by Khaled Diab
Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims. We Arabs should recall the many Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
With Gaza on a knife edge and any prospect of imminent hope dashed, it seems hard to believe that just over two months ago the Arab world dusted off the 2002 Saudi peace initiative and made Israel an offer of comprehensive peace that few thought Israel could refuse. While not rejecting it outright, Israel's visionless and embattled premier, Ehud Olmert, ignored it and wished it would go away.
According to Israeli diplomats, one of the main sticking points is the issue of the right of return of the 4 million or so Palestinian refugees. Israel worries that the Arabs will want to implement UN general assembly resolution 194 of December 1948, which states that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date" - which would pose fundamental difficulties, since many of these homes no longer exist or have been occupied for generations by others.
For its part, the Arab peace offer does not make any demands on this front beyond stating that a "just solution" needs to be found to the Palestinian refugee problem. One way the Arabs can set in motion a new dynamic and make Israel face up to its responsibilities is by facing up to their own past.
Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims of tumultuous forces beyond their control. Another group that got swept up in history's unforgiving currents was the Arab world's once-thriving Jewish minority: the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.
There were some three-quarters of a million Jews living in Arab countries prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) had a Jewish population of up to half a million; Iraq, up to 140,000; Egypt had up to 100,000; and Yemen, around 50,000. Today, the Jewish populations of most Arab countries number a few hundred or fewer, with the exception of Morocco which still has a few thousand Jews.
Although most Middle Eastern Jews saw Zionism as a remote and alien European dream, about half the Jews who left or were expelled from Arab countries ended up in Israel. The rest went to Europe and the Americas, the largest single group settling in France.
The last few decades have been marked by creative reinvention and collective amnesia. Israel has worked very hard to veil her Arab face, while the Arab world has airbrushed out its Jewish features. But the terms "Arab" and "Jew" are sometimes so fluid that individual members of either group have more in common with each other than their own supposed kin.
Rather like "Jew", "Ara"' is a very loose tag applied to a diverse range of peoples and cultures. It covers the real McAhmed Arab societies of Arabia, as well as the "Arabised" societies of the rest of the Middle East. The only things Arabs share in common are language - and that is not always the case, given the great difficult those from the western reaches of the Arab world have in communicating with those in the east - and to a lesser extent religion, ie most but by no means all are Muslim.
Each major Jewish population in the Arab world had its own distinct identity and history. The Iraqi Jewish population is believed to have been the most established, having lived in Mesopotamia since at least the Babylonian exile. In fact, according to Biblical mythology, Abraham was an "Iraqi" who moved to Canaan (modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine) and, procreative genius that he was, gave birth to three nations: the Israelites, the Arabs and the Edomites. Bizarrely, "God" also promised old Abe land that was already inhabited for his offspring, without satisfactorily explaining how this would come about or what was to be done with the locals.
Prior to the arrival of Israel, Iraqi Jews were so well integrated that they described themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith. In fact, the early pan-Arabist movement in Iraq included Jews as part of its vision. Things began to sour, however, with the mass immigration of Zionists to Palestine in the 1930s.
Unfortunately for Iraqi Jews and for Iraq, they were being blamed for events they had no part to play in and often disapproved of just because they happened to share the religion of the Zionists in Palestine. They gradually fell victim to increasingly repressive and discriminatory laws. During his short-lived premiership, Rashid Ali al-Kaylani - who was against the British and their puppet Nuri al-Said and hoping that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" wanted Iraq to join the Axis against the British - stoked up anti-Jewish hatred, leading to riots which killed some 200 Jews and convinced most of the rest that it was time to move on.
Although the Arab League states prohibited the emigration of their Jews to Israel in order to deprive the new state of labour and the Jewish population it desperately needed to give the country an eventual Jewish majority, Iraq was the first country to allow the mass exodus of its Jews, who faced harsh living conditions and discrimination at the hands of their superior-feeling European co-religionists. But being well-educated and entrepreneurial, they are now the most successful Mizrahi population in Israel.
In Morocco, the process of linking local Jews to events in Palestine was slower. In fact, during the second world war, Morocco was under the control of Vichy France. In 1941, the Vichy regime enacted anti-semitic decrees excluding Jews from public functions and forcing them to wear yellow stars of David. King Mohamed V refused to apply the racist laws and defiantly invited all the rabbis of Morocco to his 1941 jubilee celebrations.
Sadly, the beginning of the end began with the 1948 war during which anti-Jewish riots broke out, killing 44 Jews. After that, the country where Iberian Jews and Muslims had taken refuge from the inquisition and where much of its native Berber population had converted to Judaism prior to the advent of Islam was gradually depopulated of its Jewish community. Today, only 5,000 or so remain. While in Morocco, I visited some of the last remnants of its Jewish community in Marrakech, including the blind rabbi of the city's only remaining synagogue.
If the Bible is anything to go by, Egyptian Jewry is the oldest in the world, and even the Torah attests that the Jews had good times not just bad there. Only decades prior to the creation of Israel, Egypt's indigenous Jewish population doubled through the immigration of Jews escaping persecution in other countries or looking for prosperity. And Jews did not just play an important economic role in Egypt. One of the leading lights of Egyptian anti-British nationalism was the Italian-Egyptian Jew Yaqub Sanu who started the first newspaper in Egyptian Arabic, a rag speciailising in political satire.
But as the partition of Palestine and war loomed ever closer, things also soured in Egypt. Over the coming two decades, Egyptian Jewry fell foul of anti-Zionism, anti-colonialism, pan-Arabism and not to mention anti-Egyptian Zionist intrigue.
An interesting insight into the death throes of this disappeared world, not just of Egyptian Jewry, but also of the excessive aristocracy and privilege of Egypt's pre-revolutionary ruling elite is provided by Andr? Aciman's highly readable Out of Egypt.
While it is impossible to turn back the clock and undo a crime, we Arabs should recall the hundreds of thousands of Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict. We should continue to demand that Israel apologise for the expulsion and exodus of the Palestinians, but we should offer a similar apology to our one-time Jewish populations.
The Arab League should continue to press for a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem, but Arab states which once had Jewish communities should also offer an equivalent "right of return". Perhaps many Jews, particularly those living in Israel, would not accept this offer, but it is the virtue of the thought that counts.
Besides, many Arab Jews refused to go to Israel and, instead, settled in Europe and the Americas (around half a million, today). Some of these could be coaxed back to Morocco or Egypt - and even, one day, Iraq. And with a restored Jewish minority in Arab countries, the false divisions that Zionism, pan-Arabism and Islamism have tried to impose on our diverse region can be chipped away and exposed for the fallacies that they are.
The Palestinians are ?not asking for much ? we just want to live like human beings,? says Nadim Khoury. A different and realistic view of Palestinian life is presented in What Did We Do to Deserve This?, an original concept by Mark Howell. The Palestinian people present themselves as a compassionate and caring people, for themselves, their land, and were it possible, for their neighbours. The photography of violence and destruction, of maimed bodies and twisted wreckage, could have been shown, but instead what comes through in the portraits and landscapes, which constitute an important segment of the book, is a "quiet dignity of suffering", perhaps not the best words to match the situation, but the phrase that first comes to mind from the photos. Other words could be attributed to the visual images ? resignation, friendliness, fear, happiness, and resilience. In essence, the people of Palestine are presented as a very representative group of humanity, with the added complexity of existing under a severely controlling occupation. The photographs are a major part of the book, accompanying anecdotes and quotations from civilians leading the harsh daily realities of life in the occupied West Bank. The text beginning each section combines the author?s anecdotal experiences along with an essentials summary of the various themes and topics presented. Along with various websites, Howell has used many of the standard ?revisionist? histories of the Palestine/Israeli conflict in support of his own impressions concerning the subjugation of a people by a military force operating in the West Bank acting as an authority unto itself. The three formats combined ? photography, anecdotes and stories, current research ? make the work an excellent entry source for people wishing to understand more fully the situation in the Middle East in general and in Palestine/Israel in particular. As has become more common in recent works critical of the Israeli-American liaison, the media receives much criticism. With his initial visit to Palestine, Howell expressed shock ?by the great difference between media reporting and the reality on the ground,? leading him ?to address the void between mainstream media coverage of the conflict,? and that newly perceived reality. He posits three main causes of the strength of this bias: first that the ?Israeli government has developed a formidable PR machine;? secondly, knowing what its actions are going to be (in most cases) it ?can also plan in advance? to get its own message out; and finally, the news sources ?recruit Jewish spokespeople? as the target audience has ?more affinity with a white Israeli with a British accent than with a Palestinian Arab.? As always, the media carries its own corporate interests foremost, which should limit the ?trust?often given to journalistic reports.? The media story is that of inverse victimization, of Palestinian terrorists attacking the vulnerable and peacefully democratic peoples of Israel. The testimony attested to here shows the reality, ?the substance of Palestinian society whose voice is rarely heard,? the day to day subjugation of an occupied people by a variety of methods - a people that nevertheless remain resilient and determined. Alongside the photographs are a series of maps, clearly and neatly presented showing the decline of Palestinian territory since 1948. One not so clear map, probably purposefully so, is one used to delineate the various areas of Jewish settlements and the designation of Palestinian (PLO and Fatah) control to varying degrees according to Israeli definitions. Later, another map shows how the ?wall? winds and twists around the Jewish and Palestinian settlements in and near East Jerusalem, isolating Palestinian populations from each other and enabling communication and further settlement of Jewish communities on confiscated land. Howell uses his historical sources well, and the beginning of each section provides clearly presented information from what is becoming a standard set of references into the reality that exists, yet is not presented in or on current mass-market media. He identifies the reality behind the 1948 ?nakba?, with Israel?s ?secret agreement with Jordan?.The small number and lack of organization? of the Arab forces such that they ?posed no threat,? and further with ?their leadership structure destroyed,? the Palestinians could not organize a military response. To this day, in spite of the violent portrayals in western media, ?The overwhelming desire of Palestinians in the West Bank is to be treated fairly, to share Palestine?s resources on an equal basis with Israeli Jews.? The identity of the Palestinian people is continually challenged, with Palestinians identified as Arabs, giving them an ?advantage linguistically of dislocating Palestinians from the geographical area? allowing the belief on the Israeli part ?That Palestinians should, and eventually will, transition to other states.? The Palestinian identity is further restricted by ?dividing the West Bank into enclaves [restricting] the flow of national consciousness,? restricting university access, confiscating land, and using ?a model of separation akin to apartheid.? These restrictions are fully evident in the ?conquest of Jerusalem.? New settlements and the twisting contours of the wall have separated families, friends, business clients, students, property, and access to all kinds of services. Property is confiscated under absentee landlord laws and the complicity of the Israeli courts, and residency is continually narrowed with restrictive ID card usage for residency rights. Residents of the Palestinian sector identify the inevitable results, ?when you do that we explode. I now see that [violence] doesn?t work but the Israelis don?t;? and ?even if they win they don?t want peace. They don?t want to give back the land they occupied in 1967 or to let Palestinians have their own state. So there will be war.? The restrictions serve the broader area as well, with an ?illegal permit system? accompanied with ?a highly restrictive network of checkpoints.? One of the major results of the checkpoints is fear, not fear ?of the unusual ? it is the fear of everyday reality.? These barriers, some mobile, some permanent, some heavily garrisoned, others light and intermittent, create problems with Palestinian ?access to their land, make the transaction of business costly, prevent the sale of agricultural products beyond local markets, makes access to universities and medical care more difficult and inhibit social and cultural activities.? As supported in other texts, ?The Palestinians have never constituted a united, coherent military force? and despite depictions to the contrary ?the Palestinian leadership has moved steadily towards a politically-based approach? while even the recently maligned Hamas has ?entered the democratic process and maintained long periods of abstention from violence.? In contrast to that, the ?Israeli military machine? is identified in its role of ?ethnic cleanser, policeman, jailer and executioner? while the courts ?primary role has been to legitimize the military?s actions in the Occupied Territories and to manipulate the legal landscape to achieve this end.? Both the military and the courts have perpetrated ?the great land grab?, allowing the 450,000 West Bank settlers to ?act with impunity? and giving them ?considerable influence within Israeli politics.? The author visited Qawawis, a small hamlet made of four or five houses separated by a fence from its fields. The IDF destroyed all the houses shortly afterwards (February 14, 2007), ?a demonstration of how quickly Israel?s policy of dispossession and ethnic cleansing is being implemented.? Life becomes almost insufferable, yet persists. Business and agriculture is restricted; unemployment, poverty, and health problems are endemic; childhood, as a time of freedom and play, and education, are non-existent. A nurse in Birzeit fears ?for the future of our children. They have no space to grow?.They are frightened at checkpoints.? In general, the Palestinians are ?not asking for much ? we just want to live like human beings,? says Nadim Khoury, proprietor of Taybeh Brewery. ?We want to be able to take our kids to school easily and not for it to take all day. We want to send our father and mother for medical treatment, not for them to die at checkpoints. It is all a deliberate attempt to make people leave the country. They treat us like animals.? In the broader picture, the future is controlled by the Israelis and the acquiescence of western countries, leading to a conjuncture at some point where ?Israel?s status as a democratic country will be challenged and its apartheid regime exposed on the international stage? leading to either the enfranchisement of Palestinians or their forced expulsion. Having been denied the Western democratic process of an elected government that under the circumstances has acted with remarkable constraint (Hamas), and ?as the prison doors close around the Palestinians?new generations?will be radicalized by their faiths.? Howell does not see a viable two state system, but rather the answer is that ?peace comes with equality, justice and freedom.? Peace will only come when a ?genuinely viable, democratic state? is established. While ?Israel?s expansionist, militarized establishment continually works to unite its people behind fear and loathing of Palestinians,? it can only continue as a ?modern, democratic country if it comes to terms with the existence of the Palestinian people and their rights as human beings.? As an introductory view of the Palestinian situation, ?What Did We Do to Deserve This?? is an excellent starting point. Hard-hitting, gritty, realistic, yet also compassionate and humanistic and ultimately, in spite of the negatives, hopeful. The hope is narrowing, the love of family, land, and culture remains. It becomes increasingly important that people in the Wes
Vigilante killing in Islam
Jihad Watch reader A. M. frequently writes to me to tell me how wrong, wrong, wrong I am about Islam, which, he maintains, has within it none of the features that I keep asking Muslims like him to confront and reform. If they don't exist at all, considerably less work needs to be done -- although it remains to be explained how those pesky jihadists keep getting Islam so wrong, wrong, wrong themselves, and what stout fellows like A. M. plan to do about it.
But anyway, A. M. took exception to the post below, writing this:
...this "Montreal man killed by his brother for being a bad Muslim" (and all other similar posts) is another example of how you try to make Islam look bad for bad acts done by Muslims. Just blame Islam for every bad act done by a Muslim, just why don't you?!
Well, thanks for the offer, my good man, but no thanks. In reality we do not do that at Jihad Watch, and never have. Practically every day people send me stories of crimes involving Muslims that I do not put up, because there is no discernable jihad angle. These days lots of people keep sending me the story about the Muslim in Florida who dragged a woman four miles with his car. I will not put it up unless he says something like "I did it because she was a filthy kuffar." Otherwise, well, people of all races, colors and creeds commit heinous crimes every day, but they have nothing to do with our work here in defense of human rights unless they were committed by people who are out to destroy those rights and subjugate us if they can.
And that's why I put up the story to which A. M. objected -- because Najib Bellari killed his brother because he was a "bad Muslim." However, A. M. also sent me a link to this, a Sunni anti-Shia polemic site of which A. M. is fond, where it is argued that "extra-judicial vigiliante justice was not permitted in Islam." A. M. argues on that basis that Najib Bellari's murder has nothing to do with Islam, and is an example of my egregious anti-Muslim bias.
In reality, however, as with so many issues in Islam, it all depends on the meaning of words. What's a vigilante? The Shafi'i Sharia manual 'Umdat al-Salik says that "an expiation is due to Allah Most High from anyone who kills someone unlawful to kill..." (o5.1). However, "there is no expiation for killing someone who has left Islam" (o5.4). In other words, someone who kills is liable to punishment, but he isn't liable to punishment if he kills an apostate. And nothing at all is said about state authority.
Now, Al-Azhar in Cairo, which has been praised for its moderation, endorses 'Umdat al-Salik as conforming to the "practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community." And it, among many other authorities (which I will produce upon request) asserts that there is no penalty for killing an apostate -- which seems to be something close to what Najib Bellari thinks he did.
Here it is again, the same old story: instead of acknowledging the elements of Islam that are at variance with universally accepted norms of human rights, we get denial and obfuscation. So I post this as it may be instructive, and to call upon all self-proclaimed moderates like A. M. to stop their denial and to work for positive change within Islam, first by acknowledging that change is needed. For the culture that produced Najib Bellari will produce many more like him, unless the assumptions that led to his act are confronted and combatted within the Islamic community.
Christian in Pakistan sentenced to death
By MUNIR AHMAD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A Christian was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed, and a human rights activist Friday urged Pakistan's president to spare his life.
Younis Masih, 29, was arrested in September 2005 on the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore after residents told police he made derogatory remarks against Islam and Muhammad.
On Wednesday, a court sentenced Masih to death under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which rights groups say have been misused against Christians since former President Gen. Zia ul-Haq enacted them in 1980s to win the support of hard-line religious groups.
Shahbaz Bhatti, who heads the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance- which groups together Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Parsis, who follow Zoroastrianism - said only President Gen. Pervez Musharraf could pardon Masih.
"I met with Younis Masih at a jail in Lahore, and he told me that he respects Islam and its prophet," Bhatti said, adding Masih told him that dozens of Muslims thrashed him on Sept. 10, 2005, when he asked them not to sing loudly because his nephew had died, and his body was still lying at home.
"It was Younis Masih's only mistake," Bhatti said, adding that a group of Muslims began beating him and handed him over to police, which registered a case against him under blasphemy laws.
He said rights groups have been demanding the repeal of blasphemy laws, saying they were being abused by religious extremists to settle personal scores and religious enmity.
He said the legal battle against Masih's conviction will continue, but "it will take years, and during this period, Younis Masih's fate would continue to hang in the balance."
Pakistan is an Islamic state where non-Muslims comprise just 3 percent of the 160 million population. Anyone accused of insulting Islam, Muhammed or the Quran can be sentenced to death.
BY IRFAN HUSAIN
7 June 2007
FOR years, Pakistan?s non-Muslims have lived under the lengthening shadow of intolerance and persecution. Liberal critics of the Hudood Laws and the Blasphemy Law, both pieces of legislation being used to target women and the minorities, are told not to embarrass Pakistan by publicly attacking these laws.
But love for one's country comes in different forms. At one extreme is the American patriot who pronounced: "My country, right or wrong!" At the other is the saying: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
I personally tend towards the latter view. When those ruling the country say or do something I disagree with, I do not feel I am being unpatriotic by pointing it out. Indeed, I agree completely with the sentiment expressed in this wise observation: "A patriot is somebody who will defend the state against the government of the day."
Occasionally, I am proud to be a Pakistani. Far more frequently, the words and actions of our rulers and our public figures are a source of shame. But while the impact of most official decisions and actions is fleeting, the continuing disgrace of our nation's treatment of its minorities is a permanent blot on our collective reputation and conscience. While I understand why our religious extremists behave the way they do, the failure of civil society to force a change in laws and attitudes is far more deplorable.
The event that aroused my sense of indignation was the recent visit by a European Union joint commission to Islamabad where they were, in effect, told by the Pakistani team that all was well with our minorities. Those representing us must be totally shameless, for they said without an iota of remorse that our Blasphemy Laws had been around for a hundred years. This is a blatant lie, as they were inflicted on us by Zia ul Haq just over 20 years ago.
Our team went on to ask the EU not to ask the Pakistan government to repeal this infamous piece of legislation as this might make the public think we were being forced into changing the law under Western pressure. Since the government often does the right thing only under foreign pressure, there is every reason for the EU to continue pushing.
For those who think I am over-stating my case, here are some random examples of the horrors inflicted on our non-Muslim and Ahmadi citizens over the last year. These are mostly drawn from the 14 th issue of a newsletter called Pakistan Concern that focused on our minorities.
On April 1, the police in Toba Tek Singh arrested Salamat Masih and 11-year old Daniel Masih, while warrants under the Blasphemy Laws were issued for the arrest of three other members of the Christian family. The charge? That they forcibly removed the 'Islamic sticker' from the pocket of Faisal Gulzar, a Muslim boy, and trampled on it. A mob later attacked the Christian Colony where Ratan, a disabled boy, was badly injured. But according to Father Bonnie Mendes, the whole incident started with a fight among the boys in which their parents got involved.
On March 23, Amanat Masih, a 50-year old Christian from Sheikhupura, was tortured by a mob for allegedly burning some pages from the Holy Quran. He was later arrested by the police under the Blasphemy Laws, and remains in jail. His wife, Zohera Bibi, had saved fifty thousand rupees for their daughter's wedding. This sum was looted by the mob.
On April 8, Shaheen Masih, a 12-year old Christian girl was kidnapped by four Muslim men and gang-raped over two days after which she was finally rescued by the police. But although she was medically examined, the police refused to give the report to her parents. The four men were arrested and a case was registered against them, but they were later released. One of them was reported as saying to the others: "Don't hesitate to rape a Christian girl. Even if she dies, no one will get us. Her poor parents cannot pursue us." In Charsadda, a small town in the Frontier province with an old, established Christian community, letters have recently been slipped under the doors of Christian homes, warning the inhabitants to convert to Islam or face death. So clearly, the Talibanisation of the Frontier does not countenance any non-Muslims in the areas it seeks to control.
Ahmadis, too, bear the brunt of Pakistan?s rising tide of Islamic extremism. According to the latest Ahmadiya community report, 79 Ahmadis have been killed between 1984 and 2005 simply for their belief. The report goes on to say: "Religious extremists remained free to congregate in numbers in Rabwah and indulge in abusive rhetoric, but Ahmadis were not allowed to hold a single open-air community event in their own town."
According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, Hindus in Sindh are insecure because of the rising number of kidnappings and murders. An estimated 1.5 million Hindus live in Pakistan, and according to Nisar Khurro of the Pakistan People's Party, more and more of them are being kidnapped for ransom. On 2 March, the BBC reported the disappearance of Garish Kumar from Umerkot. His dismembered body was found near a madressah, and the police suspected an extreme Islamic group of the crime. His father, a local trader, says nobody in authority is interested in taking up the case because the victim was a Hindu.
The Minority Rights Group's annual report informs us that Pakistan has risen by eight places to occupy eighth position on the MRG's ranking of countries where minorities are at risk. In fact, this view is widely reflected in the international media where the plight of Pakistan?s hapless minorities gets hugely adverse coverage. But apart from stout denial, this government has done little to confront the issue, and give our minorities a sense of security. All these random incidents I have cited here have been reported in the media, and to the police. The fact that little or no action has been taken is a reflection of the apathy in our society towards our minorities. And clearly, it is further proof that Musharraf's boast about his agenda of 'enlightened moderation' is just hot air.
Only when a particularly gruesome story hits the foreign media is there any pretence of official action. But as soon as the furore has died down, it is open season on non-Muslims again.
While Islam directs its followers to protect non-Muslims, in Pakistan these injunctions are largely ignored by the clergy and their fanatical followers. The state looks the other way when minorities are persecuted because they are seen as powerless. Until those at the top show a sense of outrage, non-Muslims will continue to be treated as second-class citizens, and worse.
Malaysia woman loses appeal on religion
30 May 2007
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - Malaysia?s top secular court on Wednesday rejected a woman?s bid to be legally recognised as Christian after converting from Islam, saying the matter must be decided by a religious court.
Lina Joy had sought to have the word ?Islam? removed from her national identity card but the federal court threw out her case, deciding that only one of the country?s Islamic sharia tribunals could legally certify her conversion.
Renouncing the faith is one of the gravest sins in Islam, and Joy?s case has raised questions about religious freedom here as well as the exact legal relationship between the mainly Muslim country?s secular and religious courts.
Joy, an ethnic Muslim Malay who was born Azlina Jailani, had argued that she should not be bound by the Islamic courts because she is now a Christian.
The ruling comes amid mounting racial and religious tensions in Malaysia, where minority religious groups fear their rights are being undermined, even though the country is traditionally seen as moderate.
?God is great!? a crowd of about 200 people, who had been holding a mass prayer, shouted in unison outside the court complex when they learned of the verdict.
?Although it is not freedom of religion per se, the decision will determine if she can convert out of Islam without going to the sharia court,? Ragunath Kesavan, of Malaysia?s Bar Council, said ahead of the ruling.
?Our position has always been that she should be allowed to do so, in respect to the constitution.?
Islam is Malaysia?s official religion. More than 60 percent of the nation?s 27 million people are Muslim Malays.
But while the constitution defines the ethnic majority Malays as Muslims it also guarantees freedom of religion, and the country?s minority Chinese and Indians are mostly Buddhists, Hindus or Christians.
After Joy converted, she first appealed to authorities to have her new name put on her identity card. She won the right to do so, but is now seeking to have her religion changed.
Malaysia?s civil courts operate in parallel to sharia courts for Muslims in areas of family law including divorce, child custody and inheritance.
But the question of which takes precedence has been unclear in cases that involve both Muslims and non-Muslims, who have little say in sharia courts.
Some Muslims denounced Joy?s legal challenge as a tactic to undermine Islam?s status in the country.
?This case has attracted a lot of attention from various groups and Muslims mainly because it may greatly impact the position of Islam in the constitution and Malaysian law,? Yusri Mohamad, president of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement, said as he awaited the verdict.
?We ask all parties to restrain themselves in facing this situation to preserve the good name of Muslims and the nation.?
The Federal Court issued its judgement at the Palace of Justice, a grand complex built in the Islamic style with domes, columns and arches in the Malaysian administrative capital of Putrajaya.
In Turkey, tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Istanbul in support of the country's secular system. It comes amid a growing political crisis over the future of the presidency. Secularists believe the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party's candidate, Abdullah Gul, will tamper with the strict separation of state and religion, if he wins, but the Foreign Minister denies that.
Waving Turkish flags and anti-government placards, the demonstrators made it clear they want the AK party to abandon its plan to make Gul president. The minister did not get enough votes in the first round of the election in parliament on Friday. A second round is set for Wednesday.
The dispute has also put the AK party at odds with the military, which sees itself as the guardian of the secular state and has ousted four governments in the past 50 years. But the main opposition groups, backed by the EU, have warned the military not to meddle in politics. Two weeks ago a similar rally in the capital Ankara attracted an estimated half a million people on to the streets.
Turkish converts to Christianity fear for their lives after the brutal murder of three people at a Christian publisher. Angela Merkel has called for Ankara to promote religious tolerance, while secular intellectuals ask why the 99-percent Muslim country can't put up with a few Christians. Tilman Geske, 46, had a dream when he moved to Turkey. As a practicing Christian, he wanted to live in peace among Muslims in a country that was a cradle of early Christianity. The German immigrant gave language instruction, established a consulting firm and translated Christian literature. "He was a likeable man," says a Turkish accountant who worked in the office next to Geske's. "Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he responded in traditional Turkish: 'Cok seker -- very sweet.'" His sweet dream came to an abrupt end last Wednesday, when five Turkish fanatics armed with bread knives stormed into the office of the Christian Zirve publishing house in the south- eastern city of Malatya, tied up Geske and two other employees, before torturing them and finally killing them by slitting their throats. One of the victims was stabbed 150 times in a particularly brutal attack. A note left at the scene read: "This should serve as a lesson to the enemies of our religion. We did it for our country." But the attack undoubtedly did their country more harm than good. The damage the murders have caused could hardly be more devastating. The "missionary massacre," as Turkey's papers have called the unusually brutal crime, has plunged Turkey into new turmoil. It has also shone an uncomfortable spotlight on the question of whether the country will succeed in its bid to join the European Union. Democratic Union (CDU) party, the incident merely confirms their warnings that the country simply doesn't belong to Europe. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the crime "certainly does not help" the country's bid for EU membership. Merkel, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said Sunday that she expected Turkey to take action to show it was tolerant of Christianity after the murders. "This episode has no influence on the accession negotiations, which will continue with the result open. But the episode is a cause for concern," she told the M?nchner Merkur newspaper in an interview for its Monday edition. "Everything must be done to inhibit a climate that makes such appalling deaths possible," she told the paper. "I expect clear action from the government in Ankara (to show) that intolerance of Christianity and other religions has no chance." Optimists, on the other hand, hope the murder was merely a provocation by opponents of democracy intent on steering Turkey away from its westward course. "Just as one cannot claim, in the wake of the killings in Virginia, that all Americans are serial killers, it would be wrong to hold the entire country responsible for this crime," warns sociologist Dogu Ergil. Nevertheless, there is no longer any doubt that Turkey has run into serious difficulties as far as the development of its civil society is concerned. The murder of the Turkish Protestants exposes a deep-seated problem: Turkey is at a standstill -- or even regressing -- when it comes to key issues like tolerance and pluralism. "In Germany, Turks residing there have opened up more than 3,000 mosques. If in our country we cannot abide even by a few churches, or a handful of missionaries, where is our civilization?" wrote Ertugrul ?zk?k, editor-in-chief of leading secular Turkish daily H?rriyet, in a hard-hitting editorial on the murders. "Where is our humanity, our freedom of belief, our beautiful religion?" he asks. The danger does not come -- as one might expect -- from the usual fundamentalist Muslims. Instead, it is an unholy alliance of nationalists ranging from the left to the Islamic right that is inciting hatred against free thinkers and those of other faiths. According to Ergil, there is a "mixture of fanatical nationalism and militant religious fervor" that prepared the ground for the Malatya massacre -- and that also appears to have been behind the murders of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and Roman Catholic priest Andrea Santoro last year. Experts like Ergil see the murders as part of an unsettling new trend, in which fanatical nationalist-religious groups see violence as a "cleansing force" and themselves as supposed "saviors of the nation" -- like the 19- and 20-year-old attackers in Malatya, who were students and all lived in the same conservative Islamic dormitory. The hate speech comes from both the left and the right. Rahsan Ecevit, the widow of popular former Prime Minister B?lent Ecevit and a supposed leftist, routinely launches into tirades against foreigners who buy land in Turkey. She claims that those who encourage citizens to convert to another religion want to divide Turkey. Christianity is gaining ground in Turkey, especially in the southeast, the chairman of the far-right nationalist Great Union Party (BBP) recently warned, even going so far as to accuse Christian missionaries of being "supported by the CIA." The bolder such conspiracy theories are, the more popular they seem to be. And yet, all nationalist sentiment aside, Turks were shocked by the brutal murders, which the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to condemn. Erdogan wants to bring Turkey into the European fold. But to do so, says Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch member of the European parliament for the GreenLeft party who is himself married to a Turkish woman, it must "actively appeal to its citizens to accept people of other religions and ethnic origins." In some cases state institutions even help to promote the hostile mood. As far back as 2001, the country's National Security Council, under then Prime Minister Ecevit, classified "missionary activities" as a threat to national security. The government office of religion has in the past distributed sample sermons targeted against missionaries. In addition, Erdogan's government, which is dominated by his right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP), undermines its credibility when, for example, an official like Minister of State Mehmet Aydin claims that missionary activities are not "an innocent declaration of religious beliefs, but rather a planned movement with political goals." With politicians stirring up public anger, some segments of the population seem all too willing to fall in line. The more aggressive forms of Christianity, such as that espoused by free evangelical churches, are especially suspect to many Turks. Even the friendly Muslim who worked in the office next door to Tilman Geske became skeptical when he heard that the German was "proselytizing." To ease his doubts, he took a look around Geske's office to see if there were Bibles lying around, but he found nothing. "This terrible murder brings shame upon us," says the horrified accountant, who prefers to remain anonymous. And yet, he says, he is not pleased about some of the things he hears, such as the rumor that missionaries "place money in the Bibles that they hand out in front of our schools." For the beleaguered Christians, it is sometimes better not to be noticed at all. There was no sign on the door of the Zirve publishing company's office in Malatya -- a deliveryman was attacked there two years ago and nationalists later staged angry protests in front of the building. "We are experiencing a witch hunt straight out of the Middle Ages, and the Malatya victims were certainly not the last," complains Ihsan ?zbek, the chairman of the Salvation Church, a union of Protestant groups which claims to have 5,000 members throughout Turkey. "We are portrayed as traitors and potential criminals," he says. Tensions are so high that ?zbek warns that it has become very dangerous to be called a missionary. "That would be the equivalent of a death sentence these days," he says. Christians are reporting efforts to file lawsuits against supposed missionaries, even though proselytizing is not officially against the law in Turkey. In fact, the opposite is true. It is against the law in Turkey -- theoretically, at least -- to prevent anyone from practicing or disseminating his faith. But creative approaches are sometimes taken to prosecuting unpopular infidels, says attorney Orhan Cengiz. In Silivri, a town west of Istanbul, two converts are currently on trial for the uniquely Turkish offense of "insulting Turkishness" and for "incitement of religious hatred," both considered crimes under the notorious Article 301 of the country's penal code. Necati Aydin, a local pastor and one of the publishing company employees murdered in the Malatya killings, had already been arrested once before for distributing Bibles and religious pamphlets. "Villagers claimed that Aydin and his colleagues had insulted Islam," says his attorney. They were charged with distributing "propaganda against religious freedom." One of the most difficult positions is that of Turkish converts who turn their backs on the "true faith." Sociologist Behnan Konutgan, 54, converted to Christianity while still a student. "While all my fellow students were constantly reading the Koran, I had a Bible sent to me," he recalls. "I read the New Testament with excitement." Konutgan now works as a pastor and is translating the Bible. "Society is our problem, not the laws," he says, describing his own experiences. "The church is perceived as an enemy." The murdered Christians were members of Malatya's small Protestant community, which included a few foreigners like Tilman Geske and 15 Turks who have converted from Islam to Christianity. The liberal newspaper Radikal estimates that there are about 10,000 converts in Turkey, expressing surprise that they could be seen as a "threat" in a country of 73 million people, 99 percent of whom are Muslim. But it seems that this is exactly the case. According to an opinion poll, 59 percent of Turks favor taking legal action against mi
Attacks by Jewish activists on Christianity have never been bolder in the US than this past year. Some Jews themselves state this fact, such as Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who warns of his liberal brethren's onslaught against Christianity. Zef Chafets, Jewish journalist and author of A Match Made in Heaven, recently offered a warning, too. He wrote a Christian-friendly rebuttal to Abe Foxman's scathing critique of the church in Time online.
"In early November 2005, the Prime Minister of Iran stated his intention to wipe Israel off the map," writes Chafets. "At almost exactly the same time, leaders of the American Jewish community declared war on the Christian Right."
Chafets cites the hostility of Foxman, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, who all shrilly attack Christians' political efforts as a supremacist threat. "Never before in U.S. history had Jewish leaders shown such bold hostility toward Evangelical Christians, the largest Protestant community in America and, by most measures, the most philo-Semitic and pro-Israel," writes Chafets.
Reply to the Misconception about Departing Islam
Fourth: The punishment enunciated in Islam to the person, who chooses to depart Islam as a way of life, is an violation against human rights. Human rights ensure the freedom of religion to all people. Besides, such punishment contradicts the statement of Qur'?n, as the Almighty Allah states in the Glorious Qur'?n Sura al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:256 the meaning of which is translated as:? Let there be no compulsion in religion?
Islamic Shari'ah enunciates this punishment to the person who turns his back to Islam as a way of life and reject its laws and regulations, based on the Hadith, the Sunnah, traditions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that states:? It is unlawful to kill a Muslim except for committing one of the three crimes, (1) A married man or woman, who commits [proven] adultery. (2) When killing another Muslim. (3) When turns one's back to Islam [rejecting it publicly as a way of life and attacking it openly] and turn away from it and from the Islamic community?.
Moreover, it is based on the Hadith the Sunnah, traditions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):? Whosoever changes [rejects Islam as a religion and way of life] kill him?.
However, we should take the following two points into consideration concerning the person who rejects Islam as a faith and way of life:
The killing of an apostate of Islamic faith implies such persons who deny and attack Islam openly and publicly. Such apostate is equivalent to an internal revolution within the Islamic society. If such a person confines his apostate to himself, and does not proclaim, he is left to Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala). Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) knows best who believes and who rejects the faith. Muslims can only base their judgements, sentences, and apparent matters and leave the realties to Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala).
A person who rejects the Islamic faith may be given a chance for three consecutive days to return to the fold of Islam. Matured Islamic scholars must sit with him and explain to him the major sin he is committing against his own soul, his family and the community. If this person returns to the fold of Islam he will be let free. If not he will be executed. Killing such an apostate is, in reality, a salvation for the rest of the society members.
Declaring a rejection against Islam is unacceptable in Islamic Shari'ah because he is not honoring his commitment to his faith. If a person does not keep his commitment to Islam he is looked as worse than a non-Believer in the first place. The Almighty Allah states in the Glorious Qur'?n Sura al-Nisa (The Women), 4:137 the meaning of which is translated as:? Those who believe, then reject Faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject Faith, and go on increasing in unbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them on the way?.
Rejecting Islam as a way of life amounts to a malicious propaganda against Islam. Furthermore, rejection of Islam is also a disgrace to the Islamic society and the immediate community where the apostate lives. Such rejection will discourage people for joining Islam as a way of life. The example of rejecting Islam indicates that the person who joined it was only testing it, but was not serious about his commitment to this way of life. Therefore, this rejection will tend to attack Islam and attempt to rebel from within. Therefore, such a punishment was prescribed, Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) knows best.
Islam, on the other hand, wants the apostates of the religion of Islam to take this matter very seriously and take their time to study it fully. They are requested to research, evaluate and seriously examine all the aspects of Islam as way of life prior to joining it and committing to its rules and regulations. If this reverting happened voluntarily it is well and good. If not, then, such a severe punishment will not give any slim chance to those who would like to play around and experiment with Islam.
Moreover, Islam does not treat rejection of the faith as a personal matter. Rejecting Islam as a way of life is not a change to the religion of the apostate only, but rather it is a rejection of the entire system. Such rejection will, surely, harm and injure the entire system and not the apostate only. As pointed earlier, Islam looks at this rejection as a nucleus for an internal revolution and evil instigation in the society. Islam does not accept nor condone such an evil practice that leads to mischief and confusion in the society. In fact, this is very similar even to modern political system, which treat any coup-de-tat or other activities to overthrow an existing regime or government as illegal activities. Furthermore, such revolutionary activities against government are taken very seriously and the participants are killed, exiled or imprisoned. In fact, such dissidents of the political system maybe psychologically or physically tortured, or the personal wealth of these individuals are confiscated. Further, the family members and/or the relatives of such person of the political system are also subjected to the harassment.
Muslim apostates cast out and at risk from faith and family
By Anthony Browne
While Christians who turn to Islam are feted, the 200,000 Muslims who turn away are faced with abuse, violence and even murder
THE first brick was thrown through the sitting room window at one in the morning, waking Nissar Hussein, his wife and five children with a terrifying start. The second brick went through his car window.
It was a shock, but hardly a surprise. The week before, another brick had been thrown through the window as the family were preparing for bed in their Bradford home. The victim of a three-year campaign of religious hatred, Mr Hussein??s car has also been rammed and torched, and the steps to his home have been strewn with rubbish.
He and his family have been regularly jostled, abused, attacked, shouted at to move out of the area, and given death threats in the street. His wife has been held hostage inside their home for two hours by a mob. His car, walls and windows have been daubed in graffiti: ??Christian bastard??.
The problem isn??t so much what Mr Hussein, whose parents came from Pakistan, believes, but what he doesn??t believe. Born into Islam, he converted eight years ago to Christianity, and his wife, also from Pakistan, followed suit.
While those who convert to Islam, such as Cat Stevens, Jemima Khan, and the sons of the Frank Dobson, the former Health Secretary, and Lord Birt, the former BBC Director-General, can publicly celebrate their new religion, those whose faith goes in the other direction face persecution. Mr Hussein, a 39-year-old hospital nurse in Bradford, is one of a growing number of former Muslims in Britain who face not just being shunned by family and community, but attacked, kidnapped, and in some cases killed. There is even a secret underground network to support and protect those who leave Islam. One estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith, which would mean that in Britain there are about 200,000 apostates.
For police, religious authorities and politicians, it is an issue so sensitive that they are accused by victims of refusing to respond to appeals for help. It is a problem that, with the crisis of identity in Islam since September 11, seems to be getting worse as Muslims feel more threatened.
Muslims who lose their faith face execution or imprisonment, in line with traditional Muslim teaching, in many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen. In the Netherlands, the former Muslim MP Ayan Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding after renouncing her faith on television.
The Prince of Wales recently held a meeting with religious leaders to consider ways to stop former Muslims being persecuted in other countries, but Britain itself is also affected.
Mr Hussein told The Times: ??It??s been absolutely appalling. This is England ?? where I was born and raised. You would never imagine Christians would suffer in such a way.??
The police have not charged anyone, but told him to leave the area. ??We feel completely isolated, utterly helpless. I have been utterly failed by the authorities. If it was white racists attacking an Asian guy, there would be an absolute outcry,?? he said. ??They are trying to ethnically cleanse me out of my home. I feel I have to make a stand as an Asian Christian.??
Yasmin, who was raised in the North of England, has been forced out of her town once, and is now trying to resist being chased out again. Brought up in a Muslim family, she converted after having a vision of Jesus when she gave birth to her youngest son, and was baptised in her thirties.. ??My family completely disowned me. They thought I had committed the biggest sin ?? I was born a Muslim, and so I must die a Muslim. When my husband found out, he totally disowned my sons. One friend tried to strangle me when I told him I was converting,?? she said.
??We had bricks though our windows, I was spat at in the street because they thought I was dishonouring Islam. We had to call the police so many times. I had to go to court to get an injunction against my husband because he was inciting others to attack me.??
She fled to another part of Britain, but the attacks soon started again as locals found out about her. ??I wasn??t going to leave again,?? she said, adding that it was the double standards of her attackers that made her most angry. ??They are such hypocrites ?? they want us to be tolerant of everything they want, but they are intolerant of everything about us.??
With other converts, Yasmin has helped to set up a series of support groups across England, who have adopted a method of operating normally associated with dissidents in dictatorships, not democracies. They not only have to meet in secret, but cannot advertise their services, and have to vet those that approach them for infiltrators.
??There are so many who convert from Islam to Christianity. We have 70 people on our list who we support, and the list is growing. We don??t want others to suffer like we have,?? she said.
Although some are beaten ??black and blue?? for their faith, others suffer even more. The family of an 18-year-old girl whomYasmin was helping found that she had been hiding a Bible in her room, and visiting church secretly. ??I tried to do as much as possible to help her, but they took her to Pakistan ??on holiday??. Three weeks later, she was drowned ?? they said that she went out in the middle of the night and slipped in the river, but she just wouldn ??t have done that,?? said Yasmin.
Ruth, also of Pakistani origin, found out recently that she had only just escaped being murdered. When she told her family that she had converted, they kept her locked inside the family home all summer.
??They were afraid I would meet some Christians. My brother was aggressive, and even hit me ?? I later found out he wanted me dead,?? she said. A family friend had suggested taking her to Pakistan to kill her, and her brother put the idea to her mother, who ruled against it. ??You are very isolated and very alone. But now, my brother is thinking about changing and a cousin has made a commitment to Christianity.??
Noor, from the Midlands, was brought up a Muslim but converted to Christianity at 21. ??Telling my father was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I thought he would kill me on the spot, but he just went into a state of shock,?? she said. He ended up almost kidnapping her.
??He took drastic actions ?? he took the family to Pakistan, to a secluded village with no roads to it. He kept us there for many years, putting pressure on me to leave my Christian faith. I endured mental and emotional suffering that most humans never reach,?? she said. Eventually, her father realised that he could not shake her faith, and released her with strict conditions. ??In desperation, my father threatened to take my life. If someone converts, it is a must for family honour to bring them back to Islam, if not, to kill them.??
Imams in Britain sometimes call on the apostates to be killed if they criticise their former religion. Anwar Sheikh, a former mosque teacher from Pakistan, became an atheist after coming to Britain, and now lives with a special alarm in his house in Cardiff after criticising Islam in a series of hardline books.
??I??ve had 18 fatwas against me. They telephone me ?? they aren??t foolhardy enough to put it in writing. I had a call a couple of weeks ago. They mean repent or be hanged,?? he said. ??What I have written, I believe and I will not take it back. I will suffer the consequences. If that is the price, I will pay it.??
The most high-profile British apostate is Ibn Warraq, a Pakistani-born intellectual and former teacher from London, who lost his faith after the Salman Rushdie affair and set out his reasons in the book Why I am not a Muslim.
He recently edited the book Leaving Islam, but finds it hard to explain the hostility. ??It??s very strange. Even the most liberal Muslim can become incredibly fierce if you criticise Islam, or, horror of horrors, leave it.??
He himself has taken the precaution of using only a pseudonym, and lives incognito in mainland Europe. He thinks that Islamic apostasy is common. ??In Western societies, it is probably 10-15 per cent. It??s very difficult to tell, because people don??t admit it.??
Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Barnabas Trust, which helps persecuted Christians around the world, said that it was finding increasing work in Britain: ??It??s a growing problem. Today, conversion is seen as linked to Bush trying to convert the world ?? democratisation is confused with evangelism.
??The difficulty in Britain is the growing alienation between the minority Muslim communities and the mainstream Christian one. Christian mission work in inner cities is seen as an assault,?? Dr Sookhdeo said. ??We are only asking that freedom of religion should be applicable to everyone of every faith.??