Muslim Reformers

November 17, 2009

Ibtihal Abd Al-Aziz Al-Khatib.

As Memri reported, liberal Kuwaiti Shi'ite academic Ibtihal Abd Al-Aziz Al-Khatib revealed in August 2008 that she had received many death threats because of her criticisms of Hizbullah, and her advocacy of secularism in Kuwait and the Islamic world in general. Here are some of her comments culled from various interviews given over the last two years [see especially Memri Dispatch 1878]:
"Our mission, as journalists, is to make it clear that the principles of secularism and liberalism, which have gained a bad reputation recently in the Arab world, ecause they are characterized as heretical. Anyone who is secular is accused of being a heretic, which is absolutely untrue. Secularism is the belief in the separation of religion and state. In other words, religion belongs to God, and the state belongs to all. Every person is free to practice his religion and follow his spiritual path, but all are subject to a civil state. That way, we ensure just treatment for all, instead of Sunnis enjoying more rights than Shiites, or vice versa, and Christians having no rights whatsoever in an Islamic state.[...]I won't say that I am either Shiite or Sunni - I declare myself to be a Kuwaiti, and that's it. As for my spiritual path, it is between me and my Creator.

"All I'm saying is that you cannot use these [core Islamic] texts to build a modern state. I say this is impossible, because there are many different ways of understanding these texts. In addition, in modern countries, there are not only Muslims. You cannot build a country on Islam alone, and exclude followers of other religions. I want a state that is not based on religion - a civil state. But one of the conditions is to protect people who want to practice their religion. Let me give you an example. The Bohra is a Muslim sect, which has recently been denied the right to have a mosque in Kuwait. Why? ...

"Secularism protects the rights of minorities, and all the religious rights. How can the [rights of the majority] be lost, if you establish a civil regime that protects everybody, and tells you that just as you are free to follow your Sunni path, I am free to follow my Shiite path, and Christians and Jews have their rights too? This way we are all equal and protected by the secular regime, which treats us all without discrimination."


When asked if ‘Hizbullah won the July 2006 war, when it stopped the Israeli war machine, and put an end to the Israeli conceit?', Dr Ibtihal al-Khatib replied,
"Our problem is that we have a somewhat naïve view of this issue - as if an Israeli defeat necessarily means that we won, and since there is a loser, there must be a winner. If only wars were as simple as that. It is possible for both sides to lose - and that was the case here. Israel suffered some material losses, as well as a few casualties, and it lost its reputation as an invincible army. But if you consider the situation in Lebanon... I always say that we must define 'victory' first. When an infrastructure worth billions is destroyed, when you have thousands of casualties, when your country has regressed, and when your tourism has been completely destroyed - how can this be considered in any way a victory, and how can we possibly take to the streets in celebration, in light of such regression? It would be better if we could evaluate the negative things that happened, in order to avoid them in any future political circumstances. That's what I was talking about.

"I encountered a lot of rage because I criticized a so-called religious party. In my opinion, the Islamic and Arab peoples are still waiting for a savior. We are constantly waiting for a hero - a person who will come and save us from our ruin and decay. In the political history of the Arab and Muslims, one sees that we adhere to certain leaders and we follow them, without any consideration for the consequences."

When asked ‘Do you have a problem with religion?', she replied,
"Of course not. My problem is with religious coercion. That is what goes on in most Arab countries. [Coercion results] when you impose a particular school of religion on a certain country... Let's take Kuwait as an example, since I am a Kuwaiti. In Kuwait, the predominant school of Islam is Sunni. The government is Sunni too. Hence, a certain group inevitably faces injustice and violation of some of its rights. The ruling family is Sunni, and the leading school of Islam is definitely... The Islamic curricula taught to our children are Sunni. The charity law for companies is a purely Sunni law. The Shiites don't have such a thing.

"In Iran, for example, it is the Sunnis whose rights are violated, and they suffer from pressure because they are a minority. If you separate religion from state and have full civil rights... secularism protects religions and does not oppose them. When you treat all religions on the same level, you guarantee everybody's liberty to exercise their religious rights.

" If you asked people about their religious authorities - their sheikhs, mullahs, ayatollahs, whatever... If your religious authority were to issue a fatwa, which runs counter to the interests of your country, who would you follow? Would you act in accordance with your country's interests or the fatwa? The answer would have very grave consequences. That is why we are calling for the separation of religion and state..."