In an interview at FrontPage today, Mary Habeck, a professor at Johns Hopkins and author of a book about the jihadists entitled Knowing the Enemy, makes a number of observations about the jihad ideology, and why more Muslims don’t stand up to the jihadists, that are worth looking at more closely.
…Thus, Muslims are allowed to fight these unbelievers in a just jihad. Their definition of jihad is quite different from that generally accepted by Muslims today. Most Muslims say that jihad is first and foremost an internal struggle to control one’s desires or, if it is about fighting, jihad is a defensive just war.
Most Muslims may indeed believe that. Yet while this likelihood provides comfort for non-Muslims with its suggestion that most Muslims would prefer to tend to their own souls rather than to wage war against their non-Muslim neighbors, it actually doesn’t establish what both Muslims and non-Muslims seem to wish it did. This is because the traditional pedigree of the spiritual jihad is not as firm as it is often advertised to be. The hadith in which Muhammad makes a distinction between “greater jihad” of spiritual struggle and the “lesser jihad” of warfare doesn’t appear in any of the hadith collections that Muslims consider most reliable. Jihad understood as warfare against unbelievers in order to establish the hegemony of Islamic law has much greater support in Islamic scripture, tradition, and historical practice — and leading jihad theorists including Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s friend and intellectual mentor and co-founder with him of Al-Qaeda, challenge the authenticity of the saying in their writings. This only buttresses their claim, which Habeck notes below, to represent the “true believers.”
These extremists make jihad into the central tenet of their religion, arguing that it is primarily about fighting both defensively and offensively (to spread the just laws of Islam). They also say that any Muslim who does not participate in their jihad is not a “true believer,” and is at most a sinner and at worst an unbeliever and can therefore be killed with impunity.
Habeck gives no hint here of the fact that the theology of offensive and defensive jihad is far older than the “extremists,” and is in fact rooted in the Qur’an (2:193 and 9:29 for offensive jihad) and Muhammad’s statements, notably the one in which he directs his followers to offer non-Muslims conversion, subjugation, or war. Then there are the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which all teach the necessity for offensive jihad in order to subjugate unbelievers under the rule of Sharia.
All this answers the follow-up question below far more convincingly than Habeck answers it: the moderate Muslims don’t speak out more forcefully against the jihadists because if they do, the jihadists can easily portray them as unfaithful Muslims, and quote Qur’an and Sunnah to establish their position. And that can make the lives of the moderates difficult in many ways.
Habeck is aware of this. Last year, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross reviewed her book and noted that in it she drew a sharp distinction between jihadist theology and “traditional Islam.” I wrote to him, asking him a number of questions about the content of this distinction and related matters, and he discussed them with Dr. Habeck over lunch. At the time, he got permission from her for me to publish her answers from his emails — and he gave me his permission also to publish what he wrote to me.
Here’s what Gartenstein-Ross wrote to me in response: “I had lunch with Prof. Habeck on 8/8, a couple of days after receiving your e-mail, and was able to put the question to her myself. Prof. Habeck’s answer was that she used the term ‘traditional Islam’ sloppily in her book. She says that she generally has used the term two ways: referring to Islam as practiced before Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt and referring to Islam as practiced in individual societies such as Indonesia or Pakistan before exposure to Wahhabism/Salafism or other foreign strains that alter the indigenous practice.” So in other words, she is referring to what I refer to as “cultural Islam.”
I had also asked if Dr. Habeck could name any orthodox sects or schools of Islamic jurisprudence that rejected the necessity of jihad warfare in order to institute Sharia. Gartenstein-Ross answered: “I also put to her your question about traditional Islamic sects that ‘reject the proposition that the umma must wage war in order to establish Sharia.’ She agreed without hesitation that such sects have not existed within mainstream Islam historically.”
Yet despite knowing this, Habeck goes on in the FP interview to assert that the jihadists have hijacked Islam, and to make several other dubious assertions:
FP: Why are “moderate” Muslims so silent, in general, in the face of jihadism?
Habeck: There are probably many reasons for this, but I can give at least three. First, many Muslims have spoken out against jihadism, but they have been ignored by Western media. There was, for instance, a huge demonstration against violence carried out in the name of Islam is Morocco not too long ago (late 2005), but I don’t remember reading anything about this is in the mainstream media.
Maybe the mainstream media didn’t cover it, but here is a story about it from Lebanon’s Daily Star. The story says that the demonstrators were protesting “Al-Qaeda’s decision to kill two Moroccan hostages in Iraq,” and were “holding banners and chanting ‘Muslims are brothers. A Muslim does not kill his brother.'” So they were upset about Al-Qaeda killing Muslims. That is a phenomenon we have noted here many times: Muslims taking umbrage at Al-Qaeda killing fellow Muslims. But where are the protests against Al-Qaeda killing unbelievers? It is not enough for Muslims to “speak out against jihadism” only when its victims are Muslims, but to remain silent when they’re non-Muslims — not enough at least for non-Muslims.
I read memri.org and see many, many moderate Muslims speaking out against these guys every day. Second, in many countries these guys control the public arena and intimidate or even murder anyone who speaks out against them. The intimidation carried out in Western countries recently shows the power that just a few fanatics can have. Finally, there is a peculiar dynamic going on in the Islamic world: most people do not trust their governments or media to be reporting the truth, so they refuse to believe that the jihadis are carrying out these terrible atrocities. It’s far more satisfying to believe that the government/US/Zionists are lying about all this rather than to confront the fact that someone has hijacked your religion for their own purposes.
Indeed. And it’s also far more satisfying to pretend that the jihadists have “hijacked” an essentially peaceful Islam rather than confront the ugly reality of the deep roots that the jihad ideology has within Islam, even when one has acknowledged that the facts are otherwise.
Now certainly most Muslims aren’t jihadists. Most probably do think of jihad primarily as a spiritual struggle. But to pretend that the jihadists don’t have the intellectual upper hand in the Islamic world today is to undercut any chances for genuine Islamic reform, which can only proceed from an honest acknowledgment of the realities of Islamic doctrine, not from ignoring those elements and implying they don’t exist.