The peerless historian Bat Ye’or replies to Muslim apologist Mustafa Akyol at FrontPage today. Akyol and I, of course, have carried on a dialogue here and at FrontPage. Score now: jihadists 5, Akyol 0.
From Bat Ye’or:
The hope inspired by Mr. Mustafa Akyol’s long article in Front Page Magazine is tempered by his deception. Mr. Akyol speaks of the necessity to re-interpret the fundamental teachings and scriptures of Islam, particularly the hadith and sira (the biography of the Prophet). Finally we see here a potential Muslim effort to continue and improve the critical exegesis initiated by the great Orientalists of the 19th century, particularly Ignaz Goldziher, whose work has since become anathema to the Muslim intelligentsia. However, Mr Akyol does not explain on what authority a selection of hadith and events of the sira will be made, since, he himself, in the course of his argumentation, simply uses them to prove the justice of Islam.
Disputing the veracity of the claim in the sacralized biography of Muhammad regarding the massacre of the Qurayza Jews is most welcome since it negates the Muslim command to kill Jews in order to emulate the Prophet. This assertion must be fully encouraged, because the treatment of the Jews by the Prophet has became the standard by which the classical Muslim jurists formulated their policy toward non-Muslims, as embodied in the Shari’a and in the jihad’s rules. Hence, when non-Muslims (primarily Hindus and Christians) were killed in Bali, Amrozi, the Indonesian terrorist, invoked the fate of the Jews in the oasis of Khaybar, perhaps confusing them with the mass slaughter of their co-religionists, the Qurayza. Although many of the Jews of Khaybar were killed in an unprovoked jihad campaign by Muhammad, those vanquished Khaybar Jews who surrendered were not killed, but were dispossessed and became exploited dhimmi tributaries, until, within a decade later, they were expelled by the “Rightly Guided” Caliph Umar.
In fact, there is no way for us, in the 21st century, to know what really happened in a small Arabian oasis in the seventh century given the lack of contemporary evidence. But Mr. Akyol again contradicts himself by implying that the Qurayza’s punishment was justified, because they acted treacherously while of course there are no objective proofs for such accusations, which rest merely on the demonization of the victims. Moreover the problem does not concern only the Qurayza Jews but the Jews and Christians throughout the Hedjaz, who were, soon afterward dispossessed, and within a decade of Muhammad’s death, expelled, according to his professed (i.e., again, in the sira) deathbed wishes.
As Mr. Akyol stated rightly, this was not exceptional at that time. The problem now is that such acts have been attributed to the Prophet Muhammad who is the model to be emulated by all Muslims. Hence, while even worse wars might have been perpetrated in the world by rulers long since forgotten, the acts and sayings of Muhammad concerning non-Muslims are still binding for over a billion Muslims today. To decry…analyses, based on 13 centuries of Islamic teaching and writing, and accepted today in all Muslim countries, is almost surrealistic.
It is true that now we see an effort by Muslim theologians to contextualize the actions and words attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, and thereby introduce an element of relativity between the seventh century, and the present. But this timid and belated tendency has not the slightest influence on the current jihadist war of terror against the West overwhelmingly approved in the Muslim countries.
Mr Akyol’s explanation of jihad itself is particularly disingenuous. In a democracy “a final jihad on western secular materialism” is shocking. This is especially concerning given that the word “faith” can be understood in its Muslim sense which states that the only true faith is Islam. (Qur’an 3:17).
What exactly is “western secular materialism”? Will that be replaced by a Shari’a morality? Much of Mr. Akyol’s reasoning seems inspired by the International Institute of Islamic Thought set up in 1983 in the U.S.A. to teach the Islamization of Knowledge. This program, financed by Saudi Arabia, was developed under the guidance of, among others, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, a Palestinian Professor who taught at Temple University. A document from the Islamization of Knowledge program summarized its objectives:
“The new reform effort should present a systematic and methodological approach to rebuild Islamic knowledge on the same firm foundation that supported Islamic Civilization in its first cycle. The Muslims, being an Ummah (nation) of a Divine message, can only rise to civilization dominance if they carry the message in its original clarity, purity, and relevance.”1
The program to reform Islamic religious thinking thus aims at reinforcing traditional teaching through modern reasoning. Thus, one is imprisoned within a circular argumentation which goes back to its Islamic starting point. While I understand the difficulties of reforming a religion, a process that takes centuries, and does not relate to Islam alone, I deplore the violent animosity displayed against those writers and researchers in the West who denounce, very courageously, the brazen acts of terrorism perpetrated throughout the world, primarily against non-Muslims, by Muslims invoking the very texts that Ibn Warraq…, Spencer, and so many others have analyzed, and brought to public attention.
Mr. Akyol denies their self-evident interpretations, and that is his right, but he should try to convince – not a Western audience – but over a billion Muslims who curiously share the views of the Muslim texts and authorities quoted by the courageous authors mentioned above. Mr. Akyol prefers to try and persuade Westerners of the perfection of Islam, simply denying that the horrors that occurred in Muslim history…either didn’t happen, or were not done by Muslims. This sort of twisted logic is little removed from the warped thinking which justified the bizarre accusations that the CIA, Americans, or Zionists must have perpetrated 9/11 because Muslims could not commit such horrors. Many books elaborating this preposterous thesis were disseminated in Europe, and in the Muslim world.
It would be meaningless to answer all of Mr. Akyol’s affirmations, accusations and denials, including the genocide of the Armenians. His total rejection of the history of dhimmitude, despite copious documentation by both Muslim and non-Muslim sources, and its replacement by a glorification of a just and peaceful Islamic rule over tens of millions of subjected, non-Muslim peoples, precludes any understanding between those who call a jihad a genocidal war, and those who call it a liberation (even having the temerity to deny the jihad genocide of the Armenians). Mr. Akyol invokes testimonies which are contradicted, multiple times over, by others he chose to ignore.
A mass of documents from a vast array of sources describe throughout the centuries and even till today, the trials of populations – Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists – vanquished by the Muslim armies. The affirmations of modern scholars that he quotes, just confirm the political rewriting of history but do not suppress, by overlooking them, the veracity of the facts…. Mr. Akyol’s affirmation that it was not Muslims who perpetrated the acts described is merely his personal opinion based on his current appreciation of Islam. Finally, while Mr. Akyol’s efforts to modernize religious beliefs are praiseworthy, they should be directed exclusively at convincing his coreligionists, not attempting to persuade the non-Muslim victims of Muslim aggression that their ordeal did not happen or was an idyllic era for which they should be grateful. Spare us another “Golden Age”.
 Amber Haque ed., Muslims and Islamization in North America: Problems & Prospects, Amana Publications, Maryland, 1999, p.19.
And from Akyol:
It appears that…Ms. Ye’or…believe[s] that terrorists such as al-Qaeda spring from and represent the supposedly inherent violence of Islam. I argue, on the other hand, that the current “Islamic terrorism” we face stems from a distortion of the true Islamic faith.
In order to defend my case, let me shortly answer the questions, counter the criticisms and unveil the misjudgments of Ms. Ye’or.
The first issue is about the traditional, post-Koranic Islamic sources. Ms. Ye’or welcomes my critical approach to the hadith and sira traditions but criticizes me for failing to “explain on what authority a selection of hadith and events of the sira will be made.” (Hadiths are sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad and sira are his biographies.) I feel free to question these traditional sources, because they are very late constructs. The earliest sira was written about 150 years after the Prophet. Hadiths were compiled even later. And it is already known that these sources include many fake, irrational stories. I just argue that the inauthenticity is wider than commonly acknowledged.
But how will we judge these sources, as Ms. Ye’or rightly asks. Robert Spencer raised the same question, too. My answer is the Koran. The Koran must be the sole infallible Islamic criterion and hadiths should be compared with its verses and the overall message. There are some modern scholars who reach this conclusion. Professor Hayri Kirbasoglu, a theologian in Ankara University and an expert on hadiths, argues that a new method is necessary to evaluate the hadith collection and compatibility with the Koran — a criterion much neglected before – should be its basis. The same holds for sira as well.
With this reasoning, I see the sira and hadith accounts about the massacre of the men of Bani Qurazya as incompatible with the Koran. Thus I reject it.
An interesting argument. But can a peaceful, tolerant Islam be constructed from the Qur’an, without serious reexamination of that book also? I doubt it. In any case, read the whole exchange; there is more from Akyol and a final reply from Bat Ye’or.