Clergy's rising power brings Arab stagnation: Rule by fatwa becomes norm
Monday, 30 July 2007Clergy's rising powerThe cleric is the number one man in the Arab world today. He is the one in first place, the owner of the first position, the one who preaches the first sermon, who drinks the first cup of coffee. If he wants to hold a public demonstration, he need utter only one word and streets are closed in his honour. Clergymen shut down newspapers, fire their editors, direct TV and radio stations, threaten ministers of culture, and haul them into court. Clergymen issue fatwas on satellite channels to kill poets and intellectuals, to burn their books, and to exile them from the country.
brings Arab stagnation:
Rule by fatwa becomes norm
By Shaker Nabulsi
The religion of Islam is a booming business these days, but it was not so in the seventh century. In the days of Muhammad, the clergy did not become rich issuing fatwas - religious opinions - as they do today. Al-Azhar mosque has now had to open a 24-hour hotline so its clergy can issue their endless fatwas in response to the questions of the faithful. Fatwas are issued daily, something we have never seen before.
Nor have we ever seen such a spread of religious institutes and universities in the Arab world, or such large numbers of students of religious studies. We have never seen so many preachers of the young and the old spreading their false science, to the confusion of everyone.
The clergy, young and old, are enriching themselves today as never before, as they advise the faithful on how to live according to the dictates of Muhammad. Never before have clerics held such power - and never before has the Arab world so feared them. Never before have we witnessed so-called secular rulers who are in actuality slaves to Muslim clerics.
We open the newspaper and find entire sections devoted to religious issues. We watch long hours of religious programming, often transmitted via satellite channels. We have seen the clergy support terrorism and terrorist leaders, calling terrorists the Sword of Islam (Saif Al-Islam), Sheikh Al-Islam, Hero of the Nation, the Great Mujahideen. The clergy hail terrorists by these names publicly, proclaiming their martyrdom in the name of Islam. But they issue no fatwas against Osama Bin Laden, who murdered hundreds of innocent Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists.
What are Arabs thinking of, that they tolerate such behaviour?
One cleric will issue a fatwa commanding Arabs to spill the blood of Arab liberals, without an investigation. Another will call Arab intellectuals infidels and atheists, and the accused will be convicted by public opinion, and denied the right of legal representation in the courts. In such cases international human rights organizations are often denied the right to defend the accused. Those who issue such fatwas are not punished, or even held accountable for their actions.
A cleric today can issue a personal fatwa demanding the death of an entire group of Arab liberals, and there is no requirement for an investigation of possible wrongdoing.Today clergymen interfere in the smallest details of Arab daily life, forcibly entering and searching the homes of people, ordering the police to arrest fathers and sons, accusing the head of the household of being an immoral infidel, spitting in the faces of women, accusing them of being prostitutes. Clergy are not required to obtain a special order or an authorization from the authorities in order to commit such atrocities.
Today, in the Arab world, the cleric has become the first politician.The Arab mind, through lifting the Koran high, has thrown all other books to the ground, trampling on them and tearing them to pieces. Now that "Islam is the solution" has become the belief of the people, all the scientific, political, economic, social and cultural knowledge that was so painfully acquired over centuries is being trampled upon. Some politicians have even followed the example of Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of Hamas' government in Gaza, and are wearing the clergy's uniform as they make religious speeches in mosques during the Friday prayers.
Thousands of year ago, when religious truth was first revealed to mankind, man was ignorant and had only faith, but he did not expect his faith to answer all the questions of life. He trusted that God would bring him the answers he sought. God was the hidden strength of the world. In time, as science revealed to man the answers to many of his questions, he had less need to rely on the hidden strength of God - he the strength of truth and knowledge. Because science has given us more answers, there are fewer questions today. There are fewer phenomena we do not understand, and we have reason to believe that the answers to these questions that remain will be revealed through scientific inquiry.
Modern man focuses on thought, research, intellectual inquiry, creativity, and productivity. These things have improved the quality of life, and freed us from the constant struggle for survival. When contemporary man studies the heavens, he no longer wonders whether there are seven, eight, or six skies. He is thinking about aviation technology, and how to produce larger and safer airplanes. Or he is analyzing climate patterns, so he can better predict weather. Through the use of his reason, man today can precisely determine the temperature of any day of any year, at any place on the globe. He can identify low- and high-pressure areas, wind speeds, rain and snow.
It is science not religion that has given him this power to understand his planet. Arabs were at the forefront of these scientific advances. Muslims were the scientists, the geographers, the physicians, and the astronomers of the medieval world. When Europe had forgotten the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires preserved this knowledge and passed it on to a grateful Europe.
Where has this tradition of scholarship gone? Today the questions that fill the minds of Muslims are not the questions of science. They are religious questions about trivial matters, questions that well-paid clergymen tell us cannot be answered without their help. The business of religious questions has become a profitable trade, fueled by the questions of the young and the old, the knowledgeable and the unknowledgeable, the scholar and the fool. Everyone who engages in this profession of religion is making money from it.
Islam's original message was one of unification and liberation. It opposed the forces of obscurantism, the sorcerers and the charlatans. It was a message that called for thinking and contemplation. That message has been betrayed. It has been taken over by a set of daily fatwas characterized by illiteracy, magic, sorcery, and quackery.
How did clergymen manage to become the leaders of our human caravan? How have these magicians taken the place of the horsemen who led us in the past?
Muslim clerics in Arab states have been encouraged to issue fatwas on all matters, useful and useless, important and puerile, small and big, to the point that we need a fatwa to tell us how to eat or go to the bathroom. This shows how the Arab mind has degraded itself. It shows how the clergy have taken on such importance in this difficult and dirty decade, and is a key reason for the current state of affairs.
The same thing happened to the Christian clergy in the Middle Ages, before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century proclaimed that ordinary people could understand the word of God by themselves, without the help of priests. After the Reformation, Western men and women no longer needed the lanterns of priests to show them the path of truth. Yet in the Islamic world we are still children who need the lanterns of the clergy to show us the right and the wrong way to God.
Arab governments are the same: they do not adopt an educational or an economic policy without consulting the clergy and obtaining their approval and blessing. This means that the real rulers in such countries are the clergymen. These supposed secular nations are in fact religious states, encrusted with a thin veneer of secularism by the ruling lapidaries.
A second cause of this current situation was the political vacuum left behind by the departure of Abdel Nasser in 1970, which allowed the Ba'ath Party to assume power in Syria and Iraq. Instead of calling for freedom and democracy, the Ba'ath Party adopted the same authoritarian and dictatorial methods used by the Nazi Party in the Germany of the 1930s. They monopolized power, oppressed other nationalities such as the Kurds, disregarded the opinions of dissenters, and sentenced to death anyone holding a political ideology different from their own. For example, Syrian law No. 49 of 1980 provides for the execution of all members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. This law is still on the books.
A third reason: the political elite - nationalists, socialists, Marxists, and leftists in general - were bitterly disappointed that the independence for which they fought so hard from the 1940s on did not bring them democracy. Instead of liberty, freedom, and democracy, these independence movements ushered in corruption, incompetence, and theft of the elites' property. Having lost faith in the political process, people transferred their beliefs and hopes to their religion - to Islam.They hoped for religious solutions where political ones had failed. They no longer relied on reason to lead the way through life, but relied on their emotions and their hearts instead. Religious parties, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, adopted "Islam is the solution" as their slogan of salvation, and this message of faith has now spread from Egypt to seventy countries around the world.
Fourth, widespread unemployment and poverty in most of the Arab World gave religious political parties a golden chance to offer financial help and job opportunities to the poor. Many of the clergy worked with the support and backing of Arab leaders. Some of their reforms provided authentic help to the people, but many clergymen were like the Roman emperors of old. They fed the starving people with free bread, and entertained them with the blood of gladiator fights. They did this to win the people's support so they could consolidate their own power.
Fifth, the wealth and legitimacy of most Arab states derived from their alliance with the clergy, not from secular institutions that could help Arab states develop economically and socially. Rulers relied on the clergy to help them consolidate their own power, and this put the clergy into the positions of power which they still hold.
In addition, religious education has expanded considerably, closing the door on the free expression of opinions and thought. The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sayed Qutb has infiltrated the curriculum of religious education, and in the process inculcated an abhorrence and hatred of Western secular thought. It was not Wahhabism that gave rise to political Islamic terrorism, as some think, although Wahhabism did give terrorism some of its first baby milk from the breast. On the contrary, terrorism grew up in the womb and lap of the Muslim Brotherhood during the 1940s.
Finally, the military and political conflict between the Arabs and Israel became a religious conflict after the political elites and the national patties failed to resolve this conflict. This is a conflict that can be resolved only through politics or military action, but the armed Palestinian militaries continue to launch religious slogans into the battle.
And still the battle continues, and will continue until the Day of Resurrection, because no single religious power can gain victory over the other. Religious wars ended at the end of the Crusades, several centuries ago. Yet the trend in Arab life is to bring back these wars. In this effort, the voice of religion has become stronger than ever before. It is this voice - the voice of the cleric - that stokes the fire of religious conflict, feeding the fire of religion every day with the wood of fatwas.
Thus it is that the clergyman is the political decision maker, not the politician or the statesman. After fourteen centuries, it is the clergyman who has gained the right to rule over us all.Say "No" to the Burka...------------------------------------------------"Morality is doing what is right, regardless what we are told.
Religious dogma is doing what we are told, no matter what is right."- Elka Enola