May 15, 2008
The Two Islams
“Muhammad would weep to see how his message is misused to subjugate people”
[In the third of four edited excerpts from his new book, Chasing a Mirage, Tarek Fatah discusses the two streams of Islam Muslims have brought to the world — one peaceful and the other militant.]
Tarek Fatah
The National Post
http://www.national opinion/story. html?id=515439
In August, 1990, 45 representatives from Muslim countries, under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, signed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The result leaves much to be desired. Although successive Islamic declarations on human rights have tried to present themselves as compatible with the principle of universal basic rights, a number of severe contradictions exist between these declarations and Western constitutionalism. The most important is that Islam does not accept separating religion from the state and societal affairs. According to Articles 23 and 24 of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, all rights and freedoms are subject to Islamic sharia. In this framework, human rights lose their unconditional character and their focus on the protection of the individual vis-a-vis any kind of power.
Hence, within Islamic states there is an unavoidable blurring of religious and political authority, which has an important impact on the implementation and interpretation of human rights. Consider Morocco, for example. It is a relatively secular state, yet Morocco’s King Hassan presents himself as a direct descendent of the Prophet. In Iran the role of Islam in defining the state is made clear in its constitution. Article 2 stipulates that “The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in: The One God, His exclusive sovereignty and right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands…”
In the same spirit, the majority of the Arab constitutions declare sharia as the basis of legislation, or at least consider it as a main source of legislation. This legitimizes the notion of racial and religious superiority, and allows for multiple levels of citizenship and widespread and systemic discrimination against racial and religious minorities living within a state’s borders. Invariably, the human rights of the weak and dispossessed, the minorities and women, the disabled and the heretics, are trampled upon without the slightest sense of guilt or wrongdoing. Men and women are imprisoned, routinely tortured and often killed, while numbed citizens, fearful of offending Islam, unsure about their own rights, insecure about their own identities, allow these violations to continue.
Dadang Tri, ReutersSuccessive Islamic declarations of human rights leave much to be desired.
By looking the other way, the intelligentsia and middle classes have become complicit in these crimes. They justify their inaction as patriotism, where they stand in solidarity with the Islamic State, with the misguided idea that those who fight for universal human rights are somehow working for Western imperialism or represent the interests of Judeo-Christian civilization.
One could say there are two Islams that Muslims have introduced to the world. One, peaceful, spiritual and deeply respectful of the “other,” an Islam that relied on the Quranic expression, “To you your religion, to me mine.” It is this Islam that today makes Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation with 250 million people.
The second, parallel to this spiritual Islam, is an equally militant stream of puritanism and supremacist philosophy. It sought statehood, political power and mastery, not just over the conquered, but over competing Muslim interests as well. At the core of this divergence from spirituality and love of the divine was the notion of racial, tribal and familial superiority, which gave birth to countless monarchist dynasties, each battling the other, all invoking Islam as their raison d’etre. Muhammad would have wept to see how his message was misused to consolidate power and subjugate the people.
With political power as the ultimate goal for most dynasties in Islamic history and even present-day regimes, Islam became merely a convenient method to acquire or hold on to authority. Whether it was from the pulpit or the throne, opponents from within the faith were almost invariably declared as enemies of Islam, and killed.
Of course, this was not exclusive to Muslim dynasties. Brothers have killed their own siblings to retain power across the world no matter what their religion. The difference is that while most of humanity has come to recognize the futility of racial and religious states, the Islamists of today present this sordid past as their manifesto of the future.
Today, the only Muslims who are free to practise their faith as they choose and participate in public life as equal citizens without having to validate their tribal, racial or family lineage live as tiny minorities in secular democracies like India, South Africa, Canada and many European countries. Yet, even while seeing the advantages of life under secular civil society, many of them are committed to the establishment of Islamic states. So deeply ingrained in the Muslim psyche is the idea of replicating the so-called “Golden Era of The Rightly Guided Caliphs” that few are willing to consider the implications of what they are asking for.
To bolster their case for an Islamic State, proponents of such an entity have tried to present the 7th-century treaty of Prophet Muhammad with the tribes of Medina as the “First Written Constitution in the World.”
In 1941, Muhammad Hamidullah published the English translation of what is known as the Medina Compact between the immigrants of Mecca, the Quraysh and the tribes of Medina who were hosting the new arrivals in the city. What was essentially a document outlining the contractual obligations of all the parties in a tribal society was presented as if it were a document that should serve as the foundation of any Islamic constitution in the 20th century.
If this “constitution” were truly an Islamic constitution and a model for future generations of Muslims, then it should have been the model of governance in the city of Mecca after its capture by Muhammad in 630 CE. But it was not. Neither was it the basis of the state set up by Abu-Bakr on his ascension as caliph after the Prophet’s death in 632 CE. This suggests it was a one-time contract that was not replicated anywhere else even during the lifetime of the Prophet. However, copies of this document, falsely labelled as the “First Written Constitution of the World,” continue to be published and distributed around the Muslim world.
– Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons Canada. Copyright Tarek Fatah, 2008.
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Tarek Fatah asks if Muhammad is a head of state or an Apostle?


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