02/17/2021, 15.35
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The Islamic 'holy inquisition': the story of the Algerian scholar Said Djabelkhir

by Kamel Abderrahmani

Freedom of expression is dying in the Muslim world. The hunt is on for those who want to diverge from the established thinking. Judicial jihadism is based on the constitution, illiberal laws, the “madmen of Allah”, and the repression of dissent. Subjecting Islam to “questioning reason” is impossible.

Algiers (AsiaNews) – A year ago, I wrote an article titled “ Freedom of expression is dying under the blows of the Islamist Inquisition”, which appeared in AsiaNews on 27 January 2020. In it I denounced the pressure that intellectuals, thinkers and ordinary people face for daring to stand up against the majority view of Islam and Islamism, or for daring to offer a different perspective, regardless of the dominant discourse.  Freedom of expression, let's put it bluntly, is dying in the Muslim world.

No one can express themselves freely anymore; everyone is implicitly or explicitly told not to go beyond the framework of establishing thinking, and since the latter is dominant, to stand up against it is to preach in the desert, or, more seriously, to draw the wrath of the inquisitors.

When it comes to religion, the pressures multiply and intensify and the debate becomes, if not impossible, at least distorted in advance – swallowed up by religious ideas and state security services which have pledged allegiance to them. In other words, muzzling the voice of critical thinking about religion is an act of “judicial jihad.” This means taking to court someone whose words, ideas and opinions criticise, unmask and demystify the violent nature of the followers of a religion which, despite everything, wants to be a religion of peace, but which seeks to muzzle and silence its critics.

Are you surprised to find out about “Judicial Jihad”? This form of “jihad” not only really exists, but is also authorised by several – if not all – Muslim states, including Algeria. Its constitution and institutionalised freedom-killing laws help the “madmen of Allah” and give them the possibility of silencing, through the legal system, intellectuals, thinkers and Islam experts who try to introduce human and social sciences in the interpretation of the Qur‘anic Text in order to modernise Islam and free minds from the spirit of dogma favoured by traditionalisms and Islamist ideology.

The “madmen of Allah” are followers of the literal reading of religious texts and of the sectarian and rigorous practice of Islam. They are not necessarily Islamists, but are instead traditionalists, since their project is to Islamise society by exploiting religion, by using it in particular as a bulwark against modernity on the move, or as a dam against the current of development inherent in the potential progress of Algerian society. They do this by propagating the “fear of Allah”, a fear capable of paralysing minds and annihilating any desire for emancipation; they can thus manipulate society, not only to conform with what they call “the law of Allah”, but also to submit to those in power. “The Messenger of Allah has called upon us and we owe him allegiance. He took our oath, which mentioned that we had to listen and obey, in what we like as in what displeases us, in hardship as in ease, and even if we give ourselves privileges in this life to our detriment and not to challenge the command of the one who holds it. [...] Except if you see a Kufr (clear signs of unbelief), about which you have proof from Allah.”[1]

Algerian authorities have played the card of moderate but hybrid Islam – tolerant and intolerant at the same time - since Bouteflika came to power in 1999, in order to weaken the supporters of “military jihad”, particularly the bloodthirsty Islamic Salvation Front (ISF). To do this, the state has favoured two contradictory versions of Islam, notably Wahhabism, Salafism and Sufism, an ascetic and mystical current of Islam, which seeks the pure love of God. The two currents are unanimous when it comes to violence: both ban it. In fact, the two have acted as a brake on the Islamist movement – the Muslim Brotherhood and the ISF which have a very well-known political project – and on the support for armed militancy.

At the same time, the state had another objective, namely to ensure its sustainability through the pro-regime dogma of Wahhabism and a certain “politicised” Sufism, which by its discourse, keeps people in torpor and intellectual numbness. In order to give more credibility as well as an official force to its obscurantist forces, the government institutionalised an illiberal law,[2] the famous Article 144 bis 2 [of the Algerian Penal Code], which says: “Whoever insults Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) or the rest of the prophets, or ridiculed the basics of the religion or any of the Islamic rituals either in writing, drawing, expression or any other method” may be “sentenced to three (3) to five (12) years and fined with 50,000 to 100,000 dinars or by one of them”. This goes against the international charter of human rights.

The dissolution of the ISF in the early 1990s allowed the authorities to thwart the rise of the Islamist movement, or properly speaking, of political Islam, by marginalising all Islamist parties created after the ISF, like the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP).

Most local Salafists are quietist, including the imams, and stay clear of politics. Their only objective is to maintain a certain social conservatism in terms of social mores, not in relation to political institutions. They want to avoid falling into religious extremism as was the case during the black decade that claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 Algerians. Can we conclude from this fact that Algerian decision-makers would prefer to divert the religious hold on political life to the benefit of social life in order to durably contain their power, even if it means supporting this strategy by legal texts contrary to the will of “emancipation and openness '' promoted by Bouteflika since 1999?

If Islamism is cursed by the state, conservatism is more than promoted. It benefits from official and institutional backing, and is protected and spread by imams of the Republic, by approved school programmes and televised religious speeches. It is implemented by representatives of public authorities, the media, the various ministries and the judiciary. In other words, this is the official Islam, as stipulated in Article 2 of the Algerian constitution, whereby “Islam is the religion of the State”,[3] and not with “Islamic jihadism”, since the latter is officially banned.

Consequently, intellectual honesty and the desire to see Algeria, as well as the Muslim world in a better state than it is today, require me to name evil by its name – notwithstanding the fear of being one day the subject of a fatwa, it is the Islamic inquisition, not the Islamist inquisition.

In order to justify the label “Islamist inquisition”, intellectuals and journalists accuse Ibn Taymiya and Mohamed Ibn Abdelwahhab of being the source of Islamist terrorism. However, I wonder if these accusations are based on a lack of understanding of the subject matter or a desire to clear Islam and make it an immaculate religion?

The Islamic inquisition has existed since the birth of Islam and has always been practiced against those who hold theses that differ from the dominant ones. It is essential and urgent to deconstruct the myth of a “rational and peaceful” religion and this is the task that contemporary intellectuals have given themselves, such as Mohamed Abdou, Mohamed Arkoun, Sayyed Al-Qimni, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki , Mohamed Shahrour, who themselves were the object of this inquisition.

One of the earliest forms emerged during the Riddah Wars[4] led by the first Caliph.[5] Even those deemed the most “rational and peaceful”, namely the Mu'tazilites, sought, during their confrontation with Sunni orthodoxy between 833 and 848 AD, to impose their views by force under the reign of Caliph Al Ma 'mun. To this end, they persecuted Sunni scholars,[6] and in turn ended up persecuted and killed!

Muslim history is cyclical; it repeats itself over and over. In the 21st century, intellectuals, Islam experts, thinkers, and secular activists are being prosecuted for attacking Islam. Some have been imprisoned, like Islam Bouhayri in Egypt and Hassan Ferhane Al Maliki in Saudi Arabia; others have been hunted down and exiled, like Hamed Abdel-Samad and the late Mohammed Arkoun. Their works are banned – like those of Mohammed Shahrour. Scientists have been relegated to the status of “innovators” while charlatans enjoy the status of “scholars”. This is obscurantism and all that feeds the extremist spirit and encourages sacred ignorance.

Any intellectual with a rational and critical discourse towards the single and dominant religious thought - Sunni - is brought to justice for “attacking Islam”. This is what Algerian Islam expert Said Djabelkhir is currently going through. This Algerian expert in Sufism is set to appear before a court in Sidi M’hemed on 25 February.

The court accepted to hear a complaint filed against him by a certain university professor for “contempt of Islam, infringement and mockery of the authentic hadiths of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, the pillar of the Hajj (pilgrimage) and the ritual sacrifice of the sheep of Eid.”

What this means is that the plaintiff as well as his lawyers reproach the scholar for his desire to submit Islam to “questioning reason”, i.e. a constant and critical questioning in order to bring Muslims, victims of dogmatism, into the light of knowledge.

However, this trial has raised so many questions. Who will represent “Allah” at the hearing? Is Said Djabelkhir really against “Allah” or is he an adversary of those who spread, by the force of the law, the school and the mosque, a dangerous perception of Allah which consists in presenting anyone who is different as the enemy of Allah? How can a researcher be brought to justice for the results of his research? Isn't research about bringing something more, something new, something original? What is clear is that when the keepers of the temple feel threatened, they allow themselves all forms of jihad.

[1] Anyone who offends the prophet or the messengers of God or denigrates the dogma or the precepts of Islam, whether by writing, design, declaration or any other means.

[2] “Les preuves de l’obligation d’écouter et do aux dirigeants même si ce sont des tyrans, » Salafis de Montréal et d’ailleurs, https://www.salafidemontreal.com/doc/Obeir_aux_dirigeants.pdf (accessed 17 February 2021).

[3] Algeria 1989 (reinst. 1996, rev. 2016), Constitute Project, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Algeria_2016?lang=en (accessed 17 February 2021).

[4] War of Apostasy. See “Riddah,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/riddah (accessed 17 February 2021).

[5] Les guerres d’apostasie et compilation du Coran, Islamweb, https://www.islamweb.net/fr/article/144499/Les-guerres-d%E2%80%99apostasie-et-compilation-du-Coran (accessed 17 February 2021).

[6] Renaud Klingler, Les 101 grands moments de l’Islam, édition Sarrazins.

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