Transcript of the Program Frontline: MUSLIMS
Muslims make up one-fifth of the world's population. But to most Americans, they're a mystery. Islam shares its origins and principles with Judaism and Christianity. But still, Islam is seen as a threat. Patriarchal. Authoritarian. Hostile to the West. Militant. Muslims stand accused of jeopardizing liberal values and Western democracy. The fears exist, but are they justified? Tonight on FRONTLINE, the many faces of Islam: a journey to the Middle East, to Africa and Asia, to Europe and America.
For much of history, Islamic civilizations matched or surpassed those of the West. Islam inspired rich cultures of science and medicine, art and architecture. But 200 years ago, the balance changed. The West became increasingly dominant. By the early 20th century, most Muslims had been colonized, their traditional institutions and identities fractured by European powers. Today, many Muslims are rethinking the role of their religion in the face of globalization and omnipresent Western culture.
Chandra Muzaffar, Political Scientist
"They feel the sort of values and ideas, notions of living, which are emanating from the West and beginning to penetrate their societies, influencing their young in particular, that these are harmful."
Nilufer Gole, Sociologist
"There is a kind of inescapability of modernity or global trends. They start thinking about it, how we deal with it. They would say, 'We want to put an obstacle, a wall between us and all these foreign effects, global culture,' meaning that they want to be pure--pure in the sense of Islam and not contaminated with any other thing."
Akbar Muhammad, Historian
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"There is a resurgence, that's very clear. People have attempted to return to their roots, as it were. To give life to their earlier cultures. We don't want to be like Europe. We want to return to our roots. We want to bring back Islam."
Cairo, capital of Egypt, the largest city in the Arab world. In the bazaars of the old city, early mornings are accompanied by the sound of the Qur'an. These are believed to be the words of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the early 7th century. The Qur'an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad's life have inspired faith, informed behavior and shaped whole societies for centuries.
Sheikh Muawith Mabrook Abbas is a scholar who has spent his life immersed in the traditions of Islam. He has seen for himself the changes of the last 50 years: an often-repressive government now supported by the West; the poverty that followed failed economic policies; and traditional lifestyles threatened by Western values. He's concerned about the role of Islam in Egypt today.
"Muslims have left Islam, and they don't know what God has ordered them to do, or what the Prophet taught. That's why there are problems--and things have happened that their faith would prevent."
Three days a week, Sheikh Muawith works here at the Al Azhar mosque. Al Azhar is known as the oldest Islamic University in the world. For over 1,000 years, it has been a center of learning for Muslims. Its influence stretches from America to South East Asia. Sheikh Muawith first came to study here when he was 14.
"The Sheikh would sit here surrounded by people. He then would teach traditional interpretations of the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet and all matters of religion."
After 16 years of study, Sheikh Mauwith qualified as a scholar of Islamic, or Shariah, Law. Shariah Law is the attempt to derive a comprehensive code for living from Islam's sacred text, the Qur'an, and from accounts of how the Prophet Muhammad lived his life. It covers everything from how to pray to how to punish criminals--but there are several different schools of interpretation.
The Sheikh uses his knowledge of the Shariah to issue fatwas, or legal opinions, to Muslims seeking his advice.
"In 1950, I entered Al Azhar and ended up with an expertise in matters of religion and the world. So, when someone asks me something, I have the knowledge, and I have studied and specialized. I draw upon my experience."
The Sheikh receives a call from a young man. Like a growing number of Egyptians questioning traditional values, the caller has married unofficially in an attempt to legitimize pre-marital sex.
"No, no, it doesn't count as real marriage. Whatever happened after, that is considered a sin. A correct marriage, my son, is a contractual relationship. You must have the approval of her father, two witnesses, a dowry, and you must announce it to the community. This is a secret marriage. It's wrong. And it's forbidden, forbidden, forbidden."
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Theologian
"We don't have a ... an ordained priesthood, which makes it a little complicated. But, we do have a, a tradition of scholarship, and rules of scholarship and a kind of a growing consensus of opinion on how one should think correctly to arrive at what would be deemed a correct decision."
"The biggest problems these days are divorce, marriage and family life." (Subtitles) "For advice, go to the Fatwa Committee. The Committee is that way."
Sheikh Muawith heads the Fatwa Committee of Al Azhar. These scholars issue fatwas to people who visit in person. But, they're also available to Muslims abroad.
"Al Azhar has organized the Fatwa Committee to answer and explain to all Muslims in Egypt and outside Egypt. We get faxes from abroad, from Australia, from America and from Europe about business dealings, responsibilities and all sorts of things like that, and we try to answer them."
While not all Muslims share the same interpretation of Islamic Law, the Sheikhs are troubled when people like Osama Bin Laden issue rulings of their own.
"These kind of fatwas have no basis in religion. Anyone just issuing a fatwa like that should not be trusted. It should neither be considered the religion of Islam nor the teachings of Islam."
The Sheikh is concerned that Islamic scholars have lost the influence they once had.
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"There would be no problem in Islam, itself, nor in the paths of Muslims if they simply abided in their faith. As long as there is no faith in people's hearts, then there's emptiness."
(Chant: Death to Israel! Death to Israel!)
In Iran, Islamic scholars not only have influence, they control the country.
Here, the taking of the U.S. embassy is still commemorated every year. This was the first modern nation state to reject secular ideas and rebuild its government according to Islamic principles. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a shock to Americans.
(Chant: Death to America, death to America.)
But for many Muslims, the Revolution was inspiring evidence of the power of a modern, political Islam.
"What we call radical Islam, which shaped the Iranian Revolution, was the basic idea of the Islamization of the whole of society: this utopia, this ideal, to Islamicize different spheres of life, starting from your inner world but going to your mode of government: the Islamic State."
In the late 1970's, Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani was a student studying engineering. But after the Revolution, he spent a decade specializing in Islamic philosophy and law to become one of Iran's more than 300 Ayatollahs.
Ayatollah Hadavi is still enthusiastic about the Revolution but admits that losing economic ties with much of the West hasn't been easy.
"During these 23 years, we have tried to stand on our own feet, and it was very difficult. And you know that the Western countries, they do not want this. They want a country to depend on them, and to be controlled in a way by them."
The Ayatollah lives in the holy city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran. Here, he teaches Shi'a interpretations of Shariah Law to some of the 40,000 students who travel to Qom from as far away as China.
Ayatollah Hadavi (subtitles)
"Throughout the ages, all the laws of the Shariah have been consistent with Divine Law."
Shi'a Muslims split from the majority Sunni Muslims over a leadership struggle some 13 centuries ago. Tensions can still exist between the two groups today.
In many Muslim countries, the Shariah influences the legal system but is not strictly applied. In Iran, an Islamic State, the Shariah is the foundation of the law.
But, there is an on-going debate. Reformers like President Mohammad Khatami believe that Islam allows for greater social and political freedoms than are currently permitted. Hard liners disagree. Ayatollah Hadavi's views lie somewhere in between.
Qom is an old and traditional Muslim city. Here, women must dress modestly. Most wear the Persian cape known as the chador.
"History has shown [that] the beginning of the corruption in society is always from the women's side because of their important role in the morality of the society, as mothers, sisters, wives in home, and outside home in the society. On the other hand, on the side of men, they should control themselves. If you look at the woman, you should not look at her in some sexual desires and so on. Woman is a symbol of beauty and a symbol of love, and you should take care of this symbol to take care of the society, to take care of the family."
Mahdi Hadavi lives on the outskirts of Qom. He is married with four children.
"Part of Islam is for taking care of family. If it is unstable, then the society is unstable."
Hadavi's daughter (subtitles)
"This design is a bit messed up."
The Ayatollah believes that women must put their family first. But, he doesn't necessarily believe that they should stay at home.
"My wife is teaching now in University. She is teaching Islamic philosophy and logic. My daughter now is in college of graphics…and we hope that she will be able to enter the University."
(Sound of water)
"We do this wuzu, this is a kind of cleaning, that we do this for prayer. And, we think that when you do this, your soul is in better situation. We take care of this throughout the day, not only for the prayer."
For the Ayatollah, Islamic principles and rituals shape the whole of his life. But, central to his faith are five defining practices that all observant Muslims everywhere share: declaring faith, giving to charity, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca and prayer.
* * * *
"When you are in prostration, it is the closest point of the creature to the God. About American impressions about Islam, people in America are thinking that they are the standard of life. They should understand the differences in traditions, the differences of the cultures. If they understand this, then we will reach to a better circumstance for dialogue."
Four thousand miles to the southeast of Iran lie Malaysia's Perentian Islands. Islam came here late, some 700 years ago. But now, one-fifth of the world's Muslims live in South East Asia. Islam arrived through trade, and was spread by Muslim mystics known as Sufis. As they took hold, Shariah laws mixed with local customs to produce an inclusive form of the faith. The arrival of Western tourists was welcomed. Mustafa Rahman has lived on these remote islands for his whole life.
"At first I was a farmer. The income was not that good, so now I run a business."
That business is a complex of chalets catering to the tourists.
"Outsiders, particularly the tourists have caused a little stir among the villagers. Their way of dressing is not the same as the Muslims, but it has not become a serious problem. This is because we understand their cultures are different from the Malaysian culture. We respect their culture and are not angry with them."
But Rahman is not just a businessman. He is also the island's prayer leader or Imam. He believes that villagers and tourists can co-exist, as long as the Muslims live by the values of Islam.
"What I like about being an Imam is that I can explain to those who know less or who don't know at all about the teachings of Islam."
The Imam runs the islands' 70-year old mosque, which is a meeting hall and community center.
"Islam is an Arabic word. To me it means safe, peace. I like the mosque better than my own house. I mean the comfort of sitting in the mosque. It's peaceful, with no disturbances."
Today, Imam Rahman is preparing the mosque for Friday prayers.
"The prayer mats are placed on the carpet so that our foreheads won't feel the floor when we pray. Another reason for having the prayer mat is to cover any filth or dirt on the carpet. You see, Islam gives priority to cleanliness. That's why I say Islam is a safe religion. Because, when we adhere to Islamic rules and regulations, we will be safe."
On Fridays, all men in the community are obligated to meet together. After reciting from the Qur'an, the Imam reads them a short sermon.
Imam Rahman (subtitles)
* * * *
"A country that uses Islamic teachings as a guidance should be used as an example. And never, ever, be deceived by the call of the followers of the Western ideology, which is clearly against Islamic values."
The challenge to traditional values is most obvious in Malaysia's cities. A growing number of Malaysians now live in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Here, Islam is practiced alongside Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
But, over the past 30 years, mass migration has forced many Muslims to reconcile rural traditions with urban lifestyles. Harlina Halizah and her husband Zul both grew up in villages outside Kuala Lumpur.
"I think we don't really have to imitate all that is happening in the West. We can always do it differently in the sense that, even though we can be developed, but we must, at the same time, be very developed in our values."
Harlina's family now lives in the city. But, they still adhere strictly to the values and rituals of Islam.
"The feeling of fulfillment and the tranquility we get from it is beyond description. One just has to experience it to know how it feels."
Harlina sees no conflict between Islamic traditions and a modern lifestyle.
"I think I'll just die if I stay at home and be a homemaker, because then I feel there's so much potential that would go wasted."
So, in 1985, Harlina went to medical school. Today, she is an obstetrician and gynecologist.
"I was lucky to be born in this country. This is a place where women have always been working side by side with men, that's by the tradition. I will sa,y I'm a very empowered woman. Liberated? Well, I don't need to be liberated. I was born a free person. Before I decided I should be a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, of course, Muslim women will ask permission from their husbands. That's what I did. I really wanted Zul to give me permission, because somebody has to do the job. And, he did. Not to say I would not take no for an answer, but again, it depends on how you ask for the permission."
Harlina also leads the women's section of an Islamic organization that encourages other Muslims to practice traditional values. One program is this home for Muslim girls who have become pregnant outside marriage. Harlina believes that Islam forbids abortion, except when the mother's life is at risk. These girls are looked after until they marry or their babies are adopted.
* * * *
"I guess the attitude towards sexuality in the West is more or less being too liberal for our standards…as those of us living in the East, as well as by Islamic standards. I don't think it is fair to say that Islam restricts your sexual desire or whatever. It is not restricting. It is more directing it toward a more purposeful kind of life."
To better understand the tension between East and West, we've come here to Istanbul, Turkey, a city straddling both Europe and Asia. Istanbul has a rich Islamic past. Until 1922, it was the center of the last great Islamic Empire of the Ottomans.
But, 80 years ago, Kemal Ataturk became the first leader of a Muslim people to believe that in order to modernize, Islam's influence on society had to be crushed.
"Governments which ruled Muslims were very often like colonial governments: they suffocated Muslims. They suffocated those who wanted to go back to their original culture. With all due respect to Kamal Ataturk in Turkey, this is a man who attempted to suppress Islam."
Under Ataturk, Friday ceased to be a public holiday, and mosques emptied. Shariah Law was replaced by Western legal codes. Islamic scholars were forced to submit to State control. Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet, and Turks were sent back to school to learn it.
"All the history of modernization was written in a way which excluded Muslim culture. So, in order to be modern, especially in the Turkish case, we had to get away from our Muslim background."
"With his power as president and dictator, he begins his reform. He commands young Turks to go to business school. He brings in foreigners to show girls how to dress, how to manage their homes the European way. Into European dress, he forces both men and women, sweeping away the veil and fez."
For several decades, it seemed as if Ataturk's reforms could succeed. By the 70's, Turkey had become one of the most Westernized countries in the region and an active member of NATO. But at the same time, rapid urbanization was changing Turkey's cities. A free market economy had increased inequality. And voters were frustrated at what they saw as corruption within the political system.
Many Muslims began to question Ataturk's belief that Islam should be removed from politics.
"This desire to talk about politics as being separate from Islam is something that Muslim scholars, on the whole, have never accepted. Why? The Prophet Muhammad was a prophet and a statesman."
So, pro-Islamic politicians promised to rectify a split that they saw as artificial.
Turkish secular author, Aysil Eksi.
"It is very easy to use religion in Turkey, as in other Muslim countries, as part of Turkey is very poor. And, they just believe that if the Muhammad Prophet's time comes back again, they will be prosperous. And, this is what they claim."
By 1996, a Turkish Islamic Party had gained enough popularity to win over 20% of the national vote and come to power in a coalition government. In response, secular officials clamped down on Islam's most visible symbols. These women became victims of a crackdown on the headscarf, which was banned from all public institutions.
"I was studying here at this University. For three years, I studied at the Department of Physics, but in the fourth year, I couldn't enter because of my headscarf. They said: 'You are covering your head with a headscarf, hijab, so you couldn't enter this University.' But, I studied with my headscarf for three years. This is the library of Istanbul University, and we can't…with our headscarf, even in a library…we can't go, we can't enter, we can't search."
"If we allow the girls to cover their heads, one day we would be forced to cover our heads as well. We were frightened that if we had allowed them, they would turn Turkey into Iran."
"The headscarf is not an object that represents a political party or movement. In my opinion, it is not an instrument of propaganda. For me, the headscarf is about being religious and is a symbol of Islam."
"I am not dangerous. I was not dangerous, and I am not dangerous."
The Vice Rector of Istanbul University played a central role in enforcing the headscarf ban. She is Nur Serter.
"It was not only a matter of a head scarf. With the scarf, many other things have started to take place at the universities. For example, the students, they don't want examinations or classes on Fridays. There are many mosques around Istanbul University where students, instead of going to mosques, they wanted to do their praying in corridors. And, they published some, uh, magazines saying that they are coming to the university to fight for an Islamic state. So day-by-day, these demands increase, and of course, afterwards, some limitations took place."
"When the ban started, I was at my fourth year of medical school. On that day, just as I went into class and sat at my chair, my teacher came over and told me that I had to leave. For half an hour or so, I tried talking to him, but they called the police. They grabbed me and carried me out."
The police moved in to break up the demonstrations.
"Islamic movement, in a way, follows the principle of identity movements that we observe in the West. That means as a social movement, they don't want to be assimilated to the principles of Western modernity. They have said, 'No, we want to be even more Muslim than what you expect.' There is this exaggeration of this Islamic identity that we see today. Islam wants to be modern, not in the Western way, but Islam. So, they are trying to tell us, like a 'black is beautiful' formula, 'Islam is beautiful.' And, trying to be a reference point in different sets of civilizations."
These women began to work for a human rights group, counseling other students caught in the same situation and campaigning against the headscarf ban. But, rather than the ban being lifted, the headscarf became the focus of a political crisis.
In 1999, Merve Kavakci, a 30-year old, U.S.-educated software engineer with dual U.S./Turkish citizenship, was elected as a deputy for the Islamic Party. She had worn a headscarf throughout her campaign, but when she attended the swearing in ceremony, the Parliament erupted. Her fellow deputy was Nazli Ilichak.
"When we walked into the room, perhaps 120 deputies just stood up and began to shout, 'Out, Merve Kavakci! Out! Out! Out!'"
After 45 minutes, recess was declared, and Merve Kavakci was forced to leave the Parliament building. Within two weeks, she was stripped of her Turkish citizenship. Two years later, her party was shut down.
While we were filming in June of 2001, the Islamists were re-forming into two parties: a traditional and a reform wing.
"This is the press conference of the traditionals. We want to listen to what he says."
Leading reformer, Abdullah Gull, has worked in Islamic politics for the last decade. Murat Mercan is his main adviser.
"I personally, you know, I have to emphasize the fact that Islam can play along with democracy. And, that is why we want to be very successful. If a Turkish example is not successful, I would say that Muslims will become more radical. If you can't express yourself, your views, your values in a democratic way, how else can you express them?"
The headscarf ban remains in force in Turkey today.
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AWANG, ZAINAH & AIDA/MALAYSIA
Back in Malaysia, Hadi Awang is a conservative Muslim leader who has come to power through the democratic process. His Friday sermons regularly attract around 5,000 people--some travel over 100 miles to hear him.
Hadi Awang (subtitles)
"After eating, say 'Praise to Allah.' After drinking, say 'Praise to Allah.' Always recite the Qur'an to strengthen the soul. When our soul is weak, it can be manipulated by Satan."
In 1999, Hadi Awang was elected Chief Minister of Malaysia's northeastern state of Terengganu. With 15% of the national vote, his party now forms the main opposition to Malaysia's sitting government.
Hadi Awang (subtitles)
"Islam has successfully created a large empire for more than 1,000 years. This indicates that Islam has the ability not only to be the religion of an individual, but also to be the religion of a country that rules with justice. What is important is that we want to be given the opportunity, through democracy, to implement Islam in our government."
The Chief Minister's Party is calling for the implementation of full Shariah Law, for Malaysia to become an Islamic State.
"At the root of it, it's a desire to live as a Muslim. Because the State is a vital ingredient in shaping the environment in which you live."
According to Muzaffar, the Islamic Party's popularity also lies in uneven development and limited political participation.
"Muslims here, as elsewhere, very often feel comfortable about expressing dissent through Islam, because they associate Islam with the quest for an ideal."
Here in Kuala Lumpur, the government has responded to the Islamic Party's popularity, not by repression but by becoming more Islamic itself. It has introduced interest-free Islamic banking, created a new Islamic University and given Shariah courts greater autonomy. While criminal cases are tried in secular courts, family law is administered by independent Islamic courts.
These changes have not been welcomed by all Muslims--especially women.
Aida Melly has been trying to get a divorce for six years. It began seven and a half years into an arranged marriage, when she heard rumors about her husband's behavior.
"What happened was, I gave birth, and then I heard stories that he was getting married to someone else. But, I didn't believe anybody. Then one day, I confronted him, and he said 'yes.'"
Under Islamic Law in Malaysia, Muslim men may marry up to four women.
"As the months progressed, he became more and more abusive, and then there was a quarrel, and he actually punched me. The reason he punched me was because I asked for money for the nursery."
Aida hired a lawyer and took her case to one of Kuala Lumpur's Shariah Courts. Under Shariah Law here, men have the automatic right to divorce, but women must prove their case before a judge.
"You said in your email that this would be your last attempt."
"Yes, final attempt for a divorce. I should get it, because this is the proper procedure."
Aida meets with her friend, women's rights activist Zainah Anwar.
"Aida first came to me because of the problems she had in getting a divorce. Her husband doesn't want to give her a divorce, even though he's married another women without her knowledge and has children with that other woman, and even though he's violent to her, both physically and mentally. So, on many grounds under Islamic Family Law, she has a right to a divorce."
Zainah gave Aida some books on women's rights under Malaysia's Islamic Law.
"I read these books. This is The Islamic Family Law, this one is the Shariah Enactments."
"She told us that, with the reading, she finally realized what her rights were and realized that her lawyer had not given her the best advice."
Aida fired her lawyer and began to represent herself in court.
"This is myself and my ex-husband."
Six months later, the court upheld her claims against her husband, and granted her a divorce.
"This caused a stir in the society, this article, especially among the men. They were heard discussing about this. They said something like, 'Muslim women know their rights, watch out!'"
"The lower court granted her divorce, but the husband appeals against that divorce, and that is where the problem begins."
Ever since, Aida has been fighting her husband's appeal.
"Even though the law says that women can apply for a divorce, can initiate divorce, many of the judges do not want to give women a divorce for as long as the husband doesn't agree."
Today, Aida is returning to the Shariah court to file an affidavit she hopes will bring her case to a close.
It was cases like Aida's that led Zainah Anwar to challenge interpretations of Islamic Law. She lived in the United States for five years, earning Masters degrees in Journalism and International Affairs at Tufts. But, her interest in women's rights began at home.
"This is a picture of my parents, my father, my mother. He was a man of integrity, of incredible principals, honesty, loyalty; but, I think at the same time, it's because of him, too, that I became a feminist, partly, maybe a lot! Because, he was such a patriarch of the family. He was a very old fashioned man, where he expects the woman in the house to do everything, to serve him on hand and foot. That had a great influence, I think, you know, in that growing sense of, this is not right, this is not fair."
Back in Malaysia, Zainah helped establish a research and advocacy group called 'Sisters in Islam.' Through letters to newspapers and memoranda to government officials, these Muslim women are challenging traditional understandings of Islam. It makes them a controversial organization.
"The one at the top is over an article that I think one of the international press agencies wrote about our Islamic Family Law workshop: 'Where Islamic matters are concerned, this organization is the most inappropriate source of information, and I think it should be banned."
Sisters in Islam first met together in 1988.
"But, as we went on, we felt that working with law alone was not enough. Because so much of the gender bias that informs the law comes from an understanding of religion that discriminates against women. We felt we had to go back to the Qur'an. We had to go back to the revealed text of the religion to find out whether the text actually supports the ill treatment and oppression of women."
"I actually found solace in the Qur'an. And then, when I started working on my affidavit, actually I've become closer, and I, I have faith that it's a very, very good religion. Only, the problem is with the Shariah courts. They should make exceptions in these matters. Because this is involving lives, involving thousands of women and children, you know? It involves suffering, you know? And, that is not the true Islam."
"We found that it is not Islam that discriminates against women, it is not the verses in the Qur'an; it is the way that these verses have been interpreted by men living in patriarchal societies, who wish to maintain their dominance and their superiority and control over women."
Aida arrives at the Shariah court--but faces a long delay.
"Oh, Aida, it's you. Judge is busy, told me that he's busy. Didn't tell me to go away, just told me he was busy. So, I don't know. We'll see."
A bigger problem for Aida is Shariah Law itself. The process of legal interpretation, or ijtihad, among Sunni Muslim scholars came to halt some 750 years ago. Their opinions have been accepted as definitive ever since.
"The problem is these interpretations are only mere human efforts at understanding the Word of God. And, just as the context of that time influenced how these men interpreted the Word of God, the changing circumstances of our lives today have to influence the way we interpret the text today."
The administrator overseeing Aida's case is Abu Bakar Daud.
Abu Bakar Daud (subtitles)
"Islam is suitable for all centuries. It has been interpreted by Islamic scholars, and they have interpreted it with respect to their situation or lifetime. But even now, the current situation hasn't changed much from the time of the scholars."
It is an inflexible approach to Shariah Law that is forcing many Muslims to go back to the Qur'an. There, they find, for example, that a verse used to sanction polygamy comes with an important condition.
"The question that we raise, is how come one part of the verse that says 'marry up to four,' is universally known, has been codified into law, is practiced in much of the Muslim world, and the other part of the verse, that says 'if you feel you cannot do justice, marry only one' is forgotten, pushed aside, and most Muslims do not know that part of the verse?"
"It says, specifically, you may marry four; however, you may never be fair. And, if you cannot be fair, and if you fear the wrath of God, of Allah, therefore just marry one. My ex-husband, he's married with two children. I hope that I can have another go at…you see? Because I am still young."
Abu Bakar Daud
"Probably, the difficulty she faced over this long period of time was a punishment from God if she had committed any sins previously. We believe this is Allah's test for her, to strengthen her faith, to be among the best women in Islam, a true Muslim woman."
Six months after we met Aida, the court had yet to grant her a divorce.
* * * *
Perhaps nowhere else in the world is Shariah Law causing as much controversy as it is in northern Nigeria.
This is Kano. Once a trading center on the trans-Saharan crossroad, it is now a city of three million people. Today, among the first things a visitor notices here are all the mini vans with stickers of cultural heroes in their windows. Among them, Indian film stars and Osama Bin Laden.
Islam came to northern Nigeria some 700 years ago. Shariah penal codes were enforced until 1960, when punishments such as amputations and floggings were outlawed. Then, following the defeat of Nigeria's military dictatorship in 1999, a resurgent Islamic movement backed the re-implementation of Shariah criminal law across 12 states in the country's predominantly Muslim North.
Dr. Datti Ahmad is President of the Supreme Council that oversees the implementation of Shariah law here. He agreed to talk to us, but refused to be seen in public with a Western film crew.
Datti Ahmad (subtitles)
"Islam is our culture. We have no other culture. Anything that is un-Islamic, you find, is not accepted. Secularism is a Christian concept. We are not Christians. We are Muslims. And in Islam, there is no separation between what is Caesar's and what is God's. God is the only Caesar."
"Shariah law is Islam. It is the penal and the civil component of the life of a Muslim."
Local attorney Muzzammil Hanga says corruption and crime had reached such high levels that implementation of a Shariah penal code with its harsh punishments was an urgent necessity.
"Armed robbery was always increasing in this country. The disparity between the rich and the poor is there. The prisons are choked up. So, when there was a hint that any part of the country, any state can choose a legal system different from the English common law legal system, and, you know, establish it and practice it, people were like, you know they had been freed. They had been released from a chain. The response is overwhelming. By eight o'clock in the morning on that day, not only the ground, but all the nine major roads leading to the ground, were choked up."
Hanga and other local Muslim leaders arrived in central Kano to announce the implementation of the new penal code. They were met by a crowd of tens of thousands--Muslims hoping to end crime and corruption.
"The most common thought probably was that, at last, we are free now. I believe the clamor for the implementation of Shariah is like an open show of defiance against the government, which is perceived by the Muslims as the sole agent of corruption in this country."
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
"Much of what we hear of events to apply Shariah law, what we see in Nigeria, for instance, or even in Pakistan, is a desire by much of the people to see the general principles of justice followed. It is a desire by the people to see their system of laws be more equitable. It is a call for correction."
The Islamization of northern Nigeria has increased tensions between Muslim majority and Christian minority communities that were already divided along tribal lines. Christians are not subject to Shariah Law, but there have been deadly riots where Christian restaurants and bars serving alcohol have been destroyed. And, in October of 2001, religious clashes were triggered when Muslims protesting the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan went rampaging into a Christian neighborhood.
"They went into the marketplace. They burnt some of the shops of non-Muslims. And, the non-Muslims retaliated. They burnt some of the shops of Muslims. And, the whole thing got out of control. I would say around 200-300 people died. It was sad. This country, from the beginning, actually was designed to accommodate people of different religious beliefs, so we condemn that, and we urged people to understand that, as human beings, they have to live with other people."
Datti Ahmad (subtitles)
"We educate our children."
Although no reliable statistics are compiled, Ahmad claims that Shariah is working because the crime rate here has plummeted.
"You see, the purpose of Islam is to scare you from committing the crime, not to punish you. The purpose is to make the punishment so scary that nobody goes near it."
The hope is that Islam will create a new generation of God-fearing Muslims.
"Islam is against drug addiction. Drug addiction is heavily punished. Islam is also against homosexuality. Homosexuality is a crime under Islam and is punishable by death. Sexual intercourse outside marriage is forbidden…is punished by either 100 strokes of the cane in the case of unmarried people, or by death in the case of married people."
Archive--ITN News Correspondent
"Safiya Hussaini's sentence was to be partly buried in sand and then stoned to death."
One recent adultery case has made international news. Under Islamic law, stringent rules of evidence require either a free confession by the accused or the existence of four eyewitnesses. In this case, evidence that is not common to all Shariah courts was applied.
"This is the case of a woman who might have indulged in adultery. There is no proof of her indulging in the act at the time they were doing it. But, the only proof that worked against her was a baby born out of wedlock. A man, by nature, cannot conceive. Cannot have a baby, so it is sad. And here, if there is any double standard, then it is not from the point of view of Shariah. Probably, you would now accuse God of showing double standards. I think you are safer not to do that."
Shariah criminal law is practiced in only a handful of Muslim countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But here, interpretations of Shariah have shocked many people, including many Muslims around the world. And as political pressures mounted in the Hussaini case from within and without Nigeria, the courts backed off. Safiya Hussaini was pardoned, because it was determined her adultery occurred before the reintroduction of the Shariah criminal code.
Still, Attorney Hanga proudly drove us through Kano and pointed out that there are now three-dozen Shariah courts operating here.
"There are, in all, 36 Shariah courts created after the re-implementation of Shariah in Kano State. Two of them are here. One here, then another one there."
We asked a judge to read some recent cases from his books.
"Based on your confessional statement made by you, Omaru Ahmad, saying that you have taken alcohol drinks…."
This was a case of a man who confessed to drinking a beer.
"You are hereby sentenced you to the punishment of 80 lashes."
Next, we visited another court, where a murder case was being tried.
"Let's call the first witness."
"As a witness, you will swear an oath to tell the truth because of Allah. Raise your right hand up."
"In this court, because of justice, I will tell the truth. Because of Allah."
The victim's brother is accusing this man, Sanusi, of murder.
"Is that Sanusi here?"
"He is here."
"Sanusi was brought before this honorable court alleged to have committed the offence of intentional homicide. He went to the house of Bashir Jebril."
"He made it mainly to kill him. Jerk him up, knock him on the ground, use broken blocks on his head, choke his eye with a screwdriver. But, this is intentional killing. The reason he gave is that he was suspecting Bashir to have an affair with his father's wife. If you go through the holy Qur'an, God Almighty says, 'whoever kills, shall be killed. If you cut, if you chop off somebody's hand, your hand should be chopped away. Eye for eye. Nose for nose. Ear for ear. But, if you kill, you will be killed."
No judgment has been reached yet, but, even if convicted, his life may still be spared. Under Shariah law here, the victim's family can mercifully decide to waive the death penalty and accept a monetary settlement instead.
We returned to Attorney Hanga's house for dinner that night. While his family broke their once-a-week fast, he explained why he believes that Westerners find Shariah law troubling.
"We look at the things from different mirrors. In the West, I think the emphasis is on human freedom. An individual is entitled to freedom to do what he likes, even if what he likes falls short of the moral scope. The overall emphasis in Islamic law is on communal harmony. The freedom of a community to live without one rough element, you know, destroying life for them, just because he wants to live happily"
We have, on our own volition, accepted that the provisions of Islam are cogent enough to govern human life on earth. And what is more, there is security. Once Shariah is there, you know, people go to bed without even locking the front door. You don't fear any thief coming in. The only thing you fear now is just the small goats or chickens coming in to disturb your sleep.
I believe that the West wanted always to show that this notion of barbarism with Islamic law is actually true. With the event of September 11th, the West is frantic, trying to establish two worlds: the free, civilized, forward-looking Western world and the backward, uncivilized Islamic world. I believe, the reaction in the West increases the resolve of Muslims in this part of the country. People have to be allowed to believe in what they want to believe in."
The rejection of Western penal codes and the imposition of strict Shariah punishments may be unsettling to some. A very different concern is the popularity here of a man, known widely as an international terrorist.
"You ask why you see Bin Laden's picture's all over the place, why this is so? I say he is extremely popular of the people. And these are the ordinary people, the lorry drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers. Follow any series of buses in Kan. You will see his pictures 'cause they regard him as a hero. I've not talked to any one of them, but I can understand their feelings. They feel, here is one man who is giving the U.S. a run for their money. The one country that is killing Muslims all over the world. The one country that is regarded by these people, in their understanding, as the worst enemy of Muslims and Islam. The one country that is giving Israel three billion dollars every year, arms, airplanes to go and kill Muslims. Here is one man who is giving them a run for their money, so they love him."
Man on the street
* * * *
"Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden!"
In 1998, Bin Laden struck here at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, East Africa. Since the 1980's, press reports of attacks on Western targets across the world have left some people convinced that all Muslims are anti-Western.
"I don't think the average Muslim is against the average Westerner. I think a lot of Muslims are against Western politics, Western government, because of what they perceive the Western governments do and the influence they have in their countries. Pure and simple."
Among the first places where Islam was used to legitimize a violent response to Western influence was here in Egypt.
In the 1960's, many young, educated Muslims were increasingly dissatisfied with the failures of socialism under Gamel Abdul Nasser and capitalism under Anwar Sadat to produce social and economic gains. The Islamic scholars of Al Azhar University, too, had lost credibility after submitting to State control.
New calls for justice and reform came from a growing number of independent mosques. Some Sheikhs railed against the government and its Western allies. They called for an Islamic State that returned to the ethical principles of the Shariah. Among them was the so-called "blind Sheikh," Omar Abdul Rahman. He preached jihad.
"Jihad actually has different interpretations. Jihad means the ability to control yourself, and this is, according to the Prophet, the highest degree or highest level of jihad. But, it also means, yes, you fight, you know, the outside enemy."
Shariah Law condemns the killing of the young, the elderly and the innocent, but it does permit Muslims to defend the Muslim community if it comes under attack.
"Some of those people, whom Americans call terrorists, consider they are fighting against those who fight against them. I don't want to stress this too far. But, we do have a problem of interpretation. A text can be interpreted differently by different people. And, those interpretations become legitimate to those who interpret the text in that manner. So, we have several interpretations. Who's to say who's right?"
Under the Egyptian militants' interpretation of jihad, anyone who prevented them from implementing their vision of Islam became a legitimate target.
"Those who interpret jihad as, you know, a tool to change the political system believed that there was no other way to change the political system but through violence."
President Sadat clamped down.
Archive--Narrator [September, 1981]
"The demonstrations against President Sadat have been building up for some time. This weekend, the President's formidable security force moved in to detain religious leaders. Opposition newspapers were closed down and journalists and politicians detained in a sweeping operation that is the best indication of the seriousness of the opposition. The President, though, is unrepentant. 'It is a purge.'"
A member of the Islamic opposition at the time was Montasser El Zayat.
Montasser El Zayat
"Sadat became annoyed with the Islamist Groups. He felt they'd gone beyond what was permitted. Sadat tried to get rid of Gama'a Islamiya. But, they were quicker in getting rid of him. Some of its members killed him on the reviewing stand on October 6, 1981."
Among the 300 people put on trial after Sadat's assassination was Sheikh Rahman. And, a medical doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who would become bin Laden's second-in-command.
"We are Muslims who believe in their religion. We tried our best to establish this Islamic State and Islamic society."
The repression of Muslim activists that followed Sadat's killing precipitated two decades of violence in Egypt. The attacks culminated in November 1997, when militants massacred 58 tourists at the ancient site of Luxor.
"They say that tourists are infidels, and they don't believe in Islam and whatever, so they are legitimate targets. But, I think they were more motivated by the fact that, or the idea that, if they hit the regime, the economic sources of the regime, then they achieved part of their goal."
The following year, the militants took jihad even further. In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri called on all Muslims to take up arms against the United States, which they accused of attacking the ummah, the worldwide Muslim community.
"If a part of that ummah is attacked, then all of the ummah is responsible for the defense of that area. Now, this means that if the Palestinians are attacked, if the Iranians are attacked, if the Iraqis are attacked, indeed, if Muslims in this country are attacked, then Muslims elsewhere should come to the aid of those Muslims. So, as long as Muslims continue to be attacked, and they have been attacked throughout, for a long, for centuries, etc, then the fight continues."
By 2001, Osama Bin Laden was planning an attack on America. It would create greater suspicions of Muslims than perhaps any event in history.
* * * *
In America, the night of September 11th brought crowds onto the streets.
Across the country, Muslims were verbally and physically abused. Some mosques were vandalized.
In Bridgeview, Illinois, these protesters were moving towards the local mosque when police moved in and blocked their path. Today, the police still patrol outside the Bridgeview mosque and the Muslim schools next door.
For American Muslims, numbering five to seven million, the issues are starkly different than they are in majority Muslim countries. Here, it's about getting along as another American minority.
Safaa Zarzour came to the United States from Syria 16 years ago as a student. He became a teacher, and today, he is principal of the Muslim Universal School next door to the Bridgeview Mosque. After the terrorist attacks, he received a hate letter.
"It's basically about five, six sentences full of profanities and insults and threatening remarks. I don't know who sent it, but, obviously, it is someone who knows that I am the principal of this school 'cause they said, 'I am going to blow up your bleep school.'"
The letter, laced with obscenities, was turned over to the FBI.
"I mean we are humans. So, you go through all kind of emotions. I would say, the first week I was afraid, definitely I was afraid, because I mean, even, you know, I found myself taking my children, my wife and going up to the second floor of the house…for fear of somebody doing something through the window of the first floor. But, at no time did I feel that that's going to alter anything. I felt like that's part of life. It's part of being different in America, I guess."
Even before September 11th, there were tensions. One incident happened in the town next door to Bridgeview: Palos Heights, Illinois.
"The Mosque Foundation community grew so quickly that people were looking for other venues and other places to put a mosque and put a community center."
Dr. Aminah McCloud is a Muslim and an expert in Islamic Studies. She's built her career studying American Muslim communities. She watched the Palos Heights controversy start two years ago when the Muslims found a place for the new mosque: an empty church.
"This church over here, Christ Community Church, is the place that had been up for sale, and Muslims moved to buy it, and all hell broke loose. All of a sudden, the township wanted to keep it for itself, and as it turned out, when the reporters and people all came out, the real issue was that they did not want Muslims to buy this property. One council woman here in Palos Heights, her first response was, 'Oh, so they are going to put that tower on top of the church and start singing that song every time there is a prayer.' You know, that is her image."
At public hearings, some residents who objected to the mosque proposed a recreation center in its place.
Archive [June 2001]
"The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview has over 60,000 members. How can you honestly say to yourself, where are you going to put the traffic."
Other members of the community spoke up against what they called open racism.
"I shudder to think of the conversations going on in Palos Heights homes about the issues of Muslims coming to our community. These are the conversations that impart our values to our children."
"I have heard concerns that the mosque community will meet on a different day. Good, less congestion on Sunday. There was a concern that they will school children there. Well, that's a nasty habit. I've heard a concern that the Muslim people are too conservative and their treatment of women is restrictive. Are those sins worse than bigotry?"
"You had the ministers, not all of them, but several key figures saying, wait a minute, you know, these are our neighbors. They have the right to buy property here. You had other people on the city's council saying absolutely not, these people are practicing a demonic religion--just age-old nonsense about Islam coming up."
The Muslims accepted a monetary settlement and agreed not to buy the church. But still, they went to court charging discrimination.
"Then, it has gone now all way to a federal judge saying, 'I want you to enter into some kind of inter-religious dialogue.' And after you do this for x amount of time, let us see what changes. And, I think that judge, whoever he or she is, just ought to be given a Nobel Prize. And, even though they ordered it, the people in the community had to think enough of their community to take up this challenge. And they have."
McCloud has been advising the Muslim community in Palos Heights and observing the interfaith dialogue, which continues while the case awaits trial.
"How have you managed to make this difference in faith work? What is it?"
"There was a substantial number of Christian-Americans here who felt the same way we do, as Muslims, that we have the right to practice our faith."
"But, it was this instance--how long have you lived here?"
"Actually, by now, 28 years."
"Did you know these people before?"
"I didn't know these people before, no."
"It is not that it was perfect, cause we did have, we had struggles. There was controversy amongst the group, but we kept coming back to why are we here?"
The Christians found they were the ones with the most to learn. The Muslims became teachers about Islam and how to understand differences and similarities between their faiths.
"One issue we all had to confront is that we all worship this one and the same God. You know, we had trouble as Muslims with the Trinity. If there is only one God, how come we have the Trinity? We are not going to get into that…."
"Don't start! That was the longest meeting."
"We all believe in God. We all believe in the life after death. We all believe in the angels. We all believe in the Day of Judgment. Now you know, there is more emphasis in Christianity on Christ as the God incarnation. And, in our Islam, the Qur'an is equivalent to Christ. The Qur'an to us is the actual word of God."
"I wish I could be more generous in what I say. But, I do stop short of saying that we all worship the same God. Because I am not sure what it means to say that we all worship the same God, but we don't all believe in the crucifixion. And I can say that I see God in my Muslim friends, but I can't quite say that we worship the same God. I can't. It'd be easier if I could."
"I want to make a…. The Qur'an teaches that God is the God of Adam, the God of Noah, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, is the very same God of Mohammed. The Qur'an emphasizes that all these prophets were Muslims, meaning they submitted their will to the will of the one and only true God. My presentation in a church, sometimes I ask the audience of the church to recite the Lord's Prayer. You know, they are very proud to recite for me what Jesus instructed them to teach: 'Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' After they are done, I say, "This is Islam in a capsule." As simple as that. Because, the emphasis here [is on] whom we call Allah, you call the Father. The only difference between you as a Christian and us as Muslims is that we put all our emphasis on that Father."
The interfaith dialogue continues. They meet once a month.
In America, the Muslim population includes immigrants and those born here, a large number of whom are African Americans. The groups don't always get along. We witnessed this during a discussion at McCloud's house.
"Black folk had to be concerned…."
McCloud was joined by her family and two friends--one of Pakistani descent, who had lost his job at a Muslim relief organization when the federal government froze its assets after September 11th.
"My parents came here. You know, they worked. I mean, in Canada, they earned an honest living. And then all of a sudden today, I'm told that, you know, without any reason that, you know, you work for a so-called organization, and you can't do this anymore. And, I still can't come to terms with it."
The federal government froze the assets of his employer, the Global Relief Foundation, alleging it had secret evidence that they were helping to finance terrorist activities. The Foundation denies the charge.
Sadikia Thomas (McCloud's daughter)
"As far as I'm concerned, Arabs, they came over here, they didn't, they had no bonding or care or wanted to have any type of even Muslim relationship with African Americans. I don't think that African Americans, who've always had problems with civil rights, should be sticking their neck out for a group of people, askin' for trouble, for a group of people who have done nothing for us. Period."
McCloud herself converted to Islam in 1966. She is now an Associate Professor of Islamic studies at Chicago's DePaul University.
"Because the African-American Muslim community is the largest ethnic group of Muslims in the country…."
She chose her field because she saw a special need for accurate knowledge about the African-American Muslim community.
"It occurred to me in graduate school that everybody thought all African-American Muslims belong to the Nation of Islam, which I thought was probably the funniest thing I had ever heard, 'cause I knew no members in the Nation of Islam, but I knew thousands of African-American Muslims."
In fact, the majority of African-American Muslims belong not to the nation of Islam but to the Muslim American Society led by Imam W. Deen Mohammed. The total number of African-American Muslims in all groups is estimated between 1.5 and 4.5 million.
"As historians and other researchers uncover a very rich Muslim past in slavery, they're still looking at, in 2002, Christianity is still about race. It's still the blond haired, white Jesus with blue eyes. They're saying, 'No, I'm not worshiping white men.' For some others who were nothing, you know, I mean not inside of a structured religious community, it is, 'I want to be inside of a structured religious community.' So, African-American conversion, a lot like Latino American conversion, is sometimes from dissatisfaction, other times from searching."
"I was, like, searching for something better, a better life."
Dia Richardson of Los Angeles was raised a Christian. In November of 2001, she became one of an estimated 20,0000 Americans a year who are converting to Islam.
"I was having a lot of problems, and I wasn't living right. I was running around clubbing every night, drinking, smoking weed."
Dia went to a wedding at the King Fahd mosque in Culver City. She'd never even been inside a mosque before.
"It was beautiful when I walked in. Right when I walked in--I don't who it was that day--but he was saying the adhan, the call to prayer. It made me feel really good. It was like, it made me stop. And I kept saying, 'what is that, what's it called, what's he saying?' And you know, it sounded really beautiful when he was singing. That was the first time I had ever seen a prayer being done inside a Masjid."
Dia Richardson (on the telephone)
"Okay, okay. We're coming, like, about 12:30."
So a month or so later, Dia made the decision to become a Muslim. Her children already attended a Muslim day care center in East L.A., run by her God Aunt, Khadijah.
"And, when I drove over here to bring my kids, I walked in the door, and I saw, you know, her and everyone. And they were covered and all the little kids and their covers, and I just looked at her, and I said, 'I want to take Shahada.' And, she was like,'what?'"
"Shahada is the declaration of faith, that was telling her…"
"…That I wanted…"
"…To become a Muslim."
"And I said, 'Okay, give me my hijab, give me a big old dress, and everything, everyone, was like, oh my, you are going to cover your head? You are going…? They did not expect me to like come full-blown like that."
Since she converted, Dia's been staying at her God Aunt's house. At Aunt Khadija's, she lives in a Muslim world. But, past the front door, it's a heavily Christian neighborhood.
"Like here, as you can see, I'm surrounded by…Jesus is everywhere. There's churches on every corner."
Dia is still dealing with the reaction to her conversion from friends and colleagues who knew her before.
"We're on our way to the Sliver Slipper Beauty Salon. I used to work there for many years. They were really shocked when they first found out that I converted, and they asked me, 'Well, how can you be a Muslim? Muslims don't date.' They think women are deprived."
"Hello! Hi, hi, Becky."
"How you doing?"
"I'm fine how are you?"
"Blessed in the name of Jesus!"
"Were you shocked when you see me? Everybody, shocked…?"
"Yeah, everybody was shocked, yeah."
"Do you think I'm more calm?"
"I have to be around you a little longer. We have to go out and eat. But so far, you seem like you're a little calmer, yeah. But, even when you come in here, you're like, 'yeeeeeh!'"
"I was like asleep by nine."
"That's hilarious. That's totally not you. You know if…."
"Still, like I said, I'll wait 'til Christmas to see what's going on. But hopefully, if its gonna, and help you be more focused and calm, I'm all for it."
"I feel not apart form the community. I feel different. I feel different, you know. To be a good Muslim is like to be a good Christian or to be a good Jew, because all the books tell you like to be right; to live right."
As an African-American, Dia made the choice to become a Muslim.
For immigrants, the choice is how to negotiate their traditions within a secular American culture.
"Let's move, you girls. Girls, let's go."
Back at the Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois, Safaa Zarzour sees living in two cultures as both challenge and an opportunity.
"Our vision and our dream is that there is something that is called the American Muslim identity forming for those kids--just like any other religious or ethnic group."
There are now over 400 Muslim day schools across America.
"Very quickly, I realized how much Arab and Muslim children who have been born and raised in America, how much they face, because many times their parents are immigrants and they don't know a lot of what goes on in society."
Safaa Zarzour (to student)
"I talked to your Mom yesterday…."
"And, those kids kind of feel like they would like to make their mom and dad happy, but also there is this society that they face, that they have to live in, and it is very hard to kind of negotiate those two things. And, I feel like I have balanced the two. And, I can transfer that somehow."
"You're going to write two journal entries. First entry is going to be how your life was before factories…."
"We teach them what Islam stands for as a religion, the way, you know, the average Muslim around the world practices it. At the same time, we show them, within the American society, those beautiful things that are at the heart of Islam and show them how there is no contradiction in essence. I see more Islamic values in this country than I see in some of the so-called Islamic countries. At the heart of it, justice and fairness and the rule of law and equality before the law and those things."
The school also makes a point of teaching the students about other religions.
"We do believe that Abraham is the father of all three religions: the father of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. And so, we do feel that our kids, we have a special responsibility to make them familiar with those two religions in particular."
Since September 11th, Zarzour also has been involved in dialogue with Muslims outside the school.
"Up until maybe a few months ago, my feeling was, that although there is the occasional personality or the occasional racist, in general, what we are experiencing is just what everybody else experienced when they are a new community, trying to put themselves together, trying to introduce themselves to the larger American society, to all other groups. Now, from about September 11th until now, I feel there's an added burden. I almost feel like we, as Muslims, may not have the same luxury that the Irish Catholics had or the Jews had or anybody else had. That these people had the luxury to develop and finally, everybody looks at them and says, 'yes, you are an American. Yeah, you are a Jew, but you are an American.' You see, or a Catholic--are an American."
"And this is, I mean, this is the only faith I've seen if somebody commits a crime, and he's Muslim, it's Islam, you know, spread on the front page. You look: Muslim commits a crime. If Tom or John or somebody, they're not gonna say a Catholic man commits a crime or a Jewish man. It's the way it is. I mean, you can complain about it or you can change it."
"To me, that is precisely what I worry about it…is we become perpetual victims…."
"The only thing that I know how to be is an American. That's the only thing that I know how to be, is an American Muslim. And, when somebody questions my loyalty to this country, it's frustrating. But, I believe communication is the key."
"I think people in this community have at some point decided that we are American Muslims and that, somehow, we are going to function within those two realms and not limit ourselves to one or the other, and definitely not split our personality into two separate ones. In fact, I look at Muslims in the United States as being in a very unique position to be able to produce a model for how Islam can be lived and how it can be practiced vis a vis other religions and other people."
For some Muslims, building that new American identity has meant making personal decisions they'd never even considered before.
"Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, being a Muslim wasn't really an option. It wasn't really anything you thought about. You were required to live a Muslim life."
Yasemine Saib moved to America with her parents 12 years ago. Now, she's a New York marketing professional, who has found her own way to be a Muslim.
"It wasn't until I came to the United States that my spiritual identity came into question for the very first time, because I actually had the option of believing or not believing. I actually had the option of choosing to practice or not practice. It wasn't until the last year that I have truly become very secure and comfortable with my connection to Islam."
And, that connection took a new turn after September 11th.
Yasemin Saib (on the telephone)
"I'm calling from Muslims Against Terrorism. It's an organization called Muslims Against Terrorism. He'll know it. Just write…."
"Muslims Against Terrorism came about the day after September 11th. We were completely in shock, paralyzed by the tragedy, of course, and a group of us, young Muslim professionals from varying backgrounds, basically emailed and called each other and said, you know, enough is enough. We need to stop allowing extremists to dictate the public face of Islam. And, we most importantly didn't just offer this kind of dialectic just because we are doing PR. We backed ourselves up with Islamic theology because that is the same language that those extremists are using. One example is "jihad" that they claim they are fighting. It is completely groundless. It was just purely, completely un-Islamic."
Yasemin volunteers eight to ten hours a week. She makes presentations at churches, synagogues and to other groups. On this day, she was speaking to New York City public school students.
"Let's start getting some conversation going."
"We kind of brainstormed stereotypes."
The students had listed what they believed to be common prejudices about Muslims.
"Go to mosques. Pray to Allah. Next. Terrorists. Body odor. Own grocery stores. Own smoke shops. Women wear scarves. Women are uneducated. Men are in jail. Don't eat pork. They are black. Wear nose rings. Must be married before having sex. A lot of children."
"Wow, this is intense. This is very good actually. I would have to say, you've pretty much summed it up. I mean, summed up most of the general misconceptions and biases that people have of Arabs and Muslims. People who are not very well informed about Islam assume that Islam is an Arabic religion. They assume that all Muslims are Arabs and all Arabs are Muslims. Here's a fact. Only 13% of the entire Muslim population in the world is actually Arab. So, it is a very small percentage. Okay?"
"What I feel my contribution is, to be able at least to bridge the gap, the intolerance that exists, the ignorance, the lack of knowledge about Islam, and just kind of put a new face to Islam.
"When you're in Saudi Arabia this is all that you're required to wear. You're not required to cover your face even though some women choose to cover their faces."
In America, Yasemin has chosen not to cover her hair except when she goes to the mosque or other religious activities. Sometimes, other Muslims object.
"By virtue of the fact that I don't wear hijab, I'm automatically put into question every day all the time. I may know a hundred times more about Islamic theology than another Muslim woman who chooses to wear hijab, but some parts of the Muslim community will probably take her more seriously over me, because they associate Islamism with how much you cover."
Yasemin learned much of what she knows about Islam from her father. He's a dental surgeon, now retired and divorced from Yasemin's mother. He lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
On this weekend home, the conversation turned to issues affecting Muslims abroad. There'd been a recent attack by Muslim extremists on a church in Pakistan. Father and daughter turned to a passage in the Qur'an, discussing proper attitudes toward people of other faiths.
"So in other words, it puts the people of the Christians, we are Christians priests, and monks treat them with affection."
Kanan Saib (Yasemin's father)
"That's exactly right. Therefore, the fight between Muslims and non-Muslims--they said, if you see any priests or monks in any religion don't touch them at all."
"Yeah, and then what happens in Pakistan? They go into a church, and then they blow people up."
"As I told you, this has nothing to do with Islam. This is politic [sic]. Because to kill person, any person, is big sin. Any person, be they religious or not religious."
"Yeah, but Dad, not everything…here's the problem. You know what I think is the biggest problem in the Muslim community? We're in a constant state of denial. We always say, oh well, you know, this is not religious, not politics. We're such conspiracy theorists that we don't accept the fact that there are Muslims out there who sincerely do this because they believe in it. I mean, can't we accept that fact?"
"I know that's you are right. This is not only Muslims and non-Muslim. This is the history of the world. I am very sorry, but what to do?"
"Yeah, I know. Well, that's not good enough for me. What to do is the condition of the helpless, you know? You say, oh, what can we do about it?"
"It was very hard to grapple with saying, you know what? We need to take responsibility. We need to be able to face the truth, because we can't change our future if we can't face the truth."
* * * *
In America, Muslims like Yasemin and her father are relatively free to debate their faith and their politics. But, they are largely removed from the rest of the Muslim world from which they emigrated. It is in Muslim countries and Islamic States like Iran, where the decisive battles are being fought. Here traditionalists and reformers, conservatives and militants, are engaged in a daily struggle over who among them will define the future face of Islam.
The last 20 years have seen Islamic States established in Sudan and Afghanistan, as well as in Iran. But, it is here that the process of Islamization has had longest to mature.
Professor of Political Science, Hadi Semati, is an adviser to Iran's reformist President, Mohammad Khatami. Once, Semati was a revolutionary student, who supported the scholars' Islamization of Iran. He fondly remembers the idealism of his youth.
"We wanted to build a, a society where, you know, loyalty, community and sense of belonging and, of course, the moral restraint on individual behavior would be strong…but, at the same time, the banking system, economic systems that would affect everything. We didn't know the details of it for sure, but we knew we wanted to create this society of moral human beings and architect it in a way that would be the model, an ideal type of golden-age Islam, so to speak."
Today, Semati hasn't lost his vision for a society rebuilt on Islamic principles. But, he is rethinking how it can be achieved.
"The reform movement is about stripping out some of these excesses and misinterpretations and misperceptions of Islam and really going back to the core, which was essentially what we all strived for: that is building a moral society in which people can flourish and can fulfill their potentials. But, it's not going to happen in ten years, 15 years, 20. It's a long, educational process, and that long, educational process actually needs freedom of thought."
In 1997, the promise of greater social and political freedom led to the landslide election victory of Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. His reformist agenda had special appeal for Iran's increasingly young population and to women…like Nazanin Shahrokni.
"President Khatami was the only candidate who paid special attention to the empowerment of women. And, he insisted that we must use women's power, we must use them in society because they are half our population and we have to use their energy. I can tell you, somehow, what maybe most women want is to have more places in the public sphere, to see more positive attitudes towards them. Because the society can remain religious but at the same time give women more place and more opportunities, more choices and hopefully more rights."
Nazanin is a sociologist who writes for a magazine in Tehran called "Zanan," or "Woman."
"We're a monthly magazine dedicated to women's issues, and "Zanan" is well known for its reformist, at the same time feminist, and at the same time religious view about women."
In Iran, working in the press takes courage. In 2001, some 15 journalists were imprisoned for challenging state policies. "Zanan's" editor, Shahla Sherkat, founded her magazine in 1992. It often covers sensitive issues like AIDS, domestic violence and women's rights.
"Some say it was harmful for families because women started to fight with their husbands after knowing what rights they had; but I guess, well, that's like a patriarchal look at what "Zanan" has been doing. Because, well, if there are rights for women, they have to be aware of them. Because women are human as well as men are, so they have to have the same rights, equal rights. So, why not push for it?"
The push for reform in Iran is often undermined by hard-line scholars, who still advocate obedience over individual choice. Hadi Semati is increasingly realistic about what political Islam can achieve.
"I think we put Islam in a position where we presume that it could resolve and it should resolve every fundamental and little detail of life. You don't necessarily have to solve every question in your life by Islam. Islam gives you a direction, gives you a light, so to speak."
The feelings of young Iranians spilled on to Tehran's streets in October of 2001. Several soccer matches turned into street protests against the regime. By the time we filmed a month later, the security forces had clamped down. But, the demonstrations had illustrated popular frustration with the rate of change.
At "Zanan" we caught the journalists talking about the match, and about how much women have yet to achieve. While Irish women fans could attend the match, Iranian women had been barred from the stadium.
Lunch conversation at Zanan (subtitles):
"The reason for this is that the gentlemen make a lot of noise while watching football. All kinds of people may be there and all kinds of inappropriate language may be used. They think women need to be protected in a special way because women are unable to take care of themselves."
"Because of male aggression or their behavior, women are faced with imposed limitations."
At "Zanan," the struggle for a more inclusive interpretation of Islam continues. But since 2000, 30 reform publications have been shut down. In 2001, Shahla Sherkat was arrested and fined for suggesting that women should not be forced to cover by law. And in April of 2002, a newspaper editor in the north of Iran was sentenced to seven months in jail and 74 lashes for what the government called 'false reporting'.
* * * *
The attacks on America have accelerated the process of self-examination by Muslims everywhere. On September 11th, we were filming in Malaysia.
"Islam teaches justice, teaches peace and doesn't advocate acts of terrorism, acts of violence, acts of discrimination and oppression of women. Yet, there are Muslims who can use the religion to commit such acts. This doesn't help the cause of other Muslims who are trying to put forward an Islam that is democratic, that's pluralistic, that believes in justice, in peace, in equality, in freedom."
Wherever we went in the Muslim world, we met people like Zainah, frustrated by intolerance and conservatism.
"I absolutely see no contradictions in being a modern person, an independent woman, in demanding for my human rights, my right to choose my life and to reach my full potential, and being a good Muslim as well."
Recently, Zainah Anwar was appointed to the government's Human Rights Commission. Zainah would like to see what she and other intellectuals regard as a more flexible, more universal expression of Islam.
"The more universal approach to Islam would not be wedded to a certain interpretation of Islamic Law and say you have to prove your Islamic credentials by chopping off hands, or stoning adulterers and adulteresses and all that. Because, that is not what defines Islam…the universal approach would regard women as equal. The more universal approach to Islam would emphasize values. Universal, perennial values, which others can also identify with."
"I am just saying that if you don't wake up and shout and scream and start educating yourself about Islam, start having the courage to speak and to challenge and to offer a different view, we are heading into an Islamic State where our rights and our fundamental liberties, you know, are just going to be chiseled away at, you know, more and more."
Zainah Anwar is concerned about the continued spread of conservative Islam. On this day, she was joined by political scientist, Farish Noor.
"A concept like the Islamic State could only have appeared in the context of modernity."
He rejects the idea that the Islamic state is a Muslim tradition. It is, he believes, a recent phenomenon.
"When you look at the history of Islamic civilization, you see the concept of the Islamic State taking off only from the early 19th century onwards. Prior to the 19th century, the concept of the Islamic State, the very term itself, did not exist. The Islamic State appears at a time when the Muslim world is under acute crisis, institutional crisis, political and economic collapse. There is a reactive nature to these sorts of politics from the beginning."
The popular appeal of political Islam, he suggests, must be seen in terms of social and economic discontent.
"In the case of practically every Muslim country today, there is no longer a secular alternative to the dominant power, simply because the secular alternative in the 60's was the left, and the left was destroyed during the Cold War. This leaves political Islam as the only alternative for many Muslims in the world today. This is, therefore, the problem that many of us working in human rights face. Because, on one hand we recognize the sense of frustration and anger from people who want an alternative, but on the other hand, our sense is that the alternative can be that much worse than the status quo itself."
In February, a group of Islamic scholars accused both Zainah Anwar and Farish Noor of insulting and abusing Islam. Even in Malaysia, the charge carries a sentence of up to three years in jail.
* * * *
"We, as a society, want to run our lives according to the teachings of Islam. The problem is that the traditionalists feel that only those trained traditionally in religion have a right to talk about religion. We are saying that if you want to use religion to govern our public lives, then we as citizens of a democratic country, have a right to participate in that decision-making."
The struggle by Muslims to define the role of Islam in their societies is as old as the faith itself. It's a battle over interpretations. Some Muslims believe Islam promotes democracy and advocates human rights. Others invoke Islam to sanction their own authority.
It's a struggle that matters. Today, the world is a smaller place. Ideas travel more freely among people and across borders. Battles once distant, now have consequence for people everywhere.