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Archive for April, 2006

Temple looted in Khost

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KHOST CITY, Apr 19 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Armed men overnight stole cash and some valuables from a temple in the southern Khost province, local Hindu elder said on Wednesday.

Luck Mir Sing, an elder of the Hindus village in Khost, told Pajhwok Afghan News that 30 gunmen stormed a temple. He said the culprits had not harmed their religious books or other items, however the thieves were decamped with two gold knives and cash. The incident had no religious or political behind, but was only a theft event, Sing added. He said that outlaws had also taken away a pistol from a house of Mehndar Sing. Provincial police chief Gen Ayub confirmed the incident and said they had arrested some suspected people.

 

Reported by Abdul Majeed Arif & translated by Rahman

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Ambassador Said T. Jawad

Excerpts of speech on the preservation of Afghanistan’s archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage, given on April 17, 2006, at the Embassy of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a land bridge connecting Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. The ancient Silk Route, which carried both goods and knowledge, and connected China to the heart of Europe, passed through Afghanistan. Today, Afghanistan is once more playing its historic role in bridging cultures, countries and civilizations. Over 60 counties have joined together to help rebuild Afghanistan.

The first archaeological excavations in Afghanistan began in 1922. American, French, British, Japanese, Italian, Indian and Russian archeologists worked alongside their Afghan counterparts to unearth Afghanistan’s hidden past. What they discovered over the intervening decades exceeded their wildest dreams; layers upon layers of relics, a testament to the many kingdoms, cultures and civilizations that rose and fell in Afghanistan throughout the centuries.

What took our archaeologists 70 years to discover took extremists less than a decade to sell off, burn, mutilate and demolish. The hollow cavities where the Giant Buddhas once stood in Bamiyan are a testament to the suffering of our country under the Taliban. Their absence speaks to the other voids that exist today in Afghanistan, the ruins of buildings and schools, the young men who were cut down too early in life, the children who were not permitted a childhood, the landmine victims missing arms and legs.

Bamyian is a well known example, but many other Afghan Archaeological sites of equal wealth have also been looted and destroyed. During the war, illegal excavations at historical sights became commonplace, a practice that sadly continues to this day. The Hellenistic city of Al Khanum, which could have become a major tourist attraction and center for scholars, was badly damaged when looters used bulldozers to search for treasures. The Buddhist site of Tepe Shutur-e-Hadda was plundered and much of its priceless art destroyed. The Minaret of Chakari, one of the most important monuments of the first century B.C.E., collapsed into a pile of dust and rock. Only one-third of the Minaret remains standing.

During the civil war, the Museum was on the front lines. Rockets vaporized wall paintings with Greek, Buddhist and Hindu motifs. This same fire engulfed priceless frescoes from Islam’s artistic flowering under the Ghaznavid dynasty. Of course, fire does not discriminate between Buddhist or Islamic art. The human costs of our war were staggering enough, but our cultural losses compounded the tragedy.

During this cultural genocide, there were many acts of individual heroism, many of which were preformed by the people in this room, Mr. Massodi especially. In 1994 museum staff risked bodily harm to inventory the objects that had survived the shelling, as well as to clear some of the rubble, and weatherproof and secure the collection. They cleverly painted over the images that would offend the critical gaze of the Taliban, created hidden rooms to preserve film footage, and rescued countless objects from the National Gallery, the Afghan Film Archives and the Presidential Palace. The people in this room are much more qualified than I to speak about their individual contributions to the preservation of our cultural heritage. Our nation is stronger thanks to their bravery.

Tragically, many of the objects that were not destroyed have been stolen and sold to foreign countries. 50-thousand year old Palaeolitihic tools, Greek and Aramaic inscriptions from the Third Century B.C.E. and more than 30,000 precious coins have been pillaged and their whereabouts are unknown. Many of these pieces have been smuggled to Islamabad, London, Tokyo and New York. In place of our national treasures, we have burned ledgers, emptied crates, tire tracks and thousands of pounds of debris. As the international community helps Afghanistan rebuild, they must also be vigilant within their own borders, and return all stolen items of Afghan cultural heritage to Afghanistan.

When the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan’s Buddha statutes, they were not attacking mere relics. This was part of a greater plan, which included the eradication of all symbols of faith that they could not control and all traces of foreign influence. It was not enough to destroy Afghanistan’s identity and culture, the Taliban tried to erase our country’s historic tolerance for other cultures as well. This dogma is shared by every totalitarian regime in recent history. It is our duty to condemn such cultural terrorism in its earliest phases, so that we do not need to watch helplessly as another world wonder crumble into dust.

The next step is to build our human capital through education. Many of our specialists in the fields of history and archeology went into exile during the war. Thankfully, many of them are coming back, temporarily participating in new excavations or settling permanently to train a new generation of professionals. Our famous archaeologist Professor Zemaryali Tarzi is searching for the fabled third Buddha of Bamiyan. In the process he has discovered other objects of immeasurable value. Professor Tarzi gives us hope for the promise of the future.

A bill is now before the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the President to impose emergency protection for antiquities illegally excavated and exported from Afghanistan. We have a chance to stop this despicable trade dead in its track and reverse some of the damage that has been done. The work will be slow, painstaking, meticulous, but so is the work of rebuilding a country. We are patient. But more importantly, we are proud. And it is through this belief in ourselves, in our history and our culture, that Afghanistan will persevere.

Said T. Jawad is Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States

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an opinion about Afghan Sikhs in Southall of London

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By Dr. Abidullah A. Ghazi

The Milli Gazette Online

7 April 2006

The issues emanating from the turbulence instigated by the insensitive Danish cartoons have yet to be settled, and we now find ourselves staring into the face of another, even more complicated ordeal: the apostasy case of an Afghan named Abdul-Rahman. While this case may seem to have global ramifications, the personal side to the matter of Mr. Abdul-Rahman deals with the safety as well as insistence of this individual to stand up for the faith of his choosing. While such matters are significant on a small scale, there is a far-reaching and more formidable issue hovering over the conversion of an individual from one faith to another, mainly its legality and propriety in today’s world. An equally important matter is the position of the Shari’ah on the topic of radd, a term which denotes a Muslim’s abandoning Islam and converting to another faith. To have a clearer analysis of Mr. Abdul-Rahman’s plight we must look to all the three of these dimensions.

It appears from several news reports that Mr. Abdul-Rahman may not have altogether been a mentally stable individual. There are reports of that prior to and after his conversion to Christianity he maintained an abusive relationship with parents. He also he failed to support, both financially and emotionally, his children, they very same children which he had now, after 16 years, sought custody over. In 1990 Mr. Abdul-Rahman left his wife and children in Afghanistan and began working for an international Christian aid group in neighboring Pakistan. There are contradictory reports regarding the location of his conversion, although at this point such information seems to be immaterial detail. Mr. Abdul-Rahman could have stayed in Pakistan, where laws against conversion from Islam exist on the books but are rarely (if ever) implemented, he chose to move to Germany, where he remained for nearly ten years having little contact with his family. The aforementioned Christian social workers might have saw fit to train Mr. Abdul-Rahman while he resided in Europe for a suitable profession in order to eventually unite him with his family but this did not happen. In 2002 Mr. Abdul-Rahman decided to return home following the collapse of the Taliban regime. From all accounts, embracing the Christian faith did not seem to have made him a better person. His return only aggravated all the family problems that were their before. He began to insist on gaining custody of the children he left sixteen years earlier, and at one point even physically attacked the children’s grandfather when the family refused to hand them over. Mr. Abdul-Rahman gave the impression that he took pleasure in using his conversion as a weapon to further aggravate the already strained relationship as the family was obviously distressed at the man’s conversion. Yet Mr. Abdul-Rahman reportedly took great relished in rubbing the fact in their faces. The family, though disappointed with his change of faith, nevertheless dismissed his claim as prank designed to exact revenge and they urged Mr. Abdul-Rahman not to make a public issue out of it. However when the family refused to hand over the children Mr. Abdul-Rahman saw fit to go public with his conversion, conceivably to humiliate his familial adversaries. He went to the local police and forced the issue of his conversion, ostensibly in hope of provoking confrontation. It has been reported that those police officers at the neighborhood station who were present during Mr. Abdul-Rahman’s announcement of apostasy endeavored to persuade Mr. Abdul-Rahman to go home and not bring trouble on his head by making it a public issue, but the man was unrelenting and he managed in the end to bring worldwide attention to himself.

The law in Afghanistan, as well as in several other conservative Muslim countries, stipulates the death penalty for any Muslim who converts out of Islam. In spite of this seemingly zealous and archaic law we also find that Afghanistan has been, and continues to be, on many levels a hospitable society that accepts a remarkable degree of religious diversity. There is a large Shi’ite population in the central part of the country, and into modern times sizeable Sikh and Hindu communities have resided in Jalalabad, Kabul and other major cities and have done so for centuries. Most of these Hindus and Sikhs are Afghan nationals and have freedom to practice their religion. They also have their own places of worship.

However conversion of a Muslim to other religion (especially if it is publicized) is not really part of the story about the tolerance of religious minorities. Whether or not Mr. Abdul-Rahman’s public announcement of conversion to Christianity was done out of a sincere desire to witness for his faith or out of sheer spite is irrelevant when we look at the wider issues. Yet within any traditional society a change of faith (or lifestyle) is more than just an issue of finding a more satisfying theology; it is toying with societal norms of reputation and loyalty, virtues that are even more perceptible in Afghanistan’s heavily tribalized society. In much of Afghan society honor killing and retribution are accepted norms, irrespective of their clear prohibitions in Islam. Even as the justices pondered their verdict, Mr. Abdul-Rahman’s family certainly would have preferred his execution if for no other reason than to save them from public humiliation and shame.

The conversion of Abdur-Rahman has now grown from being a personal choice of faith to an international predicament. Many Muslims and non-Muslims view this as an embodiment of the confrontation between modern values of freedom of conscience and the code of Islamic Shari’ah. Despite its long history of religious intolerance, issues of faith in Western societies are now primarily a personal matter. The constitutions of secular societies around the world guarantee freedom of conscience and freedom of religion as inalienable human rights. Secular constitutions provide equal guarantees and opportunities to all religions within the state’s borders to practice, teach, publish, convert and establish institutions. Muslims living in Europe, North America and even India have been great beneficiaries of such freedoms.

The phenomenal growth of the Muslim community in North America, both through immigration and conversion, as well as the establishment of Muslim institutions, speaks volumes to the tolerance and acceptance of religious diversity in the midst of a primarily Christian society. In company with the constitutionally authorized equality of all faiths is the great level of tolerance Americans possess for religious diversity. Mainstream Christian and Jewish organizations have opened avenues of dialogue and cooperation with Muslim groups in the country. Here in America the mental ghettoes of religious separatism are disintegrating and we can see ourselves entering an age of discourse and mutual respect. The instances of mutual respect and cooperation afforded those Muslims living in North America are too numerous, while incidents of impudence and intolerance, seemingly inspired by the Shari’ah code, have displayed the exact opposite in several Muslim-majority lands.

It must also be understood by the reader that the socio-political situation in each Muslim-majority land varies from place to place. Despite the seemingly intolerant atmosphere in several, many positive inter-faith and cross-cultural exchanges are becoming increasingly visible in others. Muslim countries are mosaic of social and cultural diversity. There has also existed historically a long tradition of acceptance diversity of culture and faith in Islamic civilization, a fact that has to be remembered by those wishing to jettison this value in favor of insularity and narrow-mindedness.

The question nowadays for the Muslim community in the West is how we want this very same culture of freedom and choice that we enjoy as minorities reflected in Muslim-majority societies. In the globalized reality of today, Western Muslims have a special duty to promote similar attitudes of respect for human rights, tolerance and mutuality in Muslim-majority societies. I firmly believe that this can be done within the strictures of our Islamic obligations and within the bounds of the Shari’ah.

The final, and most problematical, issue is the one that needs to be addressed and redressed above all else: the traditional understanding of radd. While much has been made of the official radd penalty in the Western media these days, the fact is that historically this penalty has been rarely enforced, and usually when it was, it was due to some unmitigated political upheaval caused by the said apostasy. While some may assert that Mr. Abdur-Rahman brought all of this public uproar upon himself, in doing so he has forced an important issue. It is time that we Muslims (both as minorities and majorities) reflect on the following points:

1. What is the basis of the radd law? Was it laid down for a specific situation and specific time or is it an immutable law based upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the tradition of the Prophet?

2. Should such a law now be appraised from the perspective of the Qur’an and Sunnah in order to bring it into harmony with new realities of global interaction?

3. What would be the power of such a law in societies where Muslims live as minorities?

4. Has the Muslim world (or any single Muslim country or a group of zealots for that mater) the religiously sanctioned authority to carry out a judgment or issue a fatwa for the execution of an apostate?

5. Should this issue be resolved on the basis of reciprocity? If Muslims have the freedom to convert others to their faith, shouldn’t Muslims also have similar freedoms to be converted to other faiths?

6. If Muslims living in non-Muslim societies enjoy religious freedoms as well as the independence to establish their own Islamic intuitions, should non-Muslims also be given similar rights in Muslim countries?

These points are important for all Muslims to ponder, but they have special significance for those of us living in free and secular societies where we enjoy the protection of state laws. Having presented these questions I respectfully urge the Fiqh Council in North America as well as other Islamic scholars and theologians nationwide to respond to the subject of radd and the issue of religious freedom and to urgently provide a well thought-out statement of for an Islamic position on both matters. At the same time I urge various authorized Dar ul-Ifta (houses of religious decrees) worldwide to address this issue on a priority basis and review the Shari’ah in the light of the ever-shrinking world we live in.

As a believing and practicing Muslim who is deeply involved in interreligious dialogue and understanding, I call on all Muslim judicial systems and legislatures worldwide (where the radd law exists) to contemplate the decorum for this modern age in which we live and bring our age-old and well-tested values in line with universal values. It is high time that Muslims learn to respond to all such challenges intellectually and academically, not through passionate or repellent reaction. The world has reached a level of maturity where the majority of its people are prepared to hear whatever opinions we may voice and many would even argue our case, provided we also show a willingness to hear and respect theirs.

The author is Executive Director, IQRA International Educational Foundation, and may be contacted at draghazi@aim.com

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