No great courage

Ed Husain showed up again in last Sunday’s Observer (which I have finally got round to blogging after three days of early starts and long driving shifts), blowing the trumpet for an Egyptian preacher called Moez Masoud. I’ve not heard of him, but the English section of his website is full of links to well-known modern-traditionalist sites like Mas’ud Khan’s and Zaytuna, and writings sourced from Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, Habib Ali Jifri and Abdul-Hakim Murad. Since I know little about him, I cannot comment on his standing but I do want to comment on what Ed himself says about him.

“Ed” claims that he attended a debate in Qatar and was surprised to see, in the city which hosts Shaikh Qaradawi and the al-Jazeera TV channel, which “stokes the flames of the Arab-Israeli conflict by referring to suicide bombers as ‘martyrs’”, people readily condemning suicide bombers, including the opponent in the debate he attended. He also asserts that “for a young Arab scholar [like Moez Masoud] to defy the mob, take politics out of religion, risk popularity and break Arab consensus takes courage”.

It does not. It is not new, and it is not rare. Scholars in the Arab world have been condemning suicide bombers for years. It is true that Qaradawi and a few others approve of them, but there has always been a substantial body of scholarly opinion which regards suicide as forbidden even when used as a military tactic (as opposed to for personal reasons, on which there is no disagreement that is a great sin) and that deliberately killing non-combatants is forbidden also. “Ed” makes a reference to “the rigid, literalist, soulless brand of Islam they had developed” in Saudi Arabia, but the major establishment scholars of that country, and that sect, have been opposing suicide bombings for years. There is no “Arab consensus” on the desirability of suicide bombings. Muslims generally seek religious guidance from more than one individual, and if one has an unpopular opinion on one issue, even an emotive one like Palestine, people might still accept his word on others.

For those whose only knowledge of Islam and the situation in the Muslim world comes from the witterings of “Ed” and his chums in the media over the past year, not every Muslim in the Middle East gets their religion from “tele-shaikhs” on al-Jazeera and Iqra; there are scholarly traditions in most Muslim countries, and those who trust scholars like al-Qaradawi over their countries’ scholars may well do so because they regard the in-country scholars as compromised by politics. In some countries, like Tunisia, the scholars and other religious people have been severely persecuted. However they treat religious people, most of the Muslim countries’ rulers have no interest in tolerating serious extremists or indeed anyone who poses a serious challenge to them, which is why they, at least, will not bother someone with a spiritual and apolitical message in the present political climate.

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