In this article, Jim Remsen of the Philadelphia Inquirer asks a local imam about some things he read in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). “Where is the Koran on violence? The debate rages on whether Islam’s holy book promotes it. A local imam explains the scripture” from the Philadelphia Inquirer, with thanks to Kaosktrl:
When Islamist radicals took responsibility for the deadly London transit attacks July 7, mainstream Muslims cringed. Islamic groups issued denunciations. A body of North American scholars issued a fatwa, or edict, condemning violence against civilians. The Muslim American Society called on imams to give sermons against “terror, hate and violence.”
But not specifying that jihadists are actually perpetrating the terror, hate and violence that they oppose.
At the same time, critics of Islam spoke out. The Southern Baptist Convention welcomed the fatwa – but also remarked that “nearly 100 verses in the Koran promote fighting and killing.” A radio host in Washington was suspended after calling Islam “a terrorist organization.” The conservative Regnery Press released The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which argues that the Koran “commands Muslims to make war on Jews and Christians” despite the benevolent assertions of U.S. Muslims and their allies.
That’s not really a matter of dispute. It is as plain, as they say, as the nose on your face. The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab). Qur’an 9:29 says: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” This is clearly a command to engage in hot war (not spiritual warfare) against Jews and Christians until they pay the jizya, the non-Muslim poll tax. Moderate Muslims may say this verse no longer applies to anyone today, or that it only has meaning in particular circumstances, or come up with some other interpretation of it, but they cannot with honesty say that the Qur’an does not command Muslims to make war on Jews and Christians.
Does the Koran promote violence against nonbelievers? Why do Muslims divide the world into “the House of Islam” and “the House of War”?
We posed those questions to a local cleric, Imam Naser Khatib. Khatib, 33, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Tulkarm, is resident imam at Masjid Al-Hidaya, a mosque in Feltonville. A slender, soft-spoken figure in an ankle-length robe, he sat recently in the mosque’s kitchen and mulled the nature of Muslim scripture.
Khatib:There are 2 ayas [verses in the Koran] that tell us how to deal with non-Muslims. They say people who do not fight you or try to kick you out from your homeland, you should be virtuous toward them. But the other kind of people who fight Muslims because of their religion or try to kick them out from their homes or try to help anyone who tries to harm Muslims, these people the Muslims should fight back.
This is, of course, exactly the justification that jihadists including Osama bin Laden give for their present-day attacks: they are defending Muslims against those who have supposedly declared war on Islam by invading Muslim lands.
Inquirer:This addresses if you’re attacked. How about the idea of expanding, of spreading the faith even by force? What does the Koran say about that?
Khatib:This is when we have an Islamic state, not in our life right now. We don’t have the leader for the whole Muslims, the caliph. When we have that, he tries to make da’wah [argumentation] to spread Islam. It’s not all the time by war or by jihad. In the beginning, the prophet [Muhammad] sent his ambassador or messengers to the leaders to try to offer Islam for them, to argue for it… . Some of them said, ‘We don’t want to be a Muslim but we respect you,’ so we didn’t fight them. But others sent for their soldiers to attack Medina. These people the prophet tried to prepare an army to fight back, to defend.
This is why Osama and other jihadists so much want to restore the caliphate. Imam Khatib doesn’t rule out the spread of Islam by force under a caliph. He suggests that Muslims should only fight back if attacked, but actually what he says is fully in line with traditional Islamic theology as encapsulated by Sahih Muslim 4294, in which Muhammad tells Muslims to invite the unbelievers to Islam, and to fight them if they refuse:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.
The interview continues:
Inquirer: But many verses talk about violence against nonbelievers. Surah 8:12 says, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
Khatib:This was speaking about the battle of Badr, the first battle of Islam. This was what he [Allah] ordered the angels to do when he sent them to fight with the Muslims. Are you going to give your enemy a flower? Of course not. This is a war, so if you don’t fight, they will destroy you. This is people who have come to attack the Muslims in their own place. We should fight back so we protect the religion and protect the people. This is during the battle, not in general.
Again Khatib’s answer does nothing to rule out the present-day jihadist assertion that the Islamic world is in a battle with the West right now: that’s why we have seen so many beheadings in Iraq and elsewhere.
You speak about Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the House of Islam and the House of War. This is since the 14th century, Dar al-Islam is the place where the Muslim lives in peace without fighting. Some of the new scholars who live now speak about, even if you are in the United States, for example, or even Europe, it is not a Muslim country but the Muslims live in peace, no one tries to take their money, to kill them, and they can have their own mosques. We consider this like the House of Islam.
The House of War means two things. First is any place not belonging to Muslims. The other, the scholars say, is a place where Muslims can’t live in peace. The new scholars add a third one: Dar al-Themma. It’s like a contract or treaty so people who live in these lands live in peace. No one harms them.
Inquirer:Do you agree with that?
Khatib:I agree Dar al-Islam is a place you can live in peace. Some of the Arabian countries are considered not Dar al-Islam. You don’t have the peace there. You are not safe, your money, your kids, or your house. Most scholars escape from those countries and live in the West because there is freedom in the West.
Note that he does not say he agrees that the United States is a place at peace with Islam.
Inquirer: Would the Wahhabis [the extremist Saudi Arabian Muslim sect] accept what they are saying?
Khatib:Wahhabis have many problems. We do not consider them the state of Islam. They see problems in the thought and understanding of Islam. They concentrate on qeda, on how you believe in God. It means creed.
Inquirer:What’s wrong with that?
Khatib:Islam is a universal understanding, it’s not just to understand one part of Islam. From that thought we have the terrorists coming… . Some of their scholars speak about politics and how to spread Islam through violence. The decision to go to war or not is by the hand of the caliph, and we don’t have a caliphate right now. An individual can’t do it by his own hand. It’s absolutely wrong. It’s against Islam, and anyone who dies by this will not go to heaven, absolutely. He will go to the hellfire because he kills himself and he kills innocent people.
Khatib doesn’t mention that defensive jihad — as Osama and others have framed the present conflict — need not be called by a caliph.
Inquirer: Do you say there are no verses about violence toward nonbelievers, except in battle? None of them refer to nonbelievers in general?
Khatib:Of course not. Because Islam has mercy for all people. Allah said he sent his messenger for mercy for all people.
But under what circumstances must this “mercy” be extended to all people? Under what circumstances does battle between believers and unbelievers begin?
Inquirer:After the London bombings, you gave a sermon about violence. What did you talk about?
Khatib:About how terrorists think. I said they have a misunderstanding of the Koran and the hadith [instructions] of Muhammad. We have in our history something called al-Khawarj. They lived around the year 690. The prophet told us about them, that they are praying, reciting the Koran, memorizing it, spending the night praying to Allah. And after that, they have a bad understanding so they will try to kill Muslims and non-Muslims. And these kinds of people will be in the hellfire. The caliph at that time fought this kind of people and killed most of them.
We have these days the same thought about some people. They say, ‘We should fight the Muslim and the non-Muslim. The Muslim leaders because they are not practicing Islamic life and law, and so we should kill them first. After that, kill the non-Muslims because they are trying to take over Muslim lands.’ They can’t fight face to face, army by army, so they try to make terrorist attacks. Of course, this is a very bad understanding of Islam. It is against Islam, absolutely. Nothing of it is with Allah.
Inquirer:Could you say these things in Saudi Arabia and be safe?
Khatib: This is my understanding of Islam. I say it anywhere, and in front of any people.
In that case, go ahead and book a flight to Riyadh, Khatib. We’ll be watching to see what happens. But in fact it is unlikely that the Saudis would object to what he has said here, because it is all too vague to be of much offense to them.