Friday, December 12, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 4 - The Influence of Idolatry

SUMMARY: In this episode from Al-Hayat TV, Abuna Zakaria Boutros presents evidence that Muhammad as a youth participated in the idolatry of his peers, and later incorporated their gods into his religion in hopes of attracting them to Islam.

COMMENT: It makes sense that as a young man Muhammad would participate in and be influenced by the religious practices of those around him. It is also logical that he would incorporate some of their beliefs into Islam in the hope of attracting the citizens of Mecca. This of course runs directly counter to the Islamic belief that Muhammad was "masum" (divinely protected) from error and any such influence.

Although the hadiths quoted below indicate Muhammad's involvement in idolatry, Muslims can easily dismiss them by claiming they are "weak" or inauthoritative. It's interesting that even the hadiths of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, which have been as authoritative as the Quran for 1400 years, are now said to be weak when they prove embarrassing. That was Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi's response to Wafa Sultan when she quoted the Bukhari hadith "Heaven is under the shadow of the sword." It is also the response of Western writers such as Reza Aslan (No god but God) and Sumbul Ali-Karamali (The Muslim Next Door) to the Bukhari hadith that Muhammad consumnated his marriage with Aysha when she was nine years old.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AHMAD: We have spoken about the personal, tribal, and political circumstances that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What about his religious environment?

ABUNA: The religious environment influenced Muhammad more than any of the other factors, and it is very important to understand this environment. There were many religious factions at his time including idol worshipers, the hanifs who followed the monotheism of Abraham, the Sabians who worshipped the planets, Jews and Christians, and they all influenced Muhammad.

AHMAD: Can you paint a picture of what idolatry was like at that time?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. And I would also like to note the ancient sources as well as the modern references for anyone who wants to do further study. The sources include “The Book of Idols”, by Ibn Kalbi (819-920 A.D); another book entitled “The Book of Idols” by Jahith, and “Nihayat al-Arab” by Nuwayri. The modern references include “The History of Islam” by Dr. Hasan Ibrahim Hasan, and “The History of the Arabs before Islam” by Dr. Jawad Ali.

AHMAD: Let’s begin by talking about the local gods of the Arab Peninsula.

ABUNA: Dr. Hasan writes the Quraysh put 360 idols in and around the Kaaba. It does not mean the people of Mecca worshipped an idol each day of the year, but each tribe kept its idol in the Kaaba. The Quraysh benefitted financially from the annual pilgrimage when people came to the Kaaba to worship their idols. They linked economics to one of humankind’s strongest motivation, that of religion. Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the names of the Arab gods included Allat, Uzza, Manat (who are each mentioned in the Quran and subject of Muhammad’s “Satanic verses”), Hubal, Wudd, Asaf, Nailah, and many others.

AHMAD: Can you give us an idea of who these gods were?

ABUNA: Dr. Jawad Ali writes that Allat is linguistically derived from the name of Allah, and was his female version (adding the letter “t” to a word in Arabic generally makes it feminine). Allah was the masculine, and Allat was “Mrs. Allah”. The people were primitive in their thinking; they had Allah, and they had his wife. The first mosque in (the Saudi Arabian city of) Taif was built on the location where Allat was worshipped. The explanation given for this was that the mosque was built by former idolaters who had converted to Islam with their mouths but still believed in Allat in their hearts. They built the mosque in that location in lasting memory of their idol Allat. This helps us understand how Muhammad later tried to please the idolaters and attract them to his religion.

Next was the goddess Uzza, who was also feminine and worshipped by the people of Taif. Dr. Jawad writes on p.208 of his book that Muhammad said, “I sacrificed a white sheep to Uzza when I practiced the religion of my people.” I must admit I was amazed when I first read that Muhammad worshipped idols and presented a sacrifice to Uzza.

AHMAD: Why were you amazed?

ABUNA: Because Muhammad has been surrounded by such sanctity in the traditions of Islam. The ancient books tell us that he was “a light behind Adam even before Adam’s creation”. They say he was prophesied in the Torah and the Injil (Old and New Testaments) long before he was born. His mother supposedly emanated a light when she was pregnant with him that could be seen in the palaces of Syria. Angels cut open his chest when he was a child to remove a black clot that was impurity from Satan. If all that is true, why did Muhammad worship idols while practicing the religion of his people?

According to Abu Hisham, Muhammad stated that Zayd bin Amer was the first to scold him for worshipping idols. Muhammad told the story as follows, “I had come from Taif with Zayd bin Haritha when we passed Zayd bin Amer in the highlands of Mecca. The Quraysh had made a public example of Zayd bin Amer for abandoning his religion, so he went out from their midst (Zayd bin Amer had left idolatry for the monotheism of the hanifs). I was but a lad at the time, and we had a bag containing meat that we had sacrificed to our idols. I offered some to Zayd bin Amer, but he refused to eat it and said he never ate those sacrifices. Then he upbraided me for idolatry and spoke disparagingly of those who worship idols. After that I never knowingly stroked one of their idols, not did I sacrifice to them.”

Muslim author Suhayli explains this by saying Allah did not allow Zayd to eat this meat, but Muhammad was above that! But my question is, if Muhammad was present in the creation, prophesied in the Gospels, a light from his mother’s stomach illuminated Syria, and angels removed all impurity from his chest, why was he worshipping and eating food sacrificed to idols? I would like to hear a reply from the Shaykhs of Al-Azhar.

AHMAD: Perhaps one of them will respond. What can you tell us about the other idols?

ABUNA: Manat is the third goddess mentioned in the Quran. Dr. Hasan and Dr. Jawad both inform us that the Meccans would circumambulate the Kaaba repeating,

By Allat and Uzza and Manat,
The three goddesses who are the most exalted females (sometimes translated as “cranes),
And whose intercession is desirable indeed.”

The Muslims today circle the Kaaba, repeating chants. The Arabs did that before Islam.

These three goddesses are famous because of their mention in the Quran (this is the story of the “Satanic verses”). Both Ibn Sad in “The Major Classes” and Wahidi in “Asbab al-Nazul” (the science of determining the authenticity of the hadith) tell the story of Muhammad’s desire to attract the people of his tribe who were turning against him. While sitting with them one day near the Kaaba, Muhammad recited, “Do you see Allat and Uzza and Manat, the three goddesses who are the most exalted females? Their intercession is desirable indeed.” It was the same thing the idolaters said when circumambulating the Kaaba! When the Quraysh heard this, they were filled with joy realizing that Muhammad acknowledged their gods (News of this event even reached Ethiopia where some of Muhammad’s followers had taken refuge, and they began to come home thinking their problems with the Quraysh were resolved).

That evening, according to Muslim scholars, Gabriel informed Muhammad that it was Satan, not he, who had whispered these words in Muhammad’s ears. Note that Muhammad apparently could not distinguish the voice of Satan from that of Gabriel. Gabriel then reassured Muhammad that Satan tried to whisper words into the ears of all of Allah’s prophets by revealing Quran 22:52, 53:

“Whenever we send a messenger who recites the words of Allah, Satan tries to throw some falsehood into it. Allah, however, abolishes the words Satan throws in, and establishes his revelations. Allah allows Satan to do this to test those whose hearts are hardened with unbelief.”

Muhammad then changed his message to the Quraysh to Quran 53:19-23, “Have you thought about the goddesses Allat, Uzza, and Manat? Would Allah give you male sons while giving himself female goddess daughters? That would be most unfair! Those are merely names that you have given, not names from Allah” (note the insinuation that daughters are of less value than sons).

My question is, Muhammad repeated to the Quraysh that day the same sentences about the three goddesses they had all memorized by heart and repeated every year at the Kaaba. What makes more sense, that Satan whispered those words in his ear, or that his memory recalled them to mind? Another question is why did Gabriel wait until the evening to correct Muhammad? Why not correct him immediately when Muhammad was speaking to the Quraysh?

I have another serious question. According to this story, Satan spoke to Muhammad. But the Quran says in 16:99-100 that Satan has no power over those who put their trust in Allah. Satan’s power is only over those who obey him, or who associate others with Allah. If Satan spoke to Muhammad, does that mean Muhammad was one of those who obeyed him or associated others with Allah? How could Satan have the power to whisper words into Muhammad’s ears? I invite the Shaykhs to answer me.

AHMAD: It is clear from the hadith that both the Arabs and Muhammad worshipped idols. What was the influence of this on Muhammad?

ABUNA: You can see the influence from an idol named Wudd (the Lover). Jawad Ali writes that Wudd was the moon god, as well as the greatest god, and his symbol was the crescent. I want to link things together. First of all, Muhammad adopted the crescent, which was the symbol of the moon god. Muhammad also adopted the slogan “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest). These both came from Wudd. Could Muhammad have adopted these to placate Wudd’s worshippers?

AHMAD: What about other gods?

ABUNA: There was Rahman (the Compassionate). Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the texts of the Southern Arabs describe a new god named Rahman, or Rahman Saman. That is, he was the god of the sky (sky is “samah” in Arabic, or “saman” in some grammatical forms). “Rahman” as well as “Wudd” are both included in the Muslim 99 names of Allah, as well as the god Rahim (the Merciful). I find it amazing that Muhammad took the names of these idols and included them in the names of Allah. The expression “al-Rahman al-Rahim” opens almost every chapter of the Quran.

AHMAD: Is there additional information available for those who want to learn more?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. Jawad Ali describes all 360 idols in his book and some of them are very interesting. One of them was named Allah-humah (“their Allah” which is a common expression of the Quran). Did Muhammad use this expression to convince the idolaters there was no difference between the Allah he was calling them to, and their Allah-humah?

There was the god “Rabb al-Aalimin” (Lord of the Universe, another common Muslim phrase used to describe Allah). There was a god called Allah Ya Sin (two letters of the Arabic alphabet) worshiped in the Hadramout in Yemen. Does that not explain the chapter of the Quran entitled “Ya Sin”?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 3 - International Political Influence

SUMMARY: Numerous tribes in the Arab Peninsula had united to form kingdoms at the time of Muhammad, but the tribes of the Hejaz (the area including Mecca and Medina) were never able to follow their example. Muhammad’s grandfather Abu Mutallib envisioned his descendants forming a kingdom similar to those of the surrounding kingdoms. Muhammad himself had political and economic ambitions that included conquering the Sassanid (Persian) and Byzantine (Roman) Empires.

COMMENT: The concept of Muhammad having political and economic ambitions runs counter to the common Muslim understanding that he was a peace-loving man called by Allah to be a religious prophet. As could be expected, there are numerous websites that seek to vigorously refute all that (Abuna) Zakaria Boutros says about Muhammad on his Al-Hayat TV programs. Zakaria often repeats that he only wants people to critically examine the available evidence and think for themselves.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AHMAD: We have talked about the tribal and domestic political influences that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What were the other influences?

ABUNA: By domestic political influences, I meant the Arab Peninsula, but we only talked about the situation in Mecca. The most important thing occupying the minds of the thinkers in Mecca was how to establish a united country with Mecca as its capital. In his book “Mecca and Medina”, Dr. Ahmad al-Sharif writes that the Arabs of Mecca felt that the absence of a kingdom uniting them was a source of abasement and shame. This was particularly true because they were surrounded by numerous Arab kingdoms.

AHMAD: What were some of them?

ABUNA: There were at least eight Arab kingdoms. First of all, there was the kingdom of Hirah in the northern part of the Peninsula on the border of the Persian Empire that includes today’s Iraq, with its famous king Numan. In the north-western part, bordering the Byzantine Empire that is today’s Syria, was the Ghassanid Kingdom led by king Harith. There was the Sabean kingdom (also known as the Kingdom of Sheba) near Najran south-west of Mecca, the Qatban kingdom in a southern pocket of the Peninsula, the kingdom of Hadramout east of Qatban, and other kingdoms in Yemen including the Humayr, the Maen and the Kindah. One of the Kindah kings, Imru al-Qais, is famous for his pre-Islamic poetry. There was a sense of Arab nationalism that encouraged the establishment of these kingdoms.

AHMAD: How did these kingdoms influence the personality of Muhammad?

ABUNA: We have already seen that Muhammad’s ancestors including Qusay, Hashim, and his grandfather Abu Mutallib were occupied by this idea. They were surrounded by kings; why could they not establish a kingdom? In his book “Islamiyat”, Dr. Qimni writes that Abu Mutallib once pointed at his children and grandchildren and said Allah would raise children such as these if he wanted to establish a kingdom in Mecca. Dr. Qimni also pointed out that the area of the Hejaz with its two major cities of Mecca and Yathrib (Medina) was geographically far removed from the realm of international conflicts and independent of subjugation to any foreign influence. In spite of that, however, it did not have kings in the true sense nor a sense of political unity that united all the tribes. One man, Aswad Ibn Abdel al-Uzzah said, “We need to establish a state with a leader like the Prophet David.” The political environment in which Muhammad lived was occupied with the idea of establishing a kingdom.

AHMAD: Why were the people of the Hejaz unable to form a kingdom?

ABUNA: They were a tribal society, unable to decide which tribe would be the ruler. Dr. Qimni writes that they would not allow one person to rule over them, because that would mean the ruler’s tribe was superior to the other tribes and his family was above their families. Even king Numan, who inherited the throne of the Hirah Kingdom from his father, informed the Persian king Khosrau that the infighting of the Arabs made it impossible for one person to be their king, even though many had tried. For that reason some believed the only solution was that of the Jewish tradition where one person, such as King David, fulfilled the dual role of prophet and king.

AHMAD: Perhaps Muhammad announced himself as a prophet in order to achieve the dream of his grandfather Abu Mutallib of establishing a kingdom in the Hejaz. But what was the connection between the people of Mecca and the surrounding Arab kingdoms?

ABUNA: In his book “The Ancient Arabs”, Lutfi Abdul Wahab writes that even though the Kindah kingdom in Yemen did not last very long, the fact that it even existed at all gave birth to a longing among the Arab tribes of the Hejaz to form a similar union. It paved the way for the uniting of the region under Islam.

AHMAD: So it was not merely a dream of uniting the tribes of Mecca, but of establishing a kingdom in the entire Hejaz.

ABUNA: Yes, but much more than that. This will become evident as we examine the influence of the external or international political situation on Muhammad. His dream was not only to unite the Hejaz with Mecca as its capital, but to unite the other Arab kingdoms and overtake the Persian Sassanid and Roman Byzantine Empires which had been making inroads into conquering some of the Arab kingdoms.

AHMAD: Was Muhammad really thinking about conquering the Byzantine and Persian Empires?

ABUNA: Yes. Dr. Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that when Muhammad first called the slaves of Mecca to Islam, he promised them that if they followed him he would give them the treasures of Khosrau and Caesar, meaning the rulers of those empires. Dr. Qimni adds that when the Quraysh understood what Muhammad meant, they concluded he was merely another self-proclaimed prophet with political ambitions. He was attacking their commercial interests by calling their slaves to follow him, and then planned to rule the Hejaz in preparation for defeating the Persian and Byzantine Empires. This was particularly true of Muhammad’s distant relatives, the Meccan Quraysh clans of Abdel Dar, Abdel Shams, and Naufal, as they realized Muhammad’s clan of the Beni Hashim would be above them.

AHMAD: You have been quoting from Dr. Sayyid Qimni, but some Muslims might say he was only a historian subject to error. Are their authoritative hadith from the life of Muhammad that speak of conquering those empires?

ABUNA: Yes indeed. But I want to say that modern researchers and historians rely upon the authoritative texts. They do not create new information. However if we want to go back to the source documents, we have the following hadith that indicate Muhammad’s ambitions toward these kingdoms.

Sahih Bukhari says in hadith volume 8, book 78, number 626: Narrated Abu Huraira, Allah's Apostle said, "If Khosrau is ruined, there will be no Khosrau after him; and if Caesar is ruined, there will be no Caesar after him. By Him in Whose Hand Muhammad's soul is, surely you will spend their treasures in Allah's cause.

Also Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 4, book 52, number 175: Narrated Khalid bin Madan, The Prophet then said, “The first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins.”

Also Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 9, book 91, number 369: Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas: Allah's Apostle sent a letter to Khosrau and told his messenger to give it first to the ruler of Bahrain, and tell him to deliver it to Khosrau. When Khosrau had read it, he tore it into pieces. (Az-Zuhri said: I think Ibn Al-Musaiyab said, "Allah's Apostle invoked Allah to tear them (Khosrau and his followers) into pieces."

And Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 4, book 56, number 793: Narrated Adi bin Hatim: The Prophet said, “If you should live long, the treasures of Khosrau will be opened and taken as spoils.”

AHMAD: What caused Muhammad to think in this way?

ABUNA: It was the victory of the Christian Arabs over the Persians in the battle of Dhi Qar about 609 that caused Muhammad to think about overcoming the Persians.

AHMAD: What happened in that battle?

ABUNA: Dhi Qar (which is located in Iraq and the modern name of one of Iraq’s provinces) belonged to the Persians. The Persian king Khosrau had an Arab administrator working in the royal court whose father had been killed by Numan king of Hirah. The administrator created a ruse to gain revenge on his father. Knowing that Khosrau loved beautiful women, the administrator informed him that Numan had beautiful daughters. Khosrau sent the administrator to ask for one of them, but Numan refused. Khosrau then summoned Numan to appear before him. Realizing he was in a precarious position, Numan hid his family armor including 400 shields with one of the local tribes. Khosrau imprisoned and killed Numan, and then sent his forces to recover the armor. Numan’s friend Hani bin Masud refused to turn it over and enticed the Persian forces to a location of Dhi Qar where it was extremely hot and there was no water. The Persian commander challenged the Arab commander to an individual dual and the Arab won. The Persian commander was killed and his forces routed. When news of this reached Muhammad, he said, “This is the first time the Arabs defeated the non-Arabs.”

AHMAD: So the Arab victory at Dhi Qar caused Muhammad to begin thinking about defeating the Persians and the Byzantines?

ABUNA: Yes. And it is clear that his motive in this was not religious, but economic and political. Another important event took place about the same time in Yemen. The Ethiopians had conquered parts of Yemen for seventy-two years, but a Yemeni Arab leader forced them out. These two events raised sentiments of Arab nationalism, and caused Muhammad to think about achieving the dream of a kingdom long held by his grandfather Abu Mutallib.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Iraq Security Agreement

SUMMARY: The vast majority of those who called or wrote in to a recent al-Jazeera show on the US-Iraqi security agreement believed the agreement was engineered to achieve America ’s interests, not those of Iraq . Many believed the Americans had no intention of leaving Iraq even by the 2011 terms of the agreement.

COMMENT: Two things struck me from this episode. First was that in spite of over 4200 American deaths, tens of thousands permanently injured, and the billions of dollars spent in Iraq, very few Arabs trust us or our intentions. President Bush has been speaking recently about his presidential legacy of “liberating 50 million people”. Not many in this part of the world would agree with his analysis.

The second thing is I believe the opinions expressed by those who called in below are very different from what Americans diplomats hear when they sit with Arab leaders and government officials. Either there is a great gulf between those leaders and their own people, or they don’t tell the American diplomats what they really believe. I’m not sure which of the two options is correct.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The first caller, who was from Norway, began with a poem, “Oh you people of Iraq , remember your history filled with betrayers and betrayals…” Hostess Muna Salman cut him off, reminding her viewers she would not allow them to openly insult Arab people or their leaders, and put on Iadat from Morocco . Iadat wanted Iraqis to unite as quickly as possible to put out the Americans, or else the name of their country would become the United States of America and Iraq . The American influence in Iraq was negative and not positive. Iraqis needed to hold demonstrations and resist before their country became a perpetually occupied territory like Palestine .

Muhammad from Switzerland noted that the American rationale for occupying Iraq constantly shifted. At first it was the weapons of mass destruction, followed by the need for regime change, and most recently Bush’s speech in New York that people needed protection who wanted to change their religion. The real reason was that America needed Iraq as a military and political base, and wanted access to Iraqi oil.

When Muna asked why some people opposed the security agreement even though it gave a timeline for American withdrawal, Muhammad replied there were other reports that America wanted to keep 14 military bases in Iraq for an unlimited amount of time. There was no way that the occupier would choose to liberate the land it was occupying. It was the responsibility of Muslim armies to liberate any Muslim country under occupation whether Iraq , Palestine , or Afghanistan .

Hasan from Saudi Arabia also thought Iraqis needed to unite to immediately expel the American imperialists. The Americans wanted to control not only Iraq but the entire Arab Peninsula , and the only alternative was to put them out. When Muna asked if the agreement of the Iraqi Parliament to accept the security plan could not be seen as unity, Hasan replied that 90 percent of the Iraqi Parliamentarians were only interested in media attention. He was calling on the Iraqi people, not their politicians, to unite and expel the Americans.

Ahmad was convinced that the agreement was advantageous for any American, military or civilian, who wanted to exploit Iraqis because it would exempt them from legal prosecution. He could not understand how any politician could approve it. Majid from Yemen thought the agreement would be thrown into the “dust-bin of history” by the Americans, because they needed Iraq as the “footprint” for their control of the entire region.

Abd al-Fattah from Jordan covered 1400 years of history in one sentence by linking the killing of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin Ali (which was the beginning of the Shia-Sunni divide) to the execution of Saddam Husayn. The Shia, according to him, could never be trusted.

Adel from Saudi Arabia thought the agreement represented the “betrayal of the great Iraqi people”. At the same time it was a defeat for America , because it would force them out of Iraq . Adel’s problem with the agreement was that it allowed Americans to remain until 2011.

Mahmud, a Syrian living in Oman thought Iraqi politicians quickly pushed the agreement through following the Obama victory to serve their goals of remaining in power. Without the agreement, the new American administration might want to withdraw forces before 2011. The current leaders in Iraq were linked to the occupation and wanted it to continue. But the Iraqi people, in agreement with regional leaders such as Syrian President Bashar al-Asad who opposed the agreement, would cause it to fail. The only countries in the world willing to stand against the Americans were between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean Sea . The Americans had occupied Afghanistan in order to cut Pakistan off from Iran , and had occupied Iraq to cut off the connection between Iran and Syria . They also had made many security and military agreements with other Arab and regional governments to control the oil of the Gulf and the Caspian Sea .

Ahmad from Libya used the common expression “those who arrived on the American tanks” to describe the Iraqi leaders who signed the agreement. They were only American agents whose stay in power was linked to the occupation.

Ahmad Adel from Egypt said the Arabs would claim victory when American forces finally left Iraq , but in fact it would be a victory for the Americans who had succeeded in dividing Iraq into three separate cantons (Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish). People should not rejoice even when the Americans left, because their occupying influence would remain.

Muhsin thought the agreement represented a “change of masks” on the part of the Americans. It was foolish of the Iraqis to trust the Americans, and even more foolish for them to try to persuade other Arabs to trust the Americans. The Iraqi leaders signed the agreement to protect themselves against the resistance, but the resistance would in turn smash any agreement made with the government that “rode in on the backs of American tanks”.

Hostess Muna noted that not a single participant thus far supported the agreement. She read an email from Ridah who quoted the English proverb, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” There was no way that America , having spent billions on this war, would allow an agreement not in its interests.

Ali, an Iraqi in the UK agreed that the agreement served only American interests in Iraq . America was buying Iraqi oil for three dollars a barrel, stealing Iraq ’s natural resources, and opening American companies that would control Iraqi interests. Having lost 5,000 soldiers, there was no way America would leave Iraq . America needed to at least reassure its people it had achieved cheap Iraqi oil. The election of Obama would make no difference; a black person might be in charge, but American policy was the same. Because of Iran , America would keep its forces in Iraq , Kuwait , and other locations throughout the Gulf region. The American intelligences services governed Iraq .

Karim from Morocco thought it was scandalous that the agreement should discuss “Americans in Iraq ”. The only agreement should be that the Americans leave and repair what they destroyed.
Faizah, a female from Saudi Arabia, had the following comment. “In the old days, the Arabs would make agreements with other countries or with the kufar when they were in a position of strength and able to impose their will in reality. Are the Arab countries in a position of strength today? America is not a charity organization. The goal of America ’s presence in the region is petrol, and they are now even more determined because of the financial crisis. Can Iraq guarantee that America will withdraw in 2011? If they do not, who will be strong enough to force them out and save the Iraqi people?

Faizah continued, “Have the Iraqis even read the agreement? Do they realize it allows the presence of five American bases in Iraq fully controlled by the Americans as if it was the country of America inside Iraq ? Do they know it gives America the right to take preemptive action using the pretext of terrorism? Do they know it allows America to call for the assistance of any foreign force if they see it necessary? The goals of America in the region make it sacrifice itself for the sake of petrol.”

Ahmad was the first Iraqi to call from within Iraq . “Why is all this fuss being made about Iraq ? Are Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the other Arab countries free from American influence? We do not like America , and we reject this agreement, but what brought America to Iraq ? Wasn’t it the killing and the destruction that came from the Arabs?”

Nabil, a second caller from Iraq , believed the agreement signified a defeat for the Americans. It was a victory for Iraq because it indicated that Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds could reach an agreement together. It was also a victory for the jihadists and resistance fighters throughout the world who wanted the kafirs (the Americans) out of Iraq .

Khalid from Mauritania agreed with earlier callers that America had come only to plunder Iraq and had no intention of leaving. The agreement was worth no more than the paper it was written on, and allowed Americans to do what they wanted with no possibility of being tried or judged by Iraqi courts. Muna corrected him to say the section of the agreement granting immunity to all Americans in Iraq had been amended, and Americans who committed crimes would not be immune from prosecution.

Dr. Shukri added that an agreement of this type could only be valid if it were between two independent parties. An agreement between an occupier and the people occupied was of no value. In reality the agreement was not between Baghdad and Washington , but between the American occupiers and the Iraqi inhabitants of Baghdad ’s Green Zone who had come with the occupation and as part of it. The agreement would fail and the occupation would collapse just as it had in Vietnam .

Thunyan from Saudi Arabia was the first caller who believed the agreement was to the benefit of Iraq . If the Americans left without an agreement, internal violence would break out in Iraq . The first thing to happen would be “a great evil” from Iran , and who would be able to stop Iran ? Media attention and other factors put limits on what the Americans would do, but nobody could put limits on Iran .

When Muna repeated the question of an earlier caller what was the guarantee the Americans would really leave in 2011, Thunyan replied that no occupier lasted forever. The Americans would eventually leave. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire , but look at that empire now.

Akram from Greece thought the agreement should be called the American-American agreement, since it was concluded between an imperialist government and an American colony. Muna countered that others had said the same thing and it was time to more the discussion forward. What did Akram think was the best solution for the Iraqi people?

Akram had a ready answer. “The security agreement does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people in any way. The Iraqis must liberate themselves from the American colonizers by establishing an opposition front that includes all those who oppose America to force the Americans out. This front cannot be based on sectarian or religious divides, because these divisions have caused all of Iraq ’s problems. The Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds must unite to force out the Americans. The Americans want to remain in Iraq to avoid the embarrassment they would face if they left at the present time.”

Kazim was the second participant who thought the agreement was a good idea. “The security agreement,” he wrote in an email, “Is the best thing the elected Iraqi government has given to its people, and is Iraq ’s salvation from civil war and dissolution. Your show today showed the superficiality of most of those who called in and their ridiculous positions.”

Mustafa from Holland had a practical perspective. “The security agreement is a fact,” he wrote, “And it could have been called the agreement of security and reconstruction. The Iraqi politicians should present a study to America containing all the parts of the Iraqi infrastructure and Iraqi organizations that were destroyed by the Americans, and take advantage of the American presence there to have them rebuild Iraq during the remaining years of the agreement.”

Sabah’s email expressed the majority view. “The haters in the Green Zone drew up the agreement of humiliation in accordance with the orders of their bosses in the Black House (a common mocking description of the American White House). This was only the culmination of many other agreements between the American intelligences services and their (Arab) servants.”
Sarah from the UAE also agreed with the majority. “The Americans won’t leave Iraq in 2011 or any other year,” she said. “They will stay for years and years, and the Iraqi people must understand this. I was one of those who cried when Saddam Husayn was hung, and his death affected me greatly. I don’t know if he was a good man or not, but as Muslims his execution had a great effect on us.”

Muna reminded Sarah that the discussion was simply whether the security agreement was good for Iraq or not. Sarah replied there would be no security as long as the Americans remained in Iraq but under the present circumstances there would be no security if the Americans left. The only answer was for all the regional governments including Iran to sit down and reach a workable solution.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


SUMMARY: The underlying assumption of every caller to a recent al-Jazeera program on the humanitarian situation in Gaza was that Israel harbors enmity and ill-will towards Muslims and Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular. Another commonly stated theme was that the Arab rulers are to blame for the Gaza blockade because of their unwillingness to confront Israel. One caller said that the reason for the situation was the rockets fired into Israel, but quickly added that Israel really wanted those rockets to continue so they could use them as an excuse to extend the blockade and build more settlements. Another caller berated the Egyptian closing of Palestinian tunnels dug under the borders, not mentioning that these tunnels are often used to smuggle weapons and other explosives.

COMMENT: I was waiting for the question that never came. “The preamble to the Hamas Charter states that “Israel will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as Islam has obliterated others before it”. Is there any other country in the world that provides food, water, and electricity to an enemy whose constitution contains a vow to destroy it?” I think the Gazans could have peace with Israel tomorrow if the Palestinian leaders wanted it, and the result of that peace would be an economic, social, and political prosperity that would be the envy of millions throughout the Middle East. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After showing scenes of children scrounging for scraps of food and describing women baking bread from wheat intended for cows and chickens, hostess Muna Sulman asked her viewers how their consciences could allow them to do nothing while Palestinian mothers were listening to the last gasping breaths of their children. What can we do, was Muna’s question, to help the Palestinians?

The first caller, a Palestinian, felt there was no hope to be found with the “midget Palestinian officials”, who were willing to obey the leaders of Israel as long as they could “sit on their crooked chairs of power”. The only solution was a military one. He quoted Quran 4:141, “Allah will never give the infidels victory over the believers”. The Jews were now experiencing victory over the Muslims in Palestine, but this victory would be quickly overturned if the Muslims armies attacked Israel. It was particularly shameful that Egypt, a country of 70 million people, was unwilling to fight.

The next caller was from Syria. “We all know,” he said, “That the Zionist entity is the enemy of Islam and the Arabs. What is particularly sad is the fearful silence of the Arabs. Egypt searches day and night to close the tunnels used by the Palestinians to bring food and medicine into their country, and then Egypt informs the Israelis of what they have done.”

A caller from Libya praised the Hamas leaders fighting for victory against the “Zionists who killed 400 prophets, these Zionist tyrants who humiliate the Arabs and trample their Quran under their feet and who reach out with their filthy and treacherous hands to…....”

Muna quickly cut him off, as she often does with callers who go over the limit, to ask what he thought the solution was. He told the story of the Caliph Umar whose stomach was growling from hunger while he was delivering a sermon. “Growl on,” said Umar to his stomach, “But you will not be filled until the stomachs of the Muslim children are satisfied.”

A caller from Paris joined the criticism of Arab leaders. He would like to help the Palestinians, but French Jews would not allow him to. “This is the responsibility of the Arab rulers,” he repeated four times, “But we here in Paris can do nothing because the French government will not allow us to. There are many Jews in the government here, and they won’t even let us hold a demonstration or raise funds for the people of Gaza.”

Ahmad from Egypt had a different perspective. “Rather than just blaming each other,” he said, “Why don’t we look at the reason for the blockade? It is the rockets that are being fired from Gaza into Israel. If the Palestinians want the blockade to be lifted, stop launching their rockets.” Ahmad continued by saying that Israel really desired these rocket attacks, because it gave Israel the excuse to continue building settlements. He thought the Palestinian resistance was necessary, but it needed to be a peaceful resistance so that Israel would show its true colors by opposing it.

An Egyptian living in Saudi Arabia thought there was nothing he could do. “If I went to Gaza to help the Palestinians,” he said, “My government wouldn’t even allow me to cross the border. Besides, there’s nothing I can do to even change the government in my own country, so how can I help change things in another country?” And the Arabs don’t even care. They’ve been absent from the global scene for a hundred years. They’ve become a hard, cold body unable to move. We need a Saladin.”

Mary, a Palestinian living in Norway, was the first female caller. “We know,” she said, “That the governments won’t do anything. These are the governments who starve their people so they are incapable of movement. But the people could rise up if they really wanted to. What would their governments do, kill all of them? We all know that the first criminal is Israel. But right behind it are the people who collude with Israel, such as Mahmud Abbas and Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Those three are Satans; I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. All of them are united against Hamas. Someone called in earlier to blame Hamas. Shame on them for saying that! Shame on them for blaming Hamas!” Mary went on to say that the Shaykhs of Islam, the ulema, should be the ones leading the way on boats from Cyprus to break the blockade. That would provide a real example for Muslims to follow.

Umar from Egypt expressed a view that is common throughout the Arab world. “We need to unite in prayer for our brothers in Gaza,” he said, “And we need to truly return to the roots of our religion.” A caller from Mauritania read a poem similar to the English expression “God helps those who help themselves.” “If the people are determined to live,” he recited, “Destiny will respond.” He then began to defame the Palestinian and Egyptian presidents, but Muna quickly cut him off. “The Prophet Muhammad said,” she reminded the caller, “We should not use expressions like this to describe people.”