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Scholar Wants to Promote Moderation in Palestinian Society ^ | March 13, 2008 | Julie Stahl

Posted on 03/13/2008 5:58:08 AM PDT by SJackson

Jerusalem ( - On the first Friday of Ramadan two years ago, Palestinian scholar Mohammed Dajani stood on his balcony in the West Bank, watching as thousands of Arabs tried to make their way through an Israeli checkpoint so to pray at the Al-Aksa mosque in neighboring Jerusalem.

They did not have the necessary permits, and Israeli soldiers tried to push them back from the checkpoint, even using teargas at one point, but the Palestinians wouldn't budge, Dajani recalled.

Eventually, a compromise was worked out whereby the Israelis collected the Muslims' identity cards and called in buses to take them to Jerusalem.

As he watched this, Dajani said, it struck him that the Palestinians involved were clearly not secular. Their eagerness to get to the mosque on the first Friday of the fasting month attested to that. Neither were they extremists, because if they had been, they would have taken advantage of the tense situation to start trouble with the Israelis.

Dajani realized that there was no one in Palestinian society representing moderates, and that' when he decided to step in.

At a time when Islamic extremists are using religion to back their radical goals, Dajani, who describes himself as secular, says he is using the Koran as the basis for a new movement to encourage moderation in Palestinian society.

Dajani calls it "wasatia" - a term used in the Koran to denote centrism, balance, moderation, and justice.

"What we are trying to do is bring things from our culture," he said in Jerusalem on Wednesday. "Our root is an Islamic root."

Most people have not read the Koran, said Dajani, director of American Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. They rely on mosque preachers, who for the most part interpret the Koran through a "radical framework" instead of the humanitarian one that Dajani believes in.

He has published a small book using verses from the Koran that call for moderation, and he hopes to make an impact on three areas of Palestinian society -- mosque preachers whose sermons have become politicized; an educational curriculum that promotes jihad; and the media.

When he began a year ago, he envisaged a political party, but reconsidered after Palestinians accused him of trying to create divisions among them.

If his movement catches on, he might run for the Palestinian legislature, he said; and he would see his efforts as victory if the philosophy itself influences other political organizations.

Breaking ground for a different way of interpreting the Koran has not been easy, however. Fatah activists said Dajani had received millions of dollars of funding from the U.S., a claim he denies.

He has also been accused of being an agent of the West.

When facing such claims, Dajani said, he tells his accusers -- a threatening extremist group among them -- that they have not read the Koran.

Dajani said that instead of using the word "moderation" - which the West uses in the context of the peace process - he uses the word "wasatia."

"I never use the word 'moderation' because 'moderation' is associated with the United States, with [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice saying we are going to support moderation within the Islamic world. Yet I think if she would use the word 'wasatia' that she could reach people much more than using the term 'moderation.' Because one is Western and one is Islamic."

Dajani said while he has had support from some individual Fatah members, the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy, which Fatah controls, has blocked his efforts to obtain official status.

Yearning for democracy

The scholar said he is convinced that there is a desire for a moderate movement within Palestinian society.

When there are no confrontations, people yearn for a democratic society, he said. They want to see the rule of law, put food on the table, send their kids to school and feel secure in their homes.

Instead, both Fatah and Hamas have created a situation of "crisis in order not to deliver to the people what they promised to deliver, which is a democratic society."

They have used the situation as an excuse for not being transparent or accountable or for not establishing the rule of law, Dajani said. "Crisis is being used here in order to legitimize what is illegitimate, what is illegal. And so as a result you are not concerned with creating a culture of peace but rather a culture of conflict."

In Gaza, for example, the more Hamas is "under pressure politically about its legitimacy, about its status, the more it is creating a conflict with Israel in order to divert people from the [issues of] everyday life to an external issue."

"Palestinians would like to live like normal people," he said. "We are hoping that we are going to be part of that dream that we can deliver to them, not necessarily on the political level, [but] on the social, economical level."

But Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Department of Arabic at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, voiced doubt that Dajani's plan would work.

"That's his interpretation [of the Koran]," Kedar said of the Palestinian scholar's philosophy. Those in the mosques wouldn't agree.

Islam is so flexible that everyone can find in it what they want to find, Kedar told Cybercast News Service. Whether one wants to find democracy, extremism or moderation, one can do so because there is "such a huge corpus of verses, exegesis and tradition."

In the Koran there are verses where Allah promises the area that is present day Israel to the Jews, but they are never quoted, he said.

There are also verses that say that "Al-Aksa" is located in Arabia or even in heaven. But anyone who says that would lose his head, Kedar said. (The Koran in sura 17 refers to Mohammed's night journey on a winged steed from "the sacred mosque" in Arabia to "the farthest mosque," Al-Aksa, and then on to heaven. Traditionally interpreted as being in Jerusalem, the site is the third most-revered in Islam, and the basis of Islam's original claim to the city, which Muslims conquered six years after Mohammed's death.)

Of Dajani's plan, Kedar said it sounded as if he had found verses in the Koran to support his own world view. But he did not think that it could work in the Middle East.

In the Western world, compromise is the "name of the game," but in a region where shame and honor are the motivators, compromise is not an option, Kedar said.

In the West if there is a dispute, the two parties can be satisfied if they end up with 50 percent each. In the Middle East, however, someone who thinks he is entitled to 100 percent of something would never be satisfied with anything less.

That is why struggles and disputes in the Middle East are never ending, he said. The only way to end a struggle is to defeat the other side.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Israel; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: israel

1 posted on 03/13/2008 5:58:10 AM PDT by SJackson
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To: dennisw; Cachelot; Nix 2; veronica; Catspaw; knighthawk; Alouette; Optimist; weikel; Lent; GregB; ..
If you'd like to be on this middle east/political ping list, please FR mail me.

High Volume. Articles on Israel can also be found by clicking on the Topic or Keyword Israel. or WOT [War on Terror]


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2 posted on 03/13/2008 6:00:50 AM PDT by SJackson (Never talk when you can nod, never nod when you can wink, never write an e-mail, E. Spitzer)
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The Koran and the Jews
By Jamie Glazov | Thursday, June 03, 2004

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University.

FP: Prof. Mohammed welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Mohammed: You do me a great honor. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to introduce my views to your readers. As you know, I am interested in a moderate Islam, one that is inclusive and is concerned about all human rights. My mission is to help reclaim the beauty that once was practiced in Islam, a message not currently in fashion amongst more traditional or fundamentalist Muslims.

FP: You are yourself a Muslim and yet, quite unconventionally amongst Islamic clerics and scholars, you teach that the Koran says Israel belongs to the Jews. Can you educate us on this Islamic teaching?

Mohammed: The Qur'an adumbrates several principles that hover around a common theme: God does not love injustice and will assist those who are wrongly treated. And it focuses so much on this that the person most mentioned in the Qur'an is Moses -- who is presented as God's revolutionary, and who leads a people despised and tormented for no other reason than that they worshipped God, out of the land of bondage to the Promised Holy Land.

The Qur'an in Chapter 5: 20-21 states quite clearly: Moses said to his people: O my people! Remember the bounty of God upon you when He bestowed prophets upon you , and made you kings and gave you that which had not been given to anyone before you amongst the nations. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has written for you, and do not turn tail, otherwise you will be losers."

The Quran goes on to say why the Israelites were not allowed to enter the land for forty years...but the thrust of my analysis is where Moses says that the Holy Land is that which God has "written" for the Israelites. In both Jewish and Islamic understandings of the term "written", there is the meaning of finality, decisiveness and immutability. And so we have the Written Torah (unchangeable) and the Oral Torah (which represents change to suit times). And in the Qur'an we have "Written upon you is the fast"--to show that this is something that is decreed, and which none can change. So the simple fact is then, from a faith-based point of view: If God has "written" Israel for the people of Moses, who can change this?

The Qur'an refers to the exiles, but leaves it open for return...saying to the Jews that if they keep their promise to God, then God will keep the divine promise to them. WE may argue that the present state of Israel was not created in the most peaceful means, and that many were displaced--for me, this is not the issue. The issue is that when the Muslims entered that land in the seventh century, they were well aware of its rightful owners, and when they failed to act according to divine mandate (at least as perceived by followers of all Abrahamic faiths), they aided and abetted in a crime. And the present situation shows the fruits of that action--wherein innocent Palestinians and Israelis are being killed on a daily basis.

I also draw your attention to the fact that the medieval exegetes of Qur'an--without any exception known to me--recognized Israel as belonging to the Jews, their birthright given to them. Indeed, two of Islam's most famous exegetes explained "written" from Quran 5:21 thus:

Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373) said: “That which God has written for you” i.e. That which God has promised to you by the words of your father Israel that it is the inheritance of those among you who believe” . Muhammad al-Shawkani (d. 1250/1834) interprets Kataba to mean “that which God has allotted and predestined for you in His primordial knowledge, deeming it as a place of residence for you” (1992, 2:41).

The idea that Israel does not belong to the Jews is a modern one, probably based on the Mideast rejection of European colonialism etc, but certainly not having anything to do with the Qur'an. The unfortunate fact is that most Muslims do NOT read the Qur’an and interpret it on the basis of its own words; rather they let imams and preachers do that for them.

FP: You say that when the Muslims entered the sacred land in the seventh century, “they aided and abetted in a crime.” Can you expand on this a bit? How honest is contemporary Islam with this fact?

Mohammed: How did the Jews lose their right to live in the Holy Land? All reliable reports show that it was by the looting and burning that followed from 70-135 C.E. When the Muslims entered the place in 638, liberating it from the Byzantines, they knew full well to whom it rightfully belonged. But we find that Muslim chroniclers state that the Muslim caliph accepting the surrender of the Byzantine Christian representative, Sophronius, on certain terms, one of them being that the Jews would not be permitted to enter the city. I personally have a hard time accepting this story, and aspects of its historicity because as modern scholarship has shown, Muslim reports about that time were recorded long after the fact and are not as reliable as once thought. And we know too that when the first Crusaders took possession of the place in 1096-1099, they slaughtered Jews and Muslims. If Umar had indeed signed such a treaty, what were Jews doing there?

By aiding and abetting in a crime, I refer to when Abdul Malik built the mosque there, and had false traditions ascribed to Muhammad wherein the Prophet is supposed to have said that a man should set out for a journey only for three mosques, the ones in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Now how could the prophet have said this when ALL Muslims agree that when the Qur’an states "this day I have completed for you your religion" (Q5:3), that Jerusalem was not within Muslim geography? The completion means just that...with the Arabic Qur'an for the Arab peoples, and the aspect of conquest of foreign territory NOT an injunction of Qur’anic Islam.

When the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, it should have been left open for the rightful owners to return. It is possible that Jewish beliefs of the time only allowed such return under a Messiah--but that should not have influenced Muslim action. And in contrast to the report of Sophronius above, there are also reports showing that Umar in fact opened the city to the Jews. If this be the case, then the later Muslim occupation and building a mosque on the site of the Temple was something that was not sanctioned by The Qur’an. How honest is contemporary Islam with this? Given the situation in the Middle East, politiking etc stands in the way of honesty.

FP: You lecture at universities exposing these politically incorrect facts. As a result, you have been frequently denounced by Muslim groups. Tell us about their criticism/harassment of you.

Mohammed: The criticism of my work is that I am out of line with the geo-political movement towards fundamentalism. What your readers must understand is that fundamentalism is rapidly becoming mainstream. Moderation is not. A perfect example is in Akbar AHmed's "Islam Under Siege," where he points out that the Taliban are no longer a fringe group in Pakistan; many Pakistanis are finding themselves drawn to their teachings.

Right here in the US, I present a problem to those at mosques who use social pressure to coerce others into accepting their extremism. On the personal level with my family: when my wife, after years of research, decided that she no longer felt that the head covering was mandatory, and chose to venture forth without it, many of the Muslim "sisters" she greeted refused to respond--without even checking on her interpretation. Many Muslims stand against me for no other reason than I say that Israel has a right to exist.

Overall, the criticism of me follows a strange pattern: they are upset that I should give any legitimacy to Israel, assuming that in doing so, I am denying the rights of Palestinians. My answer that I in no way deny that Palestinians have rights. But this is generally not considered by those that criticize my position: because for them, it is either all or nothing.

At a recent lecture in Santa Cruz, Muslim groups put up posters saying that I claim that the Qu'ran says bad things about Jews. In fact this was a gross misrepresentation of facts: I admit that the Qur'an has verses that are polemic, but my view is that the Qur'an in fact respects the Jews (which explains Moses being so often mentioned)...but that it is the oral traditions of Islam (the hadith) that demonizes the Jews. For many Muslims, this is a hard pill to swallow because for almost 12 centuries, they have been taught that acceptance of oral traditions are a creedal element of Islam.

Often, they try to argue with selective quotes from the Qur'an--and here they lose out, because when it comes to exegesis, I have spent years studying that. And then there is the "challenge" Santa Cruz they said that they wanted to debate. I agreed on one condition: that such debate be in public. They did not show up. In fact, the few Muslims who were present and had the patience to listen to me, could not find how I had misinterpreted or misrepresented Islam.

In Montreal, I was accused of being racist when I said that 95% of contemporary Muslims are exposed to anti-Semitic teachings. My answer, which the Montreal Gazette refused to print, was that every Muslim had to answer a simple question. Honestly. What is the interpretation of the final two verses of the first chapter of the Quran? "Guide us to the straight path--the path of those upon whom you have bestowed your bounty, not those who have incurred your wrath, nor those who are astray."

This verse has nothing about Jews or Christians...yet, almost every person learns that those who have incurred divine wrath are the Jews, and those who are astray are Christians. What is more problematic is that the average person learns this chapter and its interpretation between the ages of 5-8. And we know that things learned at this stage of life become ingrained, almost to the point of being in one's DNA, if I may put it that way.

I felt that my answer was self-evident. Do you know what the result was? Some of my closest colleagues DENIED that they had been taught this. This was more painful to me than the rejection of some Muslim leaders--for I always ask that if we deny things publicly, at least in private we admit the truth. And when in privacy, my fellow Muslims could not bring themselves to admit that which was obvious to anyone, that was in itself testimony as to how low we have sunk.

Yet, on the issue of criticism and harassment--I must state that it is only in the form of argument, without threats of any physical nature. Whatever problem my fellow Muslims have with my views, they are aware that I am a Muslim. I do not deny my religion, and therefore we can argue. Here at San Diego State University where I teach, the local MSA attempted to have me disciplined for having accused them of anti-Semitism and homophobia. They did not pursue the issue--an astute decision for they would have looked very foolish. Their answer was that they too are Semites, (the writers of the letter were by the way not even Arabs), and that they could not be homophobic since their neighbors are gays and lesbians!

FP: If Islam is going to have a reformation, from what roots will it originate?

Mohammed: The reformation will come from Muslims based in the West, and the voices of women will be loud and pivotal in that reformation. Let us look at some names that are as yet unknown to many, but names that have done so much for changing Islamic thought...names of people who may disagree vehemently with each other, but names of people who, for all their difference have done much to purge Islam of the male chauvinism that has afflicted it for centuries: Fatima Mernissi, Azizah al Hibri, Amina Wadud Muhsin, Irshad Manji, Rifat Hasan, Asma Jahangir. Not that all reform minded people are women: there is Khalid Abou al Fadl, Abdallah al-Naim, Sa'd al din Ibrahim etc. Note that they are, with one exception, all now in the West, and that they have all had a western education.

FP: Prof. Mohammed, it was an honor to speak with you and we would like to thank you for being such a brave voice within the Islamic community, where honest dialogue, unfortunately, is often stifled. We encourage you to keep fighting for a moderate Islam that is compatible with Western democracy -- and we hope your voice will have an increasing impact.

So to finish this interview, why don’t you briefly sum up for our readers -- and for many Muslims who will hopefully read this interview – how Islam actually teaches that Israel belongs to the Jews and that Muslims are obligated, by the Qur’an itself, to accept its existence.

Mohammed: The Qur'an states at the very beginning of the second chapter "this is a book wherein there is no doubt, a guide for the God-conscious." Its contents are therefore to be seen by every Muslim as being divinely ordained, and to be followed. The verses on Israel as in 5:20-21 are not there just to be read; they are there to be followed. In Islam also, there is the elemental maxim "Calamity must be removed" (al darar yuzal). Muslms must face up to reality--in the years since Israel has been established, the focus of the region has been to seek to have it removed. And they have been unsuccessful, and there seems to be no hope for success. The pragmatic, proactive thing to do would be to come to grips with reality: Israel is there to stay, and it can exist in a state of peaceful coexistence, or in a stage of bellicosity. The Qur'an tells Muslims that God will not change their position until they change it themselves--and this is a classic example for putting that edict into effect. Only when MUSLIMS themselves accept Israel will they be following their Qur'an. Israel will negotiate from a position of guaranteed security, and while there may be tension from time to time, at least peace will be the norm.

FP: Prof. Mohammed, thank you for joining us today.

Mohammed: It was my pleasure, thank you for having me here.

3 posted on 03/13/2008 6:02:56 AM PDT by SJackson (Never talk when you can nod, never nod when you can wink, never write an e-mail, E. Spitzer)
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To: SJackson
Scholar Wants to Promote Moderation in Palestinian Society

Yeah, well, good luck with that.

In the Western world, compromise is the "name of the game," but in a region where shame and honor are the motivators, compromise is not an option, Kedar said.
In the West if there is a dispute, the two parties can be satisfied if they end up with 50 percent each. In the Middle East, however, someone who thinks he is entitled to 100 percent of something would never be satisfied with anything less.

And you have century upon century of that attitude to remove.

The only way to end a struggle is to defeat the other side.

Pretty much the same conclusion a lot of us at FR have drawn...

4 posted on 03/13/2008 6:05:00 AM PDT by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: SJackson
The only way to end a struggle is to defeat the other side.


5 posted on 03/13/2008 6:05:18 AM PDT by forkinsocket
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To: SJackson

I’ve seen video of what Palestinians do to their fellow citizens whom they think aren’t on the same anti-Israel boat. It isn’t pretty.

What’s the over/under on how long this guy lasts?

6 posted on 03/13/2008 6:06:22 AM PDT by SoFloFreeper
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To: All

Mohammed Dajani needs Blackwater. He’s going to get his head cut off if he’s not careful.

7 posted on 03/13/2008 6:19:31 AM PDT by Fox_Mulder77
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To: SJackson

There is no “palestine” and hence, no “palestinians” but for various conglomerations of predominantly islamist arabs which Israel, for whatever God forsaken reason, feels compelled to put up with.

8 posted on 03/13/2008 6:24:10 AM PDT by onedoug
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To: SJackson


9 posted on 03/13/2008 6:25:12 AM PDT by Cacique (quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat ( Islamia Delenda Est ))
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To: SJackson
but in a region where shame and honor are the motivators, compromise is not an option, Kedar said.

Well, alrighty then. Condi Rice, please pay attention.

10 posted on 03/13/2008 6:52:49 AM PDT by Bahbah
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To: Bahbah
but in a region where shame and honor are the motivators, compromise is not an option, Kedar said.... Well, alrighty then. Condi Rice, please pay attention.

Best line of the article. It's also worth remembering that moderate palestinians did exist and were in charge in the early stages of Madrid. They were sidelined for Yasser Arafat at the insistance of James Baker, over Israel's objections. As bright a decision as our insistance that Hamas participate in the elections, over Israel's objections. We make the same mistkes over and over again.

11 posted on 03/13/2008 7:12:55 AM PDT by SJackson (Never talk when you can nod, never nod when you can wink, never write an e-mail, E. Spitzer)
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To: SJackson
They were sidelined for Yasser Arafat at the insistance of James Baker, over Israel's objections.

The same James Baker that the Republican nominee for President thinks of sending in to "solve" the problem.

12 posted on 03/13/2008 7:16:18 AM PDT by Bahbah
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To: Bahbah

And if he follows his advice, McCain can expect to be as successful bringing peace as Bush I, Clinton who followed the plan, and Bush II. The Saudis will be pleased though.

13 posted on 03/13/2008 7:33:00 AM PDT by SJackson (Never talk when you can nod, never nod when you can wink, never write an e-mail, E. Spitzer)
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