Original airdate: May 9, 2002
Alvin H. Perlmutter
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
Graham Judd & Elena Mannes
ANNOUNCER: Muslims make up one fifth of the world's population. But to most Americans, they're a mystery. Islam shares its origins and principles with Judaism and Christianity. But still, Islam is seen as a threat.
Patriarchal, authoritarian, hostile to the West, militant- Muslims stand accused of jeopardizing liberal values and Western democracy. The fears exist, but are they justified?
Tonight on FRONTLINE, the many faces of Islam - a journey to the Middle East, to Africa and Asia, to Europe and America.
NARRATOR: For much of history, Islamic civilizations matched or surpassed those of the West. Islam inspired rich cultures of science and medicine, art and architecture. But 200 years ago, the balance changed. The West became increasingly dominant. By the early 20th century, most Muslims had been colonized, their traditional institutions and identities fractured by European powers.
Today, many Muslims are rethinking the role of their religion in the face of globalization and omnipresent Western culture.
CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, Political Scientist: They feel the sort of values and ideas, notions of living which are emanating from the West and beginning to penetrate their societies, influencing their young, in particular - that these are harmful.
NILUFER GOLE, Sociologist: There is a kind of inescapability of modernity, or global trends. Then they start thinking about it, how we deal with it. They would say, "Well, we want to put an obstacle, a wall between us and all these foreign effects, global culture," meaning that they want to be pure, pure in the sense of Islam and not contaminated with any other thing.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD, Historian: There is a resurgence. That's very clear. People have attempted to return to their roots, as it were, to give life to their earlier cultures. We don't want to be like Europe. We don't want to be like- we want to return to our roots. Now we want to bring back Islam.
NARRATOR: Cairo, capital of Egypt, the largest city in the Arab world. In the bazaars of the old city, early mornings are accompanied by the sound of the Qur'an. These are believed to be the words of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the early 7th century. The Qur'an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad's life have inspired faith, informed behavior and shaped whole societies for centuries.
Sheikh Muawith Mabrook Abbas is a scholar who has spent his life immersed in the traditions of Islam. He has seen for himself the changes of the last 50 year: an often repressive government, now supported by the West, the poverty that followed failed economic policies, and traditional lifestyles threatened by Western values.
He's concerned about the role of Islam in Egypt today.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] Muslims have left Islam. They don't know what God has ordered them to do or what the Prophet taught. That's why there are problems. And things have happened that faith would prevent.
NARRATOR: Three days a week, Sheikh Muawith works here, at the Al Azhar mosque. Al Azhar is known as the oldest Islamic university in the world. For over 1,000 years, it has been a center of learning for Muslims. Its influence stretches from America to Southeast Asia. Sheik Muawith first came to study here when he was 14.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] The sheikh would sit here, surrounded by people. He would then teach traditional interpretations of the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet and all matters of religion.
NARRATOR: After 16 years of study, Sheik Muawith qualified as a scholar of Islamic, or as it is known, Sharia law. Sharia law is the attempt to derive a comprehensive code for living from Islam's sacred text, the Qur'an, and from accounts of how the Prophet Muhammad lived his life. It covers everything from how to pray to how to punish criminals, but there are several different schools of interpretation.
The sheikh uses his knowledge of the Sharia to issue fatwas, or legal opinions, to Muslims seeking his advice.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] In 1950, I entered Al Azhar and ended up with an expertise in matters of religion and the world. So when someone asks me something, I have the knowledge and I've studied and specialized. I draw upon my experience.
NARRATOR: The sheikh receives a call from a young man. Like a growing number of Egyptians questioning traditional values, the caller has married unofficially, in an attempt to legitimize pre-marital sex.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [on the phone] [through interpreter] No, no. It doesn't count as real marriage. Whatever happened after that is considered a sin. A correct marriage, my son, is a contractual relationship. You must have the approval of her father, two witnesses, a dowry, and you must announce it to the community. This is a secret marriage. It's wrong. And it's forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.
FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, Theologian: We don't have an ordained priesthood, which makes it a little complicated. But we do have a tradition of scholarship and rules of scholarship and a kind of a growing consensus of opinion on how one should think correctly to arrive at what would be deemed a correct decision.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] The biggest problems these days are divorce, marriage and family life.
[to woman] [subtitles] For advice go to the Fatwa Committee. The committee is that way.
NARRATOR: Sheik Muawith heads the Fatwa Committee of Al Azhar. These scholars issue fatwas to people who visit in person, but they're also available to Muslims abroad.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] Al Azhar has organized the Fatwa Committee to answer and explain to all Muslims in Egypt and outside Egypt. We get faxes from Australia, from America, from Europe about business dealings, responsibilities, and all sorts of things like that. And we try to answer them.
NARRATOR: While not all Muslims share the same interpretation of Islamic law, the sheikhs are troubled when people like Usama Bin Laden issue rulings of their own.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] These kind of fatwas have no basis in religion. Anyone just issuing a fatwa like that should not be trusted. It should neither be considered the religion of Islam or the teachings of Islam.
NARRATOR: The sheikh is concerned that Islamic scholars have lost the influence they once had.
SHEIKH MUAWITH MABROOK ABBAS: [through interpreter] There wouldn't a problem for Muslims ifthey simply followed their faith. As long as there's no faith in people's hearts, then there's emptiness.
NARRATOR: In Iran, Islamic scholars not only have influence, they control the country. Here the taking of the U.S. embassy is still commemorated every year. This was the first modern nation state to reject secular ideas and rebuild its government according to Islamic principles. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a shock to Americans.
NARRATOR: But for many Muslims, the revolution was inspiring evidence of the power of a modern, political Islam.
NILUFER GOLE, Sociologist: What we call radical Islam, which shaped maybe the Iranian revolution, this the basic idea of the Islamization of the whole of society, this utopia, kind of this ideal to Islamicize different spheres of life, starting from your inner world but going to the mode of government, the Islamic state.
NARRATOR: In the late 1970s, Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani was a student studying electronic engineering. But after the revolution, he spent a decade specializing in Islamic philosophy and law to become one of Iran's more than 300 Ayatollahs.
Ayatollah Hadavi is still enthusiastic about the revolution, but admits that losing economic ties with much of the West hasn't been easy.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: During these 23 years, we have tried to stand on our own feet, and it was very difficult. And you know that the Western countries, they do not want this. They want a country to depend on them and to be controlled, in a way, by them.
NARRATOR: The ayatollah lives in the Holy city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran. Here he teaches Shia interpretations of Sharia law to some of the 40,000 students who travel to Qom from as far away as China.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: [subtitles] Throughout the ages, all laws of the Sharia have been consistent with divine law.
NARRATOR: Shi'a Muslims split from the majority Sunni Muslims over a leadership struggle some 13 centuries ago. Tensions can still exist between the two groups today. In many Muslim countries, the Sharia influences the legal system but is not strictly applied. In Iran - an Islamic state - the Sharia is the foundation of the law.
But there is an ongoing debate. Reformers like President Mohammad Khatami believe that Islam allows for greater social and political freedoms than are currently permitted. Hard-liners disagree. Ayatolla Hadavi's views lie somewhere in between.
Qom is an old and traditional Muslim city. Here women must dress modestly. Most wear the Persian cape known as the chador.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: History has shown the beginning of the corruption in a society is always from the women's side because of their important role in the morality of the society, as mothers, sisters, wives, in home and outside home, in the society. On the other hand, on the side of men they should control themselves. If you look at a woman, you should not look at her in some sexual desires, and so on. Woman is a symbol of beauty and a symbol of love, and you should take care of this symbol to take care of the society, to take care of the family.
NARRATOR: Mahdi Hadavi lives on the outskirts of Qom. He is married, with four children.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: Part of Islam is for taking care of family. If it is unstable, then the society is unstable.
NARRATOR: The ayatollah believes that women must put their family first.
DAUGHTER: [subtitles] This design is a bit messed up!
NARRATOR: But he doesn't necessarily believe that they should stay at home.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: My wife is teaching now in university. She is teaching Islamic philosophy and logic. My daughter now is in college of graphics, and we hope that she will be able to enter the university.
We do this wuzu. This is a kind of cleaning that we do this for prayer. And we think that when you do this, your soul is in better situation. And we take care of this throughout the day, not only for the prayer.
NARRATOR: For the Ayatollah, Islamic principles and rituals shape the whole of his life. But central to his faith are five defining practices that all observant Muslims everywhere share: declaring faith, giving to charity, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca and prayer.
AYATOLLAH MAHDI HADAVI TEHRANI: When you are in prostration, it is the closest point of the creature to the God.
[www.pbs.org: Examine the basic tenets of Islam]
About American impressions about Islam- the people in America, they are thinking that they are the standard of life. They should understand the differences of the traditions, the differences of the cultures. And if they understand this, then we will reach to better circumstances for dialogue.
NARRATOR: Four thousand miles to the southeast of Iran lie Malaysia's Perentian Islands. Islam came here late, some 700 years ago. But now one fifth of the world's Muslims live in Southeast Asia. Islam arrived through trade and was spread by Muslim mystics known as Sufis.
As it took hold, Sharia laws mixed with local customs to produce an inclusive form of the faith. The arrival of Western tourists was welcomed.
Mustafa Rahman has lived on these remote islands for his whole life.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [through interpreter] At first I was a farmer. The income was not that good, so now I run a business.
NARRATOR: That business is a complex of chalets catering to the tourists.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [through interpreter] Outsiders, particularly the tourists, have caused a little stir among the villagers. Their way of dressing is not the same as the Muslims, but it has not become a serious problem. This is because we understand their cultures are different from the Malaysian culture. We respect their culture and are not angry with them.
NARRATOR: Rahman is not just a businessman. He is also the island's prayer leader or imam. He believes that villagers and tourists can coexist, as long as the Muslims live by the values of Islam.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [through interpreter] What I like about being an Imam is that I can explain to those who know less, or who don't know at all, about the teachings of Islam.
NARRATOR: The imam runs the island's 70-year old mosque, which is a meeting hall and community center.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [through interpreter] Islam is an Arabic word. To me, it means safe, peace. I like the mosque better than my own house. I mean the comfort of sitting in the mosque. It's peaceful, with no disturbances.
NARRATOR: Today Imam Rahman is preparing the mosque for Friday prayers.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [through interpreter] The prayer mat is placed on the carpet so that our forehead won't feel the floor when we pray. Another reason for having a prayer mat is to cover any filth or dirt on the carpet. You see, Islam gives priority to cleanliness. That's why I say Islam is a safe religion, because when we adhere to Islamic rules and regulations, we will be safe.
NARRATOR: On Fridays, all men in the community are obligated to meet together. After reciting from the Qur'an, the Imam reads them a short sermon.
MUSTAFA RAHMAN: [subtitles] A country that uses Islamic teachings as a guidance should be used as an example and never, ever be deceived by the call of the followers of the Western ideology, which is clearly against Islamic values.
NARRATOR: The challenge to traditional values is most obvious in Malaysia's cities. A growing number of Malaysians now live in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Here Islam is practiced alongside Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
But over the past 30 years, mass migration has forced many Muslims to reconcile rural traditions with urban lifestyles. Harlina Halizah and her husband, Zul, both grew up in villages outside Kuala Lumpur.
HARLINA HALIZAH: We don't really have to imitate all that is happening in the West. We can always do it differently, in the sense that even though we can be as developed, but we must at the same time be very developed in our values.
NARRATOR: Harlina's family now lives in the city. But they still adhere strictly to the values and rituals of Islam.
HARLINA HALIZAH: The feeling of fulfillment and the tranquility that we get from it is beyond description. One just has to experience it to know how it feels.
NARRATOR: Harlina sees no conflict between Islamic traditions and a modern lifestyle.
HARLINA HALIZAH: I think I'll die if I just stay at home and be a homemaker because then I feel that there's so much potential that will go wasted.
NARRATOR: So in 1985, Harlina went to medical school. Today she is an obstetrician and gynecologist.
HARLINA HALIZAH: I was lucky to be born in this country. This is a place where women has always been working side by side with men. That's by the tradition. I will say I'm a very empowered woman. Liberated? Well, I don't need to be liberated. I've been born a free person.
Before I decided I should be a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology- of course, Muslim women will ask permission from their husband. That's what I did. And I really wanted Zul to give me the permission because somebody has to do the job. And he did. Not to say I would not take no as an answer, but again, it depends on how you ask for the permission, yeah?
NARRATOR: Harlina also leads the women's section of an Islamic organization that encourages other Muslims to practice traditional values. One program is this home for Muslim girls who have become pregnant outside marriage. Harlina believes that Islam forbids abortion, except when the mother's life is at risk. These girls are looked after until they marry or their babies are adopted.
HARLINA HALIZAH: I guess the attitude towards, you know, sexuality in the West is more or less too liberal for our standard, as those of us, you know, living in the East, as well as by the Islamic standard. I don't really think that it is fair to say that Islam restrict your sexual desire or whatever. It is not restricting. It is more directing it towards a more purposeful kind of life.
NARRATOR: To better understand the tension between East and West, we've come here to Istanbul, Turkey, a city straddling both Europe and Asia. Istanbul has a rich Islamic past. Until 1922, it was the center of the last great Islamic empire of the Ottomans.
But 80 years ago, Kemal Ataturk became the first leader of a Muslim people to believe that in order to modernize, Islam's influence on society had to be crushed.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD, Historian: Governments which ruled Muslims were very often like colonial governments that suffocated Muslims. They suffocated those who wanted to go back to their original culture. With all due respect to Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, this man is- attempted to suppress Islam.
NARRATOR: Under Ataturk, Friday ceased to be a public holiday and mosques emptied. Sharia law was replaced by Western legal codes. Islamic scholars were forced to submit to state control. Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet, and Turks were sent back to school to learn it.
NILUFER GOLE, Sociologist: All the history of modernization was written in a way which excluded Muslim culture. So in order to be modern, especially in the Turkish case, we had to get away from our Muslim background.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: With his power as president and dictator, he begins his reform. He commands young Turks to go to business school. He brings in foreigners to show girls how to dress, how to manage their homes the European way. Into European dress he forces both men and women, sweeping away the veil and the fez.
NARRATOR: For several decades, it seemed as if Ataturk's reforms could succeed. By the '70s, Turkey had become one of the most Westernized countries in the region and an active member of NATO. But at the same time, rapid urbanization was changing Turkey's cities. A free-market economy had increased inequality, and voters were frustrated at what they saw as corruption within the political system. Many Muslims began to question Ataturk's belief that Islam should be removed from politics.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD, Assoc. Prof. SUNY Binghamton: This desire to talk about politics as being separate from Islam is something that Muslim scholars, on the whole, have never accepted. Why? The Prophet Muhammad was a prophet and a statesman.
NARRATOR: So pro-Islamic politicians promised to rectify a split that they saw as artificial. Turkish secular author Aysel Eksi.
AYSEL EKSI, Author: It is very easy to use religion in Turkey, in other Muslim countries, as part of Turkey is very poor. And then they just believe that if the Muhammad Prophet time comes back again, they will be prosperous. And this is what they claim.
NARRATOR: By 1996, a Turkish Islamic party had gained enough popularity to win over 20 percent of the national vote and came to power in a coalition government. In response, secular officials clamped down on Islam's most visible symbols. These women became victims of a crackdown on the head scarf, which was banned from all public institutions.
1st GIRL: I was studying here at this university. For three years I studied at the department of physics, but in the fourth year, I couldn't enter because of my head scarf. They said, "You are covering your head with hijab, this scarf. You couldn't enter this university." But I studied with my head scarf for three years.
2nd GIRL: This is the library of Istanbul University, and we can't with our head scarf, even in a library, we can't go. We can't enter. We can't search in there.
AYSEL EKSI: If we allow the girls to cover their heads, one day we would be forced to cover our heads, as well. We were frightened that if we had allowed them, they would turn Turkey into Iran.
GUZEYYA BINGOL, Former Student: [through interpreter] The head scarf isn't an object that represents a political party or a movement. In my opinion, it's not an instrument of propaganda. For me, the head scarf is about being religious and is a symbol of Islam.
1st GIRL: I am not dangerous. I wasn't dangerous, and I am not dangerous.
NARRATOR: The vice rector of Istanbul University played a central role in enforcing the head scarf ban. She is Nur Serter.
NUR SERTER, Vice Rector, Istanbul University: It was not only a matter of head scarf. With the head scarf, many other things have started to take place in- at the universities. For example, the students, they don't want examinations or classes on Fridays.
There are many mosques around Istanbul University, but students, instead of going to mosques, they wanted to do their praying at the corridors. And they published some magazines saying that they are coming to the university to fight for an Islamic state. So day by day, these demands increase. And of course, afterwards, some limitations took place.
ELIF ANTALYALI, Former Student: [through interpreter] When the ban started, I was in my fourth year of medical school. On that day, just as I went into class and sat in my chair, my teacher came over and told me I had to leave. For half an hour or so, I tried talking to him, but they called the police. They grabbed me and carried me out.
NARRATOR: The police moved in to break up the demonstrations.
NILUFER GOLE, Sociologist: Islamic movement, in a way, follows the principle of identity movements that we observe in the West. That means as a social movement, they don't want to be assimilated to the principles of Western modernity. They have said, "No, we want to be more even Muslim than what you expect." You know, there is this kind of exaggeration of this Islamic identity that we see today.
Islam wants to be modern not in the Western way, but Islam. So they are trying to tell us, like "black is beautiful" formula, Islam is beautiful, and trying to be a reference point in different sets of civilizations.
NARRATOR: These women began to work for a human rights group, counseling other students caught in the same situation and campaigning against the head scarf ban. But rather than the ban being lifted, the head scarf became the focus of a political crisis.
In 1999, Merve Kavaci, a 30-year old U.S.-educated software engineer with dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship, was elected as a deputy for the Islamic Party. She had worn a head scarf throughout her campaign, but when she attended the swearing-in ceremony, the Parliament erupted. Her fellow deputy was Nazli Ilichak.
NAZLI ILICHAK: When we walked into the room, perhaps 120 deputies just stand up and began to shout, "Out, Merve Kavaci! Out! Out! Out!"
NARRATOR: After 45 minutes, recess was declared and Merve Kavaci was forced to leave the Parliament building. Within two weeks, she was stripped of her Turkish citizenship. Two years later, her party was shut down.
While we were filming in June of 2001, the Islamists were re-forming into two parties, a traditional and a reform wing.
MURAT MERCAN, Assoc. Prof, Bilkent Univ.: This is the press conference of the traditionals. We want to listen to what he says.
NARRATOR: Leading reformer Abdullah Gull has worked in Islamic politics for the last decade. Murat Mercan is his main adviser.
MURAT MERCAN: I personally, you know, have to emphasize the fact that Islam can play along with democracy. And that is why we want to be very successful. If a Turkish example is not successful, I would say that Muslims will become more radicals. If you can't express yourself, your views, your values in a democratic way, how else can you express them?
[www.pbs.org: More on Islam in secular Turkey]
NARRATOR: The head scarf ban remains in force in Turkey today.
Back in Malaysia, Hadi Awang is a conservative Muslim leader who has come to power through the democratic process. His Friday sermons regularly attract around 5,000 people. Some travel over 100 miles to hear him.
IMAM HAJI ABDUL HADI BIN HJ. AWANG, Chief Minister, Terengganau State: [subtitles] After eating, say "Praise to God." After drinking, say "`Praise to God." Always recite the Qur'an to strengthen the soul. When our soul is weak, it can be manipulated by Satan.
NARRATOR: In 1999, Hadi Awang was elected chief minister of Malaysia's northeastern state of Terengganau. With 15 percent of the national vote, his party now forms the main opposition to Malaysia's sitting government.
IMAM HAJI ABDUL HADI BIN HJ. AWANG: [through interpreter] Islam successfully created a large empire for more than a thousand years. This indicates that Islam has the ability not only to be the religion of an individual, but also the religion of a country that rules with justice.
What is important is that we want to be given the opportunity, through democracy, to implement Islam in our government.
NARRATOR: The chief minister's party is calling for the implementation of full Sharia law, for Malaysia to become an Islamic state.
CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, Int'l Movement for a Just World: At the root of it, it's a desire to live as a Muslim because the state is a vital ingredient in shaping the environment in which you live.
NARRATOR: According to Chandra Muzaffar, the Islamic Party's popularity stems from uneven development and limited political participation.
CHANDRA MUZAFFAR: Muslims here, as elsewhere, very often feel comfortable about expressing dissent through Islam because they associate Islam with the quest for an ideal.
NARRATOR: Here in Kuala Lumpur, the government has responded to the Islamic Party's popularity not by repression but by becoming more Islamic itself. They have introduced interest-free Islamic banking, created a new Islamic university and given Sharia courts greater autonomy. While criminal cases are tried in secular courts, family law is administered by Islamic judges.
The changes have not been welcomed by all Muslims, especially women. Aida Melly has been trying to get a divorce for six years. It began seven and a half years into an arranged marriage, when she heard rumors about her husband's behavior.
AIDA MELLY: What happened was I gave birth, and then I heard stories that he was getting married to someone else, but I didn't believe anybody. Then one day I confronted him, and he said yes.
NARRATOR: Under Islamic law in Malaysia, Muslim men may marry up to four women.
AIDA MELLY: As the months progressed, he became more and more abusive, and then there was a quarrel and he actually punched me. The reason he punched me was because I asked for money for the nursery.
NARRATOR: Aida hired a lawyer and took her case to one of Kuala Lumpur's Sharia courts. Under Sharia law here, men have the automatic right to divorce, but women must prove their case before a judge.
ZAINAH ANWAR, Women's Rights Activist: You said in your email that this would be your last attempt to go through the courts.
AIDA MELLY: Yes, final attempt for a divorce. I should get it because this is the proper procedure.
NARRATOR: Aida meets with her friend, women's rights activist, Zainah Anwar.
ZAINAH ANWAR: Aida first came to me because of the problem that she has in getting a divorce. Her husband does not want to give her a divorce, even though he has married another women without her knowledge and has children with that other woman, and even though he's violent to her both physically and mentally. So on many grounds, yeah, under Islamic family law, she has a right to a divorce.
NARRATOR: Zainah gave Aida some books on women's rights under Malaysia's Islamic Law.
AIDA MELLY: I read these books. This is the Islamic family law. This one is the Sharia enactments.
ZAINAH ANWAR: You know, she told us that, you know, it was, like, with the reading, you know, that she had, that she finally, you know, realized what her rights are and realized that her lawyer had not given her the best advice.
NARRATOR: Aida fired her lawyer and began to represent herself in court.
AIDA MELLY: This is myself and my ex-husband.
NARRATOR: Six months later, the court upheld her claims against her husband and granted her a divorce.
AIDA MELLY: This caused a stir in the society, actually, this article, especially among the men. They were heard discussing about this. They said something like, "Now Muslim women, they know their rights," you know? "Watch out!"
ZAINAH ANWAR: The lower court had granted her divorce, but the husband appealed against that divorce, and this is where the problem begins.
NARRATOR: Ever since, Aida has been fighting her husband's appeal.
ZAINAH ANWAR: Even though the law says that a woman can initiate a divorce, apply for a divorce, can initiate divorce, many of the judges did not want to give women a divorce for as long as the husband doesn't agree.
NARRATOR: Today Aida is returning to the Sharia court to file an affidavit she hopes will bring her case to a close.
It was cases like Aida's that led Zainah Anwar to challenge interpretations of Islamic law. She lived in the United States for five years, earning master's degrees in journalism and international affairs at Tufts. But her interest in women's rights began at home.
ZAINAH ANWAR: This is a picture of my parents- my father, my mother. He was a man of integrity, of incredible principles, honesty, loyalty. But I think at the same time, it's because of him, too, I think I became a feminist, partly - maybe a lot - because he was such a patriarch of the family. He was a very old-fashioned man, where he expects the woman in the house to do everything, to serve him on hand and foot. That had a great influence, I think, you know, in that growing sense of, "This is not right. This is not fair."
NARRATOR: Zainah helped establish a research and advocacy group called Sisters in Islam. Through letters to newspapers and memoranda to government officials, these Muslim women are challenging traditional understandings of Islam. It makes them a controversial organization.
ZAINAH ANWAR: -the one at the top is over an article that I think one of the international press agencies wrote about our Islamic family law workshop. "Where Islamic matters are concerned, this organization is the most inappropriate source of information, and I think it should be banned." [laughter]
NARRATOR: Sisters in Islam first met together in 1988.
ZAINAH ANWAR: But as we went on, we felt that working with law alone was not enough because so much of the gender bias that informs the law comes from an understanding of religion that discriminates against women. We felt that we had to go back to the Qur'an. We had to go back to the revealed text of the religion to find out whether the text actually supports the ill treatment and oppression of women.
AIDA MELLY: I actually found solace in the Qur'an. And then, when I started working on my affidavits, actually I've become closer, and I have faith that it's a very, very good religion. Only that the problem is with the Sharia courts. They should make exceptions in these matters because this is involving lives, involving thousands of women and children, you know? It involves suffering, you know, and that is not the true Islam.
ZAINAH ANWAR: We found, you know, that it is not Islam that discriminates against women. It is not the verses in the Qur'an. It is the way that these verses have been interpreted by men living in patriarchal societies, who wish to maintain their dominance and their superiority and control over women.
NARRATOR: Aida arrives at the Sharia court, but faces a long delay.
AIDA MELLY: The judge and the registrar is busy. [unintelligible] told me to go away. It was just, "Oh, well, Aida, you're here. We are busy. We have these guests." So I don't know. We'll see.
NARRATOR: A bigger problem for Aida is Sharia law itself. The process of legal interpretation - or ijtihad - among Sunni Muslim scholars came to halt some 750 years ago. Their opinions have been accepted as definitive ever since.
ZAINAH ANWAR: The problem is that these interpretations have been elevated to be the word of God, as if they are divine, when actually, they are only merely human effort at understanding the word of God. And just as the context of that time, in the 12th century, influenced how these men interpreted the word of God, the changing circumstances of our lives today have to influence in the way we interpret the text today.
NARRATOR: The administrator overseeing Aida's case is Abu Bakar Daud.
ABUBAKAR DAUD, Court Registrar: [through interpreter] Islamic law is suitable for all centuries. It has been interpreted by Islamic scholars, and they have interpreted it with respect to their situation or lifetime. But even now, the current situation hasn't changed that much from the time of the scholars.
NARRATOR: It is an inflexible approach to Sharia law that is forcing many Muslims to go back to the Qur'an. There they find, for example, that a verse used to sanction polygamy comes with an important condition.
ZAINAH ANWAR: The question that we raise is, how come one part of the verse that says marry up to four is universally known, is codified into law, is practiced in much of the Muslim world, and the other part of the verse, that says, "If you feel you cannot do justice, marry only one," is forgotten, pushed aside, and most Muslims do not know that part of the verse?
AIDA MELLY: It says specifically you may marry four. However, you may never be fair. And so if you cannot be fair and if you fear the wrath of God, of Allah, so therefore you will just marry one.
My ex-husband, he's married with two children. I hope that, you know, I can have another go at it, you know, because I am still young, you know? Yeah.
ABU BAKAR DAUD: [through interpreter] Probably, the difficulty she faced over this long period of time was a punishment from God for sins she may have committed in the past. We believe this is God's test for her to strengthen her faith, to be among the best women in Islam, a true Muslim woman.
NARRATOR: Six months after we met Aida, the court had yet to grant her a divorce.
[www.pbs.org: More on women and Islam]
NARRATOR: Perhaps nowhere else in the world is Sharia Law causing as much controversy as it is in northern Nigeria. This is Kano. Once a trading center on the trans-Saharan crossroad, it is now a city of three million people. Today, one of the first things a visitor notices here is all the mini-vans with stickers of cultural heroes in their windows, among them Indian film stars and Usama Bin Laden.
Islam came to northern Nigeria some 700 years ago. Sharia penal codes were enforced until 1960, when punishments such as amputations and floggings were outlawed. Then, following the defeat of Nigeria's military dictatorship in 1999, a resurgent Islamic movement backed the re-implementation of Sharia criminal laws across 12 states in the country's predominantly Muslim north.
Dr. Datti Ahmad is president of the Supreme Council that oversees the implementation of Sharia law here. He agreed to talk to us but refused to be seen in public with a Western film crew.
Dr. DATTI AHMAD: Islam is our culture. We have no other culture. Anything that is un-Islamic you'll find is not accepted. Secularism is a Christian concept. We are not Christians. We are Muslims. And in Islam, there is no separation between what is Caesar's and what is God's. God is the only Caesar.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA, Attorney: Sharia law is Islam. It is the penal and the civil component of the life of a Muslim.
NARRATOR: Local attorney Muzzammil Hanga says corruption and crime had reached such high levels that implementation of a Sharia penal code with its harsh punishments was an urgent necessity.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: Armed robbery was always increasing in this country. The disparity between the rich and the poor is there. The prisons are choked up. So when there was a hintthat any part of the country, any state, can chose a legal system different from the English common law legal system and, you know, establish it and practice it, people were, like- you know they had been freed. They had been released from a chain.
The response is overwhelming. By 8:00 o'clock in the morning on that day, not only the ground but all the nine major roads leading to the ground were choked up.
NARRATOR: Hanga and other local Muslim leaders arrived in central Kano to announce the implementation of the new penal code. They were met by a crowd of tens of thousands, Muslims hoping to end crime and corruption.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: The most common thought probably was that at last we are free now. I believe the clamor for the implementation of Sharia is like an open show of defiance against the government, which is perceived by the Muslims as the sole agent of corruption in this country.
FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, Founder, American Sufi Muslim Assn.: Much of what we hear of events to apply Sharia law is what we see in Nigeria, for instance, or even in Pakistan, is a desire by much of the people to see the general principles of justice followed. It is a desire by the people to see their system of laws be more equitable. It is a call for correction.
NARRATOR: The Islamization of northern Nigeria has increased tensions between Muslim majority and Christian minority communities that were already divided along tribal lines. Christians are not subject to Sharia law, but there have been deadly riots where Christian restaurants and bars serving alcohol have been destroyed.
And in October of 2001, religious clashes were triggered when Muslims protesting the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan went rampaging into a Christian neighborhood.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: They went into the marketplace. They burned some of the shops of non-Muslims, and the non-Muslims retaliated. They burned some of the shops of Muslims, and the whole thing got out of control. I would say around 200 to 300 people died.
It is sad. This country from the beginning, actually, was designed to accommodate people of different religious beliefs, so we condemn that. And we urge people to understand that, as human beings, they have to live with other people.
Dr. DATTI AHMAD: [subtitles] We educate our children.
NARRATOR: Although no reliable statistics are compiled, Ahmad claims that Sharia is working because the crime rate here has plummeted.
Dr. DATTI AHMAD: You see, the purpose of Islam is to scare you from committing the crime, not to punish you. The purpose is to make the punishment so scary that nobody goes near it.
NARRATOR: The hope is that Islam will create a new generation of God-fearing Muslims.
Dr. DATTI AHMAD: Islam is against drug addiction. Drug addiction is heavily punished. Islam is also against homosexuality. Homosexuality is a crime under Islam and is punishable by death. Sexual intercourse outside marriage is forbidden. It is punished by either a hundred strokes of the cane, in the case of unmarried people, or by death, in the case of married people.
ITN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Safiya Hussaini's sentence was to be partly buried in sand and then stoned to death.
NARRATOR: One recent adultery case has made international news. Under Islamic law, stringent rules of evidence require either a free confession by the accused or the existence of four eyewitnesses. In this case, evidence that is not common to all Sharia courts was applied.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: This is the case of a woman who might have indulged in adultery. There is no proof of her indulging in the act at the time they were doing it. The only proof that worked against her was a baby born out of wedlock. A man, by nature, cannot conceive. He cannot have a baby. So it is sad. And here, if there is any double standard, then 'sit not from the point of view of Sharia. Probably, you would now accuse God of showing double standards. I think you are safer not do that.
NARRATOR: Sharia criminal law is practiced in only a handful of Muslim countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But here, interpretations of Sharia have shocked many people, including many Muslims, around the world. And as political pressures mounted in the Hussaini case from within and without Nigeria, the courts backed off.
Safiya Hussaini was pardoned because it was determined her adultery occurred before the reintroduction of the Sharia criminal code. Still, attorney Hanga proudly drove us through Kano and pointed out that there are now three dozen Sharia courts operating here.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: There are in all 36 Sharia courts created after the re-implementation of Sharia in Kano state. Two of them are here, one here, and then another one there.
NARRATOR: We asked a judge to read some recent cases from his books.
JUDGE: [reading] "Based on your confessional statement made by you, Omaru Ahmad, saying that you have taken alcohol drinks"-
NARRATOR: This was a case of a man who confessed to drinking a beer.
JUDGE: [reading] -"you are hereby sentenced you to the punishment of 80 lashes."
NARRATOR: Next we visited another court, where a murder case was being tried.
[court proceedings - subtitles]
JUDGE: Let's call the first witness.
LAWYER: As a witness, you will swear an oath to tell the truth because of God. Raise your right hand up.
WITNESS: In this court, because of justice, I will tell the truth because of God.
NARRATOR: The victim's brother is accusing this man, Sanusi, of murder.
LAWYER: [subtitles] Is that Sanusi here?
WITNESS: [subtitles] He is here.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: Sanusi was brought before this honorable court, alleged to have committed the offense of intentional homicide. He went to the house of Bashir Jebril. He made it admittedly to kill him, duck him up, knock him on the ground, use broken blocks on his head, chuck his eye with screwdriver.
This is intentional killing. The reason he gave is that he was suspecting Bashir to have an affair with his father's wife. If you go through the Holy Qur'an, God Almighty says, "Whoever kills shall be killed." If you cut, if you chop away somebody's hand, your hand should be chopped away. Eye for eye. Nose for nose. Ear for an ear. But if you kill, you will be killed.
NARRATOR: No judgment has yet been reached, but even if convicted, his life may still be spared. Under Sharia law here, the victim's family can mercifully decide to waive the death penalty and accept a monetary settlement instead.
We returned to attorney Hanga's house for dinner that night. While his family broke their once-a-week fast, he explained why he believes that Westerners find Sharia law troubling.
MUZZAMMIL SANI HANGA: We look at the things from different mirrors. In the West, I think the emphasis is on human freedom. An individual is entitled to freedom to do what he likes, even if what he likes falls short of the moral scape.
The overall emphasis in Islamic law is on communal harmony, the freedom of a community to live, without one rough element, you know, destroying life for them just because he wants to live happily. We have on our own volition accepted that the provisions of Islam are cogent enough to govern human life on earth.
And what is more, there is security. Once Sharia is there, people go to bed without even locking the front door. You don't fear any thief coming in. The only thing you fear now is just the small goats or chicken coming in to disturb your sleep.
I believe that the West wanted to always show that this notion of barbarism with Islamic law is actually true. With the event of September 11th, the West is frantic, trying to establish two worlds- the free, civilized, forward-looking Western worlds and the backward, uncivilized Islamic world. I believe the reaction in the West increases the resolve of Muslims in this part of the country. People have to be allowed to believe in what they want to believe.
NARRATOR: The rejection of Western penal codes and the imposition of strict Sharia punishments may be unsettling to some. A very different concern is the popularity here of a man known widely as an international terrorist.
Dr. DATTI AHMAD: [through interpreter] You ask why you see bin Laden's pictures all over the place. Why is this so? I say he is extremely popular with the people. And these are the ordinary people, the lorry drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers. Follow any series of buses in Kano, you will see his pictures because they regard him as a hero.
I've not talked to any one of them, but I can understand their feelings. They feel, here is one man who is giving the U.S. a run for their money, the one country that is killing Muslims all over the world, the one country that is regarded by these people, in their understanding, as the worst enemy of Muslims and Islam, the one country that is giving Israel $3 billion every year- arms, airplanes to go and kill Muslims, defenseless Muslims in refugee camps. Here is one man who is giving them a run for their money, so they love him.
NARRATOR: In 1998, bin Laden struck here, at the U.S. embassy in Kenya, East Africa. Since the 1980s, press reports of attacks on Western targets across the world have left some people convinced that all Muslims are anti-Western.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD, Assoc. Prof. SUNY Binghamton: I don't think the average Muslim is against the average Westerner. I think Muslims- I think a lot of Muslims are against Western politics, Western governments, because of what they perceive that Western governments do and the influence they have in their countries. Pure and simple.
NARRATOR: Among the first places where Islam was used to legitimize a violent response to Western influence was here in Egypt. In the 1960s, many young educated Muslims were increasingly dissatisfied with the failure of socialism under Gamel Abdul Nasser and capitalism under Anwar Sadat to produce social and economic gains. The Islamic scholars of Al Azhar University, too, had lost credibility after submitting to state control.
New calls for justice and reform came from a growing number of independent mosques. Some sheikhs railed against the government and its Western allies. They called for an Islamic state that returned to the ethical principles of the Sharia. Among them was the so-called "blind sheikh," Omar Abdul Rahman. He preached jihad.
MOHAMMAD KAMAL, Political Scientist: "Jihad" actually has different interpretations. Jihad means the ability to control yourself. And this is, according to the Prophet, the highest degree or highest level of jihad. But also it means you fight, you know, the outside enemy.
NARRATOR: Sharia law condemns the killing of the young, the elderly and the innocent, but it does permit Muslims to defend the Muslim community if it comes under attack.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD: Some of those people who Americans call terrorists consider that they are fighting against those who fight against them. I don't want to stress this too far, but we do have a problem of interpretation. A text can be interpreted differently by different people, and those interpretations become legitimate to those who interpret the text in that manner. So we have several interpretations. Who's to say who's right?"
NARRATOR: Under the Egyptian militants' interpretation of jihad, anyone who prevented them from implementing their vision of Islam became a legitimate target.
MOHAMMAD KAMAL: Those who interpret jihad as, you know, a tool to change the political system believe that, you know, there is no other way to change the political system but through violence.
NARRATOR: President Sadat clamped down.
NEWSCASTER: The demonstrations against President Sadat have been building up for some time. This weekend, the president's formidable security force moved in to detain religious leaders. Opposition newspapers were closed down and journalists and politicians detained in a sweeping operation that was the best indication of the seriousness of the opposition. The president, though, is unrepentant.
ANWAR SADAT, President, Egypt: It is a purge.
NARRATOR: A member of the Islamic opposition at the time was Montasser El Zayat.
MONTASSER EL ZAYAT, Attorney for Gama'a Islamiya,: [through interpreter] Sadat became annoyed with the Islamist groups. He felt they'd gone beyond what was permitted. Sadat tried to get rid of the Islamic societies, but they were quicker in getting rid of him. Some of its members killed him on the reviewing stand on October 6th, 1981.
NARRATOR: Among the 300 people put on trial after Sadat's assassination was Sheik Rahman and a medical doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who would become bin Laden's second in command.
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: We are Muslims who believe in their religion! We tried our best to establish this Islamic state and Islamic society!
NARRATOR: The repression of Muslim activists that followed Sadat's killing precipitated two decades of violence in Egypt. The attacks culminated in November, 1997, when militants massacred 58 tourists at the ancient site of Luxor.
MOHAMMAD KAMAL, Professor, Cairo University: They say that tourists are the infidels and, you know, they don't believe in Islam and whatever, so they are legitimate targets. But I think they were more motivated by the fact that- or the idea that if they hit the regime, the economic sources of the regime, then they achieved part of their goal.
NARRATOR: The following year, the militants took jihad even further. In 1998, Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri called on all Muslims to take up arms against the United States, which they accused of attacking the umma, the worldwide Muslim community.
AKBAR MUHAMMAD, Assoc. Prof. SUNY Binghamton: If a part of that umma is attacked, then all of the umma is responsible for the defense of that area. Now, this means that if the Palestinians are attacked, if the Iranians are attacked, if the Iraqis are attacked, indeed, if Muslims in this country are attacked, then Muslims elsewhere should come to the aid of those Muslims.
So as long as Muslims continue to be attacked, and they have been attacked throughout for a long- for centuries, et cetera, then the fight continues.
[www.pbs.org: Read the full interview]
NARRATOR: By 2001, Usama bin Laden was planning an attack on America. It would create greater suspicions of Muslims than perhaps any event in history.
In America, the night of September 11th brought crowds onto the streets. Across the country, Muslims were verbally and physically abused. Some mosques were vandalized. In Bridgeview, Illinois, these protesters were moving towards the local mosque when police moved in and blocked their path. Today the police still patrol outside the Bridgeview mosque and the Muslim schools next door.
For American Muslims, numbering five to seven million, the issues are starkly different than they are in majority Muslim countries. Here it's about getting along as another American minority.
Safaa Zarzour came to the united states from Syria 16 years ago as a student. He became a teacher, and today he is principal of the Muslim Universal School next door to the Bridgeview Mosque. After the terrorist attacks, he received a hate letter.
SAFAA ZARZOUR, School Principal: And it's- it's basically about five, six sentences full of profanities and insults and threatening remarks. I don't know who sent it, but obviously, it's someone who knows that I am the principal of this school because they said, "I am going to blow up your bleep school."
NARRATOR: The letter, laced with obscenities, was turned over to the FBI.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: I mean, we are humans, so you go through all kind of emotions. I would say the first week I was afraid. Definitely, I was afraid, because, I mean, even- you know, I find myself taking my children, my wife and going up to the second floor of the house for fear of somebody doing something through the window of the first floor. But at no time did I feel like that's going to alter anything. I mean, I felt like that's part of life. It's part of being different in America, I guess.
NARRATOR: Even before September 11th, there were tensions. One incident happened in the town next door to Bridgeview- Palos Heights, Illinois.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD, Assoc. Professor, DePaul University: The Mosque Foundation community grew so quickly that people were looking for other venues and other places to put a mosque and put a community center.
NARRATOR: Dr. Aminah McCloud is a Muslim and an expert in Islamic studies. She's built her career studying American Muslim communities. She watched the Palos Heights controversy start two years ago, when the Muslims found a place for the new mosque, an empty church.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: This church over here, Christ Community Church, is the place that had been up for sale. And Muslims moved to buy it, and all hell broke loose. All of a sudden, the township wanted to keep if for itself. And as it turned out, when the reporters and people all came out, the real issue was that they did not want Muslims to buy this property.
One woman here in Palos Heights, her first response was, "Oh, so they are going to put that tower on top of the church and start singing that song every time there's prayer." You know, that is her image.
NARRATOR: At public hearings, some residents who objected to the mosque proposed a recreation center in its place.
RESIDENT: The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview has over 60,000 members- 60,000 members! Where are you going to put the traffic?
NARRATOR: Other members of the community spoke up against what they called open racism.
FIRST WOMAN: I shudder to think of the conversations going on in Palos Heights homes about the issues of Muslims coming to our community. These are the conversations that impart our values to our children.
SECOND WOMAN: I have heard concerns that the mosque community will meet on a different day. Good. Less congestion on Sunday. There was a concern that they will school children there. Well, that's a nasty habit! I've heard a concern that the Muslim people are too conservative or their treatment of women restrictive. Are those sins worse than bigotry?
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: You had the ministers - not all of them, but several key figures - saying, "Wait a minute." You know, "These are our neighbors. They have the right to buy property here." You had other people on the city's council saying, "Absolutely not. These people are practicing a demonic religion," just ages-old nonsense about Islam coming up.
NARRATOR: The Muslims accepted a monetary settlement and agreed not to buy the church, but still they went to court, charging discrimination.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: Then it has gone now all way to a federal judge saying, "I want you to enter into some inter-religious dialogue. And after you do this for X amount of time, let us see what changes." And I think that judge, whoever he or she is, just ought to be given a Nobel Prize. And even though they ordered it, the people in the community had to think enough of their community to take up this challenge, and they have.
NARRATOR: McCloud has been advising the Muslim community in Palos Heights and observing the interfaith dialogue, which continues while the case awaits trial.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: How have you managed to make this difference in faith work? What is it?
OMAR: There was a substantial number of Christian-Americans here who felt the same way we do as Muslims, that we have the right to practice our faith.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: But it was this instance- how long have you lived here?
OMAR: Actually, by now, 28 years.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: Did you know these people before?
OMAR: I didn't know these people before, no.
McNICHOL: It's not that it was perfect because we did have- we had struggles. There was controversy amongst the group, but we kept coming back to "Why are we here?"
NARRATOR: The Christians found they were the ones with the most to learn. The Muslims became teachers about Islam and how to understand differences and similarities between their faiths.
OMAR: One issue that we had to confront, that we all worship this one and the same God. You know, we had trouble, as Muslims, with the Trinity. If there's only one God, how come we have the Trinity, you know? And we're not going to get into that-
McNICHOL: Don't start! [laughter]
OMAR: You know? But we all believe-
McNICHOL: That was the longest meeting!
OMAR: You know, we all believe in God. We all believe in the life after death. We all believe in the angels. We all believe in the Day of Judgment. Now, you know, there is more emphasis in Christianity upon Christ as the God incarnation. And in our Islam, the Qur'an is equivalent to Christ. The Qur'an to us is the actual word of God.
MIKE: I wish I could be more generous in what I say, but I do stop short of saying that we all worship the same God because I'm not sure what it means to say that we all worship the same God, but we don't all believe in the crucifixion. And I can say that I see God in my Muslim friends, but I can't quite say that we worship the same God. I can't. It'd be easier if I could.
MORSI: I want to make-
MIKE: It'd be easier if I could.
MORSI: The Qur'an teaches that God is the God of Adam, the God of Noah, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, is the very same God of Mohammed. The Qur'an emphasizes that all these prophets were Muslims, meaning they submitted their will to the will of the one and only true God.
My presentation in a church- sometimes I ask the audience of the church to recite the Lord's Prayer. You know, they are very proud to recite for me what Jesus instructed them to teach- "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
After they are done, I say this is Islam in a capsule - as simple as that - because the emphasis here- whom we call Allah, you call the Father. The only difference between you, as a Christian, and us, as Muslims, that we put all our emphasis on that Father.
[www.pbs.org: More on Islam, Christianity and Judaism]
NARRATOR: The interfaith dialogue continues. They meet once a month.
In America, the Muslim population includes immigrants and those born here, a large number of whom are African-Americans. The groups don't always get along. We witnessed this during a discussion at Dr. Aminah McCloud's house.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD, Assoc. Professor, DePaul University: Black folk had to be concerned with it because-
NARRATOR: McCloud was joined by her family and two friends- one of Pakistani descent, who had lost his job at a Muslim relief organization when the federal government froze its assets after September 11th.
FAROUK: My parents came here. You know, they worked. I mean, in Canada, I mean, you know, they- they earned an honest living. And all of a sudden, today I'm told that, you know, without any reason, that, you know, you work for a so-called organization, and you can't do this anymore. And I still can't come to terms with it.
NARRATOR: The federal government froze the assets of his employer, the Global Relief Foundation, alleging it had secret evidence that they were helping to finance terrorist activities. The foundation denies the charge. McCloud feels the civil rights of innocent immigrants are being violated and that all American Muslims should be concerned. McCloud's own daughter sees it differently.
DAUGHTER: As far as I'm concerned, Arabs, they came over here. They didn't- they had no bonding or care or wanted to have any type of even Muslim relationship with African-Americans. I don't think that African-Americans, who haven't- who've always had problems with civil rights, should be sticking their neck out for a group of people-
MAN: Asking for trouble.
DAUGHTER: -asking for trouble for a group of people who have done nothing for us, period.
NARRATOR: McCloud herself converted to Islam in 1966. She is now an associate professor of Islamic studies at Chicago's De Paul University.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: -because the African-American Muslim community is the largest ethnic group of Muslims in the country-
NARRATOR: She chose her field because she saw a special need for accurate knowledge about the African-American Muslim community.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: It occurred to me in graduate school that everybody thought all African-American Muslims belong to the Nation of Islam, which I thought was probably the funniest thing I had ever heard because I knew no members in the Nation of Islam, but I knew thousands of African-American Muslims, so-
NARRATOR: In fact, the majority of African-American Muslims belong not to the Nation of Islam but to the Muslim American Society led by Imam W. Deen Mohammed. The total number of African-American Muslims in all groups is estimated between 1.5 and 4.5 million.
AMINAH BEVERLY McCLOUD: As historians and other researchers uncover a very rich Muslim past in slavery, they're still looking at in 2002 Christianity is still about race. It's still the blond-haired, white Jesus with blue eyes. They're saying, "No, I'm not worshiping white men." For some others who were nothing, you know, I mean not inside of a structured religious community, it is "I want to be inside of a structured religious community." So African-American conversion, a lot like Latino American conversion, is sometimes from dissatisfaction, other times from searching.
DIA RICHARDSON: I was, like, searching for something better, a better life.
NARRATOR: Dia Richardson of Los Angeles was raised a Christian. In November of 2001, she became one of an estimated 20,0000 Americans a year who are converting to Islam.
DIA RICHARDSON: I was having a lot of problems and wasn't living right. I was running around, clubbing every night, drinking, smoking weed.
NARRATOR: Dia went to a wedding at the King Fahd mosque in Culver City. She'd never even been inside a mosque before.
DIA RICHARDSON: It was beautiful when I walked in. Right when I walked in- I don't who it was that day, but he was saying the addan, the call to prayer. It made me feel really good. It was, like- it made me stop. And I kept saying, "What is that? What's that called? What's he saying?" And you know, it sounded really beautiful when he was singing. That was the first time that I had ever seen prayer being done inside a Masjid.
NARRATOR: So a month or so later, Dia made the decision to become a Muslim. Her children already attended a Muslim day care center in east L.A. run by her God-aunt, Khadijah.
DIA RICHARDSON: And when I drove over here to bring my kids, I walked in the door, and I saw, you know, her and everyone. And they're covered, and all the little kids in their covers. And I just looked at her and I said, "I want to take Shahada." And then she was, like, "What?"
KHADIJAH: Shahada is the declaration of faith. That was telling her-
DIA RICHARDSON: That I wanted-
KHADIJAH: -"I want to become a Muslim."
DIA RICHARDSON: -to believe in one God. And I said, "OK, give me my hijab. Give me your big old dress, and everything." And everyone was, like, "Oh, my!~" You know, like, "You're going to cover your head up, and you're going to"- they didn't expect me to, like, come in full-blown like that.
NARRATOR: Since she converted, Dia's been staying at her God-aunt's house.
NARRATOR: At Aunt Khadijah's, she lives in a Muslim world. But past the front door, it's a heavily Christian neighborhood.
DIA RICHARDSON: Like, here, as you can see, I'm surrounded by- Jesus is everywhere. There's churches on every corner.
NARRATOR: Dia is still dealing with the reaction to her conversion from friends and colleagues who knew her before.
DIA RICHARDSON: We're on our way to the Sliver Slipper Beauty Salon. I used to work there for many years. They were really shocked when they first found out that I converted. And they asked me, "Well, how can you be a Muslim? Muslims don't date." And they think that the women are deprived.
Hello? Hi, Becky.
BECKY: How're you doing?
DIA RICHARDSON: I'm fine. How are you?
BECKY: Blessed in the name of Jesus!~
DIA RICHARDSON: Were you shocked when you see me? OK, everybody was shocked, yeah.
FRIEND: Yeah, everybody was shocked, and-
DIA RICHARDSON: Do you think I'm more calm?
FRIEND: I have to be around you a little longer. Like, we have to go out and eat. [laughter] But so far, you seem like you're a little calmer, yeah, because even you- even when you come in here, you're, like, "Ayeee!"
DIA RICHARDSON: I was, like, asleep by 9:00.
FRIEND: That's hilarious. That's totally not you. Still, like I say, I'm going to- we're going to what- by Christmas what's going on. [laughter] But hopefully, if it's going to just help you with that and help you be more focused and calm, I'm all for it.
DIA RICHARDSON: I feel not apart form the community, I feel different. I feel different. You know, to be a good Muslim is like to be a good Christian or to be a good Jew.
NARRATOR: As an African-American, Dia made the choice to become a Muslim. For immigrants, the choice is how to negotiate their traditions within a secular American culture. Back at the Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois, Safaa Zarzour sees living in two cultures as both challenge and opportunity.
SAFAA ZARZOUR, School Principal: Our vision and our dream is that there is something that's called the American Muslim identity forming with those kids, just like any other religious or ethnic group.
NARRATOR: There are now over 400 Muslim days schools across America.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: Very quickly, I realized how much Arab and Muslim children who have been born and raised in America- how much they face because many times, their parents are immigrants, and they don't know a lot of what goes on in the society.
And those kids kind of feel like they would like to make their mom and dad happy, but also there is this society that they are faced with and they have to live in, and it's very hard to kind of negotiate those two things. And I feel like I have balanced the two, and I can transfer that somehow.
[in classroom] You're going to write two journal entries. First entry is going to be how your life was before factories. Pretend it was-
We teach them what Islam stands for as a religion, the way, you know, the average Muslim around the world practices it. At the same time, we show them within the American society those beautiful things that are at the heart of Islam and show them how there is no contradiction in essence. I see more Islamic values in this country than I see in some of the so-called Islamic countries. You know, at the heart of it is justice and fairness and the rule of law and equality before the law and those things.
NARRATOR: The school also makes a point of teaching the students about other religions.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: We do believe that Abraham is the father of all three religions, the father of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. And so we do feel that our kids- we have special responsibility to make them familiar with those two religions, in particular.
NARRATOR: Since September 11th, Zarzour has also been involved in dialogue with Muslims outside the school.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: Up until maybe a few months ago, my feeling was is that although there is the occasional personality or the occasional racist, in general, what we are experiencing is just what everybody else experience when they are a new community trying to put themselves together, trying to introduce themselves to the larger American society, to all other groups.
Now, from about September 11 until now, I feel like there's an added burden. I almost feel like we, as Muslims, may not have the same luxury that the Irish Catholics had or the Jews had or anybody else had, that those people had the luxury to develop. And finally, everybody look at them and say, "Yes, you are an American. Yeah, you are a Jew, but you are an American. Yes, you're a Catholic, but you're an American."
1st MAN AT MEETING: And this is, I mean, the only faith that I've seen. If somebody commits a crime and he's Muslim, it's Islam. You know, it's spread on the front page. You look, "Muslim commits a crime." You know, if Tom or John or somebody- it's not- they're not going to say, you know, "Catholic man commits crime" or a Jewish man. It's the way it is. I mean, you can complain about it or you can change it.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: To me, that is precisely what I worry about, is we become perpetual victims.
2nd MAN AT MEETING: The only thing that I know how to be is an American. That's the only thing that I know how to be is an American Muslim. When somebody questions my loyalty to this country, it's frustrating. But I believe communication is the key.
SAFAA ZARZOUR: I think people in this community have at some point decided that we are American Muslims, and that somehow we are going to function within those two realms and not limit ourselves to one or the other, and definitely not split our personality into two separate ones.
In fact, I look at Muslims in the United States as being in a very unique position to be able to produce a model for how Islam can be lived and how it can be practiced vis-a-vis other religions and other people.
NARRATOR: For some Muslims, building that new American identity has meant making personal decisions they'd never even considered before.
YASEMIN SAIB: Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, being a Muslim wasn't really an option. It wasn't really anything you thought about. You were required to live a Muslim life.
NARRATOR: Yasemin Saib moved to America with her parents 12 years ago. Now she's a New York marketing professional who has found her own way to be a Muslim.
YASEMIN SAIB: It wasn't until I came to the United States that my spiritual identity came into question for the very first time because I actually had the option of believing or not believing. I had the option of choosing to practice or not practice. It wasn't until about the last year that I have truly become very secure and comfortable with my connection to Islam.
NARRATOR: And that connection took a new turn after September 11th.
YASEMIN SAIB: I'm calling from Muslims Against Terrorism. It's an organization called Muslims Against Terrorism. He'll know it. Just write-
Muslims Against Terrorism came about the day after September 11th. We were completely in shock, paralyzed by the tragedy, of course. And a group of us young Muslim professionals from varying backgrounds basically emailed and called each other and said, "You know what? Enough is enough. We need to stop allowing extremists to dictate the public face of Islam."
We- most importantly, we didn't just offer this kind of dialectic just because we are doing PR. We backed ourselves up with Islamic theology because that is the same language that those extremists are using. One example is jihad that they claim that they are fighting. It is completely groundless. It was just purely, completely un-Islamic.
NARRATOR: Yasemin volunteers 8 to 10 hours a week. She makes presentations at churches, synagogues and to other groups. On this day, she was speaking to New York City public school students.
YASEMIN SAIB: Let's start getting some conversation going.
STUDENT: We also, like, kind of brainstormed stereotypes that we feel that are out there against Muslims and Arabs-
NARRATOR: The students had listed what they believed to be common prejudices about Muslims.
1st STUDENT: Go to the mosques. Pray to Allah. Next!
2nd STUDENT: Terrorists. Body odor. Own grocery stores. Own smoke shops. Women wear scarves. Women are uneducated. Men in jail. Don't eat pork. They're black. Wear nose rings. Must be married before having sex. A lot of children.
YASEMIN SAIB: Wow, this is intense! This is very good, actually. I would have to say that you've probably pretty much summed it up- I mean, summed up most of the general misconceptions and biases that people have of Arabs and Muslims. People who are not very well informed about Islam assume that Islam is an Arabic religion. They assume that all Muslims are Arabs and all Arabs are Muslims. Here's a fact. Only 13 percent of the entire Muslim population in the world are actually Arabs. So it's a very small percentage, OK?
What I feel my contribution, is to be able to at least bridge the gap, the intolerance that exists, the ignorance, the lack of knowledge about Islam, and just kind of put- put a new face to Islam.
This veil is not a representation of Islam. It is not. It is not required by Islam. It is not something that women have to wear.
NARRATOR: In America, Yasemin has chosen not to cover her hair except when she goes to the mosque or other religious activities. Sometimes other Muslims object.
YASEMIN SAIB: By virtue of the fact that I don't wear hijab, I'm automatically put into question every day, all the time. I may know a hundred times more about Islamic theology than another Muslim woman who chooses to wear hijab, but some parts of the Muslim community will probably take her more seriously over me because they associate Islamism with how much you cover.
NARRATOR: Yasemin learned much of what she knows about Islam from her father. He's a dental surgeon, now retired and divorced from Yasemin's mother. He lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
On this weekend home, the conversation turned to issues affecting Muslims abroad. There'd been a recent attack by Muslim extremists on a church in Pakistan. Father and daughter turned to a passage in the Qur'an discussing proper attitudes toward people of other faiths.
YASEMIN SAIB: So in other words, it puts the people of the Christians, where Christians priests and monks, treat them with their nearest with affection.
FATHER: That's exactly. And therefore, the fight between Muslims and non-Muslims- they said, "If you see any priests or monks in any religion, don't touch them at all."
YASEMIN SAIB: Yeah, and then what happens in Pakistan? They go into a church and then they blow people up.
FATHER: As I told you, Yasemin, this has nothing to do with Islam. This is-[on camera]
YASEMIN SAIB: I know, but Dad-
FATHER: -politic, because to kill person, any person - any person - is big sin, any person, religious or not religious, to kill anything.
YASEMIN SAIB: Yeah, but Dad, not everything- here's the- you know what I think is the biggest problem in the Muslim community? We're in a constant state of denial. We always say, "Oh, well," you know, "this is not religious, this is politics." We're such conspiracy theorists that we don't accept the fact that there are Muslims out there who sincerely do this because they believe in it. I mean, can't we accept that fact?
FATHER: I know that's you are right. This is not only Muslim and non-Muslim. This is the history of the world. I am very sorry, but what to do?
YASEMIN SAIB: Yeah, I know. Well, but you see, that's not good enough for me. "What to do" is- is the condition of the helpless. You know, you say, "Oh, well," you know, "what can we do about it?"
You know, it was- it was very hard to grapple with saying, "You know what? We need is to take responsibility. We need to be able to face the truth because" we can't change our future if we can't face the truth.
FATHER: But still, they are human beings. They can make mistakes, too.
[www.pbs.org: Explore American Muslims' stories]
NARRATOR: In America, Muslims like Yasemin and her father are relatively free to debate their faith and their politics, but they are largely removed from the rest of the Muslim world from which they emigrated.
It is in Muslim countries and Islamic states like Iran where the decisive battles are being fought. Here traditionalists and reformers, conservatives and militants are engaged in a daily struggle over who among them will define the future face of Islam. The last 20 years have seen Islamic states established in Sudan and Afghanistan, as well as in Iran, but it is here that the process of Islamization has had longest to mature.
Professor of Political Science Hadi Semati is an adviser to Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. Once Semati was a revolutionary student who supported the scholars' Islamization of Iran. He fondly remembers the idealism of his youth.
HADI SEMATI, Prof. Political Science, Tehran Univ.: We wanted to build a society where loyalty, community and a sense of belonging, and of course, a moral restraint on individual behavior would be strong. But at the same time, the banking system, economic systems, everything would be affected by that.
We didn't know the details of it, for sure, but we knew that we wanted to create this society of moral human beings and architect it in a way that would be the model, an ideal type of- a golden age Islam, so to speak.
NARRATOR: Today Semati hasn't lost his vision for a society rebuilt on Islamic principles, but he is rethinking how it can be achieved.
HADI SEMATI: The reform movement is about stripping out some of these excesses and misinterpretations and misperceptions of Islam and really going back to the core, which was essentially what we all strived for- that is, building a moral society in which people can flourish and can fulfill their potentials.
But it's not going to happen in 10 years, 15 years, 20. It's a long educational process. And that long educational process needs, actually, freedom of thought.
NARRATOR: In 1997, the promise of greater social and political freedom led to the landslide election victory of Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. His reformist agenda had special appeal for Iran's increasingly young population, and to women like Nazanin Shahrokni.
NAZANIN SHAHROKNI, Journalist: President Khatami was the only candidate who paid special attention to the empowerment of women and insisted that we must use women's power. We must use in our society because they are half of our population, and we have to use their energy.
I can tell you somehow what maybe most women want is to have more places in the public sphere, to see more positive attitudes toward them, because the society can remain religious, but at the same time, it can give women more place and more opportunity, more choices and, hopefully, more rights.
NARRATOR: Nazanin is a sociologist who writes for a magazine in Tehran called Zanan, or Woman.
NAZANIN SHAHROKNI: We are a monthly magazine dedicated to women's issues. And Zanan is well known for its reformist and, at the same time, feminist, at the same time, religious view about women.
NARRATOR: In Iran, working in the press takes courage. In 2001, some 15 journalists were imprisoned for challenging state policies. Zanan's editor, Shahla Sherkat, founded her magazine in 1992. It often covers sensitive issues, like AIDS, domestic violence and women's rights.
NAZANIN SHAHROKNI: Some say it was harmful for families because women started to fight with their husbands, after knowing what rights they had. But I guess that's like a patriarchal look at what Zanan has been doing because, well, if there are rights for women, they have to aware of it because, well, women are human, as men are, so they have to have same rights, equal rights. And so why not push for it?
NARRATOR: The push for reform in Iran is often undermined by hard-line scholars who still advocate obedience over individual choice. Hadi Semati is increasingly realistic about what political Islam can achieve.
HADI SEMATI, Prof. Political Science, Tehran Univ.: I think we put Islam in a position where we presume that it could resolve and it should resolve every fundamental and little detail of life. You know, you don't have to necessarily solve every question in your life by Islam. Islam gives you a direction, gives you a light, so to speak, gives you a sense of belonging.
NARRATOR: The feelings of young Iranians spilled on to Tehran's streets in October of 2001. Several soccer matches turned into street protests against the regime. By the time we filmed a month later, the security forces had clamped down, but the demonstrations had illustrated popular frustration with the rate of change.
At Zanan, we caught the journalists talking about the match and about how much women have yet to achieve. While Irish women fans could attend the match, Iranian women had been barred from the stadium.
ZANAN JOURNALIST: [subtitles] The reason for this is that the gentlemen make a lot of noise while watching football. All kinds of people may be there, and all kinds of inappropriate language may be used. They think women need to be protected in a special way because women are unable to take care of themselves.
NAZANIN SHAHROKNI: [subtitles] Because of male aggression or their behavior, women are faced with imposed limitations.
ZANAN JOURNALIST: [subtitles] Absolutely right.
NARRATOR: At Zanan, their struggle for a more inclusive interpretation of Islam continues. But since 2000, 30 reform publications have been shut down. In 2001, Sherkat was arrested and fined for suggesting that women should not be forced to cover by law. And in April of 2002, a newspaper editor in the north of Iran was sentenced to seven months in jail and 74 lashes for what the government called "false reporting."
[www.pbs.org: More on Iranians' push for reform]
NEWSCASTER: BBC World Service. [unintelligible] gone to the Pentagon in Washington to witness the destruction caused when a hijacked plane crashed into the building. Earlier, he described the attacks on New York and Washington as an act of war against the United States.
NARRATOR: The attacks on America have accelerated the process of self-examination by Muslims everywhere. On September 11th, we were filming in Malaysia.
ZAINAH ANWAR, Women's Rights Activist: Islam teaches justice, teaches peace, and you know, it doesn't advocate acts of terrorism, acts of violence, acts of discrimination and oppression of women. And yet there are Muslims who can use the religion to commit such acts. This doesn't help the cause of other Muslims who are trying to put forward an Islam that is democratic, that's pluralistic, that believes in justice, in peace, in equality, in freedom.
NARRATOR: Wherever we went in the Muslim world, we met people like Zainah, frustrated by intolerance and conservatism.
ZAINAH ANWAR: I absolutely see no contradictions in being a modern person, an independent woman, in demanding for my human rights, my right to choose my life and to reach my full potential, and being a good Muslim, as well.
NARRATOR: Recently, Zainah Anwar was appointed to the government's human rights commission. Zainah would like to see what she and other intellectuals regard as a more flexible, more universal expression of Islam.
CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, Int'l Movement for a Just World: The more universal approach to Islam would not be wedded to a certain interpretation of Islamic law, and say, "Well," you know, "you prove your Islamic credentials by chopping off the hands or, you know, stoning the adulterer and adulteresses" and all the rest of it because that is not what defines Islam.
The more universal approach would regard women as equal. The more universal approach to Islam would emphasize values- universal, perennial values which others can also identify with.
ZAINAH ANWAR: I am just saying that if we don't wake up and shout and scream and start, you know, educating ourselves about Islam and start having the courage to speak and to challenge and to offer a different view, you know, we're heading into an Islamic state, you know, where our rights and our fundamental liberties, you know, are just going to be chiseled away at, you know, more and more.
NARRATOR: Zainah Anwar is concerned about the continued spread of conservative Islam. On this day, she was joined by political scientist, Farish Noor.
NARRATOR: He rejects the idea that the Islamic state is a Muslim tradition. It is, he believes, a recent phenomenon.
FARISH NOOR: I mean, really, when you look at the history of Islam, Islamic civilization, you see the concept of an Islamic state beginning to take off only from the early 19th century onwards. Prior to the 19th century, the concept of the Islamic state, the very term itself, did not exist. An Islamic state appears at a time when the Muslim world is under crisis, institutional crisis, political and economic collapse. So there is a reactive nature to this sort of politics from the beginning.
NARRATOR: The popular appeal of political Islam, he suggests, must be seen in terms of social and economic discontent.
FARISH NOOR: In the case of practically every Muslim country in the world today, there is no longer a secular alternative to the dominant power, simply because the secular alternative in the '60s was the left, and the left was destroyed during the cold war. This leaves political Islam as the only alternative for many Muslims in the world today.
This is therefore the problem that those of us working in human right are facing because, on the one hand, we recognize the sense of frustration and anger from people who want an alternative, but on the other hand, for us, of course, our concerns are that the alternative in many cases can be, in fact, much worse than the status quo itself.
NARRATOR: In February, 2002, a group of Islamic scholars accused both Zainah Anwar and Farish Noor of insulting and abusing Islam. Even in Malaysia, the charge carries a sentence of up to three years in jail.
ZAINAH ANWAR: We, as a society, want to run our lives according to the teachings of Islam. The problem is that the traditionalists feel that only they, only those trained traditionally in religion have a right to talk about religion. We are saying that if you want to use religion to govern our public lives, then we, as citizens of a democratic country, have a right to participate in that decision-making.
NARRATOR: The struggle by Muslims to define the role of Islam in their societies is as old as the faith itself. It's a battle over interpretations. Some Muslims believe Islam promotes democracy and advocates human rights. Others invoke Islam to sanction their own authority. It's a struggle that matters. Today the world is a smaller place. Ideas travel more freely among people and across borders. Battles once distant now have consequence for people everywhere.
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