I respect Stephen Schwartz’s work exposing the depredations of the Wahhabis, but when I saw this piece in the Weekly Standard, I thought it important to note that the interpretations Schwartz attributes to the Wahhabis by no means originated with them. Why? Because otherwise people will be deceived into thinking that if we can stop the Wahhabis, the problem of radical Islam will disappear. Unfortunately, it isn’t so. The problem is older, wider, and deeper than the Wahhabi phenomenon.
Here is the relevant part of Schwartz’s piece with commentary from me:
The Wahhabi Koran is notable in that, while Muslims believe that their sacred text was dictated by God and cannot be altered, the Saudi English version adds to the original so as to change its sense in a radical direction. For example, the opening chapter, or surah, is known as Fatiha, and is recited in Muslim daily prayer and (among non-Wahhabis) as a memorial to the dead. The four final lines of Fatiha read, in a normal rendition of the Arabic original (such as this translation by N.J. Dawood, published by Penguin Books): Guide us to the straight path, / The path of those whom You have favored, / Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, / Nor of those who have gone astray.
The Wahhabi Koran renders these lines: Guide us to the Straight Way. / The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians). The Wahhabi Koran prints this translation alongside the Arabic text, which contains no reference to either Jews or Christians.
There is nothing to indicate to the uninformed reader that these interpolations, printed in parentheses, are absent from the Arabic. The reader encountering Islam for the first time, as well as the Muslim already indoctrinated in Wahhabism, is led to believe that the Koran denounces all Jews and Christians, which it does not.
All right. But the renowned Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir (1301-1372) says that the two paths (those with whom Allah is angry and those who have gone astray) “are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
This is, of course, the sort of thing that makes Ibn Kathir beloved of Wahhabis today, but remember: Wahhabism emerged in the eighteenth century, 400 years after Ibn Kathir. So his commentary demonstrates that this understanding of the Fatiha wasn’t invented in 2004 by the Wahhabis, but existed in Islam long before the Wahhabis existed.
Distortions of the text stating or implying that God has condemned the Jews and Christians are scattered throughout the Wahhabi Koran. Notably, they invert the meaning of the several verses that express respect for the “People of the Book,” the Jews and Christians. Thus, verse 2:62 in its authentic form states: Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans–whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right–shall be rewarded by their Lord. (The Sabaeans were followers of an ancient religion impossible to identify clearly today.) In the Saudi English translation, this passage is footnoted to declare, No other religion except Islam will be accepted from anyone, although no such statement appears in the Arabic.
In this the Wahhabis are merely making reference to another verse of the Qur’an: “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 common teaching in Islam that this verse clarifies the meaning of 2:62 by emphasizing that only Jews, Christians and Sabeans who accept Islam will enter Paradise. Ibn Kathir also quotes 3:85 in his discussion of 2:62, and adds: “Allah does not accept any deed or work from anyone, unless it conforms to the Law of Muhammad — that is, after Allah sent Muhammad. Before that, every person who followed the guidance of his own Prophet was on the correct path, following the correct guidance and was saved.”
The standard translation of verse 3:113 reads: There are among the People of the Book some upright men who all night long recite the revelations of God and worship Him, who believe in God and the Last Day, who enjoin justice and forbid evil.
The Saudi translation again inserts verbiage hostile to non-Muslims. In the Wahhabi Koran, the upright Jews and Christians turn out to be those who convert to Islam: those enjoining Islamic Monotheism and following Prophet Muhammad and not opposing Prophet Muhammad. To repeat, where the Arabic text actually praises pious Jews and Christians, the Wahhabi English version praises only Jews and Christians who become Muslims.
For this verse, Ibn Kathir cites several even earlier authorities to support what Schwartz represents as the newly-minted Wahhabi view: “Muhammad Ibn Ishaq and others, including Al-Awfi who reported it from Ibn Abbas, said; ‘These Ayat [verses] were revealed about the clergy of the People of the Scriptures who embraced the faith….This Ayah means that those among the People of the Book whom Allah rebuked earlier are not at all the same as those among them who embraced Islam.”
The original verse 5:65 says of the Jews and Christians: If they observe the Torah and the Gospel and what is revealed to them from their Lord, they shall enjoy abundance.
The Wahhabi edition adds that, in addition to Jews’ observing the Torah and Christians’ the New Testament, both must accept the Koran–that is, become Muslims–which nowhere appears in the Arabic text and conflicts with traditional Islamic theology. Mainstream Islam treats the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran as different books. Wahhabism, by contrast, treats the Jewish and Christian scriptures as primitive editions of the Islamic text.
Once again, Ibn Kathir explains that this verse means that “had the People of the Book believed in Allah and His Messenger [that is, Muhammad]…We would have removed the dangers from them and granted them their objectives.”
Stephen, if you are reading this, please give me some references to the “traditional Islamic theology” that conflicts with this idea, and I will put them up on this site.
And, inevitably, the Wahhabi Koran adds language aggravating Muslim-Jewish controversies. Verse 17:1 refers to the night journey, an out-of-body experience in which the Prophet Muhammad was taken on a magical steed to a site called in the standard text the farther Temple. The Wahhabi translation alters this to stake the Islamic claim to Jerusalem. It refers to Muhammad’s journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) to the farthest mosque (in Jerusalem).
Ibn Kathir: “…’to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa,’ means the Sacred House which is in Jerusalem…”
Nor does Schwartz mention the many other verses in the Qur’an which support this “Wahhabi” reading. A sampling:
The Jews call ‘Uzair [Ezra] a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! (9:30)
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. (9:29)
And this one, in which the first speakers are the Jews, thus affirming the old “deicide” canard, even while denying the deicide itself:
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise; And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them…
Jesus will be a witness against the Jews and Christians on the Day of Judgment — and yet we are supposed to believe that the Qur’an regards Jews and Christians with respect, and that that was Islamic tradition until the Wahhabis came along? Both the Qur’an and Islamic tradition reveal otherwise.
I agree with Schwartz that these sentiments need to be repudiated. But it can’t be done simply by blaming them on the Wahhabis. Their broader roots in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition must be confronted–and repudiated along with the Wahhabis.