21 Apr 2007

All praise to the Iranian Shia cleric ' advocating tolerance and peace

well this can into mix, all part of the debate around islam and politics, East Oxford selection result out on tuesday by the way

All praise to the Iranian Shia cleric who has denounced Muslim
jihadism, theocracy and human rights abuses

says Peter Tatchell

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 18 April 2007


much of the world, Shia Islam is synonymous with the terrorist
violence of the Badr and Sadr death squads in Iraq, and with the
murderous tyranny of the Iranian ayatollahs.

Since 1979, tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims, journalists, women,
students, gays, left-wingers, trade unionists and ethnic minorities
have been murdered in the name of Shia Islam by the despots in

We remember the barbaric fate of Iran’s esteemed Sunni Muslim leader,
Dr Ali Mozafarian. He was executed in 1992, on charges of espionage,
adultery and sodomy. Widely assumed to have been framed, his real
crime appears to have been that he preached the wrong kind of Islam -
Sunni, not Shia.

Given that Iran and Shi’ism have such negative connotations for so
many people, it is encouraging to hear the brave, confident voice of a
liberal Shia cleric from Iran, Sheikh Mohammed Kazem al-Khaqani.

In a far-sighted but unreported speech
the House of Commons last month, Sheikh al-Khaqani spoke out in
defence of democracy, human rights and secularism; advocating a
secular state as the best way to safeguard freedom of belief and
expression. Denouncing insurgent jihadism, suicide bombing and Iranian
theocracy, he argued that Islam has to be rescued from fundamentalist
misinterpretations and that oppressive Muslim regimes need to be

There are, no doubt, aspects of Sheikh al-Khaqani’s teachings that I
disagree with. But on several key issues he offers a progressive
perspective; confounding those who want to portray Islam as a wholly
negative, reactionary religion.

Wouldn’t it be great if Sheikh al-Khaqani’s voice of compassion,
wisdom and humanity could be given a wider platform by the Muslim
Council of Britain, the Central London Mosque and the Mayor of

Sheikh al-Khaqani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taher
al-Khaqani, a leading Iranian Ahwazi Arab Shia cleric who was
imprisoned after the 1979 Islamic revolution for opposing the
theocratic dictatorship and for advocating the separation of religion
and the state. The Grand Ayatollah died in suspicious circumstances
while under house arrest in Qom.

Sheikh al-Khaqani has dedicated his life to continue his father's
advocacy of a humane understanding of Shia doctrine, with tolerance,
human rights and secularism central to his teachings. Such views are
heresy in Tehran. Fearful of imprisonment and execution, Sheikh
al-Khaqani fled into exile and now lives in Kuwait.

Invited by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society
http://www.ahwaz.org.uk/ ,
and supported by the Henry Jackson Society
http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/ , Sheikh Al-Khaqani told his House
of Commons audience that Islam was based on the love of God and the
right to justice, with the right to life as the first and most
important human right of all. Terrorism, whether against individuals
or states, is therefore contrary to Islamic teaching:

"Justice and faith necessarily dictate that no one should snatch any
right from others ... Terrorists who don explosive belts that kill
innocents ... have no connection with the three celestial faiths
[Judaism, Christianity and Islam] … It is one of the particular
doctrines of the Shia that jihad in the sense of conquering a country
is not permitted - that it is not the right of Muslims, but on the
contrary is utterly forbidden," he said.

Sheikh al-Khaqani added that Shi'ites should not use the flag of
religion to topple states or political systems, suggesting that Iran's
Islamic revolution violated this Shia tradition. The use of religion
to overthrow governments - as was the case in Ayatollah Khomeini’s
Islamist coup in Iran - is "is an erroneous banner, allied with a
tyranny worshipping principals inferior to God Almighty."

Instead, he asserted: "The choice of political systems follows the
peoples' choice. Indeed God Almighty has given an indication of how
Islamic society should be when He said in the Qu'ran: 'He ordered them
to take counsel among themselves'; namely that Muslims should act by
mutual consultation, in all matters relating to their social lives and
their system of governance."

Absolute theocracy, as seen in Iran, cannot therefore be considered as
Islamic. If the Prophet Mohammed was required to consult with the
people at every point, so too must all systems of government,
including in the Muslim world.

Sheikh al-Khaqani added that "the man of faith must be only a guide
and a spiritual father, who refrains from intervening in affairs of
governance. So it is also incumbent on the state not to intervene in
matters of the faith and its institutions."

The rule of Imam Ali, who is considered the first Islamic Caliph among
Shia Muslims and the fourth among Sunni Muslims, offers a lesson on
the values of mercy, tolerance and justice to Muslims in the modern
world. Sheikh al-Khaqani pointed to Ali's forgiveness of his political
adversaries. Even when he was victorious over them in war he did not
confiscate their wealth.

Emphasising the Qu'ran's assertion that "there is no compulsion in
religion", Sheikh al-Khaqani said that people were free to choose
whatever belief they wanted and had the right to abandon Islam if they
wish. This contradicts the Iranian regime's policy of executing anyone
considered heretical or an apostate.

Contradicting Islamist teaching, he also stressed that justice should
be applied equally to all, regardless of whether they are Muslim or

Sheikh al-Khaqani concluded his speech by stating that social
inequality and human rights violations in Muslim countries were
"inconsistent with the humanitarian message of Islam or other

He also reminded the House of Commons audience that "some of the
despotism with which we live in Eastern countries and a generation
tolerating the violence and terrorism that it brings forth" may have
its roots in the "past and present errors by Western states." He
called on Westerners to take responsibility for these errors and help
put them right in order to combat Islamist despotism and terrorism.

Key points of Sheikh al-Khaqani’s House of Commons speech:

* The right to life is the first right of all human beings. This
principle applies to everyone – Muslim and non-Muslim. Justice and
faith dictate that this right may not be abrogated. Terrorists and
suicide bombers are therefore anti-Islam and apostates.

* There is no compulsion in religion. Religious belief is a choice.
The call to Islam is not a religious obligation. Attempts to achieve
conversions by threats or force are unIslamic.

* Jihad as a way of conquering a country and subduing people is
forbidden. Muslims should lead by example. Consultation among the
people is the most appropriate way to determine how society should be

* People should be free to choose the political system that they
desire to live under. Exhortations to topple secular governments and
replace them with a religious state are erroneous interpretations of

* Absolute theocracy, as practised under the Iranian model of Shi’ism,
is unacceptable. Separation of religion and state, with neither
interfering in the other’s domain, is the ideal.

* Religious toleration and the promulgation of justice among all
people, without consideration for whether the citizen is Muslim or
non-Muslim, is an essential tenet of true Islamic thought.

* Violations of human rights in Muslim countries are unacceptable and
incompatible with Islam.

* The West must pursue justice in the world. It should seek to
acknowledge and correct its errors in the East, which have helped
create despotic Islamic states.


Published by The Guardian with the title and introduction:

A progressive perspective

We should listen to the Iranian Shia cleric who has denounced Muslim
jihadism, theocracy and human rights abuses.

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