Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Miscellaneous Feedback Received

The following feedback was received on a variety of articles posted on this blog. The identity of those providing the feedback has been deliberately kept vague ...

On the cartoons ...

Hi there,

I just wanted to say i enjoyed (if that is the right word) your article about the cartoons and all the furore that ensured. I congratulate you on your honesty and courage to speak out when you see something that you disagree with.

I am a non Muslim and I see much that is wrong with the Muslim world and particularly the tribal Islam that is spreading (I abhor any extremism and ism that imposes upon another). I think in the name of religion people get away with so much because, they say, this is what God wants. People have been trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to figure out God for ages.

I think it's time we stop trying to figure what god is wanting/needing (actually God is without want and need), something which humans still can't stop obsessing over. Religion has gotten us into a mess and our answers will not be found in looking back by what some prophet or messiah may or may not have said.

Rather, it'll be in finding the core values that unite us and seeing if the principles of human dignity and freedom are there. If not, then one can only say that a society/country or whatever you want to call it has a right to say that those values and ideas that could destroy the very values that we hold dear have no place. What God you worship or how you dress is not the issue.

But allowing people to express themselves, including the other half of the population is what it's about and if that's a problem then I say you may well be advised to find a state/country that supports your tyranny and outdated ways. Because we are in the 21st century and unfortunately some of Islam may need to dragged kicking and screaming into this century.

This is not racism as many would claim, but rather, a desire to progress and survive as a species on this already fragile planet earth. It is just a thought...


Assalamu alaikum [trans: Peace be with you],

In the name of the Most High,

Your sentiments are well taken brother. I want to point out that the "dark ages" in Islam began much earlier than people are aware. They actually began soon after the Prophet himself passed away. Anyone who studies Islamic history will notice some very strange events occuring.

Within 30 years of the Prophet's death, the family who were the worst enemies of the Prophet within his lifetime seized power and established the first monarchy within the history of Islam. There was no precedence for such a form of government because such was not Islamic.

This family appointed their relatives to the major posts in the governments. They commissioned their media to create hadith that praised their family and disparaged the family of the Prophet. They created a situation where many Muslims thought that the Prophet did not have a family or that if he did, they were definitely not Muslims.

Why does this matter today? If we look at the so-called Islamic countries, this is what we see. Many countries are ruled by monarchs who appoint the "religious scholars." The religious scholars in turn try to use Islam to justify the policy of the government.

This family was not satisfied with controlling the resources of the community. They also favored Arabs above non-Arabs, men over women, and reinstituted the values that were present in Arabia before the advent of the holy Prophet.

Today, we see so many Muslims angered over these cartoons which indeed are wrong.

Only 60 years after the hijra, a momentous event took place. The Prophet's own grandson, Husain refused to pledge allegiance to the monarch of the time, Yazid. So, how did Yazid respond to this? He sent messengers to the city of Madinah telling the governor to make Husain pledge allegiance or cut off his head!

Husain left Madinah for Makkah and then later to Iraq. In Iraq, he and his close relatives and friends were surrounded by a large army in the middle of the desert on the banks of the Euphrates and killed. After these men were killed, the government's troops trampled their bodies with their horses and decapitated each man.

They placed the heads of thesemembers of the Prophet's own family on the ends of spears. They burned the tents of the women whose men had just been killed, tore off their hijab, and took them prisoner. Now, picture this scene. They had their solders carry the heads on spears in front of the women while they paraded their prisoners through the streets of Kufa Iraq. They marched these women and young girls preceeded by the heads all the way to Damascus where Yazid was presented the head of Husain on a plate.

He poked at the head and made disparaging comments about the Prophet and his family. Now, doesn't this sound like news clips we hear about on a regular basis? We hear of innocent people kidnapped in Iraq who are decapitated on video. Anyone who simply disagrees with the governments in most Arab countries can be jailed, tortured, or even killed.

Why is this so acceptable to Muslims? The Prophet was insulted many times during his life but strove to make sure that other people were not wrongfullyoppressed. I see that the killing of the Prophet's own family by terrorist dictators was acceptable to the Muslims. Even if they thought it was wrong, they didn't as a whole take any action to stop these dictators from continuing in this manner. This family ruled the Muslim world for over 90 years!

So, the point I am making is that this indifference has been the way Muslims as a collective have been functioning since the 7th century AD. There have always been people who opposed this type of oppression, but they have been a small percentage of the entire ummah. We can learn from our own history that we NEED to clean up our own house because it is filthy, putrid, and has been so for many centuries.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

On Sharia, Costello Is Essentially Right

As I have stated elsewhere, John Howard’s remarks were twisted and distorted by editorial powers-that-be at the national broadsheet. Sadly, many self-appointed Muslim “leaders” failed to look at the content of the words themselves, instead choosing to have their thinking clouded by the competing agendas and spin of the Fairfax and Murdoch pundits.

Howard’s comments did contain inaccuracies when it came to both Muslim and broader migrant settlement history in Australia. In a brilliant piece for The Oz, Waleed Aly summarised these mistakes. A less sophisticated piece was produced by yours truly in the Courier-Mail.

In relation to Peter Costello’s more measured and careful remarks in a speech to the Sydney Institute on 23 February 2006, migrant Muslim leaders have again responded immaturely. They have again relied on spin, and I doubt many probably will not even have read the speech.

I was also initially almost swept away by the tsunami of spin. Then I thought I should at least make an effort to read the speech. I tried locating the speech on Mr Costello’s website but to no avail. It was only when one migrant Muslim leader forwarded to me the URL that I finally had a chance to read it.

That was Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, I had to travel to Canberra to address a forum on the topic of “Unity in Diversity” organised by a group called Forum Australia. Joining with me were a number of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian community leaders as well as Steve Pratt.

Steve is a Liberal Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly. Like me, Steve also initially reacted unfavourably to the Costello comments. Steve is no dummy when it comes to sharia. He is married to a Yemeni Muslim, and has spent years working in Muslim-majority countries as an aid worker.

At the same time, Steve is no sycophant to issues deemed pro-Muslim. He supported the Howard government’s views on anti-terror laws. Pratt opposed the position of ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, a position supported almost universally by Muslim communities across the country.

Steve and I agreed that when it came to sharia, it is likely that Peter Costello was shooting from the hip. He quite likely has little knowledge of what sharia is or how Muslims understand and implement it.

Without meaning to go into too much detail, Muslims view sharia in two ways. First, they view it as another word for liturgy. Sharia is the outward manifestation of worship and ritual.

Secondly, Muslims view sharia as a word used to describe the broad corpus of Muslim legal tradition as it has evolved over 1,400 years. Sharia is a legal tradition in the same sense that we have the common law and European civil law traditions.

Perhaps Mr Costello is unaware of these popular understandings of sharia. He has chosen instead to rely on the fringe expressions of Benbrika and others.

I urge Muslim critics of Mr Costello’s speech to actually read the entire speech. The Australian values listed in that speech are virtually identical to the Muslim juristic and scholarly consensus on Islamic values.

Further, Costello may have inadvertently reminded Muslims of the dangers of fringe theology. Muslims are aware that sharia (outward manifestations of Islamic ritual and law) cannot be implemented without the inner aspects and values of faith known in the Sunni school as tasawwuf and in the Shia school as irfan. And known in the West as Sufism.

Without the inner spiritual core, sharia effectively becomes an agent for oppression. The theology of virtually all groups committing terrorist acts in the name of Islam seeks to remove this inner core from Islam. They all share a distinct animosity to Sufi teaching, and therefore seek to implement select sharia rules in areas where sharia values themselves forbid implementation.

This divorcing and discarding of this inner core from Islam represents a danger which has been identified by Muslim jurists across the world. It is a process American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson describes as the “hijacking of Islam”.

So when Costello says that those wishing to implement sharia on its own in Australia should find another country, Muslims would argue that perhaps such people should consider another religion. Or perhaps inventing their own religion.

There is nothing in the broad corpus of Islamic legal tradition combined with its inner spiritual core which conflicts with Australian citizenship. Indeed, Australian values and liberties are more in accordance with Islam than the near-absence of liberty experienced by Muslims in Muslim-majority countries.

Perhaps this is what Australian imams mean when they repeat in Friday sermons that Australia is perhaps a more Islamic place to live than the vast majority of so-called Islamic countries.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

OPINION: A Valentine for the brokenhearted

My contributions to this paper have tended to be about terrorist attacks, anti-terror laws, cultural clashes and a host of other controversial topics.

But, as it's Valentine's Day, I was hoping to write on the lighter side of love. Then a friend invited me to join her for a movie.

We arrived at the hip Dendy Cinemas in the trendy suburb of Newtown, grabbed our tickets and plonked ourselves in the comfy seats. My friend then apologised.
Sorry, Irf, I should have told you that this is a movie about homosexual cowboys. I hope that's okay.
Kiwi readers shouldn't be surprised by the apology. We are, after all, talking about Australia, a country that still imports most of its cultural icons from across the Tasman.

Sydney's Sun-Herald reported last week that the acclaimed movie Brokeback Mountain is not being shown at cinemas in some Sydney regions.

It seems that even the presence of Australian (although I wouldn't be surprised if he had some Kiwi blood) actor Heath Ledger isn't enough to convince the film's distributors that some parts of Australia are just too unsophisticated to appreciate the movie.

Knowing of my Muslim background and Anglican schooling perhaps led my Hindu friend to apologise. But the movie did keep me thinking for the next few days.

The film tells the story of two male drovers whose single homosexual encounter at Brokeback Mountain changes their lives.

Despite their conventional marriages and having children, the men relive that encounter at various points in their lives. They develop an emotional bond which they both know cannot be shown in public. You needn't be gay to feel the pain of the half-requited and forbidden love that these men recognise, but where circumstances make it impossible for them to honour that love.

The movie reminded me of the story of Van, a close friend who has moved to San Francisco to work as a commercial lawyer. His was also the story of half-requited forbidden love.

Some years back, he ventured into a high-class Melbourne brothel on a stag night [Kiwinglish for bucks night].

When a sex worker read the name on his credit card she recognised that Van was of the same ethno-religious background as her mother. They both had Vietnamese-Buddhist heritage, although the girl grew up with her English father who spurned Buddhism and kept his children away from their Vietnamese mother's family.

The sex worker took a liking to Van and handed him her phone number. They spoke on the phone several times and she told Van enough information about herself to enable him to use his lawyering skills to great effect. He traced her background and discovered she had been a journalist before she became a sex worker.

He later expressed how he felt upon discovering all this information, saying:
She's the sort of girl I'd have pursued even before she joined the industry. She's had a life before the industry. I know she will leave sex work. Why shouldn't I take her seriously?
After many phone conversations and discreet meetings, my friend was becoming fond of this woman. It seemed she was also fond of him.

However, in her mind, he would never be someone she could introduce to her family or friends, none of whom were aware of her sex work. Why?

Perhaps she felt that Van he had too much power over her. They might have an argument and he might spill the beans to her loved ones.

Perhaps he reminded her too much of her mother's heritage, which was too painful a memory to deal with.

Van persisted, trying to reassure her that she could trust him.

And trust him she did. On several occasions he contacted her through friends and family. He also introduced her to some of his friends. A trust seemed to develop between them.

But in the end, the best Van could get out of her was half-requited love.

He told me that she said: "I'm really fond of you, but I'm not fond of this situation. When I leave this industry I want to leave behind everything associated with it. I'd love to take you with me. I just wish I knew in what way. Maybe as a good friend. I just don't know."

The last time Van spoke to the woman, she told him she was feeling suicidal. It was likely she was suffering from severe depression, which may have led her into the industry in the first place. Depressed people often find it impossible to make decisions or commit themselves to a work timetable. Those entering the world's oldest profession get an income without set hours.

Van never found out what happened to his friend. He spent many months blaming himself for her suicidal behaviour.

Eventually, Van almost succumbed to his own depression and found living in Melbourne too difficult. He sought employment overseas. But he still mentions his feelings towards the woman.

I hope that reading about Van doesn't spoil your Valentine's Day.

Most of us find love in more conventional ways. But as Van's story and Brokeback Mountain powerfully illustrate, unconventional love can be just as real, even if the pressures of society and circumstance don't allow it to be fully requited.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on 14 February 2006.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Responses to the controversial article on Danish cartoons

My article posted on this blog concerning the Danish cartoon controversy was itself the subject of much controversy. It was first reproduced on OnlineOpinion, which triggered interviews on ABC Radio in Melbourne and Brisbane as well as a joint interview with a Melbourne writer on Triple J's Hack program.

I was then approached by the New Zealand Dominion Post newspaper who wished to reproduce the article with some minor alterations. (Readers might recall that in New Zealand the Dominion Post newspaper, which is produced in Wellington, published all 12 cartoons.) This led to unprecedented traffic on this blog as well as some interesting feedback from readers who e-mailed me directly.

Comments to my reflections can be found on the OnlineOpinion site here. Some of the comments were quite feral, as were some comments posted on this blog. I have allowed virtually all comments to be posted so that people's prejudices and well as their views can be made apparent.

I wanted to share some of the feedback on the article which people e-mailed to me directly, and I have kept contributor's identities as vague as possible.

Thank you Irfan, this is an impressive article thatsays much that needs to be said and thought about seriously



I just saw your article ' Danish cartoons: Muslims in their own Dark Age '.

As a Catholic, I've witnessed that a successful way to promote the good side of a faith is through role models. Christians use examples like Mother Theresa from India, Mary MacKillip and other saints. Buddhists use the Dalai Lama.

For societies to appreciate the value of a group of people, they typically judge examples that they see. Thus, to help change the way Islam is perceived in Sydney or anywhere, examples of Muslim charity workers, etc need to be publicised and revered as the 'true Muslims'.



Your blog urging the muslim world to put their own house in order has been published in a New Zealand newspaper.

I have read it and wish to thank you for such a well reasoned, thoughtful expression of common sense. It has been sadly lacking in this debate up to this point.

I only wish it could be bottled up and force fed to the bigots who exist on both sides, muslim and non muslim.

Keep up the good work



Hi Irfan

I thought I'd check your blog in light of what's been happening in regards to the Danish Cartoons. I think your blog presents a balanced argument. However it's not only Muslims who get offended by this so called "freedom-of-speech".

Witness, for example, Senator Kerry Nettle's t-shirt that read "Tony Abbott Keep your rosaries off our ovaries" in regards to the RU486 debate in parliament at presnt.

To us catholics who pray to God by saying the rosary this is indeed offensive. But we are taught to turn the other cheek.

take care

Muslims are dangerous, racist people. Australia is better off without them. Muslims are 5 times more likely to be on welfare and Muslim men are responsible for 60% of crime in Sydney. These are true facts. Why do Aussies need these illiterate camel jockeys? We don't. You might be new to Australia but I remember Australia in the good old days. They were good old days - we didn't have all this racial tension that we have today. Also our standard of living was higher. Migrants are reducing Australia's standard of living. Muslims should stay in their own countries and tear them apart.

Just look at the Muslim world. It is a mess. We don't need Muslim trouble moving to Australia. White Australians have taken enough racist shit directed at them and we are now fighting back. We need justice and a return to commonsense. Both which are severely lacking at the moment due to too many migrants causing problems in Australia. There is no economic benefit to be gained with all the new Muslim and Asian migrants. They are a drain on the taxpayers of Australia.

Muslim live by the sword and they will die by the sword. Mohammed had 22 wifes and fought in 26 battles. Would you call him a good role model to young Muslims?

A Prophet performs miracles but Mohammed didn't. He only caused pain. He raped a 9 year old girl at 50. How sick! You Muslims should get better role models or better still convert to Christianity. Christianity is much better than Kaba worship.

Proud to be Aussie.



I enjoyed your comments - right on target. The big question in my mind is whether the Muslim world can pull itself out of this era of decline and despair, or whether this is a terminal decline leading in the future to a repeat of what we see across Africa today.

The fashionable hostility toward to West will only antagonise increasing numbers in the West, and pull fence sitters on these issues across to the camp of the intolerant and unforgiving. Too many moderate and reasonable people I know have crossed this threshold already, and have no respect for the Muslim world, and perceive Muslims to be violent barbarians in general.

One thing the Muslim world wants to avoid is becoming popularly perceived in the West as the new Nazis of this era. This point may be closer than many imagine - Iran was recently gone a long way to advancing this issue, after Al Qaeda's visible fondness for regurgitated NSDAP propaganda.

In a sense the incessant calls for Jihad differ very little from the call to the Crusades - the absence of centralised theological authority in Islam is perhaps the only major differentiator.

The sad reality is that the extremists in the Muslim world have become addicted to the use of the Western/global mass media as a distribution channel for their propaganda - trying to actively emulate the Giap strategy of the Vietnam era. The byproduct of this is that the West is now fed a steady daily media diet of violence perpetrated by Muslims, and outrageous Islamo-fascist propaganda and rhetoric.

I have never been a fan of the Huntingdon thesis, but it almost seems as if there are too many people out there who want it to materialise.

The media are addicted to violence, mayhem and controversy, and the Islamic fundamentalists are addicted to the global power and reach the media provide them with.

Unless there is a major grass roots movement amongst moderate Muslims to break this behaviour, it will only get worse and end up with the world perceiving Muslims largely as 21st century Nazis. Once that happens, all bets are off as to the outcome.

The Islamic world cannot win a global full scale war against Western nations and others who would join in. Whether such a conflict would be fought with nuclear or conventional weapons is immaterial. Jihadists with roadside bombs, RPGs and AKMs cannot compete with fleets of bombers. The seemingly popular belief amongst the Jihadists, Iran and others in this camp that a major conflict with the West can be won is absurd.

The West currently conducts military operations with a large number of self imposed constraints, which essentially make indiscriminate use of firepower illegal or improper. Such sentiments existed before WW2 but quickly vanished once the war with Germany and Japan escalated. The result was the large scale destruction of both nations.

A nuclear weapon used by terrorists is the kind of event which would rapidly tip the
balance in the West.

Keep up the good work,

Dear Sir,

Thank you for a vary interesting article. I found it on OnlineOpinion.com.au. (a
most interesting site)

I agree with you thst the radicals have hijacked your religion. This is also being done to Christianity. More moderates need to speak out as you have done.

As Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Many Thanks and please keep up the good work.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Scattered thoughts on perceptions of and about those nasty Muslims ...

This blog is meant to be a place where I express my views on social, political and cultural matters. It isn’t a place to discuss religion. For that, I have another blog. But since the debate about Danish cartoons has made many people curious about Muslims and their cultures, I think it would be appropriate to devote some space here to discussing these issues.

The controversy over the Danish cartoons has been used in some quarters to demonise anyone who has any relation to Islam. A whole host of Muslim-haters, many of them the usual suspects, are making all sorts of outlandish statements that they themselves know are not true.

Muslim-haters are able to do this because sadly many Muslim community leaders and imams in countries such as Australia and New Zealand are simply not equipped to address Muslim issues in a manner that the average westerner can understand. I have dealt with some reasons why this is the case elsewhere.

The Muslim-hating commentators and writers are in fact doing an enormous favour to Muslims. In the short term, Muslims may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed by all the attention. But in the long term, more people will become curious as to exactly what Muslims think and feel about issues. A primary goal of Muslim-haters is to marginalise Muslims. In the long term, the effect will be the opposite.

In the meantime, it is important that people have accurate information about the range of views Muslims have about their faith. People also need to know about the enormous variety of understandings within different Muslim communities.

A favourite ploy of some Muslim-haters is to paint all Muslims as being exactly the same, as all having the same beliefs and opinions and as all having the same loyalties (usually loyalty to some force hostile to the west).

This monolithic analysis of Muslims makes it easier to generate maximum venom and hatred. It is the same ploy used by some Arab nationalists in the Middle East to demonise Jews.

The reality is that there is an amazing amount of variety even within Islamic law or sharia. Muslims understand sharia in so many different ways.

I am no theologian or scholar of Islamic law. I hold no qualifications in Islamic law, nor have I read the sources of Islamic law in their original language of classical Arabic. What I say is based upon what I have read and been taught over the years and what I have seen.

For those struggling to understand Muslim cultures and seeking to go beyond the monolithic approach of Muslim-haters, it’s good to have some background in Muslim sacred legal traditions, all of which come under the broad umbrella term of sharia.

The term sharia literally means “the way to a watering place”. In fact, it refers not so much to a code as to a methodology for deriving rules and laws from primary sources of Islam. It is a complex science.

Within the sharia legal tradition, there is one main division, that being between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. Amongst Sunni Muslims, the sharia is divided into four schools of law.

Among the Shia Muslims, there are no distinct schools of law as such. Rather, Shia Muslims have a rule that a person must obtain their law from someone who has studied and mastered various texts, has permission to give judgments and is still alive. Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, are able to pick one school of law and follow it, regardless of whether the rulings were made by someone living or deceased.

Apart from sectarian divisions, Muslims are also divided along cultural, linguistic and other lines. To suggest that Muslims are one huge monolith is as nonsensical as suggesting that all Catholics are one huge monolith.

That’s all for the time being.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

BLOG: The Blair Bitching Project

In an effort to display (or rather, abuse) freedom of speech, a number of neo (I’d prefer to call them pseudo) Conservative bloggers have supported the publication of the 12 cartoons by various newspapers.

Tim Blair, who joined me in an interview with the Triple-J program “Hack” on the afternoon of Monday 6 February 2006, has published all the cartoons in full. He has given the usual spiel about freedom of speech.

At least I think he has. I really don’t know. Why? Because around 6 months ago, Mr Blair decided to show his devotion to freedom of speech by banning me from commenting on his blog.

And my crime? I was being way too critical of a certain non-Arab country in the Middle East whose name is not Iran. Or more specifically, I was being critical of Ariel Sharon.

Mr Blair’s devotion to freedom of speech did not, at the time, extend to freedom to criticise Israeli Likud Party leaders, a right enjoyed by Israelis themselves.

Mr Blair also did not like the fact that I was using genuine conservative argument to show that his positions on a number of issues bore greater resemblance to those of the East German Communist Party than to mainstream conservative thinking.

Of course, those agreeing with Mr Blair’s position have been free to leave anonymous comments on this blog. The fact that they may find themselves unable to use words with more than four letters doesn’t stop me from allowing them some free speech.

Mr Blair also apparently made references to the fact that Arab newspapers had posted anti-Semitic cartoons in their pages. Yes, I agree that they have done this. And this is wrong. But does that make it ok to follow their example?

Naturally, Mr Blair is an expert on racism. Which explains why he allows racist and xenophobic views to be expressed on his blog. You will find him citing Mark Steyn, Daniel Pipes and a range of other persons whose views about Muslims virtually mirror the sorts of views published in German newspapers about Jews during the 1920’s and 30’s. All sorts of strange and wonderful conspiracy theories are attributed to Muslims.

So for proponents of unbridled freedom of speech, all I can say is that with friends like Mr Blair, who needs enemies?

Still, Tim does provide people with food for thought. And he sounds like a nice bloke on radio. I’m sure if I met him in person, he’d turn out to be good for a laugh over a few bottles of (in my case) Maison. Then I could share with him a few Nasruddin Hoca stories. Or perhaps some of the Prophet Muhammad's jokes reported in Shama'il Tirmidhi and other classical works.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

Sunday, February 05, 2006

OPINION: Get your own house in order before you go tearing others' houses down ...

Around 900 years ago, back in the days when most of Europe was lost in the Dark Ages, the then-deranged Muslim ruler of Jerusalem decided to tear down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He was quickly deposed, and the Church hastily rebuilt at Muslim expense. The Muslims apologised.

It was too late. Within a few months, reports of similar attacks on Christian pilgrims and symbols in Palestine had spread across Europe. Pope Urban II seemed powerless to respond. He was more concerned with corruption within the Vatican (much of it his own doing), and with the presence of other allegedly false competing claimants to the Pontiff’s throne.

The Pope's “solution” to the internal crisis was to seek a diversion. He declared the first Crusade. Historians agree that in leading this battle, the then-Pontiff was less interested in defending the honour of Christ or Jerusalem than in shoring up his own power and diverting attention away from crises within the Church.

Hardly 900 years later, the tables have turned. This time it is mainly Muslim leaders who are embroiled in corruption and scandal. The generals, emirs, kings and presidents-for-life that rule most Muslim-majority states (usually with the help of their Western patrons) have failed to effectively deal with the poverty, illiteracy and other economic and social ills too numerous to list here.

Today these rulers are also seeking a diversion. One obscure neo-Conservative Danish newspaper appears to have provided it. What they have also proven is that perhaps Muslims are in the midst of their own Dark Age.

In the past few weeks, two bastions of Middle Eastern liberty and democracy - Libya and Saudi Arabia - have withdrawn ambassadors from Denmark. In many Muslim countries, Danish goods are being boycotted.

In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark. Don’t these people have work to do and mouths to feed? Then again, some of these men (Pakistani women have more important matters to attend to) will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman is given out lbw unfairly.

And across the Arab world, supermarkets have removed Danish goods from their shelves. Recently, a Syrian Muslim rabble decided that the best way to defend the honour of their Prophet was to attack and burn embassies of at least three European countries. In Gaza, with Israel ready to cut the fiscal umbilical cord, Palestinian gunmen seem content to bite one of the few hands that feeds them by occupying and threatening workers at the headquarters of the European Union.

Had someone unaware of the cartoons viewed the response, they might think Denmark has invaded Bosnia or Iran and was unjustly occupying its territory. They might think Danish settlements replaced Israeli ones popping up in various places across the West Bank. Or perhaps the Danish government had passed laws banning girls from wearing headscarves in schools.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, an obscure privately-owned newspaper in Denmark published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. One cartoon apparently showed the Prophet standing at the pearly gates of heaven in much the same way as St Peter in the Catholic tradition. Another portrayed the Prophet’s turban as a bomb.

The cartoons were first published in the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. Most people living in Muslim countries would probably be unable to pronounce the paper’s name, let alone having heard of it.

And so today, I and many other Muslims feel compelled to stand up and be counted. To defend the honour of a man I grew up to regard as a Prophet.

No, not from a dozen cartoons published by a neo-Conservative Danish newspaper. Nor from their reproduction in newspapers across Europe and even New Zealand.

We feel compelled to defend the honour of the Prophet of Islam from the shameful actions of some people claiming to be his followers.

No, we are not ashamed of Islam. We are not ashamed of the Prophet Muhammad. We are not ashamed of the values many of us grew up with, values that are so similar to those of my Anglican school or my many Jewish colleagues and friends.

What upsets and shames us is the depths to which some Muslims have sunk.

I wonder at how low Muslims have stooped that some of them are prepared to resort to mob violence to display their religiosity. In doing so, they appear ignorant of (or worse still, reckless to) the fact that they are mainly targeting the innocent.

The Arabic phrase used by the Qur’an to describe the Prophet Muhammad is “rahmat al-lil a’alameen” (literally “mercy to the worlds”). Like the other Prophets recognised by Islam (including the Messiah Jesus), Muhammad always preferred forgiveness over revenge.

Instead of following his example, many 21st century Muslims are behaving in similar vein to the then uncivilised medieval Europeans did during the Crusades.

Today, some Muslim mobs are attacking anything deemed Danish. They are being egged on by selfish, undemocratic and dictatorial kings, generals, emirs and presidents-for-life.

Muslim countries are suffering problems taller than the tsunami waves that brought so much misery to hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Indonesia.

Muslim women in various countries are being murdered by members of their own families for the sake of defending some false notion of “honour”.

Millions of Muslims are living in poverty and disease in Pakistan following the devastating earthquake. Millions more are starving in refugee camps in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

Muslim-majority nations are riddled with corruption. Their leaders are squandering resources and wealth whilst their citizens live below the poverty line.

Yet today some governments of Muslim-majority countries are encouraging their citizens to attack European embassies. For many dictatorial and undemocratic Muslim regimes, the cartoon controversy represents a wonderful diversion away from the real problems facing their communities.

Instead of protecting the honour of their Prophet, some Muslims seem intent on destroying their own honour by behaving in a manner their Prophet had condemned 14 centuries ago.

What appears to have (quite understandably) upset Muslims most is one cartoon depicting the Prophet wearing a bomb as a turban, suggesting that he preached terrorism. Yet surely the worst way to protest against this is to commit acts of terror such as tearing down and burning embassies.

Boycotting Danish goods may be a more peaceful and preferable manner of protest. Yet even such a boycott effectively punishes the innocent and attributes the disrespectful manner of one newspaper to an entire nation. To blame all Danes for the actions of one newspaper editor claiming to defend freedom of speech is as absurd as blaming all Muslims for the acts of terror of a few lunatics claiming to defend of Islam.

Those Muslims who really care about the honour of their Prophet should focus their attention on improving their own situation. They might start by considering what sort of deal non-Muslim minorities get in Muslim countries, and how non-Muslim religious symbols are abused in Muslim publications. Perhaps they would then understand why some Muslim minorities leaving peacefully in Western countries (including Denmark, New Zealand and Australia) may cop plenty of flack due to their antics.

The Muslim mobs might also consider how the Prophet responded to attacks on himself. I am not aware of any biographical record of the Prophet taking any revenge for attacks on his person. I remember one recorded incident of a Jewish neighbour who was in the habit of pouring faeces over the Prophet. One day, the faeces stopped. The Prophet’s response was to inquire about the neighbour’s health.

How far some of today’s Muslims are from the golden example of the man in whose name they are causing so much destruction. Don’t they have enough problems of their own to be concerned with? In the grander scheme of things, in the context of poverty and natural disasters and culturally-related oppression of women.and so much else, are some Muslims so narrow-minded and infantile as to ascribe so much importance to 12 cartoons?

My message to Muslim mobs is simply this - before you consider tearing down the houses (and embassies) of others, think about cleaning up your own.

(The author is a Sydney-based industrial and commercial lawyer and a freelance columnist whose articles have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail, Canberra Times and New Zealand Herald. He is a columnist for Online Opinion and altmuslim.com and regularly controbutes to the Web Diary. This article has also been published at Online Opinion on 6 February 2006 and in the Dominion Post (published in Wellington, NZ) on 8 February 2006.)

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, February 03, 2006

COMMENT: All that time and effort wasted on 12 cartoons ...

In Indonesia, hundreds of thousands of Muslims continue to be traumatised, homeless and in desperate need in the aftermath of the tsunami. In Darfur, Muslims continue to starve. In Pakistan, tens of thousands of Muslims are without shelter after the earthquake disaster. In Gaza, Palestinians face a complete economic breakdown as Israel turns off the fiscal tap.

Thousands of Muslim women are assaulted or killed by family members to protect “honour”. And during a recent visit to the world’s largest Muslim country, a delegation of 5 young Australian Muslims was given a taste of life for many Indonesians.

Our tour was sponsored by the Australia Indonesia Institute. Each year, delegations of young Indonesian Muslim leaders visit Australia and vice versa. This year, the Australian delegation visited the headquarters of the Muslim women’s group Rifka Annisa (literally “Women’s Refuge”) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The good people at RA struggle to support Muslim women who are victims of domestic violence. With minimal resources, the organisation is able to provide support to a few hundred women and children each year. The organisation also works with sex workers and other marginalised women across Indonesia.

With so much work to be done, you’d think Muslims are upto their necks in fighting poverty and other economic and social ills. You’d think that protesting mobs in Karachi and other Pakistani cities are busy raising funds for earthquake victims.

Think again. Muslims across the world appear to be suffering from a form of collective stupidity. Instead of focussing on the enormous challenges facing their nations, Muslims are spending much of their time focussing on 12 cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper.

Muslims are protesting against what they see as an attack on the honour of their Prophet. Seriously, as if the Prophet’s honour is affected by one Danish cartoonist. If these Muslim protesters really loved their Prophet, they would struggle in support of the things he and all the other Prophets (including Moses, Noah, Abraham and Jesus) struggled for – human rights, justice and liberty.

Instead, Muslims waste their precious time and resources on infantile protests that achieve nothing except turn the cartoonist into a martyr for free speech.

I could say a lot more. But I have some serious work to do. I’d rather spend my time working and earning money so that a good portion of it can be spent in assisting groups like Rifka Annisa to supplement moneys they already receive from private and government donors in countries such as … yep, you guessed it … Denmark!

So if you really want to know what I think of the nonsensical and over-the-top responses to the cartoons, read this piece from altmuslim.com.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf