Father Khalil Samir, SJ, on a Solution
ROME, MAY 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).-
Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir is an author and professor at the St.
Joseph University in Lebanon in Catholic theology and Islamic studies
and advisor to numerous Church and political leaders.
Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in
Need interviews Father Samir about the increasing radicalization of
Islam and the implications for western policy.
Q: Unfortunately we start to see an increasing radicalization in
Islam. Why is this radicalization occurring and where is this leading
Father Samir: The radicalization started with the Muslim Brotherhood
at the end of the 1920s – specifically with the end of the First World
War and the fall of the Caliphate in 1923 -1924 in which the Ottoman
Empire, the last Muslim empire, ended after 1,300 years. Additionally
there was the secularization of Turkey. The Muslims did not know what to
do. They asked themselves who is to be the new Caliph? Saudi Arabia,
Egypt? They could not find anyone to take over this empire. A movement
started which said: "We have to Islamize the Muslim countries. They are
too westernized." And it was true: their juridical system was based on
the systems in France, in Switzerland etc., and so they founded and
started the Muslim Brotherhood, which was not very powerful then. Their
intention was just to change the society toward something more Muslim.
They started as a political movement within Egypt. Initially they
refused violence absolutely, but with time, violence became part of the
struggle against the Socialist revolution of Egypt’s President Gamal
Abdel Nasser. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were persecuted, put in
prison or killed. Then they started to organize the resistance and the
opposition. They became, every year, more violent.
Q: But it did not remain just an Egyptian issue?
Father Samir: We
have to remember that in 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Arab
countries waged war against Israel. The war ended with all the Arab
countries defeated by this small country. They were humiliated. They
then said that this was due to the fact these countries were not Muslim
enough; we now have to start the revolution. War after war was waged
between Israel and the Arab world and every time it was a defeat for the
Arab countries. Things began to change economically in 1973-1974, when
there was a boom in the demand for petrol. The price of petrol increased
four times and a lot of petrol dollars were suddenly available. What
could these oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia do with this
money? They built mosques and Islamic centers. In Egypt, they financed
the building of thousands of schools and mosques. They are still doing
Q: Is there a religious agenda and if yes, what is the purpose?
Father Samir: Yes. Wahhabism originates from the name of Abdal Wahhab
who lived in 1780 who made an agreement with Prince Muhammad ibn Saud.
He supported this prince and the prince adopted the religious ideology
of Abdal Wahhab. There are four Sunni juridical schools in Islam. The
most rigorous one is called Hanbali, which was practiced in Saudi Arabia
at that time. Abdal Wahhab found even this Hanbali was not strict
enough and so Wahhabism. It is the strictest practice of Islam. When
Saudi Arabia was established at the beginning of the 20th century, this
kind of Islam became the state religion which everyone was required to
follow. With their money they exported this ideology, and so it was
introduced in Egypt and in the 1990s in Algeria and Indonesia.
Q: So in simplistic terms, oil money from the US and Europe is fueling the expansion of radical Islam?
Father Samir: Absolutely and it is going on today; they have plenty of money and a vision, an ideology.
Q: The inter linking of politics and religion: in the West we
experience secularization and a separation of Church and state. Is this
possible in the Muslim world and how do we move to peace?
Samir: For the Muslim people who have not experienced secularization,
almaniyyah means atheism. They cannot imagine a state without religion.
Secularization for them means that religion is apart and is therefore
atheism. I never use this word in Arabic. I say a “civil state," which
does not mean that religion has no part.
Q: What is the approach then?
Father Samir: I think we must say
to the Muslims and the Eastern Christians that religion is a very
important part of public life, and this we want to keep. An example is
Lebanon, which has more religion than anywhere else, but all religions
are recognized and respected. Here is a proposal: We all believe in God.
We have different approaches to God, the Muslim approach, the Christian
and Jewish as well as other approaches. This is the proposal; we will
not touch religion because it is too rooted in us, but we want
citizenship. We are all citizens and we want equality.
Q: Is it too late? The Christians are leaving the Middle East. Is this trend reversible?
Father Samir: Yes, that is why we have hope and this is very important.
We would like, before it is too late, to say "Stop"; we as Christians
have a proposal, not a Christian proposal but a proposal for everyone.
The proposal is, please, for all those who are willing to apply this
proposal, don’t leave, whether you are Christian, Muslim or Jews, we
have to build together a society based on human rights.
Q: …because today the Middle East, tomorrow Europe and the United States.
Father Samir: …because if it is not done today and you don’t help us
realize this project, Europe and the US be forewarned that today the
radical Muslims are here but tomorrow they will come to you. They will
attack you as colonialist and imperialist; these words are often used
because it is expedient. You will be labelled as the bad one; you’ve put
us in this situation and now we shall take revenge upon you.
Q: But violence cannot be the answer…
Father Samir: We cannot fight an ideology with bombs. It provokes
more anger among the aggrieved people. The more we kill this so called
“terrorist” more will come to replace them because they do not perceive
it as terrorism. It is an honour. It is the only honour they can achieve
because they are often marginalized in their own country. They then say
‘we are martyrs’. We use the word ‘martyr’ Shahid every day.
Q: And the answer?
Father Samir: What we, Christians, are saying;
the meaning of our life is to make peace, to have justice for the poor,
the women, for everyone. For example, to have an educational system
where not only the rich benefit. Egypt has one of the worst educational
systems in the world. People after an obligatory nine years come out of
the school unable to read or write. I was in charge of the educational
system during the Socialist government in Egypt in the 1970s and I
discovered during that time, at least half of the young people
particularly boys could not read or write. I, as a government
representative, even went to a so-called model schools where maybe 10%
to 20% of the pupils could learn, and for the others it is too late. The
key word is to build together because we know that we alone do not have
the power to change the whole of society.
Q: You stated ‘together’…
Father Samir: Together… that is to say
that the solution has to be peaceful, it cannot be a violent solution.
It has to start with a political project. Firstly, the war has to end
between Palestine and Israel. We will support the proposal to create two
states. One would be ideal but after 60 years of war, this proposal
will be impossible today. So two states with defined borders. We need
one generation to transcend this. These borders are not to be walled to
allow a free movement of people. The same in Iraq, we need peace between
the Sunni and the Shia Muslims. I preach this among Muslims. So
together with peace we can build our project – on one of social justice
because this precept is in the Koran, the Bible and it is the ideal for
Christians, Muslims and Jews. We propose this common project. We start.
It cannot be, however, an Islamic one because it could be manipulated.
The constitution is religious and will recognize God in different
manners and it has to be based on human rights. Lebanon could be a
model, not a perfect model but some ideas could come from there. And we
will develop … step by step. It will take some generations…
Q: …but it is achievable!
Father Samir: I think it is achievable.
Then we invite the richer countries to help us, then we will do the
same to help them build a society of mutual co-existence. The king of
Arabia would like to change the system. He built and started a
university with mixed students; can you imagine this in Saudi Arabia and
by the king? He is being criticized by the Mullahs, by the shaykh… but
he is taking this step.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,"
a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio &
Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic
charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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