By Javad Heirannia
January 11, 2021 – TEHRAN TIMES
TEHRAN – A professor from the George Washington University elaborates on the problems facing the Islamic world, ranging from injustice, division, corruption, cronyism, bad governance, dictatorship, reliance on foreign powers, oblivious to the plight of their citizens, resistance against peaceful reform, indifference toward injustice against Muslims in Palestine and in countries where they are in minority, etc.
However, Professor Hossein Askari predicts that “Muslims will in time discover the essence of their religion” and says “the future is bright.”
In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, the professor cites Iran, a Muslim majority country, as a special case, saying the country was invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s and as it was gradually getting back on its feet it was subjected to economic sanctions by Washington. Yet, he says, “Iranians are resilient, innovative and quick to learn”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: There is a great deal of talk in the West about the “crisis” in Islam. Is there a crisis and what is it?
A: Islam has not changed as the Holy Qur’an has not changed. So there is no crisis in Islam. Where the crisis lies is with Muslims and in countries that profess Islam or what we refer to as Muslim majority countries.
Q: So then, what is the crisis with Muslims and in Muslim countries?
A: Muslims have been indoctrinated to memorize the Qur’an and follow all the outward rituals of Islam. While these are good things to do, they are not a substitute for living the kind of life that is at the core of Islam, such as standing up for justice and causes that are just, living a modest life and helping those in need, alleviating poverty, supporting good governance and fighting against corruption, and commanding the good and forbidding evil. Practicing these values not just towards other Muslims but it must be done towards all humanity because as Islam preaches we are all one. Muslims have not studied and debated what their religion preaches for their everyday lives. In many countries, Muslims have been spoon-fed an Islam that is difficult to reconcile with the Qur’an (see IslamicityIndices.org).
As a result, when you look at many Muslim countries today, what do you see? A few living in grotesque luxury while the vast majority live in poverty, under suppression, and with little hope for a better future. In many of these countries, prosperity comes from depleting oil and natural gas assets, which in Islam belong to all current and future generations, yet some rulers behave as if it it’s theirs and use it for their own for a lifestyle that is condemned in Islam while others are suffering in need.
“The weakness of Muslims and Muslim countries is manifested in their fragmentation.”There is pervasive injustice. Rampant corruption and poverty. Ineffective governance. Limited opportunities and freedom. And still today in the 21st century, some Muslim rulers obey the commands of their colonial masters and don’t support the welfare of their people. They collaborate with their foreign benefactors at the expense of their own people.
The weakness of Muslims and Muslim countries is manifested in their fragmentation. Muslim countries do not support Muslims across the world because rulers are beholden to foreign powers for support to stay in power. Muslims are openly incarcerated and mistreated in India, Myanmar, and China and discriminated against in Israel and across North America and Europe, yet many Muslim rulers look the other way. Less than a handful of Muslim countries push back on China, India, and Israel. Muslim leaders have the power to demand justice but they are afraid because they are insecure in their rule and are not united across national borders; the talk of Muslim brotherhood is just talk and nothing more. Israel assassinates Iranian scientists, the United States assassinates an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia leader and Trump pardons four murders of Iraqi men, women, and children, and Muslims around the world and in particular Muslim rulers say little or nothing. Most egregiously, in the face of these unfolding events and the continued subjugation of Palestinians, some Arab rulers in the Persian Gulf even embrace Israel openly and others do the same behind the scenes. Sadly, what they don’t realize is that their colonial masters know one lesson well—divide and conquer. Having divided Muslims, these colonialists will more easily discard any ruler when they have no more use for him. Beware of thine masters!
Let me also say a few words that apply largely to the crisis in the Middle East (West Asia). The whole region is divided over Israel, nuclear arms, and sectarian rivalries. Some Arab countries have forgotten the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli subjugation and decided to embrace Israel while demanding nothing for Palestinian rights and statehood. Trump has twisted arms and intervened where he does not belong, such as recognizing Moroccan territorial claims if they recognize Israel. This kind of pressure further emboldens Israel’s oppression of Palestinians as they feel Arabs talk but will do nothing to oppose the subjugation of their fellow Arabs. But Israeli policies will in time backfire on Israel. Ordinary Arabs will not take this lying down.
With the implicit support of the United States, Israel is hell-bent on regime change in Iran. Israel has an arsenal of over 230 nuclear warheads that threaten the region and dictates that no other country in the region can acquire such weapons and all the while is unwilling to embrace the only sensible solution—a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East (West Asia)—supported by Iran and Arabs.
“Muslim countries do not support Muslims across the world because rulers are beholden to foreign powers for support to stay in power.”Some Arab rulers, insecure in their illegitimate rule, stoke the fires of sectarianism—Sunni versus Shia—in order to further divide Muslims and to perpetuate an ‘us against them’ syndrome in order to shore up their regime.
All the while if one criticizes Israel’s cruel policies that are akin to apartheid one is called anti-Semitic in the West. It is truly sad that Jews who suffered so under Nazi Germany are indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians. More bombs and U.S. support will not be a long-run substitute for a just peace for everyone in the region, including for Israel.
Muslims must oppose oppression and injustice wherever and against whomever it occurs, as must Christians, Jews, and all other persons of faith. If some Muslims oppress Christians, Jews or any human being, all Muslims must stand up in opposition. The same is the moral duty of Christians and Jews and every human being. Humanity is one and evil must be opposed wherever it occurs.
These are some of the reasons for the crisis in the Muslim world but not in Islam. Islam was revealed in the Qur’an and it has remained the same. Muslims must make this distinction and stand up when Islam is attacked. They should look in the mirror and ask what they can do?”
Q: Who is responsible for what is going on in Muslim countries?
A: Muslims. It is Muslims who tolerate these conditions. They should demand a peaceful change. But before they can effectively work for peaceful change, they should study and debate the deeper meaning of their religion that includes—justice, freedom, sharing Allah’s bounty, poverty eradication, effective governance and elimination of corruption and waste, modest living, affording everyone a good opportunity to grow, with access to education, healthcare and the minimum in shelter and food for a dignified life.
Again, while rituals are important, the pursuit of the deeper message of Islam is essential and even more important in creating the communities envisaged in Islam.
I believe that if Muslims take the message of the Qur’an to heart and work for peaceful change, unite across the world, rulers and colonial powers will have little choice but to see what’s down the road if they don’t listen and support the needed reform in Muslim countries. In time, there will be blowback that they will not be able to withstand. This will not happen today or tomorrow but it will happen. How long can you continue to subjugate and deprive hundreds of millions of their basic human rights and the opportunity to enjoy a dignified life?
Q: What shape will this “blowback” take? Against whom?
A: If things continue as they are, I believe that in time there will be violent upheavals in a number of Muslim countries that will spread like wildfire across the Muslim world as Muslims unite against their oppressive rulers. And in countries where colonial powers hold sway, colonialists will be kicked out to never return. It is best to invite peaceful and measured reforms while such peaceful change is still possible but the sooner the easier it will be. The passage of time accumulates more grievances and hatred and makes reconciliation even more difficult.
Q: What can the world do to prevent the crisis that you speak of?
A: Encourage peaceful reform in Muslim majority countries. Stop supporting illegitimate and oppressive rulers who will not support reforms. Stop selling arms that are invariably used to quell domestic protests and spread mayhem regionally.
Q: Why is there so little effective cooperation among Muslim countries?
A: The reasons are many. Most Muslims in Muslim majority countries are struggling to provide for their families. They don’t have the luxury of time to think and express their views for peaceful change. They live under oppression and are afraid to even discuss what their religion demands, let alone seek peaceful change. For instance, in many Muslim countries opposition to the treatment of Muslims in China or in India would not be tolerated by the authorities. And in an age where misleading labels are an effective instrument of intimidation and control, they would be called Islamists or terrorists and possibly even incarcerated. Many Muslim rulers care little for the long-term welfare of their people. They are focused on themselves, their cronies, and important foreign powers for support.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of Muslims, Muslim countries, and Iran?
A: Islam is the fastest-growing major religion. It has about two billion adherents today. Within a few years, followers of Islam will surpass those who profess Christianity. If numbers are a measure of success, then the future is indeed bright for Muslims. But to my mind, numbers are only a part of the story. Muslims will in time discover the essence of their religion. I am confident that the pressure for reform will be unstoppable and will usher peaceful, as opposed to violent, change. With the freedom to think, to dream, and to choose, Muslims will contribute to a more prosperous and peaceful world, and radicals that have misrepresented Islam and given Muslims a bad name will be permanently sidelined. Given the freedom and the opportunity to develop the self, the future is bright.
As for Iran, it has been a special case. Iran was invaded by Iraq, using banned chemical weapons, other lethal arms, and intelligence, all from the West. Then as Iran was slowly getting back on its feet, the United States imposed economic sanctions, which over time became ever more stringent and crippling to the Iranian economy. To alleviate the crippling burden of sanctions, Iran gave up some of its sovereign rights and agreed to the JCPOA. Again, as it started to recover, Trump came along and essentially tore up a multilateral agreement endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Wow! What a history over the last 40 years. But Iranians are resilient, innovative, and quick to learn. I have seen this in Iranian students in the United States. Given a supportive environment and the needed opportunities Iran would flourish. Iran’s Arab neighbors and Turkey should support Iran’s re-integration into the international community. Iran will always be where it is today. Cooperation now would be most appreciated and is the best recipe for a flourishing Middle East (West Asia) of the future. The United States and Europe should embrace such efforts and once and for all extinguish the flame of colonialism and its attendant harm and eventual blowback.