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Freedom of Expression and Islam


This is the third part of a feature series on Perspectives wWthin Islam. It includes the views of Somali born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist and outspoken critic of Muslim fundamentalism. Hirsi Ali was recently interviewed by VOA's Carolyn Weaver. Additional information is provided by William Eagle.

Prominent critic of Muslim fundamentalism and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has told VOA of her conviction that a more moderate version of Islam will likely evolve internationally. By way of example, the former Dutch parliamentarian and women’s rights activist said the number of books published on Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims alike since the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States exceeded the number published since the year 900.

“With that kind of intellectual agitation, I am optimistic that Islam will evolve into something more humane … Social change, when sudden and revolutionary, comes with a lot of violence, but the change can also be gradual,” where there is the rule of law, Hirsi Ali said.

She added that as a result of globalization, the internet and information technology could reach millions of Muslims who should speak out, especially in countries enjoying democracy and freedom of expression. Hirsi Ali expressed belief in individual rights, gay rights, and rights of women – whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

Not all Muslims may be prepared to hear her defense of individuality. However, In her interview with VOA, she insisted: “I am here to defend the right to offend.”

Nur Dogan Hamurcu of the Amsterdam-based Muslim group Milli Gorus (National Vision) agrees that Islam is evolving, at least in Europe. “It is evolving,” he told VOA, “in the Western context..There’s a new Islamic vision (among) we Muslims living in non-Muslim societies. You see (in Europe) both cultures learning from each other. It’s a new phenomenon.”

Dogan does not see Islam as being incompatible with European values.

“I think there are a lot of quotes in the Koran emphasizing the role and importance of individual rights because [God] creates each individual on earth, and there are a lot of telling how to act among people and toward the Creator. The rules are based on the individual rights of people – you can choose to live a good life or a violent one hurting other people.”

However, he does not think legal protection for gays, a movement which is gaining ground in many European countries, should be accepted. He says homosexuality is not compatible with religion, though he says he does not support violence against the gay community.

Imam Mohammed bin Uthman of the Sahaba mosque in Kano criticizes Hirsi Ali’s embrace of Western values. He told VOA, for example, that it’s the industrialized world that is violent, and not those countries with large Muslim communities. “I want to ask you, who is violent today – the countries claiming to be civilized ? [those] who possess most of the world’s wealth ? [those controlling] most of the world’s economies ?” He accuses critics of Islam like Hirsi Ali of remaining silent on these issues, in an effort, he says, to “please their pay-masters.”

“Some people want to come to the West because it has money,” he says, “They have people like [British-Indian essayist] Salman Rushdie…they prefer to please the West rather than please God.”

Imam bin Uthman says anyone who is willing to accept legal protections for homosexuals, or tolerate adultery and the consumption of alcohol are not Muslims. He says true Muslims also do not criticize the word of God contained within the Koran. Those who do are unbelievers.

He bridles at the categories applied by some political scientists to the Muslim community:

“A [so-called] ‘moderate’ [Muslim] is ready to drink alcohol just to please the congregation [to join society]. ‘Extremist’ Muslim is [a label given] to anyone ready to abide by the fundamentals of Islam [and] he is excommunicated [by Western society]. In the third category is the ‘terrorist’ Muslim who talks about the ills done against humanity.”

However, he adds, “Terrorism is against Islam, but who are the real terrorists?”

The fifth and final part of this series will be devoted entirely to opposing views.