RHR 2008: Abrahamic Religions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
RHR 2008: Introduction to the vision and program of RHR-NA

RHR 2008: Muslim text study / conversation

A fresh movement called Wasatia -- a term which means 'centrism,' 'balance,' 'moderation,' 'justice' -- was launched in Palestine on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 a day that marks the beginning of spring... The Wasatia concept is not new. The Talmud maintains: "The Torah may be likened to two paths, one of fire, the other of snow. Turn in one direction as you will die of heat; turn to the other and you die of the cold. What should you do? Walk in the middle." -- Study sheet on Quranic texts from a morning session at RHR 2008

"This is very old, yet is new. It is as old as our three religions. All speak of moderation. Rambam spoke of the Golden Path; in Islam we call it wasatia, meaning middle ground. We use that word because it is mentioned in the Qur'an several times." So speaks Professor Munther Darjani (who spoke also in the first plenary session last night.)

"My brother Muhammad and I felt strongly that a minority group was hijacking Islam. A good Muslim is one who gives in to God. To be a good Muslim you have to believe in all the prophets. Most of our Qur'an is about Judaism, believe it or not!"

"We knew that our children would someday ask us, what did you do while Hamas was doing what it is doing, while Fatah was corrupt to the highest level? We decided to take it upon ourselves to speak to religious people of all faiths, to launch a movement which is a political forum. (We are not a political party because we are not seeking political office.)" He and his brother formed Wasatia. (Read more about Wasatia in SFGate: New Islamic party seeks the center.)

In the beginning, he said, no one took them seriously. As they began their second year, Christians, Muslims, and some Jews took the initiative to come to Ramallah for their conference. After their second year conference, the president of Hamas went on TV and tried to claim the wasatia mantle! "I said, defeat is always an orphan and success has a thousand fathers." If he wants to be wasatia he is welcome, but then there should be no corruption. "There is a commitment of responsibilities and duties. You cannot preach what you do not practice."

It's about giving people an alternative, to show that Islam is not only the radical Islam people talk about. "I say to my Palestinian friends, we have to tell the Jews, 'welcome home.' If we want to go back each to the old rhetoric, then we don't have good will. We have to put ourselves in the other person's shoes... we have to give them security; they cannot speak about peace until we give them security."

"Show me one sura in Islam, telling you to blow people up? But I can give you ten suras, and many ayas, talking about moderation. Moderation as a way of life." This teaching, Professor Darjani says, cuts through all religions.

Professor Darjani was a member of Fatah for the last thirty years. "It shames me," he said, "to see that the corruption there is now across all sectors." Today people will say that if you're not with Hamas you are not a good Muslim, and this logic is very dangerous. The founders of Wasatia are taking it on themselves to say, "stop." As a result, there are caricatures of him waving an Israeli flag, posted all over campus. There are repercussions for saying what he is saying. "In the beginning they told me I had warped logic," he laughs, "but now people are coming around."

Wasatia is an Islamic, reformist movement which does not seek political office. "We use the Qur'an as a base; it's mentioned so often in the Qur'an. And we make comparisons with other monotheistic religions because we can learn from that."

He spoke about working with Rabbi Menachem Froman, "who can say things that I as a Palestinian cannot." (Reading up on Rabbi Froman little bit, I'm fascinated; he's both a settler and a man who works in interfaith dialogue toward peace. Learn more here and here.) When Professor Darjani brought him to his university, there was some protestation. But he told his students, "You never stop learning."

People critique these positions. But, he said, for him what matters is: when you put your head down on the pillow at night, do you feel good about what you are doing? If you do, then you're doing the right thing, and that's what matters.

Our study sheets featured several quotations from the Qur'an (starting with The Cow, verse 143.) We didn't really dive into the texts; the session was more of a conversation with Professor Darjani. I'm sorry we didn't dip into the Qur'an much, but glad to have heard what he had to say about this work and how he perceives it to be rooted in the Qur'an and central to Islam.

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