A few nights ago Irshad Manji and Bill O’Reilly (thanks to Fosala) had this exchange:
O’REILLY: All right, but now we have a Pakistani minister saying that hey, if somebody straps a bomb to Salman Rushdie’s chest, it’s OK because we have to defend Mohammed, Allah, whoever, but that rationale can be used to kill anyone.
MANJI: And you know what? It’s a really mixed up rationale. And here’s why. The Koran actually tells us that if somebody is mocking your religion, don’t retaliate, walk away and only later engage in dialogue. So in fact, our so-called leaders are spewing prejudice that the Koran itself never asked them to.
Although Manji cites chapter and verse in speaking of another Qur’anic passage later in the interview, she doesn’t say which one she has in mind here. My best guess is that she means 4:140: “Already has He sent you Word in the Book, that when ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if ye did, ye would be like them. For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith – all in Hell.” It doesn’t mention the “engage in dialogue” part of Manji’s assertion, and there is no explicit prohibition of retaliation, but it does say that if someone is mocking your religion, walk away.
The question is that: does that verse, or even any other verse that Manji may have in mind, establish what she intended to establish on O’Reilly — that those Muslims who are calling for Rushdie to be killed are actually acting contrary to the Qur’an? It’s a comforting thought, but as with so many comforting thoughts in this line, it is not so clear or simple as all that. Islamic law stipulates that reviling the Prophet is tantamount to apostasy (cf. ‘Umdat al-Salik o8.7) and that apostasy warrants death, in accord with Muhammad’s own words. Was such a law formulated by Islamic clerics who happened to overlook the verse Manji cited on O’Reilly’s show? Or maybe they deliberately wanted to suppress this verse and to set up a more severe punishment for insulting Muhammad in order to discourage this kind of behavior?
I suppose such things are possible, but it seems to me that if there really were a Qur’anic verse that clearly forbade punishment of those who insulted Muhammad, there would be a significant party within Islamic tradition throughout the ages that held that punishing such people was disallowed. But there isn’t. Also, Muhammad himself, the “excellent example” (uswa hasana) for Muslims (Qur’an 33:21), ordered killed many people who insulted him, as the British jihadist site Al-Ghurabaa, now offline, reminded Muslims during Cartoon Rage:
At the time of the Messenger Muhammad (saw) there were individuals like these who dishonoured and insulted him upon whom the Islamic judgement was executed. Such people were not tolerated in the past and throughout the history of Islam were dealt with according to the Shariah. Ka”ab ibn Ashraf was assassinated by Muhammad ibn Maslamah for harming the Messenger Muhammad (saw) by his words, Abu Raafi” was killed by Abu Ateeq as the Messenger ordered in the most evil of ways for swearing at the prophet, Khalid bin Sufyaan was killed by Abdullah bin Anees who cut off his head and brought it to the prophet for harming the Messenger Muhammad (saw) by his insults, Al-Asmaa bintu Marwaan was killed by Umayr bin Adi” al-Khatmi, a blind man, for writing poetry against the prophet and insulting him in it, Al-Aswad al-Ansi was killed by Fairuz al-Daylami and his family for insulting the Messenger Muhammad (saw) and claiming to be a prophet himself. This is the judgement of Islam upon those who violate, dishonour and insult the Messenger Muhammad (saw).
As I show in The Truth About Muhammad, these incidents weren’t invented by the “extremists.” They are recounted in the earliest sources about Muhammad — sources written by pious Muslims for the benefit of their fellow Muslims.
Now, in explaining all this am I saying that Muslims cannot oppose the death fatwa against Rushdie? No, of course they should oppose it. Do I mean to say that Muslims must inevitably reject reform, and reformers like Manji, and adhere to Sharia as unchanging? Of course not. I am saying that for reform to have any chance of success it must be based on a realistic assessment of the nature of the problem. If it is based on false pretenses, on comforting fictions, it will certainly fail. Instead of flatly asserting that the Qur’an forbids retaliation against those who insult Muhammad, and ignoring Muhammad’s own contrary example, as well as the unanimous consensus of traditional Islamic jurists, Manji might have done well to acknowledge all this, and outline some way for reformist Muslims to reject the traditional view.
I’d love to discuss this and related matters with Irshad Manji, but she is apparently not interested in dialogue or debate with me. Some time ago her website posted a link, “Right-wing Jihad Watch slams Irshad,” to a piece here by Fjordman that thoughtfully and respectfully took issue with some aspects of her work. It would have been refreshing if Ms. Manji had replied to the points Fjordman made, rather than simply slam Jihad Watch as “right wing.” I wrote to her to ask her why she thought that all that we are here could be subsumed under the sneer-phrase “right wing”: because we oppose jihad violence and Islamic supremacism? Or because we oppose the quixotic and wilsonian Iraqi democracy project? Or because we call for Islamic reform? Or something else? I did not receive a reply. As Ms. Manji claims to want to foster free and open debate, I find that disappointing. Name-calling isn’t dialogue, now is it? If Ms. Manji would ever wish actually to discuss these or related issues with me in any forum, public or private, instead of just calling names (as fun as it is), she knows where to reach me.
I am not interested in “slamming,” and I don’t believe that either Fjordman’s post or this one constitute a “slam.” But I rather suspect that all that will happen will be that this present post will end up linked at her site under the rubric “Right-wing Jihad Watch again slams Irshad.”
ADDENDUM: Jihad Watch reader Carl reminds me of a singularly apposite Qur’an verse: “Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger – Allah has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment” (33:57). The curse, you see, is both in this world and the hereafter.