Khaleel Mohammed keeps attacking, and I keep responding. There are two salvos from him and two replies from me in this morning’s FrontPage. As dreary and dispiriting as all this is, it is important reading. Khaleel criticizes me for not supporting moderates like him. Not to support him is to support the jihadists, goes the trope. There are even some publications that will brook no questioning or criticism of people like Khaleel Mohammed, on the grounds that we must support moderate Muslims.
I am all for supporting moderate Muslims, but I am not for getting my intellectual pocket picked. I don’t care one bit about how good any given moderate speaker can make non-Muslims feel about Islam and the war on terror. All I care about is: can this moderate’s arguments from the Qur’an and Sunnah convince jihad terrorists to stop waging war in the name of Islam? If it looks as if they can, I will support the moderate wholeheartedly. But if it looks as if they can’t, then I wish someone would tell me why such moderates are even worth supporting. Because they oppose terrorism and extremism? Great. So does CAIR and every other Muslim group in the world. Much, much more is needed, and by giving anyone who calls himself a moderate Muslim a free pass, immunity from questioning, a veritable Emperor’s-New-Clothes seal of approval, we are making sure we don’t get it.
One more time: jihad terrorists use the Qur’an and Sunnah quite effectively all over the world to recruit Muslims to their ranks. Then moderate Muslims come along and tell us that the Qur’an and Sunnah, properly understood, are benign and peaceful. Terrific. Now please convince your coreligionists.
Here is my second and final response to Khaleel Mohammed:
In his latest salvo Khaleel Mohammed continues his increasingly tiresome practice of misrepresenting what I have written and then excoriating me for saying something I did not say. He says that I want “to assume that the names I have mentioned against hadith are the only ones agreeing with me” and asserts that “there are thousands of Malaysian and Indonesia scholars who share my view, as there are in Pakistan and India, and Egypt.” In reality, I never denied any of this. My point was a different one: that his is a minority view, which he now grants. Any attentive reader who has made it this far will recall that I wrote this above, which shows his charge here to be false: “Even a hundred, even a thousand scholars that Khaleel could name who believe that Islam is a new species of Quaker pacifism will not make for a reformation.”
Likewise he says that various authorities “are simply recognizing the status of hadith: they are NOT supporting it. Who is trying to mislead whom here?” In fact I cited them only to illustrate the status of hadith, not to claim that they supported this view. In fact, about Asma Barlas I wrote that she “takes issue with “˜a hadith-based interpretation of the Qur’an,” but she does at least admit that “˜most Muslims view this as the only legitimate way to read the scripture” “” which was my only point in my original article.” Now Khaleel Mohammed says that I am trying to mislead readers by suggesting that these people support the status of hadith “” despite the fact that I explicitly said that Asma Barlas does not. Who is trying to mislead whom here, Khaleel?
It’s the same thing with Wael Hallaq: Dr. Mohammed asserted that I should read his work, implying that I hadn’t. In fact I have, so I quoted a pertinent section from his book A History of Islamic Legal Theories. Now this becomes a nefarious attempt on my part, says Khaleel, “perhaps to prove that I did not understand him.” Where did I say he didn’t understand Hallaq? Let him bring his proof if he is truthful. My point in quoting Hallaq was to illustrate the uphill battle that Muslim reformers face “” a battle that Khaleel has granted.
As for Hallaq’s statement, which Dr. Mohammed quotes, that Muslim writers “were hardly concerned with searching for pure historical facts” and “what counts is what they thought had taken place,” I discuss this fact in my books Islam Unveiled and Onward Muslim Soldiers. Of course, Dr. Mohammed doesn’t read my work, he just attacks what he likes to pretend I”m saying, so he doesn’t know that. In those books, I discuss the fact that many scholars such as Hallaq and Ignaz Goldziher have done important work in investigating the authenticity of hadith, but that these theories have made little headway in the Islamic world, where ones that are considered authentic are still considered normative by most jurists. If Dr. Mohammed wants on the basis of these investigations to “show the Muslim community that several formulations need be reexamined,” I wish him all success. In my article on Musdah Mulia and subsequently all I have said is that he will face difficulties in doing this. He agrees with this, and yet continues to heap abuse upon me.
One of his principal tactics in doing so is to impugn my knowledge of Islam. This is something he has in common with other Islamic apologists “” many of whom have derided me as “ignorant” without ever actually proving me wrong. It generally goes something like this:
Me: The Qur’an teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).
Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. You have to know hadith.
Me: The Hadith teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).
Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. You have to know Islamic law.
Me: Islamic law teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).
Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. And Muslims today don’t pay attention to these ancient laws.
Me: Modern-day jihad terrorists cite Qur’an, Hadith, and Islamic law to justify violence against unbelievers (with citations).
Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. Most Muslims see these things differently.
Me: Great. How will they refute the jihadist exegesis and so end jihadist recruitment among Muslims?
Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. I am not going to speak with you about this any more.
Khaleel Mohammed plays the ignorance card not only by asserting that I have not read books that I have read, but also by assuming that I do not read paragraphs immediately adjacent to ones I quote. Regarding the hadith in which the Muslim prophet Muhammad says that women must cover all but their face and hands, he says of me: “Had he done his research in the original sources, he would have found lo and behold! Abu Daud himself wrote regarding that hadith: “˜Hadha Mursal: Khalid b. Durayk never met Aisha.” (Sunan Abu Daud, 3: 65; Beirut: Dar al Kutub al ilmiyyah, 1996). As Mr. Spencer also ought to know, a hadith that is considered “˜mursal” is not considered authentic on its own.”
Thanks for the lesson, Khaleel. That notation is in fact right next to the material I quoted in my edition of Sunan Abu Dawud, and I am well aware of its existence. So why didn’t I tell the world that this was a “mursal” hadith? Let me answer that first by explaining, as you did not do, what a “mursal” hadith is. Mursal means “hurried,” and a mursal hadith is one with a missing link in the chain of transmitters (isnad) between the Prophet and the person reporting the hadith. What is the significance of this broken chain? Not much. There are four principal schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence: the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi”i, and Hanbali. Malikis and Hanafis accept mursal ahadith without question; some jurists even prefer them to ahadith in which the chain of transmitters is unbroken, because they take the broken link to signify that the one relating the hadith has done his own research and found the hadith to be sound! The Shafi”is accept them if various other conditions are met. Hanbalis accept mursal ahadith if no other material contradicts them “” can Khaleel Mohammed produce any that does so in this case? If so, why does no one seem to know about it in Saudi Arabia, where that form of Hanbalism known as Wahhabism holds sway? Abu Dawud himself accepted mursal ahadith as long as no better-attested ahadith contradicted them. Clearly also the testimony of Islamic history and current Islamic practice all over the world, where if women do not cover themselves in this way, hardline Muslims pressure them to do so, indicates that the teaching of this hadith is generally accepted as authentic. So why didn’t I say it was a “mursal” hadith? Because it doesn’t matter: most Muslim scholars accept it.
Why did Khaleel Mohammed not explain all this, but rather make the disingenuous and misleading claim that “a hadith that is considered “˜mursal” is not considered authentic on its own”? Who is trying to mislead whom here, Khaleel?
Khaleel Mohammed also takes me to task for me dismissing al-Ghazali’s opposition to the Hadith because he approved of the murder of Faraj Foda. “I am not concerned,” huffs Khaleel, “with his views on other subjects. All I wanted to show was that respected figures support what I say ON THE ISSUES I RAISED.” Well, that’s just dandy, Khaleel. Logged and noted: al-Ghazali supports hadith reform. That he also supports murder for blasphemy I do not actually think of as a different subject: it shows that to reform Islam, questioning Hadith is not enough. Much more must be done. Maybe if the great reformer Khaleel Mohammed took a few minutes off from misrepresenting me, he would have time to do the hard work that must be done in other areas.
The rest of it is just more smears. Khaleel says: “The life of my student–and now heroine–Bariza Umar–may be insignificant to Mr. Spencer”¦” Where has Bariza Umar come up before? Where did I say she or her work was insignificant? Bring your proofs, if you be truthful. I”m just thrilled that “Abdul Aziz Sachedina can have got the attention of Ayatollah Sistani.” Does it really mean that “reformists are succeeding”? I hope so. Maybe Sachedina can get Sistani to drop his classification of unbelievers as unclean, on a par with urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dog, pig, alcoholic liquors, and “the sweat of an animal who persistently eats najasat [i.e., unclean things].” You can find that today, Khaleel, on Sistani’s website, www.sistani.org. There is no direct link, but if you go to his site, hit “English,” then “Islamic laws,” and then “Najis [Unclean] Things,” you”ll see it. “Kafir” (unbeliever) is #8, right between “pig” and “alcoholic liquors.” Gee, this reform is going along just swimmingly! Sistani for Nobel!
But of course, Khaleel Mohammed doesn’t mention this little nugget from Sistani. We are just supposed to be content that Sachedina is getting to him. Maybe I only noticed it because, as Khaleel says, I lack “a full understanding of [Islam’s] primary sources.” Yes, indeed. I never did get that secret decoder ring that turns “beat her” (Qur’an 4:34) into “give her a hug.” But Dr. Mohammed says that my attention is wrongly focused: “the best selling status Tim LaHaye’s novels that tell of Jesus returning to earth to wipe out all non-Christians shows that before he seeks to remove the mote from the eye of Islam, he should seek to extricate the log from the eye of that which is closer to him.” Tell you what, Khaleel: as soon as Tim LaHaye beheads a non-Christian and Fox News gleefully replays the video, I’ll get right on that.
As for the Qur’an 3:28 and 16:106, which permit duplicity, Mohammed says: “Hmmm. I wonder if Mr. Spencer were able to read those in the original Arabic if he would still hold his position?” He actually has no idea whether or not I can read the Arabic, and to what extent, any more than he knows what books I have or have not read, but that is immaterial: in discussing these before I relied, as I always do, on translations made by Muslims for Muslims. Most often I use those by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. I suppose those two Muslims didn’t know enough Arabic to render these verses properly?
In any case, Khaleel translates 3:28 as “Let not the believers take the rejectors of faith as protectors instead of (other) believers. Whosoever does so has no connection with God–unless you beware of them fully.” Then he asks: “Where is the duplicity here?” I’ll tell you, Khaleel: it’s in the passage you render as “unless you beware of them fully.” What does this mean? Ibn Kathir renders it as “unless you indeed fear a danger from them.” He explains its meaning this way: believers should not take unbelievers as protectors “except those believers who in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers. In this case, such believers are allowed to show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda said, “˜We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.–
So now I have invented the idea that Qur’an 3:28 enjoins duplicity, out of “Islamophobia” and ignorance of Arabic? Come on, Khaleel. Who is trying to mislead whom here? Your quarrel is with Ibn Kathir and his ilk, not with me. You are fighting the wrong battle. If you were really committed to Islamic reform, you would join me in combating the ill effects that the violent passages of the Qur’an and Hadith are having in the world today. That you do not do so, and instead expend your energies on inaccurate and disingenuous attacks on me, speaks volumes.