Dean Esmay blogger Ali Eteraz has replied to my post here about his announcement that the Islamic death penalty for apostates will fall, so I believe it is incumbent upon me to respond. His link to his post at Esmay’s site is entitled “What Is NYT Best Selling Author Robert Spencer Saying Now?,” which is an indication of the level on which they are operating. And in the comments field there he makes another jab at my writing my name in Arabic, even though it wasn’t wrong and his fellow Esmay blogger Aziz H. Poonawalla, who initially wrote a sneering post implying it was wrong, has admitted as much. That doesn’t stop Dean Esmay himself from using it again in a comment of his own.
I wouldn’t respond to these individuals at all — in fact, it is frustrating to do so, because I know few people have the patience for the convoluted arguments that must of necessity be involved in these things. But it necessary nevertheless, since in his present post he purports to refute what I wrote here, and does so in the context of casting aspersions on my knowledge and ability to comment intelligently on Islamic texts — a favored and shopworn tactic, of course, of Islamic propagandists today and propagandists of all kinds throughout history. For people of good will, therefore, a clarification:
Spencer’s argument that my position is flawed is encapsulated here:
See anything in there about this hadith, in which Muhammad says “Whoever changes his religion, kill him” (من بدل دينه فاقتلوه), being inauthentic?
Well, I don’t know which document Spencer was reading, but the rejection of the statement “whoever changes his religion, kill him” is right there. I admit the text is vague. It is written by an Islamic Lawyer, a man whose first language is not English and who writes in the arcane language of hadith-analysis. But, so what if it is arcane, isn’t that why there are people like Robert Spencer, best selling author of books on Islam, trained in all the methodologies of Islamic Law at the world’s top institutions, so they he can tell us what these vague things mean?
You see, I can’t understand “the arcane language of hadith-analysis.” I’m not even “trained in all the methodologies of Islamic Law at the world’s top institutions.” It would be refreshing if arguments could be made without leveling personal attacks. But dodge the bricks Mr. Eteraz is throwing, and you’ll see that he completely misrepresents the sense of the article in question. Says Eteraz:
Since he missed it, I will highlight the parts that flatly contradict the hadith:
Thus, according to the Qur’an, as a result of the advent of the Messenger of God in the Banu Ishmael, those who rejected faith from amongst the polytheists were subject to the death penalty, under the provisions of the Divine Law relating to the advent of God’s messengers.
And what does this Divine Law stand for?
It declares to the direct addressees of Muhammad (pbuh) that if they do not accept the message of God’s messenger (Muhammad) their fate shall be no different from those nations that have gone before them (See Surah Al-Qamar, the whole Surah especially verse 43 – 45).
The argument is very simple folks and I’ll dumb it down because that’s really what I do best (being a simpleton not-best-selling anything): In the link I provided, the scholar argues that there is a certain principle in the Quran (for which he gives citations straight from the Quran), which stands for the proposition that when God sent a messenger to Humanity, He (God) expected all polytheists (i.e. pagans) to convert to God’s message, and if they don’t, He authorizes his messenger to kill them. He goes on to tell us that polytheists and pagans who rejected the message of other messengers of God i.e. Noah and Lot, were destroyed by way of natural calamities, but in the case of the polytheists who rejected Muhammad’s version of the message, God wanted Muhammad to fight them and kill them, and this was why:
If any of these polytheists had accepted Islam at the hands of the Messenger and later decides to return to his previous beliefs, then he too should be grouped with those who had rejected the call of the messenger and, thus, also be subjected to the same punishment. If seen in this perspective, the narrative under consideration actually means that those people who were to be punished, according to the law of God, had they not accepted Islam, would face the same punishment, if at any time during their lives they leave the folds of Islam and return to their previous beliefs.
Want me to really dumb it down? This cat is saying that the Prophet had the authority to kill pagans if they rejected his message, as well as those individuals who converted to Islam and then converted back to paganism.
Now, how does this legal argument contradict the hadith at issue? Well, if you”ve been paying attention, I”ve been highlighting the relevant words: “these poltytheists”, “direct addressees of Muhammad”; “from amongst the polytheists (from the Banu Ishmaeel)”. The scholar is saying that the authority to kill polytheists who reject Islam, and to kill those who are Muslim and subsequently Islam, was limited to the Prophet Muhammad. The implication of that assertion is that no Muslim today can kill any rejecters or anyone who leaves Islam, because no Muslim today is a messenger of God. [In fact, Muslims constantly recite to themselves the creed: –¦and Muhammad is His [God’s] Last Messenger.”
I”m sorry that Robert Spencer did not see all this there, but clearly it was right there.
In fact, it isn’t there at all. Mr. Eteraz’s argument appears to be that only Muhammad was given the command to kill apostates, and thus Muhammad’s own statement telling his followers to kill apostates must be inauthentic. But even if it were true that only Muhammad was given the command to kill apostates, that doesn’t prevent him, as uswa hasana, the “excellent example of conduct” (Qur’an 33:21), from extending it to his followers. The one doesn’t preclude the other, and has never been understood to do so by any Islamic authority. Nor is such an idea clearly stated here, even in “the arcane language of hadith-analysis.”
There is another article at the same site which endorses Mr. Eteraz’s view that the directive to kill apostates only applies to Muhammad, but even here the writer acknowledges: “I must also point out here that there is, more or less, a consensus among the scholars that an apostate should be killed. However, I think that the basis of this opinion of the Muslim scholars is questionable.”
Will the idea that the traditional view is wrong win out? I hope so. But it faces a tough uphill battle. Clearly Islamic legal theorists throughout history have understood that what was enjoined upon Muhammad (with some notable exceptions), and what Muhammad enjoined, applied to them. Muhammad is, after all, uswa hasana, an excellent model of conduct (Qur’an 33:21). The Qur’an also says: “he who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah” (4:80). At the same website, here is an article quoting Muhammad’s statement: “When I give directions in matters of your deen (religion), you should follow them.” That’s how the death penalty for apostasy came about in the first place: Muhammad said to do it, so it must be done.
The view of Mr. Eteraz is an unorthodox, minority view, by the explicit words of the scholar who supports it, quoted above. I do hope it wins out, but if it were convincing to Muslims, you would see the schools of jurisprudence setting aside the death penalty for apostasy. Instead, all we have seen recently is its furious reassertion, in the Abdul Rahman case.
Mr. Eteraz appears to want to have it both ways: we are supposed to believe that Islam is inherently peaceful, and then believe that deviations from Islamic orthodoxy to make it peaceful will with relative ease win general acceptance among Muslims. But why are they needed at all, if Islamic orthodoxy is peaceful?
And it gets even worse:
Since I have the audience, I want to clarify a number of things. First, not only does Robert miss all this, but
a) He tries to leave this discussion altogether “” which is not something one expects from a serious scholar of Islam (and NYT best selling author) “” by bringing issues not up for discussion when he says: “What’s more, the article affirms the traditional rules of jihad and dhimmitude, which I have pointed out many times.” I”m curious. If we”re talking about the legal rules surrounding apostasy, why are you trying to bring up the legal rules for jihad and dhimmitude? If we were talking about securities litigation, would you talk about antitrust law? Apostasy and Jihad are very distinct within Islamic Law. Robert knows that because he is a best selling author on Islam. [If he wants me get into a discussion about the legal rules surrounding dhimmis and jihad, we can do that. I”ve actually dealt with offensive jihad already 1, 2, and I”m sure I’ll get around to dhimmis some other time].
Mr. Eteraz: I didn’t try to “leave the discussion” at all. Nor did I make any claim that this had anything to do with what you wrote about apostasy. I noted the affirmation of traditional Islamic teachings about jihad and dhimmitude because so many Islamic apologists have called me ignorant and sneered at me, as you are doing now, when I brought them up. Some (including Mahdi Bray, one of the slickest of all) have even claimed that they have never heard of the doctrines I am describing. Next time they do something like this, I will refer them to the Hadith Cell of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi.
b) He tries to change the argument when he says, “If only they knew that Ali Eteraz has declared this a weak hadith on the grounds that in some versions Muhammad says to break the apostates” necks.” I hope it is quite clear that it is not Ali Eteraz saying that the hadith is weak, but the “hadith cell of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi” (see the bottom of the link). Javed Ahmed Ghamidi is a traditionalist-reformist in Pakistan whom Musharraf has been begging to stay on Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology. Ghamidi is the soul and mouth behind the Women’s Protection Bill.
Logged and noted. It was the Hadith Cell of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, not Mr. Eteraz, and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is a good guy. Who happens to believe in the Islamic imperative to make war against and subjugate non-Muslims, but only for the time of Muhammad, which I guess is supposed to be reassuring. Unfortunately, he’s an excellent example of conduct.
Nevermind the fact that at no point in the link does the Muslim scholar argue that we simply change the translation of the hadith by calling it “break the apostate’s neck.” Maybe Robert Spencer knows of other people who are so intellectually lazy. I”m sure he does. He is a best selling author on Islam.
I was referring, of course, to this textual variant noted by the illustrious Hadith Cell of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi: “In some narratives, as in Mu’atta Imam Malik’s narrative no. 1413, the word “فاقتلوه” (i.e., ‘kill him’) have been replaced with a synonymous phrase “فاضربوا عنقه” (i.e., ‘break his neck’).” Mr. Eteraz, do you really think people will not click on your links and see what you’re doing?
c) Then there is the matter of doing due legal diligence. Maybe if I was talking to another version of myself “” a know nothing reformist wannabe type (my words) “” it wouldn’t be a big deal if that wannabe didn’t do any cross-referencing. But I think when a best selling author of Islam writes, it is reasonable to expect him to have done his due diligence. Robert could have done that by simply typing “apostasy” in the search box right there and he would have found a number of links where this view on apostasy is a lot clearer.
Mr. Eteraz: I didn’t present my post as a comprehensive discussion of Islamic views on apostasy. I was discussing your post, and yours only. For you to suggest otherwise again makes me wonder if you are more interested in character assassination than in serious discussion. If you want to read what I have written about Islam and apostasy, see my book The Truth About Muhammad.
Finally Mr. Eteraz takes issue with my saying that it is Muslims who need to be convinced that the death penalty for apostasy needs to be set aside, and his post won’t do that:
But Spencer’s point “” “and they are the ones who need to be convinced” “” really does raise another issue: if I think that we need to spread these opinions to Muslims, and Robert thinks I need to spread them to Muslims, then doesn’t that mean that Robert is totally irrelevant since no Muslims really care for his opinion?
Then someone should inform Dean Esmay how irrelevant I am, since he thinks your coreligionists are learning their religion from me: he recently said that I am “enabling the Jihadists…and…encouraging young Muslims to think the Jihadists must be right.”
Irrelevant, or aiding the jihadists? You can’t have it both ways.
Ali Eteraz doesn’t like me to associate him with Dean Esmay:
ps – Robert, I am not Dean Esmay. I don’t speak for Dean Esmay. I had my own blog long before I heard of Dean Esmay. I am not Dean Esmay”s lackey. I am much better looking than Dean Esmay. So please, whatever you have between you and Esmay (which you list in your post), keep it between yourselves. I only post on his site because a) he has more traffic and b) because it is clear that the frontpagers on Dean’s World do not speak for another.
If you don’t want to be associated with Esmay, you might reconsider posting on his site.
And one final note from Mr. Eteraz:
pps – Robert, why do I get the feeling that at some point you”re going to bust out with some thoughts on Naskh (abrogation). Feel free to do so, I”m expecting it. I probably won’t be able to reply promptly b/c I am trying to get some other projects off the ground. I just wanted you to know, I’d welcome it.
This is a bizarre request. I have reported on what the Islamic authorities say about naskh, in books, articles, and numerous weblogs. But that has nothing to do with the present discussion, and it is strange that Mr. Eteraz thought I would bring it up in this context. Mr. Eteraz, if you have something to say about what I have actually reported about it, fire away. It would be good of you, if you do so, to deal with what I actually say instead of with misrepresentations of my positions written by Dean Esmay or others.
In a comment on this post, Aziz H. Poonawalla, taking the high road as always, points out that Esmay has apologized to me — but a look at the actual apology reveals that he only apologized for condemning me to a lonely death and an eternity of hellfire, not for being a “liar,” a “traitor,” “dishonest” or any of the other epithets he has offered up. Thank you, Dean.
Regarding Mr. Poonawalla, it has now been 17 days since he wrote to me, in reference to an earlier inaccurate and flailing Esmay World hatchet-job on my work: “Matoko clearly was mistaken, and I’ll post ot that effect later.” Much later, I suppose.
Finally, at Esmay’s, Mr. Poonawalla says to Mr. Eteraz: “I was struck by Robert’s assertion that ‘he was not convinced’ by your earlier post. Given the stated mission of JihadWatch, I would imagine that he would want to promote your explanation, not attempt to undercut it.” Here’s the rub: Ali Eteraz should get a free pass from every non-Muslim, because he’s on the side of the angels. No matter how flimsy and hole-ridden his arguments are, let’s not notice. He deserves our support. He’s a good Muslim.
This view is condescending and ultimately demeaning to Mr. Eteraz. He has to be able to fend for himself with his arguments, and not expect any free passes. He’s right: I don’t matter, but his fellow Muslims do, when it comes to whom he needs to convince. If his argument is full of holes, Muslims will notice, whether I notice or not. And it is. It doesn’t need me to “undercut” it, Mr. Poonawalla. It is already undercut, and thus ineffective for what it must do. And I am going to continue to ask for more from self-professed moderate Muslims: that they devise some effective way to counter the jihadists on Islamic grounds, or stop pretending that they can.
It is wearying to write these posts. But I will nonetheless continue to do so, because the falsehoods being presented by thes people are serious, and they are raising points that need to be clarified for people of good will. So — I hope this one was also helpful to that end.