Monday, May 02, 2005

A Liberal Imam Preaches Reform

Karim Moudarres, a friend from Aleppo sent me this note about a liberal Imam, Muhammad Kamal al-Husseini, in his city who calls for widespread reform.

Dear Josh,
I am convinced that Democracy and Human Rights can never be accepted among the masses without placing them in an Islamic framework:
محمد كامل بن محمد بدر الحسيني
Muhammad Kamal Bin Muhammad Badr al-Husseini, does just that.

This Friday he spoke out again for total reform of the religious institutions,
calling for a peaceful revolution, peaceful co-existence for other
religions, declaring the clergies in Islam are sacrilegious, opening to
western ideas (but not morals), calling from the separation of politics and
religion, calling for globalization (but making sure it incorporates Islamic
ethics), reforming the school systems, and women rights. (All in an Islamic

I could not believe my ears hearing it in a Friday sermon.
(أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يحرص أن يؤمن جميع الناس).
وإنه لأمر كبير يستوقف المتدبر والمتأمل أن يكون في قلب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ، الذي فيه كمال العقل، والفهم ؛ حرصٌ على أن يكون الناس كل الناس.. بكل ما فيهم من الاختلاف، والتفاوت الوصفي...، والفروقات والتباين.. في ساحة الإيمان، والخضوع للدَّيان

I thought it would interest you.

This article by Marwan Kabalan is interesting in the light of Imam Muhammad Kamal al-Husseini's liberalism. Kabalan is angered by the about-face of conservative US commentators, who know call for democracy in the Middle East. The recent boldness of liberal Muslims in denouncing the violent and narrow-minded interpretations of Islam put forward by extremist groups suggests that the recent conversion of academics such as Bernard Lewis may be warranted, even if they are swimming with the tide.

Academia loses credibility when it serves politics
By Marwan Al Kabalan, Special to Gulf News
Published: 29/4/2005, 07:19 (UAE)

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Bernard Lewis, the famous professor of the Middle East at Princeton University, wrote an essay titled Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East.
In it he argued that establishing democratic rule in the Arab world isn't only desirable but also real and possible.

"To speak of dictatorship as being the immemorial way of doing things in the Middle East is simply untrue. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present and lack of concern for the Arab future.

"Creating a democratic political and social order in Iraq or elsewhere in the region will not be easy. But it is possible, and there are increasing signs that it has already begun," Lewis wrote.

In essence, this argument marks a significant shift from Lewis's original thesis on Islam and Arabism.

Decades ago, Lewis and like-minded scholars preached "modernisation" or "development" as the answer to the Middle East's woes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, basing most of its analysis on Euro-American historical development, the modernisation school argued that the transition from traditionalism to modernity was desirable, unavoidable and, hence, it represented the future of the Arab world.

In this view the history and structures of traditional Arab societies were seen as retreating in the face of modernity and social change.

Democracy was until recently a remote possibility and in many cases an unnecessary scenario; whereby anti-US elements might take over power in many Arab countries.


At 5/02/2005 04:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Josh,
the name of the imam from the site is Mahmoud Abul-Huda Bin Muhammad Kamel Bin Muhamad Badr al-Husseini (محمود أبو الهدى بن محمد كامل بن محمد بدر الحسيني) or Mahmoud El-Husseini.


At 5/02/2005 07:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Josh for the link.

At 5/03/2005 01:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...
This article demonstrates how Islamic theory embraces- to the heart- Democracy and Human Rights as well as a social contract between government and people. The problem is not with the theory but rather with evolution of its implementation during the last 1400 years.
This analysis magnifies the main obstacles hindering the implementation and notes the necessary points of action to be undertaken if we want the theory to work.

I think it is rather interesting and you should have a look at it especially that both articles were orated as Friday sermons (Khutba).

Democracy is the only answer, but the masses can never accept it without having it presented through an Islamic context.


At 5/03/2005 05:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Syrian Green Industry

By Basil T. Kudsi

A freelance travel consultant based in the UK

1st May 2005

Syria is changing. On 26th April 2005, the Syrian army held a final ceremony to mark the completion of their withdrawal from the Lebanese soil after 29 years. The hasty send-off is likely to provide some positive points regarding the UN report on the extent of Syrian compliance with resolution 1559, and will also provide Syria with more freedom to deal with its political and economic reforms.

In fact, Syria's economy is marked by high unemployment and a lack of advanced technology. The pace of reform has been slow. Bureaucratic red tape and inefficient investment laws neither helped international investments nor the US$30–50 billion of expatriate funds enter Syria's boundaries.

Studies have shown that oil production will fall starting 2012 to 300 thousand barrels per day, covering only part of local consumption. Syrian economy will face deficit by 2014 if it remains dependent on oil production. Oil is a major foreign currency earner for Syria, constituting about 60% of the government's total forex income and 10-14% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Declines in output are therefore a troubling sign, and a wake-up call for the country to both diversify its income streams and to try and extract what resources it has more efficiently.

Tourism benefits local economies substantially by increasing foreign exchange earnings, creating employment and investment opportunities, increasing government revenues, developing the country's image, and supporting all sectors of the economy as well as local communities.

Although, there are positive signs of improvement during 2004 and in the first quarter of 2005, the tourism sector in Syria is still in urgent need of reform, development and modernisation. However, in my opinion, ‘Tourism’ is probably the solution to Syria’s current and future economic problems. Unlike oil production tourism is a green industry, renewable and enjoyable.

Key Tourism Facts:

Tourism is the largest global industry, and the tourism market is growing. According to the World Tourism Organization, the global tourism market will triple in size by 2020.

In 2004 the Syrian tourism sector had poured into the economy nearly US$2 billion, compared with Turkey for the same period, US$15 billion. Arab tourism in Syria has accelerated as a direct reaction by some Arab tourists who shifted from American and European destinations to the Middle East due to hard line on visa application and stiff security measures in America and Europe after the tragic events of 9/11. Last year, 5.8 million arrivals crossed the Syrian borders, 2.7 millions of them were classified as tourists. As a result, about 100 thousand new jobs were created and the average hotel occupancy reached 62%.

In Jordan, the Ministry of Tourism has implemented a plan to lure tourists and transform the country into a major tourist attraction in the region. Tourism is of vital importance to the national economy of Jordan. It is the Kingdom's largest export sector, it is second largest private sector employer, and it is second highest producer of foreign exchange. Tourism contributes more than US$800 million to Jordan’s economy and accounts for approximately 10% of the country's GDP.

In Israel, there was a continuation of the recovery in tourism in 2004, which began in 2003, following a crisis in 2001-2002. The number of tourist - arrivals to Israel in 2004 – was about 1.5 million - 42% higher than in 2003 (1.1 million), and 74% higher than in 2002 (0.9 million), but 38% lower than the peak in 2000 (2.4 million). French tourists during the first nine months of 2004 have jumped 74% and income from all tourists to US$1.4 billion - an increase of about 30% compared to 2003.

In the United Kingdom, tourism is one of the largest industries, and it is worth some £74.2 (US$140) billion and accounting for around 4.5% of GDP. Tourism supports 2.1 million jobs, 7.4% of Great Britain's total workforce, with an additional job created for every £40,000 spent by visitors. The industry is highly fragmented and diverse. In 2003 there were around 107,535 hotel and catering businesses in Great Britain, most with a turnover of less than £250,000. Despite all that, British tourism authority is negotiating agreements with Chinese government and plans to simplify visa application process to double the annual number of Chinese visitors to Britain within two years!

In the United States visitors spend more than $80bn a year on travel and that generates extra sales and tax revenue in excess of $900bn. In 2003 the US State Department issued 36% fewer visas than in 2001 – cutting total visitors by almost 1 million after 9/11. Some 95% of the US research community made a joint declaration describing the current visa processing as a crisis. American business leaders say that potential business partners are discouraged from visiting to make deals and start new ventures. They claim the new obstacles have cost them billions. Consequently, the State Department has moved to expedite visas in order to help their economy.

Unfortunately, Syria is isolated internationally, its natural resources are vanishing and its friends are disappearing. The exit visa, which was issued by the Syrian President, Mr Bashar Assad, to his troops in April 2005, would pave the way for more regional and international cooperation and understanding. The Syrian government must prepare to fight and win the battle of minds, and hearts. To win new friends, end the isolation and counter negative views can be achieved by encouraging others to come and visit, and see for themselves the nice country and friendly society. By making admission of foreigners difficult and intimidating, and without changing the current laws to reflect the modern world, Syria is depriving itself of a vital source of income, as well as further damaging its distorted image.

Obtaining a visa and the way it is processed and presented to the visitor plays an essential role in forming the first impression about the host country, which would be imprinted on their memory for many years to come, and would be reflected in his/her recommendation to others. Therefore, visa law-makers and visa officers should consider the following points:

· The visa requirements should not be used as a political statement.

· The visa process needs to be streamlined and its technological tools upgraded.

· Visa Fees should be reduced.

· 2-week Visa should be easy to obtain for all nationalities at any point of entry.

· Recruiting a professional corps of immigration and visa officers, who can speak a foreign language and understand the concept of travel and tourism as an industry.

· Visa and immigration officers need to afford to travel abroad in order to be able to deal with all arrivals tactfully and without bias.

· Visa extension should be dealt by the Department of Immigration and Passports and not by the ‘security authorities’

Indeed, Syria has all the essential elements of becoming a world tourist destination: historic sites, religious monuments, good food, good weather, sun, sea, sand, fantastic scenery… to mention but a few. I believe that the travel and tourism industry catering to Syrians (18 million) as well as foreign visitors and Syrian expatriates has the capacity of absorbing the unemployment crises, which keeps on rising. I expect that Syria’s tourism sector has the potential to be worth well over US$15 billion in 10 years time; when the oil wells will eventually stop pumping forever! Therefore, Syria must focus on the following:

· Developing the tourism sector as a primary target.

· Allowing the private sector to take a bigger role in the tourism industry.

· Attracting high-yield visitors, and global investors.

· Developing new products.

· Enhancing the visitor experience.

· Increasing regional and international marketing.

· Improving infrastructure and the regulatory environment for tourists and investors.

If the steps of developing Syria as a world tourist destination were taken inadequately, many potential visitors undoubtedly would decide to go elsewhere – to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Israel... – for leisure or business. Syria is simply not the only alternative.

At 5/03/2005 09:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever one may say about Bernard Lewis' work, he is not a recent convert to the idea of the plausibility of democracy in Muslim, Arab societies, or a recent critic of the idea that Arab political cultures are inherently autocratic. See his the Middle East and the West -- published in 1964. He writes there much of what he is saying now.

At 5/03/2005 09:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever one may say about Bernard Lewis' work, he is not a recent convert to the idea of the plausibility of democracy in Muslim, Arab societies, or a recent critic of the idea that Arab political cultures are inherently autocratic. See his the Middle East and the West -- published in 1964. He writes there much of what he is saying now.

At 5/04/2005 02:22:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

I am a Lebanese Christian, but I lived for a while in Damascus and Aleppo in the sixties. My memories are clear: Sunni Islam's expressions in Syria were those of a very vibrant and open religion, bordering on Sufi Islam. I am no expert, but as an example of this: Aleppo had a Sunni cleric who was nicknamed "al-chaykh al-ahmar" (he professed leftist ideas, hence the "red" nickname).

At 2/17/2006 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Yabroud said...



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