Reforming Islam: France, China take steps to tighten screws

Two countries that are taking firm steps to detoxify and reform Islam are France and China. Last week, they both took decisive steps, in their own different ways, at a time when Turkey is trying to resurrect the ghost of the Ottoman Empire-cum-Caliphate and the Arabs are doing everything, including befriending Israel, to ward off Ankara from recolonizing them.

Last week, the French government, led by President Emmanuel Macron, finalized a draft law targeting radical Islamism, called a law to “reinforce Republican principles”. This Bill will go the National Assembly, or Lower House of Parliament, in January 2021.

Prime Minister Jean Castex asserted that the proposed law is “not a text against religion, nor against the Muslim religion”, but against radical Islamism, whose objective is “to divide French people from one another.”

France, which has the largest Muslim community in Europe, has been forced to take this step after a series of terror attacks in recent years, particularly after the October beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty.

The new proposed law envisages stern measures, including school education reforms, to ensure that Muslim children do not dropout. It seeks stricter controls on mosques and preachers, and firm rules against hate campaigns online.

The law, when passed, would ensure increased surveillance of French mosques, including their financing. The government would supervise the training of Islamic preachers (imams), and shutdown mosques receiving public subsidies if they go against “republican principles” such as gender equality. It would also protect moderate community leaders targeted by extremists.

The existing secular laws, or laïcité, which ban state employees from displaying religious symbols like the crucifix or hijab, would now be extended to any sub-contracted public services as well, media reported.

Besides, the government would not allow home-schooling for children over age three. Doctors who routinely issue “virginity certificates” to females would be prosecuted. Polygamous applicants would not be granted residency permits. Officials would separately interview couples before their wedding to ensure that they have not been forced into marriage. Online hate-mongers would be severely punished.

While the French Muslims’ reaction to the proposed laws has been rather muted, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called it an “open provocation”. Also, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, has called President Macron’s views “racist”.

But the President is unperturbed. “I will not allow anybody to claim that France, or its government, is fostering racism against Muslims.”

Apparently, he is sure of getting re-elected in 2022 as the French people, by and large, are happy with his strong measures. Terrorism has claimed more than 200 lives in France since 2012. A recent nationwide survey revealed that nearly 80 percent of respondents thought that “Islamism is at war with France”.

Another important step against ‘Islamism’ was taken by Beijing, which Islamabad considers its “all-weather friend”.

That the petro-dollars had financed Islamism in Pakistan and made it a global nursery of terrorism since the 1970s is well-known.  Due to its increasing proximity with Turkey and Iran, the Arabs are no longer as Pakistan-friendly as they once were. In fact, the Arabs are forcing Pakistan to repay their debt and taking other measures to tame Islamabad.

This has forced Islamabad to embrace its ‘atheist’ GodFather more tightly, giving Beijing yet another opportunity to squeeze Pakistan.

China will now immediately provide $1.5 billion financing line to Pakistan to help it repay the $2 billion Saudi debt. But this time, Beijing has not sanctioned the loan from its State Administration of Foreign Exchange, commonly known as SAFE deposits, nor has it extended a commercial loan.

Instead, Beijing is providing this loan by augmenting the size of 2011 bilateral Currency-Swap Agreement (CSA), by an additional 10 billion Chinese Yuan or around $1.5 billion, media reports said. This has increased the size of the overall trade facility to 20 billion Chinese Yuan or $4.5 billion.

In other words, China is now Pakistan’s largest creditor and Beijing has successfully trapped Islamabad into an ever-tightening debt-trap.

The trade facility, originally meant to promote bilateral trade in their respective local currencies, has been foolishly used by Pakistan for paying foreign debt.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had, since assuming office in 2018, visited Saudi Arabia twice to secure fresh loans for survival of Islamabad’s tottering economy. The Saudis agreed to provide $ 6.2 billion worth of financial package to Pakistan for three years. This included $ 3 billion in cash assistance and $ 3.2 billion worth of annual oil and gas supply on deferred payments.

The Saudi cash and oil facility was meant for one year, extendable for three years. But, when Pakistan, together with Turkey and Malaysia, tried to set up a non-Arab bloc within the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2019, the angry Saudis claimed back their money ahead of the schedule and also suspended the oil facility.

This forced Pakistan to borrow from China in May this year to repay $ 1 billion out of the $3 billion to the Saudis.

A cash-strapped Islamabad has also been unable to get the suspended $ 6 billion IMF programme restored. Pakistan has been unable to get continued, uninterrupted, foreign inflows.

Lure of foreign money had trapped Pakistan into a vicious circle of terrorism; this same foreign money is set to dismantle the same terror-infrastructure down.

Pakistan will not realize it immediately. But China is sure to extract its pound of flesh by colonizing and deIslamizing Pakistan.

How to control a mosque Israel may gift to the Saudis?

It is an emotional issue for 100 million Jordanians–and, of course, the legitimacy of their King who traces his dynasty to none other than the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam.

They have reasons to be worried.

For, in the 21st century, the Islamic world is witnessing unprecedented developments. The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is splitting into Arab versus non-Arab Muslim nations, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively; Turkey is making efforts to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, which died in the 1920s, and reintegrate the Sunni Arab nations once again; the Arabs are signing peace accords with their age-old enemy, Israel, to the chagrin of non-Arab Muslims.

Even Saudi Arabia, which is Custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is inching closer to Jerusalem: only last week, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman (MbS) had a not-so-secret meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saudi soil.

Now has come reports on how Jordan is trying to reaffirm its own custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. As soon as the Sunday night meeting between MbS and Netanyahu became known, Jordan became apprehensive that Jerusalem could ‘gift’ the al-Aqsa mosque as well to the Saudis as part of the peace deal.

Amman is mighty concerned about the fate of Islam’s third holiest sites which it thinks could be up for grabs in a normalisation deal between MbS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The November 22 confabulations between MbS and the Israeli PM alarmed Jordanian leaders who were already unnerved by Riyadh’s regional posturing, particularly after the two Saudi acolytes—the UAE and Bahrain—signed the “Abraham Accords” with Jerusalem in September in the US where President Donald Trump was their host.

Now they fear al-Aqsa could be gifted away to the Saudis by Israel by the outgoing Trump Administration. So concerned is Jordan about this possible deal that its foreign ministry released a statement last Wednesday challenging any “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” of the al-Aqsa mosque. Its spokesman said: “The kingdom will continue its efforts to protect and care for the holy mosque, and preserve the rights of all Muslims to it in compliance with the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites.”

Apparently concerned about Trump digging the pitch for him in the Middle East, President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. It was after this call that Amman’s foreign ministry released the statement reminding that Jordan continued to be custodian of the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Jordanian royal dynasty claims its origins to the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad. The King has governed the Jerusalem sites, known as Haram al-Sharif, since 1924, the same year the Saud dynasty was given control of Mecca and Medina upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

The Muslim world believes in the legitimacy of the ruling Hashemite King due to his guardianship of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock  for a century. In fact, this custodianship pre-dates the creation of Jordan and Israel who had agreed to continue this arrangement in their peace deal in their October 1994 peace treaty.

Jordan now apprehends that if Israel gifts away custodianship of the Haram al-Sharif to the Saudis as a quid pro quo for a peace deal, it could ‘delegitimize’ claims of the King being a descendant of the Prophet.

In other words, the deal could seal the Saudis’ leadership of the Muslim world, particularly the Sunnis who constitute nearly 80 percent of the Muslim population globally. This brilliant move could torpedo Turkey’s attempts to resurrect the Ottomans’ Empire as well as the Caliphate.

That is, the Saudis could then decide whom they considered “Muslims”, deny pilgrimage rights to the “non-Muslims” and even excommunicate the latter—as Riyadh would then have custodianship of all three holiest Islamic shrines!

There is also the Iran angle to the possible al-Aqsa deal. Tehran and Riyadh have often been at each other’s throats on many issues. If the peace deal goes through, the Saudis will be protected by the Israeli nuclear umbrella against any possible Iranian attack. In such an eventuality, the Saudis could excommunicate Iran and its friends from Islam.

The Hashemite dynasty of Jordan had controlled Mecca for centuries until it was conquered in 1924 by the House of Saud. Both Mecca and Medina became part of Saudi Arabia, while al-Aqsa remained under Hashemite control. Ever since, the two dynasties have been engaged in a struggle for influence, increasingly dominated by the Saudis.

“Islam in crisis”: Macron only exposed the emerging truth

New Delhi: On October 2, when French President Emmanuel Macron remarked that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, all hell broke loose in the Muslim world. Many condemned him. Some took to violence, beheaded three, and wounded many others in France. It appeared as if Macron was villain-of-the-piece, a global pariah, especially for the non-Arab Muslims and their rent-seeking liberal-democratic-secular cohorts.

However, at a subterranean level, Islam, as we know it, is indeed in a crisis from modernity. The message, howsoever ugly or obnoxious it may appear is clear: Islam must either reform or perish.

Consider this: an atheist China has destroyed 1,600 mosques in its restive Xinjiang Province in three years, banned Haj for the minority Uighur Muslims, scrapped Arabic/Persian architecture of a mosque to make it look like any Chinese shopping complex, and even rewriting a China-friendly Qur’an in Mandarin.

And this: the United Arab Republic (UAE), Saudi Arabia’s alter ego, has just relaxed several strict Islamic personal laws to move on with modern times—at a time when Islamic militants, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, are baying for the French blood for alleged blasphemy, etc.

This new development has come within a month of the UAE and Bahrain signing the “Abraham Accords” with Israel, their medieval enemy, to normalize relations with the Jewish state, to the chagrin of non-Arab Muslim countries like Turkey and Pakistan, among others. Saudi Arabia, is currently tasting waters; it may also follow suit in the face of the threat from Turkey’s attempts to revive the Ottoman Empire.

This only means that the Arab world is realizing futility of its archaic Islamic heritage and wants to move on with modern times and geopolitical realities—something the non-Arab Muslim nations are not yet prepared for.

Last week, the UAE announced a major overhaul of its Islamic personal laws, which now allow unmarried couples to live together, loosened restrictions on alcohol and criminalized the so-called “honour killings”. These have been implemented with immediate effect to keep pace with the changing Arab society.

In the last few decades, the UAE has emerged as a global financial hub, and destination for tourists, fortune-seekers, and businessmen. Earlier, its strict Islamic laws were embarrassing for many of these foreigners and their countries and were seen as obstacles in realizing the full potential of the seven Arab sheikhdoms comprising the UAE.

These historic and progressive reforms are expected to attract millions of foreign tourists to boost the UAE economy and make it less dependent on traditional sources of revenue business-friendly ambience, and oil.

Accordingly, there will now be no penalties for alcohol possession, sales and consumption. There will also be no ban on cohabitation of unmarried couples. The beneficiaries include Muslims as well. The Arab nation will also better protect women’s rights by getting rid of the tribal custom of ‘honour killings’.

The UAE’s strict Islamic laws were equally applicable to the Arab natives and the expatriates. The expatriates outnumber local citizens nearly nine to one. The amendments will now permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Clearly, the Arab world is in for far-reaching changes in the near future.

Another change in the Muslims’ world affairs has surfaced in China where President-for-Life Xi Jinping is the driving force against ‘Islamic heritage’.

But nobody in China’s “all-weather friend” Pakistan, or for that matter anywhere in the world, dare question Beijing for its ‘Islamophonia’, as they do in the case of India, France, and other democratic countries. China routinely hangs Islamic terrorists, has for long been keeping a million Uighur Muslims in ‘re-education’ camps, and even banned their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Few have noticed how China has been effecting far-reaching changes even in mosque architecture, imposing various restrictions, and also ‘Sinicizing’ The Qur’an by getting it rewritten in its own language, giving no room to anyone and making sure the militant Muslims remained in check.

The latest example came in a mosque whose traditional ‘Arab-style’ domes were demolished and the shrine was rebuilt like a Chinese mall.

A recent Australian study, using satellite imagery, had found that China has systematically destroyed nearly 1,600 mosques in Xinjiang province alone since 2017.

As part of its ongoing project to ‘Sinicize’ Islam in China, a large mosque has been completely reconstructed by the government, removing all signs of Islam.

The Nanguan Mosque in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, was the largest in the province. It has so completely been rebuilt that—with no minarets or domes–that it no longer looks like a mosque at all. The mosque was built during the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and restored in 1981.

It was entirely renovated and changed by the Communist Party government of President Jinping.

The region, inhabited by the largest community of Hui Muslims in China, became a major target of the ‘Sinicize Islam’ drive of the Chinese Communist Party. In the last two years, a large number of mosques have lost their distinguishing features.

Now, all the five bright green colored domes and the golden minarets have been removed. The golden Islamic style filigree, decorative arches, and the text in Arabic script on the mosque have all been scrapped. Even the signboards are in Chinese, according to media reports.

The bright golden and green colored mosque with onion-shaped domes and Islamic style curved windows have been changed into a grey-colored rectangular structure.

The latest images of the mosque were posted by Christina Scott, the United Kingdom’s deputy head of mission in China, on Twitter. She wrote, “TripAdvisor suggested the Nanguan Mosque in #Yinchuan well worth a visit. Only this is what it looks like now, after ‘renovations’.  Domes, minarets, all gone. No visitors allowed either, of course. So depressing.”

The transformation was expedited after a recent visit to the city by  President Xi Jinping, who scolded officials for the slow pace of ‘Sinicizing’ Islamic structures. He remarked that “Ningxia has made some achievements in religious reform, but it was not thorough enough.” It meant that the work should be intensified.

He also visited the region on June 6-8. The demolition activity picked up soon after that. By June 26, the five green domes and the minarets were gone, and the remaining work was completed soon.

The militant Muslims could not do anything, not even expressed their dissatisfaction for fear of the government.

According to reports, the Covid-19 pandemic has come in handy to the Chinese government by giving it the opportunity to expedite the process of Sinicizing mosques in the nation. Imposing restrictions in the name of the pandemic, the government closed down many mosques, accelerated demolitions, and renovations.

Sunni leadership: Pakistan joins Turkey’s one-horse race

To say that ‘history repeats itself’ could be a cliché, even an understatement. But it should be said to see the latest developments in perspective.

To begin, let us say: the kettle is hotter than tea!

A century ago, Muslims of the Indian subcontinent had launched the Khilafat Movement for restoration of the Ottoman Empire in far away Turkey. It was basically an attempt of the Ali Brothers to create a Sunni bloc in the world. Even the then Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah VII Mir Usman Ali Khan, threw in his hat with the ambition of wresting the Caliphate from the Turks: he was a relative of the deposed last Caliph, Abdulmejid II, and fancied himself as the rightful heir to the high office.

Because of this ‘Indian’ support to the despised Ottomans, the Arab Muslims have since hated them. One by one, Arab nations finally broke away from the Ottoman yoke in the mid-20th century, but their hatred remained. After Partition of India, and emergence of Pakistan as ‘champion’ of India’s Muslims, the Arab dislike was gradually shifted to Islamabad.

At present, the growing bonhomie between the Arabs and ‘Hindu’ India, as also the Jews of Israel, is proof enough of this megatrend of a split between the Muslims of Arab and non-Arab origins.

But Pakistan has refused to learn any lesson from this subtle shift, even after the Arabs’ repeated snubs in the last one year itself, on the issues like Kashmir and the non-Arab axis it sought to create with Turkey and Malaysia within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

So, even as the Arabs kept silent and moved closer to Israel, Pakistan aped Turkey again and condemned France for taking action against Islamists. France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, who is fighting a grim battle for his own survival in the face of a united Opposition at home, criticised the French President for “encouraging Islamophobia” following the killing of a teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.

“Hallmark of a leader is he unites human beings… rather than dividing them. This is a time when President (Emmanuel) Macron could have put healing touch, and denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation and marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalization,” he said in a series of tweets on Sunday.

Satan quoting from the Holy Book. See who is talking about a ‘healing touch’—someone whose country is the global breeding ground for officially-sponsored and funded, and army-supported terrorists of dozens of groups and whose over 7,000 members have been proscribed by the United Nations. A country continuously kept on grey list by the global watchdog on terror funding, Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Curiously, Niazi himself had admitted in the US last year that Pakistan was home to some 40,000 terrorists!

But this did not prevent him from his peace diatribe: “It is unfortunate that he (Macron) has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists.”

He claimed that the French President deliberately provoked Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam, and Prophet Muhammad.
Without any understanding of it, he attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe and across the world.

Early this month, Macron had described Islam as a religion “in crisis,” and announced plans for tougher laws to weed out “Islamist separatism” in France.

His statement came after the gruesome killing of a teacher by a 18-year-old youth of Chechen origin. The youth beheaded Samuel Paty, 47, in broad daylight, near his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb about 24-km from Paris, for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

Ironically, Paty had shown these caricatures during a lesson on free speech, according to reports.

The attacker posted a photo of the teacher’s decapitation on Twitter before being shot and killed by the police. The French media said the teenager had been in touch with Paty before the killing.

The killing suddenly made France boil with rage as anti-Muslim demonstrations were organized across the country. Subsequently, France closed several mosques in an unprecedented crackdown in hotspot areas and even posthumously conferred the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, on Paty in a ceremony attended by President Emmanuel Macron.

The French government also launched a crackdown against more than 50 Muslim organisations as agitated vigilante groups attacked mosques.

This was part of Macron’s October 2 plan against “Islamist separatism”. Last week, France said it was conducting multiple raids and would expel more than 200 Muslims from the country.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has also proposed to ban the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an organization that claims to track anti-Muslim hate crimes. He lambasted CCIF as an “enemy of the republic” and hinted at dissolving several other organisations.

Fifteen people have been arrested as part of an investigation into the killing, including the assailant’s family members, reports said.

In September also, two stabbings were reported outside the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad at the start of the trial for those suspected with involvement in the January, 2015, attacks which killed 17 people.

With growing concerns about Islamic radicalization in France and the rest of Europe, Macron is mulling a new law to push religion further out of education and the public sector in the country, and aims to strengthen “laicite”, France’s strict separation of church and state.

It would, among other things, let the state monitor international funding coming into French mosques, limit home-schooling to prevent Muslims schools from being run by what Macron cited as “religious extremists”, and create a special certificate programme for imams to be trained in France.

France was where the Muslim expansion in Europe was halted in the eighth century.

And France was where the First Crusade began…

Is France now launching the Last Crusade?

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Macron needs ‘mental treatment’.

Watch this space!