So says Chris Seiple in the reliably dhimmi Christian Science Monitor. “Chris Seiple is the president of the Institute for Global Engagement, a ‘think tank with legs’ that promotes sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide.” Apparently promoting sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide involves tiptoeing around the volatile and easily offended, and ignoring and denying unpleasant truths. Great idea! Why didn’t anyone think of it before?
[…] As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.
1. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it. Civilization has many characteristics but two are foundational: 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.
The difficulty here is that there is no party in this conflict that encourages or invites the murder of innocent civilians. Islamic jihadists believe no non-Muslim is innocent. They also present themselves as the exponents of a superior civilization and speak openly about conquering the citadels of Western civilization. If we don’t speak of a clash of civilizations, will they stop also?
Seiple is right in a certain sense: we need to have a searching and honest public discussion about civilizational values, concepts of human rights, and related issues that few realize are at stake in our defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. Pretending that everyone involved already shares these values will do nothing to stop those who do not share these values.
2. “Secular.” The Muslim ear tends to hear “godless” with the pronunciation of this word. And a godless society is simply inconceivable to the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Pluralism — which encourages those with (and those without) a God-based worldview to have a welcomed and equal place in the public square — is a much better word.
Here again: when Seiple speaks of “pluralism,” will Muslims who believe that Islamic law is the only legitimate basis for society and governance suddenly see the virtue of non-establishment of religion, whereas they wouldn’t if he spoke of “secularism”? Muslims in societies such as Egypt and Pakistan may welcome the proposition that those with “a God-based worldview” should “have a welcomed and equal place in the public square,” but only as a step away from the current Western-influenced governments and a step toward full implementation of Sharia. So it is not enough to speak of the virtues of “pluralism” alone.
3. “Assimilation.” This word suggests that the minority Muslim groups in North America and Europe need to look like the majority, Christian culture. Integration, on the other hand, suggests that all views, majority and minority, deserve equal respect as long as each is willing to be civil with one another amid the public square of a shared society.
All right. So we stop talking about assimilation — who today talks about it anyway? — and allow large numbers of Muslim immigrants into the country who believe that Islamic law is superior to American Constitutional law, and must ultimately supplant it. What will then be the outcome of our discarding of the concept of assimilation?
4. “Reformation.” Muslims know quite well, and have an opinion about, the battle taking place within Islam and what it means to be an orthodox and devout Muslim. They don’t need to be insulted by suggesting they follow the Christian example of Martin Luther. Instead, ask how Muslims understand ijtihad, or reinterpretation, within their faith traditions and cultural communities.
Ijtihad (اجتهاد) is the process of arriving at a decision on a point of Islamic law through study of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Most Muslims consider the gates of ijtihad to be closed — that is, independent study of the Qur’an and Sunnah are discouraged, and Muslims are instead expected to adhere to the rulings of one of the established schools of jurisprudence (madhahib, مذاهب). The gate of ijtihad must be reopened if there is ever to be any genuine Islamic reform: “Therefore it is said that ‘the door of ijtihad is closed’ as of some nine hundred years, and since then the tendency of jurisprudence (fiqh) has been to produce only commentaries upon commentaries and marginalia.”
That’s from Cyril Glasse’s New Encyclopedia of Islam. Cyril Glasse is a graduate of Columbia University and a practicing Muslim. Then there’s this from Muslim-Canada.org: “Thus the schools of the four Imams remain intact after a thousand years have passed, and so the ‘Ulama’ recognize since the time of these Imams no Mujtahid of the first degree. Ibn Hanbal was the last….Since their Imam Qazi Khan died (A.H. 592), no one has been recognized by the Sunnis as a Mujtahid even of the third class.”
A mujtahid is someone qualified to perform ijtihad. Ahmed ibn Hanbal died in 855 AD. Qazi Khan died in 1196. In other words, reviving ijtihad as a mechanism for genuine reform is not going to be easy. Seiple apparently thinks that by speaking about “ijtihad” rather than “reformation,” the process itself can be encouraged. This view is simply naive.
5. “Jihadi.” The jihad is an internal struggle first, a process of improving one’s spiritual self-discipline and getting closer to God. The lesser jihad is external, validating “just war” when necessary. By calling the groups we are fighting “jihadis,” we confirm their own — and the worldwide Muslim public’s — perception that they are religious. They are not. They are terrorists, hirabists, who consistently violate the most fundamental teachings of the Holy Koran and mainstream Islamic scholars and imams.
A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, stipulates that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh “˜Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)…while remaining in their ancestral religions.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8).
Of course, there is no caliph today, and hence the oft-repeated claim that Osama et al are waging jihad illegitimately, as no state authority has authorized their jihad. But they explain their actions in terms of defensive jihad, which needs no state authority to call it, and becomes “obligatory for everyone” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.3) if a Muslim land is attacked. The end of the defensive jihad, however, is not peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals: ‘Umdat al-Salik specifies that the warfare against non-Muslims must continue until “the final descent of Jesus.” After that, “nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent” (o9.8).
That understanding of jihad is mainstream in Islam — none of the other schools of Islamic jurisprudence contradict it in any important particular. So my question for Seiple is this: how is it that the foremost religious institution in Sunni Islam, and all the other schools of Islamic jurisprudence, teach doctrines that “violate the most fundamental teachings of the Holy Koran and mainstream Islamic scholars and imams”? Does he have anything at all to back up this statement? I doubt it.
6. “Moderate.” This ubiquitous term is meant politically but can be received theologically. If someone called me a “moderate Christian,” I would be deeply offended. I believe in an Absolute who also commands me to love my neighbor. Similarly, it is not an oxymoron to be a mainstream Muslim who believes in an Absolute. A robust and civil pluralism must make room for the devout of all faiths, and none.
Indeed. And those Muslims who are not moderate do not want to do anything with that “robust and civil pluralism” but destroy it.
7. “Interfaith.” This term conjures up images of watered-down, lowest common denominator statements that avoid the tough issues and are consequently irrelevant. “Multifaith” suggests that we name our deep and irreconcilable theological differences in order to work across them for practical effect — according to the very best of our faith traditions, much of which are values we share.
I’m with Seiple 100% on this one. Enough of “interfaith dialogue” pursued by naive and ignorant Jews and Christians (like Seiple) who assume, as a matter of dogma, that Islam is a religion of peace and that violence in the name of Islam represents a twisting and hijacking of that faith. Let’s have dialogue on an honest basis, with an honest acknowledgment of the Islamic doctrines of warfare and supremacism.
8. “Freedom.” Unfortunately, “freedom,” as expressed in American foreign policy, does not always seek to engage how the local community and culture understands it. Absent such an understanding, freedom can imply an unbound licentiousness. The balance between the freedom to something (liberty) and the freedom from something (security) is best understood in a conversation with the local context and, in particular, with the Muslims who live there. “Freedom” is best framed in the context of how they understand such things as peace, justice, honor, mercy, and compassion.
Yes, we must safeguard the freedom of Sharia-minded Muslims to institutionalize oppression of women and non-Muslims, in accord with the norms of Sharia.
9. “Religious Freedom.” Sadly, this term too often conveys the perception that American foreign policy is only worried about the freedom of Protestant evangelicals to proselytize and convert, disrupting the local culture and indigenous Christians. Although not true, I have found it better to define religious freedom as the promotion of respect and reconciliation with the other at the intersection of culture and the rule of law — sensitive to the former and consistent with the latter.
“The subject peoples,” i.e., the dhimmis, says that same manual of Islamic law that I cited above, must “pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)” and “are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar); are not greeted with “˜as-Salamu “˜alaykum” [the traditional Muslim greeting, ‘Peace be with you’]; must keep to the side of the street; may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims” buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed; are forbidden to openly display wine or pork…recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals or feastdays; and are forbidden to build new churches.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o11.3, 5).
Now that, to an Islamic supremacist, is religious freedom. Does that really promote “respect and reconciliation with the other”?
10. “Tolerance.” Tolerance is not enough. Allowing for someone’s existence, or behavior, doesn’t build the necessary relationships of trust — across faiths and cultures — needed to tackle the complex and global challenges that our civilization faces. We need to be honest with and respect one another enough to name our differences and commonalities, according to the inherent dignity we each have as fellow creations of God called to walk together in peace and justice, mercy and compassion….
I’m all for honesty and mutual respect. And I don’t think that lying to ourselves or anyone else has anything to do with either honesty or respect.