Following are excerpts from an interview with former dean of Islamic law at Qatar University, Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, which aired on Abu Dhabi TV on July 26, 2007:
Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: Unfortunately, the history of the Muslims has become confused with their religion. The Muslims are no different than other nations. Some actions of the Muslims are not in line with the teaching of their religion. Some traditions have dominated Islamic society for over a thousand years, although they run counter to the religion of Islam. The shura [consultation] is a lofty principle in Islam. Since the rule of the four righteous caliphs, which lasted 30 years, the shura has disappeared from the lands of the Muslims – even though we are in need of the shura, which nowadays is synonymous with democracy. The people of the nation have the right to elect their ruler, and to hold him accountable. All these values disappeared with the disappearance of the shura.
In my opinion, the disappearance of critical thinking is what led to the disappearance of accountability. Why do we repeat mistakes? Despite the humiliating defeats we have suffered for half a century, we have not learned a thing. We have not learned any lesson from the Nakba and our defeats. We still repeat the same mistakes, to the point that the criteria of victory and defeat have been distorted. You are aware of what happened recently in Lebanon, for example – the Israeli war against Lebanon. A large part of the Arab people considered this to be a victory, but in my opinion, this was no victory. Why is that? Because of the absence of critical thinking and of accountability.
Take Israel, for example. We say that Israel is the enemy and that we hate it, and so on, but let's ask ourselves why is Israel is always victorious. This is because it has a gradation of accountability. Would you believe that all the Israeli accomplishments in the last war – the destruction of Lebanon, and all these achievements – did not satisfy the Israelis, and they established a committee to hold the government accountable? Why? Because the government did not gain a full victory – 80%, instead of 100%. We, on the other hand, are still proclaiming from the rooftops that we won, just like we did in 1956. We are in a deep slumber for a decade but kept saying we had won.
We teach history selectively. We take the glorious moments of religious Muslim scholars, who heroically confronted tyranny and injustice, but we fail to note that many religious scholars were not like that. On the contrary, they supported, justified, and legalized backwardness and tyranny.
If you compare this to the advanced societies, you will see that their scientists – the doctors, economists, and people who achieve accomplishments –are the people whose role is prominent, and not the religious scholar.
The religious scholar has a specific role, from which he should not deviate. He should not interfere in political matters or in the areas of expertise of others. Today, you see religious scholars issuing fatwas on economic matters – with regard to banks, the stock exchange, insurance, or medicine, for example. Religious scholars may say: "I have a treatment for AIDS. Use blood-letting or burning." Religious scholars may compete with astronomers regarding the time of appearance of the Ramadhan moon. If the astronomers say that the moon did not appear yet, the religious scholar says it did.
For more than a thousand years of history, women have been marginalized in our heritage. They did not have any role in public affairs. She was denied the right to study, and was not allowed to have a role in society. The books of heritage...
Interviewer: But Dr. Al-Ansari, women in the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf, have begun to play a role in society.
Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: This is true, and the political regimes should be thanked for this. If not for the intervention of the enlightened political leaders in the Gulf countries and in the Arab world in general, women would not have gained any rights. If we had pinned all our hopes on the development of our societies, which would give women their rights, we would have waited for a long time. Everything that women have gained is due to the efforts of the reformists, who have relentlessly demanded equal rights for women, and is due to the support of regimes and enlightened rulers, and one should also mention external encouragement, and rapprochement between peoples. If not for that, women would have gained anything.
In the Gulf societies, the obstacle to marriage is not the high cost. The real obstacle is the social obstacle. What do I mean by this? I mean that there is no mixing of men and women. A guy from the Gulf cannot see the girl. Of course, I am talking about mixing in the Islamic, not the Western, sense. Islam does not forbid men and women from meeting at the workplace, at school, in the family setting, or when worshipping God. Yet this kind of mixing does not exist in our societies. There are barriers between the sexes, so how can a guy possibly choose his life partner? Then there is the niqab. The niqab is an obstacle. How can I possibly marry someone whose face I have never seen? Impossible.
Interviewer: Do you mean that you deem it permitted for women to be rulers? Could a woman be the president of an Arab republic one of these days?
Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: I hope so. As far as I understand the religious texts and principles, there is no text that categorically – and I stress "categorically" – bans women from being president or prime minister, or from having some other leadership role. Absolutely not.
All the political, economic, administrative, and scientific issue of our times were unknown to the Prophet's companions. They did not sit on chairs in front of cameras, they had no media, no satellite TV. Does this prove that we are not allowed to use them? The fact that something did not exist in the past does not mean that it is forbidden.
Interviewer: "America's Muslim friend" – that is what the New York Sun called you, when it included you in a list of the world's most prominent thinkers. Are you pleases to be called "America's Muslim friend"?
Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: Why shouldn't I be, when our countries, our regimes, and our governments declare day in and day out that our alliance with America and the other superpowers is strategic? Who is defending the Gulf? Who is developing our prosperous economy? If not for our close ties with these superpowers – especially America – we would not enjoy such economic prosperity. Look at the countries that lead the enmity towards America. Look at their economies and their currencies. Their currencies are worthless.