Forgiveness, Not Death, for Hamza Kashgari
The ultimate fate of Saudi blogger, poet and writer Hamza Kashgari is still unknown. The 23-year-old, who formerly worked for the Saudi Arabia newspaper Al Bilad, recently tweeted some critical comments about the Prophet Muhammad (saw), which left conservative Saudi clerics crying blasphemy and calling for his blood. Kashgari’s cause has been taken up by Muslims around the world, many who say the call for his execution goes against the Prophet’s emphasis on love and forgiveness.
On the Prophet’s birthday (which fell on Feb. 12), Kashgari tweeted these statements, in 140 character increments, of course:
On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you. On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more. On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
Because of those tweets, conservative clerics are clamoring for his death. I, and many others, spoke out against his execution, citing the fact that there is no evidence in the Qu’ran that calls for the death penalty for apostasy. But what’s more sorrowful is that in the heated rhetoric surrounding this young man’s tweets, lost is the substance of what he wrote. No one, it seems, focused on this statement: “I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.” That, I think, is the key: He did not understand many aspects of the Prophet, his life and ministry.
Well, especially if that is the case, then the response should be compassion and education, not death and destruction. And, even if he had completely denied the prophet hood of Muhammad, he shouldn’t be executed. His faith, or lack thereof, is his choice. Kashgari, like all of us, will be judged by God, and it is not our place to play God’s role.
Maybe, despite his having been born and raised on the same piece of earth as the Prophet, Kashgari really did not know the Prophet Muhammad’s story, his life and his ministry. Maybe he did not really know the beauty of his character, the sanctity of his method or the magnanimity of his conduct. Maybe he did not really know how much his contemporaries loved him, how much his family adored him and how his followers were devastated when he was gone. Maybe Hamza Kashgari just does not understand, as seems to be from his tweets.
The Prophet’s story and life is indeed inspirational, as young Hamza himself said. Prophet Muhammad’s life has inspired me so much that I was blessed to publish his story entirely in poetry. And, if those who call for this blogger’s death truly love the Prophet, then they should follow his example and have compassion for the man. Those who are against him should lead by the example of the Prophet and set the blogger free.
The Prophet’s life is full of stories of how he forgave his worst enemies. Time and again, he refrained from taking personal revenge against anyone who slighted him, attacked him or even tried to kill him. His own uncle, Abu Lahab, would follow the Prophet wherever he went and tell people, “Don’t listen to him! He is a madman.” The Prophet did not even try to stop him. And when he marched triumphantly in Makkah, where I am sure many of Hamza Kashgari’s detractors now live, he told the Quraish tribe — his most bitter and brutal of enemies — “Go now and be free, I forgive you.”
Where has that spirit of forgiveness and compassion gone? Where has that kindness and generosity gone in the land of the Prophet (pbuh)? Why this rush for blood and death? This is reminiscent of the reaction to the silly Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). If one really loves the Prophet, then he will react in the way the Prophet would react: with kindness and generosity. Listen to the word of God:
”But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better and lo!, he between whom and thyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend! (41:34)”
Birth control is going to create more homeless veterans!
Fighting birth control is the Catholic Church’s Rosa Parks moment!
Obama is Hitler because he wants health insurance to cover birth control without co-pays!
If women get access to birth control people will have sex outside of procreation!
Yes, real people, real, powerful people, actually said all of those things.
It’s 2012 and the biggest controversy in Washington, D.C., is over
unemployment, the foreclosure crisis, the war in Afghanistan, birth control.
Just hours ago, a committee in the House of Representatives hosted a hearing on birth control where every single person who testified on this issue was a man. And one even likened birth control to a… ham sandwich.
Welcome to your democracy, ladies and gentlemen.
Over the last few weeks there has been an ongoing campaign, led by a minority of wildly out-of-touch bishops, to attack the administration over requiring insurance coverage of birth control. Let’s leave aside the fact that 98% of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives, or that 60% of women who use birth control need it to prevent illnesses like ovarian cancer, endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, just to name a few.
Let’s focus on the fact that after the administration went out of its way to accommodate their concerns — in our view, unnecessarily — Catholic bishops still railed against the policy. It is not enough that they, as religious institutions, don’t have to pay for contraception because they find it objectionable — they want to make it so no one provides women access to birth control. If a bishop wants to leave the church tomorrow and open a Taco Bell, well, he shouldn’t have to provide contraception either.
So, now they have exposed themselves. And the Republican leadership is eager to get in on the fringe action.
Is there an economic crisis? Are people struggling in extreme poverty? No matter, the bishops and Republican men in the House and Senate have their priorities: they are committed to gutting women’s access to health care. Republicans in Congress have actually gone an extra step — now they don’t just want to repeal the birth control mandate. They’re going to vote on ending coverage for mammograms and Type 2 Diabetes too.
Here’s what’s important to know about all this: They are going to lose.
Firstly, moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins actually think the administration’s accommodation solves the problem and they support insurance coverage from birth controlbecause, well, it’s important to women.
Secondly, every major poll out before and after this decision shows significant majorities of voters support the president’s decision and the idea of birth control being covered by insurance.
Thirdly — and this is important — the lesson of the last two weeks is that if you attack women and our access to critical preventive health care services, we WILL rise up and we will win.
The best and most recent example of that reality was the massive response to the Susan G. Komen foundation’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood — a direct extension of a Republican strategy in Congress to delegitimize Planned Parenthood as a service provider.
The responses by literally millions of women and men across the country over one institution’s attempt to play politics with women’s lives made it clear: Americans will fight for women’s access to the health care they need.
If Republican leadership thinks this is a smart fight, by all means pick it. They will lose their own supporters, sane members of their own caucuses and expose themselves to the American public as hell bent on making the lives of women harder.
And they will grow the ranks of progressive institutions that fight for women and their health.
Take for example our experience organizing around this issue in the last two weeks: We have grown tremendously since this issue was introduced — to more than a quarter million people nationwide. In the last few days alone, 73,000 people have signed a petition to Speaker Boehner telling him not to repeal Obama’s rule. And yesterday over 10,000 people picked up the phone and called their members of Congress to deliver the same message.
Why is the response this tremendous? Because these are real people’s lives they’re messing with. And Americans fundamentally understand that. The stories emerging from our members help paint this picture.
Ashley from Indiana told us, “I use birth control to help with my ovarian cysts and endometriosis, so that when I’m ready to have children, my body will be ready and willing too. All women should have the RIGHT to affordable health coverage.”
And Erika from Minnesota wrote in, “I’m a single mom and I just can’t afford birth control. The one time I was on the pill it cost me $140 for a three-month supply. As the birth control pill is used as more than simply avoiding pregnancy (it can be used as treatment for a number of different issues) it makes sense to me that at least some form of birth control should be available to the public at a reasonable cost to the consumer.”
If Republicans want to go down this road, we welcome the fight.
If you want to join us, add your name to this petition to Congress to oppose any legislation that would overturn the President’s mandate to make contraception available to all employees through their insurer.
Yes, the tweet may have been imprudent and disrespectful. But, is killing him the answer? Is calling for his death going to make him come back to the faith and love the Prophet even more? Absolutely not. Our faith is all about love and compassion for all, to spread the light of God’s love to the rest of the world through our actions and thoughts. Why is it that, so many times, our people completely fail to see this?
The president did something agile and wise the other day. And something quite important to the health of our politics. He reached up and snuffed out what some folks wanted to make into a cosmic battle between good and evil. No, said the president, we’re not going to turn the argument over contraception into Armageddon, this is an honest difference between Americans, and I’ll not see it escalated into a holy war. So instead of the government requiring Catholic hospitals and other faith-based institutions to provide employees with health coverage involving contraceptives, the insurance companies will offer that coverage, and offer it free.
The Catholic bishops had cast the president’s intended policy as an infringement on their religious freedom; they hold birth control to be a mortal sin, and were incensed that the government might coerce them to treat it otherwise. The president in effect said: No quarrel there; no one’s going to force you to violate your doctrine. But Catholics are also Americans, and if an individual Catholic worker wants coverage, she should have access to it — just like any other American citizen. Under the new plan, she will. She can go directly to the insurer, and the religious institution is off the hook.
When the president announced his new plan, the bishops were caught flat-footed. It was so … so reasonable. In fact, leaders of several large, Catholic organizations have now said yes to the idea. But the bishops have since regrouped, and are now opposing any mandate to provide contraceptives even if their institutions are not required to pay for them. And for their own reasons, Republican leaders in Congress have weighed in on the bishops’ side. They’re demanding, and will get, a vote in the Senate.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, says:
“The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion. It’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it, right there in the very First Amendment to our Constitution. And the government doesn’t get to decide for religious people what their religious beliefs are. They get to decide that.”
But here’s what Republicans don’t get, or won’t tell you. And what Obama manifestly does get. First, the war’s already lost: 98 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives. Second, on many major issues, the bishops are on Obama’s side — not least on extending unemployment benefits, which they call “a moral obligation.” Truth to tell, on economic issues, the bishops are often to the left of some leading Democrats, even if both sides are loathe to admit it. Furthermore — and shhh, don’t repeat this, even if the president already has — the Catholic Church funded Obama’s first community organizing, back in Chicago. Ah, politics.
So the battle over contraception no longer seems apocalyptic. No heavenly hosts pitted against the forces of Satan. It’s a political brawl, not a crusade of believers or infidels. The president skillfully negotiated the line between respect for the religious sphere and protection of the spiritual dignity and freedom of individuals. If you had listened carefully to the speech Barack Obama made in 2009 at the University of Notre Dame, you could have seen it coming:
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem-cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships might be relieved. The question then is, “How do we work through these conflicts?”
We Americans have wrestled with that question from the beginning. Some of our forebearers feared the church would corrupt the state. Others feared the state would corrupt the church. It’s been a real tug-of-war, sometimes quite ugly. Churches and religious zealots did get punitive laws passed against what they said were moral and religious evils: blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, alcohol, gambling, books, movies, plays … and yes, contraception. But churches also fought to end slavery, help workers organize and pass progressive laws. Of course, government had its favorites at times, for much of our history, it privileged the Protestant majority. And in my lifetime alone, it’s gone back and forth on how to apply the First Amendment to ever- changing circumstances among people so different from each other. The Supreme Court, for example, first denied, then affirmed, the right of the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse, on religious grounds, to salute the flag.
The Prophet Muhammad’s story has been told thousands upon thousands of times, from generation to generation. Scholars have written volumes upon volumes of books and compendia about his amazing life story. Lecturers and professors have spoken about him for hours upon hours. Poets have sung his praises throughout the ages. Yet, rarely has this incredible story been told entirely in poetry.
Noble Brother is the newest book by Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa, co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam and author of the blog, “God, Faith, and a Pen.” It is a unique and creative way of telling the story of the Prophet Muhammad.
For the Muslim, Noble Brother offers a completely different approach to this essential story of Islamic sacred history. For the non-Muslim, this book offers a light, engaging and non-intimidating look into a religious figure who has been the subject of both intrigue and mystery in the West.
Noble Brother makes learning about the Prophet Muhammad much more interesting than a traditional historical account.
Noble Brother divides the story of the Last Prophet into twenty-eight poems of various lengths, each discussing important events in the life and ministry of the Prophet Muhammad. Dr. Hassaballa also includes a bonus poem about the Prophet at the end of the book. In addition, Noble Brotherhas an Appendix with the historical background surrounding each poem for those readers who are not intimately familiar with the Prophet Muhammad’s story.
“All Muslims love the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with all their hearts. Some of them, however, have done truly horrible things in his name, as the response to the Danish cartoons has shown,” said Dr. Hassaballa.
“Noble Brother is my way of showing how the love for the Prophet (pbuh) can do good in this world.”
Whether you have never learned about the Prophet Muhammad or read his story fifty times, Noble Brother is a must addition to anyone’s library.
So here we are once again, arguing over how to honor religious liberty without it becoming the liberty to impose on others moral beliefs they don’t share. Our practical solution is the one Barack Obama embraced the other day: protect freedom of religion — and protect freedom from religion. Can’t get more American than that.
I think we need new language around the matter of love. I would welcome your help in crafting it.
You know how much the world has changed. Fifty years ago, marriage meant not just one man and one woman, but also a public ceremony, the exchange of vows, “till death do us part,” and children. It was the dominant — pretty much the only — paradigm for loving relationships in U.S. culture.
It is still your dominant paradigm. You continue to argue for the “sanctity of marriage,” the notion of “one man/one woman,” even the importance of mothers staying at home. You rail against rampant promiscuity and a hypersexualized society.
Here’s the problem. Fewer and fewer people are listening to you. They consider you irrelevant — a holdover from a obsolete past. In the not-too-distant future, they will stop listening altogether.
If your thinking were across-the-board terrible, this wouldn’t bother me. But I find it sad precisely because your values (quite apart from your specific arguments) have a great deal to contribute to this new landscape. Yet again, the landscape cannot hear you. That brings me back to new language.
As you know, I celebrate many of the changes of the past 50 years. I am glad that LGBTQ people feel freer to be who they are and love whom they love. I believe it is good that people in dead or violent marriages can escape them more readily. Overall, I think it is good that people can shape their life commitments according to their unique nature with less fear of disapproval or reprisal.
But beneath your current language I hear values that our society sorely lacks — and, I believe, needs. Beneath the talk of marriage is a passion for commitment. Beneath the concern with easy divorce is a deep love of faithfulness. Beneath the railing against promiscuity is anxiety of the damage wrought by physical intimacy without spiritual intimacy. Beneath the fear of commitment, which seems to be everywhere these days, is a cherishing of risk.
What if we stopped worrying about the forms that relationships can take — two-parent vs. single-parent families, children vs. no children, same-sex vs. heterosexual vs. polyamorous vs. whatever — and started talking up the values beneath the forms?
What if we embraced all people regardless of orientation or life circumstances, but promoted the value of commitment and intimacy and perseverance? Might it result in healthier, more resilient relationships, more stability for people in a world of disorienting change, happier children? Might it provide the kind of language that would allow you to join the general conversation in a way that you can be heard and taken seriously?
Is it possible that this— and not a particular form of commitment — is what God is aiming at? Is it worth exploring? Would you be willing to try?