In the course of writing yesterday’s post about “Islamophobia,” I happened upon this: “Will the Extreme Right Succeed? Turning the War on Terror into a War on Islam” by Louay Safi, the Director of Research at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, Editor of the Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, and a Founding Member and Director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.
Even though it is a year old, I thought it warranted an answer, as it makes arguments that have been parroted in cruder form elsewhere.
The anti-Islam campaign is carried by self-appointed experts who have little understanding of Islam and Muslims, yet are bent on depicting the faith of 1/5 of humanity as intolerant, violent, and anti-western. Having little insight into Muslim societies and Islamic faith and history, they often rely on the crude and faulty logic of generalization about Muslims from the experiences of fringe Muslim groups, and of reading Islamic texts out of context, both the socio-political and the discursive.
“…self-appointed experts”: I haven’t appointed myself to anything. Everything I assert in my books about Islam, Muhammad, jihad, Sharia, dhimmitude, whatever, is carefully documented from Islamic sources. (Of course, that doesn’t stop the liars: yesterday someone sent me a link to a site asserting that my “Jesus vs. Muhammad” quotes in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) were unsourced and probably made up, but this just shows the depth of the mendacity of some people: anyone with the book can see that it isn’t true.) Some time ago I heard from a professor who got one of my books and determined to prove me wrong — so he gathered my sources and started to check up on me, and lo and behold, he found out that I was right. Everyone is invited to do the same thing.
Nor am I “bent on depicting the faith of 1/5 of humanity as intolerant, violent, and anti-western.” I am bent on showing what the jihadists use in Islamic texts and teachings to make recruits and justify their actions, and bent on asking self-proclaimed moderates like Louay Safi to deal with that material forthrightly. But he sure doesn’t here:
Robert Spencer, a prolific anti-Islam writer and a leading Islamophobe who is bent on distorting Islam and demonizing Muslims, has persistently argued that violence and terrorism employed by Muslim extremists is rooted in the Quran and its message. Spencer calls the Quran, a book sacred to Muslim, “the jihadists” Mein Kampf,” in reference to Hitler”s memoir. He openly blames the Quran for giving impetus to the terrorist open war against the West. “So is the Qur’an the Mein Kampf of the totalitarian, supremacist movement that is the global Islamic jihad? If we take seriously the words of the book itself and how they are used by jihadists, then it clearly is their inspiration and justification.”
A familiar tactic: Safi acts as if it is I who have originated the idea that the Qur’an is the jihadists’ inspiration and justification. Yet all one has to do is read the writings of Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi, and all the rest of them to see their copious use of the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify what they do. They will do this no matter what I am doing, and it is not I who led them to do it.
Spencer insists that the Quran is the source of the violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists against civilians. “Nor are these jihadists misrepresenting, twisting, or hijacking what the Quran says,” Spencer contends. “There are over a hundred verses in the Qur”an that exhort believers to wage jihad against unbelievers. “˜O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed” (Sura 9:73). “˜Strive hard” in Arabic is jahidi, a verbal form of the noun jihad. This striving was to be on the battlefield: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly” (Qur”an 47:4). This is emphasized repeatedly: “˜O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (Qur”an 9:123).”
Spencer cherry picks few out of the hundreds verses that deal with issues of peace and war, and misrepresents Islam by arguing that the Quran directs Muslims to fight non-Muslims on the account of having different faith. He does that by obscuring both the textual and historical contexts of the verses he cites. The Quran is unequivocal that fighting is a last resort and is permitted to repulse aggression and stop oppression and abuse: “A declaration of disavowal from God and His Messenger to those of the polytheists (Arab pagans) with whom you contracted a Mutual alliance.” (9:1) The reason for this war against the pagans was their continuous fight and conspiracy against the Muslims to turn them out of Medina as they had been turned out of Makkah, and their infidelity to and disregard for the covenant they had made with the Muslims: “Why you not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and attacked you first.”(9:13)
Out of the hundreds of the Quran”s verses left out of Spencer”s discussion are those that direct Muslims to initiate fighting only to repel aggression while urging them to seek peace when the other party seeks peace: “Fight in the way of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression, for God loves not aggressors. And fight them wherever you meet them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution is worse than slaughter. But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no oppression and the religion is only for God, but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (2:190-193)
Actually I have discussed that verse in several books and on many occasions. In the Zarqawi article linked above, which came out six months before this article by Safi, I discuss his use of it. But here again, if there is “cherry-picking” going on, it is being done by the jihadists about whose use of Islamic texts I report, not by me. As for context, in his sira, Muhammad’s earliest biographer Ibn Ishaq explains the contexts of various verses of the Qur’an by saying that Muhammad received revelations about warfare in three stages: first, tolerance; then, defensive warfare; and finally, offensive warfare in order to convert the unbelievers to Islam or make them pay the jizya (see Qur’an 9:29, Sahih Muslim 4294, etc.). Qur’anic commentaries, tafasir, by Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, As-Suyuti and others also emphasize that Surat At-Tawba — the Qur’an’s ninth chapter — abrogates every peace treaty in the Qur’an.
In the modern age, this idea of stages of development in the Qur’an’s teaching on jihad, culminating in offensive warfare to establish the hegemony of Islamic law, has been affirmed by jihad theorists such as Sayyid Qutb, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the Pakistani Brigadier S. K. Malik (author of “The Qur’anic Concept of War”), Saudi Chief Justice Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid (in his “Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah“), and others. It is, of course, an assertion of no little concern to non-Muslims, since it encapsulates a doctrine of warfare against non-Muslims and their ultimate subjugation under Sharia rules, with all that implies.
Thus, as an ostensible moderate Muslim and vociferous opponent of terrorism in all its forms, Louay Safi ought to be fighting against this interpretation of Islam among his fellow Muslims, instead of fighting against me for noting its existence, as if I originated it. If he is really concerned about “Islamophobia,” he would be doing battle against this view within the American Muslim community, since this expansionist imperative forms the ideological underpinning of much of today’s terrorism, and thereby fuels any “Islamophobia” that actually exists.
But in any case, his charges that I cherry-pick and rip passages out of context are entirely unfounded, for this jihadist interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah is based on a contextual analysis of the Qur’an, a relative weighing of Meccan and Medinan suras, and an examination of the asbab an-nazool — the circumstances of revelation — for a large number of verses. It would be refreshing if Louay Safi would deal with this material in an open and honest discussion, without ad hominem attacks, but I have no hope for that.