Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, dean of Shari'a and law at Qatar University, is a prominent liberal voice in theMuslim religious establishment. Following September 11, he wrote a series of articles for the Qatari and Arab press inwhich he called for reform in the educational systems of the Arab world. Recently, the Qatari daily Al-Raya published an extensive interview with Al-Ansari. The interview focusedagain on his support for curricular reform in the Arab world, but also addressed relations between the U.S. and theArab and Muslim world. The interview prompted reactions in Qatar and other Gulf states. Following are excerptsfrom the interview:
Reform in Religious Curricula
"I am one of those interested in reexamining the Islamic curricula and removing all seeds of hatred, repulsion, and fanaticism towards the other, towards women, towards those whose religion is different than ours, or towards those belonging to a different school of [Islamic] thought."
"My efforts in this area are a miniscule part of the efforts of reformists who preceded me, among them Sheikh Muhammad 'Abduh and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali, who called for purging the curricula and the Islamic heritage of all elements of divisiveness and hatred among the [Islamic] nation or between this nation and other nations and peoples."
"I have stated in the past that the curricula… should play a tolerant role, as tolerance is a supreme value in Islam. Unfortunately there are still many [elements of hatred] in the curriculum of some of the religious schools."
"[Studies of the Muslim faith] for example, focus on the 'group of those who will be saved' [i.e. the Muslims]… while all the other groups belong in Hell. When a student learns this, he begins to believe that he holds the absolute truth, and that all the others are deceivers and ignoramuses. He is educated that way."
"The same thing happens with regard to Jihad. When the students are taught that relations with others are based on [the principle of] 'Dar Al-Islam' and 'Dar Al-Harb'… the view that develops [out of these concepts] determines that Jihad allows for aggression."
Similarly, some ideas state that Muslims have the right to attack others who are non-Muslims. These things exist in several religious law books, but they are wrong. The concept of Jihad in Islam must be clarified... It expresses human beings' right of choice. The Koran states that anyone who wants can be a believer and anyone who does not want can be an unbeliever. Some Koranic verses clearly emphasize freedom of belief…"
"I am not familiar with this story [i.e. that the U.S. paid Pakistan millions to reform its religious curricula], but I too am opposed to the type of Islam that breeds terrorists. This [kind of] Islam is a crime against the true Islam, and against the Muslims themselves. [I oppose] these Islamic religious schools, which have produced extremist groups that can't deal with modern reality. What's so bad about America supporting Pakistan in order to change these curricula?…"
Preaching in Mosques
"I am among those who maintain that some of the preachers in the mosques incite hatred towards those of a different religion. It is they who caused the Afghan-Arab phenomenon; it is they who portrayed the war in Afghanistan as a crusader war between Islam and Christianity. This is a lie that many youth fell for, and fell victim to. Questions must be addressed to the inciters, because they are partners to the same crimes. Incitement, radicalization, [and] calling for the destruction of the Christian enemies of Islam have become mandatory for some preachers. If Allah had destroyed the Christians, the Muslim preacher would not have a microphone to preach with, or the air conditioner or the car he so enjoys …"
The War in Afghanistan
"It is unfair to name the American response [to September 11] 'terrorism,' because by so doing we are confusing the concepts of terrorism and self-defense or response to aggression – and at a time when we are demanding that the international community not confuse 'terrorism' with 'legitimate resistance.' What happened in America is terrorism; the American response is a response to that aggression, and there is a world-wide consensus on this."
"…[O]nly those with a hatred-of-America complex, whose goal is to permit the perpetrators to escape, [name America's response 'terrorism']. Any other country in which such an act of terror had taken place would have hastened to respond and to annihilate everything – we have many examples of this in Arab history."
"Yet, although America is a superpower, and could have responded immediately, it gave other options a fair chance, until it despaired – and then had no choice but to launch a war…"
"We feel sorrow for the innocent victims; we wish it were not a Muslim country that was being attacked. But what can be done with the group of fanatics [the Taliban] who rejected all calls for mediation, all initiatives, and all counsel, and persisted for over five years in protecting a group of terrorists…"
"…Terrorism must be fought by any and all means. All Muslims must support the struggle against terror. Terrorism has claimed more victims in many Islamic countries than in the West. Any country or group protecting and defending terrorists must be fought, and the world must be saved from their evil… The time has come to call them to account, and punish them. We must all support the efforts to repress and bring to an end the damage they do."
"There are always innocent victims of war, and we cannot prevent this… What we can do is demand protection for these innocents. Afghan refugees who escaped Kabul reported that the Taliban were concealing their tanks and heavy guns near the mosques and heavily populated areas. If this is true, who is responsible for the deaths of the victims – America, or the Taliban…?"
"We must have the courage to admit that what happened in Afghanistan was the liberation of our Muslim brothers – even if, unfortunately, it was by non-Muslim hands…"
Bin Laden's Popularity in the Arab World
"Attraction to a rescuing or liberating hero is historically grounded in the Arab and Islamic mentality – from 'Antara through Saladin to Abd Al-Nasser and Saddam Hussein… Now it's bin Laden... It doesn't matter whether the hero is a liar, adventurer, tyrant, or terrorist, because the Arab mentality will ascribe to him a sanctity that covers his sins…"
"[Additional reasons for bin Laden's popularity are] frustration; political, social, and ideological repression; backwardness and inability to change; as well as incitement to hatred of the 'colonialist West' and 'American hegemony'…"
"The masses' political behavior is not motivated only by facts. There are many influencing factors, such as incitement on television. Al-Jazeera TV Channel plays a prominent role by repeatedly broadcasting the ideas of bin Laden and his aides, making them stars…"
Al-Jazeera's claims that this is a journalistic scoop, and [reflects] professionalism… is only half the truth, because in the final analysis the media convey a message and bear responsibility… There is a difference between giving different opinions an opportunity [to be heard] and leaving the screen open to armed murderers to spread their ideas…"
"A large number of [Arab] intellectuals are now a hollow echo of the [Arab/Muslim] street. They sought to appease popular emotions at the expense of truth and of scientific analysis… In their hypocrisy, many of the intellectuals linked September 11 with the Palestinian problem – something that completely contradicts seven years of Al-Qaida literature. Al-Qaida never linked anything to Palestine…"