Youth of the Holy War [Archives:2003/04/Interview]

January 27 2003

Yemen has been unfortunately associated lately with terrorism in the Western media. You barely find anything more common than the word ‘terrorist’ in any recent news on Yemen.
The unfortunate Jibla tragedy when three American doctors were killed, and the other violent incidents that happened to the USS Cole, and Limburg are reasonable causes for us to be concerned about our image to the world.
There were recent efforts to try enlightening some Yemenis with fundamentalist ideas of the true meaning and objectives of Islam, and informing them on the need to be an example for citizens of the world.
One of the characteristics of Yemen is that it is a relatively conservative country and religious drive is one of the strongest among the Arab and even Islamic nations. USA knows this fact and on more than one occasion, it had accused the country of harboring terrorist groups and Islamic extremists.
When the gate for Jihad – Holy war – in Afghanistan was open, hundreds of youth opted and willingly dedicated their lives for the sake of fighting against the Russians. Those who died there were called martyrs and those who came back were termed heroes; time changed and the tables turned and there was no longer a holy war to be fought in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, those who fought the Russians in the eighties became the target of a ruthless war against ‘terrorism’. Now even Yemenis who had relations with the Taliban, or who once were Arab-Afghans are termed as terrorists and were said to be deceived youth.
Judge Hamood Al-Hitar was requested by the president of the republic to form the “Dialogue Committee” and speak through it to some of the fundamentalist Islamist Yemenis who were arrested during the last year and put some sense in their little passionate heads to persuade them to lay off their fanatic beliefs and to come back to the neutral line of thinking. Mohammed Al-Masani of Yemen Times met with Al-Hitar and filed the following interview concerning this issue.
Q: Can you tell us about the “Dialogue Committee” that was established for the negotiation with the youth coming from Afghanistan holy wars?
A: To start with I give my thanks for the newspaper on throwing light on such sensitive issues. As for the committee, it was a wise initiative driven by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, displaying a tolerant attitude towards differing points of view or philosophies. This is not only done with Islamic groups, he had been following this tolerant attitude with all differing political and non-political regimes. This attitude derived from the belief that negotiation and dialogue, are the best means in solving problems and reaching to the other side. This is the way that he is using in order to fight terrorism. But if negotiation fails, then law has to be enforced so that the domination of the state’s authority is ensured.
President Saleh, established the committee on the 24th August 2002, when he inaugurated the sixth annual conference for the GPC. It is composed of religious scientists and was initiated for the purpose of negotiating with the youth returning from Afghanistan and others who have fanatic religious beliefs, or differing Islamic concepts from what the bulk of the Islamic scientists maintain. On the 30th of that month, the President called for a meeting with a number of well-known religious preachers, and the rules and regulations of the committee were agreed on then. It was stated that I, Judge Hamood Al-Hitar, am president of the committee, and Sheiks Mushrif Al-Ma’rabi, Hassan Alsheik, and sheik Moqbil Al-Kudhi as members.
Q: What are the main topics that were discussed with the Youth coming back from Afghanistan?
A: We listened to their views to start with and their points of view regarding the topics in which they differ from the bulk of the religious scientists. Then the committee tried to establish a mid way between the extreme points of view in topics that didn’t have a clear-cut statement in the Islamic religion. But what was already confirmed by the scientists and the youth differed with, was not negotiable and the youth had to be convinced regarding those aspects. It is our responsibility in front of god and then in front of the president to enforce the laws of Islam in the country.
Q: How do you evaluate their response to the initiative?
A: We were pleased with their response and we found that they could be envied about their strong beliefs. They displayed will to negotiate and to listen to dialogue. And they accepted conclusions that were derived from Quran and Sunna.
The session took the following topics:
-Dialogue on various topics,
-Concept of Holy war in Islam
-The Islamic State and State’s Authority
-Obeying of the persons in charge and commitment to the constitution
– Infidelity and accusing of reverting from Islam
-Rules and regulations regarding non-Muslims in a Muslim country
-Preaching and changing of what is not accepted and who has the right to change and how
-The historical evolving of accounting system in Islam and the general deputation taking charge of it
-Violence and actions that disturb the public peace and actions against it
-Present situation in the Islamic nations and consequences, and
-Elimination of violence and referring to peace and dialogue.
All the persons were allowed to state their points of view regarding all those aspects and long discussions took place.
Q: What were the bases that you depended on in the dialogue?
A: This was a dialogue first of its kind that ever took place in Yemen. It was crucial for us to be very careful and specific when talking to these youth. And we depended on the Islamic laws, and the mechanism that Prophet Mohammed may peace be on him used during his life. We used a systematic organized way for the discussion so that we land up with productive talk and not just arguments. And we referred everything to the Islamic Shari’a and constitution, with documented confirmed references. We also maintained a decent civilized manner of discussion in which we listened to the other with respect, interest and understanding, and as a consequence we found great response and we can say it was a successful session. We kept in mind their mental situation being held in custody and depressed feelings. Most of those youth had learnt the Quran by heart and were quite knowledgeable in the Islamic rules. We also made it a point to distribute the participants into groups according to the topics of discussion. Each group consisted of 5-7 people and so they had their time and space to discuss and express themselves. And then we tried to link all the topics and generalize the results among all the participants so that all know what happened in all the sessions.
When we fist went for the discussion we told them that we were there to give and take, and it was either they convince us or we convince them. We did not talk to them in their custody places, but we took them to a neutral place so that they feel as equal to us, and these are bases of dialogue in Islam, although in some situations we could not do that in the initial phases due to security problems in some of the districts.
Q: What is the role of Religious Scientists in combating terrorism and correcting fanatic beliefs?
A: Violence, terrorism and fanaticism are not in Islam. Islam is a religion of tolerance and mediation. These concepts are intruders on the faith and have to be fought by all levels of the society all in their own domain and abilities. The scientists’ role has to do with awareness and educating the public about their religion and about the dangers of such concepts to their society and the importance of taking a united stand against them. Also we have to produce statements and judgments regarding debated issues, which do not have clear reference to them in the Quran and the Sunna, this in Islam is called Jihad.
Q: What is the stand that Islam takes towards the attack on Cole and Limburg, and the assassination of Jarallah Omar and the American Doctors?
A: These are crimes and the persons who committed them a criminal and should be punished accordingly. Islam has protected the human life and stated the worst punishment, which is death for him who intentionally terminates a human life with no authority. Also we have a concept in Islam called people of truce which means the people who are not necessarily Muslims but who have a truce with us that they should be safe in our land unless they violate the law, then they should be punished according to the law. These people are such as the American doctors in Jibla and they should have not feared for their lives in our country. Prophet Mohammed clearly in more than one occasion preached about the importance of respecting such people and their rights.
Q: How many were the youth whom you had the dialogue with and what were the results?
A: They were 98 person, some who were accused of order disturbance and criminal actions. We concluded that they have to obey the authorities and the states laws and constitution. As it is the constitution is derived from the Islamic Shari’a which they believe in. one of the rules prevents any military groups taking place outside the states authority and so these must be vanished. Also to respect the states bounds with non Muslims and to maintain and provide to the safety of the people of the truce who live in our country. In the same time we took vows from them not to attack the embassies or any international organization. Those who have committed crimes will be punished according to the law, but the important thing is that they come to their senses and give up the fanatic attitudes.
Q: What were the difficulties that the committee faced with these young people?
A: Some of the most disturbing problems that we encountered are that some of the youth did not approve of the state as such! Some were saying that non Muslims can be killed just like that, and some did not believe that what they were doing is a sin, on the contrary they thought that anything else was a sin. Some had even declared war on anything that was not Muslim.
Most of those people with such fanatic beliefs were quite similar to those whom we call “Al-Khawarig”, long ago. Those were people who rebelled against the Islamic state less than two centuries after Islam and caused disturbance and civil wars in the region then. So in our treatment of those today we tried to take a moral of how the leaders dealt with the same issue at that time. But what I want to say is that these issues were a consequence of a certain environment and emotional circumstances these youth had gone through. In Egypt for example, most of such people were actually imprisoned for sometime before they developed such attitudes, this leading to the conclusion that they must have gone through a certain kind of stress that evolved such violence or angry attitudes. Also most of those youth have been under a kind of brain washing since their early ages, that the fanatic concepts have been drilled into their tender minds. When they were sent in the beginning to Afghanistan it was holy war because they were fighting with Afghani people against the Russians, but once the Russians were out there was no point in fighting in the civil wars taking place in that area, it no longer was Jihad or holy war. But at that time no one really paid attention to them and did not care about rehabilitating them and merging them into the society again, which caused their extremist attitudes and them to form their religious groups. A kind of finding themselves somewhere they belonged to.
We have to admit that those people are religious people with strong faith. They deserve to be treated with respect. And of the factors that ensured the success of our sessions was that we were decent in our dealing with them and did not use violence or any of the ways generally used in other countries in such cases.
Terrorism in Yemen is not as the international media present or display. We are much better than many other countries and the state is in control of the happenings. The terror acts that happened in the country are a consequence of many factors including the civil war in 1994 also the emotional feeding that takes place through many channels to the country’s youth. And the reason that Yemen has been chosen as a field of such issues is the strategic location of the country along with the fact that it is a conservative country, which is liable to be a suitable place to grow any fanatic seeds. Also geographically speaking, the country has large areas and the longest coast in Arabia so there are many areas that are remote from the main regions and away from the public inhabitation. But the regime is taking strong measures against such cases so that chaos does not dominate.
Q: What do you read in the Iraqi situation?
A: There is no valid excuse to attack Iraq. USA and its allies have different reasons other than the so-called world peace that they have been barking about all the time. Any reasonable person with little common sense would be able to figure out the economic reasons under cover. And if the USA is still suffering from what is going on in Afghanistan, they will suffer more from what will happen in Iraq. We urge the American authorities to study the situation more rationally and to practice what they preach and to think deeply before going into a new situation while the wounds are still fresh. They should learn from their mistakes, and I know that most of the American people can see what is happening and are able to distinguish right from wrong.
Q: What would you like to convey to the readers finally through the newspaper?
A: Yemen is not a haven for terrorists! We are a peaceful country and we are friendly welcoming people to others. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and does not encourage violence and terrorism. I call on everyone who hears and reads anything negative about Yemen and Islam to research and pay some effort to know the truth, after all, it is easy to create a hearsay, but the truth is much more harder to find, yet it will finally prevail by God’s will (inshaallah).