Here is my promised response to “Problems With Jihadwatch’s Op-Ed In Emory Univ. Student Paper,” by Ali Eteraz at Eteraz.org. Just in case anyone is confused, as always with this sort of thing the blockquoted portions are from Eteraz’s article and the non-blockquoted parts are my response.
We can conclude that the politicization of American universities is complete when everyone from Barrack Obama, a popular candidate for President, and Jihadwatch, a blog on the fringes of American conservatism, both feel the need to dive into our intellectual sanctuaries to peddle their opinions. As a matter of policy, politicians and pundits should abstain from entering the academcy unless they are invited.
Yes, that would be great. The academy should be above politics. Unfortunately, the academy has already been politicized. Politically and ideologically motived academics like Omid Safi and Carl Ernst indoctrinate their students into a particular view of my work and that of others, instead of giving those students the tools to come to their own conclusions about the issues at hand. Then, after spreading their propaganda, they refuse to discuss these issues with me. These are just two small examples of the manifest fact that the academy has already been politicized. When Rashid Khalidi can hold a professor’s chair at Columbia University and Ward Churchill can become not just a professor, but a hero of the Left, clearly the “politicians and pundits” have already entered the academy. But only one point of view is dominant there; read my friend D’Souza’s Illiberal Education or David Horowitz’s new Indoctrination U: The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom.
This dominance should be challenged, if our universities are going to survive as anything more than propaganda centers.
Recently, Jihadwatch writer Robert Spencer submitted an op-ed full of glaring errors to the Emory Wheel, Emory University’s Student Paper. The central premise of this op-ed (which is a shortened version of his earlier post), was this:
Unfortunately, however, jihad as warfare against non-believers in order to institute “Sharia” worldwide is not propaganda or ignorance, or a heretical doctrine held by a tiny minority of extremists. Instead, it is a constant element of mainstream Islamic theology.
The article then quotes various legal scholars from Islamic history that purportedly support the thesis of the article. It then, generously, concludes with challenging a college student to a debate.
I make no apologies for challenging a college student to a debate. A person who makes public assertions ought to be prepared to defend them, no matter what his or her station in life. College students should be the last people who are immune from intellectual challenge or debate. I myself have innumerable times invited discussion and debate about what I have written, and have in return, as I noted below, received only abuse. You can see that abuse, including sometimes outright falsehoods about what I actually say, in the print debates I’ve had with Hussam Ayloush, Asad AbuKhalil, and Khaleel Mohammed.
Well, contrary to myth, my books are not full of abuse, but of documented material. If I am wrong, establish that with evidence. Instead, polemicists have attacked my publishers, my character, my motives, my decency as a human being, predicted I would die lonely and abandoned and damned me to hell, and then called me a polemicist. All’s fair in love and war, but they should know that such tactics convince only the credulous, and do not constitute credible refutation of the points I have made — and what’s more, they suggest an inability to respond substantively.
So yes, I’ll happily debate that college student. Or Safi, or Ernst, or Akbar Ahmed, or Jamal Badawi, or Ahmed Afzaal, or Mark LeVine, or any of the other academics who have either declined my invitation to dialogue or debate, or never quite gotten around to getting back to me.
Immediately one has to look at the most obvious of errors in this piece.
Good. You, Mr. Eteraz, will be among the first to raise specific objections.
First, none of the scholars Spencer cites to were alive after the year 1406 A.D. The only link he offers between the past and today is the assertion that one of the jurists, Ibn Taymiya (d. 1328), is a “favorite of Osama bin Laden and other jihadists.” Yet, on the basis of the fact that one jurist, from more than 600 years ago, is the “favorite” of Bin Laden, Spencer derives his conclusion that Jihad is a “constant” element of “mainstream Islamic theology.” One scholar. 600 years removed. One Bin Laden. Can a reasonable person really believe that such a link proves something about “mainstream Islamic theology”? One doesn’t have to attend Emory University to be able to answer that.
Mr. Eteraz might have a point were that the only such “link” that could be provided. However, in a piece that has to be kept under 600 words and that must cover a great deal of ground, there will be some inevitable telescoping of material — and unfortunately, there is a great deal more evidence available to establish that jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers is a mainstream element of Islamic theology and law. By noting that “none of the scholars Spencer cites to were alive after the year 1406 A.D.” and complaining that I provide only one “link…between the past and today,” Mr. Eteraz gives the impression that I am overlooking 600 years of evolution and development in these areas. And one would reasonably assume, of course, that in any arena of human endeavor, over 600 years there will be considerable change.
That’s a reasonable conjecture. However, in this case it founders. Why? Because when bin Laden and other jihadists cite these ancient jurists, they clearly believe that their rulings are still normative for Muslims — and clearly they also believe that their Muslim audience will recognize this as well. Read through Osama’s writings, and you’ll find numerous references to Ibn Taymiyya, as well as Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Malik ibn Anas, Ibn Qayyim, and many others. Nor is this something only bin Laden does. Sayyid Qutb, whose writings, as I’m sure Mr. Eteraz would acknowledge, are enormously influential among jihadists today, says that Ibn Qayyim, who died in 1350, “has summed up the nature of Islamic Jihaad.” And Ibn Qayyim does that, he explains, by delineating the three phases of Qur’anic revelation about jihad, about which I have written many times: first, no warfare was permitted, then defensive warfare, and finally offensive warfare, which is to be normative for all time.
Now: why does Qutb, why does bin Laden (and I have plenty more examples of this sort of thing, Mr. Eteraz; if you would like to dispute this point further, I will produce them, but I am not doing so now for the sake of brevity) think that by citing people like Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim, who lived so very long ago, they will convince Muslims today of the correctness of their position? Don’t they realize that modern jurists have changed the way Muslims think about these things, and so none of their readers will accept arguments from older authorities?
Unfortunately, they don’t realize that, because it isn’t so. Because the gates of ijtihad have long been closed, there has not been significant development of theology or law in these areas. (Here is a Muslim scholar explaining what that means, and arguing that these gates should be reopened.) Qutb and bin Laden know that, and they know their audiences will know it. They know therefore that citing ancient scholars is tantamount to citing established and received opinion.
This is illustrated by the fact, which I mentioned in my letter to Emory but which you do not mention in your post, that the Shafi’i legal manual ‘Umdat al-Salik, or Reliance of the Traveller, although it was first written centuries ago, was certified by Al-Azhar in 1991 as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy. Al-Azhar didn’t say it was an illuminating historical artifact, or an insight into what Muslims used to believe long ago; they said it was a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy today. Yet it too contains material about the obligation of the Muslim umma to wage war against unbelievers in order to subjugate them as dhimmis under the rule of Islamic law.
The next problem is the very use of the term “Islamic Theology.” Spencer seems to believe that when he quotes from “jurisprudence” he is automatically speaking about “theology.” We see this when he says:
Instead, it is a constant element of mainstream Islamic theology. It is affirmed by all four principal schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence.
I’m afraid to inform the distinguished New York Times bestselling author on Islam that Islamic Theology is very distinct from Islamic Jurisprudence. Islamic Theology is an altogether different discipline encompassing metaphysics, philosophy and eschatology. It is called Kalam. (One would be well advised to read Profesor Wolfson’s Philosophy of the Kalam in order to see how distinct Islamic Jurisprudence truly is from Islamic Theology). Kalam is speculative philosophy which produces theological precepts. Islamic Jurisprudence, as with all jurisprudence, on the other hand, deals with actual legal problems. The word for Islamic Jurisprudence is fiqh. I am very interested in learning how Kalam and Fiqh became one and the same.
Here Mr. Eteraz is just playing “gotcha.” Islamic theology is legal; Islamic law is theological. This is illustrated by the fact that the Qur’an and Hadith, which are undoubtedly religious texts, form two of the most significant bases for the formulation of fiqh. And I never claimed that kalam and fiqh were one and the same.
This leads me to some other other problems with the article.
Islam is, like Judaism (and unlike Christianity which is what Spencer practices), a juridical religion.
Is that so? Hmmm. A juridical religion? You mean theology and law have some overlap? I thought you just told us they didn’t.
The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, both contain conflicting verses and narrations. In order to fashion a means of reconciling these conflicts with the changing nature of human life, the earliest members of Muslim community devised a methodological system of law or jurisprudence (fiqh). Spencer is, unlike the average blog troll…
Great. So I’m an above-average blog troll. This is the kind of silly mudslinging that I wish Mr. Eteraz could bring himself to resist.
…actually aware of the juridical nature of Islam, and as such, a dialogue with him is not only possible, but refreshing. He recognizes that the best way of enunciating Islamic Law is to quote Islamic Jurists. For that much, he should be applauded.
However, the problem arises when Spencer then tries to convince everyone from his readers to Muslims themselves, that the only authentic jurists (or most popular jurists) are those from the past from whom he pulls his quotes.
Here Mr. Eteraz commits the common fallacy of attributing to me what I report from bin Laden, Qutb, Azzam, Al-Banna, Zarqawi, and other jihadists. They, as I explained above, cite ancient jurists to support their positions, and obviously assume that their Muslim audiences will find such evidence compelling. I report that they do this, and Mr. Eteraz says that I am the one doing it. Unfortunately, this little problem is in reality far larger than me.
Certainly, people like Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Khaldun were authentic jurists in Islam. Unfortunately, what Spencer doesn’t recognize is the fundamental problem of jurisprudence, whether its Islamic or secular: jurists are bound by their context; the world around them.
Oh, I recognize that very well. But, as I explained above, the jihadists don’t seem to. 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. For example, Mukhlas Imron, mastermind of the Bali bombing, said: “You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other? Aren’t you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?” Zarqawi responded to criticism of his videotaped beheading of Nick Berg by saying: “The Prophet, the most merciful, ordered [his army] to strike the necks of some prisoners in [the battle of] Badr and to kill them….And he set a good example for us.” They do the same kind of thing with these old jurists.
One has only to think of American Jurisprudence. At one point in time, American Jurists like John C. Calhoun argued that “slavery was a positive good” (on the Senate floor no less). Even the founding fathers, jurists the likes of which very few have ever existed, held that a black man was, under the law, only worth 3/5th of a white man (and women were worth nothing). Does this mean that “bigotry is a constant element of American law?” Any reasonable person would conclude no. As such, any reasonable person should also be able to conclude that the world prior to 1406 — when a Christian Europe and an Islamic Africa/Asia were at war, is a very different world than the post WWII, UN regulated world. The rulings of those jurists — and a jurist is just a fallible lawyer — in the past about their politics means no more to me than the jurisprudence of John C. Calhoun on race relations. It isn’t just in race relations that American Jurisprudence has changed. Until 1986, the legislators in the state of New York allowed a 15 year old girl to be married. This law was changed when jurists came along and revised their opinion and made it 18.
I believe I have answered this point already.
So, how do we know that most Muslim people do not, and are not, listening to the edicts of jurists from 600 years ago? Well, most Muslim nations are not at war with non-Muslim nations, and where there are tensions these are not on the basis of anyone’s religiosity (most are land disputes).
This doesn’t establish what Mr. Eteraz wishes it to establish. There may be any number of reasons why Muslim nations are not at war with non-Muslim nations. One chief one is that most majority-Muslim nations today are not ruled solely by Islamic law. Sharia is only fully in place in Saudi Arabia and Iran. So what they do doesn’t establish anything about Islamic law. Another reason why they may not be fighting is that most are in no military or economic position to wage war against anyone. So to take their behavior as establishing something about Islamic law is risky at best. And there are other reasons why they may not be fighting today — Musharraf’s regime, for instance, has a shaky alliance with the U.S., which it obviously believes is good for Pakistan to maintain, and for which Muslim hardliners in Pakistan excoriate that regime.
As for the assertion that most disputes between Muslim and non-Muslim nations involve land, not religion, I don’t think that holds up on the basis of the evidence. Even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have been settled long ago were it not for the intransigence on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad over their desire to destroy Israel utterly. That intransigence, as the Hamas Charter makes clear, is derived from Islamic principles. And all over the globe, from Indonesia and the Philippines and Thailand to Kashmir, Chechnya, and Nigeria, the Muslim warriors frame these “land disputes” in terms of religion. The evidence for this is posted regularly at Jihad Watch.
The only “Muslim” parties today who engage in killing on the basis of someone being non-Muslim are jihadists; not the “mainstream of Islamic theology.” For the most part, jihadists are prosecuted as criminals all around the Muslim world (the Pakistani military has lost close to 2000 men in hunting Al-Qaeda), and jihadist methods and approaches are rejectedby Muslims universally; not to mention giving rise to anti-jihadist fatwas.
There is no doubt that the Pakistani military and other Muslim entities have fought against the mujahedin; I have never remotely asserted anything to the contrary. But here again, this doesn’t tell us anything about Islamic law. In Pakistan, Muslim leaders routinely fulminate against Musharraf precisely because of what they regard as his disloyalty to Islam. All over the Islamic world, jihadists recruit among peaceful Muslims by quoting from the Islamic texts and presenting themselves as the exponents of “pure Islam.” Most Muslims do reject them, but the jihadists have the intellectual initiative in the Islamic community today; why is that? Why hasn’t there arisen a large-scale international movement working on a theological level to refute them, if the refutations were as ready to hand as you suggest they are?
In fact, one will see that Spencer’s article cites to a jurist from the Maliki school of law (Khaldun), yet if one compares Khaldun (d. 1406) with this jurist alive today from the Maliki school, we immediately see how the jurist today conceptualize war (very differently from the past). Here is another example, this jurist being a student of scholars trained at al-Azhar university, and concludes this about violence:
A. Taking the law into one’s own hands amounts to either Fasad fi’l-Ard (creating disorder) or Muharabah (rebellion) — both of which are punishable by death in Islam.
B. The Prophet’s saying (sws) usually cited to give credence to the idea that Islam allows an individual or a group the use of force to end wrong is actually related to the use of power within the confines of the social and legal authority.
C. In Islam, there is no concept of Jihad (Qital to be more precise — that is militant struggle in the way of Allah) or the implementation of punishments without the authority of the State.
I am glad to see this sort of thing, and hope that it gains a wide audience among Muslims, since at least to some degree it does directly challenge the jihadists on Islamic grounds. The core of their disagreement with the jihadists appears to be that they reject the validity of suicide bombing and argue that jihad warfare can only be waged with the permission of the state authority. For instance, Akiti says (in the pdf cited in Eteraz’s first link above, on page 22) that “whether one likes it or not, the decision and discretion and right to declare war or jihad for Muslims lie solely with the various authorities as represented today by the respective Muslim states…” The same assertion appears in the one Mr. Eteraz quoted directly, from Asif Iftikhar: “In Islam, there is no concept of Jihad (Qital to be more precise — that is militant struggle in the way of Allah) or the implementation of punishments without the authority of the State.”
One might get the impression from Mr. Eteraz’s piece that the positions of Akiti and Iftikhar represent the dominant view among Muslims today, who reject the position articulated by Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Qayyim and the rest. Unfortunately, however, there is a difference of opinion on this question among contemporary Islamic scholars. Some argue that Muslims may wage war in order to establish that Islamic state, and then continue to wage war against unbelievers under its aegis. Others contend that the Islamic state must be established by peaceful means, and only then may Muslims wage jihad warfare. The latter position was held by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the influential Pakistani jihad theorist who died in 1979 (whose views of jihad I discussed in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers), Sheikh Muhammad Said Ramadan Al-Buti (whose view of jihad I discussed in my book Islam Unveiled), and Sheikh Muhammad Naasir ud-Din Al-Albani (whose condemnation of suicide bombing I note in Onward Muslim Soldiers). The former view is held by Islamic scholars such as Muhammad Amarah and Khair Haykel, as well as by Abdullah Azzam, cofounder of Al-Qaeda, and, of course, other mujahedin today.
It is important to note, however, that Maududi and Al-Buti, as well as others who hold this view, don’t reject the idea of jihad against unbelievers in order to establish the hegemony of Islamic law. Maududi, after all, wrote that non-Muslims have “absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines.” If they do, “the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.”
So in other words, this is just a disagreement about means, not about ends. The authorities Mr. Eteraz has invoked have not rejected the idea that Muslims must wage war in order to subjugate non-Muslims. In fact, Iftikhar says this in the same article that Mr. Eteraz quotes: “If an Islamic State – or United Islamic States – declared a morally and tactically justified armed jihad against a nation and needed the services of a Muslim, it would be a matter of his faith to render them and a distinct privilege if he ends up laying down his life as a result.”
So the Islamic supremacist imperative remains in place. Will Mr. Eteraz kindly produce Islamic jurists who argue that Muslims should not wage war against unbelievers — as unbelievers — under any circumstances, but should live with them as equals not just on a temporary basis until they become strong enough to impose Islamic law, but on a permanent basis? I would love to see them.
I therefore want to thank Spencer for providing an opportunity to demonstrate to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that in Islam, changed conditions bring about changes in law. American Law with respect to racism and gender underwent reformation. Islamic Law with respect to violence against non-Muslims has also modified to fit with the world in which it finds itself.
Yet the jurists he cites leave intact the prerogative of the Islamic state to wage war against unbelievers. Is that really a sufficient modification?
I completely accept the usual rejoinder from critics that there are many areas of Islamic Law where today’s jurists have simply accepted the opinions of jurists from the past (and done injustice). This includes women’s rights, minority rights, and the issue of apostasy, among others.
Quite so. And indeed, this is the usual practice, since the gates of ijtihad are closed.
However, as time passes, more and more Muslim jurists are making up their own minds about these issues. I’m not even a jurist and I am doing my own thinking about these matters.
Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the high Mufti of Egypt, whom Spencer in another post tries to paint as an extremist because Gomaa (like John Ashcroft) does not allow graven images in statues…
Cheap shot. Ashcroft supports no terrorist groups, although since Mr. Eteraz equates Dick Cheney with Stalin, he may disagree.
…recently allowed women to get hymen reconstruction surgery, as well as allowing women the right to political leadership. Other major jurists today have allowed women the right to lead prayer. Even al-Azhar University, by no means a bastion of reform, has taken a strong stance against Female Genital Mutilation which it once used to permit. Islamic Law changes. I hope that is obvious by now. The way islamic jurisprudence evolved to make rules limiting violence serves as a model of how islamic jurisprudence will evolve to give rights to women, minorities and non-Muslims. I wish that Spencer would recognize this and leave Muslim reformists from having to correct his errors.
Ali Gomaa, according to the New York Times, supports the jihad terrorists of Hizballah. I’m glad he opposes genital mutilation and the rest, but when Hassan Nasrallah shouts “Death to America!” and Ali Gomaa approves, pardon me if I am underwhelmed by his moderation.
And anyway, as I have repeated ad infinitum, I wholeheartedly support genuine Muslim reformists. My friend Tashbih Sayyed, editor of Muslim World Today, is on the Jihad Watch Board. But there are many who are styled reformists who either deny that Islamic texts and teachings have ever been used to justify violence, which is a flagrant falsehood, or whose reforms dissolve upon inspection, such as Akiti and Iftikhar above.
In conclusion, jihadists, whom Spencer tries to link to the Islamic schools of law are actually deniers of Islamic legal methodology, preferring to circumvent Islamic Law altogether.
This assertion is, to put it mildly, unproven by anything Mr. Eteraz has said in his piece.
This actually confirms a point I’ve made previously; namely, the problem within Islam is a problem of intellectual anarchy which I provide one way of how to address.
And this problem is not alleviated when a group claiming to watch the jihadis is looking in all the wrong places.
I want to thank Emory students Sharefa Aria, Ridwan Khan, Huma Mirza and Aneel Naeem who articulated their response to Spencer. I also want to bid kudos to Emory sudent Ammara Abbasi for writing this wonderful article on the moral and ethical principles that underlie the spiritual jihad. While I am heartened to see American students articulate their disagreements in such a positive manner, it is somewhat problematic that young adults who should be studying for their mid terms and enjoying going to parties are put in the absurd position of having to defend their faith from someone outside the academy who already have careers writing about Islam.
As I noted here, Sharefa Aria, Ridwan Khan, Huma Mirza and Aneel Naeem did nothing but attack me personally. They provided no evidence whatsoever that anything I said was false. Neither did Ammara Abbasi. If Mr. Eteraz thinks this is a valid method of discourse, the prospects for his actually convincing Muslims that his version of Islam is the correct one are dim, for they will not be convinced by personal attacks and invective in lieu of rational arguments any more than anyone else will be.
In closing, the idea that it is “somewhat problematic that young adults who should be studying for their mid terms and enjoying going to parties are put in the absurd position of having to defend their faith from someone outside the academy who already have careers writing about Islam” is absurd. College ought to be a place where people are learning to think, and doing things precisely like defending their faith. I was responding to assertions of fact made by an Emory student. In response, I made other assertions of fact. The five students who then responded were under no obligation to do so, and indeed, as I have already noted, offered no substantive refutation of what I wrote, but only venomous characterizations and vicious accusations. That Mr. Eteraz would then hold them up as being somehow victims is beyond absurd. I find it very funny, and telling, that Aneel Naeem dismisses as “outside agitators” the commenters who took him and his cowriters to task at the Emory Wheel site for not dealing with substance of what I said but just indulging in ad hominem attacks. “Outside agitators” — where have I heard that term before? Oh yes, that’s what Southern segregationists called the Northerners who came South to support the struggle for racial integration. Well, I am happy to be an “outside agitator,” agitating against this false claim of victimization and base personal attacks passing as intellectual discourse.