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“Why the Arab World is not free?” : Reactions

Note: I decided to post a reply to the comments on my book review “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/why-the-arab-world-is-not-free-by-moustapha-safouan/

The Iranian Shirin Ebadi is another Nobel laureate suffering at the hands of the radical Moslem Shiaa. Shirin Abadi, Islam’s most famous civil rights activists and a Nobel Prize winner, said in her acceptance speech: “Allow me to say a little about my country, region, culture and faith. I am an Iranian. A descendant of Cyrus “The Great”.  The Charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights. I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: “Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion”. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the West as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.”

The dark ages within any civilization is characterized with dogmatic extremism that denies civil liberties, including freedom of religion and justice or the right to a fair trial. “Golden age” periods should be about the freedom of expression and availability of justice for the downtrodden. A society is judged not by the standards of the richest among them but by the way the under privileged and the poorest live. A minor renaissance within the regions under the influence of Islam can be traced but the conditions that help ‘seeds of reason’ to take roots that are essential for free-thinking were just not allowed to be nurtured.

Unfortunately, in the current Arab world, the true values are rarely ever discussed freely. During the ‘Golden Age’ periods there was particularly strong tradition of rationalism known as the Mu3tazalah. They stressed that man is inherently free and were skeptic on the pre-destination concept that everything was foreordained. The Mu3tazilat carefully cultivated an ‘enlightened moderation’ and allowed for the growth of knowledge and actively promulgated the Sciences as a part of the religion doctrine.

Muslim countries supply 70 per cent of the world’s energy requirements and 40 per cent of its raw material exports. With all of their oil wealth, two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in Muslim countries. This state of misery is unparalleled; Islam’s inability to translate its economic prowess into general good has baffled the intelligentsia of the world. In the last 20 years over one million people died in conflicts involving intra-Muslim wars.

Why are democracy and the rule of law nonexistent in most Moslim States? Why are most of the worst acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam? Whenever wicked fundamentalists have taken over reins of affairs they have gone for the jugular. Extremists have a single point agenda whereby ‘worldly decadence’ needs to be abolished for blessings and rewards in the after world. No devotion can gratify the extremists; every strain of deviancy over times has its own brand of virtuous approach; these anarchists at one point have inflicted devastation on embryonic societies of Islam.

Renaissance cannot be tainted with color of ideology, it cannot be “Islamic or Christian”,  it is a collective effort of minds to seek freedom from dogma and seek answers to complex questions of purpose of existence on this planet. Free thinking, logic and rationalism have to be the corner stones of any serious attempt to induce renaissance in the Islamic world. Pluralism of ideas and the prosperity of any land are intertwined. Freedom of minds and skill to ‘think the unthinkable’ is how humanity has progressed; when minds are incarcerated nothing endures.

Renaissance within all three monolithic religions was built around norms of free mind; Renaissance was about literature, architecture, arts and chiseling of marble to exquisite forms. The statue of David could only be created by the love of the free labor of Michelangelo: an enslaved mind could never be an artist or a creator. Physically enslaved men with free minds led revolutions and changed the world: they were ready to accept death instead of compromise with totalitarian or dogmatic despotism.

The first and foremost challenge that Islam has to face is freedom of intellectual inquiry, ability to ask the unthinkable and still be able to live in peace within a society. Prof. Ahmad Zewail’s use of the fast laser technique can be likened to Galileo use of his telescope that he directed towards everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his “femtosecond” laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope towards the frontiers of science. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because he was the first to conduct experiments that clearly show the decisive moments in the life of a molecule – the breaking and formation of chemical bonds. He has been able to see the reality behind Arrhenius’ theory.

Prof. Ahmad Zewail acceptance speech like Ebadi’s referred to his richness of twin civilizations that of Islam and Egypt; he said: “Let me begin with a reflection on a personal story, that of a voyage through time. The medal I received from his Majesty this evening was designed by Erik Lindbergh in 1902 to represent Nature in the form of the Goddess Isis or the Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood.  She emerges from the clouds, holding a cornucopia in her arms and the veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science. Indeed, it is the genius of science which pushed forward the race against time, from the beginning of astronomical calendars six millennium ago in the land of Isis to the femtosecond regime honored tonight for the ultimate achievement in the micro-cosmos.

I began life and education in the same Land of Isis, Egypt, made the scientific unveiling in America, and tonight, I receive this honor in Sweden, with a Nobel Medal which takes me right back to the beginning. This internationalization by the Genius of Science is precisely what Mr. Nobel wished for more than a century ago.”

Professor Ahmed H. Zewail, the only Arab to ever win a Nobel Prize for science and, since the death of the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, the only one among the 1.2 billion Muslims with that honor.   The Egyptian author Mahfouz in his Nobel acceptance speech said: “The end will begin when seekers of knowledge become satisfied with their own achievements.” Unfortunately the embryonic renaissance in the late 700′s to 1300 of Islam was not extinguished by the satisfaction of its scientist’s queries; rather it was killed on the altar of dogma.

Abdus Salam once wrote: “The Holy Koran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.” Sad and tragic is the reality that this scion of Pakistan was not allowed to be buried in his homeland; an orphaned son of a nation thanked the luminaries on behalf of a nation who had disowned him.

In his acceptance speech Abdus Salam said: “… I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Academy of Sciences for the great honor and the courtesies extended to us, including the courtesy to me of being addressed in my language Urdu. Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this. The creation of Physics is the shared heritage of all mankind. East and West, North and South have equally participated in it. In the Holy Book of Islam, Allah says: ‘Thou see not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, see thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled and aweary.”

On the global stage, it is these “heretical” scientists who are disowned by the Moslem orthodox clergy who have earned the greatest respect for Islam. Historically, we have distorted our real heroes into heretics, and the witch-hunt still continues. Dr. Abdus Salam is not the only one treated as heretic; we have the modern rationalist, Naguib Mahfouz – Nobel laureate in literature. Citation of his work, ‘Awlad Haratina,’ in the Swedish Academy’s declaration of award of the Nobel Prize to Mahfouz in 1988 greatly angered the Islamicists. His novel appeared in English under the title, “The Children of Gebelawi.”

Shortly after the eruption of the Salman Rushdie affair, the leading fundamentalist, Omar Abd al-Rahman currently imprisoned in the US for his role in the attack on the World Trade Center—declared that if they had killed Mahfouz in 1959 for writing ‘The Children of Our Alley,’ Rushdie would never have dared write his novel. This was taken as a fresh fatwa to kill Mahfouz.

In 1994, a failed attempt on his life leaft Mahfouz paralyzed in his right arm. The crime of association of present day heroes of Islam with their past intellectual ancestors has marginalized them. It was the same Mahfouz who presented the case of his twin civilizations so adequately in the forum of ‘Swedish academy of sciences’ and quoted the great Muslim rationalist poet Abul-’Alaa’ Ma’ari who asserted everywhere “the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority.”

The world cannot remain hostage to medieval concepts; this modern fight has to be seen in its intellectual, historical and geographical context.  The Islamic world today is trying to re-ignite its lost “renaissance” but is led by demented people with medieval minds; they are supposed to cure our ills but are out in the open to slaughter and maim thousands. Respect of life is the first sign of an educated mind.

The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for over five hundred years; a golden age that can count among its credits the precursors to modern universities, algebra, and the names of the stars and even the notion of science as an empirical inquiry. Science flourished in the Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam a strong rational tradition of inquiry. This tradition stressed human free will.  Under the Mut3azalah (enlightened moderation) knowledge grew. Moslim conventional Puritanism, led by Ghazali, reawakened in the twelfth century.  The Moslem puritans championed revelation over reason, predestination over free will. The Imam Ghazali described mathematics and medicine as (Fard-E-Kefaya) placing these knowledge secondary to religious knowledge.

A few Islamic clergies are trying to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought. Our modern day laureates depict equally a sense of great connectivity to the rich past and that has to become a standard. Most likely the Islamic Renaissance that was about to be born 1000 years ago did not. We shall never know the extent of the harm that some celebrated religious zealots caused to mankind and civilization. We are once again at the crossroads; the only ways forward is to connect with the world and help make ours a true charitable society, the only way prosperity of mind can be ensured is through pluralism of ideas.

“The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdi, Part 2. (written in November 1, 2008)

This is the period before Prophet Muhammad fled from persecution to Yathrib (Medina) in 630 BC.

The public in the tent were listening to the poets declaiming their yearly poems, competing for the best seven verses.  The Prophet Muhammad entered the tent. Eyes closed, he recited his new revelation saying “Have you thought upon Lat, Manat, and Uzza, the third, the other?  They are the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed”.  

Muhammad was found unconscious in a street by Hind and her servants transported him to her palace. In the morning Hind made it clear that her three Goddesses would never make peace with his Allah; she also proclaimed that she is Muhammad’s equal.

The reactions of Muhammad disciples, his uncle Hamza, his wife and Hind sent Muhammad hurrying back to Mount Cone and spent the night in the cave, 500 meters below the top of Cone facing the vast desert.

The Prophet returned with a counter verse and recited it in the House of the Black Stone in front of the praying pilgrims of the three idol female Goddesses “Shall He have daughters and you sons?  That would be a fine division!  These are but names you have dreamed of, you and your fathers.  Allah vests no authority in them.”

The previous night, the three disenchanted disciples Khaled, Salman, and Bilal got drunk and had a brawl with four Kuraichi youths wearing gold masks.  Hamza reached the place in the nick of time with his sword and killed two and two managed to flee.  The two dead young males turned out to be the brothers of the all-powerful Hind.  Everyone understood that a new period is beginning and that they would have to leave Mecca pronto.

Muhammad told the disciples of his counter verses and that the previous one was inspired by the Devil “Shaitan“.  Khaled replied “My faith is stronger now since the Devil is real”.

The Prophet finally got home and he found his 70-year old wife dead! He mourned her for 40 days in seclusion and had ordered his disciple to leave to the northern city of Yathrib in small groups.

How Muhammad slipped away to Yathrib and how he managed this city and ruled over his followers you may read in my book review “Aicha, the beloved of the Prophet“.

The satiric poet Baal composed a valedictory ode: “What kind of idea does “Submission” seem today? One full of fear.  An idea that runs away.”

The next part is extracted from the chapter “Return to Jahilia”.

After 13 years from his flight of Mecca, Muhammad returned victorious. He destroyed the 360 idols and (kept the same old worshiping ceremony at the Black Stone with different connotations to the meanings in the procession. It is reported that Muhammad forbade to erase the pictures of the Christian Virgin Mary and kept the idol Allah intact…

Hind is the real power broker in Mecca but her husband has made a deal with the Prophet; the city would open its gates and no revenge would take place; the citizens would stay in their houses.  Hind faked conversion to Islam by reciting at the feet of Muhammad “There is no God but Allah”.

The Persian Salman had fled Yathrib back to Mecca incognito.  Salman was the official scribe to Muhammad and he got suspicious with the increased rate of rules issued every day to organize and manage the lives of the followers.  Salman started experimenting and tampering with the verses recited to him by the Prophet and then he realized that Muhammad was about to find him out.

In a long night of drunkenness Salman told Baal, the much heavier, forgotten, and decrepit satirical poet, that the Moslems in Yathrib hated him (Salaman)because he suggested to the prophet digging a ditch to save the city from the cavalry of the unbelievers, a realization that was not conform to the practiced chivalry in wars. He also told Baal that once the bold Aicha, the favorite wife among twelve, replied to the prophet “The Angel Gabriel has a way of answering all your wishes“.  Bilal later intervened on behalf of his long time friend Salman who had his life saved from certain death.

Baal hid in the famous whore Curtain House called Hijjab for over two years.  The prophet had taken the suggestion of Abu Simbel not to close this House right away because the conversions of the citizens of Mecca are at best skin-deep.

Baal suggested to the Matron of the House that each one of the 12 whores emulate one of the Prophet’s wives in name and in historical incarnation.  Business was great and the 12 whores got the crazy idea of asking Baal to marry them all as the Prophet did an idea that was consummated.

Two year later, Muhammad returned to Mecca and closed the Curtain House.  The girls were incarcerated.  For 12 days, Baal would show up in front of the prison and recite wonderful and touching love odes to each one of his wives.  The guards finally realized that the names corresponded to the Prophet’s wives and Baal was taken prisoner.

The girls were stoned to death.

During the trial, the public would not believe Baal’s story and thought that he was jesting which aggravated the Prophet’s mood who said “In the old days you mocked the Recitation; then too these people enjoyed your mockery.  Now you succeed in bringing the worst out of the people

Before being decapitated Baal said to Muhammad “Whores and writers Muhammad; we are the people you can’t forgive.”

The Prophet replied ” Writers and whores, I see no difference here.”

“The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie (Started October 30, 2008)

This manuscript is of 547 pages and divided into 9 parts:

The Angel Gibreel (Gabriel), Mahound, Ellowen Deeowen, Ayesha (Aicha), A city visible but unseen, Return to Jahilia, The Angel Azraeel (Satan), The Parting of the Arabian Sea, and A Wonderful lamp.

I will only review Mahound because this section is crucial for setting the geo-political, commercial and societal structure in Mecca and the neighboring towns.  This description would help comprehend the climate within which Islam was born and expanded.

Mahound is one of several names given to the Devil.

It is very unfortunate that Rushdie decided to represent the Prophet Muhammad by this name which forbade over a billion of Moslems from reading this essentially wonderful and most informative book.

Many “fatwas” in the Moslem World and especially in Iran of Khomeini permitted the killing of Salman Rushdie for this blasphemy.

Rushdie has been since then protected by the British police and been mostly in hiding. Actually, Moslems should be thankful to Rushdie in not naming their Prophet for two verses that deviated from the message of One God.  I will use the name of Muhammad instead.

Mecca at the time of Muhammad was built 4 generation ago to cater for desert caravans bringing goods from Zofar and Yemen to bifurcate toward Egypt, Iraq/Iran, or Syria/Turkey.  It barely rain in that region and the only potable well was called Zamzam.

The mythical story goes that Abraham abandoned his Egyptian wife Hagar and his son Ismail to their fate in this unforgiving area.  Luckily for Hagar, Angel Gabriel (Gibreel) uncovered for Hagar the well Zamzam and she survived with her newly born son.

Once a year, the Bedouins of Arabia who adored 360 idols, and imported from the neighboring countries to encourage pilgrimage to the Black Stone (Al Ka3ba), celebrated the passage of Abraham (Ibraheem) in the vicinity!

Mecca was structured around concentric dwellings starting from the Black Stone and fanning away.  Houses closest to the Black Stone belonged to the most prominent personalities in the city council and their respective clans in the extended Kuraich (Shark) tribe.

There were 4 main clans and each clan was specialized in one kind of commerce:  the Scarlet tents sold spices and scents, the Black tents the cloth and leather, the Silver tents precious metals and swords and the fourth colored tents or the owners of the Dappled Camels specialized in entertainments, wine, hashish, and the slave trade. Water carriers were despised because any overflowing of water would damage the streets and homes built out of sand.

Around the year of 600, the businessmen in Mecca were losing trade to the sea transports; worse, another new and famous Temple was built in the town of Sheba in Yemen and pilgrims were investigating these new regions.

The pilgrims were getting scarce in Mecca because they realized that they were being milked from every penny they had and young girls were abducted for ransom.  Consequently, in order to keep afloat the Kuraich tribe encouraged vile entertainment activities during the pilgrimage season to attract more customers.

The Black Stone enshrined around 360 idols brought from around the neighboring civilizations to entice pilgrims in from all around the regions.  The colossus Hubal the shepherd was sent by the Amalekites of Hit, the idol Kain was the patron of musicians and blacksmiths, Astarte (He-of-Shara) was brought by the Nabataean as well as saturnine Nakruh.  Manaf was the sun-god, the eagle-form Nasr, See Quzah that hold the rainbow; Uzza the goddess of beauty and love, and Lat the all-powerful mother goddess.  The idol Allah had some sort of overall authority, an all-rounder in an age of specialist idols and thus was not that popular and didn’t generate money.

Hind, the all-powerful wife of the preeminent Karim Abu Simbel owned the 3 most famous goddesses of Lat, Manat, and Uzza.

Muhammad was rich after marrying Khadija, but he was an orphan and his clan was of lower status and thus was not represented in the city council. His wife Khadija was about 7 years older than him and she had hired him to lead and manage her caravans heading to Damascus.

Khadija was the first person to believe in the predication of Muhammad.  By the age of 44 Muhammad message of “no God but Allah” was not making any major breakthrough among the city dwellers.  The very young and most prominent poet lampoonist Baal had pinned up all over town “Messenger, do please lend a careful ear.  Your mono-philia, your One, One, One, isn’t for Jahilia, return to sender”

Beside his uncle Hamza and a few poor fellows, not many were paying any attention to Muhammad revelations.  Among those poor individuals were Khalid the water carrier, Salman from Persia (who later would suggest to dig a wide ditch around Medina to prevent the cavalry of Kuraich to enter the town), and Bilal the mighty slave that Muhammad set free from his owner and would later be appointed the first official “muazen” calling the believers to the five prayers of the day.

In order for his message to breakthrough Muhammad was inclined to accept the deal of Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel would recognize Allah as the mightiest God and would offer Muhammad a seat in the city council in return of recognition of Lat, Manat, and Uzza as gods or the best who can intercede with Allah.  Muhammad thus returned from the Cone Mountain and delivered the verses stating that “Lat, Manat, and Uzza are the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed”

The disciples of Muhammad were beside themselves and could not assent to accepting a God but Allah.  Muhammad did not dare face his wife Khadija that night and did not enter his house.


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