In his sustained attack on me and my work published in FrontPage yesterday, Khaleel Mohammed warned that “within Islam and its current crisis, there are authors who are so blatantly apologetic that their words are often an insult to anyone with average intelligence.” That is true, and Khaleel Mohammed himself is Exhibit A. “Once it can be proven,” he continues, “that there is misinformation or a crass ignorance on the part of the author of any article, then reason would dictate that such a person be disregarded as an authority.” While he was directing that statement at me, I am confident that by the end of this article, any fair-minded reader who is truly interested in fostering moderation and reform in Islam will, on the basis of his own criteria as stated here “” “misinformation or a crass ignorance on the part of the author of any article” “” disregard Khaleel Mohammed as an authority, both now and in the future.
Khaleel Mohammed says that I have manifested “an unforgivable ignorance of the study of religion concerning law and interpretation,” primarily by citing ahadith, or traditions (sunna) of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (ahadith is the plural of hadith, which word means “news” or “report,” and refers to those traditions in their aggregate). The hadith is, says Khaleel Mohammed, “very problematic. It does not have the authority of the Qur’an and was made up long after Muhammad died.” He asserts that “any student of Islam, within the first week, knows the difference between what Muhammad is supposed to have said, and what the Qur’an says. Spencer seeks to hide this issue.” He also informs us that he is “an observant Muslim” who believes “that the Qur’an militates against hadith.”
In fact I have never sought to “hide” the issue of the authority of the hadith, or the difference between its authority and that of the Qur’an. I discuss all this at some length in my books Islam Unveiled and Onward Muslim Soldiers. Khaleel Mohammed asserts that “the Qur’an militates against hadith.” Actually, while it is true that many ahadith are inauthentic and that there is a whole theological science in Islam whereby Muslims judge various ahadith to be authentic or not, the authority of the hadith is generally accepted by Muslims. Since it is the words and deeds of Muhammad, the authority of the hadith is founded on the Qur’an itself: the Qur’an repeatedly exhorts believers to imitate Muhammad, since he is “is neither astray nor being misled” (Qur’an 53:2). Muslims are to “obey Allah, and obey the Messenger” (Qur’an 4:59). For “verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example (uswa hasana) for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day” (Qur’an 33:21). Those who disobey Muhammad are headed for hell: “And whoso opposeth the messenger after the guidance (of Allah) hath been manifested unto him, and followeth other than the believer’s way, We appoint for him that unto which he himself hath turned, and expose him unto hell – a hapless journey’s end!” (Qur’an 4:115). Muhammad is in Islamic theology al-insan al-kamil: the Perfect Man.
Of course, at this point Khaleel Mohammed might protest that he thinks the “Qur’an militates against hadith,” not against Muhammad. But how is a modern-day Muslim to follow Muhammad’s example? By obeying the ahadith deemed authentic. So I was perfectly justified in quoting ahadith in my article about Musdah Mulia to show that her positions went against traditional and mainstream Islam. Is the authority of the hadith something I cooked up in my fiendish laboratory of Islamophobia? You be the judge: The learned Muslim convert and scholar Ahmad Von Denffer says that “there is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the contents of the sunna are also from Allah.” Those contents are found largely in the hadith. The New Encyclopedia of Islam says that the hadith are “the basis, second only to the Koran, for Islamic law (shari”ah).” Islamic apologist Sayyed Hossein Nasr has called the hadith a “basic aspect of the whole structure of Islam” and blamed the questioning of its authority on that ever-handy bogeyman, “Western Orientalists.” Another Islamic apologist popular in the West, Akbar S. Ahmed, explains that “so great is the respect and affection the Prophet commands that his very sayings, hadith, are the source of wisdom and social practice in the Muslim world.”
I suppose the New Encyclopedia of Islam, Von Denffer, Nasr, Ahmed, and the myriad others who affirm the authority of hadith are ignorant of Islam? Does Khaleel Mohammed not know that the authority of the hadith is normative for almost all Muslims, or is he hoping we don’t know? I will not stoop to his level and charge him with dishonesty, as he charged me; however, at very least he might have informed his readers that his dismissal of the hadith was a distinctly minority view in Islam. We might have had a genuinely fruitful dialogue if he had acknowledged that most Muslims accept the hadith and explained how he proposed to convince his coreligionists that they should set it aside. Instead, he wrote a piece that leaves the impression that most Muslims reject hadith, and that I was dishonest in citing it. Why, Khaleel? Was it “misinformation or a crass ignorance”?
Khaleel Mohammed doesn’t stop there. He claims that “the Qur’an (24:31, 33:59), as any good scholar will tell you, is NOT incipiently ordaining the hijab–but simply telling the women HOW the head covering is to be worn–that it is to be drawn over the breasts. The Qur’an is addressing a society where the head covering is obviously a norm. If time and place have changed, or “˜if the reason is no longer there, the ruling is obsolete” (in the words of the jurists), then such as Mulia’s ilk have the right to view the hijab as no longer needed.”
Once again, our great Islamic eminence brushes aside the traditional Islamic understanding of these passages, as if with a snap of his fingers or a nod from his “good scholars,” Muslims worldwide will suddenly realize that women need not cover their heads. What I was doing in my piece on Musdah Mulia that so enraged Khaleel was explaining why it will not be so easy for Islamic reformers, because the interpretations they are fighting are deeply rooted. In this case, take the renowned (and still respected and widely read) Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir (1301-1372). Von Denffer calls his Qur’an commentary one of the “better-known” and “more valuable books of tafsir [commentary],” and notes that it is “of greatest importance to Muslims.” On Qur’an 33:59, which directs women to “draw their veils (khumur) all over their bodies (juyub),” he explains: “khumur (veils) is the plural of khumar, which means something that covers, and is what is used to cover the head.” In other words, Ibn Kathir sees the Qur’an as ordaining head coverings. Clearly in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and all over the Islamic world, this is how Muslims understand the Qur’an. Khaleel asserts that the burka and chador “are not mentioned in the Qur’an nor in the hadith. Yes, Muslim women do wear them in certain cultures, but that is the interpretation of their culture–the words are not even Arabic.” But he doesn’t tell us that these garments were developed with mainstream understandings of the Qur’an and hadith in mind. Once again, Khaleel Mohammed sketches out a minority view, doesn’t tell us it’s a minority view, and accuses me of dishonesty for not portraying it as a majority view. Again, which is it, Khaleel? “Misinformation or crass ignorance”?
On the issue of polygamy Khaleel Mohammed’s arguments grow even more bizarre. In response to my quoting the Qur’an’s verse permitting polygamy (4:3) he huffs: “Did the Qur’an initiate polygamy, or are the verses of the Qur’an meant to LIMIT the number of wives a man may have to four? And did the Qur’an specify that “˜if you fear that you cannot be just…and you can never be just, then only one”? And did the Jews, Christians and other cultures of seventh century Arabia not practise polygamy?”
Of course the Qur’an didn’t initiate polygamy. I never said it did. Of course others practiced polygamy. Of course the Qur’an set a limit on the number of wives a man could have, and tells a man to take only one if he can’t treat them all fairly. But we aren’t actually talking about seventh century Arabia. We are talking about today, when Musdah Mulia is trying to get polygamy outlawed. I was pointing out that she will face opposition from Qur’anic literalists. Would Khaleel Mohammed have us believe that she will not? (Which is it, Khaleel? “Misinformation or crass ignorance?”) And for him to bring up Jews and Christians in this context is a common tactic of Islamic apologists: to try to call attention to the alleged misdeeds of other groups to divert attention from the real problems within Islam. But is this really a constructive procedure? Maybe seventh-century Jews and Christians did practice polygamy, although this would have been against the laws of the Church; in any case, only in Islam (and Mormonism) is it an issue today. Why try to distract people from this? Why attack someone who speaks honestly about the difficulties Musdah Mulia will face in trying to outlaw polygamy? Khaleel, are you anxious that people not be aware of how widely accepted polygamy is in Islam? Why? Why not be realistic about the herculean task reformers face? Would you prefer that people not know the realities of Islam today? Why?
It’s the same thing with the inequality of inheritance laws. Khaleel tells us that “at least the Qur’an speaks of women having some right to inheritance. That the other scriptures of the Abrahamic religions do not have such laws speak volumes about the status of women at that time. They were not even allowed to inherit and by the process of gradualism, the Qur’an sought to give women a share of inheritance. No one will argue that those laws, by today’s enlightened values, are equal. But they are certainly far better than anything that any Abrahamic religion had until then.” Great. But somehow the other Abrahamic religions seem to have gotten around this problem. Notice that Khaleel says nothing whatsoever about how exactly to bring Islamic inheritance laws in line with “today”s enlightened values.” And fulminating about those bad old other Abrahamic religions won’t do this job. Which is it, Khaleel? “Misinformation or crass ignorance”?
Khaleel says that I interpret the Hadith “with malicious prevarication,” but this is yet more pot-and-kettle namecalling. He sneers that, according to me, “Ayesha is supposed to have said that “˜she had not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.– Then, with consummate chutzpah, he alludes to the fact that “in early Christianity the concept of suffering, as in Judaism, was a virtue,” as if this hadith is suggesting that women are virtuous because of their suffering. But Khaleel doesn’t retell the whole story, so I will now:
Narrated ‘Ikrima: Rifa’a divorced his wife whereupon ‘AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi married her. ‘Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating). It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah’s Apostle came, ‘Aisha said, “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!” When ‘AbdurRahman heard that his wife had gone to the Prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, “By Allah! I have done no wrong to him but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this,” holding and showing the fringe of her garment, ‘Abdur-Rahman said, “By Allah, O Allah’s Apostle! She has told a lie! I am very strong and can satisfy her but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifa’a.” Allah’s Apostle said, to her, “If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifa’a unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you.” Then the Prophet saw two boys with ‘Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), “Are these your sons?” On that ‘AbdurRahman said, “Yes.” The Prophet said, “You claim what you claim (i.e.. that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow.” (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 715.)
This is not a story about redemptive suffering. It’s about divorce law. In Islamic law a divorced woman cannot remarry her ex-husband until she consummates a marriage with another man and is divorced by him. This lady came to Muhammad after having been beaten by her second husband, AbdurRahman, telling him she wants to go back to the first, Rifa”a. She has large bruises from AbdurRahman’s beatings “” and that is the context in which Aisha says: “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!” But the Prophet says absolutely nothing about her bruises, and tells her she must stay with AbdurRahman until he has sex with her and divorces her.
So this hadith teaches about women bearing suffering as a virtue, eh, Khaleel? The only way you could get people to believe that would be if they had not read the story and didn’t know what was in it. Which is it? Misinformation or crass ignorance?
Khaleel Mohammed concludes his diatribe by asserting that “Spencer portrays himself as a scholar of Islam, and that he is not.” If he had actually troubled to do any research, he might have found this statement at my website: “I draw no conclusions of myself. Pick up my books Onward Muslim Soldiers and Islam Unveiled, and you will see that both are made up largely of quotations from Islamic jihadists and the traditional Islamic sources to which they appeal to justify violence and terrorism. I am only shedding light on what these sources say.” This article is an example of how I always work: in it, I have quoted Qur’an, hadith, Ahmad Von Denffer, the New Encyclopedia of Islam, Sayyed Hossein Nasr, Akbar S. Ahmed, and Ibn Kathir. Khaleel Mohammed’s real disagreement is with them, not with me. Meanwhile, he is the one setting himself up as an Islamic scholar, if not THE Islamic scholar, for in his attack on me he refers to nary an authority but his own pristine judgment. Yet after all his distortions, obfuscations, half-truths and worse, here and elsewhere, he is not an authority that any sensible and reasonable person, Muslim or non-Muslim, should take seriously.
Khaleel also charges that I misquote “verses of the Qur’an,” although he gives no examples. He can’t give any, because I don’t misquote the Qur’an. In the Musdah Mulia article I quote only one Qur’an verse (4:3), in the translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. That is a translation made by Muslims for Muslims. Anyone can see that I quoted the verse verbatim by checking here. He also has the gall to say that I take things “out of context,” despite his outright mauling of the context of Aisha’s statement that Muslim women suffer more than other women. He even resorts to the basest mudslinging, charging that I “shamelessly lie,” although here again he produces no examples, and cannot.
This magnanimous Islamic scholar finally declares that “anyone who knowingly lies about the sources and beliefs of a religion commits not only a sin (the religious term) but an intellectual crime.”
Thus you condemn yourself, Dr. Mohammed. I don’t actually know if you are “knowingly lying” in writing this mendacious, misleading, and malicious attack, but it’s one of two choices, as you yourself have said: misinformation or crass ignorance. At very least you have revealed that you are not a trustworthy voice in the all-important search for genuine Islamic moderation.