Affan pleaded on his behalf.  Ibn Hisham narrated in his Sirah that the Prophet pardoned the people of Quraysh after the Muslims entered Makkah victorious in the eighth year of the Islamic calendar.  The Prophet excluded few individuals from this general pardon, whom he ordered to be killed if captured, including Abdullah bin Sad.


Abdullah was one of the few persons appointed by the Prophet to write the revealed texts.  After spending a while with the Muslims in Medina, he renounced Islam and returned to the religion of Quraysh.  He was brought to the court of the Prophet by Osman, who appealed for his pardon.  He was pardoned even though he was still, as the narration indicates, in a state of ridda and was yet to reembrace Islam.[5]  If ridda was indeed a hadd (a punishable crime), neither Osman would be able to plea for him, nor the Prophet would pardon him in violation of the shari`ah law.  Therefore, I am inclined to the increasingly popular view among contemporary scholars, that ridda does not involve a moral act of conversion, but a military act of rebellion, whose calming justifies the use of force and the return of fire.[6]


Theory of Right


Islamic law (shariah) is essentially a moral code with few legal pronouncements, and the question of which precepts are purely moral and which that have legal implications are determined through the theory of right.


The widely accepted theory of right among jurists divides rights into three types:[7]  (1)  Rights of God (Huquq Allah)    These consist of all obligations that one has to discharge simply because they are divine commands, even when the human interests or utilities in undertaking them are not apparent, such as prayers, fasting, hajj, etc.; (2)  Rights shared by God an his servants (Huquq Allah wa al-Ibad) These include acts that are obligatory because they are demanded by God, but they are also intended to protect the public, such as hudud law, jihad, zakat, etc., and (3)  Rights of Gods servants (Huquq al-Ibad) These are rights intended to protect individual interests, such as fulfilling promises, paying back debts, honoring contracts.  Still people are accountable for their fulfillment to God.


As it can be seen, the theory of right devised by late classical jurists around the eighth century of Islam emphasizes that people are ultimately answerable to God in all their dealings.  However, by using the term rights of God to underscore the moral duty of the individual, and his/her accountability before God, classical jurists obscured the fact that rights are invoked to support legal claims and to enforce the interests of the right-holder.  Because the Quran makes it abundantly clear that obeying the divine revelation does not advance the interests of God, but only those of the human being, the phrase rights of God signifies only the moral obligations of the believers towards God, and by no means should they be taken as a justification of legal claims.[8]


It follows that the rights of God which are exclusively personal should be considered as moral obligations for which people are only answerable to God in the life to come.  As such accepting or rejecting a specific interpretation or a particular religious doctrine, and observing or neglecting fundamental religious practices, including prayer or hajj, should have no legal implications whatever.  A legal theory in congruence with the Quranic framework should distinguish between moral and legal obligations, and should confine the latter to public law that promote public interests (constitutional, criminal, etc.) and private law that advances private interests (trade, family, personal, etc.).


Unless the above legal reform is undertaken, there is no way to ensure that takfir (charging one with disbelief) and zandaqa (charging one with heresy) claims would not become a political weapon in the hands of political groups to be used as a means to eliminate rivals and opponents.  Indeed there is ample evidence to show that zandaqa and takfir have been used by the political authorities during the Umayyad  and  Abbasid dynasties to persecute political dissidents.[9]


Reciprocity and Social Peace


The principle of reciprocity, central to all religious and secular ethics, lies at the core of the Islamic concept of justice.  The Quran is pervaded with injunctions that encourage Muslims to reciprocate good for good and evil for evil.[10] The principle is, similarly, epitomized in the Golden Rule of the Christian faith, and has been given a secular _expression in Kants categorical imperative: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.[11]


In modern society where people of different faiths live side by side, and cooperate under a system of law that recognizes their equal dignity, a due attention must be given to the principle of reciprocity as the essence of justice in a multi-religious society. Any attempt by a religious community to place sanctions and apply coercion on its members who choose to convert to another religious group will place a moral obligation on the latter to defend the new comers who choose to join their faith. Muslim would feel morally obligated to defend the right of a Jew and Christian to freely embrace Islam, and would not accept any coercive measure intended to restrict the right of Jews and Christians to convert to Islam. A Christian or a Jew who converts to Islam is no more a Christian or a Jew, but a Muslim and must be respected as such. By the same taken a Muslim who convert to Christianity is no more a Muslim, but a Christian and must be respected as such.


Indeed, there are already signs that the calls by radical voices within Muslim societies to revive apostasy laws have provoked calls by others to restrict conversion to Islam of members of their communities. In December 2004, members of the Coptic community in Egypt cried foul when a Coptic woman converted to Islam. Coptic leaders accused Muslims of forcing the woman to accept Islam, and thousands of Christian Copts demonstrated in various parts of the nation against what they say is the government’s failure to protect them against anti-Christian crimes.[12]


Although medieval Christian Europe practiced coercion to force reverse conversions to Christianity, modern societies recognize the freedom of religion of all citizens. Muslim scholars have the obligation to reconsider modern reality and reject any attempt to revive historical claims rooted in classical jurisprudence that are clearly at odd with Quranic principles and the  Islamic spirit, and with modern society and international conventions and practices. It would be a tragedy, for both social peace in Muslim societies and world peace in an increasingly diverse global society, if religious communities embrace practices that limit freedom of religion, and adopt measures that rely on coercion to maintain the integrity of religious communities.



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By: Financial Times Editorial

April 1, 2006


Freedom of academic debate, political polemic, populist prejudice, outlandish exaggeration and even mildly slanderous innuendo about anything from Britney Spears to the president is axiomatic in the United States of America, is it not? Well, perhaps not altogether.


Reflexes that ordinarily spring automatically to the defence of open debate and free enquiry shut down - at least among much of America’s political elite - once the subject turns to Israel, and above all the pro-Israel lobbys role in shaping US foreign policy.


Even though policy towards the Middle East is arguably the single biggest determinant of America’s reputation in the world, any attempt to rethink this from first principles is politically risky.


Examining the specific role of organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly considered to be the most effective lobby group in the US apart from the National Rifle Association, is something to be undertaken with caution.


Doctrinal orthodoxy was flouted last month in a paper on the Israel lobby by two of America’s leading political scientists, Stephen Walt from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago. They argue powerfully that extraordinarily effective lobbying in Washington has led to a political consensus that American and Israeli interests are inseparable and identical.


Only a UK publication, the London Review of Books, was prepared to carry their critique, in the same way that it was Prospect, a British monthly journal, that four years ago published a path-breaking study of the Israel lobby by the American analyst, Michael Lind.


Moral blackmail - the fear that any criticism of Israeli policy and US support for it will lead to charges of anti-Semitism - is a powerful disincentive to publish dissenting views. It is also leading to the silencing of policy debate on American university campuses, partly as the result of targeted campaigns against the dissenters.


Judgment of the precise value of the Walt-Mearscheimer paper has been swept aside by a wave of condemnation. Their scholarship has been derided and their motives impugned, while Harvard has energetically disassociated itself from their views. Mr Walts position as academic dean of the Kennedy School is in doubt.


On various counts, this is a shame and a self-inflicted wound no society built on freedom should allow.


Honest and informed debate is the foundation of freedom and progress and a precondition of sound policy. It is, to say the least, odd when dissent in such a central area of policy is forced offshore or reduced to the status of samizdat. Some of Israel’s loudest cheerleaders, moreover, are often divorced by their extremism from the mainstream of American Jewish opinion and the vigorous debate that takes place inside Israel. As Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, remarked in Haaretz about the Walt-Mearsheimer controversy: "It would in fact serve Israel if the open and critical debate that takes place over here were exported over there [the US]."


Nothing, moreover, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Washington should use its influence to resolve it, and how best America can advance freedom and stability in the region as a whole. Bullying Americans into a consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes it impossible for America to articulate its own national interest.



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Deadline - April 15 - Call for Nominations - JHFA 2006


Rights & Democracy is currently accepting nominations for the John Humphrey Freedom  Award,  which is presented every year to an organization or person who  has  made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of human rights and  democratic  development. 


The  award consists of a grant of $25,000 as well  as  a  speaking tour of Canadian cities to help increase awareness of the  recipient’s  human  rights work. The deadline for nominations is April 15,  2006.  To  obtain  information  on  eligibility  criteria, consult our

Website: www.dd-rd.ca



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The Saban Center For Middle East Policy

at The Brookings Institution


1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW   Washington, DC 20036-2188

Phone: 202-797-6462   Fax: 202-797-2481

Website: www.brookings.edu/Sabancenter



Dear Colleague, We are writing to ask your help in identifying suitable candidates for the position of Office Director of Brookings-Doha, a new office that will be launched in Doha, Qatar.  The individual would also carry a joint appointment as an Islamic World Fellow to conduct research and policy analysis as a member of the Brookings Project on U.S.

Relations with the Islamic World, housed within the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.


The function of the office will be to provide regional coordination of the activities of the Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, including the U.S.-Islamic World Forum global leaders conference series (for more information on the Forum, please go to www.us-islamicworldforum.org).


Under the Office Directors leadership, Brookings-Doha will also develop as a regional hub for broader think tank activities, including a visiting fellows program, the hosting of a speaker series, special issue workshops and dialogues, associated public policy outreach, and eventually the conduct of research.


The Office Director will oversee and manage the launch and day to day operations of the Brookings-Doha office, as well as conduct his/her own research on issues of policy importance.


The Director will also work with the Washington office of the Project to implement programming, assist in conceptualization of the Doha Forum and the program agenda for it, and develop working relations with local leaders and agencies A successful candidate should have relevant experience and education, professional distinction, and promise in both managing programmatic activities and conducting policy-relevant research.  English and Arabic language skills are required.


Salary will be commensurate with experience, with provisions made for additional expenses related to housing, travel, etc.


Candidates are required to provide a copy of their CV, a statement of their relevant research interests and professional experience, and addresses of three references


Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact the project via phone: 202- 797-2471, fax: 202-797-2481, or email: [email protected]





For questions or comments about the information in this bulletin, contact
Sami Bawalsa at [email protected].

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