UPDATE just added at FP: Editors’ Note: Through an act of editorial oversight, an earlier version of this article contained Mustafa Akoyl’s assertion that Serge Trifkovic is, or was, “an advocate of Slobodan Milosevic, a criminal against humanity.” We unreservedly apologize to Dr. Trifkovic for the mistake and dissociate ourselves from Mr. Akoyl’s assertion. In addition to being totally unfounded, the accusation against Dr. Trifkovic — a valued occasional contributor to our pages — was an ad-hominem slander that does not contribute to the kind of reasoned and reasonable debate that FPM seeks to promote. Frontpage regrets any pain or injury this may have caused to Dr. Trifkovic.
Don’t miss this illuminating and sometimes heated exchange. “Symposium: The Pope and Islam,” conducted by Jamie Glazov at FrontPage:
The Pope’s visit to Turkey highlights the Muslim world’s violent reaction to the Pontiff’s comments about Islam several weeks ago. What did those comments, and the Muslim world’s response to them, really mean? To discuss these issues with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are:
Mustafa Akyol, a Muslim journalist and author from Istanbul, Turkey. He has written extensively in the Turkish and international press, including many American publications, about Islam and the current Muslim world. His writings are available at www.thewhitepath.com.
Thomas Haidon, the Chief Legal and Policy Advisor of the Free Muslim Coalition and a member of its Board of Advisors. A commentator on legal issues surrounding counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he currently serves as an advisor to the New Zealand government and has provided guidance to parliamentary committees on counter-terrorism issues. His works have been published in legal periodicals, newspapers and other media.
Serge Trifkovic, a former BBC commentator and US NEWS and World Report reporter. His last book was The Sword of the Prophet. The sequel, Defeating Jihad, will be published by Regina Orthodox Press in April. Read his commentaries on ChroniclesMagazine.org.
Bat Ye”or, the world’s foremost authority on dhimmitude. She is the author of Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide. Her latest book is Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.
FP: Mustafa Akyol, Thomas Haidon, Serge Trifkovic and Bat Ye”or, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Thomas Haidon, let’s begin with you.
The controversy over the Pope’s visit to Turkey, as we well know, has been ignited by the Muslim world’s violent reaction to the Pope’s statements several weeks ago. There were calls to kill the Pope, there was the burning of Christian Churches, there was the tragic murder of the nun in Somalia etc.
Let’s begin with this question: if members of a religion are offended at the implication of their religion being violent, what is the logic of reacting with violence?
And where are the “real” Muslims decrying the violent reactions that supposedly taint their “religion of peace”?
Haidon: Thank you Jamie.
The events that have unfolded since the Pope Benedict remarks have been nothing short of disturbing, albeit predictable given recent events and the jurisprudence Islam governing blasphemy. As a Muslim, while I found the Pope’s remarks provocative I was far more disturbed by the collective reaction of the Ummah. This reaction has presented itself in violent and non-violent form. The subsequent murder of Christians and threats of death and destruction of Christian institutions and communities from Gaza to Bangladesh, coupled with non-violent, but disproportionately vitriolic reaction from many in the Muslim world is likely to only reinforce the Pope’s statement on jihad and Islam.
In my view both levels of reaction are blatantly hypocritical. Seminal figureheads in Islam (including Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar in Cairo; Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi; Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani ) both Sunni and Shi’a have consistently made consistent efforts to publicly denigrate Christianity, Judaism and other faiths through a broad range of medium and fora. The imagery described in their writings and sermons is degrading and specifically designed to dehumanise members of other faiths. The Pope certainly did not engage in such virulent denigration of Islam. There is undoubtedly a double standard that Muslims must address.
I want to be very careful however to distinguish Muslims and organisations who have criticised the Pope but have not engaged in poisonous, disproportionate and unmeasured criticism. Muslims certainly have every right to be concerned over the Pope’s remarks and to partake in legitimate legal protest to countenance those remarks. I am disturbed by dialogue from some non-Muslim circles which have condemned such protests, as if some Muslims somehow cease being moderate or liberal because they were offended by the remarks. However, the best was to countenance the remarks are to engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue, to which a current framework does not exist. The current model of interfaith dialogue which superficially focuses on general high level and common traits of faiths has failed. An effective meaningful framework for “safe” dialogue must be developed which also focuses on the “difficult” issues in Islam that Muslims have failed to address. Far too often, questions from Christians and Jews during interfaith dialogue sessions (particularly at the regional level) on aspects of the laws of the dhimma, or jihad are met with accusations of discrimination and vilification, thus rendering such dialogue completely ineffectual, and potentially misleading and destructive.
In my view, Muslims should not place a significant amount of scrutiny on the Pontiff’s apparent “misrepresentation” of Islam, but instead should place that scrutiny inward. I am far less concerned about addressing or changing the Pope’s apparent views on jihad, than I am about the views of Muslims, which have been clearly articulated by influential Muslim scholars. Instead of rioting and demonstrating against the Pope, I yearn for the day when I see widespread Muslim anger at the Islamists that monopolise our faith.
The Pontiff’s remarks must be seen in the broader context of Islamic-Christian relations. Firstly, it is worth pointing out that the Pope is not naive when it comes to Islam (contrary to the views of the Iranian spiritual leader and others), and has evinced a fairly developed understanding of Islam. He certainly appears to be more attuned to the aspects of shari’ah and Islamic jurisprudence governing Muslim/non-Muslim relations. To reiterate, while viewed the Pope’s remarks as provocative, I consider them to be a legitimate challenge to moderate Muslims to commence internal discussions on the problems of violence and intolerance within Islam that have emerged from a number of sources, including the legal prohibition on Muslim scholars in exercising independent and contextual reasoning in Islamic decision-making ( itjihad). Will we rise to the challenge?
As to your final question with respect to the apparent silence of moderate Muslims, I am aware of a number of prominent Muslims and organisations which have condemned the violent reactions (albeit some have superficially), including some Muslims perceived as Islamists. However I would concur that it does not appear that there has not been a significant proportion of Muslims whom has specifically condemned the violent acts. I think there may be a number of reasons for this silence. Firstly, it is worth stating that unfortunately there is some precedence in Islamic history and jurisprudence which gives impetus to the violent reaction against the Pope. The laws of blasphemy under orthodox Islam are fairly well established, embedded and have generally remain unchanged over centuries. In most Muslim countries, moderate Muslims cannot speak on this issue out of fear of being accused of apostasy.
In 2005, Sheikh Al- Qaradawi issued a legal ruling on moderate Muslims who challenged the Islamist orthodoxy. His solution to this problem was to declare them “intellectual apostates”, subject to death. Moderate Muslims are under siege in these countries. Several weeks ago, my friend and Sudanese reformer Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Taha (editor of Al-Wikaf in Khartoum) was beheaded by Islamists sympathetic to Al Qaradawi for the crime of apostasy because he merely printed an article which dared question the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) ancestral lineage, despite the fact that he disagreed with the content of the article. This does not bode well for moderate Muslim voices. A second primary reason for the “silence” of moderate Muslims is the lack of a unified voice. There are many moderate Muslims in the West and in the Muslim world. However they often speak as lone voices. Moderate Muslims do not have a collective power base to be able to speak, in security, in a unified voice.
Trifkovic: The Pope’s allegedly objectionable statements in his lecture at the University of Regensburg were taken out of context. He has said and done nothing that a reasonable person of any religious persuasion would find objectionable.
His comments were made in the course of a complex theological-philosophical treatise delivered to academics in an ancient institution of higher learning, not in a public homily to the faithful in a square or a cathedral. Had he intended to make a high-profile controversial statement, the chosen venue would have been singularly inappropriate.
His quote of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus was accompanied with an explicit disclaimer that it did not reflect his own views. That disclaimer was far more strongly emphasized in the German original – available to the curious – than in the English-language reportage and commentary.
The purpose of the quote was not to “defame” the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and his religion, or even to make a comment about Islam per se, but to develop an argument about the relationship between faith and reason.
If there is anything potentially offensive to a Muslim ear in the address, it is not the verdict of a learned Byzantine emperor on Muhammad’s contribution to the history of ideas – but Benedict XVI’s conceivably implied view that Islam is, or may be, unreasonable.
If anyone should feel insulted, it is the blasÃ©, deracinated, faithless, postmodern elite class of the Western world. It was to them that the Pope sent his warning to avoid the contempt for God and the cynicism that deems mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom. A reason which is deaf to the divine, and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures, said the Pope. His true targets understood, and responded with unrestrained animus – notably The New York Times editorialist on September 16.
As for the Muslims, the Pope’s message came at the end of his address: “‘Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God’, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.” It was an eminently conciliatory and generous message. It could be argued that it was unduly optimistic in tone and excessively conciliatory in its assumptions, in view of Islam’s past record on “dialogue.”
Even had the Pontiff repeated Emperor Manuel’s words without the disclaimer, those words should have been judged by their veracity and not by their emotional effect on a supposedly aggrieved group. That Muhammad’s major innovation was “his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached” is not a value judgment, it is an “objective” truth. The sentence does not suggest that “Muhammad was evil and inhuman,” as most rampaging Muslims seemed to believe, but rather that his original contribution to the edifice of Islam – as opposed to the many elements he had borrowed from Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastranism, pre-Islamic Arab paganism, etc. – was such.
The statement may be insulting or painful to some – so much so that they are prepared to kill elderly nuns and put churches to torch to make their point – but it is nonetheless TRUE. The doctrine of jihad – violence in the path of Allah with the objective of converting, killing, or else subjugating and taxing the “infidel” – was Muhammad’s most significant original contribution to world history. It defined Islam in its earliest days, it has defined the relations between “the world of faith” and “the world of war” ever since, and – as we’ve seen from the reactions to Pope Benedict’s lecture – it continues to define the mindset of Islam to this day.
“God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature” is the key statement in Emperor Manuel’s verbal duel with his Persian interlocutor. “Faith is born of the soul, not the body.” The world outlook based on this simple yet essential adage is light years away from the Verse of the Sword. That Islam sees the world as an open-ended conflict between the Land of Peace (Dar al-Islam) and the Land of War (Dar al-Harb) is the most important legacy of Muhammad. Ever since his time, Islam has been a permanent challenge to all non-Muslim polities around it. The Kuranic dictum to fight the rest of us infidels until we “pay the Jizya with willing submission,” denies the possibility of permanent peaceful co-existence. “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them” is an injunction both unambiguous and powerful.
Akyol: I very much agree with Haidon’s comments. And I no doubt disagree with what Pope Benedict XIV said about Islam in Regensburg. But I think it is insane to attack churches and Christians because of his comments. Moreover, I think the Pope has the right to express his views about Islam, whatever they are. So I wouldn’t even demand an apology from him, as most Muslims have done. Instead, I would ask for a dialogue and present him some facts about Islam and would wonder whether he would like to reconsider his views in the light of those facts.
Let me point out to the first fact: Pope Benedict said that the Koranic verse “There is no compulsion in religion” is “one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat].” However, that verse, numbered 2:286, is actually a very late verse. The traditional Islamic consensus was that this verse was revealed in the Medinan period, when Prophet Muhammad and Muslims were not powerless, but in fact, were the rulers of their own state.
This is one reason why the great majority of Muslim scholars accept that forced conversion is against Islam. Again that’s why in Islamic lands, non-Muslim religious minorities, especially Jews and Christians were tolerated as “protected” communities. Theirs was a second-class citizenship and thus not very favorable when compared to modern standards, but according to the standards of the medieval times, it was really fine. That’s why Jews of Spain fled to the Ottoman Empire when they were forced to convert to Catholicism in medieval Spain. That’s again why you still have many Christian and Jewish communities in many parts of the Islamic world. The Coptic Christians of Egypt, the Christians of Palestine, Iraq and Syria, Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, and many others have lived under Islamic states for centuries and they are still there; obviously they are not converted. This does not mean that Islamic history is full of only tolerance; as with every civilization, there are episodes of violence and bloodshed but the Islamic norm was, “no compulsion in religion.”
This does not mean, however, that Muslims did not aim to spread Islamic rule by the sword. They did. From the earliest caliphs, Islamic armies went around to have military conquests. This was not, of course, abnormal at all at that time. It was an age of empires and many other states, including the Christian ones such as Byzantium, were trying to extend their borders.
Today, I think the question is whether it is a necessity of the Islamic religion to “spread the Islamic rule by the sword.” And my answer is no. There are both peaceful and belligerent verses in the Koran and how we interpret them is the key. After prophet Muhammad, the expansionism of the Islamic empire led some Muslim jurists to conclude that the belligerent verses abrogated the peaceful ones. Hence came the doctrine of offensive jihad. What Pope Benedict refers to must be this. However, Islamic jurists had different opinions on this. Imam Shafi was in favor of offensive jihad whereas Imam Hanafi was in favor of only defensive jihad. In today’s world, in which all states are bound by treaties “” something on which the Koran makes great emphasis “” and religious freedom is widespread, there is simply no justification for offensive jihad. The doctrine of abrogation is also rejected by many contemporary Muslims, including myself.
Another issue Pope Benedict has raised is the role of reason in understanding God in Islam. Islam is not monolithic on this either. Pope Benedict’s has said, “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent, His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.” However this is not the universal Muslim opinion; it was the opinion developed by Imam Hanbal in the 8th century, who formed the most puritanist and rigid of the four major Sunni schools. (Today’s Wahhabism is an offshoot of Hanbalism.) At the time of Imam Hanbal, there was another school of thought among Muslims called the Mutazila and they were very rationalist. The Mutazila view was that God was rational and “justice was the essence of God, He could not wrong anybody, he could not enjoin anything contrary to reason.” (Karen Armstrong, A History of God, 1993 p. 164)
From the clash between the rationalist Mutazilis and the “traditionalist” Imam Hanbal, a middle ground was created by al-Ashari and that’s the most widely accepted theological school today. There is also another school called Maturidi, which is more rationalist than Asharism. (The Maturidis say, for example, that the unaided human mind is able to find out what is evil to a certain degree.)
In short there is not a single, unified Muslim opinion which dismisses reason and opts for blind faith. On the contrary most modern Muslims think that they are the rational ones and Christians are the irrationalists, by referring to Christian Church fathers like Tertullian who said, “I believe it because it is absurd.” Indeed Christianity is not represented solely by Tertullian and Islam is not represented solely by its own irrationalists. We should have the wisdom to see all these details and variations.
Bat Ye”or: I have read the whole text of Pope Benedict’s lecture given at Regensburg University. It is a deep reflection on a learned level regarding the different phases of the bonds between faith and reason. Emperor Manuel’s quote, from which the Pope distanced himself and even slightly criticized, is used merely as an introduction to his topic. He attributes to specialists the dating of Koranic verse 2:286 [actually 2:256]. It is not his own opinion.
I totally agree with Thomas Haidon and will not repeat what he said so well. I think that it is a shame that in the 21st century innocent people should be killed, churches burned, and civilians terrorized because in a European university, in a lecture, a European Pope has quoted a sentence from a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, to which Muslims object. I doubt that those responsible for such criminal behavior even understand the Pope’s lecture.
I would like now to evoke the contemporary circumstances that provoked the observations of Manuel II (1391-1425). From the 7th century onward, the Byzantine Empire was under constant Muslim attacks, first from the Arabs, followed by the Turks. Muslim and non-Muslim contemporary witnesses wrote about whole cities destroyed, populations massacred or reduced to slavery of dhimmitude. I agree with Serge Trifkovic’s view on jihad, a religiously motivated war, which by itself totally contradicts the verse 2:286. The doctrine, legislation, strategy and tactics of jihad are all based on theological texts. Therefore this verse needs to be qualified not only in the historical field, but also and urgently within Muslim theology.
The reign of Manuel II was among the most painful years of the dying empire. He lamented the devastation of Morea by the Turkish armies. The situation was the same over the Balkans. In Bulgaria when Tirnovo fell (July 1393), the soldiers were killed and the mass of the population deported. At the battle of Nicopolis (September 1396), 10.000 men were beheaded in Sultan Bajazet’s presence and many more enslaved. There are numerous accounts of destruction, forced conversions, abduction and enslavement of women and children. Recent research (cf “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” by Robert C. Davis) examines the enslavement of Christians by Muslims from 1500 to 1800 in the Mediterranean, as perpetrated by the Maghrebian States. Jews were also victims of this slave-trade. Muslim slavery which can be called religious because it targeted only non-Muslims, was widespread throughout the Levant, the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia. This went together with the system of dhimmitude — also determined by religious discrimination. Invoking the victims” survival to prove Islamic tolerance is like praising slavery because slaves survived until their emancipation. And pretending that dhimmitude was fine by medieval standards is cynical. One can say that religious persecution existed everywhere, that it was wrong and inhuman, but not that it was fine.
Islamist terror — today associated with global jihad, genocidal threats, and a poisonous literature of hate — gives a sinister picture. Ordinary people — who do not know al-Ashari theories but have to suffer in their everyday lives the constraints and fears of Islamist terror — do associate Islam with violence. Muslims could correct this view by organizing mass demonstrations against jihad and terror in their 56 Muslim countries. But nothing is done. On the contrary we see a massive support for Ben Laden, Hamas and Hizbullah. I agree that religious violence unfolded in every society. However Western societies now have created political, social, and cultural institutions that control and neutralize violence. This does not guarantee that it will not erupt again suddenly; it only means that the sources of violence and its channels of transmission must be recognized and suppressed in order to establish peaceful relations between faiths.
Having read the Pope’s lecture, I think that its whole structure might have irritated the Islamists. All through his lecture, the Pope clearly links Christianity to the Bible. Muslim orthodoxy opposes this view because it claims that Islam is the primal religion and sole true revelation. Christianity as well as Judaism is a subsequent and falsified deviation from the Islamic trunk (here). The Pope mentioned the Christian effort to rationalize faith through Greek philosophy — an endeavor already undertaken by the Jewish school of Alexandria (III BCE) He also stated that Europe’s faith and culture originate from the Bible and the Greco-Roman civilization. Now many European leaders, intellectuals and Muslims reject this assertion. Chirac declared in 2003 that Europe’s roots are as much Muslim as Christian. Many affirm that European culture grew from the Islamic civilization. This debate (has Christianity developed from Judaism or from Islam?) is the theological version:– or the cultural aspect of what is in fact a political issue, which today turns around the refusal of Europe’s Judeo-Christian identity, the legitimization of Turkey”s entrance into Europe and of the introduction of shari”a law and Muslim customs within Europe.
Haidon: At the outset, I must admit that when engaging with others on Islam, I deliberately endeavour to avoid the “equivalency trap”, that is, attempting to compare Islam’s travails with those of Judaism and Christianity (which have developed methods and frameworks through hermeneutics, to address doctrinal issues). I find that engaging in equivalency-type arguments tends to obfuscate the real issues and challenges facing Islam and prevents honest analysis of those issues and challenges.
While I agree with some of Mr Trifkovic’s points in relation to the benign nature and motivation behind the remarks of the Pontiff and the disproportionate Muslim response, I wholeheartedly disagree with his unbending characterisation of Islam as a whole. To be sure however the collective of failure of Muslims on a wide scale to truly engage in the reform and liberalisation of Islam is a prime catalyst for such criticism. I cannot be entirely dismissive of Mr Trifkovic’s characterisation of the so called “lesser jihad” as there is ample material in the Qur’an, and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic jurisprudence to corroborate this. I am in complete agreement, with Bat Ye’or that jihad has to be immediately qualified within Islam by Muslims. The re-introduction of itjihad into Islamic decision-making would be a positive step in this regard.
I am generally agreement with Brother Akayol. Importantly, he illustrates that Islam and Muslims cannot be painted with a singular, broad brush, and that within Islam there are a variety of views and opinions. I applaud him for taking a measured and balanced view of the Pope’s remarks. I do not necessarily agree with his view however that the Pope should be presented with facts about Islam with a view towards reconsidering his remarks. I am considerably less concerned with the Pope’s possible misunderstanding of jihad, than I am of my co-religionists. It is Muslims who are “misinterpreting” Islam, and this is where focus should really lie. Future engagement with the Pope or inter-faith dialogue more generally will remain futile, and perhaps dangerous, if Muslims cannot first clarify these misinterpretations amongst ourselves in the first instance. The time for “self-victimisation” needs to come to an end.
I am grateful for Brother Akayol’s discussion on nansakh (abrogation) in the Qur’an. Far too often, abrogation is ignored by Muslims engaged in discussions with non-Muslims of da’wa efforts. However, it is a juridical reality and an impediment that Muslims must face in addressing and reconciling Meccan and Medinan verses. The common understanding that many of the earlier verses are abrogated by later verses is commonly accepted among all four madhab (schools of thought) as well as Sh’ia jurisprudence. I disagree with Brother Akayol in his assertion that abrogation can be rejected outright in Islam (although I would like to see this occur). Abrogation cannot be rejected, as the doctrine is not merely a man made jurisprudential aid (as is qiyas) but contained within the Qur’an. Few moderate scholars have wholeheartedly rejected abrogation. Moderate Muslim scholars including Muhammad al-Ghazali have advocated for the restrictive use of abrogation. It is important to note that there is no concerted, widespread effort to reject of limit the effect of the doctrine, so not to render verses espousing peaceful relations with non-Muslims as void (as many scholars in the Muslim world have advocated). The failure to address abrogation should be viewed as major impediment (among others) to reforming Islamic hermeneutics.
Similarly, I am grateful for Brother Akayol’s acknowledgement that there is (contemporarily and historically) a diversity of views within Islam on the scope of jihad and qitaal. Unfortunately, while this diversity of opinion may exist, the discourse is dominated by the advocates of aggressive/offensive jihad which include Al-Azhar, Ikhwan al-Muslimun,, Wahabism, Salafism (among other entities)and their collective leadership. I am also intrigued by the assertion that the moderately rationalistic teachings of Abu Al Hasan Al Ashari are “the most widely accepted theological school today”. Rationalism in most forms has disappeared from intra-Islamic scholarship and has been viewed by many high profile scholars, including Sheikh Tantawi as bidah (innovation).
I am in general agreement with Bat Ye’or who has provided some important historical context to the discussion and has made measured observations about what Muslims should be doing, but are failing to do.
Trifkovic: Let’s first set the record straight on the verse “la ikraha fiddeen” (“no compulsion in religion”), as it has great relevance for the proper understanding of the Pontiff’s main point. Verse 2:256 is not at all “one reason why the great majority of Muslim scholars accept that forced conversion is against Islam.” In reality, no mainstream Islamic scholar accepts today, or has ever accepted over the past 13 centuries, that 2:256 leaves non-Muslims free to make their religious choices unmolested and un-coerced, in accordance with their conscience and free will.
Some contemporary Islamic scholars explain that there is, indeed, no compulsion in making that choice – but once it is made, the options are bleak – death or submission – for those who make the “wrong” choice: “Faith and rejection, iman and kufr, cannot be forced upon one by others. So Islam does not say that others must be forced into Islam; that if they become Muslims, well and good, and if they do not, they are to be killed, that the choice is theirs.” In the same spirit, there was no compulsion to accept Communism under the 1936 Soviet constitution, but the price of its insufficiently enthusiastic embrace was fatally steep for some tens of millions of Zeks.
The difference among Islamic scholars on 2:256 is that of degree, not kind. Some assert that it has been abrogated not only by 9:5 but also by 9:73 (“O Prophet, struggle with the unbelievers and hypocrites, and be thou harsh with them”). Other scholars – more “tolerant” ones, we might say – said 2:256 has not been abrogated, but it had a special application: it was revealed concerning the People of the Book (Jews & Christians), who should not be compelled to embrace Islam if they submit to the rule of Islam and pay the Jizya. It is only the idol worshippers who are compelled to embrace Islam and upon them 9:73 applies. As al-Nahas points out in An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, “this is the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas which is the best opinion due to the authenticity of its chain of authority.” In exempting the Jews and the Christians from 2:256, the ulema agree that pagans and atheists can and should be compelled to accept Islam by force.
The foremost Islamic scholar of all time, Ibn Khaldun, summed up the mainstream consensus – the consensus that is valid to this day – when he defined systemic violence as a religious duty based on the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert all men to Islam either by persuasion or by force. He readily concedes that “Islam is under obligation to gain power over all nations.” For individual Muslims to say that they disagree with this position, or to reject the doctrine of abrogation, is simply irrelevant, because the consensus remains unshaken (and we’ve been through this many times before); but for them to claim that their heterodox disagreement implies the existence of a wide array of opinion in “mainstream” Islam is misleading.
Let me add that the orthodox Islamic rationale for compulsion – e.g. that given by Ibn al-‘Arabi – is worthy of dialectical materialism’s somersaults; we find that “no compulsion” actually means compulsion, and freedom is only the freedom to accept revealed truth:
“The Prophet said: I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. This Hadith is taken from the words of Allah, ‘Fight them on until there is no more tumult and religion becomes that of Allah’. (2:193) If someone asks how can people be compelled in the truth when the mere fact of compelling indicates a violation of the will of the one compelled? – the first answer is that Allah sent Mohammad calling people to Him, showing the way to the truth, enduring much harm … until the evidence of Allah’s truth became manifest … and His apostle became strong, He ordered him to call people by the sword … hence there is no more an excuse after being warned. The second answer is that people first are taken and compelled, but when Islam becomes prevalent … their faith strengthens and finally becomes sincere.”
Translated into the language of contemporary and equally mainstream Islamic discourse, with “reasonable” people there is no need for compulsion because “after all the clear proofs, the logical reasoning and the manifest miracles there is no need for force at all.” But with those who persist in their obstinate refusal to be reasonable and convert (or submit), coercion is both legitimate and necessary. After all is said and done, the authorities at al-Azhar hold, jihad is “a divine obligation: the Muslim is always mindful that his religion is a Qur’an and a sword … the Muslim is forever a warrior.”
Comparing the early spread of Islam by the sword with the tendency of other past empires to expand by force is misleading because the Islamic empire was unique in its universalistic proclamations. Unlike Rome, Byzantium, Persia, Spain, etc., it knew no natural limits short of turning the entire world into Dar al-Islam; imperialism is immanent to Islam, as Ephraim Karsch argues so eloquently.
The apologists assert that Muslims are called by the Kuran to strive for peace, but the “peace” is possible only under an all-pervasive Islamic rule. Such “peace” does not only have the negative meaning of the absence of war. It is a positive state of security, attainable once all infidels are killed, converted or subjugated. This is exactly the same definition of “peace” as that used by the Soviet empire in the period of its external expansion (1944-1979): attainable only after the defeat of “imperialism as the final stage of capitalism” and the triumph of the vanguard of the proletariat in the whole world.
And by the way, the Mutazila school or al-Farabi were as “Islamic” as Voltaire was “Christian.” Yes indeed, they held that God was rational and “justice was the essence of God,” etc. but that was over a millennium ago, and persecution, exile, and death were their reward. The resulting “middle ground” – supremely prevalent to this day – may use the rational form, but in substance it is implacable in the view that only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, and we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter. Even the salaat is a payment of debt, not communication, and it is offered in the hope of placating a capricious and unpredictable Master. The Master, Allah, is so transcendent as to be devoid of personality.
As then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger wrote back in 1979, “the unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one, could not be a person. There is no such thing as a person in the categorical singular.” In the end, Allah the unknowable and un-personable, is served out of fear, obedience, and hope of bountiful heavenly reward. Islam explicitly rejects the notion that “he who has my commandments and keeps them, he is it who loves me.” (John, 14:21) The Kuran states the opposite: “Say, If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.” (3:31) This “love” is a means of winning love and forgiveness. It is the “love” of the self.
If “Islam is not represented solely by its irrationalists,” it is undeniably dominated by them – to the extent of making rationalist dissenters irrelevant at best, and heretical apostates at worst. The willingness of a few rationalists to risk such designation may be laudable in human terms but it will do absolutely nothing to modify Islam as a doctrine. As Sir William Muir noted a century ago, a reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer. Pope Benedict is aware of this important fact, and for that insight he will not and cannot apologize. A timely reminder of that reality, rather than another futile round of “interfaith dialogue,” is the lasting benefit of the Regensburg controversy.
Mrs. Bat Ye’or defines my argument that “dhimmitude was fine by medieval standards” as “cynical.” Well, then, let’s ask this to the “survivors” of that “dhimmitude.” Turkey’s Jewish community can be a good point of reference. In 1989, they established The Quincentennial Foundation, which was an initiative to thank the Ottoman Empire and its Turkish inheritors for saving Jews from the religious tyranny of Catholic Spain and some other medieval Christian states. Established and run by prominent members of Turkey’s Jewish community, the foundation’s documents declare:
Ottoman rule was much kinder than Byzantine rule had been. In fact, from the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. A letter sent by Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati (from Edirne) to Jewish communities in Europe in the first part of the century “invited his coreligionists to lease the torments they were enduring in Christendom and to seek safety and prosperity in Turkey”.
When Mehmet II “the Conqueror” took Constantinople in 1453, he encountered an oppressed Romaniot (Byzantine) Jewish community which welcomed him with enthusiasm. Sultan Mehmet II issued a proclamation to all Jews “… to ascend the site of the Imperial Throne, to dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his Dine and his fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and with cattle…”
… In 1492, the Sultan ordered the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire “not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially. “According to Bernard Lewis, “the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled.”
… Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries, settled in the Ottoman Empire… In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished.
… On October 27,1840 Sultan Abdulmecid issued his famous ferman concerning the “Blood Libel Accusation” saying: “… and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth…”
Naim Avigdor GÃ¼leryÃ¼z, the vice president of The Quincentennial Foundation and the curator of the Jewish Museum in Istanbul, speaks about the “the remarkable spirit of tolerance and acceptance which has characterized the whole Jewish experience in Turkey… [and] in the Ottoman Empire.”
Yet this whole experience is supposed to be a part of “slavery of dhimmitude” according to Mrs. Ye’or. What are we supposed to make of this contradiction?
I suspect it points to an ideological bias towards Islam, which is even more dominant in the writings of Mr. Trifkovic.
Mr. Trifkovic makes a great deal about forced conversion. We have just discussed this issue here on Frontpage, so I won’t repeat everything I have said there. My take on that is clear: According to the Qur’an, religious freedom is well-established. Ban an apostasy is a later development, which grew out from political considerations. “Islamic imperialism” was also basically a political phenomenon; conquests took place not to force people to convert to Islam, but to expand the territory of Islamic states. The rule of these states was not egalitarian to non-Muslims, so it was not acceptable in modern standards, but it was far from the bloody tyranny portrayed by Mrs. Ye’or and Mr. Trifkovic.
That’s why some of the heterodox Christian communities in the Middle East welcomed the early conquests of Islam, which they saw as more tolerant than their Byzantine rulers. According to Thomas Brown, historian at the University of Edinburgh, “Coptic- and Aramaic-speaking Monophysites in Egypt and Syria saw their Arab fellow Semites as deliverers from Greek tax-gatherers and orthodox persecutors” and the early Islamic Empire under Umayyads (661-750) was for them “a regime which resembled a benign protectorate rather than an empire.” (Thomas Brown, “The Transformation of The Roman Mediterranean”, in The Oxford History of Medieval Europe, George Holmes, ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 11, 12) I would also strongly suggest a concise piece about Islam’s political history by a Christian author, Mr. Jerald Whitehouse, the director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations.
Mr. Trifkovic also speaks about slavery. Yes, unfortunately, slavery was a fact in the pre-modern Islamic world, like it was so in the West until the 19th century. I am sure Mr. Trifkovic has heard about something called the American Civil War and why it erupted. You could tell me that Islamic world lags behind modernization and medieval attitudes still prevail in some Muslim communities. And I would completely agree. But if you tell me that Islam has brought nothing to the world but “slavish dhimmitude,” coercion, and bloodshed, I would tell you that you are wrong and biased. People have the right to hate Islam for personal reasons, but they don’t have the moral right to distort history to simply bash it.
Mr. Trifkovic’s likening of Mutazila or al-Farabi to Voltaire is also deeply erroneous; Voltaire was not a Christian, he was a deist; followers of the Mutazila school or al-Farabi were all self-declared Muslims and today there are many Muslim intellectuals who cherish their heritage.
The most startling distortion I have seen here is about Muslim theology. Mr. Trifkovic says, “salaat is a payment of debt, not communication.” I don’t know how he came to this conclusion, but millions of Muslims practice their salaat (daily prayers) to thank and praise God, based on the Koranic command, “I am Allah, there is no god but Me, so worship Me and establish salat to remember Me.” (20:14) Salaat is basically a ritual to raise and maintain God-consciousness and that’s why it “precludes indecency and wrongdoing” (29:45)
And, again despite Mr. Trifkovic’s assertion, Allah is not far from love. Quite the contrary: one of the 99 names of God in Islam is Al-Wadud, which means “Most Loving.” Dozens of verses in the Koran explain the good morals that Allah loves. Several verses, like 3:134, confirm, “Allah loves the good-doers.”
A final reminder: the term “Allah” simply means “the God” in Arabic and we Muslims believe that He is the God of Abraham. So we are certain that He is also the God of Jews and Christians. Thus the effort to portray Him as “capricious and unpredictable” sounds quite predictable when it comes from aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins, but it is sad to see a few Christians like Mr. Trifkovic voicing this insult to God, too. I can only hope for their deliverance; for they know not what they do.
Bat Ye”or: I am pleased to see that Mr. Haidon is much more open than others to different arguments and that he accepts that the traditional Islamic view of non-Muslims needs urgent and necessary consideration from Muslim scholars.
In view of the current international interactions between different faiths and the rise of Islamic radicalism, this is a long overdue duty, essential for the peace of the planet. It is true that, following in the steps of Edward Said, the West has produced a host of apologetic works and this did not encourage self-criticism. In an indirect way, we are somehow responsible for a lack of stimulating debate and for having neglected many brilliant Muslim dissidents. Maybe it is the West’s servility that causes rejection and contempt by Muslims for the opinions of non-Muslims about their own dhimmi history and destiny as subjected peoples. This attitude of denial and even hate suppresses all possible interactions and progress to build common views. At least Mr. Haidon’s honest assessment of the situation opens the way for improvement.
Trifkovic’s view makes clear the type of options open to non-Muslims. The choice between conversion, submission, or war is essential to jihadist ideology and this has been in force for over a millennium and on three continents. Millions of people have suffered from jihad. Muslim as well as non-Muslim chronicles provide us with countless details and vivid descriptions on the manner in which Koran 2:256 was applied.
Muslim scholars explain clearly in their numerous treatises on jihad the conditions that have determined these options. In some cases there was not even a choice, like for instance in the case of the massacres of the idol worshippers, or because the conditions of war were not clearly defined. We cannot assume that scholarly opinions decided the course of every event. We have to distinguish between abstract, legal discussions in mosques and the human realities linked to jihad ideology and warfare on the ground. For instance, al Baladhuri (d. 892) writes — among so many other Muslim and non-Muslim chroniclers — that all the countryside of Mesopotamia and the Levant were taken without treaty. The Arabs raided throughout Palestine and Syria, and treaties were given only to the large towns. The peasantry was killed or enslaved. This is the general pattern of all the military expeditions from Andalusia to India. And one found the same thing during the conquest and Islamization of Anatolia and the Balkans. One must also distinguish between the organized military campaigns and the continuous raids practiced against infidel territories.
We see that there is an official theological and legal context, well analyzed by Trifkovic, but there is also a much wider historical and complex field that has greatly shaped the unfolding of events and the Islamization of the conquered lands. Was there no religious compulsion when Christian children of both sexes were, for centuries under the Ottoman, taken into slavery and converted to Islam? Or when Jewish orphans were abducted and put into Islamic orphanages in Yemen? In both cases, parents were forced to abandon their children under pain of death. Deportations of Jewish and Christian villagers were recurrent under the Ottomans, while Muslims colonizers were privileged. Even now we can observe the discrepancies between an idealized theory and the reality, when forced conversions of Christians erupted in the Moluccan Islands in 2000, or violence against non-Muslims in Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq gave little choice to the populations concerned.
Continuous pressure and discrimination, like today in Egypt, for instance, lead to conversions. In view of these facts and the deafening silence of the Muslim elite, the relative tolerance of 2: 256 seems an abstract formalism, rarely respected by Muslim leaders. Because when we speak of “no compulsion in religion”, it means religious equality — and this never happened. It is true that this situation prevailed in Christian lands also, but intellectuals denounces it rather than accepted it.
As for Mr. Akyol, he persists in seeing dhimmitude as a privileged situation limited to the relationships between the Ottoman and the Jewish communities. And to prove his point he quotes moving extracts of gratitude from a dwindling Turkish community. But Mr. Akyol, I can find many more declarations of dhimmi gratitude and even adoration for Muslim leaders. I have published a letter to the sultan from Armenians in Biredjik (Turkey) in March 1896, stating that their admiration and love for Islam inspired them to immediately convert. Another one was sent to praise the virtues of the governor of Dyarbakir — and three weeks later he had the whole Armenian population there killed.
The history of dhimmitude is full of Christian praise for Islam and venomous accusations against Christian enemies of the dar al-harb. It is enough to see today the hatred of the Palestinian churches for what they call the “false American Christians”. Their hatred exceeds even that of the Taliban.
This is not to deny Ottoman’s welcome to the Jewish refugees from Spain in 1492, which is a fact, but this event does not encapsulate the whole history of jihad and dhimmitude that started long before the Ottoman Empire, in the seventh century and today persists on a world level. It has encompassed myriads of people, not only Jews and Christians, but also Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Africans. Most of these people have been wiped out of their homelands, like the Buddhists and Hindus in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Zoroastrians in Iran, the Greeks and Armenians in Turkey.
In Africa, the Christian and pagan kingdoms were devastated by repeated incursions for the slave trade that was conducted on religious grounds, unlike the Atlantic trade which was racially motivated and started much later, in the fifteenth century. Dhimmi gratitude has always been requested to prove Islamic grandeur and superiority over Christianity. Sometimes it is justified, but at others, not.
The simplistic reasoning of Mr. Akyol overlooks the period of strict enforcement of dhimmi’s servitudes, including under the Ottomans, and Muslim violent opposition to their emancipation as sought by the European powers. It is England and America who tried to stop the slave-trade practiced in the Ottoman Empire by piracy or military expeditions, with its genital mutilation of eunuchs. Sultan Abdulmecid’s edict relates to a blood libel accusation leveled in his empire, in Damascus (Syria) brought against the Jewish community by his own vassal, the Egyptian governor together with the French consul. The ferman was issued under strong pressure from England, Prussia and Austria after some Jews, including children, were jailed and some died under torture.
In short, those facts which illustrate only Islamic protection, and to which many others can be added, cannot be used to praise and justify the theological and legal institutions of jihad and dhimmitude, which transfer to the Muslim authority the individual basic human rights of non-Muslims to life, security, freedom and religion. They cannot overshadow the complex texture of thirteen centuries of dhimmitude from Afghanistan to Spain, from Hungary south to Nubia.
Mr. Akyol’s persistent refusal to face the realities of dhimmitude and to insist continually on Christian anti-Ssemitism — as if one would excuse the other — points to an incapacity for self-criticism. It indicates a hatred toward those who dare examine an Islamic political system which they are not allowed to criticize according to the shari”a. It corresponds to the law that punishes by jail any mention of the Armenian genocide and the Turkish pressure on the European states to accept Ankara’s view. But if we want a true dialogue in order to foster peace and mutual respect, we must first get rid of arrogant and insulting behavior toward those whose testimony is different from what we want to hear — albeit true.
Haidon: Neither I nor Mustafa need to apologize for every transgression (and they are almost innumerable) committed in the name of Islam. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge (without qualification) that throughout Islamic history Muslims have used Islam to oppress non-Muslims and commit other acts of barbarism. To be sure, there have been pockets in Islam’s history where Muslim-non-Muslim relations could be construed as have been peaceful and non-oppressive, but the overwhelming historical and legal sources indicate that such pockets certainly did not constitute the norm.
Brother Akayol and Mr. Trifkovic have entered into a substantive debate on the topic of compulsion in Islam, so I will not partake into a full debate on this now, but I find Mr. Trifkovic’s citation and reliance on the statement of Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari, to show how their is compulsion in Islam, as if this view is a mainstream view to be irresponsible, as a shoddy practice for someone of Mr. Trifkovic’s stature. The opinion cited is a minority opinion. You would be hard pressed to find opinion by many ulema in the West who would sustain that view. Nonetheless, history and contemporary events cannot be ignored and this issue must be confronted intra-Islam.
With much respect to Mr. Trifkovic, I found some of his argumentation flawed and erroneous. His characterisation of the Muta’zilites as being as “Islamic” as Voltaire was Christian, illustrates not only ignorance about the rationalist movement, but a clear tendency to dismiss without any substantive discussion reform movements or efforts. I wonder if Mr. Trifkovic could argue the same for modern scholars like Fazlur Rahman, Abdullahi Na’im, Khaleel Mohammed and other true reformers, as not being “Islamic”.
Similarly, Mr Trifkovic’s remarks about salaat are baseless and completely wrong as are his remarks about the lack of “personality” of Allah (refer to Brother Akayol’s citation of the 99 attributes of Allah). Salaat is our primary communication with Allah, and is not merely a ritualistic “payment”. Salat in Islam is indistinguishable in purpose from Christianity or Judaism. Du’a or supplication is also an essential companion to salaat.
While Brother Akayol does not need me to defend him, I can honestly and without qualification say that he is one of the most introspective and self-critical contemporary Muslims I know. I too share his frustration. At the same time, I feel that Brother Akayol might be placing too much emphasis in defending Muslim history. Again, while I recognise that there have been periods within Islamic history where there has been peace and relative equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, in Muslim states, I believe they are far and few between. By criticising Muslim history, we are not condemning Islam itself, we are condemning the hermeneutical approaches developed by men to interpret Islam. We must acknowledge that the laws of the dhimma have no place in modern civilization, and are a direct affront to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Bill of Rights.
While I disagree with Bat Ye’or’s characterisation of Brother Akayol’s rejoinder, I respect her analysis and do not contest her historical overview. Having seen the devastating impact of actual and de facto dhimmitude on Christians and other non-Muslims in Egypt, Sudan and Palestine, I understand that it is a systemic issue and one which must be confronted. I will never forget the plight of a Christian family who were forced from a Gazan town because they would not capitulate to Hamas terrorists to pay them jizya. On many occasions, the “moderate” Qaradawi and Tantawi have defended, in their entirety, the laws of the dhimma.
In my view, meaningful inter-faith dialogue, in which Muslims participate, cannot occur without intra-faith dialogue within Islam taking place. Within that intra-faith dialogue Muslims must debate openly, and develop contextualist and rationale methods of interpreting the body of Islamic jurisprudence. The failure to do so will hold grave consequences.
Trifkovic: Oh, dear: we seem to have strayed not only from the topic but also from common courtesy. So be it, let’s get on with it and start with the most important point of all: do we all “believe in the same God”?
Of course we do not.
The formal argument first. It is clear and fairly simple. The Christian God of the Creed is trinitarian: the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen; the Son, our Lord and Savior, eternally begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. This is the orthodox faith, “which except a man shall have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation.” The doctrine of the Deity of Christ is essential. Unless the Son is truly God and “one with the Father,” Christians would be idolaters. If He were but a prophet, Christians would be foolishly entrusting themselves to a created creature in the vain hope of salvation.
Islam, on the other hand, violently and explicitly rejects and condemns the Christian doctrine of God (Kuran 4:171), the Trinity (5:37), and the deity of Christ (5:72, 5:17), and Allah unambiguously condemns Christians as disbelievers worthy of destruction (9:29-30). Muhammad’s insistence that there is a heavenly proto-Scripture and that previous “books” are merely distorted and tainted copies sent to previous nations or communities means that these scriptures are the “barbarous Kuran” as opposed to the true, Arabic one. (Let’s leave aside for a minute the puzzling question of how any degree of “distortion” of the Kuran could produce either an Old or a New Testament.) The Muslim Tradition also regards the non-canonical Gospel of Barnabas, and not the New Testament, as the one that Jesus taught. To cut the long story short, orthodox Islam teaches that it alone worships one true God that Judaism and Christianity tell lies about – lies for which Christians and Jews will be punished in hell.
“One God” cannot be trinitarian and infinitely transcendent. Christians and Muslims cannot be both right. Their convergent paths do not lead to the same hilltop.
The substantial argument: The widespread belief in the non-Muslim world that Islam accords respect to the Old Testament and the Gospels as steps in progression to Mohammad’s revelation is mistaken. Modern Muslim apologists try to stress the supposed underlying similarities and compatibility of the three faiths, but this is not the view of orthodox Islam.
Unlike the Christian faith in God revealing Himself through Christ, the Koran is not a revelation of Allah – a heretical concept in Islam – but the direct revelation of his commandments and the communication of his law. Christian God “comes down” and seeks man because of His fatherly love. The Fall cast a shadow, the Incarnation makes reconciliation possible. Allah, by contrast, is unknowable and so purely transcendent that no “relationship” is possible. He reveals only his will, not himself. Allah is “everywhere,” and therefore nowhere relevant to us. He is uninterested in making our acquaintance, let alone in being near to us because of love. We are still utterly unable to grasp his purposes and all we can do is what we have to do, to obey his command. Allah’s absolute transcendence means that he cannot be fathomed, only worshipped. It is by virtue of being infinite, not loving, that he is inseparable from his creation. His absolute sovereignty means that his “closeness” to man is not a two-way relationship; man’s experience of Allah is impossible. Any such attempt would imply heretical encroachment on his absolute transcendence. Ultimately, Allah’s absolute transcendence means that he is everything and nothing. He cannot be grasped by the human mind and is greater than we can comprehend. Every thought about him is insufficient and false.
No, this is emphatically not the “same God” a Christian or a Jew believes in. Judging by Islam’s fruits through the ages we’d be fully justified to suspect very different origins of Muhammad’s “inspiration.”
Regarding slavery I have “heard about something called the American Civil War and why it erupted,” but in addition to not believing in the same God we seem not to have the same understanding of American history. Unlike some members of this panel, I have also heard about something called “states’ rights” that greatly complicates the seemingly simple morality play of 1861-65.
In reality Christendom is the only civilization in history to have created from within itself a successful movement to condemn and abolish slavery. It is a matter of historical record that other civilizations, and most notably Islamic civilization, have not achieved this. The world of Islam has never striven to do so without external prompting. To this day the only places in the world where one can buy a slave for ready cash are Moslem countries, e.g. Mauritania and Sudan.
While both the Old and New Testaments recognized slavery, the Gospels do not treat the institution as divinely ordained. The slaves are human, and all men are equal in the eyes of God regardless of their status in this life: “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” says St. Paul, “there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Slavery was to early Christians a fact of life, and a thing of men.
The Kuran, by contrast, not only assumes the existence of slavery as a permanent fact of life, but regulates its practice in considerable detail and therefore endows it with divine sanction. Muhammad and his companions owned slaves, or acquired them in war. Muhammad’s scripture recognizes the basic inequality between master and slave, and the rights of the former over the latter (Kuran, 16:71; 30:28). The Kuran assures the Muslim the right to own slaves (to “possess their necks”) either by purchasing them or as bounty of war (58:3). The prophet of Islam had dozens of them, both male and female, and he regularly sold, purchased, hired, rented, and exchanged slaves once he became independently wealthy in Medina after the confiscation of Jewish property. In line with the racist views of Muhammad about his own people, the Arabs, as “the nobles of all races,” in Islam’s heyday only Arabs were exempt from enslavement.
Divine sanction of slavery in Islam means that disobedience to one’s master carries everlasting punishment, while obeying the master is the slave’s only path to paradise (Mishkat al-Masabih, Book I, Hadith No. ii, 74). Under sharia the slave has no legal powers or rights whatsoever – but a Muslim slave-owner is explicitly entitled to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. The Koran mandated that a freeman should be killed only for another freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female (2:178). The Tradition says that “a Muslim should not be killed for a non-Muslim, nor a freeman for a slave” (The Commentary of al-Baydawi, p. 36).
The slave trade inside the Islamic empire and along its edges was vast. It began to flourish at the time of the Muslim expansion into Africa, and it still survives. The Spanish and Portuguese originally purchased African slaves for their American colonies from Arab dealers. There are notable differences between the slave trade in the Islamic world and the trans-Atlantic variety. The former has been going on for 13 centuries and it is an integral feature of the Islamic civilization, while the influx of slaves into the New World lasted less than three hundred years and effectively ended by the middle of the 19th century. It is estimated that ten to twelve million Africans were taken to the Americas during that period. The number of captives taken to the heartlands of Islam-while impossible to establish with precision-is many times greater. Nevertheless, there are tens of millions of descendants of slaves in the Americas, and practically none in the Muslim world outside Africa. They were not allowed to have families, and most men were brutally castrated even before reaching the market.
The abolitionist sentiment in Europe and America was inseparable from Christian faith and world outlook. William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect, inspired by the Wesleyan Revival, lobbied for abolition and finally succeeded in having the legislation adopted at Westminster that abolished slavery in the British Empire and turned Britain into a determined foe of slave traders everywhere. The evangelical revival movement provided momentum to the abolitionist movement in the United States.
Islam provides no analogous abolitionist imperative. Black people had been enslaved on such a scale that in Arabic the term black became synonymous with slave. The mixed-race, predominantly Negroid but self-avowedly “Arabic” denizens of the transitional sub-Saharan zone were indoctrinated into treating their completely black southern neighbors with racist disdain. (To this day it can be dangerous to one’s life to ask a dark-looking but Arabic-speaking Sudanese or Mauritanian Muslim if he was “black.”) The collaborators eventually surpassed their Arabic mentors in raiding tropical regions to capture slaves, mutilating the males by radical castration, raping females, and depopulating entire regions in the process.
“As a man thinketh, so is he.” The real problem of the Muslim world is not that of natural recourses or political systems. Ernest Renan, who started his study of Islam by praising its ability to manifest “what was divine in human nature,” ended it-a quarter o a century and three long tours of the Muslim world later-by concluding that “Muslims are the first victims of Islam” and that, therefore, “to liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him.” The West is yet to learn, fully, the lesson that my Balkan ancestors were forced to learn six centuries ago: that Islam is a collective psychosis seeking to become global, and any attempt to compromise with madness is to become part of the madness oneself. The quarrel is not of our choosing, and those who submit to that faith must solve the problem they set themselves.
Akyol: Thomas, thank you so much. I very much appreciate your work, too. You argue that Islam should be saved from medieval traditions and its principles should be reinterpreted in the modern context “” and that’s exactly what is needed.
I of course accept that in the history of the Islamic civilization there are so many episodes that we would not accept today. And we would indeed flatly denounce. Yet this does not mean unfair criticism of that civilization should be accepted.
The trouble with Mrs. Ye’or’s approach is, as I have noted before, she judges the history of the Islamic civilization by modern standards. The historical method is, however, to compare a historical phenomenon with its contemporaries. That’s why I mention medieval Christianity along with medieval Islam. It is not a “my religion’s history is better then yours” argument. Yet Mrs. Ye’or continues to judge medieval Islam according to “the individual basic human rights of non-Muslims to life, security, freedom and religion,” which are all modern concepts. The Declaration of Human Rights is a product of the Enlightenment, not the Spanish Inquisition. (On the other hand, the advance of these modern concepts in contemporary Islamic world is very slow and that’s indeed a major problem.)
As for Mr. Trifkovic, actually I would refrain from getting into an argument with people who simply “” and disrespectfully “” insults my religion with terms like “collective psychosis.” Neither I nor a billion Muslims who find peace, dignity and happiness in Islam do not need to be “liberated” from it.
Just to simply point to two of his most obvious distortions: If Trinity makes the God of Christians another God than that of Islam, then the same would apply for Judaism, too. Jews, of course, don’t believe in Trinity. But most Jews and Christians agree that they believe in the same God. His whole description of the Islamic concept of God is also distorted; I know no such God.
As for the Koran’s stance on Christians, he overlooks many positive verses, like “… nearest among [men] in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians’: because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” (5:82)
The Sunni orthodoxy, which was influenced by the political needs of the early Muslim empire, invented the doctrine of abrogation within the Koran in order to override such tolerant verses in favor of the more belligerent ones. And this is a big problem. But the abrogation doctrine is rejected by many modern Muslims “” including myself, and Thomas I guess “” and this means that the tolerant verses of the Koran would be the general rule and the belligerent ones would be seen as contextual”” related to war situations. This would mean the rejection of jihadism “” an ideology of permanent war. And this is actually what the majority of the world’s Muslims would agree with today. One would need to be in “‘psychosis” to believe that they are all jihadists and that’s the only possible interpretation of the Koran.
Bat Ye”or: Mr Haidon’s position represents a real opening in what appeared until now to be a cemented Muslim wall of historical denial. No one asks for apologies. People today are not responsible for acts committed centuries ago, although the Church has apologized to the Muslims for the Crusades. But if we want to open a meaningful dialogue, we have to start from a minimum consensus, and this is that all human beings are equal. It is from that common base that we can recognize the injustice of ideologies, institutions and policies. The aim of this acknowledgement is not to prove the superiority of one creed over others, it is to create a dynamic of social and political improvements.
I do not understand how Mr. Akyol can allege that I am judging medieval Islam according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when I am simply giving historical facts. If one follows his argument, history would never have been written. However, many examples I gave are not medieval, there are contemporary. We are living now — with terrorism — a period of global jihad. Abductions are perpetrated nowadays in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, in Sudan and Darfur, and even in Egypt where young Coptic girls are kidnapped. Innocent civilians are beheaded in Iraq today, while orphan Jewish children were abducted from their family in Yemen until the departure of the Jews in 1948-50. The Taliban imposed discriminatory colors for the few Hindus in Afghanistan, and oppressed women. And dhimmitude exists till now.
Of course, no one can suppress all these injustices committed against Muslims and non-Muslims if it is not the Muslims themselves. And to do that, they have to see them and discuss them openly and decide to act. It is their responsibility toward Muslims, Islam, and the world.
FP: Mustafa Akyol, Thomas Haidon, Serge Trifkovic and Bat Ye”or, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.