A few years ago, when some Syrians living in Belgium invited me to attend an Islamic event, I had the chance to visit Brussels. Although there are many beautiful mosques in the city, the event took place in a basement.
The speaker was wearing a full military uniform. Despite the fact that there is no law in Belgium that bans wearing such a uniform, for me, the display was unacceptable— not because of the uniform itself, but because of the mentality behind it. The speech that this military/religious leader gave was shocking to me. He stated that we are required [by God] to establish an Islamic state in Belgium, and that it was our responsibility as Muslims to stop polytheism and the misguided pagan democracy, which holds human beings as law makers and arbiters of Halal and Haram [right and wrong], instead of God.
When it was my time to speak, I pointed out that hissupplication was a poor interpretation of Islam, and that it is not applicable to the reality of our time. Such a speech, I argued, would not be acceptable, even in place like Mecca, let alone in a European city.
Unfortunately, those in attendance did not care for my argument, and employing predictable strategies that I am very accustomed to, they responded to me with empty words.Theyallowed my argument to slip through the cracks of respecting someone else’s point of view, but without giving it any weight.
When I left the event, I told my friend that I felt as though I were in Tora Bora, not in Brussels, and that the future was going to become even darker than it already was.
Theattacks in Brussels on that black Thursday were the result of the type of language and mentality that I witnessed during that speech. Dark ideas bring dark times. And when a crisishappens, like the one that took place in Brussels, we tell ourselves that it is a conspiracy against Islam and Muslims, without even trying to take responsibility for how we blinded our eyes to the existence of people with that mentality amongst us.
More shocking to me was the attitude of some imams in Brussels’ mosques. On Good Friday, when the city of Brussels mourned forty innocent victims, Muslims in the city called out for mosques to dedicate the Friday prayer to those victims as martyrsin an Islamic funeral prayer. Most of the mosque imams not only rejectedthese calls, but they also said that they would not call the victims martyrs because most of them were not Muslims. When I argued against their position, some people were outraged, and told me, how can we pray for non-Muslims whom “Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and over their vision is a veil!”
Nearly one million Muslims live in Belgium, and Muslims make up about half the population of the capital[very generous estimate]. The state provides Muslim students with Qur’an and Islam classes free of charge. Belgian cities are homes to hundreds of mosques, and 250 imams receive their salaries from the state, each of which is no less than 1,800 Euros [per month?]. Belgium, a secular state, provides all of this and much more, because it appreciates the role that these imams are supposed to play in strengthening morality and love within the country, because it respects Islam, and because it strongly upholds equality at the heart of its system. Unfortunately, all of that did not convince some imams that Belgians deserve to live. The controversy over the prayer continued, and some people continued with their barbaric discourse, which they tried to justify by searching old Islamic books for the most fundamentalist fatwas of blasphemy and exclusion.
Does Islam really ban prayersfornon-Muslims?
There is no direct, explicit verse in Qur’an that prohibits praying for non-Muslims. What fundamentalists use to support their position is a group of verses that referred to a particular group of Munafiqun [Hypocrites], who did ill to society and committed much evil. It is to them that the following verse refers: “And do not pray [the funeral prayer], over any of them who has died or stand at his grave. Indeed, they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were defiantly disobedient.”
This verse, however, is decontextualized, and it actually refers to a very particular group who had shown animosity against Islam and Muslims. The verse itself makes it very clear when it says, “any of them.” Therefore, it is against logic to generalize this verse, and use it for all times and places.
I am convinced that praying over non-Muslims falls under what we term in Islam as “The Unmentioned in the Qur’an or Sunnah.” The issues that the Qur’an and Sunnah do not explicitly mention are left for religious scholars to address in terms of what they deem to be in the best interest of Islamic society, and that, in my opinion, is a strength in Islam, because it helps Islam achieve its goals ofequality, respect, and love.
If the famous scholar Abu Hanifa were with usright now, he would beseech us to hold prayers over non-Muslims.
If the famous imam Malik was with us right now, he would allow it as being in the public interest.
If al-Razi, an expert on Tafsir [Qur’anic exegesis], werewith us, he would resolve this issue in reference to the Qur’anic verse, “And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner].”
If the famous imam al-Shatibi werewith us right now, he would allow it under the purposes of Islamic faith, which includethe preservation of religion, life, and society.
If Sheikh Muhammad Abduhwerewith us right now, he would apply the Qur’anic verse, “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.”
If the greatest Sheikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi werewith us, he would say: You will not realize the goal of religion until you respect all God’s creatures.
If Ibn Rumi werewith us, he would say: The ways to God are as many as humans’ breaths.
I do not understand how this exegesis, which so many scholars throughout history worked so hard to preserve, is neglected by a Salafist mentality that is trapped at the very surface of the text and fails to reach it goals and purposes.
In the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, there are a thousand places where reason, the requirements of reality, and logic are stressed as an approach for interpreting the Qur’an. But the fundamentalists and the exclusionists reject all of them, and do not see in the other anything but disbelief and misguidance.
I am convinced that old exegesis does not answer today’s questions. During history, Islamic jurisprudence did not know the modern state, in which all citizens are equal in rights and in duties. It never dealt with a system that prohibits treating citizens differently, and requires that all citizens receive the same level of respect, regardless of their beliefs, religions, or sects.
This concept of the modern state embodies what the Qur’an says when describing human beings, “And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.”