Amir Taheri, as I have noted before, often does magnificent, invaluable work. Then he turns around and comes out with something absolutely breathtaking in its wrongheadedness and inaccuracy. A couple of years ago he did with an article, still widely reproduced, claiming that the headscarf was a modern Iranian invention not sanctioned by Islam -- as if Muslim women had all gone about with their heads gloriously uncovered until the advent of the Ayatollah Khomeini (an assertion that blithely ignores the evidence from the Qur'an -- 24:31 -- and Hadith -- Abu Dawud book 32, no. 4092 -- that the headcovering is firmly rooted in Islamic teaching).
Now he does the same sort of thing in "Hijacking Islam" in the New York Post. Here he is purveying the comforting but inaccurate notion that jihad theorists are dishonest, semi-literate idiots, the blind leading the blind, fabricating material from the Qur'an and attracting only semi-literates like themselves to their cause.
Would that it were so. Unfortunately, however, it isn't true -- and it does us no good to ignore or deny the truth. In fact, study after study has shown that jihadists today tend to be better educated than other Muslims. Nor is that all that is inaccurate and misleading here:
Here we have a religion without a theology, a secular wolf disguised as a religious lamb.
How did this neo-Islam — a political movement masquerading as religion — come into being, and how can those who know little about Islam distinguish it from the mainstream of the faith?
USING Islam as a vehicle for political ambitions is not new. The Umayyads used it after the Prophet's death to set up a dynastic rule. Three of the four caliphs who succeeded Muhammad were assassinated in the context of political power games presented as religious disputes.
Fast forward to the 19th century, and the Persian adventurer Jamaleddin Assadabadi, who disguised himself as an Afghan to hide his Shiite origin and set out to build a career in the mostly Sunni land of Egypt. Although a Freemason, Jamal (who dubbed himself Sayyed Gamal) concluded that the only way to win power among Muslims was by appealing to their religious sentiments. So he transformed himself into an Islamic scholar, grew an impressive beard and donned a huge black turban to underline his claim of being a descendant of the Prophet.
His partner was Mirza Malkam Khan, an Armenian who claimed to have converted to Islam. Together, they launched the idea of an "Islamic Renaissance" (An-Nahda) and promoted the concept of a "perfect Islamic government" under an "enlightened despot."
Malkam had a slogan of unrivaled cynicism: "Tell the Muslims something is in the Koran, and they will die for you."
This is a very powerful and evocative anecdote, but it loses all its force when one realizes that Taheri has not supplied, and cannot supply, a single instance of jihadists today actually telling their people that something is in the Qur'an when it is not. Osama, Zarqawi, Zawahiri and the rest -- including even the likes of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza -- cite the Qur'an frequently. Their citations are readily located in the actual text. While Taheri is correct that in the days of Malkam as now, "the overwhelming majority of Muslims didn't know Arabic, and those who did had as much difficulty reading the Koran as an English speaker has with Chaucer," translations abound in all languages. Even though these do not have canonical status alongside the Arabic text, a Muslim leader in any Islamic land would have to be a fool to try to pass off something as in the Qur'an that isn't there.
LATER in the century, the campaigns of Sayyed Gamal and Mirza Malkam produce the Salafi movement. The term comes from the phrase aslaf al-salehin ("the worthy ancestors") and evokes the hope of reviving "the pure Islam of the early days under Muhammad."
Interesting that he makes no mention of the Wahhabis, the more common bogeymen accused of turning peaceful Islam violent, and who arose many decades before Sayyed Gamal.
The Salafi movement gave birth to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Moslemeen) led by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt (1928), and to an Iranian Shiite version, the Fedayeen of Islam, led by Muhammad Navab-Safavi (1941).
In the '40s the movement produced two other children. The first was a hybrid of Marxism and Islam concocted by a Pakistani journalist Abul-Ala al-Maudoodi, who saw himself as "the Lenin of Islam." The other was a hybrid of Nazism and Islam promoted by the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Hussaini and Rashid Ali al- Gilani, an Iraqi firebrand of Iranian origin....
In 1979, it won power in Iran under a semi-literate mullah named Ruhallah Khomeini.
This semi-literate was a well-respected religious teacher, an authority on Islamic theology and law, in the Shi'ite holy city of Qom. He won enough renown as an Islamic scholar to earn the title of Ayatollah. He wrote many books and treatises. Taheri, as his biographer, is well aware of all this.
In the 1980s, it dominated Pakistan through a group of army officers known as "the Koran Generals." In 1992 it came close to seizing power in Algeria through the Front for Islamic Salvation (FIS). In 1995, it seized power in Kabul under the banner of the Taliban. Most recently, it won the election in the West Bank and Gaza under the label of Hamas.
SALAFISM'S biggest successes, how ever, have come in the West — where the emergence of large communities of Muslims has created a space in which neo-Islam can thrive....
Once visual apartheid is achieved, the neo-Islamist moves to Phase Two: making his followers brain-dead. This is done by persuading them that there is a unique Islamic answer to all questions ever asked or ever to be asked.
And where does the answer come from? From "fatwa factories" set up by (often semi-literate) sheiks in some Muslim countries. The most complex issues of life, from banks charging interest to euthanasia, are often answered with a simple "yes" or "no."
Here again, it would be nice if this were true, but it is not. There may be some fatwa factories that resemble Taheri's description, but much more often Salafis, Wahhabis and others of the same ilk deal in quite carefully reasoned arguments, far beyond a simple "yes" or "no." Consider this extended examination from Ask-Imam.com of the question of whether a Muslim may nowadays own a slave girl for sex purposes -- as is sanctioned by the Qur'an (4:3, etc.).
For a Salafi/Wahhabi argument for violent jihad, carefully argued from the Qur'an, from a Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, see here.
The idea is that, as Maudoodi (the "Lenin of Islam") believed, Islam was sent by God to turn men into robots obeying divine rules as spelled out by the sheiks....
To call Maududi the Lenin of Islam twice in a short piece obscures the fact that he was an indefatigable Islamic scholar himself. It is true that he appropriated the language of Marxism, and cleverly framed his Islamic appeal in that language, as I show in Onward Muslim Soldiers. He also wrote a multi-volume (the edition here in my office is seven volumes) commentary on the Qur'an that owes nothing to Lenin -- and in it, he argued from the Qur'an his central point that governments that do not implement Sharia have no legitimacy and must be fought by Muslims.
Are robots expected to have the patience and intellectual curiosity that is required to plow through a multi-volume tafsir? I am not saying that all who followed Maududi's ideas read and studied his books, but I am saying that this vision of programmed half-wits led by three-quarter wits simply doesn't tally with the facts.
NEO-ISLAM pursues its culture of apartheid by dividing the world into "Islam" and "un-Islam."
Wherever Muslims are a majority is designated as Dar al-Islam (House of Peace); the rest of the world is Dar al-Harb (House of War) or, at best, Dar al-Da'awah (House of Propagation). The claim is that it is enough to be a Muslim to be always right against non-Muslims.
Neo-Islam does this, eh? That's funny; a few years ago I was on Michael Coren's TV show in Toronto with Anis Shorrosh, author of Islam Revealed, and a couple of Muslim scholars. When Shorrosh brought up the dar al-Islam/dar al-Harb distinction, one of them looked aggrieved and said, "That is a concept from Medieval times" -- as if no Muslims today believed in such a division. And now Taheri tells us its not Medieval, it's modern.
In fact, of course, it's both. The huge, chasmic distinction between believers and unbelievers ("the vilest of creatures" according to Qur'an 98:6) runs through the Qur'an. Dar al-Islam/dar al-Harb is a very ancient formulation, and one dear to the heart of jihadists today. Taheri's implication that it is something new obscures its traditional roots, and reassures Western non-Muslims -- but on false pretenses.
This is not how Muhammad taught Islam. His biography is full of instances where he ruled against a Muslim in a dispute with a non-Muslim. For him, the world was divided between "right" and "wrong," and "good" and "evil," not Islam and non-Islam. It is possible to be a Muslim and do evil things, while a non-Muslim could also be an agent of good.
Sure, but this is beside the point. Ultimately Muhammad taught that Muslims should behave this way toward non-Muslims -- even good ones:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the tax on non-Muslims specified in Qur’an 9:29]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim 4294)
Taheri says later: "Neo-Islam has as much right to operate in the political field as any other party in a democracy. But it does not have the right to pretend to be a religion — it is not."
Great. But with all this denial and obfuscation, I wonder if Taheri any longer has the right to pretend to be a trustworthy analyst. I still have great respect for his work -- most of the time. But articles like this one just peddle false reassurance, and are misleading. At best.