Friday, December 2, 2011

Grand Mufti of Oman Condemns Royal Opera House (Part 2)

Further to our discussion yesterday, many of you know that in a recent video, His Eminence the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalili deemed it unacceptable for muslims to visit the newly opened Royal Opera House in Muscat. This has caused an explosion of debate on local internet forums and the Arabic blogosphere here in Oman. I just read a letter to the mufti written by fellow controversial blogger Muawiyah Al Rawahi on his Arabic blog. I'm secretly pleased with all the discussion His Eminence has triggered. It's very important for Omanis to talk about this and figure out where they stand. (and no, I don't think we must stand united)
Following a request from one of my readers, thinker & blogger Balqis, here's the transcript of what he said. It's a pretty short video (48 seconds).

He was reading a question from a paper:

Question: My Mother, may God grant her health and long life, wants to visit the newly opened Royal Opera House to admire the architecture and beautiful designs. Is this acceptable, given the fact that such venues host musical events known to the world as 'opera'. This is the main purpose of the venue.

Mufti: since the dedicated purpose of this venue is music and dance, then visiting it is not acceptable. As for the architecture and designs, they're not exclusive to this location only and can be found at other locations, and Allah knows best.
If you're a conservative Muslim, don't read any further. It may upset you, but I think many younger Omanis share my sentiments. Let me get one thing straight; His Eminence has been around for as long as I can remember and is a very much loved and respected person in Oman. This isn't the only opinion he's voiced which has caused public debate. Earlier this year when Malik Al Mamari, former ROP chief was replaced, His Eminence expressed hope that the new chief would ban all bars in Oman. When cyclone Gonu struck Oman in 2007, he said it was because of our accumulated sins. He's allowed to express his opinions like everyone else. It's a free country.
On one hand, I truly respect him and feel his opinions are valid, but on the other hand sometimes I feel they're irrelevant for me.
The concept of the Royal Opera House is alien to many Omanis, especially ones living in rural areas and villages. In Salalah, most locals don't know what to think so they've chosen to ignore it altogether. According to the last newspaper column from fellow blogger here, a decent number of Omanis are boycotting the ROHM because they feel the money could have been spent on more useful ventures that would benefit Omanis.

Whether His Eminence is keeping up with the modern times is questionable… and whether Islam should keep up with modern times in the first place is also a topic for debate, but in my honest opinion, if you want to instill sound Islamic beliefs in the new (and coming) generations of Omanis, religious leaders must make their teachings relevant.

Our current version of Islam was adapted by religious thinkers over a thousand years ago and many of the laws were developed for political reasons. We follow the Quran, and the Hadiths (Sunna), our second source of Islamic theology. Hadiths are reports of what the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said and did in his lifetime. Whatever questions the Quran doesn't answer, the sunna supposedly does. Over the centuries, hadiths have been catalogued by Islamic scholars for our consumption. All we have to do is submit to them (or the ones our Imams choose for us). Does that mean we shouldn't think? What if entire phrases have been misconceived? The reality of Muslims hundreds of years ago is very different from our reality today.

There, I said it.

Islam supposedly encourages 'Ijtihad', i.e. the art of independent reasoning, but scholars today don't. Believe it or not, the 9th century Baghdad caliph (highest Islamic authority) Al Mamun encouraged a version of Islam that promoted rational thought. Those were the days of Avveroes (Ibn Rushd) and Ibn Sina, some of Islam's greatest liberal philosophers. A few generations later, the gates of ijtihad were closed and therefore the tradition of independent thought. In the guise of protecting the Muslim nation from disunity (fitna), Baghdad-approved scholars agreed to freeze debate within Islam. From their politically motivated perspective, everything muslims needed to know was already known. If you had a question, that four existing Sunni schools of thought would address it for you.

Here we are hundreds of years later living with the consequences of a thousand year old strategy to keep the Islamic 'empire' from imploding.

Let's get another thing straight; I'm Muslim and I will always be Muslim. I believe in a pure spiritual and peaceful Islam. I also believe in independent reasoning. The Quran may be sent from the heavens, but does that mean man's interpretation of those holy verses is also holy? Of course not. Quite often I feel the interpretations we have of the Quran may not be as accurate as we'd like to believe. The Quran may be sent from God/Allah/A higher being but most Islamic teachings are man-made. You want to refuse to believe that and continue hiding with your head in the sand? Be my guest.
Our problem with young Muslims these days is that we have a new generation of kids who are smart, worldly and able to think for themselves. Like me, they're not ready to be spoon-fed a version of Islam from a thousand years ago. For example, back to the question of music being a sin. Do I believe it's a sin? Not really. Do I believe listening to music non-stop is bad? Yes, because life's too short and I should be out in the world doing good. Do I believe rap music (it's not even music) with crappy language is good? Of course not. Why would I listen to something so negative? But I think I'm able to choose what kind of music I listen to and whether it contributes to me being a better person. It's a question of morals, ethics and independent reasoning. I don't need an Imam to tell me I'm sinning by listening to Tchaikovsky while I do housework.

Another issue that drives me nuts is the battle of religions. I don't believe Islam trumps over Christianity and Judaism because the Torah and the Bible are from God too, right? How can they be infidels when they follow the same God we do and believe in the same prophets we believe in? Do I think Muslims are the only humans who are getting into heaven? Uh, no. Do many muslims think that? Uh, yes. I think having faith, doing good, and being a good person are what matters.
There are aspects of Islam that I feel have been altered. I'm uncomfortable with Islamic teachings related to killing and war. To me as a young Muslim in this day and age, it's irrelevant and disturbing. The Islam I want to follow is peaceful, spiritual and relevant. And I maintain the right to think for myself.

Back to the Mufti's statement about alcohol, I spent five years in a western country at college. College life is all about drinking. I'm confident in saying that I hate alcohol and wish it never existed. I was saddened to see how utterly stupid my peers became after two or three beers. They say it made them feel better, but if you need alcohol to make you feel better than you have a problem. I was saddened to know that most forms of socializing revolved around alcohol and only alcohol. There were no meaningful activities or conversations when alcohol was involved. And furthermore, drinkers made fun of people who didn't drink (even for health reasons, like a dear friend of mine who had a serious heart condition). I stayed away from alcohol and made friends with people who were willing to do things that didn't revolve around drinks. Did I openly condemn drinkers? No. It's their business. Did I go anywhere near alcohol? No. If you drink, that's your life, but my life is so much better without it. The world would be a better place without it.
.Another issue that I choose to apply independent reasoning to is the whole chaperone idea for women. In Islam, women need chaperones when they leave their homes. According to Saudi clerics, women should never drive and should be chaperoned even when surfing the internet. To me, that makes no sense at all. Did I sin by spending five years abroad? I was raised well and my family trusted me. Did I get into trouble? No. Is it a sin to work with men? Apparently yes. But guess what? I don’t want to believe that. . . and I won't. If I apply independent reasoning to this, it just doesn't make sense to me that God would create men and women then condemn women to their homes. I'd like to think that men and women were put here on this earth to do good and work side by side to make this world a better place. Those are just some of the issues that have forced me to re-think the Islam I was taught in school here in Oman.

But you know something? I respect His Eminence the Grand Mufti. I respect all Muftis. Their hearts are in the right place. We need Sheikhs and Imams and Muftis and religious leaders because very few Muslims want to dive into independent reasoning. They want to be told what to believe in. Their faith is what keeps them going. Never mock that. If that's what suits them, then let them be. If that guy really was worried about taking his mother to the opera house, then bless his heart, and he's lucky he has the Grand Mufti to turn to. And I truly respect the Mufti for taking the time out to answer people's questions.
I was born with a mind of my own and I'm sure God intended for me to use it. I read a lot and think a lot and I truly believe the Quran is a beautiful and wonderful holy book and that Islam is a beautiful religion.... true Islam. However, original Islamic practices have mingled in with our Arab traditions over centuries and today we find ourselves with a version of Islam that isn't necessarily the one we were intended to follow. The pillars of Islam and the faraidh فرائض are clear, thank goodness, but so many other teachings leave me with a huge question marks above my head. I choose to apply my own independent reasoning to some teachings of Islam that were developed by men over a thousand years ago and that seem irrelevant to my reality.

Humans aren't perfect, and the men from centuries ago who developed the Islam that we follow today had their hearts in the right place, but that doesn’t mean they were right about everything. Man's interpretation skills can suck sometimes.

Again, I respect the Mufti's opinion and I wish him health and long life. He has every right to speak his opinion and that applies to me and you as well. He's a remarkable person and very dear to us Omanis. His deputy, Asst. Grand Mufti Dr. Kahlan Al Kahrusi is expected to become the Grand Mufti of Oman in the event of Al Khalili's death (may Allah grant him long life). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr/Sheikh Kahlan, he is also a truly remarkable person. Believe it or not, he's quite young and very educated/worldly. He spent years studying (and teaching) at Oxford and obtained his Masters and doctorate in Islamic studies from there. Along with his academic credentials, he has a wealth of research experience working at the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Oman as a researcher and advisor for His Eminence the Grand Mufti. He was only appointed as the Assistant Grand Mufti in 2010. I had the honor of meeting him briefly right after his appointment and I think the future of Islamic research in Oman is in good hands. I really liked him.

And finally, as outrageous as this post may seem, keep in mind that I'm still learning. That's the beauty of it. That’s the beauty of Islam. I will continue to study and think. The minute your opinions become fixed, that's when you stop learning.

Regardless of what you believe in, I encourage you to post your opinions in the comment section. It's a learning experience for me.
Peace - Nadia


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. I think people should be judged by their daily actions and the good they do in their life. I can't see how visiting the opera house is so terribly sinful. I hate the hypocrisy that often exists within organised religion. I'm Christian and was often made to feel like an evil person for choosing not to attend church. What makes me laugh about that is that so many people think that as long as they go to church once a week they are somehow holier than thou and have the right to feel superior over you. I may not go to church but I'm a much better person than half the idiots who might chastise me. I don't see them doing anything for others less well off than themselves - they mock my charity work saying that charity starts at home (go figure?!). I realise this is getting a bit off topic, but I think the sentiment remains. How you practice your faith should be up to an individual and we will be judged as such by our God. I refuse to believe that any God would punish a good person for listening to music or visiting the opera house. People are becoming less religious because religion is becoming less relevant. Unless it's something you can relate to how are you supposed to put all your faith in it. I have read a lot about Islam, visited many mosques and spoken with some of the imams. One of the things that always frustrates me is that when I ask 'difficult' questions they are like politicians - they never give me a straight answer and never want to veer from their script. This is very off-putting to anyone with an inquisitive mind. I have always wondered where sufism fits into Islam. It's supposed to be some kind of mystical Islam, but anyone who's been at a sufi festival or event will be confused because it seems about as far from the teachings of Islam as you can get. I guess that's why Imams want to distance themselves from it, but why not be open enough to have the conversation? Don't try to swipe away my questions all the time. These other sects exist - there's no point in pretending they dont!
    Great post Nadia and well done for having the courage to say these things.

  2. I like!

    Some very important points there; I forgot to mention the opera house in the "things to be proud of" I was talking about the other day - I'd meant to.

    Great stuff, Nadia. :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Thanks for the translation
    It confirms that he simply answered a question, so there is no friction with the Sultan and of course he cannot compromise his legal opinions
    But I think that in general, when he came out with the outbursts on gymns and alcohol, he just realized that the place of religion in Oman is getting smaller day by day, and so is his authority
    The general point on ijtihad is valid of course, but we can risk to go from an extreme to another, by changing everything

  5. You've inspired me to add to the discussion, Nadia. :)

  6. Whilst I agree with 95% of what you say, there are one or two points in here where I did think "hop off your high horse for a while".

  7. An interesting view point here ladies

  8. 1. The ROH is merely the result of the infamous 'measuring' stick. If I am wrong, then kindly point me to other 'opera' houses in Gulf countries. Don't bother. There aren't any.
    2. Could the money have been put to better use? Yes. Just like it could have been better spent on making the Expressway wider, instead of building another GRAND mosque that is visible from the expressway. As for the ecnomic benefits, again, there are other ways to get it.
    3. Islam still allows ijtihad. The fact that our Imams (regardless of nationality) don't choose to do it is another debate. Hate the players, don't hate the game.
    4. Is Music sin? Yes, like lying. You aren't suppose to do it, but everyone knows that everyone does it. Still doesn't make it OK. Do I listen to it? Why yes. Do I lie? Yes - to my wife :)
    5. SO the instructions are from God, but the practice is performed by human beings with free will? Thanks for making my point Nadia. I believe the religion is perfect. Its practioners are not.
    6. Islam doesn't trupm anyone. But will you enter Paradise without eemaan? I believe that to be a big NO and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong. Yes, that a joke, but there is nothing I can say that will convince you otherwise. Will my eemaan take me to paradise? I hope so, but thats between me and my God.
    7. As for the alterations in Islam, again, blame the followers. But all the foundations are intact. You are welcome to disagree with the sunan (non-obligatory) but for the faraiz, if you do, then you really need to examine where you stand. Then again, I am not reponsible for you so you may do as you please.
    8. As for killing and war, "it may be that you hate something and it is good for you" ("asa an takrahu shayan wa huwa khairun lakum"). It is the last resort of a Muslim to take arms against someone. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't prepare for it. Its a warrior's creed: I don't want to fight, but if I do, I will put you down once and for all. Trust me, as soon as you declare Jihad un-islamic, all those against Islam will finally rest at ease.
    9. I completly agree with your alcohol stance.
    10. As soon as religion (or more specifically Islam) become irrelevant to people in general and Muslims in particular, I can guarentee that the world will turn completly to the dark side. It is only then that those who oppose Islam will win.

  9. Thanks guys. Keep the comments coming!

  10. Excellent post, my opinion on this is what would we expect from Sk Ahmed? We knew his stance on music do we expect him to say its halal just because we are all syched all about it? He has a responsibilty towards ppl who ask him and if he beleives its haram he should say it is. If anything, this is a great example that our religious authority is independant and free to speak thier mind.
    What i beleive and u beleive is irrelevant, we are free to choose and gladly we could do this in Oman .. But we are not who people go to ask!

  11. WOW!! Very great post indeed. APT Nadia. MAny opinions were mine too.
    Simply superb!
    (men and women were put here on this earth to do good and work side by side to make this world a better place)I too strongly beleive in this.
    GONU-it was because of our accumulated sins.
    yes, sins towards our mother earth and envoronment. THis is our one home and only HOME; Did he mean that?
    Anamika's views - icing on cake!

    See, only here in Oman, religious tolarance exists. Let us move forward thanking HM and his vision.

    In my opinion, his heart is at his country's well being. Not only now; even for generations to come.
    Come on, I am desperately searching another true visionary on par with him.
    What he made is MOnumental Buildings in the country. Will stand there for centuries!!
    Unbelievable progress in short span.
    Grand mosque! - truly Grand.

    ok, all the religions preach to go to heaven by following the teachings.
    Nobody wants to get killed to go there; let the sword be golden.

    Thanks! Sincere appreciations for your forward thinking!!
    - Netizen from Salalah

  12. Islam is not simply a religion, its contain full package to live. Islam is not onnly for human beings, its for all kind in the universe.
    Islam its contain everything which a living body required in the universe. it will show the path or answer to any question which we will have in the mind...

    Qurhan is written thousand years before but its a holy book which came directly from the god.. So it will not contain any mistake...

    To the subject...

    Islam always ask people to think... it never says anything is Haram without reason..
    About Music- Music is allowed in Islam in some extend but we want to think about modern music(am also music lover), is it Halal?? from my thinking i cant tell the modern music is Halal... there are music which ask us to do the haram... So Music shows the path to Haram... so its clear one who shows the path to Haram is also Haram...

    I had read one comment that Music is like telling lies... I think now its right.. everyone knws telling lie and hearing modern music is wrong and everyone is doing that....

    May Allah(SAT) forgive our small mistakes....

  13. Thank you; well said.

    Did you know that some Muslim Imams have the Fatwa that non-distracting music is allowed; music that promotes peace and love, and does not contain bad words?

    There are hardliners and there are others. Like you said; each of us chose what they want as long as they fulfill the basic rules of Islam; the profit said: (religion is how you treat others). Do good and you will be rewarded as is

  14. Awesome post, really thought provoking stuff. Ditto some of the comments. Shame so many chose to be anonymous though.

  15. MashaAllah: "Their hearts are in the right place. We need Sheikhs and Imams and Muftis and religious leaders because very few Muslims want to dive into independent reasoning. They want to be told what to believe in. Their faith is what keeps them going. Never mock that." I really like how you expressed that thought. I feel the same in regards to scholars, but in still finding my own thought, as I have the same ability to read the texts that they did, and come to my own conclusions.

  16. Good Blog and definitely worth having these discussions - but would it not be wiser if any of the Sheikhs and Muftis would start pointing out what else is really important and is Haram?? like destroying our environment, not looking after nature, plants and animals and excessive consum??? That is all more evil than going to Opera House listening to culture and understanding traditions.... and done by i would say 95 if not 99% of people on a daily base nowadays... but no mentioning of that!! well my opinion, but surely it would be in the sense of any religious thinking...

  17. Beautifully written but unlike you I have never been a fan of Mr. Khalili or his interpretations. The word Iqra applies to all of us to find out and learn for ourselves hence I dont place emphasis on opinions of austere Imams or Muftis etc. Original Islam started with 6,000 hadiths and have been filtered down to what we are left with today - 2,000. Original Arabic was written by phonetics until during Islamic Empire when Iranian Grammatist called Sebaway added the vowels. Hence there has been plenty of debated as to the interpretation od certain words. Like any language there are word (ie bear - animal, bear, bare- to carry a burden etc and bare - naked/empty. Same dispute with most faiths regarding translations and who translated.
    But that aside I am not an opera fan so it makes no difference to me. By the way Alcohol is not Haram - it is advisable against and there is a difference between the two meanings. One is definately forbidden but the other alcohol, gambling, horoscopes - are advisable against - ie he who drinks alcohol int his world will be forbidden in the next???? Plenty of contradictory statement that are left to interpretations.
    But I comend you for having the courage to be honest and have said what many of us are thinking. Thanks.

  18. Good post. The only thing I disagree with is that you said "It's a free country". If that was said in an idiomatic way, then fine. If you were being literal, then I'm afraid you're incorrect. Oman is far from a free country. It has no free press for a start. Having said that, I loved my time there

  19. "The Quran may be sent from God/Allah/A higher being but most Islamic teachings are man-made"
    I agree with you. Some of those man-made teachings feel me with disgust. Because of these outdated interpretations Islam has a huge negative potential to breed hateful, conceited, narrow-minded people, which scares me. I don't want "that" kind of Islam to spread around the Earth (but it does)

    "Another issue that drives me nuts is the battle of religions."
      I share your sentiments! I dislike Muslims who think every convert should do da3wah to NonMuslims to convert them to Islam.  And the lack of respect for other religions. I'm ashamed of the people who think of themselves as being better than others, just because they are "Muslims", who think that non muslims are of worse morals, lower status before God. There are many very good people, modest and honest among people of other religions or even atheists. Their lifestyle maybe more pleasing to God than of many Mulims.

    Also I dislike when "strict Muslims" ask me if I tell my family about Islam (to convert them). I don't. They don't need me to "tell" them "beautiful things" about Islam. By "seeing" how I live, weather I'm happy, how I'm being treated, they'll learn the truth about Islam much better. Actions speak louder than words...

    Regarding alcohol, I just want to give an example of mother who does not belong to any religion but she never drinks it, ever. She hates it. So does my sister and  many other people in the  West.   I wish there was more respect for independent reasoning and freedom of choice in traditional Islam especially when it comes to rather insignificant things like clothes, one chooses to wear or food to eat

  20. Hmm. It has been confirmed by the cast of Carmen that in the final scene Carmen is to be completely covered; no decolette; no bare shoulders. And the rumour is abounding amongst that cast that in Swan Lake the ballerina dancing the Swan will NOT wear a tutu. No legs. Don't know about this second, but the first is true. So ... music is ok; but the rest of the art form has to be modified. I feel sorry today for His Majesty.

  21. Seems to me all the mufti said was that music and dance are not acceptable for a muslim. If you were to attend the building for a poetry recital, lecture or suchlike there would be no problem. Also (as per all the other non-muslim establishments in Oman) no problem for the non-muslims to attend the Opera House.

    This is a long way from "condemns Royal Opera House"

  22. Isn't there a story about how Mohammed opened the door of his tent to let Aisha see the dancing ?

  23. Its my point of view that clerics of Islam always give false statements, and misguide. One statement of recent Saudi clerics, if a woman is driving or going to work will lose his virginity and there will be no more virgins. I guess this comes to my mind that Islam doesn't teach anything about the punishment of losing virginity why the clerics is bothered so much, if someone do so, he or she should face ALMIGHTY in the day of judgement, it is upto their liberty whether they choose good r bad, its not the clerics duty to stand as a guard or protection, it is their faith on Allah and his prophet, i guess we should have hanged the cleric who said that is insult to our faith and religion as we don’t care of our responsibilities in ISLAM. Only the so called Clerics………….

  24. Howdy folks!

    There are five pillars to follow and the rest are your own good deeds.

    It is exactly like nature, where you do good = you get good and you do bad = you get bad in return.

    All kinds of religion are here to give us a clear guide to better living with one another, a clear guide to a better life. If religion was not there at all, then no one would have something to relate to, and that could cause a lot of mess, such as people killing each other would be ok, doing all kinds of bad things to each other without fear of the day of Judgement and Allah or God if I may. We are born without a life manual, and there is no such thing at all, but, religion gives us hope and gives us faith to live strong and believe in our conducts, because, we have something to relate to and see if we are doing things right.

    Mufti was doing his job and a duty that has a lot of responsibility, where he can not say wrong at all, he is not suggesting to avoid the said place, but he is answering the question asked. Its clearly that, it is better to avoid places where they have music and dance, assuming that some dances could be more of you know...;) But, it is up to the person to decide to go if the music is genuine and does not reflect to a bad thing or encourage bad doings, and I believe it is a clean and respectable place anyway. If the music relaxes you and supports your good health relieves stress etc, then why not?

    It all depends on your intention, if you are going with good intention or bad. It is just like a doctor giving you a cough syrup that has alcohol in it, Its intention is to cure the cough, unless you have other intentions with it!...

    Lets have faith, whatever religion we are in and live in peace.