Here is that rare thing, an attempt to show with specific Qur’anic citations how an Islamic jihadist is misusing the Qur’an and misunderstanding the true, peaceful teachings of Islam. Usually those who assert such things are extremely vague about just how Islam and the Qur’an are being misused.
Unfortunately, however, this is written by Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — a fact that immediately arouses suspicion. MPAC, for example, has trafficked in moral equivalence between jihadists and anti-jihadists regarding Israel. It was no surprise when the organization joined CAIR and other groups in 2004 in signing a “Joint Muslims/Arab-American Statement on Israel Violence in Gaza.” The organizations echoed some of the most virulent rhetoric that jihadists employ in their offensives against the Jewish state, condemning “Israel’s recent indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians, including many children,” without even mentioning the targeting by Palestinian suicide bombers of Israeli citizens on buses and in restaurants, or the Israeli government’s diametrically opposed policy of never targeting civilians.
Such extreme rhetoric was nothing new for MPAC. On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, on a Los Angeles radio show, al-Maryati added fuel to the wildest, most paranoid conspiracy theories about the attacks that had just unfolded: “If we’re going to look at suspects we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”
This was not al-Maryati’s only outburst of anti-Israeli malevolence. Daniel Pipes recounts a “February 1996 incident when a Palestinian named Muhammad Hamida shouted the fundamentalist war cry, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great), as he drove his car intentionally into a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem, killing one Israeli and injuring 23 others. Before he could escape or hurt anyone else, Hamida was shot dead. Commenting on the affair, Mr. Al-Marayati said not a word about Hamida’s murderous rampage but instead focused on Hamida’s death, which he called ‘a provocative act,’ and demanded the extradition of his executors to America ‘to be tried in a U.S. court’ on terrorism charges.”
Al-Maryati in 1996 equated violent jihadists with the Founding Fathers: “Most Islamic movements have been branded as terrorists as a result of the rising extremism from a handful of militants. American freedom fighters hundreds of years ago were also regarded as terrorists by the British.”
“Repentance is the only option for the Fort Hood killer,” by Salam al-Marayati in the Wall Street Journal, December 9 (thanks to all who sent this in):
[…] Maj. Hasan took an oath as a member of the U.S. military to defend our country. He also took a Hippocratic oath to protect his patients. The violation of these oaths is a violation of the Quranic principle which states that making a pledge to anyone is tantamount to making a pledge to God. The Quran states: “(Be not like those) who use their oaths as a means of deceiving one another” (16:92).
QED, eh? Salam al-Marayati would have us believe that it’s very simple: the Qur’an says don’t break your oaths, Hasan broke his oath, and so Hasan, despite appearances to the contrary, is a Muslim heretic, a Misunderstander of Islam.
Unfortunately, however, there are indications in the Hadith that oaths taken to Infidels don’t have that unbreakable character. Muhammad, of course, said, “War is deceit.” He also said, “By Allah, and Allah willing, if I take an oath and later find something else better than that, then I do what is better and expiate my oath.”
Muhammad said this in the context of being able to do something better for his men than what he had promised to do, and so al-Marayati may argue that shooting up Fort Hood was in no way better than remaining loyal to the U.S. military, but from the jihadist point of view a jihad against Infidels is certainly better than submitting to those Infidels. After all, Muhammad also said, when asked what was the best deed, that jihad was best after professing faith in Islam. He also recommended to his followers that they break their oaths if they found a better course of action.
Those who would say that Qur’an trumps Hadith whenever there is a contradiction, and that therefore oaths are always and everywhere binding upon Muslims, must then explain why that has never been understood as such in the Islamic world. History is full of examples of Muslims breaking oaths and treaties with Infidels. Were they all misunderstanding Islam?
In any case, al-Marayati mentions none of this. And why not? He could have given a much more convincing and honest presentation if he had acknowledged the existence within Islamic tradition of justifications for oath-breaking, and explained — if he could — why they did not excuse Hasan’s behavior. But he didn’t.
His now infamous PowerPoint presentation is rife with distortions of the Quran. Entitled “The Koranic Worldview As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military,” it provides anything but a Quranic perspective. Maj. Hasan’s critical fault in understanding the Quran was his failure to distinguish between two very important categories of verses: those tied to the specific context of seventh-century Arabia, and those that are absolute and permanent.
Here al-Marayati implies, without offering specifics, that the martial verses of the Qur’an that Hasan quoted are understood by mainstream Islamic theology to apply only to seventh-century Arabia. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Very early in the history of Islam, Muslims noticed and began to grapple with how Muhammad’s messages changed in character over the course of his prophetic career. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, a pious Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, explains the progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.”
The Qur’an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “the religion is God’s” – that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Ibn Ishaq gives no hint that that command died with the seventh century.
Nor do all contemporary Islamic thinkers believe that that command is a relic of history. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).” (The Roman numerals after the names of the chapters of the Qur’an are the numbers of the suras: Sheikh ‘Abdullah is referring to Qur’anic verses such as 2:216, 3:157-158, 9:5, and 9:29.)
This understanding of the Qur’an isn’t limited to the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia, to which Sheikh ‘Abdullah belongs, and which many Western analysts imagine to have originated Islamic doctrines of warfare against unbelievers. Jihad theorist Sayyid Qutb, who was not a Wahhabi, subscribes to the same view of the Qur’an. In his jihad manifesto Milestones, he quotes at length from the great medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350), who, says Qutb, “has summed up the nature of Islamic Jihaad.” Ibn Qayyim outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.”
Qutb summarizes the stages: “Thus, according to the explanation by Imam Ibn Qayyim, the Muslims were first restrained from fighting; then they were permitted to fight; then they were commanded to fight against the aggressors; and finally they were commanded to fight against all the polytheists.” He further quotes Ibn Qayyim as emphasizing the need to wage war against and subjugate non-Muslims, particularly the Jewish and Christian “People of the Book”: “After the command for Jihaad came, the non-believers were divided into three categories: one, those with whom there was peace; two, the people with whom the Muslims were at war; and three, the Dhimmies….It was also explained that war should be declared against those from among the ‘People of the Book’ who declare open enmity, until they agree to pay Jizyah or accept Islam. Concerning the polytheists and the hypocrites, it was commanded in this chapter that Jihaad be declared against them and that they be treated harshly.” Qutb says that if someone rejects Islam, “then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.”
In fact, some classical Islamic theologians are as far from thinking that the verses commanding jihad against Infidels no longer apply in our own age as you can get. Some assert that the Verse of the Sword (Qur’an 9:5, “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them”) abrogates no less than 124 more peaceful and tolerant verses of the Qur’an. Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a commentary on the Qur’an by the respected imams Jalal al-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahalli (1389-1459) and Jalal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr al-Suyuti (1445-1505), asserts that the Qur’an’s ninth sura “was sent down when security was removed by the sword.” Another mainstream and respected Qur’an commentator, Ibn Kathir (1301-1372), declares that Qur’an 9:5 “abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term….No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara’ah [the ninth sura] was revealed.” Ibn Juzayy (d. 1340), yet another Qur’an commentator whose works are still read in the Islamic world, agrees: the Verse of the Sword’s purpose is “abrogating every peace treaty in the Qur’an.”
None of them say that the Verse of the Sword applies only to the seventh century.
Ibn Kathir makes this clear in his commentary on another “tolerance verse”: “And he [Muhammad] saith: O my Lord! Lo! these are a folk who believe not. Then bear with them, O Muhammad, and say: Peace. But they will come to know” (43:88-89). Ibn Kathir explains: “Say Salam (peace!) means, ‘do not respond to them in the same evil manner in which they address you; but try to soften their hearts and forgive them in word and deed.'” However, that is not the end of the passage. Ibn Kathir then takes up the last part: “But they will come to know. This is a warning from Allah for them. His punishment, which cannot be warded off, struck them, and His religion and His word was supreme. Subsequently Jihad and striving were prescribed until the people entered the religion of Allah in crowds, and Islam spread throughout the east and the west.”
And so today. The Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajid (1962-), whose lectures and Islamic rulings (fatawa) circulate widely throughout the Islamic world, demonstrates this in a discussion of whether Muslims should force others to accept Islam. In considering Qur’an 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion,”) the Sheikh quotes Qur’an 9:29, as well as 8:39 (“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e. worshipping others besides Allaah), and the religion (worship) will all be for Allaah Alone [in the whole of the world]”), and the Verse of the Sword. Of the latter, Sheikh Muhammad says simply: “This verse is known as Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword). These and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.”
Underscoring the fact that none of this is merely of historical interest is another Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that in 1991 was certified by the highest authority in Sunni Islam, Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” This manual, ‘Umdat al-Salik (available in English as Reliance of the Traveller), spends a considerable amount of time explaining jihad as “war against non-Muslims.” It spells out the nature of this warfare in quite specific terms: “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by a Jordanian jurist that corresponds to Muhammad’s instructions to call the unbelievers to Islam before fighting them: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya) . . . while remaining in their ancestral religions.”
Also, if there is no caliph, Muslims must still wage jihad. In any case, the desire to restore the caliphate ultimately highlights the expansionist, imperialist, totalitarian, globalist aims of the jihad movement, even as today it presents itself as a defensive action against Western evils. That expansionism is based on Qur’anic passages such as 9:29 and the life and teachings of Muhammad. The Pakistani Brigadier S. K. Malik’s 1979 book The Qur’anic Concept of War (a book that carried a glowing endorsement from Pakistan’s then-future President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who said that it explained “the ONLY pattern of war” that a Muslim country could legitimately wage) delineates the same stages in the Qur’anic teaching about jihad: “The Muslim migration to Medina brought in its wake events and decisions of far-reaching significance and consequence for them. While in Mecca, they had neither been proclaimed an Ummah [community] nor were they granted the permission to take up arms against their oppressors. In Medina, a divine revelation proclaimed them an ‘Ummah’ and granted them the permission to take up arms against their oppressors. The permission was soon afterwards converted into a divine command making war a religious obligation for the faithful.”
Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, in a 1994 book on Islamic law quotes the twelfth century Maliki jurist Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd. Ibn Rushd reports on a consensus (ijma) among Muslim scholars on jihad warfare – and in traditional Islamic legal terms a consensus among scholars, once reached, cannot be modified. “Why wage war?” asks Ibn Rushd, and then he answers his own question: “Muslim jurists agreed that the purpose of fighting with the People of the Book…is one of two things: it is either their conversion to Islam or the payment of jizyah.” Nyazee concludes: “This leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims.
But if this is so, why hasn’t the worldwide Islamic community been waging jihad on a large scale up until relatively recently? Nyazee says it is only because they have not been able to do so: “the Muslim community may be considered to be passing through a period of truce. In its present state of weakness, there is nothing much it can do about it.”
Al-Marayati could, here again, have assuaged doubts by discussing Islam’s martial teachings and explained — if he could — why Hasan was not appropriating them properly. But he didn’t.
He ignores the Quranic mandates, for example, to stand for justice even if it is against your own interest, and to avoid transgression in the pursuit of justice. Yet the most troubling part of his presentation are his conclusions. One of them is: “Muslims are moderate (compromising) but God is not.” There are two critical flaws in this one sentence.
First, to make any kind of declaration about God being unforgiving violates Islam’s central teachings of mercy and compassion. The Quran makes it clear that human beings are meant to embody God’s generous spirit. To argue otherwise is to violate God’s will and Islam’s goal of peacemaking.
Second, being moderate is about upholding religious values while working with other members of society for the greater good. Extremists believe they are compromising their Islamic values when living in the West. This is not true. And Muslim-haters oblige them with the converse, when they argue that the West should not tolerate Muslims. This is not just.
Maj. Hasan’s hodgepodge of verses from the Quran and quotes from extremists left out the most important Quranic verse in his section on enjoining peace and forgiveness: “God invites you into the abode of peace” (10:25). Nor did he include the admonition by the Prophet Muhammad never to harm the innocent and never to target noncombatants….
Here again, it all depends on how one defines “innocent.”