I have received a lengthy statement from a gentleman named Trevor Stanley criticizing various aspects of Jihad Watch. You can find it in the comments section here. Ordinarily it is wise not to reply to critics, but this message is so lengthy and thoughtful, and it touches on issues that are not only inflammatory but also frequently misunderstood, that I thought it would be useful to reply here to Mr. Stanley, and in so doing perhaps to introduce a few helpful distinctions and clarifications.
Says Mr. Stanley: “You claim that no muslim group has ever renounced terrorism, or renouncing violence against innocents.”
This is in fact not the case. I have never claimed that no Muslim group has ever renounced terrorism or violence against innocents. To make such a claim would have been preposterous, for I have had the same experience as Mr. Stanley, who says: “I have repeatedly found Muslim groups denouncing such violence.” What Mr. Stanley may be thinking of is the fact that no Muslim group has ever renounced the doctrines of violent jihad that radical Muslims use to justify terrorist acts. But many of these very groups decry terrorism and simply don’t think of what they’re doing in that category; they see themselves as performing religious acts and regard “terrorism” as a label devised by the West to discredit them.
Stanley: “For one thing, there is a consensus of all four schools of Sunni Islamic Law that violence against innocents, or violence outside a state of war, is unacceptable.”
That is correct, and I have affirmed it on this site many times (see the first sentence here, for example), as well as in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers. Unfortunately, however, this is not a blanket prohibition. The Shafi’i school of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence stipulates that “it is not permissible . . . to kill women and children unless they are fighting against the Muslims.” The Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya, a favorite of modern Muslim radicals, directed that “as for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g. by propaganda) and acts (e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).”
This loophole is exploited by Osama bin Laden and other radical Muslims to justify actions such as the destruction of the World Trade Center: the people in it, you see, were aiding America’s putative war against Islam, and thus could lawfully be killed. I am not saying that the radicals’ reasoning here is correct on Islamic grounds or universally accepted within the Muslim world, but only that it has an appeal based on traditional Islamic law.
Stanley: “There is an extensive literature on the law of war in Islam, and it is impressively civilised in many ways, given that it is over 1000 years old. Under these interpretations (traditional/mainstream Islam), the only permissable war is a defensive war, however if the Muslim country is under attack by non-Muslims _and_ Jihad is declared by respected, learned scholars, then contribution to the war is obligatory for all individuals who are able.”
This is in the main correct. I have pointed out here many times (here’s one) cases in which modern-day radical scholars position today’s conflicts as defensive jihad. However, there is also offensive jihad in order to spread Islam. I point out in my book Islam Unveiled that the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence holds that Muslims need not wait until they are attacked to wage offensive jihad. Many scholars of other schools agree with them on this. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons why radical Muslims want to reestablish the Caliphate: they hold that only a Caliph can declare offensive jihad, and thus that this duty of Muslims is being neglected while this office remains vacant.
Stanley: “The whole point of _radical_ Islam is that it rejects sections of the traditional interpretation and imposes a new, narrow interpretation on the religion. It is radically different to conventional Islam.”
There is no doubt that there are millions of peaceful Muslims. More on this below.
Stanley: “While respected traditional scholars generally study for around ten years, many of these radical Islamists have never actually studied theology – Usama bin Laden studied engineering and business, whereas his second-in-command Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a paediatrician. Al Qaeda calls bin Laden a sheikh and their spiritual leader – but he has no theological training!”
Irrelevant. I am not saying that radical Islam is the only Islam, or even the correct form. I do point out that it has a solid theological and legal basis within Islam, because this fact has to be recognized if there is to be any reform. The fact is that radical Muslims routinely make theological appeals. Many of these are quite detailed, and convincing to many Muslims. The fact that they may come from engineers and pediatricians makes no difference: they are not arguments based on the authority of Osama, Zawahiri, and others, but on the cited texts of the Qur’an, Sunna, and jurists.
Mr. Stanley then makes the point that “the radical groups start with the conclusion that violence and terrorism is justified, then seek permission from the Quran, selecting passages out of context.” His argument here is rather lengthy, and based on the assertion that “the al-Qaeda interpretation” of certain passages of the Qur’an “is a gross distortion of the traditional interpretation of the Quran, and when looked at more closely, this becomes clear.” He bases this on Suras 2:190-194 of the Qur’an, arguing that radical Muslims ignore the sections of this passage that forbid fighting except in self-defense.
I would be the first to applaud a Qur’anic citation that genuinely rebuked the radicals. Unfortunately, this isn’t it: Mr. Stanley acknowledges that “this section of Chapter 2 of the Quran specifically deals with the first period of Islam, when many on the Arab Peninsula were gathering to crush the Muslim upstarts. Permission to fight back against those who had repeatedly attacked or broken treaties was given at this point.”
The fact that this dates from the first period of Islam (actually more like the middle period) is decisive. As I explain in Onward Muslim Soldiers, Islamic theologians generally regard passages of the Qur’an that were revealed later to take precedence over those revealed earlier if there is a matter on which two or more passages seem to clash. The Qur’an is not arranged chronologically; the last sura to have been revealed was Sura 9, which contains the Verse of the Sword: “. . . slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (9:5), and the command to fight against Jews and Christians “until they pay the Jizya [non-Muslim poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). Ibn Kathir (1301-1372), whose tafsir (commentary) on the Qur’an enjoys widespread mainstream acceptance today, says that Sura 9:5 “abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term. . . . No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara’ah [Sura 9] was revealed.”
The idea that the Verse of the Sword abrogates every peace treaty recorded in earlier passages of the Qur’an or elsewhere is the foundation of another widespread Muslim idea that I explain in Onward Muslim Soldiers. It is articulated by, among others, the Pakistani Brigadier S. K. Malik in a 1979 book, The Qur’anic Concept of War (a book that made its way to the American mujahedin Jeffrey Leon Battle and October Martinique Lewis, and which carried a glowing endorsement from Pakistan’s then-future President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who said that it explained “the ONLY pattern of war” that a Muslim country could legitimately wage). This is the idea that there is another stage of Qur’anic teaching on jihad beyond self-defense. Malik explains: “The Muslim migration to Medina brought in its wake events and decisions of far-reaching significance and consequence for them. While in Mecca, they had neither been proclaimed an Ummah [community] nor were they granted the permission to take up arms against their oppressors. In Medina, a divine revelation proclaimed them an ‘Ummah’ and granted them the permission to take up arms against their oppressors. The permission was soon afterwards converted into a divine command making war a religious obligation for the faithful.” This is by no means a non-traditional idea, but one that is deeply rooted in the thinking of many venerable Islamic theologians — such as Ibn Kathir.
Again, I am not saying that radical Islam is the only Islam or the only correct Islam. But any illusions that it is easily refuted and dismissed on Islamic grounds are unrealistic and possibly dangerously misleading, given today’s global situation.
Mr. Stanley also says that “the Quran I’ve referred to in writing this also makes the point that [the command to fight] ‘until the religion is only for Allah’ [Sura 2:193] does not have the implications that Al Qaeda et al would like to give it. Allah is merely the Arabic word for the Christian God or Jewish Yahweh, and refers readers to 22:40, which explicitly states that Allah/God states that the Ahl al-Kitab (people of the Book – the Torah/Gospel/Quran) should repel those who attack ‘cloisters, churches, and synagogues’. (Not much consolation for atheists like me…)”
Once again, this is only part of the Qur’anic evidence. The book also says that “if anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good)” (Sura 3:85). It is no good to ignore such passages, because Al-Qaeda and its ilk know them well.
Stanley: “Several posters here have attempted to cast scorn on the statement of Indonesian Islamic scholars that suicide attacks are unacceptable outside a state of war – the webmaster says the statement is ‘weaselly’, as if the mainstream scholars are attempting to keep their options open.”
Webmaster is guilty as charged. I did use the word “weaselly,” because at least in the report I had at hand the scholars repeated the fact that Islam forbids the killing of the innocent without addressing the far more important question of whether those targeted in suicide attacks are to be regarded as innocent in the first place.
Stanley: “What the scholars are doing here is deliberately refuting the decidedly ‘weaselly’ standard arguments presented by the radicals. For one thing, suicide is illegal in Islamic law, while wading into an ‘impossible’ battle against a genuine enemy during a genuine war is praiseworthy, even if it means (almost) certain death. The jihadis attempt to justify suicide bombing by saying that it is not suicide at all, but martyrdom in warfare. ‘Jihad Watch’ says ‘What if Indonesia becomes a war zone? It sure looked like one in Bali last year’. But that is entirely the point – the council of ulema is explictly saying that the Bali bombings were committed when there was not _legally_ a state of war, and therefore were out-and-out murder, completely against Islamic teachings. If someone actually declared war on Indonesia, are you asking that they do nothing in return?”
No, but I wouldn’t want them blowing up nightclub patrons during a war any more than I want them to do it in peacetime. The point was that the scholars didn’t condemn the murder of civilians outright — they just said, according to the report, that “killing innocent people is forbidden, and that seeking martyrdom with such actions as suicide bombings is only justified in war zones. It states clearly that Indonesia is not a war zone.” You know what that is? It’s weaselly: they’re saying it would be OK to kill civilians with suicide bombings in a war zone. Arguably, all of Israel is a war zone, but among civilized people the Palestinians have done themselves and their cause great harm by carrying out and approving of targeted suicide bombing attacks against schoolchildren, supermarket shoppers, etc.
Mr. Stanley adds that when jihadists claim that a state of war already exists between the West and Islam, they ignore “aspects of Islamic law such as when holy war is acceptable, who may declare it, and what conduct is acceptable under law. It is a convenient fig leaf for Al Qaeda’s violence. By explicitly stating that there is no state of war, the council of Ulema are saying that the radicals are acting outside the pale of Islam, and are in deep sin.”
As for “when holy war is acceptable” and “who may declare it,” it is true that, as I explained above, only the Caliph may declare offensive jihad. Also, the Shafi’i school teaches that “it is offensive to conduct a military expedition against hostile non-Muslims without the caliph’s permission.” However, it adds that “if there is no caliph, no permission is required” (‘Umdat as-Salik, o9.6). Once again, the case against the radicals is, unfortunately, not nearly as open-and-shut as Mr. Stanley seems to suppose.
Mr. Stanley: “Yes, JI have already ‘justified’ their violent behaviour. . . . Their web of rationalisations is based on extremely shoddy Islamic theology, contrary to 1400 years of practice and teachings. The ulema just did definitively refute the entire theological basis of JI’s ideology, but as you say, from the point of view of dissuading the members of JI, they may as well be speaking to themselves. From the point of view of Muslim laymen in Indonesia however, this is a powerful statement that JI is _not_ a conventional Muslim outfit fighting a legitimate defence against a real war, but rather a sect composed of deluded souls who have strayed from the path of Islam.”
I hope this is true. But I believe that what I have pointed out above, and more, is more likely to be the mindset of Muslim laymen in Indonesia and elsewhere than the incomplete statements of the ulama.
Stanley: “Your webpage also states that ‘the West is facing a concerted effort by radical Muslims, most of whom are ignored by the Western media, to destroy the West and bring it forcibly into the Islamic world.’ Actually, the western media finds the whole jihad thing very entertaining to publish. The numerous denunciations of terrorism I have come across in my studies never make it into the papers because they are, frankly, boring. ‘Killing innocents is wrong’ is a much less exciting headline than ‘All Christians must die’, and the media will always go with the latter.”
I am sorry to say that the evidence is otherwise. At Dhimmi Watch the material I report on persecution of Christians in Muslim countries generally comes from sources such as the Barnabas Fund and Compass Direct. Why? Because it is largely ignored by the major media. However, in today’s headlines alone there are two stories about Islamic groups renouncing violence: one in the World Tribune and one in GulfNews. I expect that these will get much more attention from the major media than those of persecution — in the spirit of the notorious post-9/11 New York Times story anointing Al-Azhar Univerisity in Cairo, a hotbed of Islamic fanaticism, as an oasis of Islamic toleration, moderation, and peace.
Stanley: “Did you know that 20,000 Iraqis marched against terrorism and for democracy in Iraq recently (and more in other cities), but were ignored by the world media? The media were scooped by Iraqi blogs.”
Not only did I know it, but I posted at Jihad Watch here about it.
Mr. Stanley admonishes me: “You are also incorrect to believe that this is primarily an attempt to bring the west into the Islamic world. Really, this is an attempt to transform the Islamic world by altering the relationship between it and the West. The radicals want to change their regimes, but believe the only thing standing in their way is Western support to the regimes in their countries. If they can drive out the West, they can overturn their home governments, so the logic goes. Consolidation would follow, then expansion within the Muslim world, more consolidation, then _perhaps_ an offensive jihad against the West.”
Well, don’t take it on my word, Mr. Stanley. Take it from the radicals themselves. For example, Sheikh Omar Bakri of Britain, who has said: “I want to see the black flag of Islam flying over Downing Street.” Take it from Omar Ahmad of the Council on American Islamic Relations, who is on record saying that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant . . . The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.” Ahmad now denies saying this, but the reporter who heard her stands by her story. I could cite dozens of other examples all with the same point: that many Muslims have made abundantly clear their intentions to, as Mr. Stanley puts it, “bring the west into the Islamic world.”
“My point? Our greatest potential allies are the Muslims who have been suffering from this onslaught of terrorism since the 1950s and earlier.”
As I state in the FAQ section: “Any Muslim who renounces violent jihad and dhimmitude is welcome to join in our anti-jihadist efforts.”
Stanley: “Finally, what concerns me about your page is that I can see the radicals cynically presenting their case as the opinion of ‘all Muslims’ or ‘Orthodox Islam’, and even presenting themselves as moderates. They are louder and more activist (like all fanatics) and therefore they sometimes drown out the mainstream Muslims. By presenting the claims of the radicals (‘Jihad is a central duty of every Muslim’) as the attitude of Islam towards the West (hands rubbed together in glee at the prospect of more Christians to kill), you are playing into the hands of the radicals, the people who today have the heaviest bet on Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis.”
Sir, jihad is a central duty of every Muslim. What that means to each individual Muslim is another matter. In any case, once again, I never present the teachings of radical Islam as the sole teachings of Islam itself. If a moderate voice were to present a vision of Islam that confronts and refutes the radical version, I would applaud and support them. But much more often, moderate voices simply ignore the passages that the radicals use. That is not true moderation or reform: it does nothing to convince the radicals themselves to follow a different path. On this basis I reject your contention that I am “playing into the hands of the radicals.” I am pointing out the necessary parameters of true moderation and reform, rather than accepting patently inadequate and even deceptive models of those things. I will not apologize for doing so, because I don’t believe that these inadequate forms of moderate Islam will get us anywhere — in fact, they really play into the hands of the radicals.