(By Julie Stahl, March 13, 2008, CNSNews.com) Jerusalem – On the first Friday of Ramadan two years ago, Palestinian scholar Mohammed Dajani stood on his balcony in the West Bank, watching as thousands of Arabs tried to make their way through an Israeli checkpoint so to pray at the Al-Aksa mosque in neighboring Jerusalem.
They did not have the necessary permits, and Israeli soldiers tried to push them back from the checkpoint, even using teargas at one point, but the Palestinians wouldn’t budge, Dajani recalled.
Eventually, a compromise was worked out whereby the Israelis collected the Muslims’ identity cards and called in buses to take them to Jerusalem.
As he watched this, Dajani said, it struck him that the Palestinians involved were clearly not secular. Their eagerness to get to the mosque on the first Friday of the fasting month attested to that. Neither were they extremists, because if they had been, they would have taken advantage of the tense situation to start trouble with the Israelis.
Dajani realized that there was no one in Palestinian society representing moderates, and that’ when he decided to step in.
At a time when Islamic extremists are using religion to back their radical goals, Dajani, who describes himself as secular, says he is using the Koran as the basis for a new movement to encourage moderation in Palestinian society.
Dajani calls it “wasatia” – a term used in the Koran to denote centrism, balance, moderation, and justice.
“What we are trying to do is bring things from our culture,” he said in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “Our root is an Islamic root.”
Most people have not read the Koran, said Dajani, director of American Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. They rely on mosque preachers, who for the most part interpret the Koran through a “radical framework” instead of the humanitarian one that Dajani believes in.
He has published a small book using verses from the Koran that call for moderation, and he hopes to make an impact on three areas of Palestinian society — mosque preachers whose sermons have become politicized; an educational curriculum that promotes jihad; and the media.
When he began a year ago, he envisaged a political party, but reconsidered after Palestinians accused him of trying to create divisions among them.
If his movement catches on, he might run for the Palestinian legislature, he said; and he would see his efforts as victory if the philosophy itself influences other political organizations.
Breaking ground for a different way of interpreting the Koran has not been easy, however. Fatah activists said Dajani had received millions of dollars of funding from the U.S., a claim he denies.
He has also been accused of being an agent of the West.
When facing such claims, Dajani said, he tells his accusers — a threatening extremist group among them — that they have not read the Koran.
Dajani said that instead of using the word “moderation” – which the West uses in the context of the peace process – he uses the word “wasatia.”
“I never use the word ‘moderation’ because ‘moderation’ is associated with the United States, with [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice saying we are going to support moderation within the Islamic world. Yet I think if she would use the word ‘wasatia’ that she could reach people much more than using the term ‘moderation.’ Because one is Western and one is Islamic.”
Dajani said while he has had support from some individual Fatah members, the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy, which Fatah controls, has blocked his efforts to obtain official status.
Yearning for democracy
The scholar said he is convinced that there is a desire for a moderate movement within Palestinian society.
When there are no confrontations, people yearn for a democratic society, he said. They want to see the rule of law, put food on the table, send their kids to school and feel secure in their homes.
Instead, both Fatah and Hamas have created a situation of “crisis in order not to deliver to the people what they promised to deliver, which is a democratic society.”
They have used the situation as an excuse for not being transparent or accountable or for not establishing the rule of law, Dajani said. “Crisis is being used here in order to legitimize what is illegitimate, what is illegal. And so as a result you are not concerned with creating a culture of peace but rather a culture of conflict.”
In Gaza, for example, the more Hamas is “under pressure politically about its legitimacy, about its status, the more it is creating a conflict with Israel in order to divert people from the [issues of] everyday life to an external issue.”
“Palestinians would like to live like normal people,” he said. “We are hoping that we are going to be part of that dream that we can deliver to them, not necessarily on the political level, [but] on the social, economical level.”
But Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Department of Arabic at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, voiced doubt that Dajani’s plan would work.
“That’s his interpretation [of the Koran],” Kedar said of the Palestinian scholar’s philosophy. Those in the mosques wouldn’t agree.
Islam is so flexible that everyone can find in it what they want to find, Kedar told Cybercast News Service. Whether one wants to find democracy, extremism or moderation, one can do so because there is “such a huge corpus of verses, exegesis and tradition.”
In the Koran there are verses where Allah promises the area that is present day Israel to the Jews, but they are never quoted, he said.
There are also verses that say that “Al-Aksa” is located in Arabia or even in heaven. But anyone who says that would lose his head, Kedar said. (The Koran in sura 17 refers to Mohammed’s night journey on a winged steed from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque,” Al-Aksa, and then on to heaven. Traditionally interpreted as being in Jerusalem, the site is the third most-revered in Islam, and the basis of Islam’s original claim to the city, which Muslims conquered six years after Mohammed’s death.)
Of Dajani’s plan, Kedar said it sounded as if he had found verses in the Koran to support his own world view. But he did not think that it could work in the Middle East.
In the Western world, compromise is the “name of the game,” but in a region where shame and honor are the motivators, compromise is not an option, Kedar said.
In the West if there is a dispute, the two parties can be satisfied if they end up with 50 percent each. In the Middle East, however, someone who thinks he is entitled to 100 percent of something would never be satisfied with anything less.
That is why struggles and disputes in the Middle East are never ending, he said. The only way to end a struggle is to defeat the other side.
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1. Who is Mohammed Dajani?
2. a) Define secular.
b) What did Mr. Dajani notice about the Palestinians trying to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank on the first Friday of Ramadan two years ago?
3. a) How is Mr. Dajani using the Koran to encourage peace in Palestinian society?
b) Name the 3 areas that Mr. Dajani hopes to impact with his book.
4. a) Which part of Mr. Dajani’s plan did he drop? Why?
b) What additional accusations have Palestinians made against Mr. Dajani?
c) While some individual Fatah members have given some support to Mr. Dajani, how has the Palestinian Authority reacted to his efforts?
5. a) Define wasatia.
b) Why does Mr. Dajani think that in its peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, the U.S. would reach more Palestinians using the word “wasatia” instead of “moderation”?
6. What does Mr. Dajani accuse Fatah and Hamas of doing? (for further explanation, see “Background on Fatah and Hamas” at the bottom of the questions)
7. a) Who is Dr. Mordechai Kedar?
b) For what reasons does Dr. Kedar doubt that Mr. Kajani’s plan will work?
8. a) What do you think of Mr. Dajani’s plan? Do you think he will succeed? Explain your answer.
b) Dr. Kedar says that the only way to end a struggle [in the Middle East] is to defeat the other side. Do you agree? Explain your answer.
In addition to the Palestinian conflict with Israel, there is an inner conflict. It is between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, with each trying to assume political control of the Palestinian territories. The majority of the fighting is occurring in the Gaza Strip, which was taken over by Hamas in June 2007.
BACKGROUND ON THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY’S RULING POLITICAL PARTIES:
The Palestinian Authority is currently ruled by two parties, Fatah and Hamas. Hamas holds the majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament and the office of Prime Minister. Fatah holds a minority of seats in the Parliament, and the office of President.
Fatah ruled the Palestinian Authority from its establishment in 1994 until 2006. [Yasser Arafat was the head of Fatah until his death in 2004.] Fatah is a major secular Palestinian political party…. In Palestinian politics it is on the center-left of the spectrum. ….. [Since its loss in 2006 as the ruling party] it has … been described oftentimes in the media as the more “moderate” party, although many dispute this due to its past actions and current policies. (from Wikipedia.org)
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist terrorist organization that currently (since January 2006) forms the majority party of the Palestinian Authority.… Hamas is known outside the Palestinian territories for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against Israeli civilians, as well as military and security forces targets. Hamas’ charter…calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. …………..In January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections…. (from Wikipedia.org)
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