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WASATIA: The Middle Road

 

Wasatiaa new moderate Islamic initiative was launched in Palestine in March 2007. The term literally means center or between two odds but is used in the Holy Quran to mean justice, moderation, mid-ground, and balance: {“And thus We have created you a mid-ground nation.”} {“Thus have We made of you an Ummatan Wasatan (justly balanced).”[1]A famous quote for Prophet Mohammed is: “The best way to run affairs is through moderation.”

 


This concept resonates in other religions and philosophies. The Talmud maintains: “The Torah may be likened to two paths, one of fire, the other of snow. Turn in one direction, and you will die of heat: turn to the other and you die of the cold. What should you do? Walk in the middle.” [Talmud: Hagigah, 2:1] The New Testament states “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” [Philippians 4:5]; the Christian writer Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich (1574-1656) writes “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues.” And from non-religious sources Epictetus (60 A.D.) councils: “Fortify yourself with moderation; for this is an impregnable fortress; Tacitus (55-120) warns: “Candor and generosity, unless tempered by due moderation, leads to ruin;” Plutarch (46-120 A.D.) proclaims: “Moderation is best, and to avoid all extremes.

 

Before announcing the launching of Wasatia, Professor Mohammed Dajani has lived in the shadows of his country’s politics, refraining from assuming any political position within the cadre of the Palestinian Authority. Between 1967 and 1975 he was an active Fatah student leader calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state on its rubbles. In 1975 he left Beirut to start his long journey in search for a homeland and identity that took him to the United Kingdom, the United States, Jordan, and eventually two decades later bringing him back to his final destination in Palestine, earning two doctorate degrees on the way and publishing numerous academic books and articles.

 

 

As a technical advisor to the Palestinian Authority and professor of political science at Al-Quds University, Dajani kept his distance from the political system that emerged in Palestine in the wake of the Oslo peace process. But over the past few months, he crept into the light as his country moved closer and closer to civil war having been divided into two mini-states, a radical Islamic entity in Gaza led by Hamas moving in the sphere of Iran, and a secular entity in the West Bank led by Fatah and influenced by the United States.    

 

 

Dismayed at the impact of Islamic radicalism on his society and the growing despair among his people, Dajani pushed toward establishing what he describes as an eagle of hope soaring the skies of Palestine with one wing seeking political and religious moderation, while the other seeking to usher economic development and prosperity.     

 

 

 

As the new movement speeds from recognition to promise to hope, to delivery, it is perhaps natural that its critics pulled out their daggers. Al-Wasatia critics argue that it would be naive to believe that governments should adopt moderate policies since it is politically known that governments generally adopt policies that serve their best interests. Dajani does not yet have much to show for his Wasatia activities in spite of all his efforts to get this initiative popularly recognized among the Palestinians. Attempts to register al-Wasatia as a charitable religious organization met with no success so far. Moreover, his efforts to convince the PA Minister of Education to include the moderate values of Wasatia as part of the primary and secondary school curriculum were met with deaf ears However, he was successful in persuading the PA Minister of Religious Affairs to have mosque preachers trained on the Wasatia Islamic middle-ground creed. Moreover, a slim light of hope had emerged when some religious scholars and leaders took upon themselves to give lectures in universities, to preach in mosques, and to publish articles on Wasatia in the local press.

 

Wasatia is the first Islamic movement to advocate achieving peace and prosperity through the promotion of a culture of moderation that would lead to walking away from the current climate of religious and political extremism that is escalating fear and violence.  Wasatia reclaims the moderate centrist position-- that balance, between love and hate, between friendship and enmity, between despair and hope which will lead the Middle East out of chronic conflict and despair. The Wasatia platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as an open city shared capital. Wasatia is the first Islamic religious movement which calls for a negotiated peace with Israel that would help bring solutions to the acute economic, social and political crises plaguing Palestinian society.  It advocates the establishment of a tolerant, democratic society at home through fostering a culture of moderation and by attracting Palestinians who are moderate in their religious belief and proud of their Muslim heritage and who respect the religious identity of other religions like Judaism and Christianity.

 

Is Islam a religion of violence? Is Islam a religion that advocates hate and animosity against non-Moslems? Are Moslems more extremists than non-Moslems? Are Moslems inherently violent? Does the Holy Quran instruct Moslems to kill non-Moslems or Jews? In addressing these questions Dajani makes a distinction between Islam as a religion and Moslems as believers. At times, a gap growth between the singer and the song, the singer making his own interpretation of the song that satisfies his own agenda. That’s why in promoting Wasatia Dajani focuses on the text of the Holy Quran and if an interpretation or even a saying attributed to the Noble Prophet Mohammed is shown to be in contradiction to the Quranic text then it ought to be crossed out.

 

Islam is a religion that respects religious and cultural pluralism. The plurality of people is a phenomenon that the Quran addresses when it says:  “Oh Human Beings, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most pious of you.” (Surat Al-Hujurat, verse 13). {Had your Lord so willed, He would surely have made mankind one community.} (Surat Hud, verse 118 / Surat Al-Maeda, 48 / Surat Al-Nahl, 93 / Surat Al-Shurah, verse 8). {“Surely, had He willed, He would have guided you all to the Truth.} (Surat Al-An’am, verse 149). {“In Allah’s sight only those who truly believe in Allah and His Messengers are utterly truthful and true bearers of witness.” (Surat Al-Hadid, verse 19}.

 

 

 

Islam did not emerge to be the enemy of other heavenly religions or to contradict other heavenly religions that preceded it but to guide nonbelievers and agnostics who did not believe in God. Islam allowed each believers to keep his religion without forcing them to become Moslems and asked Moslems not to force non-Moslems to become Moslems.. There is nearly 100 verses that speaks of freedom of religion: {“There is no compulsion in religion.} 

 

{“Now let him who will, believe; and let him who will, disbelieve.} (Surat Al-Kahf, verse 29). God addresses the Jews saying: {“Children of Israel! Recall My favour which I bestowed upon you exalting you above all nations.”} (Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 47). {“Indeed We endowed the Children of Israel with the Book and Wisdom and Brotherhood and provided them with good things as sustenance, and exalted them above the peoples of the entire world.”} (Surat Al-Jathiyah, verse 16). {“In their wake, We sent a succession of Our Messangers, and raised Jesus, son of Mary, after all of them, and bestowed upon him the Evangel, and we set tenderness and mercy in the hearts of those that followed him.”} (Surat Al-Hadid, verse 27)

 

 

Wasatia argues liberal democratic values of equity, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of expression, the rule of law, and respect for civil and human rights have comparable Islamic values. He cites surahs from the Holy Quran to demonstrate this. It structures its programs on thematic pillars such as peace, state-building, governance reform, education, women’s empowerment, religious and political moderation, and civil society development. In fostering a culture of moderation, Wasatia welcomes the day when Palestinian children no longer are exposed to a literature of incitement, hate and violence, and instead grow up in a rich culture where they can co-exist in peace, prosperity and harmony. Towards this end, Wasatia is attracting the moderate middle of Muslim politics as well as moderate Christians. It bridges the gap between two civilizations - between the civilization based on the Christian Bible and the Torah and the civilization based on the Quran.

 

Wasatia is viewed as an eagle soaring in the skies of Palestine with a social wing and a political wing that will eventually be the party of the silent majority of Palestinians who want prosperity and peaceful coexistence. It is aspired that in the forthcoming years, and by the time the next general elections will take place in 2010, the new movement will be able to run in the elections and attract enough votes to become the largest bloc in the political life of the Palestinian people. Already, many Islamic scholars in the Arab World and other Islamic countries are advocating the role of Wasatia --political and personal moderation-- in Islamic life.

 

Wasatia focuses on building itself as a people’s movement, undertaking voluntary work, providing positive educational opportunities for youth, creating new jobs and economic opportunities. Creating venues for charity, learning and voluntarism -- this is Islam.  Wasatia will be the vehicle to empower them as a vocal majority.

 

 

Wasatia aspires to unleash a surge of egalitarian and democratic passions that will bring the average man into the political arena. Dajani hopes that the coming year will hold more promise as an increasing number of people join his crusade. What may seem little or modest progress by the standards of his critics, counts as a big jump by his standards. A year ago, he argues, Wasatia as a term and a movement was unheard of, now it is on the table and has a political, economic, and social agenda.    

 

Dajani’s book, Al-Wasatia, From Theory to Practice, first published in January 2007, rests on one simple idea: the meaning of life is found in living in moderation – “this is the soul of all religions since the beginning.” The book presents mid-ground and centrism ideas as portrayed in the holy books as well as articulated by the various religious thinkers and political philosophers. How does this square with the belief of radical Moslems that Islam is “religion of God”? Dajani highlights this contradiction with verses from the Holy Quran which asserts that the faithful would not be good believers until they profess full faith in God, His books, and His apostles with no reservation or distinction among them.

 

In his Wasatia office located in one of the most congested poor neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the soft-mannered Palestinian scholar appears fully convinced that his message of justice, balance, and moderation will one day reach not only Palestinians in the Occupied Territories but other Moslems around the world. The political turmoil fueled by Israel’s continued military occupation coupled with the economic deteriorating conditions led many Palestinians to abandon their traditional character of being moderate to espouse radicalism and suicide bombings. But Dajani hopes that the message of Wasatia would bring both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion closer to having more faith in negotiations and dialogue with each realizing that the cake need to be shared not trampled on.

 

What about the desired Palestinian state: will Wasatia advocate an Islamic caliphate or a secular political system that calls for the separation of state and religion similar to that of the United States? True to the call, Wasatia calls for a mid-course, Dajani asserts. It wants to follow the American tradition of protecting religion from the arbitrary power of the state, while at the same time, adheres to the European tradition of protecting the state from religious radicalism, conservatism, fanaticism and fundamentalism. Here, Dajani maintains that the Palestinians neither share the American sense of deep distrust for government (nearly 7 out of 10 Americans believe that they cannot trust the government to do the right thing most of the time), nor the European sense of deep distrust of religion. In contrast, the Palestinians, Dajani argues, have trust in both state and religion and as such favor a formula of coexistence between them. For that end, Wasatia seeks to find a happy medium where the state has laws facilitating freedom of religion, and religion does not impose on the state its shari’a laws and restrictions as advocated by those with a radical religious bent. In a future state, Wasatia will work to strike a balance between the American constitutional democracy on the one hand, and the European parliamentary democracies on the other.           

 

 

As promised, Dajani is striving to deliver a real departure from all other Palestinian Moslem religious parties and organizations. He calls for a balance between rationality and emotions to end the cycle of conflict and violence that marred the past. “When I question the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, one of my intentions is to spare the younger generation the experience of growing up as Moslem minority in a Jewish state. Rather, I would like our children experience growing up as a majority in a Palestinian state. This would greatly enrich their lives,” he asserts.  His message to the people is simple, “Let’s not let the heavy burdens of the past bury the promises of the future. Let’s adhere by God’s call for justice, tolerance, freedom of religion, acceptance of the other, that the next generation may live in peace and harmony.”

 

Dajani maintains that the Palestinians must take the bitter pill that Israel as a Jewish state is “here to stay,” on the other side, the Israelis must also take the bitter pill to make them understand that the creation of the Palestinian state is an essential need to fulfill the quest for Palestinian identity. “The longer the Israeli occupation continues and Palestinian demands remain unaddressed, the more the ground continues to remain fertile for radicalism and fanaticism. Both Israelis and Palestinians, known for being two intelligent people of learning and culture, must have realized those simple facts.”

 

Moderates from towns across Gaza and the West Bank are connecting to rekindle this vision for a better future including among its ranks religious leaders, educators, intellectuals, former prisoners in Israeli jails, women, businessmen, lawyers and youth. They are promoting a founding platform that blends verses from the Holy Quran which extol the virtues of middle ground, coexistence, democracy, and tolerance.

 

The question that remains to be seen: Will the Palestinian voters in the next elections use their electoral power to evict those in power and replace them with new elite? For the sake of the young Palestinian generation let us hope so.



 

[1] The number of the verse is 143, thus coming exactly in the midst of The Cow surah which contains 286 verses.


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