Ali Eteraz has written a very lengthy reply to my post here. I don’t want to turn this site into Eteraz Watch, but since he — alone among those who criticize my work, including vaunted scholars such as Khaleel Mohammed and Carl Ernst — offers at least the semblance of a substantive reply, I will deal with his substantive points.
I do this ultimately for the same reason that I answered his raving friend Esmay when he started calling me a “traitor”: people of good will might be wondering about some of these issues, and they may find this exercise useful. However, I do not mean to compare him to Esmay, since Eteraz generally refrains from substanceless mudslinging, and offers up actual points for consideration. As such, I am happy to engage him.
In summary, Mr. Eteraz has failed either to demonstrate that anything I have written is inaccurate, or to produce even one Islamic jurist who teaches that Muslims should coexist peacefully with non-Muslims as equals on an indefinite basis, without ultimately striving for domination. Nor has he shown us any evidence for the existence of any schools of Islamic law that do not teach Islamic supremacism.
Meanwhile, I put the photo above here because it is easy to forget that at Jihad Watch and in my books I am reporting on genuine activity. I am told that some are charging that my last post on Eteraz was akin to nativist anti-Catholicism. In the past, others have compared my work to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Both anti-Catholicism and antisemitism of the Protocols type, however, were based on fictions. There was no Catholic or Jewish plot to rule the world, and no genuine evidence of such. But there are Islamic supremacists. The fellow in the picture above is one, and he has many colleagues. I didn’t print his sign, I didn’t hand his sign to him, and in fact he and I have never met. In other words, I am often charged with claiming that Islamic supremacism exists, as if I am trying to make something out of nothing. But it does exist, apart from me, and I will not be cowed from reporting about it by spurious analogies.
Anyway, Eteraz’s elephantine post is entitled, “Robert Spencer’s Inconsitency [sic], Response To Substantive Argument and General Eteraz Thoughts.” I am not reproducing parts about which I have nothing to say, so go to his site to read the whole thing.
I also want to add that initially this was going to be a six part post. However, for the sake of maintaining the momentum of the dialogue I have cut it short and put forward only the more salient items (or the ones that occurred to me as I wrote while listening to Abida Parveen which mean I probably forgot a few things).
How nice. I like Abida Parveen.
Mr. Spencer’s reply is littered with major and minor forms of inconsistency. These inconsistencies are casual reminders that Mr. Spencer is not a scholar on Islam.
I have never bothered to address this point before, since I have made myself abundantly clear about this for years. Since the beginning of this site, anyone could have read this here: “I draw no conclusions of myself, and I do not ask anyone to take anything on my word. Pick up any of my books, and you will see that they are made up largely of quotations from Islamic jihadists and the traditional Islamic sources to which they appeal to justify violence and terrorism. I am only shedding light on what these sources say.”
My FrontPage bio, which I incidentally did not write, says that I am a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law. But in that case the word is used in the ordinary sense of someone who has knowledge of the content of a thing, not in the specialized Islamic sense of someone who can issue rulings or interpretations of Islamic texts. I do not do that and have never claimed to. I have no interpretation of the Qur’an or Hadith of my own. I am not a mujtahid or a faqih. What I do is explore what the texts of Islam say, and how they are used today by Muslims.
This would seem to be an elementary point, but it is lost on virtually all my critics. Of course, they have reasons for not wanting to grasp this: routinely I read that I say that the Qur’an teaches warfare against unbelievers, when what I actually do is report that numerous Islamic authorities maintain that the Qur’an teaches warfare against unbelievers. But the prospect that I could be actually talking about something within Islam rather than airing my own prejudices is obviously too hard for some people to accept, whatever the evidence.
I am no scholar of Islam either. I am a regular guy. In fact, I consider myself an (aspiring) novelist and amateur poet (all of my works are in English, even though it is my fourth language). Thus, the fact that even I am uncovering these glaring inconsistencies should be very troubling to Mr. Spencer especially as he goes forward towards debating academics with Phd’s and such.
I might be more troubled if Mr. Eteraz had actually delivered on his promise to demonstrate the “glaring errors” of my last post, but since, despite his regular-guy mastery of four languages, he couldn’t come up with even one, I think I’ll sleep just fine tonight.
1 — Twice in his post Mr. Spencer states that the “gates of ijtihad are closed.” He makes the statement to reinforce the point that Islamic Law has not been evolving.
Ijtihad, according to Wiki, “is a technical term of Islamic law that describes the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.” According to Washington Times, “Ijtihad — or hermeneutics — refers to the institutionalized practice of interpreting Islamic law (sharia) to take into account changing historical circumstances and, therefore, different views.”
Anyone who quotes Wikipedia on anything should know better, but let it pass. The definition is adequate for our purposes here.
The phrase “Gates of Ijtihad are closed” is a reference made by eminent scholars like Joseph Schacht, JND Anderson and WM Watt referring to what they thought was an institutional effort by Muslim jurists themselves to limit the freedom to practice ijtihad. Thus, whenever someone says “the gates of ijtihad are closed!” (and some Muslims themselves say it, too), one is being extolled to accept that since the “gates are closed”, Islamic Law has not been evolving.
This is what Mr. Spencer wants me to accept. Fair enough, for the time being I will accept that the gates of ijtihad were indeed closed.
Now that I have accepted it, perhaps Mr. Spencer will not mind explaining why he repeatedly contradicts his own views on the closure of the gates? He makes numerous statements in which he implicitly and explicitly accepts the existence of Islamic Reform. So I ask, which is it? Either the gates of ijtihad are closed, or Islamic Reform neither exists, nor can exist.
Mr. Eteraz goes on to argue at some length that the gates of ijtihad are not closed, and that I was inconsistent in noting that they were closed and then speaking about modern jurists who disagreed with older jurists. Here again he is just playing “Gotcha,” as he did in his first post, instead of presenting a serious argument. Mr. Eteraz could have found the solution to this apparent inconsistency in the fact that I linked to this article in my first post. It is an article written by a Muslim, the London-based Islamic scholar Ziauddin Sardar, who acknowledges that the gates of ijtihad are closed and thinks they should be reopened. My friend Silas of Answering Islam informs me that Reliance of the Traveller, which has already come up in my exchange with Mr. Eteraz, says this about ijtihad: “When the four necessary integrals of consenus exist, the ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijithad, because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.” (b7.2)
That the gates of ijtihad are closed means that taklid, not ijtihad, has been the ordinary practice among Islamic scholars for many centuries. Under the rule of taklid — authority — one does not reason independently from the Qur’an, Sunnah, and ijma (scholarly consensus); rather, one reasons from the rulings of the established schools of jurisprudence (madhahib). Thus the rulings on major issues tend to become rather fixed. However, today some scholars are trying to reopen the gates of ijtihad. I support them in this effort. Is it inconsistent of me to note that the gates of ijtihad are closed and then to speak about modern jurists disagreeing with earlier jurists? No more inconsistent than saying that Southern segregation laws of the 1950s required blacks to sit at the back of the bus, and that Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus.
By the way, Akiti is one of the highest ranking Maliki scholars in the world today so actually he is quite representative of the dominant views of Muslims. In fact, he is more dominant amongst the Maliki school today than Khaldun, whom Mr. Spencer cited to in his editorial, was in the Maliki school in his day. Iftikhar is a student of the world famous Javed Ahmed Ghamidi (who is a regular on Muslim satellite TV).
Since I noted in my earlier post that neither Akiti nor Iftikhar reject the concept of armed warfare by Muslims against unbelievers, as long as it is led by state authority, I do not find these assertions either compelling or comforting.
Third, Mr. Spencer actually himself goes so far as to recognize that there are even differences of opinion between contemporary Muslim scholars.
It might have been generous of Mr. Eteraz to note at this point that the common caricature among his slavering friends — that I portray Islam as a monolith — is clearly false.
Fourth, when confronted by the reality of Sheikh Ali Goma, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, whose rulings on Sunni family law break tremendously from historical jurists, Mr. Spencer gives up on the argument that the gates of ijtihad are closed, choosing to exclude the Grand Mufti by abandoning the argument about the closure of the gates of ijtihad, and instead opting to talk about Goma’s views on Israel. Mr. Spencer keeps asking me to be honest. Well, I am honestly asking, what exactly is Mr. Spencer’s methodological critique with respect to ijtihad? At the moment, I have no idea. Sometimes he says the gates are closed. Sometimes they are open long enough for a jurist to be condemned on the basis of a conflict that started in 1948.
Israel has nothing to do with ijtihad. Ijtihad is the process of making a ruling about a point of Islamic law. Israel is a political entity. Supporting Hizballah, as does Ali Gomaa, is not a matter of Islamic law, but of contemporary politics. To be sure, many mujahedin hate Israel because of elements of Islamic thought that disallow the existence of an Infidel polity on what is believed to be Muslim land, but that still doesn’t get us to Hizballah. Here Mr. Eteraz is needlessly confusing the issues at hand.
I think that in the 20th century, positive developments in Islamic Law with respect to the issue of violence against non-Muslims have been terribly hurt by what is called political Islam. This movement rejects the reality of ijtihad. It will not let Muslims accept the reality of the post WWII international human rights scheme and wants Muslims to accept the same as what Joseph Schacht and Mr. Spencer want Muslims to accept: namely, adjusting Islam to changing situations is imposible. Of course, I am not the first to pick up on this strange similarity of interests shared by Mr. Spencer and radical Islam.
No indeed, Mr. Eteraz is not the first person to say this, but he is just as wrong as the rest of them. In reality, as he would know if he actually read what I write, I rather frequently call upon Muslims to accept “the reality of the post WWII international human rights scheme,” and request that they adjust Islam to “changing situations.” (And his slur on Joseph Schacht, a great scholar of Islam, is completely unwarranted.) All I have asked, and will keep asking, is that they do this the way all reformers have done similar things in other traditions: by acknowledging what needs changing. An analogy: If the Protestant Reformers had indignantly denied that the Catholic Church taught Transubstantiation and the sacramental priesthood, instead of arguing that such doctrines should be discarded, they would not have been reformers, but obfuscators. A genuine Islamic reformer today would acknowledge that, say, the death penalty for apostasy is mainstream Islamic teaching, affirmed by all the madhahib, or schools of jurisprudence, and then explain why this should be set aside. But that is not the same thing as claiming that Islam doesn’t teach this in the first place.
As Dinesh D”Souza, whom Mr. Spencer calls a “close friend” recently wrote:
I have never called Mr. D’Souza a “close friend.” I called him “my friend D’Souza” in the earlier post in an ironic manner. Dinesh D’Souza is not in any sense my friend. I responded to his contention that I am supporting bin Laden here.
2 — Since we”re talking about internal inconsistencies and I just mentioned Dinesh D”Souza, then I have to wonder why Mr. Spencer calls Mr. D”Souza a “close friend” just a few days after Mr. D”Souza called Mr. Spencer a “conservative Islamophobe.” It is quite possible that Mr. Spencer is such a gracious individual that he can forgive such things. [I tend to think that Mr. Spencer is indeed so gracious as I have been quite impressed by his behavior towards me in this debate]. However, does this mean that Mr. Spencer will acknowledge that he is, indeed, an Islamophobe? I doubt he would be OK with that. Thus one has to wonder: his close friendship with Dinesh D”Souza is inconsistent with his unwillingness to be termed an Islamophobe.
Mr. Eteraz again misquotes me, as I did not call Mr. D’Souza a “close friend,” and as I explained above, I called him my “friend” only ironically. I thank Mr. Eteraz for his kind words, but as for his question, no, I will not acknowledge that I am an “Islamophobe,” because I am not an “Islamophobe.” Mr. Eteraz may have a preferred definition, but taking the word (a recently coined, politically manipulative word in any case) to mean an irrational prejudice against Muslims as an aggregate, I am not suffering from any such thing. I speak and write about the content of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and of the teachings of Islamic jurists. This material is available for anyone to see, but many people would prefer that you didn’t see it. They have found that charging me with prejudice, bigotry, Islamophobia, hatred, is an effective way to make people who haven’t studied this material think that I am making it up, or jimmying the evidence in some way out of some personal animus. When people like the gentleman in the photograph above say, “Islam will dominate,” and I in turn say, “Some Muslims say, ‘Islam will dominate,'” some onlookers find it comforting to blame me and call me an “Islamophobe.” Unfortunately, however comforting that may be, it will not make the gentleman with the sign go away.
3 — Mr. Spencer is completely inconsistent about his views on the academy. First he says that the academy “should” be above politics. Should is a heavy word. As a Christian Mr. Spencer knows it is the word of the moral imperative. Yet a few lines later, due to the fact “that the academy has already been politicized” Mr. Spencer wants that people find nothing wrong with him and Mr. Horowitz also politicizing the academy!
Here Mr. Eteraz demonstrates an unfamiliarity with the aim of Mr. Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights. Its purpose is not to introduce a different kind of politics into the academy, but to prevent propaganda replacing genuine intellectual inquiry. It is not, despite common claims by Leftists, an attempt to bring conservatism into the academy. Mr. Eteraz can find this explained at length in Mr. Horowitz’s new book Indoctrination U.
That sounds utilitarian to me. Not at all something that someone who uses the language of the moral imperative would use. In short, Mr. Spencer doesn’t really believe that the academy should not be politicized. What he claims he wants — “the academy should be above politics” — and what he wants to do — debate with everyone including students and support Horowtiz’ ads which conflate the religion of Islam with the terrorism of Hamas — are completely inconsistent.
I stand by everything I have said and written about Islamic teachings. Neither Mr. Eteraz nor anyone else has ever demonstrated that any of it is false. There is no reason why these teachings should not be a matter of free and open discussion in academic settings as well.
4 – This one is not an inconsistency as much as a curiosity. Why does Mr. Spencer want to debate all these academics? Generally, in order to debate someone you have to be considered their “equal” in terms of accomplishment and credentials (not always, but that is the general rule). Mr. Spencer can debate Dinesh D’Souza because they are both conservative public intellectuals. I cannot debate Dinesh D’Souza because I’m a left-leaning libertarian who doesn’t even have a book. Mr. Spencer wants to debate Omid Safi and Ernst and I’m sure a bunch of other academics. Yet Mr. Spencer lacks what an academic possesses: a PhD and tenure at a university. It would be very gracious indeed for an academic to “step down” and talk to Mr. Spencer. But the failure of an academic to be gracious isn’t an indictment of anything. If anything, I think it would be a waste of Mr. Spencer’s own time to debate with an academic. He’ll end up with homework. Besides, those academic conferences are really boring. I request Mr. Spencer to avoid any congregation where the definition of fun is dissection of the farming habits of Egyptian villagers from 1861 to 1869.
I am not interested in credentials. I know plenty of idiots with PhDs. I am interested in truth, and will discuss the truth with anyone, and will not apologize for wishing to do so. And incidentally, Daniel Pipes, who has the PhD Safi required as a prerequisite for speaking with him, offered to debate Safi in my stead. Safi turned him down too. Why was that?
5 – This one is neither an inconsistency nor a curiosity. It is a tangent. Mr. Spencer talks a lot about how he feels humiliated, attacked and beseiged by people who disagree with him. I do think he has a point. People should be civil to one another even when discussing something like radical Islam. However, Mr. Spencer is incredibly naive if he thinks that he’s the only one who has to suffer the proverbial sling and arrows of the intellectual trolls. As I told him, I have been called a “shit weasel” by Islamophobes (among other things), and have been quite brutally treated at the Ann Coulter Chat Forum. So, if Mr. Spencer wants others to encourage a culture of respect, he needs to start with his own comments section which, if you read the Ann Coulter chat, contains quite a few characters reminiscent of my experience at the forum. If I see him begin a serious effort to eliminate hateful speech about Islam on his website I will reciprocate by doing the same about anyone who speaks hatefully about the ideas of Robert Spencer. I think this is more than fair since I already do not permit anyone to insult Mr. Spencer’s religion or Jesus Christ.
Comments are unmoderated at Jihad Watch. I believe the antidote to bad speech is not censorship, but more speech, and unlike his pathetically insecure friend Esmay, I would rather discuss and debate my positions rather than shut down dialogue. As I have stated repeatedly, whenever I see hateful material, I remove it, and depending on the content of what was said, ban the writer; however, there are hundreds of comments and if I read them all I would never get anything done. By far the people most frequently banned at Jihad Watch are banned for slurs on Muslims in the aggregate or something of that nature. Muslims and defenders of the global jihad come in frequently, and some are longtime posters. As I have also noted many times, anyone who thinks that I agree with a particular comment should demonstrate that agreement from my own writings, or else the assertion remains unproven.
Anyway, this paragraph by Mr. Eteraz demonstrates that he continues to misunderstand why I mentioned the virulent hatred directed my way by his friends in the first place. It wasn’t because my feelings were hurt; his friends have already proven themselves to be so lacking in integrity that I am just fine with being on their bad side. Nor did I mention it because I expected him to do anything about it — although I did note that his failure to correct their obvious errors manifested a certain lack of interest in dealing fairly, and I stand by that.
So why did I mention it? My point was, and remains, that for years now I have presented evidence for what I am saying, and all I have received in return is abuse. Abuse is not an argument. I may indeed be a puffy buffoon, or a deranged con artist, but these epithets do not demonstrate that I am wrong. Only actual evidence would establish that, and that evidence has not been forthcoming. That Mr. Eteraz continues to fail to grasp this point is disheartening.
Anyway, in speaking of the Shafi’i manual Reliance of the Traveller, Mr. Eteraz says:
Mr. Spencer, as was also true for me, probably does not understand the way Muslim jurists use treatieses of law: the treatises often provide the “black letter of the law” which in many cases is then rejected in commentary as inapplicable due to changed circumstances.
Super. Provide examples, please, of jurists rejecting Reliance’s “black letter of the law” about how the umma, under the leadership of the caliph, must make war “upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” Not just rejecting modern jihadists on the basis of the fact that there is no caliph, as do Akiti and Iftikhar, but also rejecting the whole concept — the idea that under any circumstances there should be war against unbelievers in order to impose Islamic law upon them.
It is kind of like how in American law students are taught the common law Rule Against Perpetuities from many centuries ago even though most states legislate their own version of the Rule which has nothing to do with the old school Rule Against Perpetuities. In other words, Al-Azhar certified the Reliance conscious of the fact that today”s jurists would reject it as inapplicable because rulings are no longer valid.
That’s not what the statement from Al-Azhar says. It says it is a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy. “Is,” not “was.” As Bill Clinton says, it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. And in fact, the translator, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, left untranslated parts of the original text that he considered had no applicability for the modern age. However, he translated page after page of material about violent jihad.
2 — Mr. Spencer makes a very good point which I think bears amplification. Namely, that jihadists don’t seem to acknowledge being bound by context. He says:
One of the biggest problems we have regarding the global jihad today is that jihadists cite Muhammad’s example — in other words, the example of a seventh-century man — as normative for today. They don’t seem to mind in the least flattening out the context and behaving as if Muhammad’s example were outside time and normative for all times and places.
I completely agree. Since we agree, what does Mr. Spencer propose we do? I would be most keen to hear his ideas since I”ve never once read him propose a way out of this, our, problem.
Here Mr. Eteraz acknowledges that he has never read any of my books.
My guess is that he would say that Muslims should do away with following the example of Muhammad.
In some particulars, yes. When Zarqawi says he beheaded Nick Berg in imitation of Muhammad’s beheadings after the Battle of Badr, is that really the example of Muhammad that Mr. Eteraz wants to follow? I doubt it is. In The Truth About Muhammad I provide many other examples of mujahedin invoking Muhammad’s example. Should we pretend this isn’t happening? Or confront it and try to formulate positive ways to deal with it?
Not sure that one is going to fly. Not to mention that some parts of Muhammad’s life were incredibly beautiful so much so that even yours truly, who was once both an atheist and a denier of the revelation was forced to acknowledge it:
“Parts of Muhammad’s life were incredibly beautiful.” Parts. Fine. Follow him in those parts. Retreat from literalism in other aspects. Judaism and Christianity have developed interpretative traditions that reject literalism in certain particulars regarding their Scriptures. It will be much harder for various reasons for Muslims to do this, but the attempt should be made.
Here is my idea: Muslim reformist jurists and free thinkers who are part of the Muslim community must reinforce, to the Muslim world, that jihadists are flattening out the context and behaving as if what they say about Muhammad is normative for all.
“Out of context” again. Demonstrate for us, please, how the context makes for a benign Muhammad who doesn’t teach warfare against unbelievers. Why not just admit it? Why not say, “Yes, Muhammad taught warfare against unbelievers, but we believe that that teaching must be set aside in our age and all future ages”?
Interestingly, it appears to me that Mr. Spencer represents about the only group on the face of the Western world who does not recognize the value of the traditional scholar. Counterterrorism groups, large parts of the Republican Party, and notable conservatives like Ralph Peters, D”Souza, Andrew Sullivan, the writers at TNR, National Review and even bloggers like The Anchoress, and large parts of Pajamas Media, have all concurred with my opinion. Instapundit has now linked to three major Eteraz.Org initiatives, all of which seeks. I”m starting to believe that Mr. Spencer’s opinion, that Islamic Law, in toto, is the problem, is not even mainstream within the conservative ranks; how can then the mainstream of United States really take it seriously (this goes to the promise I made to Mr. Spencer to explain to him why Muslims don’t engage with him).
Mr. Eteraz should provide evidence for his claim that I say that “Islamic law, in toto, is the problem.” As for Ralph Peters, D’Souza, National Review, and the Anchoress, sorry, but I am not moved by peer pressure. I am telling the truth. None of them have provided any evidence to demonstrate the correctness of their positions. Unless and until they do, I am not going to join their party.
First of all, Mr. Spencer’s reliance upon Mawdudi’s articulation of Islamic Law flies in the face of Mr. Spencer’s other cherished view: the gates of ijtihad are closed. You see, Mawdudi actually believed in keeping the gates of ijtihad open. So when Mr. Spencer recognizes Mawdudi as an Islamic Law scholar, he actually affirms the whole point that I”ve been trying to make: Islamic Law changes based on the context in which various jurists emerge. Thank you Mr. Spencer.
Playing “Gotcha” is fun, isn’t it, Mr. Eteraz? I have dealt with the gates of ijtihad above. And in any case, Maududi was a firm traditionalist, who cannily used the language of Marxism and other contemporary jargon to couch his traditionalism — as I discuss in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers.
Mawdudi’s example also helps illustrate how exactly Islamic Law evolves and reform. In the mid 1940″s Mawdudi concluded that anyone who converted from Islam had to be put to death. Yet, by the early 1970″s numerous students of his broke away from him, founded their own school, and rejected this conclusion. These students then provided their own Islamic legal critique of why there is no death penalty for apostasy and how Mawdud and others were wrong. Mr. Spencer should be familiar with all this because he and I have had a back and forth on the issue of apostasy before. In that discussion, too, he kept citing back to classical scholars who are no longer relevant, while I repeatedly put forward the opinion of scholars today.
By this Mr. Eteraz suggests that the death penalty for apostasy is a relic of history, dug up by me in my fanatical Islamophobic quest. Unfortunately, in light of the Abdul Rahman case, and other similar cases, such as that of Hussein Qambar Ali — Robert Hussein — in Kuwait in the 1990s, it looks as if some Muslims are still listening to those classical scholars. I am glad these classical scholars are no longer relevant to Mr. Eteraz, but they are all too relevant to all too many Muslim authorities today. What does Mr. Eteraz propose to do about this?
4 — One has to return to the fundamental reason that I took exception to Mr. Spencer’s Emory Editorial and found it to be “full of glaring errors.” His thesis was that “jihad [meaning violent jihad] is a constant element of mainstream Islamic theology.” Mr. Spencer, claims about the “mainstream” of anything need a lot more substantiation than references to Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (spiritual founder of al-Qaeda), or Zarqawi’s opinions on Islamic Law (who didn’t even graduate elementary school), or the legal pronunciations of Osama Bin Laden or Mukhlas Imron. Yet here, in order to prove a claim about the “mainstream” Mr. Spencer offers the opinions of criminals and illiterate ones at that. Pardon me if I remain unconvinced.
This is completely false, and highly disingenuous of Mr. Eteraz. In my actual letter to Emory, I didn’t refer to Azzam, Zarqawi, bin Laden, or Mukhlas Imron. I referred to them later not in order to establish anything about Islamic theology, but to show that jihadists refer to Muhammad’s example and the teachings of classical jurists.
In this context, though, Mr. Spencer offers me a challenge:
Will Mr. Eteraz kindly produce Islamic jurists who argue that Muslims should not wage war against unbelievers — as unbelievers — under any circumstances.
I certainly would if Mr. Spencer could produce contemporary mainstream jurists outside of OBL and militant fringe groups who say that Muslims should wage unconditional war against unbelievers solely for their unbelief? There isn’t one. [In fact, when OBL, who is not a scholar, first issued his fatwa in 1999, he didn’t say that war against the West had to be an unconditional war against inidels but only as long as the West retreated]. The burden of producing a scholar today that says what Mr. Spencer believes is the true theory of Islamic law with regard to jihad, rests with Mr. Spencer and he has, and will, fail to produce.
Al-Azhar is a militant fringe group now, I see. I quote a manual they endorsed in 1991, and he says they only endorsed it as a museum piece, which contradicts their own words, and then he says I have failed to produce any contemporary authorities who teach this. Neat, but unconvincing. The burden of proof is not on me in any case. If there were no jihad violence in the world today, and no one like that chap in the picture, it might be. But with jihad terrorists waging war in the name of Islam all over the world today, Mr. Eteraz’s failure to produce even one contemporary jurist who rejects warfare against unbelievers in all circumstances is glaring, and telling. No wonder the mujahedin have the intellectual initiative in the Islamic world today.
The reason for that failure is quite simple: average Muslims themselves don’t want to wage unconditional war against unbelievers. It is therefore no surprise that they do not have scholars agitating for this.
Average Muslims, however, are a recruiting ground for those Muslims who do want to wage such war. And apparently they are defenseless against this recruiting activity, since “they do not have scholars” formulating any theological leg for them to stand on when the jihadists come around and challenge them to live out “pure Islam.”
In Mr. Spencer’s defense, he does keep coming back to Seyyid Qutb and Mawdudi, who, I concede are two 20th century “ballers” i.e. heavy weights. However, the fact of the matter is, that for the large part, Qutb and Mawdudi exist outside the Islamic legal tradition. They were more akin to “free thinkers” than jurists. Mawdudi, for example, was a journalist. Qutb was a Marxist revolutionary before turning to writing his exegesis of the Quran. Their opinions on violence and killing apostates have certainly been influential in some quarters. I grant that without a moment of reluctance. However, one has to do a lot more analysis of the legacy of these two men than to say simply that they extolled violence against the non-believers:
Fine. They did a lot of other things too. They were kind to widows and orphans. They cooed at babies and made them giggle. But they did extol violence against unbelievers. And to call them freethinkers, journalists, and Marxist revolutionaries doesn’t disprove the points they made any more than calling me a bigoted Islamophobe disproves the points I have made.
b) Mr. Spencer believes that when Qutb and Mawdudi call on Muslims to establish an Islamic State even by violence, it means that they are calling for the killing of non-Muslims for their unbelief.
Mr. Spencer conflates these two concepts without thinking them through. When a scholar calls for the establishment of an Islamic State by violence, that violence is almost always directed at Muslims themselves, not non-Muslims. Qutb’s revolutionary calls were directed at Egyptians, asking Egyptians to overthrow the dictatorship of the Marxist Gamal Abdul Nasser. (Mawdudi actually never called for the establishment of an Islamic State by violence, but even if he did, the state he was referring to was Pakistan which is majority Muslim. Ultimately Mawdudi stopped agitating to make Pakistan into an Islamic State once the word “God” was inserted in the constitution). Point is that linking Qutb and Mawdudi to violence is quite easy because of their aggressive and supremacist language. However, limiting their influence, or altogether dethroning them, is quite easy as well. If it weren’t so easy, Mawdudi’s students, within the course of his life wouldn’t have refuted him.
I should be less concerned because their violence was directed toward other Muslims? I thought I was supposed to be the Islamophobe, Mr. Eteraz! In any case, the problem with all this is that if the Islamic state that Qutb and Maududi wanted to establish were indeed established, it would then wage jihad against non-Muslims — as the “reformers” Akiti and Iftikhar acknowledge. And if limiting the influence of Qutb and Maududi is really so easy, I’d like to see Mr. Eteraz do much more of it.
6 — The issue of the silence of the mythical silent majority. Mr. Spencer and others often believe it quite reasonable to ask that if Muslims truly do reject violence then why aren’t they protesting against the jihadists. This is absurd.
First of all, I am not even going to get into the simple fact that many Muslims live in Western backed tyrannies (see e.g. Saudi Arabia’s royal family”s relationships with the Bushes, or the $ 2 billion in aid that the blogger detaining government of Mubarak receives) which repress any public protest. Second, this argument is not merely irrational, it is illogical. The opposite of violence isn’t protest. It is withholding from violence. When Muslims stay “silent” what they are actually doing is the opposite of violence. This should be elementary. Think of it in other terms: silence, or inaction, is an act itself. When Martin Luther King Jr. created a non-violent movement, what exactly did they do? Yell, scream, chant and fight? No. They stayed silent.
On the contrary, he spoke up, persistently and eloquently. I don’t see a Muslim Martin Luther King. Please point one out to me.
Let me reiterate that: when we talk about non-violence, we talk about staying silent and inert.
Nonviolence means not harming people. It doesn’t mean not speaking out against evil. Do you yourself even believe what you are writing?
Reflect on that then ask why the standards change when applied to Muslims.
They don’t. It is exactly the same standard. Where is the Muslim “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” against the jihadists?
As for why Muslims in the United States don’t protest: we don’t feel we need to. We are good American citizens. Our median per capita income is the second highest of any group (after Indian Americans). There are numerous Muslims in the armed forces. You can meet Muslim marines on my website who served this country in Yugoslavia, Iraq and other theaters. For more substantiation of my point, consider what one popular Sunni Shaykh has to say about what Muslims in the West need to believe:
All this is great, but how many Mike Hawashes and Mohammed Reza Taheri-azars is it going to take for you to think maybe you do need to be more energetic about fighting the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism?
When one lives in a particular country, one agrees verbally, in writing or effectively to adhere to the rules and regulations of that country. This, according to the Shariah, is considered to be a promise, agreement and trust. One is obliged to fulfil the trust regardless of whether it is contracted with a friend, enemy, Muslim, non-Muslim or a government. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) always stood by their word and did not breach any trust or agreement, as it is clear from the books of Sunnah and history. Thus, to break a promise or breach a trust of even a non-Muslim is absolutely unlawful and considered a sign of being a hypocrite (munafiq).
Even Islamic apologist Yahiya Emerick acknowledges that Muhammad broke the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, although he excuses him with a bit of legal hair-splitting. In any case, when CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper says, “I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” I get the impression that at least some Muslims in the U.S. consider their tacit pledge “to adhere to the rules and regulations of that country” to be only temporary, until conditions allow for a different course of action.
Whether or not over the long term the collective silent treatment by the Muslim community towards the jihadists will be successful is another question altogether. I believe that it will not make the problem go away. I believe that you have to make fun of the jihadist argument (as I do here and here and here), reduce it to rubble intellectually (as I do here to Bin Laden and here to Zarqawi) and give Muslim states all the authority they need to hunt militants.
Unfortunately, you haven’t reduced their argument to rubble or even to large chunks of rock. It is still as solid as ever. Please do hack away at it.
However, there are many Muslims who believe that the militants are so fringe that even talking to them is absolutely worthless. “Why should I waste my time reacting to Osama when he is so obviously acting against the dictates of Islam,” is something I hear often. So reflect on this: by virtue of the fact that I take the time to intellectually rebut an illiterate idiot like Zarqawi I”m actually giving the jihadist more credence and validation than the average Muslim walking around in Karachi who simply ignores Zarqawi in favor of going to work. My protest is satire and intellect; most Muslims choose the easier kind of protest. I can’t say that I blame them. Writing doesn’t pay.
With respect, this is a dangerously blinkered view. Unfortunately, it is not at all obvious to far too many Muslims that Osama or Zarqawi are acting against the dictates of Islam. There are no programs teaching against the jihad ideology in mosques. And meanwhile, jihad recruitment among Muslims continues.
In other words, every day when I get up, I provide a way for thousands of global citizens to do precisely what Mr. Spencer think is impossible, and his commentators think cannot happen: the construction of an alternative narrative to extremism.
Again you charge that I claim that something I ask for all the time is something I really think is impossible.
As such, correcting Mr. Spencer’s errors is not something I have much interest in. I find his obsession with jihad a little boring — and frankly so does Hugh Fitzgerald from his own website.
Sorry not to have entertained you. I will try a little soft-shoe next time. And as for Hugh’s article, you utterly missed the point of that also.
The real work to be done is in encouraging creativity and creating a culture of introspection. Jihadwatch can’t do that. That is the bottomline. That is why whenever put to the test, all Mr. Spencer can ask for is a “debate” and not a “collaboration.”
I am all for collaboration with genuine reformist Muslims. That’s why Tashbih Sayyed of Muslim World Today is on my Board.
In any event, since it is clear that even Muslim majority countries are not fully running Islamic Law, our focus as people who want to address problems in the Muslim world, cannot merely be on “reforming Islam” or “reforming Islamic Law.”
Actually, insofar as Muslim countries don’t adhere to Islamic law, they are better for women and religious minorities. Cf. the recent attempt in Pakistan to take rape out of the realm of Islamic law, in which it is established by four male witnesses, and judge it according to modern standards of forensic evidence. The people protesting this change, and championing the old law that victimed so many women, are Islamic clerics. Because of things like this, I think reforming Islamic law is a fine place to start.
As such I issue Mr. Spencer a challenge: use some of your resources to help us compile the information we are looking for. Certainly you have far more money than us. Certainly, with your qualifications and the qualifications of all the people around you and all the writings about the Muslim world you do, there must be countless hundreds of people in the Muslim world whom you can call upon to help us gather this information. You have my email address.
This is very funny. You have belittled my qualifications all through this post, and then you turn around and ask me for money and laud my qualifications. Be serious.
That’s enough. Ali Eteraz can say what he wants to say. Above all, he has failed either to demonstrate that anything I have written is inaccurate, or to produce even one Islamic jurist who teaches that Muslims should coexist peacefully with non-Muslims as equals on an indefinite basis, without striving for the domination the chap in the picture wishes for. He has not produced any non-supremacist schools of Islamic law. More’s the pity.
UPDATE: In his response to this, Mr. Eteraz asserts that “Mr. Spencer himself constantly affirms the existence of Islamic Reform and legal evolution while saying that the gates of ijtihad were closed. He never addressed that inconsistency.”
I am sorry he didn’t read my above post more closely. If he had, he would have noticed that I wrote this: “…today some scholars are trying to reopen the gates of ijtihad. I support them in this effort. Is it inconsistent of me to note that the gates of ijtihad are closed and then to speak about modern jurists disagreeing with earlier jurists? No more inconsistent than saying that Southern segregation laws of the 1950s required blacks to sit at the back of the bus, and that Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus.”
He adduces a quotation by the Islamic scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi about Qur’an 9:123: “The verse referred to and other verses of similar meaning are directed at the immediate addressees of a Prophet (Rasul) and have no bearing on us,” and adds: “I found this example in 2 minutes. It’s not my fault Mr. Spencer doesn’t want to spend the time browsing for such stuff.”
I’m glad to see it. In reality, I have never denied the existence of individual reformers. I have one on my Board. I invite Mr. Eteraz to provide evidence that Ghamidi rejects in principle the entire ideology of Islamic supremacism and the imposition of Sharia, and that his view in this has been adopted by any of the established madhahib, or has mainstream support in the Islamic world.
He also says:
Here is Shehzad Saleem:
First and foremost, only an Islamic state has the authority to wage Jihad. No independent group or organization has the right to launch an armed struggle in any way.
Secondly, after the departure of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta), the only legitimate reason for an Islamic State to wage Jihad is to curb oppression and persecution in another country — whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
“Curb oppression and persecution” is analogous to “just war” and “humanitarian intervention.” Even we in the U.S. believe in that.
I have already dealt with the insufficiency of saying that jihad is a prerogative of the Islamic state. As for “oppression and persecution,” please explain how you would refute someone like Mufti Ebrahim Desai, who asserts that any obstacle placed in the way of the spread of Islam constitutes oppression and persecution, and is hence a casus belli. This is not a rhetorical question. It is a real one, for on it hinges the possibility of establishing a lasting framework for lasting peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims as equals.
With respect to vese 9:29 of the Quran, Dr. Moiz Amjad says this:
[It] should be quite clear that the referred verse of Surah Al-Taubah relates particularly to the Ahl-e-Kitaab – the Jews and the Christians – of Arabia, who were the direct addressees of the call of the last messenger of God.
Dr. Amjad is saying that the permission to engage in Jihad against unbelievers ended with the death of the Prophet because after his death every future generation of non Muslims and unbelievers were NOT the direct addressees of the Quran.
Great. My response here is exactly the same as above re Ghamidi.
The fact remains that Dr. Spencer didn’t find any mainstream jurists today who do prescribe jihad against the unbeliever like I asked him.
Anyone I name he will say is not mainstream — I am sure that Desai is not mainstream, nor are Qutb and Maududi and their followers, or Al-Buti, or others I have already mentioned in this post or the last one. The problem here is that Muslims are reading Qutb and the others, and acting upon them, and Mr. Eteraz is trying to pretend that this is not happening.
His sole argument was based on the Reliance of the Traveler.
Anyone who has read my last post and this one will know that this statement is flatly false.
He must think a lot of this book since he has now mentioned in four different pieces of writings. However, I addressed this pretty conclusively already…Yet, instead of refuting my reply Mr. Spencer wanted me to provide more evidence.
Indeed. And why did I do that? Because your “evidence” was just a flat assertion that modern scholars only use Reliance to refute it. You provided no examples of this. Are we just supposed to take your word for it?
Mr. Spencer more evidence lies in this: there are no mainstream jurists calling for jihad against unbelievers. No one is citing the Reliance. Who cares if the Reliance exists if it is not cited? When jurists don’t cite a book, or follow its prescriptions, Mr. Spencer, that is considered obvious proof of the fact that it carries no weight today. Mr. Spencer, what are you going to say to that? Cite to the Reliance for the fifth time? The Reliance is not a jurist. It is just a book from many centuries ago that sits in the library at al-Azhar.
Mmm-hmmm. Yet somehow, from somewhere — and I’m sure it isn’t Reliance, for there are many other such books — Muslims around the world are getting the idea that defensive jihad is fard ayn today: obligatory on every believer. And they are fighting it. And you, instead of fighting them, are fighting me.
We can keep playing this game all night.
We of course can, my friend.