News media advisory — Bates professor says eminent imams silence based on fear

A month after suicide-terror attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. killed almost 6,000 people, fear still locks the voices of the eminent Middle East clergy of Islam, says Mishael Caspi, an Israeli Islamic and Judaic scholar and visiting professor of religion at Bates College.

“While Islam strongly links religion and politics, Islamic law very strongly prohibits suicide,” says Caspi. “Some will say that Islam is to lead the world, but it is to do so by persuasion. The Prophet accepted Christianity and Judaism as monotheistic traditions and called them ‘people of the Book’.

“There has been no Muslim sage who has condemned in a strong , unequivocal way that this act is not the way of Islam,” says Caspi. “Why do we not hear this from the imam of the al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, from the authorities on Islamic law at al-Azhar University in Cairo? Why do we not hear from the imams in Mecca and Medina?”

“Privately, they condemn the extreme actions of so-called fundamentalists. Publicly, they don’t speak out because they and their families live under the threat of extremists.”

Other topics that Caspi could discuss:

· How the internal divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims expresses itself politically.

· His assessment that successors to Yasser Arafat will quickly surface at his death, and there will be a negotiated peace creating a Palestinian state within six months of Yasser Arafat’s death – or a civil war among Palestinian factions. Arafat, he says, can no longer be the broker for peace because Israelis will never again trust him.

A native of a small Israeli village near Hadera, Caspi grew up as a Yemenite/Kurdish Jew speaking Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. His journey of 62 years has led him away from his seaside village to an accomplished international career as both a poet and scholar of Islamic and Hebrew biblical literature.

With a B.A. from Hebrew University, an M.A. in psychology from Santa Clara University and a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies from the University of California at Berkeley, he taught for 25 years at the University of California at Santa Cruz with intervening residencies at Oxford, St. Johns’s and Hebrew and Haifa universities. With deep roots in both the traditions of Islam and Judaism, Caspi’s connection to both Islamic and Jewish cultures serves as the cornerstone for his philosophy of mutual respect in the political arena.

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