Since the publication of my last article on secularism posted at Hiiraan.com last month, bloody and painful incidents in the name of religion had been occurring across the world, particularly in Somalia. Al-Qaeda-inspired Al-Shabab suicide bombers slaughtered innocent civilians in Mogadishu’s Medina hotel. This barbaric act was condemned by peace loving Somalis and the international community. “Islamist” insurgents launched a series of concerted attacks on the TFG/AMISOM forces although militants failed to topple the government.
Furthermore, as far places as Pakistan, where nature killed thousands of people and made millions homeless, suicide bombers butchered hundreds of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them Muslims, and ironically in Ramadan, a holy month meant to purify souls and to reflect on the previous year’s ups and downs.
In Iran, the government was forced to suspend the execution of a 43-year-old Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was facing stoning to death for adultery. Some countries have taken strong stands against the stoning and have gone as far as offering political asylum to the woman. The Brazilian government, one of Iran’s few allies in the world politics where the international community is determined to deny that country of acquiring nuclear power was one of these countries. The international community’s pressure has paid off because Iran is now being forced to review the issue of stoning adulterers to death.
Just when you have thought the world has had enough of religious bigotry, Terry Jones, the pastor of a small American church in Gainesville in Florida provoked international outcry after threatening to burn down copies of the Quran in a bonfire style as an expression of his extreme views against Islam, a religion he describes as the devil. For him, the act was a defiance and challenge to Muslim radicals who had been burning down the American flag, the Bible, and had killed Christians on many occasions.
Coinciding with the 9th anniversary of 9/11, the priest’s action was politically motivated, which was meant to aggravate an already explosive and complicated situation in America where both sides of extreme political and ideological spectrum are emotionally battling it out on the touchy issue of building a mosque near the Ground Zero. For the right wingers, to build a mosque near the same site where thousands of Americans were butchered by Muslim extremists is an insult to their intelligence and disrespect to the victims and their families. For them, if the mosque is built, it means only one thing: rewarding mass murders with medals, murders who believed that, by committing mass murder, they would go straight to haven! For them, Muslims can build the mosque only if and when Christians can build a church in Mecca. For them, New York is as holy and sacred as Mecca is to Muslims!! Their biggest question is, while they are being forced to accept constructing a mosque on the site of a crime, why they cannot build a church or synagogue in Mecca?
For Muslim extremists, building the mosque is a victory in disguise. This is because the biggest power in the world has caved in to their relentless pressure and concerted efforts, which have persuaded or “forced” others to accept the supremacy of Islam over other religions. They have achieved higher status and believe they are kings to be bowed to as Terry Jones, the pastor, has warned America not to. For the radicals, those airplane hijackers who executed the 9/11 operation are martyrs in haven, drinking wine with their many and beautiful wives!
For secular and open minded people, adherents to all faiths have constitutional rights that allow them to practise their faith as long as it is in the private sphere and it does not harm others. For them, the less religion there is, the better world there is. For them, you can only achieve religious tolerance and co-existence under the state of secularism! Put Bin Laden or pastor Jones on the throne of any country (e.g. the USA) and there would be religious tyranny and bigotry, as the pastor’s and the Saudi-Wahabis’ actions had proven. Actions speak louder than words!
Benefiting from the secular nature of the USA, American religious leaders across the board from Judaism, Christianity to Islam have all stood up shoulder to shoulder to condemn the pastor’s action. This show of faith “unity” could probably be achieved under secularism where interfaith dialogue and co-existence is possible, and this is exactly what these religious leaders have done. Indeed, the proposed dialogue between the pastor and New York imam is made possible by secularism; otherwise these bigoted religious leaders would have been on each other’s throat as history reminds us all.
Although the priest called off his plans to burn the Quran, damage to inter-faith and communal relationships around the world has already been done by this. Imagine of the bloody consequences if other copycat plans were attempted in fragile multi-faith countries like Nigeria, or if the burning had actually taken place.
Now, my dear reader let me stop haranguing about those religious bigotry stories and allow me to return to the subject matter of my article, which is a follow up on a previous article on secularism for Somalia.
Dear reader, did you know that under article 501 of the 1962 Somali Penal Code, which Somaliland and Puntland have adopted our ancestors, in their efforts to live up to their religious heritage, have even tried to ban usury by making it illegal? Indeed, practising usury was a crime punishable by up to two years imprisonment with a fine of 1,000 to 20,000 Somali Shillings. This reveals our ancestors’ shrewdness when it comes to implementing the Sharia law in a modern world. Although they could foresee how unwise it would be to stone a woman adulterer to death in a changing modern world, they could see the wisdom of embracing one of the Islam’s finest principles, outlawing usury. A principle, which many modern consumers in a capitalist society, who are being burdened with hefty banking interest rates, would very much appreciate and welcome it. Although it is very debatable and questionable whether interest free loans would really be feasible and workable in today’s economic world order in which human greed has probably made it harder or impractical to eradicate capitalism borne out of usury, by just trying to make it illegal, our ancestors have shown their far reaching vision, wisdom, courage and moral fortitude.
Now, ask those “Islamist” Wahabiya inspired groups in Somalia about our ancestors’ past legal practices, and they would just describe them as un-Islamic, and our ancestors as heretics!! Ironically, while these “Islamist” groups have been boasting about their barbaric acts, such as stoning women to death and desecrating tombs of Sufi saints, you hardly hear them of promoting other fine Islamic principles, such as outlawing usury. This just exposes their narrow mindedness in a changing modern world.
So, my dear readers, please let us follow our ancestors’ vision, which was to keep Somalia a secular country where a mixture of Sharia, customary laws and European jurisprudence has been practised for a long time. This is what I call pragmatism guided by wisdom. Muuse Yuusuf
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