The former President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, has published a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam: Muslims and non-Muslims must unite to defeat the Wahhabi ideology.
Many, many people sent to me in the course of the day yesterday, asking me to comment; but really, it contains nothing new. It is just more of the kind of analysis we have seen by the bushel since 9/11: Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace, and the big bad Wahhabis are hijacking it into something else. But as I show in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), the Wahhabis are neither the originators nor the sole proprieters of the ideology of conquest and supremacism that is Islamic jihad. Certainly they are its most powerful and energetic exponents today, but if anyone thinks the problems that the Islamic world has with non-Muslims would vanish if the Wahhabis somehow disappeared is just whistling in the dark. Even a cursory glance at Iranian Shi’ism should establish that.
It is time for people of good will from every faith and nation to recognize that a terrible danger threatens humanity. We cannot afford to continue “business as usual” in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the danger that lies before us.
An extreme and perverse ideology in the minds of fanatics is what directly threatens us (specifically, Wahhabi/Salafi ideology–a minority fundamentalist religious cult fueled by petrodollars). Yet underlying, enabling and exacerbating this threat of religious extremism is a global crisis of misunderstanding.
Pretty much the only thing that distinguishes the jihad theology of the Wahhabi/Salafi “minority fundamentalist religious cult” from the jihad theology of all the eight schools of Islamic law (madhahib) is that the Wahhabis are much more willing than the traditional schools to declare other Muslims to be unbelievers and wage jihad against them. The teachings about offering unbelievers conversion, subjugation or death are not significantly different.
All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches one to be lenient towards others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are tolerated by Islam as a religion. The essence of Islam is encapsulated in the words of the Quran, “For you, your religion; for me, my religion.” That is the essence of tolerance. Religious fanatics–either purposely or out of ignorance–pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed. They justify their brutality with slogans such as “Islam is above everything else.” They seek to intimidate and subdue anyone who does not share their extremist views, regardless of nationality or religion. While a few are quick to shed blood themselves, countless millions of others sympathize with their violent actions, or join in the complicity of silence.
“For you, your religion; for me, my religion” is from Sura 109 of the Qur’an. Muslim scholars consider it an early Meccan sura. Traditional Islamic theology has held for centuries that on points of disagreement the later Medinan suras take precedence over the early Meccan ones — and in what most Muslim authorities consider to be the last sura of all, Surat At-Tawba (sura 9), we find the “Ayat as-Seif” (Verse of the Sword, verse 5) and the call to wage war against Jews and Christians until they submit as inferiors under Islamic rule (verse 29). The idea that sura 109 must be understood in light of this material was not invented by Wahhabis: it is taught by the great medieval Qur’an commentator Ibn Kathir; by As-Suyuti, another revered commentator, and by many others.
Does Wahid not know all this, or does he just hope we don’t? The jihadists have a coherent, developed, and traditionally-based theology explaining why they take sura 9 over 109. Does Wahid have a coherent theology explaining why Muslims should take 109 over 9 and leave non-believers in peace? If he does, he should share it with the world, which needs it desperately. But he gives no hint of it in the Wall Street Journal.
This crisis of misunderstanding–of Islam by Muslims themselves–is compounded by the failure of governments, people of other faiths, and the majority of well-intentioned Muslims to resist, isolate and discredit this dangerous ideology. The crisis thus afflicts Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences. Failure to understand the true nature of Islam permits the continued radicalization of Muslims world-wide, while blinding the rest of humanity to a solution which hides in plain sight.
Great. Then let’s see you do it. Let’s see you fight among Muslims what you call the Wahhabi theology, and teach that Muslims and non-Muslims should live together as equals in peace.
The most effective way to overcome Islamist extremism is to explain what Islam truly is to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Without that explanation, people will tend to accept the unrefuted extremist view–further radicalizing Muslims, and turning the rest of the world against Islam itself.
Unrefuted is right.
Accomplishing this task will be neither quick nor easy. In recent decades, Wahhabi/Salafi ideology has made substantial inroads throughout the Muslim world. Islamic fundamentalism has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world, and even among immigrant Muslim communities in the West. To neutralize the virulent ideology that underlies fundamentalist terrorism and threatens the very foundations of modern civilization, we must identify its advocates, understand their goals and strategies, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and effectively counter their every move. What we are talking about is nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam.
Yes, we are. And bland platitudes is all we have gotten so far. Much, much more is needed.
The Sunni (as opposed to Shiite) fundamentalists’ goals generally include: claiming to restore the perfection of the early Islam practiced by Muhammad and his companions, who are known in Arabic as al-Salaf al-Salih, “the Righteous Ancestors”; establishing a utopian society based on these Salafi principles, by imposing their interpretation of Islamic law on all members of society; annihilating local variants of Islam in the name of authenticity and purity; transforming Islam from a personal faith into an authoritarian political system; establishing a pan-Islamic caliphate governed according to the strict tenets of Salafi Islam, and often conceived as stretching from Morocco to Indonesia and the Philippines; and, ultimately, bringing the entire world under the sway of their extremist ideology.
This is the kind of thing that makes me suspicious. “Transforming Islam from a personal faith into an authoritarian political system”? But Islam has never been a personal faith as opposed to a political system. It has always had a political dimension, and has never accepted the sacred/secular distinction. This kind of thing makes me wonder if Wahid is just engaging in the same kind of deceptive analysis we have seen so much of already. And another thing: Morocco to Indonesia and the Philippines? What about Spain and Western Europe? And the U.S.A.? The jihadists have made clear their global intentions. Why not speak plainly about this?
Fundamentalist strategy is often simple as well as brilliant. Extremists are quick to drape themselves in the mantle of Islam and declare their opponents kafir, or infidels, and thus smooth the way for slaughtering nonfundamentalist Muslims. Their theology rests upon a simplistic, literal and highly selective reading of the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic traditions), through which they seek to entrap the world-wide Muslim community in the confines of their narrow ideological grasp. Expansionist by nature, most fundamentalist groups constantly probe for weakness and an opportunity to strike, at any time or place, to further their authoritarian goals.
Fine. Show us, please, instead of telling us, as we have already heard so many times, exactly how Wahhabi theology is based on a “simplistic, literal and highly selective reading of the Quran and Sunnah.” If you could just explain this once, with honest, straightforward reference to Islamic history and theology, it would go so far to dispelling suspicion and making people of good will really open to working with you.
Those who seek to promote a peaceful and tolerant understanding of Islam must overcome the paralyzing effects of inertia, and harness a number of actual or potential strengths, which can play a key role in neutralizing fundamentalist ideology. These strengths not only are assets in the struggle with religious extremism, but in their mirror form they point to the weakness at the heart of fundamentalist ideology. They are:
1) Human dignity, which demands freedom of conscience and rejects the forced imposition of religious views;
And yet, Mr. Wahid, the denial of freedom of conscience goes back to Muhammad’s Baddala deenahu, faqtuluhu — If anyone changes his religion, kill him (cf. Bukhari vol. 9, bk. 84, no. 57) and the death penalty for apostates is still taught by non-Wahhabi Muslim theologians. Please explain how you intend to overcome the influence of this.
2) the ability to mobilize immense resources to bring to bear on this problem, once it is identified and a global commitment is made to solve it; 3) the ability to leverage resources by supporting individuals and organizations that truly embrace a peaceful and tolerant Islam; 4) nearly 1,400 years of Islamic traditions and spirituality, which are inimical to fundamentalist ideology;
That needs to be spelled out, if true — and there is a good deal of evidence that it isn’t true.
5) appeals to local and national–as well as Islamic–culture/traditions/pride; 6) the power of the feminine spirit, and the fact that half of humanity consists of women, who have an inherent stake in the outcome of this struggle;
Please explain also Mr. Wahid how you intend to overcome this. The Qur’an, after all:
1. Likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223);
2. Declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282);
3. Allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3);
4. Rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11);
5. Tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
What was that again about the power of the feminine spirit?
I am not saying that Wahid is trying to deceive us. But if he isn’t, he needs to address the obvious gaping holes in his analysis and recommendations. And the world at large needs to know about those gaping holes. The Wall Street Journal should have known better than to publish this shallow and misleading piece — but everyone is so hungry these days for the soothing syrup of Islamic moderation and reason that they will swallow any kind of trumped-up counterfeit without a second thought.