Open the gates of Ijtihad

They have politicised Islam. Contrary to Samuel P. Huntington’s belief that Islam and the West are headed for a clash of civilizations, other scholars argue that the real clash is between two diverging ideas within Islam itself. The clash is between the politicised Islam of a radical element which has turned to violence as a means of expressing itself, and the mainstream majority which remains largely silent. In fact, the violent tactics of this fringe-force of highly-politicised Muslims has proven useful in directly intimidating the mainstream into relative silence. “Political Islam has proven a formidable force even though Islamic movements or organizations often constitute a minority of the community,” states John Esposito, a professor of religion at Washington’s Georgetown University. As in most conflicts, solutions can only come from within. Similarly, the cures for finding what ails some Muslim communities can only emerge from Islam itself. Resolutions cannot be imposed from the West. But before that can come to pass, however, two things must happen. Firstly, the Muslim mainstream must play a greater role in its community; and secondly, it must be given an authoritative tool enabling it to enact positive changes. That tool is ijtihad. The re-introduction of ijtihad enjoys the support of a growing number of scholars, intellectuals and Islamic institutions, both in the West and in the Arab world. Even the Saudi Arabian Minister of the Waqf, or Religious Affairs, Sheikh Saleh Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, and Ali Bardakoglu, president of the Diyanet, or the highest religious authority in Turkey, support this. Both al-Sheikh and Bardakoglu divulged in interviews that they were in favour of reinstating ijtihad. “The general strategy is to expand the base of ‘moderates’,” said the Saudi minister. But he warned, however, that “so long as there were bad things” happening in Iraq and Palestine, it would prolong negative events in the rest of the world. The roadblocks to ijtihad are numerous and tough. A preliminary study shows that the Muslim world remains divided over who should have the authority to implement ijtihad and how much should be allowed to change. There is no religious hierarchy in Sunnism, the branch of Islam that dominates the Muslim world, as there is in Shiism. Still, the belief is that with time, effort and education, ijtihad will eventually be re-introduced, allowing important changes to be made. Another hurdle is that historically, reform of Islamic law has often been confused with criticism of Islam itself. Conservative Muslims have, at various times, labelled those who have attempted to introduce reforms as non-believers. Fatwas, or religious edicts, have even been issued against potential reformers, at times condemning them to death. This hurdle is real and will require Muslims to see the difference between critiquing Islam in order to tear it down, and reforming Islamic law in order to build up Muslims and their societies. If ijtihad’s doors remain closed and political Islam continues to rise, this will lead to a greater schism between the average Muslim and the radical as well as between Islam and the West. This would expand the existing conflict, turning it into the infamous ‘clash of civilizations’, and would have severe repercussions for Muslims everywhere, especially those living in the West. ### *Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington. This article is part of a series of views on “The Role of Ijtihad in Muslim-Western Relations”, published jointly by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and United Press International (UPI). Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), March 7, 2006 Bottom of Form       )This article was First published by United Press International in March 2006)]]>

Blaming the rain for Iraq’s corruption

Iraq, like many Arab countries, is plagued by rampant corruption at nearly all levels of government. Many public servants, from the policeman directing traffic at the corner of the street to the office of the highest authority in the land, are open to accepting bribes. Every few years we hear of a new government being formed in Iraq, Lebanon or Jordan, to name but a few, whereupon being sworn in the new prime minister vows to fight corruption. Sometimes there is a cabinet post created with the specific task to eliminate corruption. That is far easier said than done. There are two basic reasons why corruption and bribery are so common in the Arab world. This is not to say that people in power in other countries are not corrupt. Just look at the price that the US Air Force was once charged for such banal items as a toilet seat or a coffee cup. However, nothing comes close to the imagination of corrupt Iraqi officials who in all seriousness can blame the rain. Iraq is a rich oil country but is poor when it comes to services the state can provide to its citizens. A key reason is corruption, a source of unending protests in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. In the corruption-plagued country, it appears that even the rain can be blamed for corruption and, some Iraqis say, the rain has a mind of its own, a criminal mind. It can enter bank vaults and steal huge sums of money. The government’s explanations obviously do not wash — no pun intended. The population has been accustomed to politicians and civil servants at all levels finding their way to public money. When they do not believe official arguments and lose trust in the state, citizens take to the streets or, even worse, they can start seeing the state as their enemy. Poor citizens in filthy-rich countries cannot be expected to provide their rulers with a vote of confidence when banknotes keep on drifting away with the rain. The latest scam, because this can be nothing but a scam, has the parliament investigating how $6 million worth of local currency stored in a public bank were damaged by heavy rains. This case has just resurfaced, quashing hopes among some lawmakers that it would just wash away, No such luck. The case drifted around for about five years but it will not go away. “At the end of 2013, the vaults of the Rafidain Bank were flooded because of huge rains at the time, damaging the bills that were stored there,” said Ali Mohsen al-Allaq, who was head of the Central Bank at the time. “They were worth around 7 billion dinars ($6 dollars),” he said. He said the Central Bank printed new bills to replace the soaked ones but, because the money had not been in circulation, the only real “loss” was the cost of printing. Seriously? “The bank governor said the (damaged) bills were destroyed but that answer isn’t clear,” said MP Hoshyar Abdallah of Kurdish anti-corruption party Goran and a member of parliament’s finance committee. “We have concerns over how water entered the vault. This is a source of suspicion for us. That’s why we will conduct an investigation into this as soon as possible,” Abdallah told Agence France-Presse. The issue sparked controversy in Iraq.  Corruption, shell companies and “phantom” public employees who receive salaries but do not work have cost Iraq the equivalent of $228 billion since 2003, Iraq’s parliament said. That figure is more than the country’s GDP and nearly three times the annual budget. Any surprise, then, that the country is ranked by Transparency International as the 12th most corrupt in the world. I mentioned there are two reasons why corruption takes hold in a country. The first is that people believe they are underpaid for the work they do and therefore help themselves to what they consider their just desserts. Second, the notion of corruption is so embedded in society that trying to rectify the problem will not work. What authorities should do is give up on the older generations who have been raised with the understanding that nothing can ever be accomplished without bribing someone and concentrate on properly educating the young and future generations.