CAIR’s Hussam Ayloush
Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) spoke at UCLA Wednesday night about jihad. Last year I debated Ayloush on a similar topic. At UCLA he declared that his intention was to dispel misconceptions. (Thanks to Jean-Luc.)
The Muslim Student Association hosted an informational forum — “Operation Jihad: Misconceptions of a Peaceful Intention” — in honor of Islamic Awareness Week on Wednesday night. . . .
Speaker Husam Ayloush — a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — discussed the meaning of Islamic Jihad and addressed common misconceptions of the term.
“The word ‘jihad’ makes most people think of Islamic extremists and events like Sept. 11,” Ayloush said.
“But they do not remember that the image of long-bearded men carrying machine guns is media-produced,” he added.
This is a strange statement. It seems doubtful that Ayloush means that such men don’t exist. Perhaps he means that they don’t exist in the numbers suggested by the media coverage they receive. In any case, bearded or no (Atta, after all, was clean-shaven), Islamic radicals are unfortunately not a small group. Just this past week I have posted news stories about jihadist activities not only in the U.S., Israel, and Iraq, but also in Australia, Mali, Pakistan, France, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Thailand, Iran, Chechnya, Germany, and elsewhere. And that’s just in the last week! I suppose all this is media-created?
In Arabic, “jihad” means the exertion of effort for the sake of God, and has no implications of war or violence, Ayloush said. . . .
Ayloush mentioned that many individuals incorrectly associate jihad with the idea of a holy war.
This term “holy war” does not exist in Islamic terminology and was only written to describe the Crusades in the 1400s, he said.
Jihad ultimately promotes peace and justice in everyday activities, such as loving Allah above everything else and resisting worldly temptations, he added.
It’s true: jihad doesn’t mean “holy war” in Arabic. But there are centuries of Islamic tradition, as well as an elaborate Islamic theological and legal structure, behind the concept of jihad as warfare. I explore this in depth in Onward Muslim Soldiers.
In that book I recount instances where other Islamic spokesmen have denied that jihad means “holy war” and then proceeded on the assumption that that in itself meant that Islam and jihad were inherently peaceful. But in fact, while the term “holy war” may not exist as such in Islamic tradition, the concept certainly does. One classic manual of Islamic sacred law is quite specific and detailed about the meaning of jihad. It defines the “greater jihad” as “spiritual warfare against the lower self” and then devotes eleven pages to various aspects of the “lesser jihad” and its aftermath. It defines this jihad as “war against non-Muslims,” noting that the word itself “is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.”
This manual stipulates that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” (‘Umdat as-Salik, o9.8). The caliph was the successor of Muhammad as the leader of the Muslim community; the caliphate was abolished by the secular Turkish government in 1924. But the manual also states that in the absence of a caliph, Muslims must still wage jihad.
The requirement that non-Muslims first be “invited” to enter Islam and then warred against until they either convert or pay the jizya, the special tax on non-Muslims, is founded upon the Qur’an: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Sura 9:29).
This verse has been used in Islamic history and jurisprudence to establish three choices for non-Muslims that Muslims are facing in jihad: conversion to Islam, submission under Islamic rule (which involves a carefully delineated second-class citizen status centered around but by no means limited to the jizya, the tax on non-Muslims), or death.
Muhammad himself expands upon the three choices of Sura 9:29 in a tradition found in one of the collections considered most reliable by Muslims: Sahih Muslim. It depicts the Prophet of Islam appointing generals and exhorting his troops:
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. 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, book 19, no. 4294.)
Out of all this material Muslim jurists have constructed an elaborate legal edifice that is without parallel in any other major religion: a codified, detailed mass of laws for the conduct of warfare in the name of God. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), the pioneering historian and philosopher, puts it this way: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
This is the traditional understanding of jihad that radical Muslims worldwide are operating upon. Ayloush would have done a much better service if he had acknowledged the existence of these traditions and mapped out a proposal for how they could be reformed in order to neutralize the threat from radical Islam and to bring Islamic theology and law in line with the principles of freedom and tolerance enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elsewhere.
Ayloush did say some intriguing things, however, if this report is accurate.
Jihad can also implicate defending one’s community from oppression, but it does not automatically call for war, Ayloush said.
“Islam is not about fighting until you teach someone a lesson. It is about fighting until persecution is no more,” he said.
So it seems that Islamic jihad does involve fighting under certain circumstances: evidently, when there is “persecution.” Of course, this is just the justification Osama bin Laden adduced for September 11: “Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple: Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.” This is not to say that Ayloush endorses bin Laden’s statement, but it does show that Ayloush’s explanation of jihad, at least as it has been reported here, is not adequate to rule out Islamic radical interpretations.
One student protester showed his disagreement with Ayloush.
First-year biology student David Lazar stood outside the forum to protest.
“Alyoush says Islam is oppression and promotes peace, but he ignores the presence of numerous Islamic suicide bombers in Palestine,” he said.
“If Islam is not a violent religion, then why did Islamic extremists attack and kill hundreds of women and noncombatants on Sept. 11?” he added.
Ayloush responded by encouraging his audience to remember no religion is immune to extremist sects.
“No one judges Christianity by the acts of Hitler; no one judges Judaism by the acts of Sharon; So if you want to judge Islam, do not judge it by the acts of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein,” he said.
“Remember that the mainstream believers, not the extreme few, represent Islam,” he added.
This is a familiar and particularly nasty dodge. Hitler was a baptized Christian but was never observant. Nazi ideology was explicitly pagan and anti-Christian; Hitler persecuted the Church whenever it wasn’t supine in the face of his tyranny. This is a far cry from the self-conscious, explicit, and sustained justification from Islamic sources that radical Muslims use to further the aims of worldwide terrorism. Hitlerism was never part of Christianity and so never needed to be reformed out of it; but Islamic radicalism must be reformed out of Islam, or it will continue to spread. Blithely dismissing it as “extremism” will do nothing to stop it.