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Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Sudanese Islamist leader Dr. Hassan Turabi - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Sudanese Islamist leader Dr. Hassan Turabi

Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Sudanese Islamist leader Dr. Hassan Turabi

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The following is the full text of the controversial interview that Asharq al-Awsat conducted with Sudanese Islamist leader Dr. Hassan Turabi, which resulted in him being branded an apostate by Sudan’s Muslim scholars:

Q) Fatwas that you have issued, regarding the permissibility of marriage between a Muslim woman and a man of the Christian or Jewish persuasion, have been the subject of much controversy. Do you mean that married women who converted to Islam can remain married to a non-Muslim husband, or that a Muslim woman can marry a non-Muslim man?

A) First, we have to look at the context of this matter particularly from the framework of Ijtihad when it comes to the general issues of women in Islam. The modern and contemporary Islamic discourse on women lags far behind the authentic Islamic rules and principles as contemporary Muslims do not think deeply about these principles when it comes to the marriage of their daughters.

The fatwa was a response to issues in the Muslim community in the United States. There was an incident in which an American woman went to one of the Islamic centers to convert; however, she wanted to remain married to her non-Muslim husband after she converted. The center’s officials told her that if she was sincere in her desire to become a Muslim that she would begin divorce procedures, despite the huge costs and even if this meant that she would lose custody of her children. They did not consider that this was too much to ask from someone who was still taking their first steps towards Islam. Such an attitude in fact causes many women to be reluctant to convert.

Of course, before issuing the edict, I had to undertake a lot of research concerning Islamic law, particularly by reading books on Islamic jurisprudence that were written at certain historical intervals. All the past fatwas that prohibited the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men were issued during periods in which political disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims were taking place. On the other hand, I could not find a single word that prohibited such marriage in either the Quran or the Sunnah.

In the particular case of the woman who wanted to convert in the United States, my opinion was that she should have remained married to the non-Muslim man. She may have been the reason that her non-Muslim husband converted. Perhaps even other families of female American converts would have followed the same path. Many people were perplexed by what I said and attacked me for it. Some even decided that I was now an infidel! They depicted the whole issue as if it was a matter of honor. However, if you look at it objectively, the conversion and Islamic conduct of the wife may have positively influenced the husband, an influence that the Muslims of the West need.

We should let the Muslim minorities, who live amongst the ‘People of the Book’ in the west, evaluate this issue and decide what is appropriate for them, as they are the first group affected. They would conclude that they should allow their daughters to marry Jews and Christians because perhaps these marriages will bring the husbands to Islam or else the women may remain a Muslim. In the West, the individual freedoms are generally wider and the Western Muslims to decide when it comes to this issue especially.

Q) So are you saying that women who converted to Islam can remain married to their non-Muslim husbands, but that a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man is forbidden?

A) No, I had spoken previously about this type of marriage and I believe that marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is valid since nothing in the Quran or Sunnah dictates otherwise. The decision should also be based on the individuality of each case therefore; I cannot say this type of marriage is prohibited based on the accumulated teachings of past scholars.

These teachings for example tell us that Ijmaa (consensus) is the consensus of jurists at any given age but the Quran says is different. The same accumulated sayings of scholars also recommended that we should obey the ruler even if he seized power by force. The Quran does not approve of this. We should always refer to the origins that are Quran and Sunnah.

Q) You once stated that the Hijab did not specify a woman covering her head, which was also considered controversial?

A) These are lies spread by some journalists who never attended the lecture in which I spoke about issues relating to the Muslim woman. Some journalists find attributing false statements to me entertaining. In that particular lecture, I did not discuss a particular dogma or edict, but I did discuss Quranic philology and the fact that many are unclear about it.

When the Quran addressed the issue of Hijab, it was within the context of addressing the room in which the Prophet (PBUH) used to meet his guests. It meant that the Prophets wives could not be in the same room when many people, for many different reasons, visited the Prophet.

Therefore, it stated that wives of the Prophet should be behind a curtain and that if people wanted to ask them anything, they should reply from behind that curtain. Therefore, Hijab here meant a curtain or divider and not a dress code. The use of the word Hijab could be employed in many ways, for example, the Quran was described as a Hijab between its reader and the wrong path.

At that particular lecture, I told the audience to use the word Khimar when referring to the dress code. I was speaking from a philological perspective. I told them that alcoholic beverages were called Khamr because they obscured the brain and engulfed it. Similarly, Khimar (as headscarf) covers the head and body of women. Those who stated that Al Turabi denies the wearing of the Islamic veil by woman either did not understand what I said or were not present at the lecture.

Q) So you do not object to Muslim women covering their hair as part of Hijab?

A) Firstly, I do not call it Hijab but rather Khimar because the latter is a Quranic word. Hijab means curtain like the one you may have at home, so what we have here is a linguistic dispute.

When I spoke about certain Islamic laws in the past, I managed to irritate many men, for example, when I addressed the subject of punishing ones wife, the Quran does not say a husband can beat his wife, it is the judge that passes judgment, not the husband.

Q) The cause of more controversy has been your declaration that the testimony of a man is equal to that of a woman, which defies the Quran, which says “a man or two women from whom you accept as witnesses, lest that one forgets, so she could be reminded by the other.”

A) My dear brother, do not judge me before I clarify my position. The verse to which you referred guides us in the issue of writing debts. It ordered that there should be a writer and that there should be witnesses to testify the debt contract. Allah (SWT) said “lest one of the women forgets.” He did not say that she would surely forget. In another verse of the Quran, Allah asked for two “just” witnesses to attest the death of someone who was on the verge of passing away. Here he did not specify gender. In fact, female members of the family are more likely to be present at somebody’s death. In this case, the same rules of testimony apply to both sexes.

Many people are ignorant of Islamic judicial procedures. There are several ways of testimony, like the authentication of contracts or testifying in front of a judge or an attorney. Nowadays we have women who are professional lawyers and businesswoman, and many men are not able to compete with them.

Q) Can we incorporate the Islamic dogma of one man’s testimony equaling that of two women to business and debt related matters?

A) The Quran did not say that the woman would surely forget, but that she may forget. Back then, women were largely inexperienced in business and trade and Allah had ordered men to be the provider. Now it is up to the judge to decide who is more qualified to testify.

Q) Did you issue a fatwa that permits woman to lead men in communal prayers?

A) Who prohibited that in the first place? It was your customs and traditions and not Quran or Sunnah and your customs that preferred her prayers at home and not in the mosque. There was a female companion of the Prophet who led men in prayer. When there is a pious woman, she should lead the prayers and whoever is distracted by her beauty should be deemed sick. We do not look at an Imam’s white beard or ugly face but we listen to the content of what he says. The case should be same with scholarly pious women.

Q) Sayings of the Prophet (Hadith) refer to the return of Jesus, something that you dispute, on what is your belief based?

A) Hadith does not abrogate the Quran. The Quran clearly speaks of Jesus when it referred to him addressing the coming of another prophet after him named Ahmad. He did not say while I was alive, but said “after me.” Furthermore, the Quran told us that the Prophet was the last of the Prophets. This idea came into Islam because of desperate Muslims looking for a savior, as well as due to Christian influences.

Q) You also dispute Hadith about the awaited arrival of the Mahdi.

A) There are a number of Hadith about that, however, I urge Muslims not to idly await his arrival, which promises to bring justice to the world. Muslims do not galvanize themselves to achieve this justice. They are like the followers of the Prophet Moses when they told him go and fight with your God, but we will stay here. I say to Muslims, you are all Mahdis, God willing.

Q) Let us move on with a question concerning the deadlock between the Sudanese government and the Sudanese Liberation Movement regarding whether Khartoum should be subjected to Islamic law?

A) This is an example of scholars issuing an appropriate albeit illegal fatwa to please their rulers. When Allah says in the Quran, that whoever rules with a law other than what Allah revealed are infidels, he did not only mean the rulers but also the scholars that validate such behavior for them through false religious reasoning. The Nifasha agreement eliminated Shariaa from the federal system but the anger of those who previously called for Shariaa was never expressed. The constitution we have now has no place for Shariaa even in the other northern regions, so how can we find room for Shariaa in Khartoum?

Q) You believe that apostasy should not be punishable by death. There has been a recent case of an Afghan who was about to be killed for apostasy but was saved under the pretense of mental illness. The case was recognized internationally as Italy wants to grant him asylum.

A) There are too many Quranic verses to recite (regarding this). We are ordered to debate with Christians and Jews except those who are unjust. We believe in their prophets who are our prophets too. We believe in their books even if some distortion took place. We are ordered to treat them cordially.

Q) You have mentioned more than once that the problem of Darfur could be resolved in one session.

A) I do not have weapons with which to attack the Darfur rebels and I do not have the financial resources of the government but I can speak about the issues. As a political party, we have papers in Arabic and English on all the thorny issues of Darfur that I can sum up for you.

-They are Arabs and Muslims so despite the similarity of their case with the south, they would not have the same demands.

-There should be better coordination between the states so that central government cannot divide them nor surpass them.

-The old roads used for camel trade with Egypt should be restored.

-Their elected local councils should be restored. Right now, they are appointed and not elected.

– They should also be given slightly more than their usual share of public finance because historically, they have been subjected to more losses from the British, as they fought against them and for the Ottoman side. As a punishment, the British deprived them from education and paved roads. The same treatment ironically, continued at the hands of their compatriots after independence.

Give them all of the above and for an interim period allow them to rule themselves through freely elected councils and through their own political parties. This is all that it takes and this is not difficult.

Today there are two million Sudanese refugees. The whole of Sudan, government and people, do not pay give them any money. The western organizations and the United Nations play the role that the state should play. The African peacekeeping forces only stay in cities and they do not intervene in the atrocities that take place in the countryside. Armed robbery has not become the practice of the Janjaweed and the Sudanese official armed forces only, but also amongst the people of Darfur themselves. Armed robbery has become a way of life for many. Everyday, people are dying as we consider whether the local councils of Darfur represent the people or not. The government states it is against foreign intervention, but are the African forces not foreign too?

Q) What do you think about most recent events in Chad?

A) Chad was invaded by armies. Did they fall out of the sky or were they sent? What is the country East of Chad? How did Idriss Deby re-enter Chad? Who was behind him pushing and supporting him? The answers to all these questions are obvious and cannot be denied. The documents are available. The issue of Darfur has surpassed Sudan and even Africa and we must resolve it as quickly as possible.