Human rights violations are proving to be one of the major concerns in the Muslim World. From Morocco to Malaysia, Muslim populations are demanding basic rights, equal justice under the law, accountability, economic stability and democracy. The pressure is on Muslim rulers to comply with the demands of their people. Some, like Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad, believe in slaughtering their people who demand rights. Others, like the King of Morocco and the King of Jordan, have shown sensitivity to their people and have recently enacted reforms. As a human rights lawyer, I was recently asked to become involved in the case of a prominent Moroccan journalist, Rachid Nini. Earlier this week the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. hosted a press conference on Mr. Nini’s case, reflecting the international importance of the issues involved in this case. The press conference was organized by Droit and Justice, Tamanna Qureshi, Esq., and Mr. Nini’s international defense team, with Reda Oulamine from Oulamine Law Group as host. I spoke on legal issues of freedom of expression and the need for a return to the principles of justice that motivated both the founders of the U.S. Constitution and the Moroccan monarchy to protect its people. The event educated the public about Mr. Nini’s case and took on the larger, more urgent issue of the calls for a new justice in the Middle East and North Africa that ensures freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Rachid Nini is the controversial editor of Moroccan’s largest daily newspaper Al-Massae, considered to be the most influential newspaper in Morocco according to CNN. He was recently convicted for materials he published in his newspaper. Nini is a polemical figure in Moroccan society, seen by some such as Amnesty International as a rags-to-riches trumpeter of the truth who exposes corruption, by others as a journalist of questionable tactics. The point here is not to argue his case, but to examine its importance in the larger context. What this case has done is to ignite an international conversation about the due process of his arrest, trial and incarceration around the principles of free speech and a free press — principles that are often upheld only in name in Morocco and the Arab world but not followed in practice. Scholars and journalists are the first targets of oppressive regimes, as we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya. In the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 the total number of journalists killed reached a total of 76, a 26 percent jump from the previous year. Overall statistics from Reporters Without Borders revealed that 33 journalists were kidnapped, more than 573 reporters and 151 bloggers were arrested, and 1,456 journalists and 61 bloggers were physically assaulted. The Middle East and North Africa remains the most repressive and dangerous region in the world for journalists, according to Freedom House, an organization which advocates for freedom, democracy and human rights. The report shows that press freedom declined in Morocco and Palestine, while countries like Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen were downgraded from “Partly Free” to “Not Free.” According to the press freedom index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Morocco ranks at 135th in the world. As President Obama said in his recent address to the Arab world, “We, here in the United States, support a set of universal rights. Those that include, free speech and the rule of law.” Working as an attorney in Washington, D.C., many clients come to me seeking relief from oppressive regimes that persecute their beliefs, restrict their free expression and punish them without due process, infringing on their basic human rights. It is my greatest satisfaction as an attorney inspired by the founding ideals of our nation when my clients are able to successfully find refuge and sanctuary here in the United States. The concepts of justice and fair play are paramount to, and enshrined in, the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech and the press have been clearly laid out in the First Amendment. Our founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, were strong advocates of freedom of the press. Jefferson wrote in letter dated 1786 that: “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press.” In another letter Jefferson wrote:”The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” Jefferson went on to say something that concerns the freedom of the press in the Muslim world today: “Were it left to me to decide, whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment, to prefer the latter.” Fair play and justice are also crucial to Islamic societies like Morocco, where they are known in Arabic as Adl. In fact, it is so important in Islamic societies that one of the names of God in Islam is derived from the Arabic word for Justice, Al Adl. Have Muslim rulers forgotten this most important of the 99 names of God? Justice is a supreme virtue in Islam, and yet contemporary Muslim society is riddled with injustice. Put yourself in the shoes of an ordinary Muslim. Whether in Casablanca, Karachi or Kabul, he finds it almost impossible to feed and educate his family. Worse, he can be picked up and humiliated at any time by corrupt security officials who can make his life a living hell. For him, he not only fears the midnight knock, but he anticipates the midday knock. Having lost Adl, he is deprived of dignity and honor which are his birthright as a human being. That is why business cannot go on as usual. Both the midnight and the midday knock are not only reprehensible, but are now outdated. And that is why, as an American Muslim lawyer, this topic is so important to me. The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East. People throughout the Muslim world want a sense of justice and equal treatment under the law. They want accountability, free press, democracy and jobs. But above all, they want basic human dignity. A new generation has emerged. They have made their voices heard and will no longer stand victim to silent oppression. History has shown us that those in authority have not fared well when they have neglected to hear the call of their citizens. Even in this bleak landscape, there are leaders who are responding to the cries of their people. In a television address last Friday, King Mohamed VI of Morocco outlined new measures that would entrench democratic institutions and protect rights. Morocco’s next prime minister will be nominated directly by the largest party elected to Morocco’s Parliament and no longer by the King. In addition, the judiciary would become an independent branch of government, with the King no longer retaining authority to appoint judges. In the address, his Majesty called the constitution “precious,” expressed his support for human rights, including a fair trial, and against torture and detentions. He went on to state that, “we need to guarantee the freedom of expression.” The proposals will be put to a referendum on July 1. I want to congratulate the King for taking these steps which we hope will build into the same great sentiments of justice and mercy that are magnificently echoed in the vision of the American Founding fathers, who, remember, counted Morocco as one of their first allies, ever since 1777. In May 2010, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation intended to promote a free press around the world. The legislation requires the United States State Department to expand its scrutiny of news media restrictions and intimidations as part of its annual review of human rights in each country. The test will now be how these measures are implemented.
Bersih organising chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan denied an Utusan Malaysia report that its funding for the planned July 9 Bersiih rally was obtained from overseas Christians groups, saying that donations came from Malaysians, including the Malaysian diaspora, which is also planning sister rallies in 8 cities around the world.
This is not the first time that the UMNO-owned Utusan has been caught out in a lie. Just a month ago, it created havoc by accusing the DAP and 8 Christian pastors of conspiring to overthrow the King, install a Christian prime minister and make Christianity the official religion of the country.
Its Christian-state report turned out to be false, motivated by the UMNO elite in a last-ditch bid to force PAS into a merger with the BN by creating hatred amongst the PAS grassroots for the DAP.
“The funds are entirely from public donations and the sale of Bersih t-shirts. I have never even heard of those foreign groups,” Ambiga was reported as saying.
However, she said Bersih did receive funding now and then from two US organisations — the National Democratic Institute and Open Society Institute — but these were specifically for other projects and unrelated to the July 9 march, also called A Walk for Democracy.
Nothing will stop us
The Bersih rally for free and fair elections has struck a chord with Malaysians. The Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has been savvy enough to support the citizens’ march but the Najib administration is deadset against it. Prime Minister Najib Razak fears the advent of people people will come with the rally and this would spell the end of the UMNO elite’s hold on the country.
Within Pakatan, the PKR-led Selangor government has pledged some financial support for the rally, while PAS has ordered all its one million-odd members to attend.
In its Monday editorial, the Utusan had claimed that Bersih was being funded by 11 foreign Christian organisations that have donated millions of ringgit to underwrite the group’s rally. It named German think-tank Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) and the Canadian Allied Foundation as among them.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has reiterated that the rally was illegal and warned he may invoke the draconian Internal Security Act on the organisers if they persisted. Ambiga has assured the march will go on regardless of the government pressure.
“What can I say about Utusan, so memalukan (shameful). Lie after lie after lie. They are such a bad role model for the Malays. PAS won’t be swayed by their nonsense. Even the Christian state conspiracy didn’t work with our grassroots,” PAS MP for Bukit Gantang Nizar Jamaluddin
Southern Baptists should be commended for their actions on June 15.
No, not for passing a resolution to support their belief in an “eternal, conscious punishment” (or hell) for non-Christians; they were dead wrong in understanding Jesus’ teachings there. But for their ability to develop consensus around such an ambiguous notion. It is a hell of a success.
Seriously, there is no dearth of theories when it comes to the big fire pit. Experts love to debate whether hell is time-bound or eternal, literal or symbolic, and exclusive to non-members or open to mankind.
Add to these theories the premise of hell by Prophet Muhammad: a place largely symbolic, extremely inclusive but not eternal.
Think of hell as a hospital where sick souls belonging to any religion will be admitted for, not punishment, but treatment, albeit a painful one. And since there is no health insurance company known to man that would be willing to pay for an eternal hospitalization…
No, seriously. When it comes to duration, Prophet Muhammad clearly agrees with Pastor Rob Bell’s hell: Not eternal.
Whenever the scope of faith brigades expanded in history, the path to human salvation shrunk. Following the same trend, the influential Southern Baptist Church condemned more than 60 million non-Christian Americans to an eternal hell on June 15. And in all fairness, there are some Muslim clerics who would argue a similar fate for non-Muslims.
So before all hell breaks loose in the conservative blogosphere, let me explain.
Prophet Muhammad taught us, “But as for him whose scales (of good deeds) are light. Hell will be his mother (Quran 100:10).” Like a fetus goes through the stages of physical maturation in a mother’s womb, a guilty soul passes through the stages of spiritual maturation in hell, according to many Muslims, until they are cleansed. Hell in Islam is therefore a penitentiary.
A penitentiary designed to be vacant one day. Prophet Muhammad said, “Verily a day would come over hell when there shall not be a single human being in it” (Kanzul Ummal Vol. VII, page 245). Another tradition goes as far as, “A time will come when no one will be left in Hell; winds will blow and the windows and doors of Hell will make a rattling noise on account of the blowing winds.” (Tafsir-ul-Maalam-ul-Tanzil under verse Hud:107)
“No one” includes not only Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or members of other faiths but even those who make life hell on earth for some believers by mocking God. Now that’s inclusive.
In comparison, a group of Christians dispatching billions of people worldwide to an eternal hell from their climate controlled meeting hall comes across as self-serving.
Don’t take this reformation theory too lightly though. Prophet Muhammad conveyed a long list of acts which could lead one to the torment of hell, such as, dying in the state of disbelief (2:218), killing a believer (4:94) arrogance (7:49), pride (39:61) hypocrisy (4:144), sinfulness (71:26), wickedness (80:39-43), rejecting the truth (76:5) and others.
Granted, some Muslims argue that such transgressors don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of being forgiven. But God leaves a ray of hope for them in Quran, “I will inflict my punishment on whom I will. But My mercy encompasses all things (9:157).
On one hand, the Prophet appears like a preventive medicine doctor by prescribing simple acts such as paying a sick visit to a brother (Abu-Dawood, Book 20:3091), as a vaccine against hell. On the other, he mimics a firefighter by reassuring that “God will stretch forth His hand into hell and all those who fall into His grip will be taken out of hell.”
My friends at Baptist Church, I get the hint. You are trying to say that as a Muslim I am headed towards an eternal hell for accepting Jesus as a true Prophet of God while your ex-Presidents like Jerry Vines are all heaven bound despite abusing and mocking my Prophet.
I am not moved by the declaration. Because according to Prophet Muhammad, my belief in Jesus as a true apostle of God actually opens up the possibility of salvation for me. “If anyone testifies that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah Alone Who has no partners, and that Muhammad is His Slave and His Apostle, and that Jesus is Allah’s Slave and His Apostle and His Word which He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit created by Him, and that Paradise is true, and Hell is true, Allah will admit him into Paradise with the deeds which he had done even if those deeds were few.” (Bukhari. Volume 4, Book 45, No. 644)
The theory of an eternal hell is bound to die today or tomorrow. Trust me; it will not be a cold day in hell before that happens.