Editor’s Note: I think it may be of interest to some readers who recall Aymenn Jawad’s public attack on me last March to note that Aymenn has written to me and apologized, and has recently sent me the article below. Our differences and minor disagreements should not interfere with our common work in defense of human rights, although they often do among the petty, the small-minded, the vindictive and the pathologically competitive. — RS
Lesley Hazleton: Karen Armstrong II
by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
It is not uncommon, as we go through our lives, for us to meet certain individuals who like to call themselves “spiritual seekers.” Apparently suffering from pathological narcissism, they feel a constant need for some sort of spiritual “nourishment” (i.e. a hopelessly vague outpouring of emotions), and accordingly flutter like bees from the flower of one religion to the next, tasting the nectar only for a brief time before moving on. They constitute a clear contrast, then, from normal people who can satisfy themselves for most of their lives with adhering to one religion or none at all.
Readers may recall — as a prime example of this unstable “spiritual seeker” personality — the egregious Karen Armstrong, who around four years ago entered into a feud with Robert Spencer over a highly dishonest review she wrote for the Financial Times, in which she attacked Spencer’s book The Truth About Muhammad. For example, Armstrong, who is herself the author of two hagiographical works on Muhammad, falsely accused Spencer of not citing earlier verses of the Qur’an — such as 29:46 — that counsel tolerance towards Christians and Jews. In fact, Spencer cited 29:46 twice in his book (pg. 17 and pg. 51).
Much of Armstrong’s howling against Robert is rooted in her own anti-Christian bigotry, especially her hostility against the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Islam has apparently done much to aid her “convalescence”: supposedly, she is recovering from a bad religious experience during her time as a nun, or something. As she put it in an interview with Al-Jazeera on December 20, 2005:
“I really admire the Muslim tradition so much”¦it was the study of Islam and Judaism, but Islam particularly, that brought me back to a sense of what religion could be at its best”¦I have absorbed so much of Islam that it has become a part of me“¦I would describe myself as convalescent; recovering from a bad religious experience by the study of these other traditions which continue to inspire me and feed me.”
Reread the parts highlighted in bold, and before your eyes unfolds a picture of a deeply and hopelessly confused woman.
At the most extreme, “spiritual seekers” turn out to be clinically diagnosable psychopaths such as David Wulstan Myatt, who has been noted before here at Jihad Watch as a neo-Nazi-Satanist-turned-jihadist. Prior to this, Myatt had also practiced Buddhism and Taoism, but now seems to have left Islam for his own harmless lunatic philosophy, which he dubs “The Numinous Way.” This is based on rather bizarre readings of the fragments of pre-Socratic philosophers like Heraclitus.
Today, however, it seems that a successor to Karen Armstrong has arisen in one Lesley Hazleton. Echoing Armstrong’s disdain for Christianity, Hazleton has little problem with writing books like Jezebel that disparage Biblical figures, yet thinks it necessary to become an Islamic apologist and to deflect all rational scrutiny of traditional, orthodox interpretations of core Islamic texts. A case in point is a talk she gave to TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), entitled “On Reading the Koran.” What follows is a fisking of the main misleading distortions in her dreadful lecture:
“You may have heard about the Koran’s idea of paradise being 72 virgins.”
On the contrary, it has been noted here and elsewhere that the concept of 72 virgins derives not from the Koran, but from the Hadith:
“None is made to enter Paradise by Allah Most High except Allah Most High shall marry him to seventy-two wives, two of them from the wide-eyed maidens of Paradise and seventy of them his inheritance from the People of Hellfire, not one of them but her attraction never lags nor his arousal ever wanes.” This was narrated by Ibn Majah, Ibn `Adi in the Kamil, and al-Bayhaqi in al-Ba`th wal-Nushur.
As-Suyuti described the above chain of transmission as “fair” in al-Jami al-Saghir.
If Hazleton imagines that this idea is not taken seriously anywhere, how does she explain the fact that in 2004, a would-be Palestinian suicide bomber by the name of Husam Abdu was convinced by his handlers that he would get 72 virgins in Paradise if he were to blow himself up? None of this is to say that the concept of 72 virgins is the correct or dominant view of Jannah across Islamic sects; yet the notion of virgins in Paradise is undeniably well-grounded in mainstream Islam and is found in the Qur’an. Hazleton dismisses as “old-fashioned orientalism” the image of the houris of Jannah as virgins with large eyes or big breasts. Let the Qur’an speak for itself. Take various renderings by Muslims of sura 52, ayah 20:
YUSUF ALI: They will recline (with ease) on Thrones (of dignity) arranged in ranks; and We shall join them to Companions, with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes.
PICKTHALL: Reclining on ranged couches. And we wed them unto fair ones with wide, lovely eyes.
SHAKIR: Reclining on thrones set in lines, and We will unite them to large-eyed beautiful ones.
Are Yusuf Ali, Pickthall and Shakir “old-fashioned orientalists,” Lesley?
Meanwhile, in 78:33, we do find that some Muslim translators are so embarrassed about the Arabic word “ÙƒÙŽÙˆÙŽØ§Ø¹ÙØ¨ÙŽ” that they disguise its true meaning. For context, we should give 78:31-34, rendered as follows by some non-Muslim translators and two Muslim translators:
Arberry: Surely for those who fear God awaits a place of security, gardens and vineyards and maidens with swelling breasts, like of age, and a cup overflowing.
Rodwell: But, for the God-fearing is a blissful abode, Enclosed gardens and vineyards; And damsels with swelling breasts, their peers in age, And a full cup.
Al-Hilali and Khan: Verily, for the MuttaqÃ»n, there will be a success (Paradise); Gardens and grapeyards; And young full-breasted (mature) maidens of equal age; And a full cup (of wine).
Note: words in brackets indicate Al-Hilali and Khan’s explanatory parentheses.
In his tafsir on the Qur’an, Ibn Kathir, endorsing the authority of Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and others, writes that 78:33 “means round breasts. They meant by this that the breasts of these girls will be fully rounded and not sagging, because they will be virgins, equal in age.” Is Ibn Kathir likewise an “old-fashioned orientalist,” Lesley?
Anyway, on to her next deception:
“And where the Bible is addressed exclusively to men, using the second and third person masculine, the Koran includes women — talking, for instance, of believing men and believing women — honorable men and honorable women.”
As is to be expected, the “feminist” Lesley Hazleton glosses over Qur’anic verses such as 4:34, which affirms:
YUSUF ALI: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
PICKTHALL: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.
SHAKIR: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
The emphasis here is clearly on obedience and male superiority. It is noteworthy that Yusuf Ali and Shakir seem rather embarrassed by the traditional import of the verse, and are thus less blunt than Pickthall. Though Yusuf Ali puts the word “lightly” in brackets after “beat them” in reference to disobedient wives, it should be pointed out that the original Arabic implies nothing of the sort. It just says, “Beat them.” It would be nice if this verse were viewed as only applying to a specific historical context in traditional theology. Yet, for example, the 13th century classical commentator Mahmud Al-Alusi in his commentary Ruhul Ma”ani gives four reasons that any Muslim man may beat his wife: “if she refuses to beautify herself for him,” if she refuses sex when he asks for it, if she refuses to pray or perform ritual ablutions, and “if she goes out of the house without a valid excuse.”
The result of this traditionally interpreted divine sanction is the widespread prevalence of wife-beating in Muslim countries. For instance, Amnesty International reports that “according to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, over 90% of married women report being kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking or cleaning, or when the women had “˜failed” to bear a child or had given birth to a girl instead of a boy.” Again, pace what many of our opponents like to claim, we are not saying that Al-Alusi’s interpretation of 4:34 is necessarily the correct or only view taken amongst theologians of the verse. Nevertheless, it is simply wishful thinking to deny any connection between the ayah and abuse of women in the Islamic world today.
Finally, we come to Lesley Hazleton’s distortion of the traditional doctrine of offensive jihad:
“Or take the infamous verse about killing the unbelievers. Yes, it does say that, but in a very specific context: the anticipated conquest of the sanctuary city of Mecca where fighting was usually forbidden. And the permission comes hedged about with qualifiers.”
It is of course true that taken at face value from an outsider’s perspective, 9:5, to which Lesley is referring, appears to have a specific historical context in referring to the conflict between Muhammad’s followers in Medina and the pagans at Mecca. Nonetheless, the ninth sura, normally considered in traditional theology to be amongst the last verses revealed in Muhammad’s career, is interpreted in the orthodox schools of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) as the culmination of the doctrine of jihad and as abrogating previous verses that may counsel peace. In particular, 9:29 is seen as offering unbelievers three choices: conversion, subjugation under Islamic law and payment of the jizya poll tax, or death. This has been documented numerous times at Jihad Watch, and I see no reason for repetition. Yet suffice it to say that there is a clear continuity between these broad elements of traditional theology on the subject of aggressive warfare and the justifications that modern-day jihadists invoke for their actions.
For example, my aunt’s husband in Baghdad was kidnapped in early 2007 by Tanzim Qaidat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (“Al-Qa”ida in Mesopotamia” — AQM), which demanded ransom money of $1 million from my family as jizya to fund their jihad. Though he was released after three weeks for only $40,000, others did not get off so easily, such as the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul — Paulos Faraj Rahho — who was similarly taken hostage by AQM the following year so as to allow the group to levy jizya from the Christian communities in Mosul. His murder took place in February or March 2008.
Would Lesley Hazleton care to explain why she thinks that Osama Bin Laden, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Tehreek-e-Taliban and a whole host of jihadists, their organizations and cheerleaders amongst Muslims, are all “misunderstanders” of Islam? The point is that non-Muslims are not supposed to make a pretense of knowing what constitutes “true” or “pure” Islam. However, it is useful to see where the jihadists find the basis for justifying what they do. To point out and shed light on their sources is not hateful; nor does it constitute essentializing the entire Islamic religion. If anything, it is pseudo-intellectuals such as Lesley Hazleton and Karen Armstrong who are guilty of the very essentialism they accuse us of practicing. Some readers may well disagree with me at this point, and if you wish to discuss the matter further, you can ask Robert for my e-mail and engage in private correspondence with me.
That said, there is no doubt that Lesley Hazleton, who has proven to be another one of those irritating “spiritual seekers,” has simply taken up Karen Armstrong’s mantra. Hence we can all agree her flimsy apologetics must be exposed.