IHEU member organization American Humanist Association reports: The Saudi king yesterday pardoned the “girl from Qatif,” a woman whose case stunned and outraged the world. The woman was brutally raped, and her male companion assaulted, by several men who discovered them alone in a car. She was then sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for the “offense” of being alone with a man who was not her husband or relative. Her harsh sentence spurred a debate within Saudi Arabia and throughout the world about the treatment of women and the terrors of fundamentalist Islam.
“The pardon of the ‘girl from Qatif’ is very welcome news,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “For those who value religious moderation, it’s also a beacon of hope. Hope, not just for we Americans who wish to release millions from the stranglehold of religious zealotry in the Middle East, but also hope for those oppressed by those regimes and dismayed to see such horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam.”
As the world learns of the King Abdullah’s pardon, the American Humanist Association issues “A Sensible Approach to Islam,” setting forth a humanist viewpoint. It is also published in the January/February 2008 issue of the Humanist magazine, on newsstands now. See full statement at: http://www.americanhumanist.org/press/IslamStatement.php .
In the statement, the American Humanist Association draws attention to the faulty assumption that Islamist extremism represents Islam as a whole. Though it is true that this dangerous movement has ascended to political power in many countries, and that some Islamists have formed terrorist organizations, the statement contends that such extremists don’t represent all Muslims. Moreover, “Generalizing Islam as entirely violent undermines the efforts of millions of Muslims and others who are struggling to challenge the rise of extremism.” The statement goes on to say: “The American Humanist Association is opposed to both the activities of Islamic extremists and to the ‘crusade’ mentality rising in Western circles that condemns all Muslims indiscriminately.”
Non-Muslims are called upon to resist prejudice and discrimination against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere. Islam and its various sects and divisions should be assessed objectively, the statement says, using the same standards that one would apply to all belief systems. For humanists this means showing support for all who advocate a democratic secular state with complete separation of religion and government.
Recently, in a New York Times opinion editorial, “Islam’s Silent Moderates,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali rightly lamented three tragic incidents in the Muslim world, one of which included the initial harsh sentence of the “girl from Qatif.” The others include the sentencing of and violent protests against school teacher Gillian Gibbons in Sudan for naming a teddy bear “Muhammad,” and the danger facing Taslima Nasrin, a women’s rights activist, who has been on the run in India from Muslim militants who put a 500,000 rupees price on her head. Hirsi Ali criticizes moderate Muslims for not speaking out against these events.
But, in releasing “A Sensible Approach to Islam,” American Humanist Association Vice President Carl Coon, former U.S. Ambassador to Nepal and one of the statement’s authors, declares: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is mistaken. Numerous moderate Muslims and Muslim organizations have come out against these developments and in support of the victims.” The “girl from Qatif” has been helped by human rights activists across the Middle East, and her story has been reported on sympathetically by several newspapers within Saudi Arabia, which undoubtedly influenced King Abdullah. And now even the Saudi king has pardoned her. In addition, Gillian Gibbons has been supported by many Muslims, including the Sudanese president, who pardoned her, and the Muslim Council of Britain, who criticized Gibbons’ arrest. Similarly, there have demonstrations and protest rallies in support of Taslima Nasrin in Kolkata, India, calling for her safe return. The Indian government continues to give her shelter elsewhere in the region. “These courageous acts on the part of moderate Muslims highlight the importance of distinguishing between extreme Islamists and moderate Muslims,” Coon concluded. The humanist statement stresses that rather than attacking Islam as a whole, it is important for non-Muslims of goodwill to work with moderate Muslims and show support for peaceful and democratic interpretations of the world’s second-largest religion.