Yesterday we posted a video of an Iraqi politician who called for secular law in Iraq to replace the fiqh. He told a TV audience that without such a change, ISIS could never be defeated.
Tonight we have two interviews with a theologian of Islam in Austria who makes similar points. Both men see the traditional interpretation of Islamic scripture and law as the problem. Both acknowledge that the Islamic State is following the exact theological traditions of Islamic law as they have been understood for the past fourteen centuries.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff sends this introduction to the interviews:
Ednan Aslan is a professor of Islamic pedagogy at the University of Vienna. The Austrian Counterjihad has had many disagreements with him, not least my personal “experience” with him when five years ago, in an interview, he likened me to Osama bin Laden for speaking out about Islam at a seminar.
Who would have thought that one day we would be grateful to Mr. Aslan for proving Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron wrong, wrong, wrong.
Mr. Aslan isn’t just a Muslim form the streets; he is an expert, just like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new caliph of the Islamic State. And he comes to the same conclusion as Mr. Caliph: IS is all about Islam. It’s straight from the heart of Islam.
The money quote:
“Everything IS is doing and encouraging is theologically correct and appears in all the basic works of Islam. A caliph has one military obligation — no peace treaty. He must use force to spread Islam and must make war at least once a year.”
Thank you, Mr. Aslan, for calling a spade a spade.
Many thanks to JLH for doing these hefty translations.
Article #1 from the Austrian daily Die Presse:
Religious Teacher Aslan: “Muslims Need Peace Concepts”
The religious teacher Ednan Aslan, interviewed in Austria about the perplexity of the Islamic religious community
by Köksal Baltaci
September 26, 2014
Die Presse: A Viennese imam praises Hamas and thinks “firing off rockets against Israel should be applauded.” The Islamic religious community, questioned about this, finds the imam “enlightened and reform-oriented.” How should we understand this?
Ednan Aslan: Compared to other imams and their sermons, which propagate an Islamic state and are in stark contrast to democracy and the reality of life here, this man apparently seems truly harmless to the religious community. The religious community knows the problems quite well, but can take no public position and is, in my opinion, at a loss, because they must take into account other interests of the religious societies. Transmissions and other communications of the Muslim societies which take a position on recent developments are a sign that they do not feel adequately represented by the religious community.
Die Presse: What other interests?
Ednan Aslan: The religious community consists essentially of three organizations — Milli Görüs, the Muslim Brotherhood and Atib [Turkish Islamic Union in Austria]. These three groups — not least due to the influence of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — are becoming ever more similar, so that they can almost no longer be differentiated. And all of them are demanding an Islamic State. If the president of the religious community (Fuat Sanac) picks a fight with them, he will not be re-elected in 2015. Directions for the configuration of the religious community do not come to these organizations from the community itself, but from foreign political centers. The religious community is more or less just a shield for the activities of such groups.
Die Presse: How do you define “Islamic State”?
Ednan Aslan: A state under Islamic law, as the head of IS, al-Baghdadi would like it.
Die Presse: Including sharia, the caliphate, holy war, stoning, etc.?
Ednan Aslan: Yes.
Die Presse: If the religious community consists of such groups, urging such a state, they can hardly find critical things to say. They would have to distance themselves from themselves.
Ednan Aslan: There is some truth in that. I have not noticed either the organizations or the community distancing themselves from political Islam and/or an Islamic state in the classical sense. If it is impossible to be free of the illusion of a highly idealized Islamic state, then there must always be the possibility of violent attempts to establish such a state. The religious community is of the opinion that sharia is not possible in Austria, because Muslims are not in the majority here. We must understand the implication of this remark. It implies that Muslims in Austria cannot live according to their own laws, but would like to.
Die Presse: Do you consider the citing of the Koran by the terrorist group IS to justify its activities legitimate?
Ednan Aslan: From a theological perspective, it is 100% legitimate. Everything IS is doing and encouraging is theologically correct and appears in all the basic works of Islam. A caliph has one military obligation — no peace treaty. He must use force to spread Islam and must make war at least once a year.
Die Presse: Does that mean that Islam is basically a religion of violence?
Ednan Aslan: No. Islam is a religion of peace. It just has to seriously question its antiquated theory shaped by revenge, war and violence and re-interpret it in tune with the reality of our modern life. If not, Muslims will remain slaves to a theology which is shaped by revenge, war and violence. The consequences are fatal. Muslims risk losing their credibility all over Europe.
Die Presse: What does that mean exactly? Should Islam re-invent itself?
Ednan Aslan: Muslims must forthrightly and critically confront their theology and/or teachings and develop new concepts of peace in place of the old war-and-revenge concepts. That is also true for the religious community. There is a gap between Islamic theology and the everyday lives of Muslims.
Die Presse: Are you surprised that young men and women jihadis from Austria continue to go to holy war in Syria and Iraq?
Ednan Aslan: Not at all. When children constantly hear from imams that an Islamic state is worth striving for, it is no wonder that they want to live in such a state. Even if the imam would not want the young people to go to war, he often cannot prevent it, because they may have their own thoughts and act on their own. These young people are not terrorists, but products of an outdated theology.
Die Presse: What is going on with the many enlightened Muslims in Austria, who want nothing to do with war and violence? Where is their resistance?
Ednan Aslan: Good question. The problem is that most Muslims are not organized. And those who are organized — as I mentioned — do not want to distance themselves.
Die Presse: How can the government intervene in this situation?
Ednan Aslan: It can address the problem more decisively and be preventively pro-active by pushing and improving the teaching of democracy. In some ways it is already too late, but it should still begin. In Vienna, for example, there are about 150 kindergartens mostly run by Salafists. How can that be? By what criteria are these kindergartens authorized? These children will one day be adults and perhaps will want to put into practice what they have been taught all these years. Years ago, I warned the Vienna school commission and the education ministry about problems in several schools. Since then, two students from one of these schools have gone to holy war in Iraq and Syria, and are using the internet to stir up enthusiasm among other students.
Die Presse: So you believe that even more young people from Austria will go to holy war?
Ednan Aslan: I am convinced of it. We will hear about some of them and not others.
Article #2 from profil:
Theologian of Islam Ednan Aslan on Radicalization by Koranic Teachers, and Cowardly Responsible Parties Turning a Blind Eye
by Christa Zöchling for profil
Austria has a problem. In the past year, more than 140 young people have left for Syria to join the terrorist brigade “Islamic State”. Calculated by population, Austria is among the leaders in voluntary jihadists. Hate tirades and propaganda videos by Salafist preachers are “liked” thousands of times on Facebook. To be sure, this is a pop-culture, youth phenomenon, but violence-prone ideologies are also always artificially constructed and guided and always with plentiful foreign financing. And they are activated by imams who have had their theological training in fundamentalist centers in the Gulf States, whose allegiance is to Salafism or the Muslim Brotherhood, who officially disavow violence, but use a radical reading of the Koran to indoctrinate the young. In a rare public statement, the religion teacher Ednan Aslan of the University of Vienna speaks of the negligence of past years. Aslan, who grew up in a small town in Turkey and studied in Austria and Germany, is presently working to develop the study of Islamic theology shaped by European influence. Until now, Aslan has been alone in his endeavor and fighting a losing battle. Now, his warnings about fundamentalist tendencies that he has observed in the Islamic community are being taken seriously by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
profil: Why are young people who have grown up and gone to school here joining the killing squads of IS? Are the reasons for that to be found in Islam?
Aslan: Not just there. But anyone who maintains that this has nothing to do with Islamic theology or is caused by immigration is just wrong and is belittling a dangerous development. IS terrorism is based on a theologically well-founded, violent ideology. So Islamic theology, which is perceived as a religion, must be candidly discussed.
profil: There are well over 100 private Islamic kindergartens and schools, among them allegedly, many in the hands of Salafists. Do you know what is being taught there?
Aslan: Yes, we know what is going on there. It worries me. Fundamentalist Koranic teachers are drumming it into elementary schoolgirls that they must later wear a niqab, if they don’t want to fall into the hands of the devil. Kindergarten children are forbidden to sing during Ramadan. Or children are drilled in memorizing surahs from the Koran so that they are hardly able to make a personal connection with God. Also, several of the officially recognized Islam teachers, who are instructors with the IRPA (Religious Pedagogical Instruction for Islam Teachers in Elementary Schools, under supervision of the IGGiÖ or Islamic Religious Community in Austria), are advertising on Facebook for their political leaders in Egypt, who are calling Muslims to sharia and who reject everything outside the Koran or call for Jewish products to be boycotted. When asked, they will not speak in favor of young people going to war, unless they are sure of having laid the groundwork for groups like IS. This trend to fundamentalism has increased in the last 5 years.
profil: You are director of Islamic pedagogy at the University of Vienna and have done nothing about this?
Aslan: I informed the Metropolitan School Authority and the Ministry for Education about this dangerous development two years ago and asked them to do something about it. The reaction was exactly nothing. For political reasons, apparently, it was better to avoid mentioning awkward problems. That seems to be changing. Two young people from one of these schools — an Islamic high school in Vienna — have ended up with IS in Syria. It does not take a clairvoyant to see where this is going.
profil: The IGGiÖ says there is no “Salafist” problem.
Aslan: Whether such a Koran teacher is a follower of Salafism or the Muslim Brotherhood or Milli Görus, it is about a political ideology that glorifies violence, so that the boundaries between religion and ideology disappear. The mufti of the IGGiÖ, Mustafa Mullaoglu, represents the view that politics is a prophetic task, and that religiosity without political input is un-Islamic. This is not just any office-holder. This man is responsible for imams and chaplains.
profil: Violent Salafists have for some time been considered enemies of the constitutional state in Germany. When did these jihadist movements become noticeable in Austria?
Aslan: Violent Salafism came to maturity in the 1980s, along with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabi theology in Saudi Arabia. Since the 1990s, the Gulf States have invested enormous sums in the training of imams, who are then sent to Europe, including Austria. They have a firm grasp on Islamic theology. In recent years, Turkey has also discovered its self-interest in Austrian mosques, and there, too, radicalism is on the march. Unfortunately, Austria has in the past not concerned itself very much with the religious needs of its immigrants and refugees, and has allowed foreign countries to use their own imams to preach their own image of Islam. We have sowed this ideology in Austria and now we are reaping its fruits. All of the mosques in Austria receive their theological, ideological and financial support from outside the country. In a way, they are foreign colonies. The activities of the IGGiÖ are very limited. It functions as a shield for their activities. It is unfortunate that Austria allows foreign countries to interfere in the religious affairs of its citizens.
profil: Brochures by the Salafist hate-preacher Pierre Vogel and recruiting material of the Muslim Brotherhood can be found in Viennese mosques. Is that dangerous?
Aslan: Let’s take a look. (He takes a brochure from the Viennese mosque at Prater Street 52.) This introduction to Islam by the Pakistani author Maududi is harmless in and of itself, but then a young person might read other books by this author, that state that the foundation of an Islamic state is the highest religious duty for Muslims — that such a state should be realized where Muslims live. So the young people find themselves in a religious contradiction. They think they are living in a false society. They will not find a single mosque in Vienna where the foundation of an Islamic state is rejected. Of course, there is no public recruiting for IS, but the basic ideology is the same. These young people going to Syria are not terrorists, but victims of these ideologues. The only difference is that these young people have more courage than the others who only talk, and that makes them instant heroes.
profil: So they take preachers at their word.
Aslan: And they think beyond. They are looking for the ideal society that the preachers are talking about. When Baghdadi, leader of the IS, says that they are founding that kind of state, these young people find that good. With all its consequences. Theologically, I can understand that kind of decision. Baghdadi is a top Islamic scholar. His goals accord with the foundations of Islamic theology. His actions are found in theory in all Islamic courses of study as taught in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
profil: Is Islam a dangerous religion?
Aslan: Every religion corresponds to the intellectual maturity of its society. Christianity in Europe is not the product of the Church, but of the Enlightenment. But looking at Africa or Latin America, for example, you will find strong fundamentalist movements there too The Islam of today corresponds to the intellectual maturity of the Muslims in the Islamic world, to the situation in Islamic countries where no democracy exists. There is no free theology in Islamic-governed countries.
profil: The Salafists invoke the origin of Islam.
Aslan: So they say. They deny the entire history of Islamic civilization. The words of the Prophet Mohammed — predominantly invented and authored for the benefit of rulers 200 years after his death — qualify for these underage minds as merciless laws which forbid human beings religious autonomy, and value obedience to these invented sacred words more than respect for human life.
profil: You would be beheaded by IS fighters for such comments, possibly also in Saudi Arabia.
Aslan: Yes, likely. But fortunately I live in Europe, and we must investigate Islam according to its heritage of meaning: the promise of life after death where doing a good thing is rewarded; God’s justice and unity. We must take the actual message from the Koran. This is not a contradiction of democracy, of the pluralist society and of human rights. The Koran must be understood in its historical context. If we try to find the context of this 7th century revelation in the present, we have not understood the Koran. Historically, Islam has never abolished laws made by human beings. It has only civilized them. Chopping off hands, rules of divorce, polygamy and other laws mentioned in the Koran were well-known to the citizens of Mecca for the regulation of the community. The Koran must not be understood as law. Laws are not God’s affair, but humanity’s.
profil: But there are places in the Koran and the Sunna where repression of women is justified and infidels are defined as inferior human beings?
Aslan: That can be proved historically. For example, in the Koran , there is a revelation about inheritance law. A woman comes to Mohammed and complains that women have no right to inherit. Mohammed has an epiphany and says: Women do have that right. At this, the men stage an uprising. Their argument is that women do not have to do military service. After a further revelation, the decision is that women receive half the portion of men. That is like a revolution in today’s situation. Later women also wanted a portion of war booty. And the dialogue in the Koran ends here. But the Koran does not forbid Muslims to think further. What questions would women ask the Prophet today? That would be the European shaping of Islam. If Islam is ever reformed, then it will be in Europe and Vienna would have a responsibility — not only for historical reasons. The future of Islam lies in Europe. Our colleagues in Islamic countries do not have this freedom of thought.
profil: What do you say to Sebastian Kurz’s suggestion of an ecumenical translation of the Koran?
Aslan: Certain translations can be authorized. But the word “war” is in the Koran, no matter how you translate it. Translation does not solve the problem. Salafists or Islamists do not read false translations. If you reduce radicalization to the translation, you have not grasped the basic causes.
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