New Internationalist

Islamic Rules

September 1980

Altaf Gauhar argues that Iran’s new regime may not be getting a fair trial.

A genial middle-aged secretary who had been working for me for some days suddenly put down her note book and asked ‘Is it true that according to you Moslems, women and dogs have no souls?’ She was not being offensive. Nor was she more misinformed than many Western interpreters of Islam. There is something spurious and suspect about the current Western interest in Islam. American TV viewers are submitting themselves to crash courses on Islam - five minutes every day. The theme of one programme, an American friend divulged, was that the sole purpose of Iran’s brand of Islam was to frustrate Jimmy Carter’s election campaign. It was the energy crisis and the use by the Arabs of their oil ‘weapon’ which first ignited this flare-up over Islam, reviving old prejudices and fears. Are the Moslems on the march again? For the West, the fall of Iran is like the fall of Constantinople. Certain questions have suddenly assumed great urgency. Does Islam permit the taking of diplomats as hostages? Does Islamic law justify the manner in which scores of Iranians have been executed?

One must answer these questions first in terms of Islamic concepts, and ther check the facts. Envoys are entitled to courtesy and safe conduct. This tradition has been maintained throughout Islamic history. But envoys must be envoys, not decoys. If they come as diplomats and act as invaders they should be dealt with as invaders. Olof Palme, the former Swedish Prime Minister who recently visited Iran, told me that before the revolution there were some 80,000 Americans enjoying diplomatic immunity in Iran: ‘It was a country under occupation.’

It is not Islam which is in question but the conduct of envoys. What real function were certain members of an embassy performing in Iran? The media say they were doing normal diplomatic work. The Iranians claim they were running a spy network. To separate fact from fiction, the governments of Iran and United States should have established a Commission of Enquiry. That is what former US Attorney General, Ramsay Clark suggested. He ended up being accused treason and threatened with prosecution.

Islam has a system of justice. The essential elements of the system are: Balance, equity, duty and trust.

’Oh Muslims God commands you to entrust responsibility to those Who are capable of discharging it, And when you determine between people do so justly. This is invaluable advice from God, who hears and sees everything.’

So says the Koran (Verse 58, Sura AIAl-Nisa). But are the Iranian leaders in positions of responsibility and trust acting in accordance with this concept of justice? One can only answer this question by examining each trial. It is impossible to come to a judgement on the basis of press reports. Enough is known to show how the media can distort the truth. If there is evidence that a single person has been executed or punished in Iran without a fair trial, without equity and compassion, then there has been a violation of the Islamic concept of justice. But when the Financial Times of London puts the headline ‘Hand of the Mullahs poised for the kill’ on a news story that the parliament of Iran voted in favour of calling itself the Islamic Assembly then one does not know what the real facts are. Most governments of the world, not excluding governments of some Moslem countries, are waiting for the failure of the revolution in Iran. The Soviet forces have encircled the country and hundreds of Western agents have infiltrated into Iran. The Shah’s son has been nominated as the rightful heir to the Peacock Throne. And his sister ‘Princess’ Ashraf is allegedly plotting a coup with Field Marshall Oveisi, the butcher of Tehran, before October 31 when the Prince comes of age. All the sectarian and regional issues that one never heard about in the last ten years have assumed a new urgency and gravity. The Iranians are a nation under seige. They are isolated, but not left alone. The choice before them is to surrender or perish. And the present leaders of Iran seem determined not to surrender.

Altaf Gauhar is a scholar of lslam and SecretaryGeneral of the Third World Foundation.

This feature was published in the September 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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