Blasphemy and the Plight of the Yemeni Intellectuals [Archives:2000/31/Law & Diplomacy]

July 31 2000

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
& Jalal Al-Shra’abi
Yemen Times

Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi
Head of Political Department(PGC)
First I would like to stress that Muslims unity is an Islamic duty. Great Islamic scholars call for avoiding divisions of Muslims. Therefore Muslims should avoid accusing each other of blasphemy. This does not mean that they should overlook any insults against Islamic beliefs. We are in an Islamic country that is very proud of Islam and is ready to defend it as well. However, this should be based on strong backgrounds. If anyone gives himself the right to be the prosecutor and the judge, we will indulge ourselves in division and fanaticism. All Yemenis are strong believers and are willing to defend their religion. So, there is no need for Muslims to indulge in useless wrangles.
Freedom of thought should also affirm a real commitment to respect religious beliefs. This commitment does not necessarily mean restraining freedom of thought, but rather ensuring Islamic moral and humanitarian values.
In my opinion, nobody, party, organization, or government has the right to impose his or its opinions on others. Unfortunately, some Islamic preachers at our time ignore the Islamic teachings because they have turned to politics. Muslim scholars, unfortunately have become ostracized for saying the truth which does no please others. Restricting the Muslim’s mind will lead to more backwardness. So, we have to let our minds the freedom to be creative and challenge the western mind without violating our values and religion.
We do not need violent reactions. What we need is just implementing the Islamic teachings. Offending others helps spread hatred which we do not need to feel in our Muslim society. So, we have to determine where the mistakes are and tackle them reasonably and through the legal system.
The state should shoulder the greatest part of responsibility to protect the country against conflicts and sedition and take the necessary steps to protect Muslims from the political conflict. Media and mosques should work together to strengthen unity among Muslims and be instruments for unity, understanding and flourishing values. Islam is the religion of all Yemenis and all will stand up to defend it.
Mr. Nasser Yahya. Chief Editor of Al-Sahwah, mouthpiece of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah)
The present debate is part of the intellectual conflict witnessed in the whole Islamic world over the past century between the Islamic identity and westernization. The conflict is intended to turn the public’s attention away from a problem that has taken place in the country. Abusing Islamic figures and our religious beliefs is forbidden because it is considered an insult to all Muslims.
The other side does not accept this idea, thinking that freedom of opinion has no limits and it allows even abusing holy things.
Away from our intentions, let us benefit from this experience to establish more civilized traditions in settling down our disputes by resorting to courts.
About if the case has other dimensions I think that the forthcoming days will reveal motivations of each side. As far as I am concerned, I affirm the base of the movement I belong to which is rejecting any attempts to insult our religious beliefs.
I wonder why the campaign is directed against Sheikh Al-Zindani, while there are personalities from the PGC who are joining him in rejecting the abuse of our Islamic beliefs.
Nassr Taha Mostafa
The blasphemy campaign is against Al-Yosufi not against the other journalists or newspapers chief editors. It was an extremist reaction and a counter-extremist one. The situation should return to normal. The campaign against the Al-Thaqafiah and its chief editor did not come from nothing. This does not mean that I approve it. On the contrary, I announced solidarity with Mr. Sameer after he apologized for republishing that paragraph that blasphemed against God.
In my opinion, accusing people of blasphemy suggests incapability of dialogue. On the other hand, offending sanctities in the name of creativity and freedom of thought also suggests failure to achieve popularity in the proper ways away from dealing with holy matters illogically. I hope that this crisis will be the first and the last. I wish that every party will find a time to see what happened in an objective way in order to avoid such behaviors in the future.
II. Extremist behaviors, disregarding the source, will limit freedom of thought and expression. Blasphemy has not become a dominant phenomenon yet. It is not more than an abnormal practice, just like that of offending sacred beliefs. Both practices do not pose a threat to freedom of thought and expression at the moment, but they rather raise dust that soon will disappear. We should be aware of its immoderate expressions and thoughts that affect freedom of thought and expression and nothing else.
III. These parties should be partially responsible to resist any extremist thoughts or expressions. They should guide, oversee the experience and work to improve it. It is unreasonable that they side with one party at the expense of the other. Extremism of whatever source should be refused. At the same time, they should stand against all attempts to offend our sacred beliefs.
There should be limits for freedom of expression and thought that should not be trespassed. Secular as well as religious extremism should be resisted by intellectuals and civil society organizations.
Abdul Bari Taher, former Editor-in-Chief of Al-Thawri newspaper.
Those who lead this campaign use the ‘sacred beliefs’ as an excuse for other political purposes. They want to divert the public’s attention from the present security disorder and the crime in the College of Medicine.
Yemenis are unable to protect their rights and their political life. They hide themselves behind curtains of holy beliefs whenever they find themselves in an intellectual confrontation. This indicates that those who lead the campaign of blasphemy hold no respect for God.
Everybody is responsible for defending the sacred and holy beliefs. It is not the responsibility of an individual that preaches in a mosque.
Abdul Malik Al-Mikhlafi, Secretary General of the People’s Nasserite Unionist Party.
I think that the campaign is taking political dimensions. We are against touching people’s sacred beliefs on grounds of freedom of expression. However, nobody has the right to install himself a judge in this matter.
The talk about creative works and what abuses religious beliefs may create a sense of misunderstanding, leading others to intervene in the freedom of expression for political purposes.
The novel, which the Al-Thaqafiah republished is taught in schools and universities and is available in all bookshops. So, the newspaper did not do something wrong.
On this occasion, I openly say that I support Al-Thaqafiah and its pioneering role in society in terms of reviving the cultural life and encouraging the young creative people to show their abilities.
Mohammed M. Al-Maqaleh. Political analyst.
I read ‘Sana’a: an Open City’ by Mohammed Abdul Wali twenty years ago. I can not recollect if it really impinges on religious beliefs or not. Anyhow, what is allowed and what is forbidden should not be judged by politicians. The campaign against Al-Thaqafiah and its chief editor is an intended political battle aiming at turning the people’s attention away from issues that are of concern to them. They try to get people support them by creating religious excuses such as defending the religious beliefs. One wonders, why now. Why haven’t they moved a finger against the novel during the past 30 years since its publication. Why didn’t they say a word against it when it was made into a radio series on Sana’a radio.
I wonder if there is something more important at the present time than the kidnapping, raping and killing of our ‘daughters’ in the college of Medicine. Why haven’t such mosque preachers raised a memorandum and called for revealing the accomplices of the criminal?
I strongly urge upon all organizations concerned with rights and freedoms to support freedom of expression and oppose the campaign against it and which looks to be more politically than religiously motivated.
Hassan Al-Odeiny, Chief editor of Al-Osboa, independent.
I was in London when I read in Al-Hayah newspaper about the campaign against Al-Thaqafiah for republishing of ‘Sana’a: an Open City’ by M. Abdul Wali. I did not think it was led by Al-Islah party. I rather thought that it was an individual opinion of its secretary general, Mr. M. Al-Yadomi. I told myself that it was a cloud that would pass soon. Many reasons made me think of this. First, Mr. Abdul Wali is a great novelist and pioneer of the Yemeni short story who demonstrated great abilities in literary writings at a very young age. Had he lived longer, he could have been a great literary figure in the Arab world. Second, ‘Sana’a: an open City’, was published in 1974, and since then it has been studied and translated into foreign languages. Neither a critic nor a reader has during more than quarter a century said that it contained what impinges the Divine identity. Third, the novel is an artistic work which is a field for critics to read, discuss and not to prosecute. As far as politicians and preachers are concerned, they work in other domains. Forth, the Islah has struggled during the past few years to present itself as capable of coping with ‘democracy’. Fifth, the Islah comprises knowledgeable people who know that God’s supremacy and sacredness can not be touched by what people say or do.
New developments have showed that other political forces are involved in the crisis.
Islamic leaders have issued a memorandum threatening what they described as ‘apostates’. It was no surprise to find that signatures included people from the Islah and the PGC. The case is likely to have political dimensions. I wish that the President would intervene at least to confirm what we say to be a democratic development in the country.
Dr. Faris Al-Saqqaf. Chairman of the future studies center, ex-member of Islah.
We should look at the blasphemy campaign from different angels. There are people who think that what has been published touches God’s sacredness. Then they wrongly reacted without dialogue or giving advice, supposing their good will. After that the issue took different dimensions which are, in my opinion, part of the conflict between Islamic movement and its opponents.
I believe that such matters should be carefully studied. People should not be in a hurry in their judgments.
The case has been politically exploited at a time we are approaching the parliamentary elections. On the other hand, the other side tries to put others in the position he wants in the next phase.
Exploitation of the case has been very clear now. This is what the political purge will show in the forthcoming days.