Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When will we be ready to accept criticism?

Are those who demand an apology from the pope ready to apologize for some of their own mistakes? Or have they never made any mistakes?

Regardless of what the pope said, the Arab and Muslim world, through the tense and offensive reactions, showed once again how incapable its leaders are to respond to criticism in a civilized way.

Here we always insist that the greatest miracle of the prophet is the words he was sent with, the same words that tell Muslims to use logic and kindness in their attempts to invite others to the Islamic faith, the same words that discourage them from using a rude or repulsive tone in their conversations.
The sad thing is that in spite of all these advices, most of the common people and the elites choose offensive, rude if not violent reactions as a first measure to counter criticism.

One friend reminded me of the assassination attempt that targeted the former pope two decades ago wondering what the reaction of the pope was…as we all know he eventually visited the assailant and pardoned him.
No mosques were blown up and no speech of a clash of civilizations was made.
So why don't we admit that the "other" is better than us at responding rationally when criticized? Why don't we learn from others?
When we closed our ears to anything that doesn't match our beliefs and refused all criticism wasn’t that enough reason for the deterioration of our civilization?

Ok, let’s suppose the pope criticized the Muslims' way in spreading their belief, can anyone prove that wrong??

This question pushed me to review some recommended books of Islamic history, books that are held high and considered cornerstones in the documentation of Arab-Islamic history. I started to review these books looking for facts as to whether Islam was spread peacefully.

Yes, many entered in Islam voluntarily over history but I want to shed light on a certain part of history when the sword was used. That's the stage that must be studied and revisited. And there must be no shame felt in criticizing or renouncing it if that's necessary and it should not be treated as a divine story that cannot be questioned.

Let's take a look at the campaigns led by the first set of Caliphs who ruled the Islamic state after the death of the prophet and see in which of these campaigns the faith was spread peacefully and in which ones other means were implemented and which of the peoples of the region entered in Islam voluntarily….
Iraq? Persia? Spain? Egypt?

Which of those nations embraced the Islamic call voluntarily?
I will start from Iraq to state my thoughts about the Islamic invasion of Iraq and I will try to find which statement is closer to the truth; with sword, or through a peaceful invitation?

Anyone with the slightest knowledge about the ancient Middle East knows the enormous difference in riches between green Mesopotamia and the deserts of Arabia. This difference makes it natural to expect that early Muslims who lived in the desert looked ambitiously to the rich lands of their neighbors in Mesopotamia.

I will provide historical texts from some of the most respected books in Islamic history such as al-Tabari, Seerat Ibn Hisham and Tafseer Ibn Katheer. These books show that the questionable motives behind invading Iraq were not secret but were rather mentioned boastfully every time our historians celebrate the achievement of adding Iraq to the young Islamic state.

The story began when the first Caliph Abu Bakr sent two of his toughest generals to Iraq (both are notorious for crimes they had supposedly committed).
Abu Bakr sent Khalid Bin al-Waleed to the south parts of Iraq and sent Iyadh Bin Ghanam to the west (upper Euphrates valley). To motivate the two generals he told them that the first to reach al-Heera would become the Emir and have superiority on the other.

Khalid understood the message and according to al-Tabari he made a speech to his army in which he said "Don't you see soldiers that food piles in that land are as big as mountains!? I swear to God that even if it wasn't for Jihad and even if it was only for the treasures then it's worth fighting for to make these riches our own and leave behind the days of hunger and poverty".

The first village the army met on the road was inhabited by Christian Arabs who were taken by surprise at the size of the invading army. They wondered what Khalid wanted from them and tried to negotiate for peace.
The negotiator of the village and its chief Bin Slooba managed to save his village only after he agreed to pay 90 thousand Dirhams in tribute.
Next was another village that paid as much as 190 thousand Dirhams.

The story continued until the army arrived at the first village that refused to pay the tribute and refused to obey the orders of the army, and so was the battle of "Alees" that town was also inhabited by Christian Arabs.
Khalid Bin al-Waleed vowed to make "a river flow out of their blood".

Khalid's men killed 70 thousands of the town's people in one day and one night according to al-Tabari's story.
But the spilled blood did not form a river which upset Khalid but al-Qa'qa (one of Khalid's lieutenants) advised him to direct water from the river to the spot of the slaughter through a canal.
That way a river of blood was formed and Khalid kept his vow.

The invasion went on in this manner and the men from the desert for the first time knew the word million, which at that time they referred to as "one thousand thousand".
The treasures that fell in the hands of the army were enormous, for example in one battle, Khalid won the helmet of a Persian general that had an estimated value of one hundred thousand Dirhams.

Saad Bin Abi Waqqas assumed leadership from Khalid later and the invading army reached the city of Mada'in (south east of Baghdad) and history relays to us some stories that tell of the ignorance and cruelty of that army.

In one storehouse they found great amounts Kafour (an aromatic substance extracted from Eucalyptus used in medicine) which they thought was salt because of its abundance and color and used for their bread which came out bitter!
Some soldiers rushed to break some boxes that were sealed with lead thinking they contained food to find they were full of silverware!
One war trophy was a 60 arm-long carpet made of silk and gold and decorated with precious stones and made in the shape of Mesopotamia's map.
How did they deal with that treasure?
They simply ripped it apart and divided it among the Emirs of the army. It was said that Imam Ali sold his share for 20 thousand Dinars!

Some books mention that the collective contents of the Persian King's safes was equal to three billion Dinars or "3 thousand thousand thousand Dinars".

And some books mention that the share of the regular soldiers who fought the war in Iraq reached up to 12 thousand Dinars each.
And after Iraq became part of the state, books say that the 3rd Caliph Omar collected one hundred million Dinars or "one hundred thousand thousand Dinars" in tax money

Now I will use a few quotes from the Hadeeth (the sayings of the prophet) that should be enough to silent the angry voices and I'd like to hear what our angry clerics have to say about them…will they renounce these texts? Or will they admit that they have a lot in common with the quotes used by the pope?

Saheeh Muslim/the mosques and prayer chapter:

The prophet (pbuh) said: I was sent with words of wisdom and assisted with horror.

Saheeh al-Bukhari/al-Jihad and the march:

The prophet (pbuh) said: Heaven lays in the shade of swords.

Saheeh al-Bukhari/Tafseer al-Quran (the explanation of Quran):

"You were the best nation brought to the people"
Meaning: The best people to the people, bringing them with chains around their necks until they enter in Islam.

Saheeh Muslim/al-Jihad and the march:

The prophet (pbuh) said: The killer's right is to rob the killed.

The prophet (pbuh) said: I was ordered to fight the people until the say 'There's no God but Allah'.

Now after reading texts that are mentioned in our respected books I wonder why we always put the sword as a symbol under 'There's no God but Allah'?
Isn't the call for Islam convincing enough by itself that some countries or Jihadi groups add a sword to it?!

The truth is that the religious institutions here are corrupt and despotic. And while they reject criticism today, they are looking with fear at the criticism coming out from the inside of the very same institutions which in some cases I find harsher and more explicit that the quotes the pope used in his speech.

First of all, we need to review these texts and history books that Muslim scholars insist on relying on, and before they judge others' knowledge they must present what proves the opposite of the stories or facts they reject. Or, they should abandon these texts and declare them invalid.

Now let's see, the chief cleric of the al-Azhar university accused the pope of ignorance about Islamic history, right? Let's hear what another history scholar from al-Azhar said in one of his books about the same stage of Islamic history as the one the pope was referring to.

Sheikh Khaleel Abdul Kareem in his book "Shadu al-Rababa fi Ahwal al-Sahaba" (first edition 1997) said:

"Did the invaded people take the belief of the invaders voluntarily? What were they expected to do after seeing with their own eyes their men being slaughtered even after they surrendered and raised the white flag? Or when they saw their houses burned down, women taken slaves, belongings purged and taxes imposed, where they expected to keep their religion or move to embrace that of their invading masters to get away from the punishment?"

I believe this testimony which comes from one of al-Azhar scholars is way more critical than the words the pope quoted…

By the way, Khaleel Abdul Kareem was prosecuted more than once but was never pronounced guilty because of his factual and objective approach in which he used examples and proofs taken from the history texts approved by al-Azhar and the like.
His prosecutors backed off when they realized that denouncing him would mean renouncing the history the live by and that's what none of them dared to do.

Some accuse the pope of bad timing but I wonder what is going to be the best time to accept criticism and accept questions? Next year? a decade from now? When?

There will be no such time for our clerics who derive their power from this history, and to them, questioning or criticizing this history is a threat to their holiness and power.


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