ISLAMOPHOBIA IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
This paper is an analysis of the briefing document representing “the combined voice of the leaders and Pastors of major Christian denominations in PNG”, produced by them at the request of Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Youth, Religion and Home Affairs, the Hon. Andrew Kumbakor.
The briefing document, titled The Incursion of Islam into Papua New Guinea: A Warning (hereafter referred to as PNG), is a classic example of Islamophobia. A cursory inspection of the document is enough to highlight its several key flaws: it is completely devoid of any form of independent, authoritative references; it repeatedly makes false assertions about Islam and Muslims without evidence; it obfuscates and misrepresents facts in a way which supports the clearly presupposed Islamophobic agenda of the writers.
The following paper purports to expose these flaws while discussing the accuracy of its main claims.
I. Manufacturing a Global Islamic Threat
The most oft-repeated allegation of the document is that Muslims, due to the nature of their religion Islam, are inherently prone to violence, terrorism and barbarism. The report claims, for instance, that Shi’ite Muslims “are notorious for their worldwide terrorist activities which the media has exposed” (PNG, p. 1). Unfortunately, no elaboration or supporting evidence is given for this assertion. Shi’ite Muslim are, in fact, frequent victims of terrorism. Shi’ites in Iraq for instance are suffering immensely under the discriminatory and repressive policies of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which has had a consistent history of massive human rights violations against the Muslim population Iraq.
The report goes on to outline what appears to be a novel form of conspiracy theory, arguing that “Muslims, especially Saudi Arabia, have a definite agenda – a political world takeover… To this end, they target the under-privileged and downtrodden in each country to which they send their missionary enterprises.” (PNG, p. 2) It is well known, of course, that Saudi Arabia is a long-standing client of the Western European countries, particularly the United States, and is also the home of sizable American military bases. It is therefore hard to see how Saudi Arabia could be the focal point of a global Muslim conspiracy for “world takeover”.
To support such incredible statements, the report makes further strange allegations. Without giving a single concrete documented example, the report states on page 3 that “Many Muslim countries around the world do not allow any Christian input in the way of radio or TV broadcasts, literature or Bibles. People, even expatriate workers, are summarily condemned to death, without a trial, for passing out Christian literature or mentioning Jesus to a Muslim.” This is simply false as any credible independent human rights group dealing with Muslim countries will confirm.
The report further states regarding the alleged global Muslim conspiracy to take over the entire world, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, that “There is an open disregard for the rights of non-Muslims that is common with this movement. They do not accommodate any other religious views and are very deceptive when presenting the picture of the movement to the public.” (PNG, p. 2) Again, no concrete examples or documentation is provided to prove these sweeping statements, which are therefore quite vacuous.
Islam actually has a long history of dialogue and co-existence with other religions. The long-standing stereotype of “Islamic terror” sweeping across the world by the force of the sword has been relegated to the status of myth by leading historians specialising in Muslim history. For example, De Lacy O’ Leary observes that: “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” (O’ Leary, De Lacy, Islam at the Crossroads, London, 1923). Thomas Arnold in The Call to Islam comments: “We have never heard about any attempt to compel Non-Muslim parties to adopt Islam or about any organized persecution aiming at exterminating Christianity. If the Caliphs had chosen one of these plans, they would have wiped out Christianity as easily as what happened to Islam during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain; by the same method which Louis XIV followed to make Protestantism a creed whose followers were to be sentenced to death; or with the same ease of keeping the Jews away from Britain for a period of three hundred fifty years.”
The well-known British orientalist Marmaduke Pickthall, who eventually converted to Islam, similarly admits with specific regard to Muslim-Christian relations: “Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth has been calculated at not less than a hundred millions sterling, enjoyed the benefit of the Holy Prophet’s (Muhammad’s) Charter to the monks of Sinai and were religiously respected by the Muslims. The various sects of Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the village council by their priests, whose word was always taken without question on things which were the sole concern of their community… The tolerance within the body of Islam was, and is, something without parallel in history; class and race and color ceasing altogether to be barriers.” (Pickthall, ‘Tolerance in Islam’, lecture in Madras, India, 1927)
In this context, it is important to note that the report has even taken to open deception to support its allegations. It makes the rather preposterous claim, for instance, that “Christianity is outlawed in most Muslim nations” and that Christian missionaries “are not permitted to go to preach the Gospel or to build churches”. The popularity of the Islamic faith is thereby construed as Muslim nations wanting to “spread their system of hatred, domination and sectarian violence”, since as the report claims, throughout the world “Islam is known for its violent repression of other religious groups.”
In fact, statistics show that the majority of acts of terrorism are undertaken against Muslims, not by Muslims. In Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998, the Department of State says, “the number of international terrorist attacks actually fell again in 1998, continuing a downward trend that began several years ago.”
According to the State Department report the ‘Total US Citizen Casualties Caused by International Attacks’ are as follows:
Another useful statistic is ‘Total International Attacks by Region’ which states as follows:
Perhaps, the more interesting statistic, as far as “Islamic terrorism” is concerned, is ‘Total Anti-US Attacks’ which lists attacks by region as follows: Africa–3, Europe–3, West Europe–13, Middle East–5, and Latin America–87. (Masud, Enver, ‘Facts Belie Hype About Islamic Terrorism’, The Wisdom Fund [TWF], Arlington, 31 December 1999)
Conversely, extensive documentation shows that 80 per cent of all human rights violations in the world are committed against Muslims. Muslims throughout the world, then, are in fact the primary victims of terrorism, not its cause. For example, the prestigious international newspaper the New Statesman explains how “Arabs must put up with stereotypes about Islamic fundamentalism and violence, when, in fact, not only have Muslims been responsible for a tiny proportion of deaths caused by terrorism, but in recent years it is they who have been the greatest sufferers from state terrorism: in Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya and Somalia.” (‘Who are the most enduring terrorists?’, New Statesman, 21 August 1998)
From these facts, it is evident that the people of Papua New Guinea have little to fear from terrorism, and even less from “Islamic terrorism.” Indeed, given the statistics for the Middle East and Latin America, one wonders why one fails to hear about “Christian terrorism,” at least as often as one hears about “Islamic terrorism.” (Masud, Enver, ‘Facts Belie Hype About Islamic Terrorism’, op. cit.)
II. The Growth of Islam
The report notes the rapid spread and rise in conversions to Islam around the world. In particular, it observes with alarm that in the United States, there has been “an amazing 25% increase in conversions to the Muslim faith in the last 10 years.” (PNG, p. 2) Islam is indeed the fastest growing religion in the US. The authors of the report, however, fail to draw the obvious conclusions from this – that American citizens converting to Islam clearly do not think of Islam as “a very serious threat to peace”, infested with inherent problems associated with “Muslims and their Islamic law”, (PNG, p. 8) as the report alleges. The rising popularity of Islam in the United States is evidence of the religion’s attractiveness to a freedom loving people. It is rather unreasonable to believe that so many Americans convert to Islam without careful consideration, and that they are all helplessly indoctrinated into a depraved, barbaric religion under the tutelage of a global conspiracy.
The same fact of Islam’s rapid expansion has, indeed, been interpreted rather differently by other independent commentators. For example, Ambassador Herman Ellis, in testimony before the committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Represntatives of the United States Congress (24 June 1985) said: “The Muslim community of the globe today is in the neighbourhood of one billion. That is an impressive figure. But what to me is equally impressive is that Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic religion. This is something we have to take into account. Something is right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton has described the popularity of Islam in the US as follows: “Islam is the fastest-growing religion in America, a guide and pillar of stability for many of our people…” (Larry B. Stammer, Times Religion Writer, “First Lady Breaks Ground With Muslims,” Los Angeles Times, Home Edition, Metro Section, Part B, May 31, 1996, p. 3.)
As early as the 1930s, the famous playwright Sir George Bernard Shaw confessed: “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity… I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” (The Genuine Islam, Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936)
Therefore it is clear that Islam expanded, and continues to expand, not by brute force but by the attractiveness of its own principles. It is for this reason that contrary to the implications of the PNG report, the rise of Islam signified not barbarism, but civilisation. As the contemporary British philosopher Betrand Russell noted, “Our use of the phrase ‘The Dark ages’ to cover the period from 699 to 1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe… From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourished. What was lost to christendom at this time was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary” (History of Western Philosophy, London, 1948, p. 419). Robert Briffault elaborates that “It was under the influence of the arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. [Muslim] Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe… For although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic Culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the permanent distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory, natural science and the scientific spirit… It is highly probable that but for the [Muslim] Arabs, modern European civilization would never have arisen at all; it is absolutely certain that but for them, it would not have assumed that character which has enabled it to transcend all previous phases of evolution.” (Briffault, Robert, The Making of Humanity, London, 1938)
III. Countries Troubled By Islam?
The report gives several cases as examples of countries allegedly troubled by Islamically-inspired terror, including Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In all of these examples, the report undertakes considerable obfuscation and distortion of documented facts to construe the source of problems as Islam and Muslims.
Iran: The document cites Iran as an example of how “Islam is known for its violent repression of other religious groups – Christians and Bahais”. Although religious discrimination does exist within Iran in this respect, its scale has been exaggerated by groups with an Islamophobic agenda. According to the 1996 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Iran: “Concerning the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities, namely, the Zoroastrian, Jewish, Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian minorities, although the Special Rapporteur is disturbed by the fact that many members of those minorities have left Iran to the detriment of the country’s cultural and ethnic wealth and diversity, he believes that their situation as a minority is otherwise apparently satisfactory”. The UN Special Rapporteur qualifies this with respect to “some specific problems” for which several recommendations were formulated. “Except for some serious problems in specific fields with regard to which the Special Rapporteur has made recommendations, the situation of the recognized Muslim and non-Muslim minorities appears to be fairly satisfactory.”
Important facts noted by the UN report include the following:
• “Minority religious, political and social representatives stated that they were not subjected to any interference by the authorities in their internal religious activities, which could be exercised freely, particularly with regard to worship and religious traditions and the management of the affairs of religious institutions.”
- “The minority representatives said that the teaching of their religion was guaranteed and respected in public schools (or outside school hours when there were not enough minority children for a religious instruction class) and in minority schools. They stressed that no Muslim religious instruction was imposed on them and that their own religious education was compulsory and given a mark in the school report card. Religious instruction was given by minority teachers (national education teachers or persons paid by the minorities) on the basis of textbooks prepared and funded by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with the minorities. The textbooks relate to the teaching of the religion of the minority in question and also contain information on other religions and their common principles.”
- “The minority representatives said that they had enough places of worship and that they could renovate them and build new ones. Places of worship are financed by the communities concerned. However, when these places of worship were classified as historical monuments, the State provided financial assistance for their maintenance or renovation, as in the case of the Vank Armenian Church in Isfahan and the Zoroastrian temples of fire in Yazd.”
- “The minorities said that places of worship had been closed not as a result of pressure from the authorities, but because there were not enough worshippers in some villages or regions owing to the departure of minorities.”
- “The minority representatives confirmed that they had representatives in Parliament in accordance with article 64 of the Constitution… The Armenian minority said that it was able to carry out community political activities such as the commemoration of the 1915 Armenian genocide, which is celebrated on 24 April every year by authorized street demonstrations involving 50,000 persons or more.”
- “The minority representatives explained that, according to the Constitution, the Government recognized their right to apply their religious law in respect of their personal affairs (marriage, inheritance, etc.) and their community affairs.”
- “As far as socio-cultural activities are concerned, minorities have community centres and cultural (newspapers, for example), social, sports and charitable associations (retirement homes, hospitals), which they finance themselves.”
The UN report does document and discuss serious problems of discrimination on certain levels. However, as the report itself acknowledges, these problems – though no doubt serious – are exceptions to the Iranian government’s generally “satisfactory” policy. (Amor, Abdelfattah, Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, 52nd Session, Geneva, 9 February 1996)
Sudan: Another example of Islam’s “violent repression of other religious groups” according to the PNG document is the oppression of “black Christians and animists in southern Sudan”. It is a fact that the present government under the National Islamic Front exempted southern Sudan from shariah law in 1991, for the very reason that the southern population is primarily non-Muslim. Rather, it is a matter of record that the ten states constituting southern Sudan are governed by their own laws. (Report, ‘Poor Journalism of Islamiphobic Prejudice?’, British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 21 January 2000) As then Director of the London-based Sudan Foundation Dr. Sean Gabb reports: “In 1991, the Government amended and liberalised the sharia laws by exempting the largely animist southern Sudan from its application.” (Gabb, Sean, ‘Anglo-Sudanese Relations: Time for a New Start – An Open Letter to the Rt Hon. Tony Blair MP, Sudan Foundation, London, February 1998)
The fact that one of the first reforms introduced by the current Sudanese government was the exemption of the south from shariah law, coupled with the fact that the south is predominantly animist, does not square very well with the notion that the South is being forced to live under shariah law, hence giving rise to an allegedly religiously motivated civil war. For example, according to the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: “Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, based on Shariah law, [prescribes] specific ‘hudud’ punishments. The Government officially exempts the 10 Southern States, whose population is mostly non-Muslim, from parts of the 1991 Criminal Act. But the Act permits the possible future application of Shariah law in the south, if the local state assemblies so decide.” (See US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995, Sudan entry, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Washington DC, 1996)
Similarly, Sudan specialist and co-director of African Rights, Alex de Waal, noted with regard to such accusations that “overeager or misinformed human rights advocates in Europe and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International, for instance, claims that ‘Government troops and Government-backed Arab militias regularly raid black African communities for slaves and other forms of booty.’ The organization repeatedly uses the term ‘slave-raids’, implying that taking captives is the aim of government policy. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed slave raiding or slave trade.” (de Waal, Alex, ‘Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and War’, Covert Action Quarterly, Spring 1997) A joint report by Anti-Slavery International and Sudan Update has similarly observed that “the charge that government troops engage in raids for the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence.” (Anti-Slavery International and Sudan Update, ‘Slavery in Sudan’, London, May 1997, p. 20)
In this regard, we may refer to the investigation of the slavery allegations conducted by Lord McNair, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, who has visited Sudan on several occasions – in particular in 1997 on a fact-finding mission. His findings are thus a combination of physical investigation in remote parts of north and south Kordofan, and also an analysis of the common allegations of slavery. In the McNair Report on Allegations of Slavery and Slavery-like Practices in Sudan, he observes: “As an integral part of this investigation I visited the states of Northern and Southern Kordofan, the site of many of the allegations. I was accompanied by the vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee, the Reverend Adi Ambrose, and the Member of Parliament for Kadugli East, Emir Hamid Harim, who is a traditional leader from the Nuba mountains. We travelled first to El Obeid in North Kordofan and then to Dellinge and Kadugli in South Kordofan… Two themes emerged. Firstly, we could find no evidence of slavery. Secondly, the main concerns of the community leaders we met was for the hundreds, if not thousands, of Nuba and Arab children who had been abducted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces of John Garang… They appealed to us for help in having the children returned, and various ideas for achieving this were discussed.” (Gabb, Sean [ed.], The McNair Report on Slavery and Slavery-like Practices in Sudan, Sudan Foundation, London, November 1997)
On the contrary therefore, it is the “Christian” SPLA that has been primarily responsible for escalating the war in Sudan. The National Security News Service reports that mounting efforts by the SPLA in southern Sudan from 1998-9 “place the civilian population at heightened risk”, not the Sudanese government (Kepler, Elise and Moag, Jeffrey, Central Africa: The Influx of Arms and the Continuation of Crisis, National Security News Service, Public Education Center, Washington DC, 1998). The New York Times (3 March 1996) has reported that SPLA leader John Garang’s “explicit strategy was to render south Sudan ungovernable, and in that he succeeded. The South today is not only ungovernable but virtually uninhabitable”. Elsewhere, the same journal observes that the SPLA “have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging.” (6 December 1999)
The contrast between the Muslim Sudanese government and the Christian SPLA can be well gauged from a 1994 study by Human Rights Watch, Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern Sudan. In this 279-page report, 169 pages are devoted to documentation of human rights abuses by the SPLA. Violations by the Sudanese government, however, are dealt with in a mere 52 pages. In other terms, about 76 per cent of the study is necessary to document SPLA violations, while 24 per cent in contrast is enough to document government violations. The contrast is instructive, for it reveals the vacuity of the Islamophobic allegations of the PNG document: “Christian” SPLA terror far surpasses in scale the violations attributable to the Sudanese government. It should be noted that we are not here condoning human rights violations by the Sudanese government, but observing that violations by the SPLA preponder enormously. However, no fair-minded observer would construe this as reason to ban Christianity from Sudan.
Afghanistan: The report describes Sunni Muslims as a “moderate” faction, but claims that this group of Muslims lives in constant fear of other “fundamentalist Islamic groups which operate under a code of violence.” However, as a concrete example of this, the document points to the Taliban in Afghanistan, “a minority fundamentalist Islamic group” which has “taken control of the country” and thereby shattered the economy and murdered thousands of innocent people.
Ironically, it so happens that the Taliban actually categorises itself as an orthodox Sunni group. Worse still, the Taliban has been committing genocide and ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Hazara Shi’ite Muslims of Afghanistan, the same Muslim faction whom the report previously describes as being “notorious for their worldwide terrorist activities”. Unfortunately, it seems that the authors of the report suffer from considerable confusion as to the various schools of thought in Islam and their nature. This clearly illustrates the ignorance of the authors of the report on the subject matter they are attempting to address.
It suffices to point out that the Taliban’s supposedly Islamic orientation has been fundamentally questioned by Muslims from all sides. CNN reports, importantly, that while the Taliban impose their harsh and repressive laws on the 90 per cent of Afghanistan they rule under the guise of Islam, in actual fact, “Islamic scholars elsewhere say that the Taliban’s laws are based more on tribal traditions than the Koran, Islam’s holy book.” (‘UN: Abuse of women in Taliban areas officially sanctioned’, CNN, 13 September 1999)
The Taliban’s anti-Islamic nature has also been harshly condemned by the reknowned international Muslim political movement Hizb ut-Tahrir: “The Taliban continues on the desperate road to recognition. They’re at it again! Having just recently finished begging for recognition at the United Nations, the Taliban managed the ‘accolade’ of recognition from none other than King Fahd. Taliban leader Mohammad Omar was so moved by the ‘royal gesture’ that he sent a thank-you telegramme to King Fahd… Here again is the folly of the Taliban seeking approval from those who implement Kufr [i.e. covering of the truth], yet insisting they implement Islam… Only the incredibly naive would still cling to the fantasy that the Taliban have re-established the Islamic State in Afghanistan” (‘Hard News’, Khilafah Magazine, Vol. 7, Issue 8, June/July 1997).
The Muslim Women’s League (MWL) similarly notes that the “Taliban’s insistence on secluding women from public life is a political maneuver disguised as ‘Islamic’ law. Before seizing power, Taliban manipulated and used the rights of women as tools to gain control of the country. To secure financial and political support, Taliban emulated authoritarian methods typical of many Middle Eastern countries. The Taliban’s stand on the seclusion of women is not derived from Islam, but, rather, from a cultural bias found in suppressive movements throughout the region… The Qur’an and the examples of the first Muslim society give the Muslim Women’s League a voice to state that the current manipulation of women to serve geo-political interests, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, is both unIslamic and inhumane.” (Muslim Women’s League, Perspective on Women’s Plight in Afghanistan, November 1996, http://www.mwlusa.org/news_afghan.shtml/)
Additionally, the responsibility of the international community for the continuation of the crisis in Afghanistan under Taliban tutelage is rarely discussed. Ben C. Vidgen remarks: “In Afghanistan and Pakistan fundamentalism could not have bloomed without the CIA’s covert assistance – a fact that is apparent when one examines the history of the area” (Vidgen, Ben C., ‘A State of Terror: How many “terrorist” groups has your government established, sponsored or networked laterly’, Nexus Magazine, Vol. 3. No. 2, February-March 1996. See especially Cooley, John K., Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, Pluto Press, London, 1999). Analysts such Dr. Noor Ali, a former Afghan minister and a specialist on Afghan affairs, have further highlighted the questionable nature of US-UN policy towards the Taliban, and have provided crucial evidence indicating America’s covert support of the Taliban continuing to this day. Dr. Ali also outlines in detail the systematic result of the US-UN policy toward Afghanistan in prolonging the conflict and entrenching the warring factions, especially the Taliban (Ali, Noor, US-UN Conspiracy Against the People of Afghanistan, Online Center for Afghan Studies, 21 February 1998). This further abolishes the notion that the Taliban’s policies have any meaningful association with Islam.
Nigeria: The PNG document attempts to pin responsibility for the crisis in Nigeria on Muslim activists and the Islamic movement. Research by IHRC has, however, shown quite clearly that the Nigerian government is responsible for the systematic repression of its Muslim population. The very atrocities the document describes have been perpetrated by the state against Muslims, including violations of the right to freedom of protest and association; killings and extrajudicial assassination attempts; rapes and harrassment; destruction of places of worship and religious institutions; confiscation of property and extortion. For extensive discussion please refer to IHRC’s reports on Nigeria, Human Rights Violations in Nigeria, September 1996 – March 1997; Human Rights Violations in Nigeria, April 1997 – September 1998.
Indonesia: The violence in the Indonesian spice islands has been blamed primarily on the Muslim populous by the international media. Although the media has thereby largely tended to distort the nature of the crisis, the fact that a massive number of atrocities have been orchestrated by Christians has been acknowledged by several commentators. At the very least, the violence here is mutual and both sides bear some responsibility. Neither Muslims nor Christians are entirely blameless, although reports suggest that much of the violence was initiated by the latter. Calls of “jihad” have received widespread media coverage, but the reason behind this call has been ignored. The result is a distortion of the facts. Reports actually suggest that the violence was primarily carried out by Christian militias, not Muslims, whose calls for “jihad” were an understandable reaction to a killing spree initiated by Christians.
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Correspondent for the Independent, reported (11 January 2000) that, “Aid workers say they have found the bodies of large numbers of Muslims massacred and burnt by Christians in the ongoing violence in the Indonesian Spice Islands… A doctor with the aid team said he had seen a mosque in the village of Popilo in which bodies lay five deep. More bodies, including those of young children, were bulldozed into the ground near by. ‘I think it was about 200 bodies,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘I saw some dried blood in the mosque, so I assume … that the victims were slaughtered inside the mosque’.”
On 5 January 2000, Irwin Firdaus of the Associated Press observed, “Media reports in Jakarta said up to 10,000 people on Halmahera [in the Spice Islands] were seeking shelter in military barracks while waiting to be evacuated. The Indonesian Observer daily quoted local residents as saying most of those fleeing were Muslim, and that Christian militias had gone on a killing spree throughout the island.”
Furthermore, Muslim scholars in the region have criticised violence that may have been initiated by Muslims, declaring that initiating attacks on Christians or even seeking revenge, is unIslamic and sinful (Straits Times,13 Jan 2000). IHRC can similarly emphasise that Islam instructs all terrorist attacks, regardless of who the perpetrators are, to be condemned.
Philippines: IHRC has covered the crisis in the Philippines with several urgent alerts, press releases and reports. As usual, the PNG document has managed to present a false image of the crisis by failing to indicate that government security forces have been clamping down hard on its Muslim citizens for several years now. The document mentions that 19 overseas tourists are still being held hostage by “Muslim rebels”, without indicating that hundreds of innocent Muslim Philippino civilians have been killed by government security forces. IHRC has found that it is the Philippine government which is responsible for initiating systematic human rights violations against its Muslim populous; it is this terror against which “radical Muslim rebels” are reacting. There is also reason to believe that certain “extremist Islamic groups”, such as Abu Sayyaf, are a creation of the Philippine government, designed to manufacture a justification for the authorities to repress Muslims who are prominent in the democratic movement. For further discussion please refer to IHRC’s reports, Events in the Philippines.
IV. The Impact of Islam on Papua New Guinea
Educational Impact: Islam urges people to read and learn on every occasion. The verses of the Qur’an command, advise, warn, and encourage people to observe the phenomena of nature, the succession of day and night, the movements of stars, the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies. Muslims are urged by the Qur’an to look into everything in the universe, to travel, investigate, explore and understand them, the better to appreciate and be thankful for all the wonders and beauty of God’s creations (for Qur’anic references see Mutahheri, Murtaza, Man and Universe, Ansariyan).
Learning and education is obligatory for both men and women. According to a famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “The acquisition of knowledge is a duty incumbent on every Muslim, male and female.” Another saying of the Prophet exhorts us as follows: “Acquire knowledge. It enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lightens the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends, and an armour against enemies.” ( both cited in Suhrawardy, Sir Abdullah, The Sayings of Muhammad)
As Dr. Lois Lamya al-Faruqi comments, the Qur’an “repeatedly commands all readers to read, to recite, to think, to contemplate, as well as to learn from the signs (ayat) of God in nature. In fact, the very first revelation to Prophet Muhammad (S) was concerned with knowledge… It is the duty of every Muslim and every Muslimah to pursue knowledge throughout life, even if it should lead the seeker to China, we are told… Lectures of the Prophet (S) were attended by audiences of both men and women; and by the time of the Prophet’s death, there were many women scholars.” (‘Women in a Qur’anic Society’, Al-Tawhid: A Journal of Islamic Thought & Culture, Vol. I)
Education in Islam is certainly not restricted to traditionally “religious” issues; it includes all fields of knowledge, including biology, physics, and technology. Almost from the very beginnings of the Islamic state Muslims began to study and to master a number of fields of so-called secular learning, beginning with linguistics and architecture, but very quickly extending to mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, medicine, chemistry and philosophy. They translated and synthesised the known works of the ancient world, from Greece, Persia, India, even China. Before long they were criticising, improving and expanding on that knowledge. “For nearly eight centuries, under the Mohamedan rule, Spain set all Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened state,” observes historian Stanley-Lane Poole. “Art, literature and science prospered as they then prospered nowhere else in Europe… Mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, philosophy and jurisprudence were to be mastered in Spain, and Spain alone. Whatever makes a kingdom great and prosperous, whatever tends to refinement and civilization, was found in Muslim Spain.” (Poole, Stanley-Lane, The Moors in Spain)
S. P. Scott also notes of Muslim civilisation in Spain: “At a time when even kings could not read or write, a Moorish king had a private library of six hundred thousand books. At a time when ninety-nine percent of the Christian people were wholly illiterate, the Moorish city of Cordova had eight hundred public schools, and there was not a village within the limits of the empire where the blessings of education could not be enjoyed by the children of the most indigent peasant, …and it was difficult to encounter even a Moorish peasant who could not read and write.” (The History of the Moorish Empire in Europe)
Social and Cultural Impact: Islam undoubtedly had a vastly positive impact on the socio-cultural development of human civilisation. Professor Phillip Hitti writes: “During all the first part of the Middle Ages, no other people made as important a contribution to human progress as did the Arabs, if we take this term to mean all those whose mother-tongue was Arabic, and not merely those living in the Arabian peninsula. For centuries, Arabic was the language of learning, culture and intellectual progress for the whole of the civilized world with the exception of the Far East. From the IXth to the XIIth century there were more philosophical, medical, historical, religiuos, astronomical and geographical works written in Arabic than in any other human tongue.” (Hitti, Phillip K., A Short History of the Arabs). Likewise, A. M. Stoddard comments: ”For the first three centuries of its existence the realm of Islam was the most civilised and progressive portion of the world. Studded with splendid cities, gracious mosques, and quiet universities where the wisdom of the ancient world was preserved and appreciated, the Moslem world offered a striking contrast to the Christian West then sunk into the Dark Ages” (The New World of Islam, London, 1932, p.1) Indeed, it was Islam that brought the West out of its Dark Ages. Islamic civilisation provided the “blueprint” and inspiration for the Christian West, and “was what saved it from utter decadence” (Leonard, Arthur Glyn, Islam: Her Moral and Spiritual Value, London, 1927, p. 142)
The PNG document criticises Islam’s allowance of polygyny, arguing that it contributes to familial and social instability. Similarly, Islamic divorce laws are also criticised without even a cursory attempt to impartially assess the nature of those laws, with evidence (PNG, p. 5). The document seems to be unaware of the fact noted by H. A. R. Gibb: “That [Islam’s] reforms enhanced the status of women in general is universally admitted.” (Mohammedanism, London, 1953, p. 33) A comparison of the escalating divorce figures in the West with figures for Muslim countries shows that Western methods in regard to marriage are certainly failing, whereas the same cannot be said of Muslim countries which have a much lower divorce rate – thus illustrating the way the PNG report has attempted to misconstrue Islamic values in this regard. It has already been noted that women are also enjoined to seek knowledge and therefore gain an education, and it is well-known that the Qur’an explicitly refers to women’s right to work with the declaration: “Whatsoever a man earns is his own, and whatsoever a woman earns is her own.” (Qur’an 4:34)
With regards to the institution of polygamy, one may note the remarks of Reverend R. V. C. Bodley in regard to the Prophet’s practice of polygamy: “Muhammad’s married life must not be looked at from an accidental point of view or from that set by Christians. They were living at a period and in a country where the only known ethical standards were theirs.” More to the point, Bodley asks why “the codes of Europe and America should be considered superior to those of Asia and Africa, where polygamy was and is widely practised.” He adds that, “until the people in the West can prove that their way of living is on a higher moral standard than anybody else’s, they should reserve judgement on other creeds and castes and countries.” (The Messenger: The Life of Muhammad, London, 1946, p. 203) Indeed, sociologist George Murdock in his famous comparison of several hundred present-day societies, discovered that polygyny, which allows a husband or wife to have more than one spouse, was permitted in over 80 percent (Social Structure, George P. Murdock, Macmillan, New York, 1949).
One simple sociological cause for the preponderance of polygyny is that for various social and physiological reasons, the number of women of marriageable age is larger than the number of men of marriageable age (for discussion see Mutahheri, Murtaza, Woman and Her Rights, Islamic Seminary, London, 1992). The Islamic institution of polygyny caters for this sociological fact in a harmonious way with full rights and responsibilities having been assigned. The West’s failure to account for this sociological fact has resulted in both familial and social instability, because it means that a large number of women will inevitably remain without husbands. Extra-marital relations thus become inevitable in such circumstances, as even the philosopher Bertrand Russell has admitted.
Annie Besant observes: “You can find others stating that the religion (Islam) is evil, because it sanctions a limited polygamy. But you do not hear as a rule the criticism which I spoke out one day in a London hall where I knew that the audience was entirely uninstructed. I pointed out to them that monogamy with a blended mass of prostitution was a hypocrisy and more degrading than a limited polygamy. Naturally a statement like that gives offence, but it has to be made, because it must be remembered that the law of Islam in relation to women was until lately, when parts of it have been imitated in England, the most just law, as far as women are concerned, to be found in the world. Dealing with property, dealing with rights of succession and so on, dealing with cases of divorce, it was far beyond the law of the West, in the respect that was paid to the rights of women. Those things are forgotten while people are hypnotized by the words monogamy and polygamy and do not look at what lies behind it in the West – the frightful degradation of women who are thrown into the streets when their first protectors, weary of them, no longer give them any assistance”.
Besant goes on to demolish the notion that Islamic law is discriminatory toward women: “I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches monogamy. In the Quran the law about woman is more just and liberal. It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England, has recognized the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times.” (The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, Madras, 1932, pp. 25, 26)
Other related assertions of the PNG document are quite false. For instance, it states that “women [are] not allowed to talk to men other than the immediate male members of their household” (PNG, p. 5) – a statement which is simply incorrect.
Legal and Political Impact: Without providing any examples, the document asserts that Islamic law is a “threat to democracy”, denying non-Muslims their human rights and endangering peaceful co-existence.
Specialists in the study of Muslim history, and others who have studied Islamic law, disagree entirely. Edmund Burke in his Impeachment of Warren Hastings was inspired to remark: “The Muhammadan law which is binding on all from the crowned head to the meanest subject is a law interwoven with a system of the wisest, the most learned and the most enlightened jurisprudence that ever existed in the world.”
This view of Islamic law is not an isolated opinion. The comprehensiveness equity of Islamic social laws, norms and values was frankly admitted in 1951 by the College of Law in Paris. The College organised a week long seminar on Islamic jurisprudence in which Islamic law was evaluated with respect to several issues. The conclusion of the seminar, issued at its end in a communique, was as follows: “Islamic jurisprudence undoubtedly deserves to be regarded as one of the principal sources of law in the world. The views and opinions of the different schools of Islamic law contain abundant resources which are truly astounding and which can be drawn on by Islamic jurists to furnish answers to all the questions of modern life.” (cited in Lari, Sayyid, Mujtaba Musavi, The Seal of the Prophets and His Message: Lessons on Islamic Doctrine [Book Two], Foundation of Islamic CPW, Qum, undated, p. 155-6)
The claim that Islamic is inherently opposed to democratic principles is similarly false. According to explicit commands of the Qur’an, the affairs of the Muslim community are to be run by public participation. In a chapter entitled Shura (consultation), the Qur’an says of the Muslims that: “…their affairs are run by mutual consultation.” (42:38) Even the Prophet Muhammad himself, who came in this world with an authority from God, is commanded in the Qur’an: “…to take counsel with them (i.e. the people) in matters (of public concern).” (3:159)
According to the well-known contemporary Muslim scholar, Allamah Abu al-‘A’la Mawdudi: “Every person in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of a khalifa of God and in this respect all people are equal. No one takes precedence over another or can deprive him of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be formed in accordance with the will of the people and the authority of the state will only be an accretion of the powers of the people delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government which will be run with their counsel and in accordance with their wishes. Whoever gains their confidence will undertake the duty and obligation of the caliphate on their behalf: and when he loses this confidence he will have to quit and bow before their will. In this regard the political system of Islam is a perfect form of democracy – as perfect as a democracy can ever be.” (Mawdudi, Islamic Way of Life, p. 44) Allahmah Mawdudi has also discussed fairly extensively Islam’s comprehensive designation of human rights in his paper ‘Human Rights and Islam’ (Al-Tawhid Journal, Vol. IV, 3 Rajab-Ramadhan 1307).
Religious Impact: According to a famous Qur’anic precept, Islam cannot be imposed by force. In a well-known verse of Surah al-Baqarah it is said: “Let there be no compulsion in religion (la ikraha fi ad-din).” (2:256) As a result of this principle, if there are non-Muslims in an Islamic society they cannot be forced to become Muslims or follow Islamic law. Only people who freely accept Islam are bound by teachings. If Islam cannot be forcefully imposed on people by anyone, how can a Muslim dictator have the right to impose his rule by military might? As Lawrence E. Browne observes, “well-established facts dispose of the idea so widely fostered in Christian writings that the Muslims, wherever they went, forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword.” (Browne, Lawrence E., The Prospects of Islam, London 1944) According to Professor Ramakrishna Rao, “The theory of Islam and sword, for instance, is not heard now in any quarter worth the name. The principle of Islam, that there is no compulsion in religion, is well known.” (Rao, K. S. Ramakrishna, Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, Riyadh, 1989, p. 4) James Michener similarly elaborates in Reader’s Digest: “No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam… The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in support of the freedom of conscience. (Michener, James A., ‘Islam, the Misunderstood Religion’, Reader’s Digest, [American Edition] May 1955)
On the contrary to the oft-touted stereotype of Muslim armies carrying out forced mass conversions and/or killings of non-Muslims, Philip Hitti points out that, “Wherever the Islamic army set foot, the people of those parts received them with open arms and brought them viands and water, and vied with each other in leaving their entrenchments to join the Muslims – not difficult to understand for those who realise what the tyranny of the Visigoths had been!” (Hitti, Philip, History of the Arabs, Vol. 2, p. 638)
Religious tolerance is, therefore, a hallmark of Muslim civilisation. As Marcel Clerget writes, many proofs of the high cultural level of Muslim civilisation “are to be found in the development of science and law; in the flowering of literary works in Arabic, Persian and Turkish; in the contemporary monuments in Istanbul, Bursa, and Edirne; in the boom in luxury industries;… and last but not least in its religious tolerance.” (La Turquie, Passe at Present, Paris, 1938).
As far as “jihad” is concerned, the word actually means “struggle” – not “Holy War” as it is often wrongfully construed. The implications of the concept of jihad in Islam can be understood from various Qur’anic verses.
“And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed? – Men, women and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors: and raise for us from Thee one who will protect: and raise for us from Thee one who will help!’” (Qur’an 4:75) This verse shows that jihad is concerned fundamentally with struggling against injustice and oppression, and defending the rights of fellow human beings.
Another verse says: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities: Lo! God loves not aggressors… but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (2:190-193)
Jihad in the sense of struggle against external oppression in the world, by no means implies that Islam can be imposed by force. The Qur’an outlines specific guidelines for calling people to Islam, and explicitly prohibits the use of force in this respect: “Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation; and reason with them in ways that are best and gracious: For your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.” (Qur’an 16:125) And also: “Had your Lord so wished, all people everywhere would have been believers, but that is not His Way, hence do not force anyone to take to Our Path.” (Qur’an 10:99)
The struggle against outer, worldly injustice is known in Islam as “jihad al-akbar”, meaning, the “minor jihad”. The major, or “greater jihad”, on the other hand, is the struggle to against one’s own ego. Jihad is be an inward struggle (directed against evil in oneself) or an outward one (against injustice). A well-known Prophetic tradition defines this understanding of the term. It recounts how Muhammad, after a battle, said “We have returned from the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).” When asked “What is the greater jihad?,” he replied “It is the struggle against oneself.”
There is therefore no question of Islam being forced on the people of Papua New Guinea. Huston Smith, for example, discusses how the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) granted freedom of religion to the Jews and Christians under Muslim rule. The Prophet had a document drawn up in which he stipulated that Jews and Christians “shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices,” and furthermore, that they shall “practice their religion as freely as the Muslims” (cited in Smith, Huston, The World’s Religions, Harper Collins, 1991, p. 256) Smith points out that Muslims regard that document as “the first charter of freedom of conscience in human history and the authoritative model for those of every subsequent Muslim state.” (ibid.)
According to another non-Muslim writer on Islam, Ira Zepp Jr., “It is unfortunate that Islam has been stereotyped as the ‘religion of the sword’… The historical reality is that the expansion of Islam was usually by persuasion and not by military power. In any case, Islam cannot be forced on anyone; if profession of the shahadah (i.e. the declaration of Islam) is forced on someone, it is not true Islam.” (Zepp Jr, IraA Muslim Primer, Wakefield Editions, 1992, p. 134)
In conclusion, it is clear that the PNG document suffers from a large number of fallacies rooted in long-standing Islamophobic stereotypes which have no foundation in fact. On the contrary, its allegations appear to be based on considerable ignorance, deliberate obfuscation, and sometimes even outright falsehood.
Due to this, there is no particular reason to take the recommendations of the document seriously. IHRC condemns the document for inciting religious hatred and propagating baseless stereotypes, and calls on the government and people of Papua New Guinea to uphold the “freedom of religion” law in the country’s Constitution.