Those who only read mainstream media sources certainly get an odd picture of unfolding events. First they read about a jihad plot, such as the one last week in Portland, in accounts that never mention that the perpetrator was Muslim. Then follow accounts attempting to account for his actions in ways that don’t involve the Islamic texts and teachings that the perpetrator himself invoked to explain his actions — in the Portland case, Mohamed Mohamud had a troubled childhood, his parents split up, leaving him distraught, etc. Then come stories like the one below, in which Muslim spokesmen respond to “criticism of Islam” that apparently has followed in the wake of the jihad plot, although such criticism never features in mainstream media accounts in any way except to be debunked, as below.
“Muslims respond to criticism of Islam stirred up by Portland bomb plot,” by Nancy Haught for The Oregonian, November 30:
Friday’s failed attempt to bomb Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square has inspired plenty of malice on local blogs and in commentary, inflaming hatred and vilifying Islam. Anger, fear and misinformation have grown exponentially since 9/11, watered by the 24-7 news cycle and instant internet judgments. Suddenly, Oregon’s not such a civil place anymore: Somebody tried to set off an explosion in our living room; somebody set fire to a mosque in Corvallis.
So here we go again: a Muslim attempts to mass-murder non-Muslims, and Muslims turn out to be the victims. In a sane world, Nancy Haught would be writing about how the Muslim community was working hard to prove its loyalty to American Constitutional values, instituting programs to teach against the understanding of Islam manifested by Mohamed Mohamud, etc. Instead, they’re the victims, as always. Mainstream media journalists are drearily predictable in their readiness to retail this line. It is remarkable how it never seems to occur to any of them to ask even the most basic probing questions about what these poor victims actually intend to do on their side to try to prevent future Mohamed Mohamuds, and thereby head off this frightening “backlash.”
Looking for balance, we turned to two Muslim leaders and a scholar about how the words of the Quran, the sacred text of Islam, are often quoted out of context to justify violence. After all, the word “Islam” shares a root with the Hebrew word “shalom” and means — no matter what you hear or read — “peace attained by submission to God.”
No matter what you hear or read! This is the definitive word, right here in The Oregonian, people!
In any case, “peace attained by submission to God” is accurate, once one understands that that means the peace that will come to the world once Sharia is imposed. That peace involves the submission of the unbelievers to the Muslims, as per Qur’an 9:29, and is very much a political system, not just a religious one.
“There’s no part of the Quran that says killing people is okay,” says Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, professor of Islam at Reed College in Southeast Portland. But it’s also not that simple.
Indeed not. There is, after all, “kill the pagans wherever you find them,” which is repeated thrice in the Qur’an: 2:191, 4:89, and 9:5. There is “when you meet the unbelievers, strike at their necks” (47:4). Practically every day at Jihad Watch we see examples of Muslims who somehow misunderstand these verses as meaning that…”killing people is okay.”
“The Quran gives permission to fight to those who have been wronged or persecuted, to those who have been driven unjustly from their homes,” he says. “It allows killing – if it is justified -and imposes limits.”
He is referring to Qur’an 22:39-40: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid. (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say, ‘our Lord is Allah.’”
In fact, the Quran instructs Muslims to live peacefully as long as their enemies are “inclined to peace.” And the prophetic tradition of Islam forbids killing innocents – women, children or any living thing.
Here he is referring to Qur’an 8:61: “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).” Incidentally, that verse follows 8:60, which commands Muslims to “make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies.”
In any case, Nancy Haught assumes that 8:61 means that Muslims should strive for peaceful coexistence with unbelievers, living with them in society as equals on an indefinite basis. Unfortunately, the Qur’an envisions something quite different; the enemy may be “inclined to peace,” and then peace will be granted to him, as long as they pay the non-Muslim poll tax, the jizya, “with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).
Sayyid Qutb explains: “At the time when this surah was revealed, God instructed His Messenger to remain at peace with those groups who refrained from fighting him and the Muslims, whether they entered into a formal treaty with the Muslims or not. The Prophet continued to accept a peaceful relationship with unbelievers and people of earlier revelations until Surah 9 was revealed, when he could only accept one of two alternatives: either they embraced Islam or paid jizyah [a tax levied on non-Muslims, per Qur'an 9:29] which indicated a state of peace. Otherwise, the only alternative was war, whenever this was feasible for the Muslims to undertake, so that all people submit to God alone.”
This is not the only understanding of the relationship between 8:61 and 9:29 among Muslims? Great. But it would have been refreshing if Kambiz GhaneaBassiri had simply offered an alternative one. Of course, maybe he didn’t because he understood that it was just a newspaper article and that it was not the time or place to get into too much depth. Fine. I am inviting him to do so now, then. He can reach me at director[at]jihadwatch.org.
And as for Islam forbidding the killing of innocents, Islamic law prohibits the killing of women and children “unless they are fighting against the Muslims” (‘Umdat al-Salik o9.10, cf. al-Mawardi, al-Akham as-Sultaniyyah, 4.2). And the concept of what constitutes an “innocent” is also disputed. Some Islamic clerics and leaders think no non-Muslim is innocent. It would have been helpful if Kambiz GhaneaBassiri had clarified who exactly he considered to be “innocent.” He didn’t.
The suggestion that Islam is a violent religion bent on the death of unbelievers casts a narrow, politicized view over mainstream Muslims, says Omar B. Shabbazz, a leader of the Muslim Community Center of Portland.
Omar B. Shabbazz is setting up a straw man. Islam is not a violent religion bent on the death of unbelievers. Islam, at least in terms of its traditional and mainstream teachings, is a violent religion bent on the subjugation of unbelievers.
He says he is happy to explain when people have the courage to ask him directly about Islam and violence. “I see it as a teachable moment,” he says. He points to himself and his mosque in Northeast Portland, which has its roots in the African American community. “I tell them, ‘This is the face of Islam in America.’”
But recent events have overshadowed Americans’ pre-9/11 experience with worries that many Muslims are terrorists-in-waiting. Every religion has its zealots. Throughout history Islamic fanatics have ignored the moral principles of the Quran to seize and keep power, Shabbazz says.
“Jihad” is another often-politicized word from the Quran, contributing to the stereotype of Muslims who wage a holy war and accept human collateral damage without remorse. Jihad means “to struggle in the path of God.” But it can refer to an outright war — or to a spiritual struggle.
“The bigger meaning of jihad is the struggle within yourself, between obedience and disobedience,” Shabbazz says. “To trust someone completely, you let go completely. That is the jihad state, to become the hand, the eyes, the feet that Allah uses.” To ignore the inner jihad and proclaim that warfare is the only struggle misses the meaning of the sacred text, he says.
Actually, the primary meaning of jihad in the Qur’an is warfare against unbelievers; otherwise, why would there be a chapter of the Qur’an entitled “The Spoils of War,” complete with instructions about how such spoils should be distributed? There are no “spoils of war” in a spiritual struggle. What kind of spiritual struggle instructs those who are undertaking it to kill anyone, as the Qur’an does in several places (again, 2:191, 4:89, 9:5, 47:4, etc.)?
References in the Quran to “unbelievers” often spark heated arguments, but the word itself does not refer to non-Muslims. The Quran acknowledges the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as viable -though superseded — scriptural traditions, says GhaneaBassiri of Reed. “Islam accepts Jews and Christians as ‘people of the Book.’ Unbelievers, as it is used in the Quran, means, literally, ‘those who deny God.’”
Actually, not just superseded, but corrupted and illegitimate: “But the transgressors changed the word from that which had been given them” (2:59). “There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, ‘That is from Allah,’ but it is not from Allah: It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!” (3:78)
Also, those Christians who believe in the standard and mainstream doctrine of the divinity of Christ are labeled unbelievers in the Qur’an: “They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary” (5:72, cf. 5:17).
“There is no verse in the Quran that condones fighting any peaceful non-Muslim on the sole ground that he or she is a non-Muslim,” says Wajdi Said, president and cofounder of the Muslim Educational Trust. If that were true, he adds, “what would explain the fact that religious minorities through 1,400 years of Muslim history not only survived, but also thrived and found freedom to practice their faiths under Muslim rule?”
Actually, they didn’t thrive. Those communities slowly and steadily withered under the relentless pressure of the institutionalized subjugation mandated in Islamic law. See Bat Ye’or’s The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.
Just another day in the mainstream media.