This “dialogue” event between evangelical minister James White and jihadi imam Yasir Qadhi took place in the appropriately named Olive Branch, Mississippi last January, and while we don’t ordinarily write about archival material, this is such a spectacular example of the pitfalls of “interfaith dialogue,” and of going into discussions with Muslim spokesmen without being sufficiently educated about Islamic teaching, that it warrants particular attention.
The event purported to highlight and discuss “agreements and differences” between Christians and Muslims:
White starts out by praising Qadhi effusively, calling him a “kindred spirit” in pursuit of the truth:
White’s high regard for Qadhi is strange, given Qadhi’s open avowal that Christians are “filthy,” and that Muslims can seize their property and take their lives in jihad:
But White thinks he knows all about that, and that it is no big deal. This is an excerpt from a very lengthy, windy segment on White’s show:
White not only makes the risible argument that Qadhi never called him “filthy,” and therefore must not think that Christians are filthy, but in the longer segment he also attempts moral equivalence. He says that Qadhi’s calling Christians filthy is essentially the same as Christianity saying that no one is righteous before God, and that the righteousness of human beings is as filthy rags. This ignores the fact that Christianity considers such statements to apply to everyone, Christian and non-Christian, while Islamic statements about the uncleanness of unbelievers (cf. Qur’an 9:28) apply to unbelievers only, for there is in all of Islam a sharp and massive dichotomy between believers and unbelievers: “Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another, ruthless to unbelievers” (Qur’an 48:29).
White also claims that Jews, Christians, and Muslims would all agree that idolaters are filthy in God’s sight, and shows no awareness of the fact that the idea that unbelievers are unclean is a live concept among some Muslims, notably Shi’ites. The renowned Ayatollah Sistani classifies unbelievers as unclean, along with pigs, dogs, dead bodies, etc. What Jews or Christians do that?
Regarding Qadhi’s statements about jihad, White notes that Qadhi argues that only a legitimate caliph can declare jihad, and that most Muslims reject the Islamic State’s caliphate. White shows no awareness whatsoever of the fact that in Islamic law, jihad is fard kifaya, a communal obligation from which one individual is free if it is being discharged by others, but it becomes fard ayn, obligatory upon every believer, when a Muslim land is attacked (cf. Umdat al-Salik o9.1-o9.3).
Nor does White appear particularly disturbed by the fact that Qadhi even allows in principle for the seizure of the property of non-Muslims, and the killing of non-Muslims, under some circumstances. White is much more exercised about my supposedly misrepresenting Qadhi by reporting on his words. Apparently, it’s all my fault: in this video (starting at 7:27), White sits next to Qadhi as Qadhi says that “the far right targeted” him, “you know, Spencer and Pamela Geller.” He claims that Geller and I produced a “fabricated audio clip,” referring to the one above of his remarks on jihad; he says that we selectively edited his remarks to — you guessed it — take him “out of context” and make it appear as if he is endorsing jihad against non-Muslims (this is not the same as the audio above, it just has the same cover photo):
White shakes his head when Qadhi mentions our names, clearly in sympathy with Qadhi being victimized by us dastardly Islamophobes. There are just a few problems with this: neither Pamela Geller nor I had anything to do with the production or publication of that audio file. Nor did we, as Qadhi further claims in that video, sic lawyers on him when he tried to get it taken down from YouTube. As anyone can see and as James White could have and should have verified, that audio file was put on YouTube by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a group I admire but with which I have no affiliation. Nor is Qadhi truthful when he says that the audio was selectively edited so as to give a false impression of his words: in its note on that audio file, APT gives a link to Qadhi’s entire lecture, and notes the timestamps of when he discusses relevant topics. That’s odd behavior if the group really wanted to conceal what Qadhi actually said.
It’s ironic: White, in this lengthy video, scolds people for supposedly not being fair to Qadhi, falsely claims that my intention was to portray Qadhi’s words inaccurately, and self-righteously admonishes Christians that they have to be fair to Muslims even in disagreement. Then he sits by sympathetically as Qadhi lies about Pamela Geller and me, as well as about his own words. I wrote White about this several months ago; he responded contemptuously and refused to correct the record.
In light of White’s manifest credulity in the face of Qadhi’s distortions and outright lies, it is no surprise that he is led around by the nose in Olive Branch, Mississippi. White praises himself, saying that Muslims have come up to him and thanked him for attempting to portray their faith accurately:
That’s wonderful. It is indeed of cardinal importance, if one is writing about Islam or anything else, to portray it accurately. But White’s naivete is touching: are Muslims thanking him for portraying their faith accurately really evidence that he has actually done so? In Islam, it is considered a good thing to conceal the faults of a fellow Muslim, as Muhammad is depicted as saying: “The servant who conceals the faults of others in this world, Allah would conceal his faults on the Day of Resurrection” (Sahih Muslim 6267). The ordinary understanding of slander in the West is that it involves making false charges that defame another person. But in Islamic law, the definition of slander doesn’t involve falsehood. The Shafi’i manual of Islamic law Umdat al-Salik defines “slander” as “to mention anything concerning a person that he would dislike.” Nothing is said about whether or not what is said is true — only that the person would dislike it. Is it possible that the Muslims who thanked White were happy with him because he didn’t slander Islam, i.e., he didn’t reveal what they didn’t want known?
Let’s see. In this segment, Qadhi claims that the Islamic State (ISIS) is a wholly new thing, a phenomenon never before seen in the history of Islam: “I mean, burning people alive in cages?”
“I mean, burning people alive in cages?” He is claiming that was never known before in Islam? What about the followers of Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid ibn Nawfal al-Asad, who left Islam and proclaimed himself a prophet? They were burned alive during the Wars of Apostasy in the early 630s. What about the eleven Catholic monks who were burned alive for proselytizing among Muslims in North Africa in 1272? In the 1590s, the English traveler Fynes Moryson noted that Muslims burned apostates and blasphemers alive: “A Turke forsaking his Fayth and a Christian speaking or doing anything against the law of Mahomett are burnt with fyer.” A later traveler, John Braithwaite, wrote in the 1720s that apostates were burned alive: “Those that can be proved after Circumcision to have revolted, are stripped quite naked, then anointed with Tallow, and with a Chain about the Body, brought to the Place of Execution, where they are burnt.” In Morocco in 1792, 50 Jews were burned alive for refusing to convert to Islam. And on and on and on. There are so many examples of this as to place the Islamic State’s burnings squarely within Islamic tradition. But White just sits there and lets Qadhi lie. Yes, it’s a discussion, not a debate, but does this mean that Qadhi is just allowed to lie with impunity?
The lies continue in this segment:
Qadhi here claims that al-Qaeda and ISIS “are not primarily using this one verse” and “barely use this verse,” that is, Qur’an 9:5, and he falsely claims that “90 percent” of jihadi rhetoric is political, not religious. They certainly discuss political issues, especially in order to justify defensive jihad, but they also couch all of their arguments in Islamic theological concepts. And it’s false that al-Qaeda doesn’t use this verse: Osama bin Laden made clear the importance of this verse in a sermon broadcast by Al-Jazeera on the first day of the Muslim holy day Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. The sermon began, “Praise be to Allah who revealed the verse of the Sword to his servant and messenger, in order to establish truth and abolish falsehood.” The “verse of the sword” is the name in Islamic tradition for Qur’an 9:5. Al-Qaeda cofounder Abdullah Azzam, in his Defence of the Muslim Lands, quotes Ibn Abidin, a nineteenth-century Islamic jurist, explaining the Qur’an’s stages of development in jihad teaching, and then adds: “Then, they were ordered to fight with conditions, when the sacred months had passed: ‘Then when the sacred months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have past, then kill the Mushrikun wherever you find them.'” This is a quote from 9:5.
Qadhi also claims that no non-Muslim has ever been killed for trying to enter Mecca. In fact, as recently as 2007, some French non-Muslims were killed on the way to Mecca.
Finally, in this video, White claims that there are powerful forces trying to make sure that Muslims and Christians don’t talk to each other. These nameless nefarious forces, according to White, have no regard for the truth, and are using someone White considers an adversary, someone who called him a “Useful Idiot.” These forces supposedly, according to White, supplied this man with his talking points against White and his noble endeavors at Muslim/Christian dialogue. These forces, White says, have political and financial motives — he echoes Islamic supremacists in suggesting that critics of Islam are just in this wonderful life-threatening, reputation-ruining business for the money (what money?). How he professes to know the motives of these unnamed people, he does not bother to explain.
Whoever White has in mind as these nefarious forces (and I think I know, and I think you do, too), they are absolutely right: White is a Useful Idiot par excellence, in his credulity, naivete, and ignorance of Islamic theology, law and history allowing himself to be used by the deceptive jihadist Qadhi. I am all for genuine dscussion between Christians and Muslims, but that means that the Christians are informed participants, not gullible fools having their pockets picked by jihadist sharpies. James White is a living, walking object lesson in the dangers of Muslim/Christian “dialogue” when pursued by uninformed and naive Christians, and particularly when pursued by uninformed and naive Christians with a fatuous confidence in their own knowledge and righteousness.
(Thanks to Worldview Weekend.)