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Vocapedia > Religions, Faith > Islam > Muslims





Identity in Islam        Video        8 October 2015

Identity, belonging, place and purpose.


YouTube > Average Mohamed




Taking On The Appeal Of ISIS, With Cartoons

NPR    Updated February 21, 2016    10:19 AM ET























































































Islam > History, Religion and ethics        FR / UK / USA






- Mediapart













Islam > News        FR / UK / USA


































watch?v=s8hOSuMA7Uw - 24 October 2016













watch?v=xQtuZwFIuxE - Europe 1 - 23 November 2015





















watch?v=728ibhWFzyE - Europe 1 - 11 October 2014

















story/story.php?storyId=126909914 - May 18, 2010














view on Islam        UK






moderate Islam        USA











unislamic        USA






creationism        USA






political Islam        USA
















convert to Islam        UK








Muslim convert        UK






conversion to Islam        USA
















USA > Nation of Islam > Louis Farrakhan        USA











Islamic law





Iran's Islamic law






Islamic state        USA






Islamic caliphate













Islamic shrine















Sufism        UK










Sufis        USA

















radical Islam        UK






radical islam        USA        UK






radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada        UK









Muslim radicals / Radical Muslims        UK








UK > radicalization        USA
















Prophet Muhammad        UK / USA























Saudi Arabia > Mecca > Jabal al-Noor


- mountain

where Muslims believe

the Prophet Muhammad received,

in the Cave of Hira,

his first revelation

– a visitation by archangel Gabriel,

who passed on the first words

of what was to become the Qur’an










Prophet Ezekiel        USA


Ezekiel, a Jewish prophet,

is also revered by Muslim pilgrims

















Muslim        USA



















































black Muslims        USA










Latino Muslims        USA










Muslim identity        USA










Muslim neighbourhoods








devout Muslim
















Myanmar > Rohingya        UK / USA

























































100000005404848/endless-stream-of-rohingya-flee-military-offensive.html - Sep. 2, 2017

















-  the world’s largest

majority Muslim nation        USA        2010










Europe’s Muslims        USA

















Muslim scholars        USA










Mohamed Fathi Osman    1928-2010


influential scholar

who articulated

a liberal version of Islam

and published

an authoritative guide to the Koran

for non-Arabic readers


















Muslim states








Muslim college















Muslim Britain / British muslims / British Islam        UK / USA


watch?time_continue=36&v=WHoi30fTInY - G - 27 June 2019















































































Islam race and British identity        UK






Muslim Council of Britain        UK






Northern Ireland > Muslims        UK
















Muslim faithful        USA










U.S. Muslim leaders        USA        2008



























Egypt > Muslim brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood is the grandfather

of Islamist movements around the world,

and since the Egyptian revolution,

has become the most powerful political force there.


In 2012,

it won control of Egypt’s parliament;

one of its leaders, Mohamed Morsi,

became president;

and the party dominated

the drafting of a constitution

that Mr. Morsi then pushed to ratification.

A religious and anticolonialist movement

that became the wellspring

of Islamist ideologies around the world,

the Brotherhood was outlawed

but intermittently tolerated

under Egypt’s longtime strongman,

former President Hosni Mubarak.

Updated: Dec. 24, 2012























































Egypt > ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis        USA        2011




















Jerusalem, Israel


Women have a snowball fight at the Dome of the Rock mosque

in the Al Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City


Photograph: Mahmoud Illean/AP


Explosives training and a planned Mars landing – Thursday's best photos

The Guardian’s picture editors bring you

the best in news photography from across the globe


Thu 18 Feb 2021    14.11 GMT

















Jerusalem's Old City

Jerusalem’s holy sites > Jerusalem's Al-Aksa / Al Aqsa compound        FR / USA


 Al Aksa / Al Aqsa compound


The 37-acre compound

is the holiest site in Judaism,

and the third holiest in Islam.


Jews call it the Temple Mount,

Muslims the Noble Sanctuary.





(...) site known to Jews as the Temple Mount

and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.




























Jerusalem’s holy sites > Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque        UK


Ariel Sharon

risks provoking another Palestinian backlash

over control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

as he decides in the coming days what to do

about a large and unstable bulge

in a wall of one of Islam's holiest sites.



have warned the prime minister

that without urgent repairs

the mount's southern wall

and buildings attached to it

- including the al-Aqsa mosque -

could collapse on some of the hundreds

of thousands of Muslim worshippers

who are expected to visit during Ramadan,

which begins next month.











Grand Mufti of Jerusalem        USA

















Dome of the Rock        UK


Islamic tradition

says that the Prophet Muhammad

ascended to heaven

from the spot marked

by the Dome of the Rock.


Tradition speaks of the Prophet

being taken from Mecca to Jerusalem

on a winged horse

and then being lifted to heaven

where he was shown by God

when and how to pray,

one of the five pillars of Islam.


According to Jewish tradition,

the rock that is the centre of the Dome of the Rock

is the site where Abraham bound his son Isaac

for sacrifice.




















mosque        UK












mosque        USA












































UK > imam        UK / USA






















grand ayatollah








2010 > Iran > Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei        USA










grand mufti

















One of many madrasas in Quetta in 2008.



Alex Majoli/Magnum, for The New York Times


What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden

By CARLOTTA GALL        NYT        Magazine

MARCH 19, 2014


















the Qur'an / Quran / Koran - the Muslim holy book        UK / USA





















































recite the Koran









reading of the Qur'an and acts of charity









commentaries on the Koran























madrasa / madrassah

(religious school in India and in Pakistan)        UK / USA





















British muslim schools        UK
















Sharia / Shariah law        UK







































































































Sharia / Shariah law        USA


shariah-law-afghanistan-women.html - August 20, 2021








































































the sharia law of retribution        UK










an eye for an eye        UK







UK Sharia courts





Sharia ruling





Muslim Arbitration Tribunal






coercion        UK
























fatwa        UK

















fatwa        USA












extrajudicial punishments

in the name of fatwas

– religious edicts under Sharia law        UK










sharia police officer > caning        UK


Aceh, a province in Indonesia

that practises partial sharia law.

















Wahhabism        UK        2014


the strict interpretation of Islam

followed in Saudi Arabia










What Is Wahhabism?


The Islam

taught in and by Saudi Arabia

is often called Wahhabism,

after the 18th-century cleric

who founded it.


A literalist,

ultraconservative form

of Sunni Islam,

its adherents often denigrate

other Islamic sects

as well as Christians and Jews.











Saudi Arabia > Wahhabism        USA


Saudi Arabia has frustrated

American policy makers for years.


Ostensibly a critical ally,

sheltered from its enemies

by American arms and aid,

the kingdom has spent

untold millions promoting Wahhabism,

the radical form of Sunni Islam

that inspired the 9/11 hijackers

and that now inflames

the Islamic State.























Saudi Arabia’s religious police


Commission for the Promotion of Virtue

and the Prevention of Vice        USA

















Alaouites        FR


watch?v=5tZ0LFp9dYc - 13 July 2017








Alawite        USA

















Muslim cleric

controversial Muslim cleric > Yusuf al-Qaradawi        UK




















Supplicating Pilgrim

at Masjid Al Haram. Mecca, Saudi Arabia.


Photo Taken by Ali Mansuri


Feb. 13, 2003


Wikipedia > Author: Ali




















Thousands of Muslims gather in the Grand Mosque,

in Islam's holiest city of Mecca and home to the Kaaba (center),

as they take part in dawn (fajir) prayers on August 29, 2010,

to start their day-long fast during the holy month or Ramadan.


Photograph: AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty Images


Boston Globe > Big Picture

Ramadan 2010        August 30, 2010



















The Ka'aba / K'aba / Kaab

 the huge black cube in the center of the Grand Mosque.


53 tués à La Mecque        Liberation.fr        6 January 2006















the Prophet Muhammad / the prophet Mohammed / Mohammed        UK


Islam's seventh-century prophet    (570-632)










Mount Arafat,

whence the Prophet Mohamed

gave his final sermon in AD 632












Boston Globe > Big Picture

Muslims around the world

celebrate the birth of Mohammed    January 13, 2014


Muslims around the world

celebrate the birth

of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed,

who was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

in 570 AD.


His birthday is marked in many ways

in different Muslim nations.










Muhammad cartoons row        2006




















The Prophet Mohammed Mosque

in the Saudi holy city of Medina on November 12, 2009.


Islam's Prophet Mohammed

is buried in Medina's landmark mosque,

which is Islam's second holiest shrine after Mecca.





The Boston Globe > The Big Picture

The Hajj and Eid al-Adha 2009

November 27, 2009
















the five pillars of Islam        UK











sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith        UK











performing ritual prayers

in the proper way five times each day        UK











paying an alms (or charity) tax

to benefit the poor and the needy        UK











fasting during the month of Ramadan        UK

















Halal meat / food        UK



















The 99: Superheroes

inspired by the qualities of Allah        UK        2009-2010



















Muslim resistance:

The struggle within - video        UK        January 2011


Documentary maker Masood Khan

explores the Muslim community's struggle

against extremism.


In the first of three videos,

he goes to Luton to see how Salafi Muslims

are rejecting the extreme rhetoric of al-Muhajiroun





















paradise        USA












Corpus of news articles


Religions, Faith > Islam > Muslims




How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam


DEC. 6, 2014

The New York Times


Op-Ed Columnist

Thomas L. Friedman


THE Islamic State has visibly attracted young Muslims from all over the world to its violent movement to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But here’s what’s less visible — the online backlash against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by young Muslims declaring their opposition to rule by Islamic law, or Shariah, and even proudly avowing their atheism. Nadia Oweidat, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who tracks how Arab youths use the Internet, says the phenomenon “is mushrooming — the brutality of the Islamic State is exacerbating the issue and even pushing some young Muslims away from Islam.”

On Nov. 24, BBC.com published a piece on what was trending on Twitter. It began: “A growing social media conversation in Arabic is calling for the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law, to be abandoned. Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as ‘why we reject implementing Shariah’ has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems. Dr. Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started the hashtag. ‘I have nothing against religion,’ she tells BBC Trending, but says she is against ‘using it as a political system.’ ”

The BBC added that “many others joined in the conversation, using the hashtag, listing reasons why Arabs and Muslims should abandon Shariah. ‘Because there’s not a single positive example of it bringing justice and equality,’ one man tweeted. ... A Saudi woman commented: ‘By adhering to Shariah we are adhering to inhumane laws. Saudi Arabia is saturated with the blood of those executed by Sharia.’ ”

Ismail Mohamed, an Egyptian on a mission to create freedom of conscience there, started a program called “Black Ducks” to offer a space where agnostic and atheist Arabs can speak freely about their right to choose what they believe and resist coercion and misogyny from religious authorities. He is part of a growing Arab Atheists Network. For Arab news written by Arabs that gets right in the face of autocrats and religious extremists also check out freearabs.com.

Another voice getting attention is Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and to expose examples of intolerance within his former Muslim faith community. (He told me he’s converted to Christianity, preferring its “God of love.”)

In this recent segment on YouTube, which has been viewed 500,000 times, Brother Rachid addressed President Obama:

“Dear Mr. President, I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam. ... I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam. ... ISIL’s 10,000 members are all Muslims. ... They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in every detail. ... They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam.”

He continued: “I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct — to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. ... If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? ... Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Quran and the hadith? ... How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?”

ISIS, by claiming to speak for all Muslims — and by promoting a puritanical form of Islam that takes present-day, Saudi-funded, madrassa indoctrination to its logical political conclusion — has blown the lid off some long simmering frustrations in the Arab Muslim world.

As an outsider, I can’t say how widespread this is. But clearly there is a significant group of Muslims who feel that their government-backed preachers and religious hierarchies have handed them a brand of Islam that does not speak to them. These same authorities have also denied them the critical thinking tools and religious space to imagine new interpretations. So a few, like Brother Rachid, leave Islam for a different faith and invite others to come along. And some seem to be quietly detaching from religion entirely — fed up with being patronized by politically correct Westerners telling them what Islam is not and with being tyrannized by self-appointed Islamist authoritarians telling them what Islam is. Now that the Internet has created free, safe, alternative spaces and platforms to discuss these issues, outside the mosques and government-owned media, this war of ideas is on.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print

on December 7, 2014,

on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline:

How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam.

How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam,






A 21st-Century Islam


September 21, 2012

The New York Times



LONDON — The Muslim world cannot have it both ways. It cannot place Islam at the center of political life — and in extreme cases political violence — while at the same time declaring that the religion is off-limits to contestation and ridicule.

Islam is one of the world’s three great monotheistic religions. Of them it is the youngest by several centuries and, perhaps for that reason, the most fervid and turbulent. It is also, in diverse forms, a political movement, reference and inspiration.

Politics is a rough-and-tumble game. If the emergent Islamic parties of nations in transition — like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia — are to honor the terms of democratic governance they will have to concede that they have no monopoly on truth, that the prescriptions of Islam are malleable and debatable, and that significant currents in their societies have different convictions and even faiths.

The past couple of weeks have been discouraging. Nobody expects a U.S. standard of freedom of speech to be adopted — or even fully understood — in these societies; they will set their own political and cultural frameworks inspired by a still fervent desire to escape from despotism, whether secular or theocratic, and by the central place of faith.

But the failure in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to control violent mobs of Salafis enraged by mockery in America and Europe of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad suggests an unacceptable ambivalence: The rule of law here on earth must override divine indignation.

The world has tried Islamic republics. It found them oxymoronic. As Iran illustrates, they don’t work: Republican institutions, shaped by the wishes of men and women, fall victim to the Islamic superstructure, supposedly shaped by God.

The great challenge of the Arab Spring is to prove that, as in Turkey, parties of Islamic inspiration can embrace a modern pluralism and so usher their societies from a culture of grievance and victimhood to one of creativity and agency.

Just how deep the grievances remain in the Arab world — over loss of power, economic stagnation, colonial intrusion, Western wars and Israel — has been clear in the latest eruption. Change will be slow.

But it is coming: These societies will not return to tyranny. The West has an overwhelming strategic interest in supporting transitions that offer the youth of the Arab world opportunity: Egypt now dwarfs Afghanistan in its importance to fighting Islamic extremism.

But the West will not do so by compromising its own values. The porn-grade American movie that started the unrest was pitiful. The murderous violence that followed from Cairo to Benghazi was criminal. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, then had a strong editorial case for mocking the religious fundamentalism that produced the killing; it chose to do so through caricatures of Muhammad.

Gérard Biard, the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo, put the case well: “We’re a newspaper that respects French law. Now, if there’s a law that is different in Kabul or Riyadh, we’re not going to bother ourselves with respecting it.” Alluding to all the violence, Biard asked: “Are we supposed to not do that news?”

He is right. There are too many hypocrisies in Islam — deploring attacks on it while often casting scorn on Judaism and Christianity, claiming the mantle of peace while inspiring violence — for it to expect to be spared the cartoonist’s arrows.

The video insulting Muhammad reflected the visceral Islamophobia of its authors. Charlie Hebdo was driven by a different agenda: the refusal to be cowed by a spate of atavistic Islamist religious violence.

Still, I defend the right of the video’s authors even if I loathe what they produced. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, overturned the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had menaced political officials with violence, saying that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force.” As Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Guardian, “Obviously, if the state cannot suppress speech even where it explicitly advocates violence, then it cannot suppress a video on the ground that it implicitly incites violence.”

The rich maelstrom of ideas in the United States is inextricably tied to this fundamental freedom. It cannot be compromised.

As for the new leaders of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the great mass of moderate Muslims, they might recall the words of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri protesting the stolen Iranian election of 2009 — an example of God’s supposed will imposed over the will of the people:

“A characteristic of a strong and legitimate government — Islamic or not — is that it is capable of respecting all opinions, whether they support it or oppose it. This is necessary for any political system, in order to embrace all social classes and encourage them to participate in the affairs of their nation, and not dismiss and repulse them.”

Montazeri fell out with Ayatollah Khomeini because his Iranian theocracy was incapable of “respecting all opinions.” Decades on, in this Arab awakening, that challenge remains for political Islam.

A 21st-Century Islam,






The United States

and the Muslim World


September 19, 2012

The New York Times


The anti-Islam video that set off attacks against American embassies and violent protests in the Muslim world was a convenient fuse for rage. Deeper forces are at work in those societies, riven by pent-up anger over a lack of jobs, economic stagnation and decades of repression by previous Arab governments.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, these newly liberated nations have become battlegrounds for Islamic extremists, moderates and secularists, all contending for power and influence over the direction of democratic change. These forces and the attacks may be beyond the control of American foreign policy, no matter what some might want to believe.

Plenty of Islamist leaders, and Al Qaeda affiliates, are eager to exploit unrest for their own purposes. One particularly destructive force is Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief who rallied a huge anti-American demonstration in Lebanon. He is undoubtedly trying to revive his own popularity, badly damaged by his alliance with the brutal Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The anti-American extremists who murdered Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi, Libya, or went on rampages in other cities have reinforced the worst fears of those who see Muslims mainly through a prism of intolerance and hate. The extremists have also done serious damage to their economies; tourism and businesses cannot grow in chaos and insecurity.

Instead of demanding that their governments deliver needed jobs and housing, the protesters focused on a crude video promoted by hatemongering fanatics in the United States. With the news media mostly state-controlled in the Arab world, the idea of the United States government refusing to censor offensive anti-Islam material on free speech grounds remains inexplicable to many Muslims. On Wednesday, a French magazine published vulgar caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, provoking a new wave of outrage.

In 2009, President Obama wisely sought rapprochement with Muslims. Speaking in Cairo, he endorsed an approach of mutual respect and promised that, while he would never hesitate to confront extremism, America never would be at war with Islam. He also challenged Muslims to establish elected, peaceful governments that respect all their people. Few would have predicted then how many Arab nations would now be struggling to meet that standard. As troubling as they are, the protests should be seen in context. Most of the crowds were a few thousand people or less. And many leaders — the Libyans and Tunisians, especially, but also the Turkish prime minister, the grand mufti in Saudi Arabia and, belatedly, Egyptian leaders — condemned the violence and promised to beef up security at American embassies and consulates. They need to keep speaking out and also publicly explain to their people why a relationship with the United States even matters. The Libyans who tried to save Ambassador Stevens certainly saw value in those ties.

Mitt Romney and the Republicans have leveled preposterous charges that Mr. Obama has been weak and apologetic. They have offered only confusing and often contradictory assertions in place of a coherent alternative. They haven’t gotten the message that Washington cannot, and should not, try to impose its will on the fragile Arab democracies.

But it would be wrong to retreat from supporting people in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt who are committed to building democratic governments and pluralistic societies based on the rule of law as some in Congress urge. The United States has to stay engaged in whatever ways it can.

    The United States and the Muslim World, NYT, 19.9.2012,






Why Islamism Is Winning


January 6, 2012
The New York Times


Charlottesville, Va.

EGYPT’S final round of parliamentary elections won’t end until next week, but the outcome is becoming clear. The Muslim Brotherhood will most likely win half the lower house of Parliament, and more extreme Islamists will occupy a quarter. Secular parties will be left with just 25 percent of the seats.

Islamism did not cause the Arab Spring. The region’s authoritarian governments had simply failed to deliver on their promises. Though Arab authoritarianism had a good run from the 1950s until the 1980s, economies eventually stagnated, debts mounted and growing, well-educated populations saw the prosperous egalitarian societies they had been promised receding over the horizon, aggrieving virtually everyone, secularists and Islamists alike.

The last few weeks, however, have confirmed that a revolution’s consequences need not follow from its causes. Rather than bringing secular revolutionaries to power, the Arab Spring is producing flowers of a decidedly Islamist hue. More unsettling to many, Islamists are winning fairly: religious parties are placing first in free, open elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. So why are so many Arabs voting for parties that seem politically regressive to Westerners?

The West’s own history furnishes an answer. From 1820 to 1850, Europe resembled today’s Arab world in two ways. Both regions experienced historic and seemingly contagious rebellions that swept from country to country. And in both cases, frustrated people in many nations with relatively little in common rallied around a single ideology — one not of their own making, but inherited from previous generations of radicals.

In 19th-century Europe, that ideology was liberalism. It emerged in the late 18th century from the American, Dutch, Polish and especially French revolutions. Whereas the chief political divide in society had long been between monarchs and aristocrats, the revolutions drew a new line between the “old regime” of monarchy, nobility and church, and the new commercial classes and small landholders. For the latter group, it was the old regime that produced the predatory taxes, bankrupt treasuries, corruption, perpetual wars and other pathologies that dragged down their societies. The liberal solution was to extend rights and liberties beyond the aristocracy, which had inherited them from the Middle Ages.

Suppressing liberalism became the chief aim of absolutist regimes in Austria, Russia and Prussia after they helped defeat France in 1815. Prince Klemens von Metternich, Austria’s powerful chancellor, claimed that “English principles” of liberty were foreign to the Continent. But networks of liberals — Italian carbonari, Freemasons, English Radicals — continued to operate underground, communicating across societies and providing a common language for dissent.

This helped lay the ideological groundwork for Spain’s liberal revolution in 1820. From there, revolts spread to Portugal, the Italian states of Naples and Piedmont, and Greece. News of the Spanish revolution even spurred the adoption of liberal constitutions in the nascent states of Gran Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico. Despite their varied grievances, in each case liberalism served as a rallying point and political program on which the malcontents could agree.

A decade later, in July 1830, a revolution toppled France’s conservative Bourbon monarchy. Insurrection spread to Belgium, Switzerland, a number of German and Italian states and Poland. Once again, a variety of complaints were distilled into the rejection of the old regime and the acceptance of liberalism.

The revolutions of 1848 were more numerous and consequential but remarkably similar to the earlier ones. Rebels with little in common — factory workers in Paris, peasants in Ireland, artisans in Vienna — followed a script written in the 1790s that was rehearsed continuously in the ensuing years across the continent.

Today, rural and urban Arabs with widely varying cultures and histories are showing that they share more than a deep frustration with despots and a demand for dignity. Most, whether moderate or radical, or living in a monarchy or a republic, share a common inherited language of dissent: Islamism.

Political Islam, especially the strict version practiced by Salafists in Egypt, is thriving largely because it is tapping into ideological roots that were laid down long before the revolts began. Invented in the 1920s by the Muslim Brotherhood, kept alive by their many affiliates and offshoots, boosted by the failures of Nasserism and Baathism, allegedly bankrolled by Saudi and Qatari money, and inspired by the defiant example of revolutionary Iran, Islamism has for years provided a coherent narrative about what ails Muslim societies and where the cure lies. Far from rendering Islamism unnecessary, as some experts forecast, the Arab Spring has increased its credibility; Islamists, after all, have long condemned these corrupt regimes as destined to fail.

Liberalism in 19th-century Europe, and Islamism in the Arab world today, are like channels dug by one generation of activists and kept open, sometimes quietly, by future ones. When the storms of revolution arrive, whether in Europe or the Middle East, the waters will find those channels. Islamism is winning out because it is the deepest and widest channel into which today’s Arab discontent can flow.


John M. Owen IV, a professor of politics

at the University of Virginia,

is the author of “The Clash of Ideas in World Politics:

Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change,


Why Islamism Is Winning, NYT, 6.1.2012,






Muslim Orphans Caught

Between Islamic, Western Law


November 28, 2010

Filed at 10:36 a.m. EST

The New York Times



Helene Lauffer knew Muslim children — orphaned, displaced, neglected — needed homes in the United States. She knew American Muslim families wanted to take them in.

But Lauffer, associate executive director of Spence-Chapin, one of the oldest adoption agencies in the country, couldn't bring them together.

The problem was a gap between Western and Islamic law. Traditional, closed adoption violates Islamic jurisprudence, which stresses the importance of lineage. Instead, Islam has a guardianship system called kafalah that resembles foster care, yet has no exact counterpart in Western law.

The differences have left young Muslims with little chance of finding a permanent Muslim home in America. So Lauffer sought out a group of Muslim women scholars and activists, hoping they could at least start a discussion among U.S. Muslims about how adoption and Islamic law could become compatible.

"At the end of the day, it's about trying to find families for kids," said Lauffer.

Lauffer is not alone in raising the issue. As Muslim communities become more established in the United States, pressure is building for a re-examination of Islamic law on adoption.

Refugee children from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are being resettled here. Muslim couples who can't conceive want to adopt but don't want to violate their faith's teachings. State child welfare agencies that permanently remove Muslim children from troubled homes usually can't find Muslim families to adopt them because of the restrictions in Islamic law.

"I get all kinds of families who come to me for fertility issues. They want to adopt and they want to adopt Muslim children and I'm thinking this is a crime that they can't," said Najah Bazzy, a nurse and founder of Zaman International, a humanitarian service group in Dearborn, Mich. "No one is going to convince me that Islam makes no allocation for this. Either somebody is not interpreting it right, or it needs to be reinterpreted."

Mohammad Hamid, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Hamdard Center, a social service agency in the Chicago area that has many Muslims among its clients, said he regularly received requests from American Muslims for advice on how they could adopt.

"We don't tell them it's Islamic or un-Islamic," said Hamid, whose nonprofit does not handle adoptions. "Our job is to facilitate the process. We believe if the child can be adopted, you are saving a child."

The prohibition against adoption would appear contrary to the Quran's heavy emphasis on helping orphans. The Prophet Muhammad's father died before his son was born, so the boy's grandfather and uncle served as his guardians, setting an example for all Muslims to follow.

However, Islamic scholars say the restrictions were actually meant to protect children, by ending abuses in pre-Islamic Arabic tribal society.

Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said adoption in that period had more in common with slavery. Men would take in boys, then erase any tie between the child and his biological family. The goal was to gather as many fighters as possible as protection for the tribe. Orphans' property was often stolen in the process.

As a result, Muslims were barred from treating adopted and biological children as identical in naming or inheritance, unless the adoptee was breast-fed as a baby by the adoptive mother, creating a familial bond recognized under Islamic law.

When an orphan reaches puberty, the Islamic prohibition against mixing of the sexes applies inside the home of his or her guardians. Muslim men cannot be alone with women they could potentially marry, and women must cover their hair around these men. Islamic law sets out detailed rules about who believers can and cannot marry, and an orphan taken in from another family would not automatically be considered "unmarriageable" to his siblings or guardians.

For these reasons and others, Muslim countries only rarely allow international adoption.

"There hasn't been a concerted push to open doors for Muslim orphans because the expectation would be that those efforts would fall flat," said Chuck Johnson, chief executive of the National Council for Adoption, a policy group in Alexandria, Va.

Advocates for a new interpretation of Islamic law are more hopeful, at least about the prospect for a different approach to the issue in the United States. Mattson argues that the flexibility in Islamic law for accommodating local cultures and customs can lead to a solution.

Open adoption, which keeps contact between the adoptee and his biological family, is seen as one potential answer. In New South Wales, Australia, child welfare officials created an outreach program to Muslims emphasizing that Australian adoptions are open and adopted children can retain their birth names. The New South Wales program is the only well-known adoption campaign targeting a Muslim minority population in a Western country.

The Muslim women scholars Lauffer consulted in New York, who meet annually as a shura (advisory) council, tackled the complexities of modesty rules inside the home. They debated whether Muslim adoptees in the West could be considered Islamically "unmarriageable" to their siblings or guardians, since Western governments classify adoptees the same as blood relatives. The shura council will soon release a statement on the issue through its organizing body, the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality.

It's unclear how successful their efforts can be. There is no central authority in Islam to hand down a ruling on adoption. Muslims consult individual scholars, or, in the United States, seek an opinion from an imam at their local mosque.

Catherine England, a Muslim who teaches in the Seattle area, adopted four children after she and her husband learned they could have no children of their own. One of her children is an orphan from Afghanistan. Two others are biological siblings.

"I felt that my understanding — and this is entirely my understanding — is that what is forbidden in Islam is closed adoption," said England, who converted to Islam more than three decades ago. She consulted a Muslim scholar who she said affirmed her view that open adoption was allowed.

Lauffer hopes to hear more stories like England's soon.

Muslim Orphans Caught Between Islamic, Western Law,






Fathi Osman,

Scholar of Islam,

Dies at 82


September 19, 2010
The New York Times


Fathi Osman, an influential scholar who articulated a liberal version of Islam and published an authoritative guide to the Koran for non-Arabic readers, died on Sept. 11 at his home in Montrose, Calif. He was 82.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Ghada Osman.

Dr. Osman, an Egyptian, took on the scholarly task of explaining Islam to both Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners, publishing some 40 books in Arabic and English that took pains to counter the distorted versions of Islam propagated by ill-informed Westerners and radical Islamists.

His most important work in English was the monumental “Concepts of the Quran: A Topical Reading” (1997), a work of nearly 1,000 pages intended to acquaint non-Muslim readers with key concepts in the Koran, arranged according to subject.

“He had two major projects,” said Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval Jewish and Islamic studies at Hebrew Union College and a senior fellow of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. “The first was to make the case to non-Muslims that Islam is a complex civilization and should not be seen as a flat ‘other.’ The second, directed to Muslims, was to demonstrate through his scholarship that Islam is flexible and can accommodate modernity and still remain authentic to Islamic values and practices.”

Dr. Osman wrote and lectured widely, offering an expansive, liberal interpretation of Koranic teaching on topics like the rights of women; democratic pluralism; the competing claims of Islamic, or Shariah, law and civil law; and the obligation of Muslims in the West to embrace Western civic values.

“We have to realize that God’s law is not an alternative to the human mind, nor is it supposed to put it out of action,” Dr. Osman wrote in an essay on Islam and human rights. “Openness is life, while being closed off and isolated is suicidal.”

Mohamed Fathi Osman was born on March 17, 1928, in Minya, Egypt. He earned a degree in history from Cairo University in 1948, a law degree from Alexandria University in 1960 and a master’s degree in Islamic-Byzantine relations from Cairo University in 1962.

In the 1940s, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an anticolonialist and Islamist group, and helped edit its weekly newspaper. He was a friend and colleague of Sayyid Qutb, the newspaper’s editor in chief and one of the founding fathers of radical Islam, but broke with Mr. Qutb and the Brotherhood in the 1950s. In 1960, he published “Islamic Thought and Change,” setting forth his more moderate version of Islam.

Dr. Osman published several books in Arabic that explored Islamic thought as it pertains to human rights and legal systems, notably “The Individual in Muslim Society: Mutual Rights and Obligations” (1963) and “Human Rights in Western Thought and Islamic Law” (1981).

In the 1960s, he held several posts at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he worked on overhauling the Islamic curriculum at Egyptian universities.

After teaching at universities in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, he enrolled at Princeton, where he earned a doctorate in Near Eastern studies in 1976, writing a dissertation on Islamic land ownership and taxation. He then took a post in the history department at Ibn Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In addition to his daughter, Ghada, of San Diego, he is survived by his wife, Aida Abdel-Rahman Osman.

In 1987, he became a scholar in residence at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was the founder of the Institute for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, part of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and a senior scholar at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement at the University of Southern California.

His other works in English include “Muslim Women in the Family and the Society” (1990), “Islamic Law in the Contemporary Society: Shari’a Dynamics of Change” (1995) and “Children of Adam: An Islamic Perspective on Pluralism” (1995).

Fathi Osman, Scholar of Islam, Dies at 82, NYT, 19.9.2010,






Nasr Abu Zayd,

Who Stirred Debate on Koran,

Dies at 66


July 5, 2010
The New York Times


CAIRO (Reuters) — Nasr Abu Zayd, an Egyptian scholar who was declared an apostate for challenging mainstream Muslim views on the Koran, died here on Monday. He was 66.

The official Egyptian news agency, MENA, said he died at a hospital where he was being treated for an unidentified illness.

Dr. Abu Zayd’s liberal, critical approach to Islamic teachings angered some Muslim conservatives in Egypt in the 1990s, when President Hosni Mubarak’s government was combating an uprising by armed Islamic militants. Dr. Abu Zayd criticized the use of religion to exert political power. He argued that the Koran was both a literary and religious text, a view that clashes with the Islamic idea that the holy book is the final revelation of God.

Islam, Dr. Abu Zayd said, should be understood in terms of its historical, geographic and cultural background, adding that “pure Islam” did not exist and that the Koran was “a collection of discourses.”

In 1995, an Egyptian Shariah court declared Dr. Abu Zayd an apostate from Islam, annulled his marriage and effectively forced him and his wife into exile. The couple moved to the Netherlands after he received death threats, notably from the Islamic Jihad group led by Ayman al-Zawahri, who has since become deputy leader of Al Qaeda.

But Dr. Abu Zayd quietly returned to Egypt in recent years, first for lectures and later for health reasons.

In reviewing his book “Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam” (2004), many Western academics praised his scholarship.

“Nasr Abu Zayd is a heroic figure, a scholar who has risked everything to restore the traditions of intellectual inquiry and tolerance that for so long characterized Islamic culture,” wrote Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Abu Zayd compared Arab rulers unfavorably with leaders in Iran, Turkey and elsewhere in the Muslim world, where he said religious debate was comparatively free-flowing.

“Religion has been used, politicized, not only by groups but also the official institutions in every Arab country,” he told Reuters in 2008. The distinction between “the domain of religion and secular space,” he said, had been eroded.

“I’m sure that I’m a Muslim,” he said. “My worst fear is that people in Europe may consider and treat me as a critic of Islam. I’m not. I’m not a new Salman Rushdie and don’t want to be welcomed and treated as such. I’m a researcher.”

Nasr Abu Zayd, Who Stirred Debate on Koran, Dies at 66, NYT, 5.7.2010,






Op-Ed Contributor

Why Radical Islam Just Won’t Die

March 23, 2008
The New York Times


THE big surprise, viewed from my own narrow perspective five years later, has taken place in the mysterious zones of extremist ideology. In the months and weeks before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote quite a lot about ideology in the Middle East, and especially about the revolutionary political doctrine known as radical Islamism.

I tried to show that radical Islamism is a modern philosophy, not just a heap of medieval prejudices. In its sundry versions, it draws on local and religious roots, just as it claims to do. But it also draws on totalitarian inspirations from 20th-century Europe. I wanted my readers to understand that with its double roots, religious and modern, perversely intertwined, radical Islamism wields a lot more power, intellectually speaking, than naïve observers might suppose.

I declared myself happy in principle with the notion of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, just as I was happy to see the Taliban chased from power. But I wanted everyone to understand that military action, by itself, could never defeat an ideology like radical Islamism — could never contribute more than 10 percent (I invented this statistic, as an illustrative figure) to a larger solution. I hammered away on that point in the days before the war. And today I have to acknowledge that, for all my hammering, radical Islamism, in several of its resilient branches, the ultra-radical and the beyond-ultra-radical, has proved to be stronger even than I suggested.

A lot of people right now make the common-sense supposition that if extremist ideologies have lately entered a sort of grisly golden age, the Bush administration’s all-too-predictable blundering in Iraq must bear the blame. Yes, certainly; but that can’t be the only explanation.

Extremist movements have been growing bigger and wilder for more than three decades now, during that period, America has tried pretty much everything from a policy point of view. Our presidents have been satanic (Richard Nixon), angelic (Jimmy Carter), a sleepy idiot savant (Ronald Reagan), a cagey realist (George H. W. Bush), wonderfully charming (Bill Clinton) and famously otherwise (George W. Bush). And each president’s Middle Eastern policy has conformed to his character.

In regard to Saddam Hussein alone, our government has lent him support (Mr. Reagan), conducted a limited war against him (the first President Bush), inflicted sanctions and bombings (Mr. Clinton, in other than his charming mode), and crudely overthrown him. Every one of those policies has left the Iraqi people worse off than before, even if nowadays, from beneath the rubble, the devastated survivors can at least ruminate about a better future — though I doubt that many of them are in any mood to do so.

And each new calamity for Iraq has, like manure, lent new fertility to the various extremist organizations. The entire sequence of events may suggest that America is uniquely destined to do the wrong thing. All too likely! But it may also suggest that America is not the fulcrum of the universe, and extremist ideologies have prospered because of their own ability to adapt and survive — their strength, in a word.

I notice a little gloomily that I may have underestimated the extremist ideologies in still another respect. Five years ago, anyone who took an interest in Middle Eastern affairs would easily have recalled that, over the course of a century, the intellectuals of the region have gone through any number of phases — liberal, Marxist, secularist, pious, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and so forth, just like intellectuals everywhere else in the world.

Western intellectuals without any sort of Middle Eastern background would naturally have manifested an ardent solidarity with their Middle Eastern and Muslim counterparts who stand in the liberal vein — the Muslim free spirits of our own time, who argue in favor of human rights, rational thought (as opposed to dogma), tolerance and an open society.

But that was then. In today’s Middle East, the various radical Islamists, basking in their success, paint their liberal rivals and opponents as traitors to Muslim civilization, stooges of crusader or Zionist aggression. And, weirdly enough, all too many intellectuals in the Western countries have lately assented to those preposterous accusations, in a sanitized version suitable for Western consumption.

Even in the Western countries, quite a few Muslim liberals, the outspoken ones, live today under a threat of assassination, not to mention a reality of character assassination. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch legislator and writer, is merely an exceptionally valiant example. But instead of enjoying the unstinting support of their non-Muslim colleagues, the Muslim liberals find themselves routinely berated in the highbrow magazines and the universities as deracinated nonentities, alienated from the Muslim world. Or they find themselves pilloried as stooges of the neoconservative conspiracy — quite as if any writer from a Muslim background who fails to adhere to at least a few anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist tenets of the Islamist doctrine must be incapable of thinking his or her own thoughts.

A dismaying development. One more sign of the power of the extremist ideologies — one more surprising turn of events, on top of all the other dreadful and gut-wrenching surprises.

Paul Berman, the author of “Power and the Idealists,”

is a writer in residence at New York University.

Why Radical Islam Just Won’t Die, NYT, 23.3.2008,






Why Shariah?


March 16, 2008
The New York Times


Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.

Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.

In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.

In the Muslim world, on the other hand, the reputation of Shariah has undergone an extraordinary revival in recent years. A century ago, forward-looking Muslims thought of Shariah as outdated, in need of reform or maybe abandonment. Today, 66 percent of Egyptians, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 54 percent of Jordanians say that Shariah should be the only source of legislation in their countries. Islamist political parties, like those associated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, make the adoption of Shariah the most prominent plank in their political platforms. And the message resonates. Wherever Islamists have been allowed to run for office in Arabic-speaking countries, they have tended to win almost as many seats as the governments have let them contest. The Islamist movement in its various incarnations — from moderate to radical — is easily the fastest growing and most vital in the Muslim world; the return to Shariah is its calling card.

How is it that what so many Westerners see as the most unappealing and premodern aspect of Islam is, to many Muslims, the vibrant, attractive core of a global movement of Islamic revival? The explanation surely must go beyond the oversimplified assumption that Muslims want to use Shariah to reverse feminism and control women — especially since large numbers of women support the Islamists in general and the ideal of Shariah in particular.

Is Shariah the Rule of Law?

One reason for the divergence between Western and Muslim views of Shariah is that we are not all using the word to mean the same thing. Although it is commonplace to use the word “Shariah” and the phrase “Islamic law” interchangeably, this prosaic English translation does not capture the full set of associations that the term “Shariah” conjures for the believer. Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law.

In fact, “Shariah” is not the word traditionally used in Arabic to refer to the processes of Islamic legal reasoning or the rulings produced through it: that word is fiqh, meaning something like Islamic jurisprudence. The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will. Westerners typically imagine that Shariah advocates simply want to use the Koran as their legal code. But the reality is much more complicated. Islamist politicians tend to be very vague about exactly what it would mean for Shariah to be the source for the law of the land — and with good reason, because just adopting such a principle would not determine how the legal system would actually operate.

Shariah is best understood as a kind of higher law, albeit one that includes some specific, worldly commands. All Muslims would agree, for example, that it prohibits lending money at interest — though not investments in which risks and returns are shared; and the ban on Muslims drinking alcohol is an example of an unequivocal ritual prohibition, even for liberal interpreters of the faith. Some rules associated with Shariah are undoubtedly old-fashioned and harsh. Men and women are treated unequally, for example, by making it hard for women to initiate divorce without forfeiting alimony. The prohibition on sodomy, though historically often unenforced, makes recognition of same-sex relationships difficult to contemplate. But Shariah also prohibits bribery or special favors in court. It demands equal treatment for rich and poor. It condemns the vigilante-style honor killings that still occur in some Middle Eastern countries. And it protects everyone’s property — including women’s — from being taken from them. Unlike in Iran, where wearing a head scarf is legally mandated and enforced by special religious police, the Islamist view in most other Muslim countries is that the head scarf is one way of implementing the religious duty to dress modestly — a desirable social norm, not an enforceable legal rule. And mandating capital punishment for apostasy is not on the agenda of most elected Islamists. For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law.

The Sway of the Scholars

To understand Shariah’s deep appeal, we need to ask a crucial question that is rarely addressed in the West: What, in fact, is the system of Islamic law? In his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad was both the religious and the political leader of the community of Muslim believers. His revelation, the Koran, contained some laws, pertaining especially to ritual matters and inheritance; but it was not primarily a legal book and did not include a lengthy legal code of the kind that can be found in parts of the Hebrew Bible. When the first generation of believers needed guidance on a subject that was not addressed by revelation, they went directly to Muhammad. He either answered of his own accord or, if he was unsure, awaited divine guidance in the form of a new revelation.

With the death of Muhammad, divine revelation to the Muslim community stopped. The role of the political-religious leader passed to a series of caliphs (Arabic for “substitute”) who stood in the prophet’s stead. That left the caliph in a tricky position when it came to resolving difficult legal matters. The caliph possessed Muhammad’s authority but not his access to revelation. It also left the community in something of a bind. If the Koran did not speak clearly to a particular question, how was the law to be determined?

The answer that developed over the first couple of centuries of Islam was that the Koran could be supplemented by reference to the prophet’s life — his sunna, his path. (The word “sunna” is the source of the designation Sunni — one who follows the prophet’s path.) His actions and words were captured in an oral tradition, beginning presumably with a person who witnessed the action or statement firsthand. Accurate reports had to be distinguished from false ones. But of course even a trustworthy report on a particular situation could not directly resolve most new legal problems that arose later. To address such problems, it was necessary to reason by analogy from one situation to another. There was also the possibility that a communal consensus existed on what to do under particular circumstances, and that, too, was thought to have substantial weight.

This fourfold combination — the Koran, the path of the prophet as captured in the collections of reports, analogical reasoning and consensus — amounted to a basis for a legal system. But who would be able to say how these four factors fit together? Indeed, who had the authority to say that these factors and not others formed the sources of the law? The first four caliphs, who knew the prophet personally, might have been able to make this claim for themselves. But after them, the caliphs were faced with a growing group of specialists who asserted that they, collectively, could ascertain the law from the available sources. This self-appointed group came to be known as the scholars — and over the course of a few generations, they got the caliphs to acknowledge them as the guardians of the law. By interpreting a law that originated with God, they gained control over the legal system as it actually existed. That made them, and not the caliphs, into “the heirs of the prophets.”

Among the Sunnis, this model took effect very early and persisted until modern times. For the Shiites, who believe that the succession of power followed the prophet’s lineage, the prophet had several successors who claimed extraordinary divine authority. Once they were gone, however, the Shiite scholars came to occupy a role not unlike that of their Sunni counterparts.

Under the constitutional theory that the scholars developed to explain the division of labor in the Islamic state, the caliph had paramount responsibility to fulfill the divine injunction to “command the right and prohibit the wrong.” But this was not a task he could accomplish on his own. It required him to delegate responsibility to scholarly judges, who would apply God’s law as they interpreted it. The caliph could promote or fire them as he wished, but he could not dictate legal results: judicial authority came from the caliph, but the law came from the scholars.

The caliphs — and eventually the sultans who came to rule once the caliphate lost most of its worldly influence — still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations — provided these regulations did not contradict what the scholars said Shariah required. The regulations addressed areas where Shariah was silent. They also enabled the state to regulate social conduct without having to put every case before the courts, where convictions would often be impossible to obtain because of the strict standards of proof required for punishment. As a result of these regulations, many legal matters (perhaps most) fell outside the rules given specifically by Shariah.

The upshot is that the system of Islamic law as it came to exist allowed a great deal of leeway. That is why today’s advocates of Shariah as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by Shariah — because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history. To the Islamist politicians who advocate it or for the public that supports it, Shariah generally means something else. It means establishing a legal system in which God’s law sets the ground rules, authorizing and validating everyday laws passed by an elected legislature. In other words, for them, Shariah is expected to function as something like a modern constitution.

The Rights of Humans and the Rights of God

So in contemporary Islamic politics, the call for Shariah does not only or primarily mean mandating the veiling of women or the use of corporal punishment — it has an essential constitutional dimension as well. But what is the particular appeal of placing Shariah above ordinary law?

The answer lies in a little-remarked feature of traditional Islamic government: that a state under Shariah was, for more than a thousand years, subject to a version of the rule of law. And as a rule-of-law government, the traditional Islamic state had an advantage that has been lost in the dictatorships and autocratic monarchies that have governed so much of the Muslim world for the last century. Islamic government was legitimate, in the dual sense that it generally respected the individual legal rights of its subjects and was seen by them as doing so. These individual legal rights, known as “the rights of humans” (in contrast to “the rights of God” to such things as ritual obedience), included basic entitlements to life, property and legal process — the protections from arbitrary government oppression sought by people all over the world for centuries.

Of course, merely declaring the ruler subject to the law was not enough on its own; the ruler actually had to follow the law. For that, he needed incentives. And as it happened, the system of government gave him a big one, in the form of a balance of power with the scholars. The ruler might be able to use pressure once in a while to get the results he wanted in particular cases. But because the scholars were in charge of the law, and he was not, the ruler could pervert the course of justice only at the high cost of being seen to violate God’s law — thereby undermining the very basis of his rule.

In practice, the scholars’ leverage to demand respect for the law came from the fact that the caliphate was not hereditary as of right. That afforded the scholars major influence at the transitional moments when a caliph was being chosen or challenged. On taking office, a new ruler — even one designated by his dead predecessor — had to fend off competing claimants. The first thing he would need was affirmation of the legitimacy of his assumption of power. The scholars were prepared to offer just that, in exchange for the ruler’s promise to follow the law.

Once in office, rulers faced the inevitable threat of invasion or a palace coup. The caliph would need the scholars to declare a religious obligation to protect the state in a defensive jihad. Having the scholars on his side in times of crisis was a tremendous asset for the ruler who could be said to follow the law. Even if the ruler was not law-abiding, the scholars still did not spontaneously declare a sitting caliph disqualified. This would have been foolish, especially in view of the fact that the scholars had no armies at their disposal and the sitting caliph did. But their silence could easily be interpreted as an invitation for a challenger to step forward and be validated.

The scholars’ insistence that the ruler obey Shariah was motivated largely by their belief that it was God’s will. But it was God’s will as they interpreted it. As a confident, self-defined elite that controlled and administered the law according to well-settled rules, the scholars were agents of stability and predictability — crucial in societies where the transition from one ruler to the next could be disorderly and even violent. And by controlling the law, the scholars could limit the ability of the executive to expropriate the property of private citizens. This, in turn, induced the executive to rely on lawful taxation to raise revenues, which itself forced the rulers to be responsive to their subjects’ concerns. The scholars and their law were thus absolutely essential to the tremendous success that Islamic society enjoyed from its inception into the 19th century. Without Shariah, there would have been no Haroun al-Rashid in Baghdad, no golden age of Muslim Spain, no reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul.

For generations, Western students of the traditional Islamic constitution have assumed that the scholars could offer no meaningful check on the ruler. As one historian has recently put it, although Shariah functioned as a constitution, “the constitution was not enforceable,” because neither scholars nor subjects could “compel their ruler to observe the law in the exercise of government.” But almost no constitution anywhere in the world enables judges or nongovernmental actors to “compel” the obedience of an executive who controls the means of force. The Supreme Court of the United States has no army behind it. Institutions that lack the power of the sword must use more subtle means to constrain executives. Like the American constitutional balance of powers, the traditional Islamic balance was maintained by words and ideas, and not just by forcible compulsion.

So today’s Muslims are not being completely fanciful when they act and speak as though Shariah can structure a constitutional state subject to the rule of law. One big reason that Islamist political parties do so well running on a Shariah platform is that their constituents recognize that Shariah once augured a balanced state in which legal rights were respected.

From Shariah to Despotism

But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism. The problem is that the traditional Islamic constitution rested on a balance of powers between a ruler subject to law and a class of scholars who interpreted and administered that law. The governments of most contemporary majority-Muslim states, however, have lost these features. Rulers govern as if they were above the law, not subject to it, and the scholars who once wielded so much influence are much reduced in status. If they have judicial posts at all, it is usually as judges in the family-law courts.

In only two important instances do scholars today exercise real power, and in both cases we can see a deviation from their traditional role. The first is Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a distinguished scholar, assumed executive power and became supreme leader after the 1979 revolution. The result of this configuration, unique in the history of the Islamic world, is that the scholarly ruler had no counterbalance and so became as unjust as any secular ruler with no check on his authority. The other is Saudi Arabia, where the scholars retain a certain degree of power. The unfortunate outcome is that they can slow any government initiative for reform, however minor, but cannot do much to keep the government responsive to its citizens. The oil-rich state does not need to obtain tax revenues from its citizens to operate — and thus has little reason to keep their interests in mind.

How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement. The most important reform was the attempt to codify Shariah. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book.

Once the law existed in codified form, however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state. To placate the scholars, the government kept the Shariah courts running but restricted them to handling family-law matters. This strategy paralleled the British colonial approach of allowing religious courts to handle matters of personal status. Today, in countries as far apart as Kenya and Pakistan, Shariah courts still administer family law — a small subset of their original historical jurisdiction.

Codification signaled the death knell for the scholarly class, but it did not destroy the balance of powers on its own. Promulgated in 1876, the Ottoman constitution created a legislature composed of two lawmaking bodies — one elected, one appointed by the sultan. This amounted to the first democratic institution in the Muslim world; had it established itself, it might have popularized the notion that the people represent the ultimate source of legal authority. Then the legislature could have replaced the scholars as the institutional balance to the executive.

But that was not to be. Less than a year after the legislature first met, Sultan Abdulhamid II suspended its operation — and for good measure, he suspended the constitution the following year. Yet the sultan did not restore the scholars to the position they once occupied. With the scholars out of the way and no legislature to replace them, the sultan found himself in the position of near-absolute ruler. This arrangement set the pattern for government in the Muslim world after the Ottoman empire fell. Law became a tool of the ruler, not an authority over him. What followed, perhaps unsurprisingly, was dictatorship and other forms of executive dominance — the state of affairs confronted by the Islamists who seek to restore Shariah.

A Democratic Shariah?

The Islamists today, partly out of realism, partly because they are rarely scholars themselves, seem to have little interest in restoring the scholars to their old role as the constitutional balance to the executive. The Islamist movement, like other modern ideologies, seeks to capture the existing state and then transform society through the tools of modern government. Its vision for bringing Shariah to bear therefore incorporates two common features of modern government: the legislature and the constitution.

The mainstream Sunni Islamist position, found, for example, in the electoral platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, is that an elected legislature should draft and pass laws that are consistent with the spirit of Islamic law. On questions where Islamic law does not provide clear direction, the democratically chosen legislature is supposed to use its discretion to adopt laws infused by Islamic values.

The result is a profound change in the theoretical structure underlying Islamic law: Shariah is democratized in that its care is given to a popularly elected legislature. In Iraq, for example, where the constitution declares Shariah to be “the source of law,” it is in principle up to the National Assembly to pass laws that reflect its spirit.

In case the assembly gets it wrong, however, the Islamists often recommend the judicial review of legislative actions to guarantee that they do not violate Islamic law or values. What is sometimes called a “repugnancy clause,” mandating that a judicial body overturn laws repugnant to Islam, has made its way into several recent constitutions that seek to reconcile Islam and democracy. It may be found, for example, in the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the Iraqi Constitution of 2005. (I had a small role advising the Iraqi drafters.) Islamic judicial review transforms the highest judicial body of the state into a guarantor of conformity with Islamic law. The high court can then use this power to push for a conservative vision of Islamic law, as in Afghanistan, or for a more moderate version, as in Pakistan.

Islamic judicial review puts the court in a position resembling the one that scholars once occupied. Like the scholars, the judges of the reviewing court present their actions as interpretations of Islamic law. But of course the judges engaged in Islamic judicial review are not the scholars but ordinary judges (as in Iraq) or a mix of judges and scholars (as in Afghanistan). In contrast to the traditional arrangement, the judges’ authority comes not from Shariah itself but from a written constitution that gives them the power of judicial review.

The modern incarnation of Shariah is nostalgic in its invocation of the rule of law but forward-looking in how it seeks to bring this result about. What the Islamists generally do not acknowledge, though, is that such institutions on their own cannot deliver the rule of law. The executive authority also has to develop a commitment to obeying legal and constitutional judgments. That will take real-world incentives, not just a warm feeling for the values associated with Shariah.

How that happens — how an executive administration accustomed to overweening power can be given incentives to subordinate itself to the rule of law — is one of the great mysteries of constitutional development worldwide. Total revolution has an extremely bad track record in recent decades, at least in majority-Muslim states. The revolution that replaced the shah in Iran created an oppressively top-heavy constitutional structure. And the equally revolutionary dreams some entertained for Iraq — dreams of a liberal secular state or of a functioning Islamic democracy — still seem far from fruition.

Gradual change therefore increasingly looks like the best of some bad options. And most of today’s political Islamists — the ones running for office in Morocco or Jordan or Egypt and even Iraq — are gradualists. They wish to adapt existing political institutions by infusing them with Islamic values and some modicum of Islamic law. Of course, such parties are also generally hostile to the United States, at least where we have worked against their interests. (Iraq is an obvious exception — many Shiite Islamists there are our close allies.) But this is a separate question from whether they can become a force for promoting the rule of law. It is possible to imagine the electoral success of Islamist parties putting pressure on executives to satisfy the demand for law-based government embodied in Koranic law. This might bring about a transformation of the judiciary, in which judges would come to think of themselves as agents of the law rather than as agents of the state.

Something of the sort may slowly be happening in Turkey. The Islamists there are much more liberal than anywhere else in the Muslim world; they do not even advocate the adoption of Shariah (a position that would get their government closed down by the staunchly secular military). Yet their central focus is the rule of law and the expansion of basic rights against the Turkish tradition of state-centered secularism. The courts are under increasing pressure to go along with that vision.

Can Shariah provide the necessary resources for such a rethinking of the judicial role? In its essence, Shariah aspires to be a law that applies equally to every human, great or small, ruler or ruled. No one is above it, and everyone at all times is bound by it. But the history of Shariah also shows that the ideals of the rule of law cannot be implemented in a vacuum. For that, a state needs actually effective institutions, which must be reinforced by regular practice and by the recognition of actors within the system that they have more to gain by remaining faithful to its dictates than by deviating from them.

The odds of success in the endeavor to deliver the rule of law are never high. Nothing is harder than creating new institutions with the capacity to balance executive dominance — except perhaps avoiding the temptation to overreach once in power. In Iran, the Islamists have discredited their faith among many ordinary people, and a similar process may be under way in Iraq. Still, with all its risks and dangers, the Islamists’ aspiration to renew old ideas of the rule of law while coming to terms with contemporary circumstances is bold and noble — and may represent a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world.

Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for the magazine,

is a law professor at Harvard University

and an adjunct senior fellow

at the Council on Foreign Relations.

This essay is adapted

from his book “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,”

which will be published later this month.

Why Shariah?,






FAQ: Sharia law


Friday February 8, 2008


Elizabeth Stewart


What is sharia law?

A broad code of conduct governing all aspects of life, from dietary rules to the wearing of the hijab, which Muslims can choose to adopt in varying degrees as a matter of personal conscience.

Where does sharia law come from?

Sharia, meaning "way or path to the water", is derived from interpretation of the teachings of the Qur'an, the Hadith (the sayings and conduct of the prophet Muhammad) and fatwas, a type of jurisprudence of the rulings of Islamic scholars over many centuries.

Are there different interpretations of sharia?

There are five different schools of interpretation: one in the Shia tradition of Islam and four in the Sunni tradition. Middle Eastern countries of the former Ottoman empire favour the Hanafi doctrine and north African countries prefer the Maliki doctrine; Indonesia and Malaysia follow the Shafi'i doctrine; Saudi Arabia adheres to the Hanbali doctrine; and Iran follows the Shia Jaafari school. All the schools are similar, but some take a more literal approach to texts while others prefer a loose interpretation.

How is it applied in sharia states?

Sharia can be formally instituted as law by certain states and enforced by the courts. Many Muslim countries have adopted elements of sharia law governing issues such as inheritance, banking, marriage and contract law.

What are hadd offences?

The popular understanding of sharia law in Britain - such as the stoning of adulterers or the severing of a hand for thieves - relates only to a very specific set of offences known as hadd offences. Although the penalties for such offences are not universally adopted as law in most Islamic countries, these have become a potent symbol of sharia law.

Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, claim to live under pure sharia law and enforce these penalties for hadd offences. They carry specific penalties, set by the Qur'an and by the prophet Muhammad. Offences include unlawful sexual intercourse, the drinking of alcohol, theft and highway robbery.

FAQ: Sharia law, G, 8.2.2008,






Iran Cleric:

Rushdie Fatwa Still Stands


June 22, 2007
The New York Times
Filed at 11:18 a.m. ET


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- An high-level Iranian cleric said Friday that the religious edict calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie cannot be revoked, and he warned Britain was defying the Islamic world by granting the author knighthood.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami reminded worshippers of the 1989 fatwa during a sermon at Tehran University, aired live on state radio. Thousands of worshippers chanted ''Death to the English.''

Khatami does not hold a government position but has the influential post of delivering the sermon during Friday prayers once a month in the Iranian capital. He did not directly call for the fatwa to be carried out.

''Awarding him means confronting 1.5 billion Muslims around the world,'' Khatami said. ''In Islamic Iran, the revolutionary fatwa ... is still alive and cannot be changed.''

Then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989, calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie because his book ''The Satanic Verses'' was deemed insulting to Islam. Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade, and the edict deeply damaged Britain's relations with Iran. In 1998, the Iranian government sought to patch up ties by declaring that it would not support the fatwa but that it could not be rescinded.

Queen Elizabeth II's decision to knight Rushdie drew a complaint from the Iranian government and protests around the Muslim world.

About 2,000 people rallied in several Pakistani cities on Friday, calling for Rushdie to be killed and for a boycott of trade with Britain.

A leader of Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party compared Rushdie's award to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published last year in a Danish newspaper, which provoked protests and rioting in Muslim countries.

''Earlier they had published cartoons of our Prophet, and now they have given an award to someone who deserves to be killed,'' Abdul Ghafoor Hayderi told a crowd of about 1,000 people in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

Pakistan is a close ally of the United States and Britain in the war on terror, but it has condemned Rushdie's knighthood.

In India's Muslim-majority Kashmir region, a strike over Rushdie's honor closed most shops, offices and schools in the summer capital, Srinagar.

Mufti Mohammad Bashir-ud-din, head of Kashmir's Islamic court, said Rushdie was ''liable to be killed for rendering the gravest injury to the sentiments of the Muslims across the world.''

Britain has defended its decision to honor Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century. His 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for ''Midnight's Children'' in 1981.

Muslims angered by Britain's decision protested in London on Friday.

''Rushdie is a hate figure across the Muslim world because of his insults to Islam,'' said Anjem Choudray, protest organizer. ''This honor will have ramifications here and across the world.''

The award, announced Saturday, was among the Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honors list, which is decided on by independent committees who vet nominations from the public and government.

Some analysts have expressed surprise his award was approved.

''There is an impression they really didn't consider the potential reaction,'' said Rosemary Hollis, director of research at London's Chatham House think tank. ''But there is a sense that showing too much sensitivity is to kowtow to radicals.''


Associated Press writers David Stringer in London

and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India,

contributed to this story.

    Iran Cleric: Rushdie Fatwa Still Stands, NYT, 22.6.2007,






9.15am GMT

Saudi king pardons gang rape victim


Monday December 17 2007
Allegra Stratton and agencies


Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has pardoned a Saudi woman sentenced to 200 lashes after she was gang raped.

The woman, known only as "Qatif girl" after the area where the crime occurred, was raped at knife point by seven men as a former boyfriend drove her home.

She had been sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes for being alone in a car with a man who was not a relative but had her punihsment increased to 200 lashes and six months in jail after she spoke out about her case.

Today the Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Muhammed al-Sheikh, told Al Jazirah newspaper that the decision was based on concern for Qatif girl's welfare.

"The king always looks into alleviating the suffering of the citizens when he becomes sure that these verdicts will leave psychological effects on the convicted people, though he is convinced and sure that the verdicts were fair," he said.

The decision represents a softening approach towards the rape victim. The justice ministry had defended the woman's punishment, branding her an adulteress who "provoked the attack" because she was "indecently dressed".

The pardon comes on the first day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a duty that should be performed by every Muslim at least once in their life. About 1.6 million pilgrims are thought to have travelled to the kingdom this year.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch a year ago, Qatif girl said her brother tried to kill her after learning of the attack and that she had tried to take her own life. The attackers received sentences ranging from two to nine years after being convicted of kidnapping, apparently because prosecutors could not prove rape, said Human Rights Watch even though the group claims the judges ignored a mobile phone video taken by the men during the assault.

Saudi king pardons gang rape victim, G, 17.12.2007,






Op-Ed Contributor

Islam’s Silent Moderates


December 7, 2007
The New York Times


The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)


IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.

A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.

Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.

We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes. When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.

Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.

It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.

But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.

I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.

If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?

When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali,

a former member of the Dutch Parliament

and a resident scholar

at the American Enterprise Institute,

is the author of “Infidel.”

    Islam’s Silent Moderates, NYT, 7.12.2007,






Teacher jailed in Sudan

over naming of teddy bear flies home

after president grants pardon

· British peers help to bring end to nine-day ordeal
· I'm sorry for causing any distress, says Gibbons


Tuesday December 4 2007
The Guardian
Robert Booth in Khartoum
This article appeared in the Guardian
on Tuesday December 04 2007
on p4 of the UK news and analysis section.
It was last updated at 09:49 on December 04 2007.


The British teacher imprisoned for insulting Islam by naming a school teddy bear Muhammad was on a plane home to Britain last night after being pardoned by the Sudanese president.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was released yesterday in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and taken into the care of British embassy staff after her nine-day ordeal. She is expected to be greeted by her Merseyside family when she arrives in the UK this morning.

She was sentenced to 15 days in prison after she allowed her class of seven-year-olds at Unity high school in Khartoum to name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of a class exercise.

In a statement, Gibbons said she was "fine" and thanked those who had worked to win her release. She spent the afternoon relaxing with British embassy staff and the deputy ambassador, Hugh Evans, in Khartoum, before boarding a plane for Dubai. She spent most of the flight asleep, telling reporters: "I just want to relax, I don't want to say any more. I'm too tired."

Yesterday morning as the pardon was issued on the veranda of the Sudanese president's palace, the mother of two's apology was issued. "I have encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from the Sudanese people," she said.

"I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone and I am sorry if I caused any distress. My class was delightful and were making wonderful progress with their studies. I will miss them terribly and I am very sad to think that they have been distressed by this event."

According to Sudanese officials, it was her insistence that she had inadvertently caused offence which finally persuaded President Omar al-Bashir to release her in the face of public opposition. Others observed that the president had delayed the pardon for a few days to avoid angering his hardline Islamic constituency.

Gibbons was locked up in Khartoum's women's prison, where the inmates - including murderers and drug dealers - are kept four to a cell. She had to be moved for her own safety after a 1,000-strong mob gathered to demand a tougher sentence, with some calling for her execution by firing squad.

The decision to release her came after two days of intense lobbying in Khartoum by the Labour peer Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, the Conservative party spokeswoman on community cohesion, who flew to Khartoum on Friday after meetings at the Sudanese embassy in London.

After a day of frustration on Sunday when the pair were unable to speak to Bashir and a "hardline mood" developed, they were finally granted a meeting yesterday morning at the presidential palace.

News that the president had agreed to a pardon leaked out of the meeting at 11am, and then at 11.20am, a pair of heavy doors opened on to the presidential veranda. Ahmed and Warsi stepped out, flanked by Bashir's advisers on foreign and religious affairs. "As British Muslim parliamentarians we feel proud we have been able to secure Gillian Gibbons' release," said Ahmed. "We hope that relations between the two countries are not damaged, in fact it should be a way to strengthen the ties."

Warsi said: "It seems as if we have been in Sudan an eternity. It is in fact only 48 hours." She described the outcome as "timely and amicable".

The teacher's son, John Gibbons, 25, said: "Gordon Brown called me himself to give me the good news but we are obviously reserving our complete excitement until she is home."

Embassy staff kept Gibbons' location and travel plans secret yesterday for fear of a repeat of the angry scenes on Friday when a crowd took to Martyrs Square to protest at the leniency of the sentence.

Shortly after the pardon was announced 40 members of a Sufi sect approached the ambassador's house chanting and carrying banners complaining that Gibbons should not have been released. They dispersed peacefully after handing in a petition.

"There is tension and this decision will not please some people," a government minister told the Guardian. "It was definitely politically difficult here in Sudan. Although this pardon is a presidential prerogative, because of the rising feelings and tensions that have been generated, many Muslims will see it as unfair to them and that it might encourage others to do the same."

However, the minister said the decision should improve relations with Britain which have been strained over Darfur and the country's past role in harbouring international terrorists. "We are trying to take a new track and we call it constructive engagement," he said.

Brown said in a statement that "common sense" had prevailed. "I was delighted and relieved to hear the news that Gillian Gibbons is to be freed," he said.

Teacher jailed in Sudan over naming of teddy bear flies home
after president grants pardon, G, 4.12.2007,






Sudan Accuses

Teacher of Islam Insult


November 27, 2007
The New York Times


NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 26 — The Sudanese police arrested a British schoolteacher and accused her of insulting Islam after she allowed her 7-year-old pupils to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, Sudanese officials said today.

The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, was arrested on Sunday in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, after a number of parents complained, said Rabie A. Atti, a government spokesman.“How can you call a bear Muhammad?” he said. “Muhammad is the holy prophet of Islam.”

Dr. Rabie said the authorities had obtained a letter Ms. Gibbons sent home with students explaining that her primary school class was doing a project on animals and had adopted a teddy bear named Muhammad.

“Her letter said there was an intelligent bear named Muhammad, and the letter instructed parents to take pictures with this bear,” Dr. Rabie said. “This is not acceptable, according to the general opinion of our society.”

In Islam, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is considered a grave offense, and the law of northern Sudan, where Khartoum is located, makes this a crime. The private, relatively expensive Unity School in Khartoum, where Ms. Gibbons taught, educates a mix of Christian and Muslim Sudanese children, and the lessons are in English.

Ms. Gibbons is in jail, pending further investigation, Dr. Rabie said.

“If she is innocent, she will be set free,” Dr. Rabie.

If she is guilty, Dr. Rabie said, she will face punishment, possibly including lashes.

“I hope she didn’t mean what the people thought,” he added, saying it was possible that Ms. Gibbons did not intend to offend Islam.Officials at the school have defended Ms. Gibbons.

“This was a completely innocent mistake,” Robert Boulos, the director of Unity High School, told BBC. “Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam.”

According to BBC, Ms. Gibbons, 54, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in a teddy bear and for her classmates to pick a name for it.

“They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammed,” Mr. Boulos said.

When it came time to vote, 20 out of 23 children choose Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim word.

The students then took turns bringing the bear home on weekends, and wrote a diary about what they did with it. According to the BBC, the children’s entries were bound together in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message that read, “My name is Muhammad.”

The teddy bear ordeal comes just a few weeks after Sudanese authorities said that no troops from Scandinavia could serve as peacekeepers in Darfur, where the United Nations is trying to send an expanded peacekeeping force, because Danish newspapers published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad two years ago.

Those cartoons set off riots across the Muslim world and several dozen people were killed.

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera that, “We in Sudan declared mobilization against the Scandinavians after the publishing of the offensive cartoons of the Prophet,” and that the Sudanese people would not accept Scandinavian troops because of this.

His rejection of the Scandinavians complicates efforts to bolster the peacekeeping force with appropriate technical expertise. The force is supposed to be predominantly African, according to an agreement Sudan reached with the United Nations and the African Union, but United Nations officials said it was essential to include experts from developed countries and were hoping to send teams from Norway and Sweden.

    Sudan Accuses Teacher of Islam Insult, NYT, 27.11.2007,






Saudis Defend Punishment

for Rape Victim


November 21, 2007

Filed at 9:19 a.m. ET

The New York Times



RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated male when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes.

But in considering her appeal of the verdict, the Saudi General Court increased the punishment. It also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the woman, Saudi news media said last week.

The reports triggered an international outcry over the Saudis punishing the victim of a terrible crime.

But the Ministry of Justice stood by the verdict Tuesday, saying that ''charges were proven'' against the woman for having been in a car with a man who was not her relative.

The ministry implied the victim's sentence was increased because she spoke out to the press. ''For whoever has an objection on verdicts issued, the system allows an appeal without resorting to the media,'' said the statement, which was carried on the official Saudi Press Agency.

The attack occurred in 2006. The victim says she was in a car with a male student she used to know trying to retrieve a picture of her. She says two men got into the car and drove them to a secluded area where she was raped by seven men. Her friend also was assaulted.

Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Judges have wide discretion in punishing criminals, rules of evidence are vague and sometimes no defense lawyer is present. The result, critics say, are sentences left to the whim of judges. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light sentence to death.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack avoided directly criticizing the Saudi judiciary over the case, but said the verdict ''causes a fair degree of surprise and astonishment.''

''It is within the power of the Saudi government to take a look at the verdict and change it,'' McCormack said.

Canada's minister for women's issues, Jose Verger, has called the sentence ''barbaric.''

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the verdict ''not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators.''

Saudis Defend Punishment for Rape Victim,






Record Price for 13th - Century Quran


October 24, 2007

Filed at 7:34 a.m. ET

The New York Times



LONDON (AP) -- A Quran written in 1203, believed to be the oldest known complete copy, has sold for more than $2.3 million at an auction.

The holy book, which had been estimated to sell for up to $715,000, fetched $2,327,300 at Tuesday's auction in London, Christie's said.

That was a record auction price for a Quran or any type of Islamic manuscript, the auctioneer Christie's said.

A nearly complete, 10th-century Kufic Quran, thought to be from North Africa or the near East, sold $1,870,000.

Both were offered for sale by the Hispanic Society of America, and were purchased by trade buyers in London, Christie's said.

The record-setting Quran was signed by Yahya bin Muhammad ibn 'Umar, dated 17 Ramadan 599 (June 1203).

It was acquired in Cairo in 1905 by Archer Milton Huntington, who founded the Hispanic Society in New York City in 1904. Huntington, the adopted son of railroad and ship-building magnate Collis P. Huntington, died in 1955.

The calligraphy in the manuscript was done in gold outlined in thin black lines, and the marginal notes are in silver outlined in red.

The kufic Quran bridges a gap between the earlier style, copied on parchment of horizontal format, and the later style of vertical composition, often on paper, Christie's catalog said.

The kufic script takes its name from Kufah in Iraq, an early center of Islamic scholarship, according to the British Library.

Because the script's vertical strokes were very short but the horizontal strokes elongated, it was written on papers in a landscape format.


On the Net:

Hispanic Society, http://www.hispanicsociety.org

Record Price for 13th - Century Quran,






Islamic Creationist

and a Book Sent Round the World


July 17, 2007

The New York Times



In the United States, opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools has largely been fueled by the religious right, particularly Protestant fundamentalism.

Now another voice is entering the debate, in dramatic fashion.

It is the voice of Adnan Oktar of Turkey, who, under the name Harun Yahya, has produced numerous books, videos and DVDs on science and faith, in particular what he calls the “deceit” inherent in the theory of evolution. One of his books, “Atlas of Creation,” is turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn.

At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, “Atlas of Creation” is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran.

In bowing to Scripture, Mr. Yahya resembles some fundamentalist creationists in the United States. But he is not among those who assert that Earth is only a few thousand years old. The principal argument of “Atlas of Creation,” advanced in page after page of stunning photographs of fossil plants, insects and animals, is that creatures living today are just like creatures that lived in the fossil past. Ergo, Mr. Yahya writes, evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception or “a theory in crisis.”

In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.

The book caused a stir earlier this year when a French translation materialized at high schools, universities and museums in France. Until then, creationist literature was relatively rare in France, according to Armand de Ricqles, a professor of historical biology and evolutionism at the College de France. Scientists spoke out against the book, he said in an e-mail message, and “thanks to the highly centralized public school system in France, it was possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children.”

So far, no similar response is emerging in the United States. “In our country we are used to nonsense like this,” said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

He said people who had received copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.

“If he sees a picture of an old fossil crab or something, he says, ‘See, it looks just like a regular crab, there’s no evolution,’ ” Dr. Padian said. “Extinction does not seem to bother him. He does not really have any sense of what we know about how things change through time.”

Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, said he and his colleagues in the life sciences had all received copies. When he called friends at the University of Colorado and the University of Chicago, they had the books too, he said. Scientists at Brigham Young University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Georgia and others have also received them.

“I think he must have sent it to every full professor in the medical school,” said Kathryn L. Calame, a microbiologist at the Columbia University medical school who received a copy. “The genetics department, the biochem department, micro — everybody I talked to had it.”

While they said they were unimpressed with the book’s content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost. “If you went into a bookstore and saw a book like this, it would be at least $100,” said Dr. Miller, an author of conventional biology texts. “The production costs alone are astronomical. We are talking millions of dollars.”

And then there’s postage. Dr. Padian said his copy was shipped by a company called SDS Worldwide, which has an office in Illinois. Calls and e-mail messages to the company were not returned, but Dr. Padian said he spoke to someone there who told him SDS had received a cargo-container-size shipment of books, “with everything prepaid and labeled. It just went all over the country.”

Fatih Sen, who heads the United States office of Global Impex, a company that markets Islamic books, gifts and other products, including “Atlas,” would not comment on its distribution, except to describe the book as “great” and refer questions to the publisher, Global Publishing of Istanbul. Repeated attempts by telephone and e-mail to reach the concern, or Mr. Yahya, were unsuccessful.

In the book and on his Web site (www.harunyahya.com), Mr. Yahya says he was born in Ankara in 1956, and grew up and was educated in Turkey. He says he seeks to unmask what the book calls “the imposture of evolutionists” and the links between their scientific views and modern evils like fascism, communism and terrorism. He says he hopes to encourage readers “to open their minds and hearts and guide them to become more devoted servants of God.”

He adds that he seeks “no material gain” from his publications, most of which are available free or at relatively low cost.

Who finances these efforts is “a big question that no one knows the answer to,” said another recipient, Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in Missouri who studies issues of science and religion, particularly Islam. Dr. Edis grew up in a secular household in Turkey and has lived in the United States since enrolling in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, where he earned his doctorate in 1994. He said Mr. Yahya’s activities were usually described in the Turkish press as financed by donations. “But what that can mean is anybody’s guess,” he said.

The effort seems particularly odd given the mailing list. Both Dr. Padian and Dr. Miller testified for the plaintiffs in the Dover, Penn., lawsuit that successfully challenged the teaching of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, in schools there. Other recipients include Steve Rissing, a biologist at Ohio State University who has been active on behalf of school board candidates who support the teaching of evolution and science museums that accept evolution as the foundation for modern biology.

“I don’t know what to make of it, quite honestly,” said Laddie Elwell, the director of the Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji, Minn., which she said received a dozen copies. Chuck Deeter, a staff member, said he and his colleagues might use the books’ fossil photographs in their programs on Darwin, which he said can be a hard sell in a region where many people are fundamentalist Christians with creationist beliefs.

Support for creationism is also widespread among Muslims, said Dr. Edis, whose book “An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam” was published by Prometheus Books this spring.

“Taken at face value, the Koran is a creationist text,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a scholar of Islam “who is going to be gung-ho about Darwin.”

Perhaps as a result, he said, Mr. Yahya’s books and other publications have won him attention in Islamic areas. “This is a guy with some influence,” Dr. Edis said, “unfortunately for mainstream science.”

Dr. Miller agreed. He said he regularly received e-mail messages from people questioning evolution, with an increasing number coming from Turkey, Lebanon and other areas in the Middle East, most citing Mr. Yahya’s work.

That’s troubling, he said, because Mr. Yahya’s ideas “cast evolution as part of the corrupting influence of the West on Islamic culture, and that promotes a profound anti-science attitude that is certainly not going to help the Islamic world catch up to the West.”

As the scientists ponder what to do with the book — for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves — they also speculate about the motives of its distributors.

“My hypothesis is, like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed,” said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which fights the teaching of creationism in public schools. “These people are really serious about this.”

That may be, Dr. Miller said, but it’s also possible “that Harun Yahya and his people have decided that there are plenty of Muslim people in the United States who need to hear this message.”

In his e-mail message, Dr. de Ricqles said some worried that the book was directed at the Muslim population of France as a strategy to “destabilize” poor, predominantly immigrant suburbs “where a large population of youngsters of Moslem faith would be an ideal target for propaganda.”

But despite its wide distribution, Dr. Padian predicted that the book would have little impact in the United States. “We are used to books that are totally wrongheaded about science and confuse science and religion,” he said. “That’s politics.”

Islamic Creationist and a Book Sent Round the World,






Convicted Adulterer

Stoned to Death in Iran


July 10, 2007

Filed at 10:27 a.m. ET

The New York Times



TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A man convicted of adultery was stoned to death last week in a village in northern Iran, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday, the first time in years that the country has confirmed such an execution.

Jafar Kiani was stoned to death Thursday in Aghchekand, 124 miles west of Tehran, said spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi.

Death sentences are carried out in Iran after they are upheld by the Supreme Court. Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is punishable by stoning.

Jamshidi did not elaborate on how the stoning was carried out. Under Islamic rulings, a man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck with her hands also buried. Those carrying out the verdict then throw stones until the condemned dies.

International human rights groups have long criticized stoning in Iran as a ''cruel and barbaric'' punishment.

Before Iran's confirmation, U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour condemned the execution, her spokesman said.

''The execution has apparently gone ahead despite Iran's moratorium on execution by stoning, a moratorium that had been in effect since 2002,'' said Jose Diaz of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

''Stoning is in clear violation of international law,'' Diaz said in Geneva. He said Arbour considered stoning to be a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that is prohibited under an international treaty that Iran has signed.

In Oslo, Norway, Iran's ambassador was summoned by Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere to protest the stoning, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said.

Gahr Stoere was ''deeply upset'' that the death penalty had been carried out and called stoning an ''inhumane and barbaric method of punishment,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Frode Andersen.

The reported execution came two weeks after international pressure, including protests from Norway, caused Iranian officials to delay carrying out the sentence against Kiani and his female companion, Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, who also was sentenced to death by stoning. It was not known if a date had been set for her execution.

The couple had reportedly been imprisoned for 11 years.

Stoning was widely imposed in the early years after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hard-line clerics to power. But in recent years, it has seldom been applied, although the government rarely confirms when it carries out stoning sentences.

There is no official report of the last time Iran stoned someone to death, but there were unconfirmed media reports that a couple was stoned in 2006 in the northeastern town of Mashhad.

Women's rights activists headed by feminist lawyer Shadi Sadr have been campaigning to have the sentence removed from Iran's statutes.

Iran's reformist legislators have demanded an end to death by stoning as a punishment for adultery, but opposition from hard-line clerics sidelined their efforts.

Capital offenses in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, serious drug trafficking, adultery or prostitution, treason and espionage.

Convicted Adulterer Stoned to Death in Iran,
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iran-Stoning.html - broken link






Iran Cleric:

Rushdie Fatwa Still Stands


June 22, 2007

Filed at 11:18 a.m. ET

The New York Times



TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- An high-level Iranian cleric said Friday that the religious edict calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie cannot be revoked, and he warned Britain was defying the Islamic world by granting the author knighthood.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami reminded worshippers of the 1989 fatwa during a sermon at Tehran University, aired live on state radio. Thousands of worshippers chanted ''Death to the English.''

Khatami does not hold a government position but has the influential post of delivering the sermon during Friday prayers once a month in the Iranian capital. He did not directly call for the fatwa to be carried out.

''Awarding him means confronting 1.5 billion Muslims around the world,'' Khatami said. ''In Islamic Iran, the revolutionary fatwa ... is still alive and cannot be changed.''

Then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989, calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie because his book ''The Satanic Verses'' was deemed insulting to Islam. Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade, and the edict deeply damaged Britain's relations with Iran. In 1998, the Iranian government sought to patch up ties by declaring that it would not support the fatwa but that it could not be rescinded.

Queen Elizabeth II's decision to knight Rushdie drew a complaint from the Iranian government and protests around the Muslim world.

About 2,000 people rallied in several Pakistani cities on Friday, calling for Rushdie to be killed and for a boycott of trade with Britain.

A leader of Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party compared Rushdie's award to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published last year in a Danish newspaper, which provoked protests and rioting in Muslim countries.

''Earlier they had published cartoons of our Prophet, and now they have given an award to someone who deserves to be killed,'' Abdul Ghafoor Hayderi told a crowd of about 1,000 people in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

Pakistan is a close ally of the United States and Britain in the war on terror, but it has condemned Rushdie's knighthood.

In India's Muslim-majority Kashmir region, a strike over Rushdie's honor closed most shops, offices and schools in the summer capital, Srinagar.

Mufti Mohammad Bashir-ud-din, head of Kashmir's Islamic court, said Rushdie was ''liable to be killed for rendering the gravest injury to the sentiments of the Muslims across the world.''

Britain has defended its decision to honor Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century. His 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for ''Midnight's Children'' in 1981.

Muslims angered by Britain's decision protested in London on Friday.

''Rushdie is a hate figure across the Muslim world because of his insults to Islam,'' said Anjem Choudray, protest organizer. ''This honor will have ramifications here and across the world.''

The award, announced Saturday, was among the Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honors list, which is decided on by independent committees who vet nominations from the public and government.

Some analysts have expressed surprise his award was approved.

''There is an impression they really didn't consider the potential reaction,'' said Rosemary Hollis, director of research at London's Chatham House think tank. ''But there is a sense that showing too much sensitivity is to kowtow to radicals.''


Associated Press writers David Stringer in London

and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India,

contributed to this story.

Iran Cleric: Rushdie Fatwa Still Stands,
AP-Rushdie-Protests.html - broken link










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