At FrontPage today, Mustafa Akyol, whose earlier National Review articles attempting to show that Osama bin Laden and Company have hijacked the religion of peace I discussed here and here at some length, turns in a third entry that is as mind-numbingly disingenuous as it is windy and off-point. Here are a few preliminary thoughts.
At the outset, I should clarify the meaning of the term jihad. It does not necessarily mean a military struggle….
I tell you, folks, if I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me…But anyway, Akyol should know that it is completely beside the point, because although it may not “necessarily” be a military struggle, it is for the global jihadists. Does Akyol think they will lay down their arms because jihad can also be a spiritual struggle? As a matter of fact, Hassan Al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Abdullah Azzam (a founder of Al-Qaeda) among others, taught that the idea of jihad as a spiritual struggle was based on a weak hadith, and thus had to be rejected by loyal Muslims. But of course Akyol does not deal with that.
…what will happen to atheists if they are not convinced. Of course, nothing. Let them deny the obvious. “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and Muslims are ordered to say “The truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve.” (18:29)
Interestingly enough, just yesterday someone sent me this from a Muslim Q&A website, quoting Qur’an 8:39 and 9:5 to say that yes, there is compulsion in religion:
“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e. worshipping others besides Allaah), and the religion (worship) will all be for Allaah Alone [in the whole of the world]” [al-Anfaal 8:39]
“Then when the Sacred Months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikoon (see V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent [by rejecting Shirk (polytheism) and accept Islamic Monotheism] and perform As‑Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” [al-Tawbah 9:5]
This verse is known as Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword).
These and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.
But Akyol is ready for that. He attacks the Islamic doctrine of abrogation on which this argument is based:
The doctrine of abrogation is actually a late invention, introduced by some classical jurists during the fourth century (late 10th century) of Islam. These scholars came up with hundreds of cases of abrogated verses to the extent that they formulated a whole science of the subject filling lengthy books and references.
Yet they were in error and many Muslim thinkers are pointing this out since the 19th century. Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, a professor of Religion at San Diego State University, has a very good article that summarizes the refutations against the doctrine of abrogation. “The allegation that 120 verses on the invitation to Islam were abrogated by the verse of the sword (9:5)” says Dr. Mohammed, “is in fact one of crassest stupidity.”…
Actually the Koran itself declares that it includes no contradictions (4:82), thus its verses should be seen not as conflicting and calling for abrogative passages, but rather as complimentary parts of a single mosaic.
If we try to build that mosaic, we will see that the war verses describe only an abnormal state of affairs — in which the Muslim community faced an enemy that sought its annihilation — and verses that promote peace and tolerance describe the Islamic ideal.
Gee, that’s swell, but unfortunately, Dr. Khaleel Muhammad has not yet taken up his throne as the Muslim Pope. And here, as in so many other instances, he resorts to shallow and base name-calling instead of actually addressing the arguments of his opponents. Jihadists, quite obviously, still employ the practice of abrogation. Does he think that pointing out that it is a tenth-century innovation and accusing those who use it of the “crassest stupidity” will really stop them? “Fellow mujahedin! Dr. Khaleel Muhammad has called us stupid! Let us lay down our arms!”
In fact, abrogation (naskh) is not a tenth-century innovation. It is based on the Qur’an itself: “Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things?” (Sura 2:106).
Likewise, Akyol’s contention that “the war verses describe only an abnormal state of affairs — in which the Muslim community faced an enemy that sought its annihilation — and verses that promote peace and tolerance describe the Islamic ideal” will do nothing to pacify radical Muslims, since they have argued again and again that today the Muslim community faces an enemy that seeks its annihilation. Thus even by Akyol’s own standards, Muslims are justified to invoke the Qur’an’s war verses and wage jihad today.
Then Akyol performs a neat pirouette to avoid the avalanche of quotations that others and I myself invoked from the hadith and sira — traditions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his biography — to justify the killing of captives in Islam. He simply denies the authority of the sources:
Well, I don’t question the Koran, which I believe to be the infallible Word of God, yet I, like many other contemporary Muslims, feel free to question traditional Islamic sources such as the hadith and sira. These were written at least one and a half centuries after the Prophet and we already know that there were many fake sayings attributed to and fables made up about Prophet Muhammad. The collection we have today was compiled by men most of whom had the best intentions, but good intentions are not enough to create an infallible source.
That’s great for Mustafa Akyol, except for two small problems:
1. He immediately contradicts his own statement in the paragraph that follows by invoking two statements of Muhammad that are not in the Qur’an, but are taken from the Islamic traditions he just rejected.
2. Most Muslims accept the hadith and sira as authoritative. I am glad that he and other Muslim reformers reject them, but they face a herculean task in convincing the majority of their coreligionists to do so (particularly when Akyol rejects them and then uses them in practically the same breath).
But since Akyol rejects the authority of passages from Islamic law that I cited, he doesn’t have to answer or explain them. Instead, he spends the bulk of his article citing Muslim apologists and questionable historical sources to establish that in history, Muslims acted better. Once again, even if this is true, it establishes nothing: the mujahedin believe that they are acting in line with Islamic law, and historical examples don’t disprove this.
In order to avoid ten years in prison as mandated by law in his native Turkey, in the course of his long-winded historical tour Akyol breezily dismisses the Armenian genocide, in which two million people were slaughtered, as “inter-communal violence,” and blames the Armenians as much as the Ottomans.
This Holocaust denial in itself reveals the utter moral bankruptcy of Akyol’s argument, but there is one more thing. He also sees dark motives behind what Ibn Warraq (and, by implication, I also) is doing, seeing behind us the shadows of Stalin and Pol Pot:
Nevertheless, it seems to me that this all gives rise to a most disconcerting question here: What is the objective…? To de-legitimize moderates and to sanctify terrorists? Surely not. Although this may be an unfortunate by-product of what he says, I suspect his motive is much different: From his whole argument about Islam’s supposedly inherent violence, there seems to derive implied appeal for full-scale secularization….Ibn Warraq, an ex-Muslim…is now a fierce atheist and anti-Islamic polemicist. According to Ibn Warraq…”There are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate” and “Islam need [to] be marginalized for liberty to flourish.”
What Ibn Warraq does is to reiterate the dull atheists mantra — that religion shrinks our liberties and instead we must shrink religion to save them. From Epicurus to Nietzsche, from Freud to Richard Dawkins, this is the unholy crusade whose political fruits included mass murderers such as the Jacobins, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.
And I am firmly against that secularist agenda.
In case you missed it, the sleight-of-hand he performs here is to equate Ibn Warraq’s opposition to Islam with the opposition to Christianity that did indeed lead to the monstrous atheistic regimes of Jacobins, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.
Ibn Warraq is indeed, as far as I know, an atheist, but this has nothing to do with the statements from him that Akyol quoted. “There are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate” is not a call to Stalinist genocide; it is an observation that certain teachings of Islam itself enjoin violence against unbelievers. If you don’t believe that, go back and read Sura 9:5 and what the Islam Q&A site makes of it.
I myself am not an atheist, and I do not reply to him out of some sinister cypto-Stalinism. I made it abundantly clear why I am doing this in an earlier reply to Akyol:
Why am I doing this? To make life difficult for a moderate? No. I am only trying to point out that Akyol’s conclusion (the beheadings “stem from a kind of necrophilic nihilism, not from the essence of Islam”) is unwarranted, and his argument will be unconvincing to a radical Muslim, who can invoke the authorities I have cited here and others.
So in sum: Akyol’s piece is not the kind of moderate Islamic presentation we need in order to neutralize the radicals. We need one that confronts and refutes their arguments; his simply ignores them. Those who are looking for moderate Muslims to rise up and refute the radicals should keep looking.
I stand by those statements. Akyol more and more seems to me like one who is trying to reassure jittery Westerners about Islam, rather than refute the radicals. But his reassurance is hollow, and is only likely to make people less guarded against future attacks by Muslims who do not accept his arguments. His arguments do nothing to stop jihadists from continuing their murderous work.