Islamic history, Syrian history

You Can Take the Religion Out of Politics but You Can’t Take the Politics Out of Religion (vol 2)

I hope readers appreciate how knowledge of Wahabiizm is essential to understanding the history of Syria as well as its relevance to the current conflict.

The Wahabiiz philosophy: a brief account

The r4 programme explained how Muhammed Ibn Abd al-Wahab, the founder of Wahabiizm, challenged the interpretation of the hadiths (equivalent to the Christian scriptures), because he believed they had been misinterpreted through the centuries. The American academic, Natana Delong-Bas, referred to in the last entry, offered an explanation of the objection posed by al-Wahab, to the interpretation of doctrine by the ulama (the groups of elders who make decisions). She claimed that al-Wahab believed the doctrine of the qura’n should be ”constantly reinterpreted”, in the belief it is God, who has the final word and not powerful individuals. Some sources say that al-Wahab rejected the word of the Prophet Mohammed (there are many accounts on the internet), leading to allegations that the Saudis and other Wahabiiz are not true muslims.

Wahabiizm and Sufi doctrine compared

It is true, that as a man, al-Wahab was a veritable prosthelytiser and that his alliance with the house of Saud eventually led to his doctrine being spread by force. It is important though, to consider that al-Wahab strongly opposed the Ottomans, as their empire was so large, much of the teachings of Islam had been saturated with other cultural, political and theological doctrine. To add to the confusion, there were several different strands of Islam, for instance, in the same period, the Sufist Ahmad ibn Idris of Morocco, questioned how the Qura’n was interpreted. He also rejected the notion of depending on the teachings of the ulama as they were isolated from the realities of life but did not reject the Prophet Mohammed.

According to Karen Armstrong there were crucial difference as the ibn Idris travelled through north Africa teaching people, in their own dialects, how to interpret qura’nic texts. He taught also how to ”conduct the basic rituals of salat prayer”, an idea that is contradictory to Wahabiiz doctrine as it rejected all forms of ritual and idolatry. The reforms of both al-Wahab and ibn Idris were designed to encourage ordinary people to engage in critical thinking and not be as dependent on the word of the ulama.

There is an interesting paradox to the assertion of al-Wahab, that people should think critically about Islam and not depend on the ulama. As was referred to in a previous entry the modern state of Saudi Arabia is again dependent on the ulama as the qura’n is not a legislative document. This is an issue that is likely to emerge over and over, particularly as Saudi throws its lot in with the west and insists on financing mercenaries in Syria etc. Britain and its cohorts might not be happy to see the spread of what they consider ”undemocratic” penal codes. I’ll qualify that statement and say the west could learn a lot about forgiveness as opposed to punishment itself.

Palestine meeting: Gaza

I just went to a Palestinian meeting, where I heard a speaker from Gaza, giving an extremely enlightening account of the laws, tactics and weaponry used by the Israelis to intimidate and oppress Palestinian residents. The speaker was young and naive and had great faith in the sincerity of social media and the U.N., both of which she perceived as helpful to the struggle; this, of course, made me smile. I realise it is fashionable and as I have said before ”easy politics” to defend the Palestinian cause, without really questioning the whys and wherefores of the situation.

As supporters we are always asked to write to our M.P.s, to request a dispensation relating to the personal freedoms of particular individuals or groups. Today we were asked to appeal to the Egyptian government, through our political representatives, for students to be allowed to leave Gaza by the border crossing at Rafa in North Sinai. I understand that the Gazan people are trapped and probably are, in the most hopeless situation in the world; but students, are they a priority?

For me the economy of Gaza is far more important, up until 2006 they had a flourishing trade in construction and agriculture but that stopped after the war between the Israelis and South Lebanon. I did a leaflet at the time and gave it out on the demos, which took place, unfortunately I haven’t a copy. Since then the remaining tunnels, that lead from Gaza into al-Arish in the Suez area of Egypt, have been effectively privatised, often with non-residents holding shares.The tunnels were integral to the Gazan economy for years.

Protest; initiative or a new colonisation

My concern is the makeup of the audience at these meetings, they are all unreservedly on-side, a good thing; but totally without analysis. Not only do they soak up information without criticism but they often decide to visit the west bank, in Palestine, to see for themselves. In the past western protesters have been killed by the Israelis and the Palestinian people are divided on the value of their actions. Many have observed, that when these killings occur the focus switches from the plight of the Palestinians to the western person, who has died.

There has, though, been heroic attempts to reach Gaza, the flotilla that sailed from cyprus is a case in point, as one of the expeditions resulted in the fatal shooting of Turkish protesters, by the Israelis. This got the Turkish government to speak out against the Israeli occupation, a rare occurrence, that had to be acknowledged by Britain and the world.

Protesters visit Palestine on a religious pilgrimage, in an attempt to keep open the holy shrines; fair enough as Jerusalem is the centre of monotheism. Other objectives include the setting up of permaculture farms, cooperatives that sell olive oil and circus performing. As the territory shrinks and it becomes more difficult to trade, permaculture and the oil cooperatives can only be beneficial. I won’t even touch on circus performing. It has occurred to me for years though, that Palestine is becoming a kind of hub for bored middle class westerners, seeking a change of scenery. Palestine has been colonised by the west for centuries, does it really need this latest round?


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