“Dr. Farouk El-Baz is director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. He served as science adviser to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.” In this Boston Herald op-ed, he offers something we have seen before: a Muslim denunciation of the Islamic State that glosses over or ignores altogether the Islamic justifications for the caliphate’s actions. This piece, consequently, will reassure uninformed non-Muslims, but do nothing to prevent a young Muslim from embracing the understanding of Islam that the Islamic State represents.
“El-baz: Dire need for Muslims to lead fight vs. fanaticism,” by Farouk El-baz, Boston Herald, August 29, 2014:
Nothing could be more harmful to Islam than today’s shenanigans of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Vicious attacks on non-Muslims are abhorrent to Islam. The Quran states clearly and unequivocally: “There is no compulsion in religion.” Forcing anyone to pay a tax is going back in history when non-Muslims were not drafted in armies and were asked to pay that “jizya” instead. But, soon after the religion settled, the practice was stopped.
El-baz represents the collection of the jizya as a practice of Muslim governments that was eventually discontinued; notice that he does not mention that it is mandated in the Qur’an itself: “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).
As such, given Islamic theology about the validity of the Qur’an for all time, it would be hard for El-baz to argue honestly that the collection of the jizya is unacceptable today in all circumstances. Muslim governments did ultimately discontinue the practice, but under Western pressure, not because of some reform in Islamic law. There was no such reform, and consequently Islamic jihad groups consider the abolition of the dhimma illegitimate and the reimposition of the dhimma and collection of the jizya to be part of their core agenda. And that is exactly what the Islamic State has done.
How does Qur’an 9:29 fit together with the idea that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256)? The Pakistani Islamic scholar and political activist Syed Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979) explains that “the simple fact is that according to Islam, non-Muslims have been granted the freedom to stay outside the Islamic fold and to cling to their false, man-made, ways if they so wish.” That heads off any contradiction between 9:29 and 2:256: the “People of the Book” are not compelled to become Muslim, but may choose to submit to the Muslims and pay the jizya, while remaining Jews or Christians or whatever.
I was born and raised in Egypt as part of a conservative Muslim family. My father was a teacher and scholar of Islamic jurisprudence. He was educated at, and became an official of, Azhar, the second oldest university and among the most highly respected religious institutions in the world. Because I was taught the unaltered tenets of Islam, today’s perceptions of it distress me greatly.
Today’s hysterical groups along both sides of the doomed “Sikes-Picot line in the sand” are all young men with guns. It is a deadly combination in a leaderless place. The ISIS threat is not only in its lawlessness, but also in the negative image of Islam that it is leaving in its wake.
Nothing about the human rights abuses, destroyed lives, etc.
Those young men represent a disenfranchised lot with little education and no hope for a better future in their counties of origin. They were radicalized and misled by bitter, self-appointed preachers. Because they felt neglected, forgotten or oppressed they do not consider themselves part of any cohesive social fabric. Thus, they believe that in anarchy they would gain power, respect and a fair share of economic opportunity. Yet, their heinous acts are mistakenly ascribed to Islam by many observers.
The silence of religious leaders regarding this situation is deafening. Nothing in Islam condemns people who adhere to the tenants of Christianity or Judaism. These are specifically noted and protected in the Quran as “people of the book.”
Yes, but as per Qur’an 9:29, quoted above, the “People of the Book” were only “protected” when they paid the jizya “with willing submission” and felt themselves “subdued.” The dhimmis were denied basic rights in the old caliphate, as a constant reminder that they would be punished in this world as well as in the next (cf. Qur’an 3:56) for rejecting Muhammad and Islam. El-baz mentions none of this; rather, he implies that the “People of the Book” enjoy equal rights with Muslims under Sharia. That has never been true and is not true now.
Furthermore, history has no parallel of an “Islamic State.” This is a recent concept that was initiated by the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Has Farouk El-baz never heard of the Umayyad or Abassid caliphates, or the Ottoman Empire? The concept of an Islamic State is as old as Islam itself.
Even in today’s Iran there is no state-sponsored discrimination of people of other religions.
According to the International Federation for Human Rights, in Iran today “religious minorities also face discrimination in addition to being victims of persecution such as through arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, destruction of cemeteries and holy places…”
History is replete with examples of Christians and Jews who played significant and highly recognized roles within Islamic civilization. Let us not forget that the commander of the Fatimid army in Egypt, Jawhar Al-Siqilli, hailed from a Christian Byzantine family from Sicily. He built the city of Cairo and the Azhar University in the year 970. Similarly, the great Jewish philosopher Musa Bin Maimun (Maimonides) thrived in Cordoba under Muslim rule in southern Spain. He was duly invited to Cairo and served as chief physician in the court of Saladin until his death in 1204. More recently in Egypt of a century ago, Christians (Copts) and Egyptian Jews played a significant role in the development of the country and led its institutions, prior to the creation of Israel and the revolution of 1952 that followed.
Yes, Christians and Jews played significant and highly recognized roles within Islamic civilization. Their communities even lived in peace — as long as they knew their place. If they forgot their subservient status, they were massacred wholesale, as in the pogrom in Granada in 1066 after a Jew was named to a minor government role.
Clearly, there is a dire need to assure proper education of Muslim youth in the religion. The task should be accomplished by properly trained teachers who are well-versed in the tenets of Islam and their meanings. It is not human to disregard disenfranchised youths. We cannot eradicate them or wish them to disappear. Instead of learning how to use guns, they should be trained for a profession — to put them on a path for a useful life. The fact that some individuals were able to rise within this oppressive system does not mean that it was not oppressive. And Maimonides said: “You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael, who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us….No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have….We have borne their imposed degradation, their lies, and absurdities, which are beyond human power to bear.”
Such an effort should be first and foremost the responsibility of their countries of origin. This should be a major effort by national and multinational organizations. For example, we urgently need serious inputs from the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Organization of Islamic-Majority Countries. Their neglect and silence have gone far beyond the acceptable. It is now time to act with courage and humility to assure a better future.
Certainly it is time for Muslim groups to act, if they sincerely condemn the Islamic State. The sincerity is what is in question.