Al-Azhar University Statement on Basic Freedoms: Religion, Opinion, Scientific Research, and Artistic Creativity

By Sharia Staff at

After the revolutions that made freedoms and equality spring up and paved a way for the ideas of comprehensive reform and development  in all the sections of society, it’s logic for Egyptians, Arabs and Muslim World to start yearning for an initiative through which the scholars and intellectuals  would define the relationship between the general principles of the Islamic Sharia and the set of basic freedoms that are adopted by all international conventions and  created by the civilization and experience of the Egyptian people.

In defining such a relationship, scholars shall establish the foundations and principles of those basic freedoms and determine their conditions which protect the development and open up the horizons of the future. These are the freedom of belief, the freedom of expression, the freedom of scientific research, and the freedom of literary and artistic creativity.  All these freedoms should have their roots in serving the objectives of the Sharia and grasping the spirit of modern constitutional legislation and the requirements of human knowledge advance.

This relationship shall turn the spiritual energies of the nation into fuel and motive for development and progress and a means to achieving both spiritual and material advance. To this end, ongoing efforts shall be made where wise cultural rhetoric goes in harmony with enlightened religious rhetoric and both proceed in a fruitful path to the future, on which the goals agreed by all shall be clear.

Hence, the group of Al-Azhar scholars and the Egyptian intellectuals – who issued the first document under the auspices of Al-Azhar and then issued a statement in support of the Arab uprisings– have resumed their meetings and discussed the common intellectual denominators in the set of freedoms and human rights.

The conclusion they have reached is to approve a collection of principles and regulations that govern the idea of freedom of equality, taking into consideration the requirements of the current historic moment and the need to safeguard social harmony and the public interests in the phase of democratic transition, during which the country shall build its constitutional institutions in a secure and proper manner and with help from Almighty Allah.

It is believed that this will also block the spread of some prejudiced calls, under the pretext of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong, to interfere in public and personal freedoms. Indeed, this is incompatible with both the civilization and social development of modern Egypt at a time the country needs unity and moderate approach to religion; this is the religious message  and responsibility of Al-Azhar towards the society and nation.

First: Freedom of Belief

Freedom of belief and the associated right of full citizenship for all – which is based on complete equality in rights and duties – is regarded the cornerstone in the modern social structure. This freedom is guaranteed by the authentic conclusive religious texts and the clear constitutional and legal principles. Almighty Allah says:

There shall be no compulsion in the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

[Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256]

And He also says:

So whoever wills, let him believe; and whoever wills, let him disbelieve.

[Surah Al-Kahf 18:29]

Accordingly, any aspect of compulsion, persecution, or discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited. Everybody in society has the right to embrace any ideas he chooses, without encroaching upon the right of society to the maintenance of divine faiths, in light of sanctity accorded to all the three Abrahamic faiths; so, everyone is free to perform his rituals, and none should hurt the other’s feelings or violate the sanctity of his rites whether by words or deeds, and without breaching the public order.

As the Arab region is the land blessed with the heavenly divine revelations, it therefore has a great commitment to protect the sacredness of all these revealed faiths, as well as respecting their rituals, and guaranteeing the rights of their believers to freedom, dignity, and brotherliness.

As a result of this, there should be acceptance of the legitimacy of plurality, maintenance of the right to difference, and the obligation that every citizen should consider the feelings of others and that equality should prevail among all citizens on the firm basis of citizenship, partnership, and equal opportunities in terms of all rights and duties.

Also based on the respect for the freedom of belief is the rejection of trends that exclude others, condemn their beliefs and label them as disbelievers amid attempts to examine the inner thoughts of those who hold those beliefs. Such rejection rests on the well-established constitutional systems and, even before that, on the clear and categorical rules set by the Islamic Sharia. An example is the Prophetic Hadith that says:

Would you inspect his heart?

This rule was also well expressed by the Imam Malik, and other Imams, when he said:

If a person says something that most probably denotes disbelief, yet still there is a remote possibility it does not, it should not be taken to denote disbelief.

The scholars of jurisprudence (ijtihad) and legislation have attached great significance to the mind in Islam and left us a golden rule that says, “If the mind and the text are apparently conflicting, the mind should be given precedence and the text reinterpreted.” This is to maintain the considered legal interests and serve the objectives of the Sharia.

Second: Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Freedom of opinion is the mother of all freedoms, and it is most manifest in the free expression of opinion by all different means, including writing, oratory, artistic production, digital communication. Indeed, it is the manifestation of social freedoms, which go beyond individuals to include, among other things, the formation of parties and civil society institutions, the freedom of the press and the media, whether in audio, visual, or digital form, and the freedom to access the information needed for expression of opinion. This freedom should be guaranteed by constitutional provisions so as to transcend ordinary laws, which are subject to change.

The Supreme Constitutional Court in Egypt has decided to broaden the concept of free speech to encompass constructive criticism, even if toughly worded. The court has stipulated that, “It is not appropriate to restrict the freedom of expression regarding the public issues by limits not to be exceeded; rather, it should be tolerated.”

It is necessary, however, to note that the beliefs of the three divine religions and their rituals must be respected, as this is very serious for the national cohesion and security. No one has the right to incite sectarian strife and doctrinal feud in the name of free speech. This said, the right to present an independent scholarly opinion, supported by the relevant evidence and within the specialized circles, and away from incitement, shall be guaranteed.

The attendees state that the freedom of opinion and expression is the true manifestation of democracy, and they call for educating the new generations the culture of freedom, the right to difference, and to show respect for others. They also appeal to those working in the field of religious, cultural, and political rhetoric over the media to pay attention to this important dimension in their practices and to seek a wise approach that helps form a public opinion marked by tolerance, broad-mindedness, resort to dialogue, and rejection of fanaticism.

To achieve this, we have to recall the classical civilizations and traditions of the Islamic thought, whose great imams would say, “I hold that my opinion is right, yet may be wrong, and that the opinion of others is wrong, yet may be right.” Hence, there is no way to reinforce free speech but through the approach to confront an argument with another one, according to the ethics of dialogue and the civilizational customs that are deeply rooted in the advanced societies.

Third: Freedom of Scientific Research

Serious scientific research in humanities, physics, mathematics, etc., is the driver of human progress and the means to discovering the laws of the universe so as to use them for the goodness of humankind. Such research cannot be conducted and yield its theoretical and practical fruits without the dedication of the energies of the nation and the mobilization of its capabilities for it. Numerous Quranic verses urge us to contemplate, deduce, conduct analogical reasoning, and ponder the human and universal phenomena with a view to discovering their laws. In fact, these verses paved the way for the biggest scientific advancement the East has even known. Such advancement became realities on the ground and spread welfare far and wide. And it was subsequently carried by the Muslim scholars to the West, sparking the age of renaissance there, as it is well known and established.

If thinking in general is an Islamic duty in all branches of knowledge and arts, as held by the scholars of jurisprudence, theoretical and experimental scientific research is the instrument for the discharge of this duty. And the most important among its requirements is that research institutions and specialized scholars should enjoy full academic freedom to perform experiments and put forth hypotheses, and to test them according to accurate scientific criteria.

Such institutions also have the right to possess the creative imagination as well as the adequate expertise needed for reaching new results that contribute to human knowledge. They should not be directed in that respect except by the ethics, methods, and unchanging principles of science.

Great Muslim scholars, such as Ar-Razi, Ibn Al-Haytham, and Ibn An-Nafis were the leaders and pioneers of knowledge in the East and the West for many centuries. It is time now for the Arab and Muslim world to make a comeback to the race of power and the age of knowledge. Science has come to be the source of military and economic power and the cause of progress, development, and prosperity.

Free scientific research is the basis for the development of education, the supremacy of scientific thought, and the prosperity of production centers, for which big budgets should be allocated, work teams formed, and major projects proposed. All these require the highest ceiling of human and scientific research. The West had almost put its hand on every scientific advance and secured a monopoly on the path of science. But the rise of Japan, China, India, and Southeast Asia gave vivid examples for the capability of the East to break that monopoly, entering the age of knowledge through a wide-open door. The time has come for the Egyptians and the Arabs and Muslims to get into the arena of civilizational and scientific competition. Indeed, they have the adequate potentials – spiritual, material, human, etc. – that qualify them for such advance in a world that shows no respect for the weak and those lagging behind.

Fourth: Freedom of Literary and Artistic Creativity

There are two types of creativity. One type is scientific creativity, which has been previously tackled. The other is literary and artistic creativity, which comprises different genres of literature, such as lyric and dramatic poetry, stories and novels, theatre, biographies, and visual plastic arts, and cinematic, television, and musical arts, in addition to other forms newly introduced to all these genres.

In general, literature and arts seek to raise awareness of reality, activate imagination, elevate aesthetic sense, educate people and expand their mental faculties, and deepen human experience with life and society. Moreover, they sometimes view society with a critical eye, envisaging a better one. All these are lofty roles that in reality serve to enrich the language and culture, stimulate imagination, and improve intellectual capabilities, while observing the sublime religious values and moral virtues.

Arabic language had been distinguished by its literary richness and eloquence. Then the noble Quran came with the climax of eloquence and miraculous nature, adding to the beauty of the language and manifesting its genius, and feeding the arts of poetry, prose, and wisdom. And thus, the talents and creativity of poets and writers – from different nationalities which embraced Islam and spoke Arabic – were released without restrictions in all fields of arts over the ages. Furthermore, many of the scholars in charge of Arabic and Islamic culture, among sheikhs and imams, were narrators of poetry and stories of all kinds.

However, the basic rule that governs the limits of the freedom of creativity is the preparedness of society, on the one hand, and its ability to absorb the elements of heritage and renewal in literary and artistic creativity, on the other hand. So, freedom of creativity should be respected so long as it does not hurt religious feelings or run counter to the established moral values. The fact remains that literary and artistic creativity is one of the most important signs of the prosperity of the set of basic freedoms, and it is the most effective in reviving the awareness of society and enriching its conscience.

The more the reasonable freedom is entrenched in society, the clearer the proof of its civilization. Literature and Arts are the mirror of the consciences of societies and the true expression of their variables and invariables. They paint a bright picture of their aspirations for a better future. We implore Almighty Allah to guide us to that which is good and right.

Al-Azhar Sheikhdom

( / 16.09.2012)

The German-Israeli Love Affair Must End

I have never understood why Germans are so hostile towards Palestinians. We all know that Germans are consumed by guilt about Jews. Even now, nearly 70 years after the end of WWII, they still feel some measure of this, by heredity if nothing else, since most of them weren’t even born before 1945. And neither, for that matter, was Israel. Nazism had ended three years before Israel’s establishment. Yet, this new state has come to represent all the Jews who suffered from the holocaust and their descendants, apparently for all time. Israel became the shrine for German atonement, remorse and guilt, unabated by the passage of time.

German-Israeli relations are very close. War reparations to Israel have cost Germany billions of dollars, and continue till today. Germany’s leaders routinely make obeisance to Israel. In recent visits Germany’s president and its chancellor, have been extravagant in their praise and pledged their undying support for the Jewish state. In the last month, Germany has sent 3 advanced Dolphin submarines to Israel, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, part of whose cost will be borne by Germany. Another three are promised by 2018, despite German displeasure at Israel’s settlement expansion.

But why should this friendliness towards Israel be coupled with an equal antipathy for Palestinians, the very people who were sacrificed to compensate for the crimes of Nazism, whose country became Israel while they became stateless refugees? I saw this conundrum in action in Germany recently. Last February I was invited to speak on Palestine at a Middle East conference at the University of Bremen. But at the last minute the invitation was withdrawn because the university heads considered my views were “not appropriate”.

It later emerged that an Israeli Ph.D. student had protested that the conference, and presumably myself, were “anti-Semitic”. In June I attended a conference at the Freie Universitat Berlin, organised by the university’s Research College in cooperation with the German Council on Foreign Relations. The subject was Europe and the Arab Spring.

What followed was a depressing display of German sycophancy towards the Israeli participants and a barely disguised discomfort with me, as if they had regretted their boldness in allowing a Palestinian voice to be heard. The chairman of the first session, who represented the German Council on Foreign Relations, introduced me astonishingly as “a Palestinian terrorist according to some Israelis”. My obvious consternation received neither apology nor explanation. Only after the session ended and on direct questioning, he said he was reading my biography as given by the organisers. The latter denied that, saying I had been described only as “an activist”. None of them apologised at the time.

My talk about the EU’s well-documented partiality for Israel, the privileges and preferential treatment accorded to Israeli trade and scientific institutions, the frequetly-obeserved fact that Israel has become a European state in all but name, had a cool reception. One conference organiser complained that they wanted political analysis, not “political advocacy”. An Israeli participant objected that the meeting was not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s former ambassador to Germany asserted angrily he could refute every point I had made, as if we had been at a political rally, not an academic meeting. The other particants largely avoided me, by contrast to the effusiveness with which they treated the Israelis there.

This unpleasant episode demonstrated to me the depth of fear that Germans still have of criticising Israel, and by extension, their rejection of Palestinians. Extraordinary that the victims of Israel have been turned into the villains and the occupier of their land has become a hero. I came away convinced that Germans, whatever the role of their ancestors under Nazism, will have to come to terms with their history and see the world as it is. Israel is a state with indefensible policies of discrimination and oppression of another people, offensive to the civilised values we all aspire to.

Recognising this fact in no way implies an abnegation of Germany’s responsibility for the Jews who perished at the hands of Nazis 70 years and their descendants are owed the fullest restitution. It was the failure to distinguish between the Israeli state and the Jewish victims of Nazism which I saw amongst Germans; the consequence of this is an exaggerated indulgence of Israel whatever crime it commits and an irrational hatred of its Palestinian victims. It is time to end both the  indulgence and the hatred.

(Ghada Karmi / / 16.09.2012)

Muslims, You’ve Got a Great Deal of Work to Do

When you burn the American flag you burn my flesh. When you speak ill of the Prophets of God, you stab me in the eye.

Understanding with any clarity what happened in Cairo and Benghazi on Tuesday will take some time as we gather facts and move past the emotion of our reactions. Some facts seem to be clear.

Violence and Death in Benghazi

In Benghazi, news reports indicate a premeditated attack on the consulate with speculation that the protests were used as a decoy for the attack. Evidence of links to Al Qaeda elements in Libya were offered by former Libyan extremist Noman Benotman of the Quilliam Foundation of the United Kingdom, as well as by leaders in U.S. government intelligence circles.

In the explosive attacks, done with sophisticated weaponry that caused a fire from which the martyrs were not able to escape,  U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (champion supporter of the Libyan revolution against the dictator Col. Qaddafi) , and three others were killed. And so they gave their lives, with great honor in service of our nation.

In the final standoff to secure the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, U.S. Marines and Libyan security forces cooperated to control the situation. Since then, Libya’s interim president issued a strong condemnation, and peaceful marches of condolence to the American people by Libyan citizens (holding signs of apology, love for Stevens, and that this is not what Islam teaches) were reported throughout U.S. media outlets.  Ambassador Stevens was instrumental in leading the American effort to support the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime and the subsequent effort to support Libya’s efforts at securing positive and lasting effects of their revolution.  From all accounts, Stevens believed in the Libyan people and shared their vision for a Libya free of dictatorship.

This attack and murders, of course, comes on the heels of a coordinated demolition of shrines built to commemorate the life of significant Muslim scholars and sages in history. This effort pursuant to a Salafi anti-Sufi impetus was seen by many as a turning point in the efforts of post-revolutionary leaders to stem the fast-paced change on the landscape of the Libyan spectrum of Islamic opinion. Surely, many are connecting this most significant escalation with the inability of the central government to control the safety of citizens and guide the reconciliation of varying factions of thought throughout the country.

We do not know whether there is a connection between the perpetrators of these acts and the terrible violence at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi on Tuesday. Both attacks do, however, share the belief that change can come with the destruction of property and the killing of innocent people. Certainly these people are not moderates and do not represent the vast majority of Libyans.

Violence in Cairo – Is There a Connection?

What has happened, however, in Cairo, Egypt seems very different. Upon the provocation of the release of a film, created by a self-described “American Israeli” millionaire from my home state of California (who may in fact be someone elseentirely) and the more recently released translation of the film into street slang Egyptian Arabic for mass consumption, hundreds of people poured into the streets surrounding the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest what was clearly an incitement to offend.

Their protests, which many in Egypt recognize to have been instigated by Salafi groups and supported by other elements of the Islamist political spectrum, ended up at the U.S. Embassy. To anyone that has visited the U.S. Embassy in Cairo the next part is the most fascinating and confusing. The mob (as described in western news outlets) managed to traverse the significant police presence in all the emptied streets around the embassy and reach its walls to burn the American flag. Meanwhile, from CNN reports on the ground, it was apparent that the police first chose not to intervene in the protests and allowed the energy of the crowd to dissipate on its own.

As the protests continued through the night, the participants changed and the “Ultra” gangs of Egyptian youth affiliated with soccer clubs came out to continue their long lasting war with the Egyptian domestic security apparatus. This ongoing tension between the Ultras and security forces has led to a regression in the development of the Egyptian revolution and has taken a portion of Egyptian public life right back to pre-Mubarak era of domestic violence.

Soon after the protests at the embassy in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest political force in Egyptian politics today and the former political party of the current President of Egypt, called for protests against the film following Friday congregational prayers this week.

How Do We Deal and Move Forward?

These two significant historical moments are hard to digest for anyone studying the news or talking with friends about these events. We all come to these scenarios from our own life experiences and with all of the information we gather in life to learn to cope with such situation.

Since I was a young man of 15, I’ve been deeply engaged in the situation of Muslim Americans sociologically. The beautiful colors of identity and faith that make up the most diverse religious group of America serves as the core of my personal identity. As an American of Egyptian heritage who chooses Islam as a faith, I once again find myself with a bleeding blind eye and singed flesh on my bones.

I’ve come to find great sadness, not comfort, when resorting to scripture to ameliorate my aches and intellectual dissonance. I have recited so much the Quranic verses about how the killing of an innocent life is like the killing of all of humanity and how it is impermissible to use tactics that are forbidden by Islam to defend the honor of God and his Prophets, that these verses are committed to memory.

I think of the Prophet Muhammad worrying about the absence of trash and filth at his doorstep because it indicated the woman abusing him might be sick and in need of support. The same Prophet that forbade any violent reaction by esteemed companions when a man urinated inside his mosque in his presence to offend him.

For a movie that no one would have otherwise seen, people who claim to follow this Prophet desecrated the honor of a whole nation and tarnished the greatness of our faith. Surely I am not surprised that people who claim to follow a faith can let their banal human emotive reactions to instigation sway them toward injustice. I just hoped my people, having read those specific words in the Quran, would not be among them. This wasn’t the case.

What frustrates me the most is the confusion I see on all ends. On one side our government needs to be clear with our friends in the rich countries of the region that we will no longer allow the pumping of a non-organic Salafi presence in these countries.

Among Muslims, I still see a significant amount of heads in the western sand claiming, ‘This is not my problem.” No, habibi, this is your problem. And as the follower of a Prophet that was told by God in the Quran that he was only sent to be a mercy to mankind, you’ve got a great deal of work to do. And, we can do it together.

We can start by telling Muslims in the Arab world and globally that this film was a hoax. That the actors in the film had no idea they were engaging in a project that desecrates the Prophet and offends Muslims. One actress in the film said there wasnothing in the script about Islam or the Prophet at all. We need to care about and engage this, not just because we are Americans whose Ambassador has been killed, but because we are Muslims whose Prophet has been defamed.

For political analysts, it is time to discuss our friendships in the Middle East, focus on who is financing the Salafi sweep, and deal with their amplified presence in post-revolutionary Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. There need to be some serious conversations with allies about who they are funding and what controls they have in place to ensure that such funding is never used against the organic revolutionary interests of the people of those nations.

What happened Monday threw the interests of the citizens who overthrew dictators to the wayside and derailed the road to progress and prosperity.

Finally, it is important to respond to the emotional outburst of Muslims when Islam is desecrated. Terry Jones cannot burn the Quran. It is unburnable. It sits in our minds memorized, in our hearts internalized and is protected by the Almighty — just as all of God’s miracles have been protected. And, there isn’t a man on earth who can burn our flag. It is unburnable.

But while it is not fair to ask for those who love a man — a Prophet — to not be hurt when his honor is desecrated, it is fair to ask and expect those followers to respond as their Prophet would in the same situation.

Let us all pray that the intended revolutions of the Arab world reach stability and success and pray that those in power in transitional periods gain wisdom and divest from the ego, not the will of the masses. And we pray for grace and mercy for the martyrs that passed and ask God to bring them into his abode in Paradise. Amen.

(Ahmed Younis / / 16.09.2012)

Israeli authorities ‘order Hebron village to stop building’

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities ordered Palestinians to stop building two homes and a water well in the southern West Bank, a research group said.

The 100-square meter home of Mohammad Hussain Al-Omour, the two-storey home of Musa Mohammad Hussain and the water well belonging to Issa Jaber Al-Adra were all issued stop work orders, the Land Research Center said.

The buildings are in Deirat village, a community southeast of Hebron that lies in an area of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control.

( / 16.09.2012)

Egyptian medical delegation: suffering in Gaza much deeper than media coverage

GAZA,(PIC)– The Egyptian medical delegation, which visited Gaza for four days, confirmed that the people’s suffering in Gaza strip is much deeper and harder than media coverage.

What we have seen in Gaza, the suffering of people due to the imposed siege, is much greater than what is covered by media, the Secretary-General of the Humanitarian Relief Committee, Dr. Khaled Abdul-Aziz said, calling on the international health institutions to check directly the difficult humanitarian condition in Gaza.

He said that the delegation’s visit to Gaza succeeded to provide a part of the needed drugs, which contribute to alleviate the suffering of patients, thanking the Ministry of Health and the Palestinian government in Gaza for the warm reception.

During their visit to Gaza, the delegation members met with the Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, and officials in the Health Ministry where they visited many of the hospitals and medical stores.

The delegation left on Saturday morning the Gaza Strip on its way to Cairo after a four-day visit to check the health situation in the Gaza Strip, where they provided up to ten million pounds worth of emergency medical assistance.

( / 16.09.2012)

Prophet Protests Taint Aussie Muslim Image

Australia, Muslims, protests, film, Prophet

Australian Muslim leaders have called for reflecting the peaceful teachings of Islam while protesting the anti-Prophet film

CAIRO – Violent protests in Sydney against a US-made film insulting Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) have triggered condemnations from the Muslim community in Australia, amid calls for Muslims to reflect the peaceful teachings of Islam while protesting the provocative material.

“The ICV [Islamic Council of Victoria] is appalled by the riots in Sydney,” spokesman Shereen Hassan toldHerald Sun on Sunday, September 16.

“While it is abhorrent that individuals should disrespect Prophet Muhammad, it is even more abhorrent that Muslims should defile his peaceful teachings by acting in such a vile manner.”

Scores of Muslims marched Saturday in Sydney’s Town Hall in protest against a US film defaming the Prophet.

The march degenerated into violence after protestors clashed with police, leaving 17 people and six policemen injured.

“It’s against society and probably against the law to (do that) on the street,” Nobel Park imam Ibrahim Omerdic said.

“Peaceful protest, but not violence.”

At least nine people died in violent protests in the Muslim world in days of protests against a film produced by an American-Israeli real estate developer that insults the Prophet.

Titled “Innocence of Muslims”, the film portrays the Prophet as a fool, philanderer and a religious fake.

The film was posted on YouTube in June but drew attention until last week when an Egyptian-American Copt produced a trailer in an Arabic-language blog post and e-mail newsletter publicizing the movie.

The movie was promoted by US pastor Terry Jones, who angered Muslims in 2010 with plans to burn the Noble Qur’an.

Jones called the film a “satirical” movie on the life of the Muslim Prophet, saying he showed a promotional video trailer after staging a symbolic “trial” of the Prophet.

While condemning the provocative film, Muslim leaders around the world have denounced attacks on foreign diplomatic missions, calling for a measured response to the movie.

Saudi Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh said Saturday that attacks on foreign embassies over the film run counter to the peaceful teachings of Islam.

“Such acts damage the Muslim religion, are not permitted by God and are incompatible with the teachings of the Prophet,” he said.


While condemning the anti-Prophet film, Australian community leaders stressed that the offensive material does not represent the view of most non-Muslims toward Muslims.

“Inflammatory films or provocative actions such as burning the Qur’an are … activities by bigots who are the fringe of society,” Hassan, the ICV spokesman, said.

“They do not represent the feelings of (most) … non-Muslims towards Muslims.

“These people are best ignored or their offensive and inaccurate ideas countered by rational and factual ones expressed in a peaceful manner, as encouraged by our religion.”

Australian politicians have condemned the offensive film as well as the violent protests to the material.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard denounced the film as “repulsive”.

“But the making of that video does not condone violent conduct and I absolutely condemn the violence that we have seen on Sydney’s streets,” Gillard told The Australian.

“To anybody who wants to replicate that behavior today, I just want to say very strongly that this kind of conduct has no place on the streets of our country.”

New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said the violent protests against the film could undermine Australia’s successful multicultural society.

“We don’t need to bring from overseas ethnic protest to this country, we certainly shouldn’t bring from overseas religious conflicts,” he said.

“We’ve got 200 different nationalities in this city but what we saw yesterday was the unacceptable face of multiculturalism.

“The Islamic community understands the damage that has been done not just to their religion but to Australia’s multicultural reputation,” O’Farrell said.

Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition in the Australian House of Representatives and federal leader of the centre-right Liberal Party of Australia, said the violent protests did not fairly reflect the Islamic people of Australia.

“I think that’s the message that has got to go from every Australian to those people on the streets of Sydney yesterday,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“I don’t believe we saw an acceptable face of Islam yesterday.”

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.

( / 16.09.2012)

Refugees’ healthcare providers need to coordinate with health ministry

Amman, Sept 16 (Petra) — Minister of Health Abdullatif Wreikat said on Sunday that health services offered by local and international organisations to Syrian refugees in the Kingdom should be coordinated through his ministry.

He told health department and hospital directors in the Mafraq and Irbid governorates that the ministry should carry out its task of providing primary healthcare and treatment to the Syrians.

The minister asked officials to present regular up-to-date healthcare data in terms of figures and medical procedure.

The health ministry is the biggest provider of medical service and healthcare to the refugees, with tens of thousands admitted to various wards, including surgery, obstetrics, kidney dialysis and emergencies, according to ministry records.

The statistics pointed to an estimated JD65 million as a cost for the service to the refugees.

( / 16.09.2012)

Why Sharon is a War Criminal

An eye-witness report of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre 

by Dr. Ben Alofs

I am a Dutch doctor, currently living in North-Wales. In the summer of 1982 I was working as a nurse in West-Beirut, which at the time was being besieged by the Israeli army.

The American negotiator Philip Habib had mediated an agreement, according to which the Israeli army would refrain from occupying West-Beirut, after the Palestinian fedayeen had left. A second fundamental aspect of the agreement was that the US would guarantee the security of the remaining Palestinian civilian population. The evacuation, supervised by an international peacekeeping force, went smoothly, and was completed on September 1st. Much earlier than September 26th, the date that had been agreed on, the international peacekeeping force left between September 10th and 13th. On September 3rd the first violation of the Habib-agreement took place, when Israeli forces occupied Bir Hassan, in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Before that, Sharon had stated he wanted the peacekeeping forces out of Beirut.

After the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the charismatic and ruthless leader of the Phalangist allies of Israel, Ariel Sharon ordered the invasion of West-Beirut under the pretext of restoration of ‘law and order’. Contrary to this statement, West-Beirut was perfectly quiet at that moment. The invasion was a serious violation of the Habib agreement. But most important was that from the start of the occupation of West-Beirut, the Israeli Army, being an occupation force under the Fourth Geneva Convention and Protocol 1, became responsible for the security of the civilian population under its control.

The Israeli journalists Zeev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari describe how Sharon insisted on sending Phalangist militiamen into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila (see “Israel’s Lebanon War”). To accomplish this, Sharon had held meetings on September 15th with Elie Hobeika, Fadie Frem and Zahi Bustani (leaders of the militiamen) as well as with Amin and Pierre Gemayel, the political leaders of the Phalangist party. The leaders of the Israeli army, Sharon included, were very well aware of the mood of the Phalangists, shortly after the murder of their leader. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the feelings of the Phalangists towards the Palestinians knew what would happen if they were let into the refugee camps.

“Tell al-Zaater” is a well-known name in Lebanon as well as in Israel. This camp in East-Beirut, where I met Palestinian refugees for the first time in 1975, had been besieged for 53 days by the Phalangists and Maronite Tiger-militiamen during the summer of 1976. After the Palestinians surrendered, the International Red Cross, which was to give a ‘safe passage’ to the camp’s population, was unable to prevent the murder of over 1000 civilians.

Israeli army commanders Eitan, Drori and Yaron made comments on how obsessed the Phalangists were with revenge, talking about a ‘sea of blood’ and ‘kasach’ (Arabic for ‘slashing’ or ‘cutting’). As they made these observations Ariel Sharon gave the green light for the Phalangists to enter Sabra and Shatila. They did so as dusk fell on the 16th of September.

While the massacre was being committed, I was working in the Gaza hospital in Sabra. The situation was chaotic and confusing. Many wounded were carried into the hospital and our morgue was full within a short time. Most of the victims suffered bullet wounds, but a few were injured by shrapnel. On September 17th it became clear that the ‘Kataeb’ (Phalangists) and/or the militiamen of Saad Haddad (funded and armed by Israel) were slaughtering the civilian population. A 10-year old boy was carried into the hospital. He had been shot, but was alive. He had spent the whole night wounded, lying under the dead bodies of his parents, brothers and sisters. At night the murderers were assisted by Israeli flares.

I was working with a team of Scandinavian, British, American, Dutch and German doctors and nurses. We had insisted that the Palestinian hospital staff flee to the northern part of West-Beirut. On Saturday morning September 18th, we were arrested by the Phalangists/Haddad militiamen. They forced us to leave our patients behind and took us outside Sabra and Shatila via the main road. We passed by hundreds of women, children and men who had been rounded up. We saw bodies in the road and the small alleyways. The militiamen shouted at us and called us ‘Baader Meinhof’. A Palestinian nurse who thought he would be safe with us, was identified and taken away behind a wall. A moment later came the gunshots.

Just before we reached the exit of the camp I saw an image that will forever be in my mind: a large mound of red earth with arms and legs sticking out. Alongside the mound stood an army bulldozer with Hebrew markings. Just outside the camp we were ordered to take off our hospital clothing and we were lined up against a wall. It was at that moment that an Israeli army officer drove up in an army vehicle. He saved our lives, ordering the militiamen to hand us over to the Israelis. Alongside the southern and western borders of the camps we saw Israeli tanks and halftracks.

After interrogation in their military headquarters the Phalangists took us to the Israeli forward command post just 75 meters (250 feet) away. It was a 4 or 5 story building at the edge of Shatila. (Some weeks later I was on the top floor. It offered excellent views of the destruction in Shatila). The Israeli soldiers were clearly uncomfortable, being confronted with more than 20 Europeans and Americans. They asked us what we wanted. We told them we wanted to go back to Gaza hospital. Impossible, we were told, too dangerous. Finally, two of us were permitted to go back to the hospital with a laisser-passer in Hebrew and Arabic.

There certainly was coordination between the Israelis and the militiamen. The Israelis were largely in control. It was impossible for them to see exactly what was happening in the narrow alleyways of Sabra and Shatila. But soon after the massacre started, reports came in from individual Israeli soldiers about killings. Not once did the Israeli military command try to respond by putting an end to the slaughter. Groups of civilians, coming out of the camps with white flags, were being sent back.

Even on Saturday morning, September 18th, when we were taken out of the camps, we saw fresh groups of Phalangist militiamen entering the camps under Israeli supervision. About 20 minutes after we had passed the large group of women, children and elderly in the main road of Sabra, we heard an orgy of machinegun fire. Swee, an orthopedic doctor, told me that a Palestinian mother had tried to give her baby to Swee, as if she knew what was going to happen. The baby was pulled out of Swee’s hand and given back to her mother. On Sunday September 19th I went back to Sabra and Shatila together with two Danish and a Dutch journalist. The Lebanese army had surrounded the camp and tried to keep journalists out. We found a way in. All of us were deeply shocked by the extent of the destruction and the savagery of the murders. The Israelis had told the militiamen to leave the camps some time during Saturday. The latter had managed to cause an awful lot more of destruction and slaughter after we had been taken out of the camps on Saturday morning. The Lebanese Civil Defense had begun with the recovery of those bodies that had not been buried by the bulldozers. We will never know how many people were exactly butchered during those terrible days of September 16th, 17th and 18th in 1982. 1500 perhaps? 2000? Or even more?

When the autumn rains began to fall at the end of November, congested sewers flooded Sabra and Shatila. The congestion was caused in part by bodies that had been dumped in the sewers. The bodies that had been recovered by the Lebanese Civil Defense had been buries in a mass grave in Shatila. A large mass grave at a golf course nearby, and other mass graves were never to be opened. Prohibited by the Lebanese government and its new president Amin Gemayel, brother of Bashir. Prime minister Begin said: “Goyim kill goyim and they accuse the Jews”. Of course, Hobeika, Frem and their gangs were directly responsible for the massacre. But this could never have happened, if Sharon had not willingly and knowingly given the green light for the operation.

Sharon wanted to destroy the last remains of the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon at any cost. I was in Sabra and Shatila. There were no ‘2000-3000 terrorists’, as Sharon claimed. The only ‘terrorists’ left were a number of 10-12 year old boys who tried to protect their families with the tiny rifles used for bird hunting. If only one hundred Fedayeen had stayed behind, none of this would have happened.

When someone puts a venomous snake in a baby’s cradle and the baby dies, the responsibility lies directly with the person who put the snake in the cradle. Therefore Israeli commanders Eitan, Dori and Yaron are directly responsible, but Ariel Sharon above all. He was the boss. He could have prevented this tragedy, but he wanted to force the Palestinians out of Beirut into Jordan, which was the ‘Palestinian state’ according to Sharon. Deir Yassin revisited. ‘Two-legged animals’ is how Begin called the Palestinians in 1982. Eitan talked about ‘drugged cockroaches in a bottle’. This dehumanization of the Palestinians was and still is the cause of the callous disregard in the Israeli army for Palestinian life.

The 400.000 Israelis who demonstrated in Tel Aviv are to be commended. In Israel at least there was an enquiry into the massacre by the Kahane commission. The Lebanese investigative judge Germanos, to his shame, could not even determine the identity of the Lebanese perpetrators. The conclusions of the Kahane commission were fatally flawed and Sharon was merely deemed to be indirectly responsible and therefore not fit to be a minister of defense. But does this make him fit to be prime minister of Israel? How does the Israeli Supreme Court explain this? It is my opinion that in the light of what I described above, Ariel Sharon is a war criminal. Victims of war crimes cry out for justice. That’s why Augusto Pinochet should be on trial, Radovan Karadzjic, Ratko Mladic, and Slobodan Milosevic.

The murder of Intissar Ismail cries out for justice. Intissar was an attractive 19-year old Palestinian nurse, with whom I was working in Akka hospital in Shatila in the night of September 14th to 15th. It was quiet in our department and we were listening to the radio. The newsreader confirmed the death of Bashir Gemayel. I could see the fear on the face of Intissar. I tried to reassure her. The next morning at seven o’clock, I left the hospital and went to the main road of Shatila.

All of a sudden Israeli warplanes roared over the camps at low altitude. Outside of the camps I took a taxi to Ras Beirut.

At the street corners I saw young Lebanese men. They were armed and were looking towards the south. What were they waiting for? Six days later than planned, I returned to burnt-out Akka hospital. An ambulance driver told me that Intissar had been in the nurses’ residence in the underground department of the hospital when the Phalangists entered. She was gang-raped and then murdered. Her body was mutilated beyond recognition. Only by the rings on her fingers could her parents identify her.

Intissar cries out for justice. 2000 innocent people cry out for justice. It would give satisfaction, if Sharon –on a visit to Europe- would be arrested and transferred to Scheveningen prison. Am I being too cynical when I say that Europe is failing when it comes to putting Israeli war criminals on trial? And am I too pessimistic when I say that ‘Sabra and Shatila’ was neither the first, nor the last war crime committed by Ariel Sharon?

( / 16.09.2012)

Survivors recount Sabra-Shatila massacre


Three women who lived through the 1982 massacre at Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon remember harrowing killings.

A Palestinian woman passes by a sign marking the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon
Shatila camp, Lebanon – The fighters began at sunset, meticulously working their way through the alleys and homes, bodies riddled with bullets and slashed with machetes left crumpled in their wake.

Between September 16-18, 1982, in the middle of Lebanon’s civil war and a few months after Israel’s invasion of the country, hundreds of members of the Phalange party – a Lebanese Christian militia – in collaboration with the Israeli army, slaughtered about 2,000 Palestinian refugees, mostly women, children, and the elderly, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp located in Beirut.

The massacre came on the heels of the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Phalangists. The Phalangists wrongly blamed the Palestinians for the assassination, and executed the massacre as a reprisal attack with the Israeli army, who had invaded Lebanon to fight the Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Three survivors recounted their stories to Al Jazeera, 30 years after the massacre.

Siham Balqis


Siham Balqis, a resident of Shatila, was 26 years old when it happened. “We heard gunshots on Thursday night, but didn’t think anything of it, because it was the war and this was not an unusual sound for us,” she told Al Jazeera. Living at the Shatila end of the two camps, she said men began in Sabra and worked their way northwards. “They didn’t reach us until Saturday morning.”

At 7am, she was confronted by three Phalangists and an Israeli soldier who ordered them to leave their house.

“One of the Lebanese launched forward to attack me, but the Israeli pulled him off me, as if to show he was the better of the two,” she remembered.

In the commotion that ensued, a Lebanese neighbour of hers spoke to the fighters, saying she heard they were slaughtering people. The fighters dismissed these claims, so she asked them to help the Palestinians who were holed up in Gaza Hospital, located at the Sabra end of the camp.

After asking for directions, the fighters marched those they had rounded up, about 200 people, to the hospital.

Once there, they ordered the doctors and nurses out of the building, the majority of whom were foreign or Lebanese.

“I remember there was one Palestinian boy from the Salem family, in his early 20s, who donned a doctor’s coat to try and escape,” Balqis said. “The Lebanese caught him, realised he was Palestinian, and pumped his body full of bullets.”

Crawl and die

At one point, the fighters separated the group, putting the women to one side and the remaining men on the other.

“They would pick on the men at random and make them crawl on the floor. If they thought they crawled well, they assumed it was due to some sort of military training, so they took them behind a sand bank and killed them.”

The Lebanese fighters took those they had not killed and forced them to march over the dead bodies scattered on the streets toward the large sports stadium on the outskirts of the camp.

“We were made to walk over the dead bodies, and among cluster bombs,” Balqis said. “At one point I passed a tank, where the body of a baby only a few days old was stuck to the wheel.”

At the stadium, the command changed from Lebanese to Israeli.

“It was here the Israelis took my brother Salah, who was 30-years-old, for interrogation,” she said.

Inside the stadium the men were interrogated, tortured, and killed. Few were able to leave alive. The Israelis threatened them, saying, “If you don’t cooperate with us, we will hand you over to the Phalangists.”

Wadha Sabeq

Wadha Sabeq, 33-years-old at the time, was living in Bir Hassan, a predominantly Lebanese neighbourhood just outside the camps.

“On Friday morning, our neighbours told us we needed to get our IDs stamped next to the Kuwaiti embassy,” outside the Sabra entrance, she told Al Jazeera. “So we went.”

She brought her eight children, ranging from three years to 19-years-old.

As they walked past Shatila, they were stopped by the Phalangists. “They took us with others and separated the men from the women.” The fighters took away 15 men from her family, including her 19-year-old son Mohammad, her 15-year-old son Ali, and her 30-year-old brother.

“They lined the men up against the wall, and told the women to go to the sports stadium. They ordered us to walk in a single file, and to look neither left nor right.” Phalangist fighters walked next to them to ensure they followed the instructions.

This was the last time she saw her family.

Once at the stadium, they waited. “We still didn’t know what was going on, we still thought they wanted to check our IDs,” she said.

After spending the whole day at the stadium, the Israelis sent them home.

Covered in blood

The following morning Sabeq headed back to the stadium to ask about the men.

“A woman came down to the stadium screaming, telling us to go up to the camp to identify the slaughtered,” she said.

They ran up to the camp, and as she saw the bodies scattered on the ground, Sabeq fainted. “You couldn’t look at the faces of the bodies, they were covered in blood and disfigured,” she said. “You could only identify people by the clothes they were wearing.

“I couldn’t find my sons, none of my family,” Sabeq said. “We went to the Red Crescent, to the hospitals, every day, to ask about them. No one had answers.”

“We never found their bodies,” she said, tears running down her cheeks.

Jameel Khalifa

Jameel Khalifa was 16-years-old and newly engaged when the massacre took place.

“On Saturday morning, we saw them [fighters] climbing down the sand bank and heading for the houses,” she told Al Jazeera. “We saw the tanks coming in, on them were Israeli soldiers and Lebanese fighters, some in civilian clothes, some with masks on.”

As the fighters began pounding on the front door, most of her family escaped through the back into their neighbour’s shelter. On hearing the soldiers’ orders that they would not shoot if they surrendered, an elderly woman in the shelter ripped up her white scarf, handing each of them a strip to wave to stop them from being shot at.

“My dad was holding me, telling me not to leave the shelter, but I told him we should,” she said.

The women left the shelter first.

As her mother came out the shelter, a Lebanese fighter shoved his Kalashnikov in her stomach. “I’m going to kill you, you, b****!”

An Israeli soldier observing nearby told him in Hebrew to leave her alone.

“My father was coming out [of] the shelter behind my mother. As he stepped out, he was killed with a bullet to the head by an Israeli soldier,” Khalifa said.

No one believed us

Like everyone else, the group was forced to move by the fighters. On the way, Khalifa and a few other children managed to escape down a little alley toward one of the mosques located further inside the camp.

“We came across a group of elderly folk sitting outside the mosque, and told them the Israelis had come and were killing people. They didn’t believe us, called us liars, and told us to leave them alone,” she said.

Khalifa eventually found herself at the Gaza Hospital, where she was able to reunite with her family. Watching as people around them were executed, the group plotted to escape and managed to sneak out through one of the many tiny alleys that make up the camp.

“We were really scared to leave because we’d seen others try and get killed by snipers,” Khalifa remembered.

They managed to get out of the camp and found refuge in a school in the Lebanese neighbourhood of Corniche el Mazraa. They only returned to the camp once they received news the massacre was over.

“We went back to see dead bodies explode as they were being removed because the Phalangists and Israelis placed mines underneath them,” she said.

“I remember the smell. It was so strong, and it stayed for a week, even though they sprayed the camp to get rid of it.”

( / 16.09.2012)

Former PA minister urges statehood bid, end to Oslo

Former Palestinian cabinet minister Hassan Asfour.

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Former Palestinian cabinet minister Hassan Asfour said Sunday that the Palestinian leadership should declare statehood, end interim agreements with Israel, and threaten to withdraw recognition of the country if it doesn’t engage with peace talks.

“When we talk about the Oslo Accord, the period of the agreement ended after the failure of Camp David summit in 2002,” Asfour said in an interview with Ma’an.

He called for leaders to pursue a vote at the United Nations when it meets later this month which would upgrade Palestine’s membership status.

Asfour continued: “A Palestinian state under the Israeli occupation should be announced, the security services and its role should be rebuilt, all decisions related to transitional agreements should be canceled, and recognition of Israel must be withdrawn if Israel refuses to continue with the peace process and right of return (for Palestinian refugees).”

The former Fatah minister warned of an Israeli-American plan to divide Palestine, with Gaza as an Islamic Emirate under Egypt and parts of the West Bank under Jordan with temporary borders, and Israel retaining control of most of the territory.

Syria is key to countering the plan, and “the real solution is in the hands of Syria and Russia,” he said, criticizing Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi’s stance against the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown.

He also slammed the current Fatah leadership for not taking these warnings seriously.

( / 16.09.2012)