In an otherwise insightful and informative article, “Jihad knocks on House of Saud’s door” (from Asia Times, with thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist), Rabbi Moshe Reiss goes out of his way to assert that today’s jihad is at odds with “traditional Islam.”
I have seen this asserted hundreds of times, but never adequately explained. Often the claim is made that the Wahhabis have departed from traditional Islam by making war on fellow Muslims, but no one with a scintilla of knowledge of Islamic history can maintain that. Dore Gold, in his otherwise excellent book Hatred’s Kingdom, actually asserts that “Wahhabi writings…elevated jihad to a central obligation of Islam by attributing to the Prophet Muhammad such sayings as: ‘Jihad is the ultimate manifestation of Islam, as the Messenger said….It is a furnace in which Muslims are melted out and which allows the separation of the bad [Muslim] from the good one. It is also a pass to the Eden [Paradise] and the Eden is in the shade of swords'” (p. 25).
But these statements are not Wahhabi inventions. They appear in the hadith collections that Muslims consider most reliable. Here Muhammad ranks jihad as the greatest deed one can do after becoming a Muslim itself:
Allah’s Apostle was asked, “What is the best deed?” He replied, “To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, “What is the next (in goodness)? He replied, “To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah’s Cause.” The questioner again asked, “What is the next (in goodness)?” He replied, “To perform Hajj (Pilgrim age to Mecca) ‘Mubrur, (which is accepted by Allah and is performed with the intention of seeking Allah’s pleasure only and not to show off and without committing a sin and in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet).” (Bukhari, vol. 1, bk. 2, no. 25)
In the furnace reference, Muhammad was referring to the city of Medina, not to jihad (cf. Bukhari, vol. 3, bk. 30, no. 95, and many others), but the other statement is clearly about jihad, and deeply rooted in Islamic tradition:
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Abi Aufa: Allah’s Apostle said, “Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords.” (Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 52, no. 73)
Wahhabi inventions? Not quite. I would like to see Gold or Reiss or anyone else provide a detailed explanation of why they think today’s “Islamism” is opposed to traditional Islam. This could be a useful document in trying to disabuse Muslims of the idea that committing acts of violence is part of their religious duty. But I doubt that any such document will be forthcoming from anyone.
Here is a portion of Reiss’s article:
Jihad is a holy war. It is based on a conspiracy theory of America and Israel (and other Western states) being “kufr” states; that is, states totally against the religion and way of life of Islam.
Its strategic objective is political change away from globalization and modernity. Jihadis believe globalization and modernity are part and parcel of the Judaic-Christian worldview. They have no positive objectives other than instituting medieval-oriented Sharia-based Islamic law. This could have only a negative impact on the socio-economic problems of Middle Eastern youth-based society – almost 50% of the populations are under voting age, with 20-30% unemployment.
Its objectives are the destruction of Western and Jewish influence over the Western world and all infidels. A well known hadith (commentary based on the Prophet Mohammed) states, “when even the rocks and trees will call out Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!” This hadith is frequently used by bin Laden, who has also accused the Jews of “holding America and the West hostage”.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah opened a conference on February 5-8 in Saudi Arabia on international counterterrorism. Two days before the conference official Saudi television interviewed several prominent Saudis. Suheida Hammed explained how Saudi terrorism was caused by the Jews. Mash’as al-Harathi wrote a poem dedicated to Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Sultan Feted, proclaiming that bin Laden was sent by the Jews.
For Christians they have stated, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” Recently, some have defined this “apocalyptic thinking” to mean that every Muslim must kill a Jew or Christian to substitute for him in Hell. This has (as noted by Richard Landes) been interpreted to mean that every Muslim has to kill a Jew or a Christian in order to be saved. A French-Arab youngster slaughtered and mutilated a Jew, his neighbor since childhood. He triumphantly announced to his parents, his hands still bloodied, “I’ve killed my Jew, I can go to paradise.” The jihadis now even include among “infidels” other Muslims, such as Shi’ites and Sunni civilians working for Westerners.
Jihadis intrinsically believe death to be preferable to life in a non-Islamic world. Their mission is to create a kingdom of heaven here on Earth. From their perspective, the eventuality of death prior to the total eschatology is an insignificant price to pay. Heaven is after all the “true” world. (See Asia Times Online, Suicide bombing: Theology of death October 22, 2004.)
Jihad is a modern form of totalitarianism challenging traditional Islam. Jihadis are fascists with imperial demands on the rest of the world. Sayyid Abdul Ala Mawdudi, a Pakistani and well known theoretician of jihad, has written, “Islam wants the whole Earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof. Islam wants and requires the Earth in order that the human race altogether can enjoy the concept and practical program of human happiness, by means of which God has honored Islam and put it above the other religions and laws.”
Very few jihadis base their theology on traditional Islam. They are, according to the French Islamic scholar Oliver Roy, “a by-product of Westernization and not a backlash against traditional Muslim cultures … they are born-again Muslims.” And like other “born agains”, despite their own choosing, they believe that choice itself is anti-God. Their training, with few exceptions, was not in the madrassas. The majority of the leaders are Western-oriented and educated. Sayyid Qutb, the self-proclaimed theocrat and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not study theology, graduated from an Egyptian secular university, and then studied engineering at a college in the United States; bin Laden’s deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a medical doctor; Ramzi Yusuf (of the original 1993 World Trade Center bombing) was an electronics engineer trained in the United Kingdom, Omar Ahmad Saeed Sheikh, who was implicated in the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, was born a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, educated in private schools and at the London School of Economics. Muhammad Atta, the leader of the September 11 bombing, was a promising architectural student who resided in Germany.
Bin Laden himself, despite issuing fatwas, is not a cleric or a trained theologian, but a Western-oriented businessman more familiar with arms dealing, money transfers and electronic technology than Islamic theology. He is the most successful entrepreneur of an enterprise dedicated to anti-liberal, anti-modern, anti-democratic objectives with a quasi-religious ideology. (One exception is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian trained in Afghanistan, who as far as is known has never been associated with the West. He was recently declared the “emir” of Iraq by bin Laden.)
Jihad was created by the intersection of Islam and the West and these creators were trained in the West. They are modern, urbanized and influenced more by the leftist terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s than by traditional Islam. They have developed a modern political ideology based on their version of how to reconcile “Islam” with the modern world. Third World members of Islam learnt through television and the Internet about both the freedom and the materialism of the West. Roy finds the fundamentalist inspiration to be far more mundane than spiritual: “For many of them, the return to religion has been brought about through their experience in politics, and not as a result of their religious belief.” Their arch competitors are capitalism and globalization; not Christianity or Judaism.
So bin Laden is not a theologian. Very well; let the theologians refute him on Islamic grounds. Why haven’t they?