This morning at Front Page there is a symposium on the Qur’an and anti-Semitism, featuring Islamic reform advocate Professor Khaleel Mohammed, the renowned scholar Bat Ye’or, and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer. I think it is illuminating in several important ways. Read the whole thing; here are my closing remarks:
Spencer: I thank Professor Muhammad for his kind words, but some lingering questions remain. He says that my remarks are cogent and grants that there is a problem, but then says: “Yes, some imams do preach as Mr. Spencer said; but many others preach differently, and they are in the majority–as is well-known to the Muslim community.” I must confess that I am confused as to how the “minuscule minority” of the professor’s last remarks has now become a majority. Also I wonder why we do not see more of the fruits of this alleged majority in the words and actions of Muslims in the United States and around the world.
As for Saffiyah, all of Professor Muhammad’s remarks are obviated by the fact that she was a convert to Islam. Her being called “al yahudiyya” was only an identifying mark, but the lack of a stigma was due to the fact that she was no longer a Jew but a Muslim. I expect that Professor Muhammad and I will disagree on this. As for Jesus, since he was a Jew with Jewish followers, his remarks do not have remotely the same force that Suras 2:62-65, 5:59-60, and 7:166 of the Qur’an do. The latter speak of “the Jews” collectively; whatever group of Jews was originally meant, most exegetes today take these passages to refer to all those who identify themselves as Jews nowadays. (Professor Muhammad seems to have granted that previously, although in this go-round he seems to be charging me with ascribing these views to the Qur’an when actually they come from tradition.
Allow me to remind him that I am not ascribing them to anything, but merely reporting on the exegetical habits that are currently dominant in the Islamic world.) But when the New Testament speaks of “the Jews,” it is as one group of Jews speaking of another, and thus cannot be properly taken as a condemnation of the whole race. This understanding was significant in mitigating Christian anti-Semitism, particularly in the 20th century.
There is no such mitigating factor in the Qur’an: while an informed reading of the New Testament reveals the Jewish identity of most of the authors, and thus defangs any exegesis that would blame “the Jews” as an aggregate for the Crucifixion or anything else, the situation is different in the Qur’an. The distinction that the professor is trying to make by saying that only one group of Jews is meant in these Qur’anic passages is, whatever its merits as an exegetical argument, nowhere found in the Qur’anic text itself. This difference is something that Professor Muhammad, as a sincere reformer, must eventually acknowledge: no problem can be solved without a realistic prior appraisal of its nature and dimensions.
When Professor Muhammad says of me: “For him to say then that the Qur’an speaks of “the” Jew, as if referring to a monolithic group is wrong.” Well, I never actually said that. But many Muslims do, and that is the problem. The fact that “the mosques have largely prevented” him from doing what he loves is an indication of how large this problem is. That seems to be still understated by the Professor, while he wildly overstates the dangers of the Christian “reconstructionist” movement that is supposedly “threatening all progress.” I am confident that as he goes farther with his reform efforts, he will acknowledge this more clearly.
Finally, although I am sorry about Professor Muhammad’s ungallant words for the groundbreaking, courageous, and brilliant scholar Bat Ye’or, I much appreciate this statement of his: “Mr Spencer’s ideas can and ought to be taken seriously by Muslims and his voice should be sought further; I am prepared to promote this.” I have been down so long it looks like up to me: every American Muslim spokesman I have encountered in the public forum, including leading figures of CAIR, ADC, MPAC, and other groups, have roundly mischaracterized my work and smeared me as a “hatemonger.”
I am simply raising honest questions and concerns about Islam, and this response has been disheartening not only personally but for my appraisal of the prospects for the reform within Islam that is so urgently needed. If Professor Muhammad can get together a group of Muslims who would be willing to engage — honestly, and without dissimulation — my questions about jihad, terrorism, and related issues, I would be happy to work with him. As he says: “reform cannot occur when there are lies and disinformation about Islam.” That statement is just as true when the lies and disinformation come from Muslims themselves.