City of Brass by Aziz Poonawalla

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2/21/2005

 

hirabah, the muharib, and hujjat

posted by Aziz P. at 2/21/2005 04:06:00 PM permalink View blog reactions
via praktike, this great transcript of a radio interview with Khaled Abou el Fadl, who I have mentioned before in my hirabah post. This is a lengthy essay which deserves full respect and I will not even attempt to sumarize it here, other than noting that El Fadl essentially reveals the framework upon a free society could be built within the context of Islam. I note with interest the part about Ali AS commanding the Qur'an to speak - there's alot more depth to that riwayat (anecdote), in the Shi'a tradition, than appears at first glance.

Paul "Bird Dog" also found an older link with some of El Fadl's thoughts on the moral foundation of just war, as articulated by 11th century jurists. The pre-eminent Islamic dynasty of that era was the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, the direct antecedents of my own sect, the Dawoodi Bohras. Excerpts follow:

Building upon the proscriptions of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim jurists insisted that there are legal restrictions upon the conduct of war. In general, Muslim armies may not kill women, children, seniors, hermits, pacifists, peasants or slaves unless they are combatants. Vegetation and property may not be destroyed, water holes may not be poisoned, and flame-throwers may not be used unless out of necessity, and even then only to a limited extent. Torture, mutilation and murder of hostages were forbidden under all circumstances. Importantly, the classical jurists reached these determinations not simply as a matter of textual interpretation, but as moral or ethical assertions. The classical jurists spoke from the vantage point of a moral civilization, in other words, from a perspective that betrayed a strong sense of confidence in the normative message of Islam. In contrast to their pragmatism regarding whether a war should be waged, the classical jurists accepted the necessity of moral constraints upon the way war is conducted.


Fadl also expands the concept of hirabah by mentioning the term those classical jurists had for those who wage it, the muharib (the root Arabic word is the same, just as the root words for jihad and muhajedin are the same):

Muslim jurists reacted sharply to these groups, considering them enemies of humankind. They were designated as muharibs (literally, those who fight society). A muharib was defined as someone who attacks defenseless victims by stealth, and spreads terror in society. They were not to be given quarter or refuge by anyone or at any place. In fact, Muslim jurists argued that any Muslim or non-Muslim territory sheltering such a group is hostile territory that may be attacked by the mainstream Islamic forces. Although the classical jurists agreed on the definition of a muharib, they disagreed about which types of criminal acts should be considered crimes of terror. Many jurists classified rape, armed robbery, assassinations, arson and murder by poisoning as crimes of terror and argued that such crimes must be punished vigorously regardless of the motivations of the criminal. Most importantly, these doctrines were asserted as religious imperatives. Regardless of the desired goals or ideological justifications, the terrorizing of the defenseless was recognized as a moral wrong and an offense against society and God.


The basic point here is that when combating terrorism from within the Islamic framework, there is a rich vein to mine. Via Laura, the tactic of hujjat[1] to promote the moral foundation that Islam provides has already been successfully pursued in Yemen, with impressive results:

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital," says Hitar, eyes glinting shrewdly from beneath his emerald-green turban. "Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."..

...Seated amid stacks of Korans and religious texts, Hitar explains that his system is simple. He invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians and when they cannot, he shows them numerous passages commanding Muslims not to attack civilians, to respect other religions, and fight only in self-defense.

For example, he quotes: "Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land - it is as if he had slain all mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." He uses the passage to bolster his argument against bombing Western targets in Yemen - attacks he says defy the Koran. And, he says, the Koran says under no circumstances should women and children be killed.

If, after weeks of debate, the prisoners renounce violence they are released and offered vocational training courses and help to find jobs.

Hitar's belief that hardened militants trained by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan could change their stripes was initially dismissed by US diplomats in Sanaa as dangerously naive, but the methods of the scholarly cleric have little in common with the other methods of fighting extremism. Instead of lecturing or threatening the battle-hardened militants, he listens to them.

"An important part of the dialogue is mutual respect," says Hitar. "Along with acknowledging freedom of expression, intellect and opinion, you must listen and show interest in what the other party is saying."

Only after winning the militants' trust does Hitar gradually begin to correct their beliefs. He says that most militants are ordinary people who have been led astray. Just as they were taught Al Qaeda's doctrines, he says, so too can they be taught more- moderate ideas. "If you study terrorism in the world, you will see that it has an intellectual theory behind it," says Hitar. "And any kind of intellectual idea can be defeated by intellect."...

..."It's only logical to tackle these people through their brains and heart," says Faris Sanabani, a former adviser to President Abdullah Saleh and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper. "If you beat these people up they become more stubborn. If you hit them, they will enjoy the pain and find something good in it - it is a part of their ideology. Instead, what we must do is erase what they have been taught and explain to them that terrorism will only harm Yemenis' jobs and prospects. Once they understand this they become fighters for freedom and democracy, and fighters for the true Islam," he says.

Some freed militants were so transformed that they led the army to hidden weapons caches and offered the Yemeni security services advice on tackling Islamic militancy. A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda's top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar's reformed militants...

...As the relative success of Yemen's unusual approach becomes apparent, Hitar has been invited to speak to antiterrorism specialists at London's New Scotland Yard, as well as to French and German police, hoping to defuse growing militancy among Muslim immigrants.

US diplomats have also approached the cleric to see if his methods can be applied in Iraq, says Hitar.
"Before the dialogues began, there was only one way to fight terrorism, and that was through force," he says. "Now there is another way: dialogue."


This approach is the key to solving the terror problem within the Islamic world. It will take time. But the tools are there, forseen by Allah to have been of need.

[1] literally, "proof". Yhe concept means to engage in rigorous argument with assertions supported by universal and non-controversial facts. There is a strong tradition of hujjat, especially in the Shi'a tradition. Here is a good example of hujjat upon the most common topic, the ascension of Ali AS, based on arguments from mostly Sunni sources.

Aside. The link also goes into Fadl's analysis of Wahabbism and Salafism. I want to reiterate my point that Wahabism is no more objectionable than is strict Puritanism or evangelical Christianity. It is the extremists within Waabbism that are the problem. I of course defend CAIR on similar grounds, and do not draw the dichotomy of "good vs bad" that Paul applied to CAIR vs other groups like FreeMuslims and ISCA. These organizations play complementary roles in domestic American muslim politics, and demonization of one should be a warning to the others that the Daniel Pipes standard of "moderate" is unattainable.


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Scratch my email, I posted about this anyway! Changed my mind.

 

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About City of Brass

City of Brass was originally launched in March 2002 under the name UNMEDIA. The blog focuses on issues related to muslims in the West. The primary author is Aziz Poonawalla, a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS). Also see the technical blog, entitled Khidmat is not a zero-sum game, detailing the open-source infrastructure behind our community web portal, mumineen.org.