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Show me your verse

No reporters from the West have asked the Islamic Jihad leader the fundamental question: Where is the evidence of what you do in God's name? By Irshad Manji


What is the best thing for world peace – to accept each other or to ask questions that can be taken up badly? Of course, the world is not always divided according to these extremes. But sometimes it actually is. And in such cases, I keep a close eye on asking questions instead of always believing the best about others. Let me explain using this story.

I was recently in Gaza, where I interviewed the political leader of the Hamas group Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi. With well-groomed beard and impeccable manners, he symbolized the modern – and moderate – Muslim man.

His interpretation of the Qur'an suggested something

other. “Where does it say,” I asked, “that one can take one's own life for a higher purpose? As far as I know, the Qur'an says that suicide is wrong. "

Through an interpreter, the doctor assured me that the verses that approved suicide were to be found "everywhere" in the holy book of Islam. I challenged

al-Hindi to show me just one paragraph.

After first looking through the Qur'an for several minutes, he called someone with his cell phone to ask for help and then in study pamphlets. Finally, he said he was busy and had to leave.

"Surely this is not a small white one?" I asked. He smiled and clearly understood that it was a white lie I was aiming for. "I just want to make sure you tell me the truth," I repeated.

Al-Hindi called two assistants in his office and took another phone. His interpreter sat and twisted in the chair, and he bowed his head as my camera slid past him to film the two assistants. They stood with my back to me and flipped frantically through the Qur'an. A few minutes later, they presented a verse praising war.

But this had nothing to do with suicide. That's why I asked al-Hindi again. He replied that attacking to defend is allowed in Islam. "If a thief comes to where you live and steals your money, isn't it fair to protect himself?"

Still, I didn't understand the connection between protecting oneself and killing oneself, so I drew the following parallel: “If a colleague steals my job and I commit suicide because something mine is taken from me, am I a martyr then? »

The interpreter shook his head in shock. "No, no, you can't ask that." "Why not?" I wondered. "Theologically, it is important to ask such questions."

Just then the batteries in my camera died. This, the interpreter whispered, was a much better outcome than that I should die – something al-Hindi would have ensured if I had stayed much longer in his office. Both the interpreter and I got out of there. The meeting showed me why it is so important for Muslims to ask questions, and to ask them out loud. For far too long we have trusted that self-appointed "high lords" should interpret for us. We have given them room to abuse both word and power. We Muslims have forgotten Islam's own tradition of thinking independently: ijtihad. (Read more about ijtihad on my website:

On the other hand, most people – not just Muslims – could benefit from thinking independently. This was what I was reminded of when I left

the office of al-Hindi. I asked the interpreter why the doctor would let me interview and film him when he knew he could not find a single verse that supported his claim that the Qur'an justifies suicide actions.

The interpreter replied, "He figured you were just another stupid Western journalist." He said that no reporters from the West had ever asked this long-time terrorist the fundamental question: Where is the evidence of what you do in God's name?

Perhaps it is time for the media, like the Muslims, to take over the ijtihad. I give safety tips to both groups.

Irshad Manji is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy and has written What's wrong with Islam? (Cappelen). Manji writes exclusively for New Time.

Translated by Ingrid Sande Larsen

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