Aziz said: “Islam has been successfully brought to Swat because of the sacrifices of the students of the Red Mosque. The day will come, not long from now, when Islam will spread to the entire country.”
Now, probably many Westerners will find that an odd statement. After all, hasn’t Islam already spread all over Pakistan? But Aziz is making a political statement, not a religious one. He means that Sharia will soon be imposed upon the entire country, and it will become an Islamic state, not a Muslim-majority country governed by an amalgam of Islamic and secular law, as it is today.
Note also that Aziz and his followers speak simply of “Islam,” the “Islamic way,” etc. They assume that rule by Sharia is Islam, and Islam is rule by Sharia. Yet in the West, if one does not assume that Islam and democracy are entirely compatible, and that Muslim immigrants in the West will immediately and without strain become democratic pluralists, one is liable to charges of “Islamophobia,” “bigotry,” etc.
All right, then. This leads to a question: is Aziz right or not? Is the imposition of Sharia the “Islamic way” or not? Can any moderate Muslim spokesman — hello, Ibrahim Hooper, Stephen Schwartz, Khaleel Mohammed, etc. — please articulate an Islamic way that allows for non-establishment of religion and the equality before the law of believers and unbelievers, and not just as a step toward the later imposition of Sharia?
Finally, note the WaPo’s approving mention of “believed in spreading Islam through peaceful means.” Here again, they don’t mean Islam as a religion, which has already spread all over Pakistan, but Islamic law, which is inimical to Western notions of equality of rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience. Is it really acceptable to work toward those goals via peaceful rather than violent means? Or are those goals not unacceptable in themselves, such that those who hold them should be opposed by all free people?
“Pakistani Cleric Calls for Islamic Law Nationwide: Crowds Welcome Standoff Leader Back to Mosque,” by Pamela Constable for the Washington Post, April 18 (thanks to James):
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 17 — A firebrand Islamist cleric, released on bail after almost two years under house arrest, returned triumphantly Friday to his former mosque in Pakistan’s capital, where he called on a crowd of chanting followers to spread the crusade for Islamic law across the country.
Thousands of men and boys in turbans and tunics streamed toward the Red Mosque, the site of a bloody confrontation with Pakistani security forces in July 2007, to hear Maulana Abdul Aziz invoke the martyrdom of those who died in the military siege and urge others to sacrifice their lives for Islam.
The gray-bearded Aziz, who arrived under police escort, stopped short of calling for violence and described his cause as a “peaceful struggle.” But there was an implicit threat in his message and a mood of barely suppressed eagerness for action in the crowd, which included many young Islamic seminary students.
“If the government wants peace and stability, it should adopt the Islamic system,” Aziz said. “But if it chooses the path of aggression and force, it will further aggravate the situation.”
Aziz, who took over the Red Mosque after his father’s assassination in 1998, is known for his hard-line religious views. In fiery speeches to followers over the years, he has advocated the strict separation of men and women in accordance with rules that he said are set forth in Islamic law. He once issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against a female government official for publicly hugging a man who was not her husband.
Aziz and his brother and deputy, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, had also supported the Taliban’s rise to power in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1990s, according to Pakistani officials, and by 2007, they were committed to turning Pakistan into a Taliban-style Islamic state. In the months before the standoff, in which Ghazi was killed, the two clerics initiated a string of actions to provoke the government, including stockpiling weapons in their compound and sending students from the mosque’s religious school out on moral vigilante missions.
On Friday, Aziz and other speakers hailed the imposition of sharia law in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat region, which Parliament and President Asif Ali Zardari approved Tuesday in an effort to mollify extremist Taliban forces who have waged a terrorist campaign there for the past two years….
“Islam has been successfully brought to Swat because of the sacrifices of the students of the Red Mosque,” Aziz said Friday. “The day will come, not long from now, when Islam will spread to the entire country.”
A sea of followers listened intently, their prayer rugs filling the streets and fields around the mosque. A bullet-riddled van and ambulance were placed outside as reminders of the 2007 siege. Inside, chants rose vowing that “the blood of martyrs will lead to Islamic revolution.” A block away, about 50 black-veiled female worshipers sat in the grass. Police barricaded off the entire area with barbed wire.
Some men in the crowd said they believed in spreading Islam through peaceful means and thanked the government for its support. Mosque officials especially praised the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was fired by Pakistan’s former military ruler in 2007 and reinstated last month after a protest campaign by thousands of Pakistani lawyers.
“The government has taken two very good steps this week,” said Amir Saddique, Aziz’s deputy. “They will go a long way to restoring peace in Pakistan. This will pacify the sentiments of the people, not ignite them,” he added. “What we seek is what the people are demanding. It is not a threat to the world, it is a blessing.”…
“Now that our leader is out of prison, he will lead us on a path to glory and the spreading of an Islamic way across the country,” said Noor Mohammed, 15, a seminary student from the North Waziristan tribal area.
As older men prompted him, he added shyly, “I am ready to lay down every sacrifice for sharia, including martyrdom.”