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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Opening church doors to Muslim acts of worship takes neighborliness a bridge too far

This article has been published in the Washington Times as "Stop opening churches to Muslims"

This past week Fox News posted a report that Heartsong church in Cordova, Tennessee and Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandra, Virginia have made their church buildings available to Muslims to use as places of worship.

Critics of these outreach initiatives, such as Mike Huckabee, have been accused of ignorance. However the contents of Muslim prayers, and teachings about Isa, the Islamic Jesus, give reasonable grounds for churches to reject such arrangements.

A prominent element in Islamic daily prayers is the recitation of Al-Fatihah 'The Opening', the first chapter of the Koran.  Often described as a blessing, Al-Fatihah has a sting in its tail.  After introductory praises, the final sentence of al-Fatihah is a request for guidance 'in the straight path' of Allah's blessed ones, not the path 'of those against whom You are wrathful, nor of those who are astray.' 

Who are the ones who are said to be under Allah's wrath or have gone astray from his straight path? According to the revered commentator Ibn Kathir, Muhammad himself gave the answer: 'Those who have earned the anger are the Jews and those who are led astray are the Christians.'

Al-Fatihah is as central to Islamic devotion as the Lord's prayer is to Christians: it is recited at least 17 times a day as part of daily Muslim prayers.  Yet according to Muhammad himself, this prayer, which is on the lips of every pious Muslim day and night, castigates Christians as misguided and Jews as objects of Allah's wrath. 

Another good reason for churches not to host Muslim worship is, paradoxically, their veneration of Isa, the Islamic Jesus

Muslims venerate Jesus, but as a Muslim prophet. In the pages of the Koran the disciples of the Muslim Jesus declare 'We are Muslims' (Sura 5:111). The Islamic Jesus is not the Christian Son of God, a divine suffering saviour who died on the cross for the sins of the world.

Certainly there are some similarities between Isa of the Koran and Jesus of the Gospels.  The Koran calls Jesus al-Masih 'the Messiah', and both figures are said to have been born of a virgin, performed miracles of healing, and raised the dead. Yet here the similarities end.  Isa of the Koran was not crucified, and did not die, but was raised up by Allah (Sura 4:157-158).

It is in Muhammad's vision of the end-times that the role of the Muslim Jesus comes into sharp focus.  Muhammad taught that when Isa returns, he 'will fight for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill pigs, and abolish the poll-tax.  Allah will destroy all religions except Islam.'  (Sunan Abu Dawud 27:4310)

What does this saying mean?  The cross is a symbol of Christianity.  Breaking the cross means abolishing Christianity.  According to Islamic law the poll-tax or jizya buys protection of the lives and property of Christians (and Jews).  Abolishing this tax will mean that jihad will be restarted against Christians, and no more protection shall be afforded to those who do not submit to Islam. 

The Egyptian jurist Ahmad bin Naqib stated in his compendium of sharia, The Reliance of the Traveller that the toleration of Christians living under Islamic law only applies 'before the final descent of Jesus… After his final coming, nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus' descent … for he will rule by the law of Muhammad … as a follower of our Prophet' (trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, pp.603-4).

In this end-times scenario, the Islamic Jesus becomes the ultimate destroyer of Christianity, when by his sword he compels all followers of the Christ of the Gospels to become Muslims and live in accordance with the sharia of Muhammad. 

Churches should not welcome into their buildings the veneration of Isa the Islamic Jesus, who as a true Muslim is intended to bring about the final, violent destruction of Christianity. By all means let Christians show kindliness to their Muslim neighbours, but the sentiments embedded in Islamic daily prayers, which curse Jews and Christians respectively as under Allah's wrath and gone astray, can have no place in a Christian church, even if recited in the cadences of classical Arabic. 

Mark Durie is an Anglican priest, theologian and human rights activist.  He is the author of Revelation: Do we worship the same God? and The Third Choice: Islam, dhimmitude and freedom.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fear of Islam: Facts Fuel Growing Unease. A View from Australia.

This article is published in the February 2011 edition of ViewPoint Magazine.

Fear of Islam in the News
Fear of Islam has become news. Time magazine’s cover story of August 2010 was “Is America Islamophobic?” Bobby Ghosh wrote:
“… where ordinary Americans meet Islam, there is evidence that suspicion and hostility are growing. To be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith.” 
In Australia, SBS dedicated its final Insight progam of 2010 to ‘Fear of Islam’.  The episode’s internet page received a stellar number of viewer comments, topping all previous shows of the year including such high-interest topics as climate change, the national broadband network, the Federal election, education, boat people, Afghanistan, hospitals, and sexual attraction. The only show which came close to ‘Fear of Islam’ in viewer response levels was ‘Banning the Burqa’.
Comments posted by Australian viewers to the SBS site revealed deep concerns about Islam.  For example Mark from Sunshine commented, ‘Islam is incompatible with liberal, secular, democracy. A story of oil and water.’ 97 viewers agreed, and only 12 disagreed.

Islam's Bad Press
Just when fear of Islam is becoming a hot issue, Islam has been receiving a lot of bad press, from all around the world. 

From Iraq there was news of the massacre of more than forty worshippers on October 31 at the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad.  Al Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement that ‘All Christian centers, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahideen wherever they can reach them.’  The ancient Christian community of Iraq has shrunk alarmingly in recent years, due to continued targeting of Christians by Islamic militants.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians were protesting minor bureaucratic planning code objections to alternations for the Church of St. Mary and St. Michaels in Talbiya, Giza, when they were attacked by around 5,000 armed government security personnel on November 24, some of whom were chanting Allahu Akbar (‘Allah is greater!’).  Three Christians were killed by bullet wounds, a young child died from tear gas thrown into a chapel, and over 150 others were arrested.  This was followed by a bomb attack on New Year’s Eve against the Saints Church in Alexandria, which resulted in 23 deaths, and over 90 wounded.  Muslim passers by reportedly cried Allahu Akbar  as they walked past the scene.

Massive international protests have risen up over Iran’s proposed stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani, accused of adultery, and an ex-Muslim, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is also on death row in Iran for converting to Christianity.

In Pakistan two Christians who had been accused of blasphemy were murdered last July by masked gunmen while under police custody in Faisalbad. More recently, Imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, in his sermon on Friday 3 December, offered a $6,000 bounty to anyone who will murder Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has also been accused of “blaspheming Allah”.  Then on January 4, Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, was slain by his own body guard. Taseer’s attacker, Mumtaz Qadri, has been praised by distinguished religious leaders from both mainstream schools of Pakistani Islam (the Deobandis and Barelvis), and when Qadri was being led to court on January 6, four hundred Muslim lawyers showered him with rose petals, offering him their services to manage his legal defense free of charge.

On December 10, the Dunia al-Watan posted a video of a woman being publicly whipped by two uniformed Sudanese police outside Khartoum Central Police station. This video has caused a storm of protest throughout the Arabic-speaking media. The police derive obvious pleasure from whipping the woman all over her body as she screams and wriggles around to avoid the blows.  The penalty of public flogging was introduced into the Sudanese statutes in 1983 under the presidency of Gaafar Nimeiry, as part of his nation-wide imposition of the Islamic sharia, which mandates flogging for some offenses.

News stories which link Islam with violence are not isolated, rare occurrences: they could be multiplied many times over. For Western readers they occur against the backdrop of the past decade of terrorist atrocities, including the 2002 Bali bombings, the Moscow Theatre Hostage Crisis of October 2003, the Beslan school hostage crisis of September 2004, the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, and of course the 9/11 atrocity of 2001.  All these crimes were perpetrated by religious Muslims who claimed to be inspired by their faith.

Offensive Commentary
The offense of these violent acts has been compounded by the spokespeople for radical causes, such as Abu Bakar Bashir, who called upon Australians to convert to Islam if they wanted to be safe from terrorist attacks.

Another example of offensive commentary was the February 2006 London protest against the Danish Muhammad cartoons, organized by the Al Ghurabaa organisation, in which Muslim protestors carried placards with messages such as “Massacre those who insult Islam”, “Butcher those who mock Islam”, “Be prepared for the real holocaust”, “Europe you will pay, your 9/11 is on the way”, and “Freedom go to hell”.

Muslims Behaving Badly
Muslims behaving badly have also contributed to Islam’s bad press. As far back as the early 1990’s two Muslim children were photographed demonstrating on the streets of Sydney carrying ‘Kill Rushdie’ signs.

The Daily Mail reported on January 5, 2011 concerning what experts have referred to as a ‘tidal wave’ of sexual exploitation of hundreds of white young girls aged 11 to 16, by gangs of men ‘predominantly from the British Pakistani community’ in the Midlands and the North of England: of the 56 men convicted since 1997, 50 have been Asian Muslims.

In July 2001 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story that 70 women had been gang raped in the Bankstown area: the victims were non-Muslims, the perpetrators Muslims.  A few of the victims found the courage to face their accusers in court, and a group of Lebanese Muslim young men were given long jail sentences.

Throughout this crisis and its aftermath, comments from Muslim leaders added fuel to the fires of public discontent by suggesting a religious basis to these acts. Sheikh Al-Hilali compared a woman who does not conform to Islam’s dress code to meat left uncovered which a cat might take. The attacks, he implied, were the fault of the victims. Many Muslims spoke up to denounce the Sheikh’s comments, but the damage had been done. 

Among the comments left by viewers on SBS’s 2010 ‘Fear of Islam’ Insight program there was a remark from Samir of Bankstown that western women ‘who don’t cover their hair’ and ‘dress immodestly’ ‘deserve what they get’, and, ‘if Western women dressed properly without revealing their form, they would have nothing to fear’.  In other words: women who don’t follow sharia requirements should fear assault, but they only have themselves to blame.

To Fear or Not to Fear?
Such events, and commentary upon them by some Muslims, provide fuel for fear.  But is this fear based on ignorance, or is it well-founded? 

And what about the opposing fear, that airing such issues will incite hatred against Muslims?  In response to the recent UK news reports of Muslim sexual predators, the Association of Pakistani Lawyers (UK) issued a statement that ‘linking criminal activity to a particular race, colour and nationality may be counterproductive and may attract verbal and physical abuse against those communities and may act as a tool to be exploited by hard-line political groups who play politics on racial tensions, and anti community cohesion steps threatening the multiculturalism which is the fine fabric of British Society.’

Fear itself is morally neutral – it is neither right nor wrong. It can be a virtue when the capacity to fear is protective.  There is such a thing as sensible fear. It is rational to fear to step out in front of speeding traffic, walk along a cliff topic, catch a towering wave in the surf, or climb a broken ladder.

A Moral Panic?
However, the fear of others can also involve a dimension of moral panic, when a particular group is regarded as a threat to the social order.  In such circumstances, fear can reach epidemic proportions, and have little connection to evidence and rationality.  Nazi manipulation of Judeophobia was a case in point.

Yet moral panic can itself be feared, something which provides fertile opportunities for exploitation.  As  Pascal Bruckner has pointed out, the label Islamophobia was coined to convey the implication that fear of Islam is irrational.   

The To Kill a Mockingbird World View
Western understandings of ‘fear of the other’ have been profoundly shaped by To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s great novel about racial prejudice and coming of age.  Published in 1960 it has been enormously influential in shaping the world view of young people for the past half century. To Kill a Mockingbird’s message is that knowledge of others increases sympathy and respect for them.  In its final pages, the young girl Scout says to her father about a misunderstood character in a novel she had been reading: “when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things ... Atticus, he was real nice,” to which Atticus responds, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”  In other words, if one can only “see” others – that is, understand them – then despite the evident human capacity for evil, it is possible to believe that people are “real nice”.

The world view of To Kill a Mockingbird underpins the western concept of ‘prejudice’. According to it, the root cause of fear and hatred is ignorance. If someone truly gets to know others, sympathy for them will grow.  Looking out at the world through this frame, criticism of Islam and indeed fear of Muslims is portrayed as an irrational phobia based on ignorance.  In this vein, Time magazine called those who link Islam to terrorism ‘unthinking’. 

The Key Question
This then is the heart of the matter:  Is fear of Islam rational, reasonable and protective, or is it an irrational phobia? Does the evident fact that such fear exists and is growing reflect ignorance and prejudice, or is it a symptom of a problem with Islam? 

In reality, both are true.  Fear of Islam is fact-based, but it can also have features of a ‘moral panic’.

To illustrate the first possibility, consider the story of Ahmer Khokar, a Pakistani Muslim who converted to Christianity in the UK, and then emigrated to Australia in order to find a safe place to live. He wrote in January 2003 in the Times about his conversion to Christianity and its impact on his life. 

Khokar described his feelings when he first doubted Islam and believed that Christianity was true:  “That night I went to bed terrified.”  What he feared most was the anger of his family.  He said “if I was living in an Islamic country I would be killed for converting to Christianity”.

It is impossible to call Ahmer’s terror ‘Islamophobia’.  He was not ignorant of Islam, having been schooled in it by his devout father from his earliest years.  His fear was a rational one, based upon an intimate familiarity with his family’s beliefs.

A flaw with the To Kill a Mocking Bird world view is that at times ignorance is bliss.  Getting to know another person better does not necessarily increase respect.  Like fear, stereotypes are in essence morally neutral.  Of course unfounded negative stereotypes can cause great damage, racism being the classic example.  Yet positive stereotypes can also be all too rosy and optimistic.  Ignorance can result in na├»ve gullibility, just as easily as hateful prejudice.

The West Awakens to Islam: Some Find Reasons to Fear
In recent years Westerners have had many opportunities to learn more about Islam.  Some have taken advantage of these opportunities and become Muslims as a result: they liked what they saw.

For others however, familiarity has only increased their disquiet.  Many who have sought to dispel their own ignorance about Islam have found solid reasons to continue to regard Islam as a threat.

One is Islam’s history of empire and conquest, the product of a supremacist theological vision that Islam must dominate other religions.

Another is the well-attested desire of some (but by no means all) Muslims to work for a society in which Islam dominates. Such was the sentiment expressed by internationally renowed Muslim jurist, and deputy chair of the Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Academy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, M. Taqi Usmani, in his description of the purpose of jihad:
… the purpose of Jehad … aims at breaking the grandeur of unbelievers and establish that of Muslims. As a result no one will dare to show any evil designs against Muslims on one side and on the other side, people subdued from the grandeur of Islam will have an open mind to think over the blessings of Islam. … I think that all Ulema (religious scholars) have established the same concept about the purpose of Jehad. (M. Taqi Usmani. Islam and Modernism, Adam Publishers & Distributors, India, 2005, pp.133-134.).
This is along the lines of the views of the influential Indian scholar Abul A’la Mawdudi:
What Islam demands from those who submit to God as the real Sovereign, their only Ruler, and who accept to abide by His laws as brought by His Prophet, blessings and peace be on him is quite obvious. … wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God. … The name of this striving is Jihad. (Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi. Let us be Muslims. Trans. & ed. Khurram Murad.  The Islamic Foundation, A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Third Reprint 1991, p.290.)
Another reason to fear Islam is objectionable public statements issued by Muslims, including in sermons and ‘fatwas’. A recent example was the ruling from leading Pakistani scholars on behalf of the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, a prominent and influential mainstream Muslim organization, that slain governor Salman Taseer should go unmourned:  “No Muslim should have attended the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.”

Sheikh Al-Hilaly’s sermons have provided further examples to the Australian public.

Another reason for fear is the opinion polls.  For example, a poll conducted in the UK in 2006 found that a quarter of British Muslims thought the 7/7 bombing was justified, and a third said they would prefer to live under the sharia law.  Strikingly, the younger the respondents, the more radical their views.  It seems that the home-grown younger generation of Muslims in the UK are more antagonistic to British ways than their immigrant parents.

Another reason for fear of Islam is the poor treatment of non-Muslims and women in many Islamic societies, and the fact that some who mete out this treatment attribute this to the teachings of Islam.  For example, more than a million non-Muslim guest workers in Saudi Arabia are denied basic human rights, including freedom of worship.

And finally, there are the teachings of the Koran and the example of Muhammad, which together form the foundations of Islam.

It is self-evident that some Koranic verses encourage violence. Consider, for example, a verse which implies that fighting is “good for you”:  “Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not” (Sura 2:216).  Such verses are matched by the words and deeds of Muhammad, who commanded his followers to offer three choices to non-Muslims:  conversion to Islam, surrender to the armies of Islam, or the sword. 

While some of the acts of Muhammad were commendable, including showing generosity and compassion to orphans, many are deeply disturbing and cannot be reconciled with any contemporary ethical standards, apart from those of the sharia.  For example, the assassination of Salman Taseer has clear precedents in the life of Muhammad, who authorized the assassinations of people who had mocked him, and declared those who killed “blasphemers” to be innocent of blood guilt.  This explains the widespread support for the killing among Pakistani Muslim scholars and mainstream Islamic organizations. Another example is Muhammad’s marriage to the nine-year old Aisha, which established the basis in sharia law for child-brides, so that in Iran today, the marriage age for girls is nine.

Today, non-Muslims who investigate such matters for themselves, by studying authentic Islamic sources on the life and teaching of Muhammad, find no shortage of material which causes them to be more, and not less, concerned about Islam.

What about Australia?
However a question which must be asked, is whether the fear of Islam is rational or fanciful in the context of contemporary Australia.  Even if it is rational for non-Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan or Egypt to fear Islam, because sharia principles discriminate against them, depriving them of basic human rights, is such a fear also rational here in Australia? 

It all depends.  Such factors as levels of immigration, birth rates, conversion rates, the kind of Islam taught in Australia, and the resistance of the general population will all have an influence on the final outcome.

For example, do Australian Muslims show any signs of desiring to implement a sharia-compliant social system?  In reality, as Abdullah Saeed has pointed out in Islam in Australia, Australian Muslims are divided on this issue.  Some Australian Muslims believe and teach that Muslim believers must work to establish Islam as the foundation of the political system wherever they live.  However other Muslims have come to this land as refugees from political Islam, and want nothing to do with such a project.

Is it fanciful to entertain the possibility that Islam could grow to be a major political force in Australia?  Surely not.  If anyone had predicted fifty years ago the extent of Islamic influence in Europe today, they would have been ridiculed by all except the most ardent Muslim visionaries.  Yet Islam is now well on its way to being established as a dominant force across all of western Europe.

It remains to be seen whether Bernard Lewis’ 2004 prediction is fulfilled, that Europe will be Islamic by the end of the twenty first century ‘at the very latest’, becoming a ‘part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb’.  But such a proposal can no longer be considered laughable.  Given the widespread and growing support for sharia implementation among European Muslims – especially among younger Muslims – it is only to be expected that political maturity and gains in democratic representation will go hand in hand with a long-term process of societal transformation to remake nations in the image of the sharia. The only question will be, according to Bassam Tibi, a prominent German moderate Muslim, “is not whether the majority of Europeans is Islamic, but rather which Islam – sharia Islam or Euro-Islam – is to dominate in Europe.”

It is as yet far from clear that non-Muslim Europeans have the will to resist Islamisation.  Already the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Nicholas Phillips, has recommend ‘embracing Sharia law’ (‘Equality before the law.’ Speech presented at the East London Muslim Centre, 3 July, 2008), and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stated ‘it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system.’

Islamisation is a process which can take many decades – or indeed centuries – and Australia is not so far down this path as Europe, including England and France. However, just because it is still early days yet, it is unwise to keep deferring public debate about whether the advance of Islam and sharia implementation will be a good thing for Australia.  A growing number of Australians have taken a good look at Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia – and even at western Europe – and are suggesting that these countries can be considered useful indicators of what an Islamic Australia could look like. Many find this prospect deeply troubling.
An End to Fear?
Australians will no longer fear Islam when self-confessed Islamic states such as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia stop abusing human rights in the name of Islam. They will no longer fear Islam when Al-Qaida shuts up shop and disbands its terror cells.  They will no longer fear Islam when tensions over the advance of Islam across Europe subside. 

In reality, fear of Islam is something which is unlikely to go away for a long time to come.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The NY Times' affection: for Khomeini (1979) and the Muslim Brotherhood (2011)

I am indebted to Andrew Bostom for reminding us (here, with extended commentary) of Princeton Emeritus Professor Richard Falk's eulogy to the Ayatollah Khomeini, published in the New York Times, February 16, 1979, of which excerpts are re-posted below.

Such sentiments seem entirely consistent with the affection currently being extended to the Muslim Brotherhood through the pages of the NY Times by America's political elites.

Consider Western leaders who are so eager to hand Egypt over to the Brotherhood – and whose forerunners were so ardent for Iran's religious reformation 40 years ago.  Would they be equally welcoming of the Islamization of America itself?  Do such cold-blooded and heartless fantasies truly mean that America is on the verge of an irreversible intellectual and political decline?

Richard Falk, professor of international law at Princeton University, recently visited the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in France.

Part of the confusion in America about Iran’s social revolution involves Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. More than any third-world leader, he has been depicted in a manner calculated to frighten.

… In recent months, before his triumphant return to Tehran, the Ayatollah gave numerous reassurances to non-Moslem communities in Iran.
He also indicated that the non-religious left will be free to express its views in an Islamic republic and to participate in political life, provided only that it does not “commit treason against the country” by establishing foreign connections—a lightly-veiled reference to anxiety about Soviet interference.

To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling seems almost beyond belief. His political style is to express his real views defiantly and without apology, regardless of consequences. He has little incentive suddenly to become devious for the sake of American public opinion. Thus the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false. What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed of moderate progressive individuals…[T]hey are widely respected in Iran outside religious circles, share a notable record of concern for human rights and seem eager to achieve economic development that results in a modern society oriented on satisfying the whole population’s basic needs.

… Ayatollah Khomeini said recently, in France, that in any well-governed society “the ruler does not live very differently from the ordinary person.” For him, to be religious is to struggle for these political goals, yet the religious leader’s role is to inspire politics, not to govern. Hence, it is widely expected that he will soon go to the holy city of Qum, at a remove from the daily exercise of power. There he will serve as a guide or, if necessary, as a critic of the republic.

In looking to the future, Ayatollah Khomeini has spoken of his hopes to show the world what a genuine Islamic government can do on behalf of its people. 
... Despite the turbulence, many non-religious Iranians talk of this period as “Islam’s finest hour.” Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on non-violent tactics. Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country. If this is true, then indeed the exotic Ayatollah may yet convince the world that “politics is the opiate of the people.”

Again from Bostom's post, compare these arrant falsehoods with Khomeini's own words, published 37 years before the 1979 NY Times editorial:
Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under Allah’s law (Sharia). … Islam says: ‘Kill [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter their armies.’ Islam says: 'Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors (jihadists)!’ There are hundreds of other Koranic psalms and hadiths (sayings of the prophet) urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. … Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Will Participating in Democracy Moderate the Muslim Brotherhood?

While waves of unrest sweep the Middle East in response to dire conditions which include soaring wheat prices and failed economies, and the yoke of authoritarian rule, the question is: what will remain if and when things settle down?

In this post I would like to focus upon the Western responses, which have reflected naive optimism about the role of radical Islam in the future of these societies, and specifically of the Muslim Brotherhood in the future of Egypt.

The White House, for example, has stated that it supports a role for the Brotherhood in a new Egyptian government, provided it renounces violence and recognizes democratic goals.

Melanie Phillips (here) and Barry Rubin (here) have both expressed dismay about this trend, which imagines that the Brotherhood has turned away violence, and can be reformed by participating in democracy.

For this, Rubin was criticized by Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor:
Rubin paints the Muslim Brotherhood as radicals ready to pounce and do away with Egypt’s cold peace with Israel. “Why does the Brotherhood not engage in violence in Egypt?” asks Rubin. “The answer is not that it is moderate, but that it has felt the time was not ripe.” Experts on Egyptian politics say that such views exaggerate the abilities and the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood today. The group has been struggling – like all of Egypt’s fractured opposition groups – to keep up with the fast-paced protests on the street.
The ideological position of the Brotherhood, which has been maintained despite intense opposition and persecution going back decades, is that the state must be ruled according to the sharia, and jihad must be pursued against Israel and the United States.  It is truly incredible that US leaders could be so foolish as to seek to embrace an organization which holds such an agenda.
This folly has a number of root causes.

One is undoubtedly the success of the Brotherhood in infiltrating US institutions, including groups which advise government.  This is grounded on the fact that so many US Islamic organizations were founded by or have long-standing links to the Brotherhood.

The extent of this is apparent from "An Explanatory Memorandum on the general strategic goal for the group (the Brotherhood) in North America": (see Arabic original and translation here, and the analysis by Stephen Coughlin here).  The 'Memorandum' declares that the function of the Brotherhood in North America is to 'lead' the 'Islamic Movement', which is to say, to direct and coordinate all 'Muslim's efforts' across the continent.

'Infiltrate' could in some cases be too strong a term to describe the influence of the Brotherhood.  'Invitation' might sometimes be a better word.  For example, Lee Baca, LA Countyry  Sheriff (in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, here), has justified cosying up to Muslim organizations (including those on the Brotherhood's 'Memorandum' list) on the grounds that any response to terrorism must involve Muslims: "You can’t fight an ideological war if you don’t have the people with you that are close to the problem.”  If you say things critical of Islam, Baca argues, then 'No one trusts you and they won't help you.'

Another reason for the folly is deep denial among western analysts concerning the role of religion in shaping the actual agenda of Islamic radical groups. This goes hand in hand with a world view presupposition that all religions are in essence the same, and in any case irrelevant as causes for political actions.  According to this view, religion is at best a pretext, but never a true cause.  Men may fight over land, money, water or women, but never about religion.   The Marxist's claim that religion is an 'opiate' for the masses has been influential: in essence it presupposes that religion is a means of political manipulation, not its cause.

The view that religion is irrelevant is what caused Sheriff Baca to state (in his same Heritage speech) that: "every bit of the conversation about the religion is counterproductive".

The difficulty with such a view, however, is that the Brotherhood is driven by its religious ideology, so to de-emphasize the Muslim Brotherhood's religious character renders analysis blind.

Another cause for denial is the entrenched Western view that if you just respect someone and get to know them, you will find that they are decent, and they will find that you are decent too.  By this account, ignorance is the root cause of all intergroup conflicts.  If you just get to know people you will like them.

I call this the "To-Kill-A-Mockingbird" world view, because this was the message of Harper Lee's classic text.  In the final sentence of the book comes its punch line. Scout is telling Atticus about a character in a story who had been misunderstood and maligned.  But, says Scout, when the others in the story 'finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things... Atticus, he was real nice...'   To this Atticus replies 'Most people are Scout, when you finally see them.'

This seems to be a common view among Western analysts today: "When we finally see the Muslim Brotherhood, they will be real nice, just like us."  And the corollary is that if we reach out to the Brotherhood, and they get involved in democray, they will finally 'see us',  love our democratic ways, and recognize that we too are 'real nice'.  Jihad will be renounced, and we will all get on so much better.

I don't mean to mock, but would point out that To Kill a Mockingbird is a text which has helped form the world view of millions of young people in the West since it was published in 1960.  Its message, which was liberating as a response to racism, can be extremely debilitating when applied as an interpretive grid for radical religious movements.  In Western societies today, the 'To-Kill-A-Mockingbird World View' has become a self-evident truth.  It cannot be questioned: to do so would be heresy.  It is this which makes it so powerful, and helps explain the extremely illogical and heads-in-the-sand character of much that is being put out these days by Westerners about the Muslim Brotherhood.

A key to understanding the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood is their view of the stages of establishing Islam.  This is outlined in Sayyid Qutb's Milestones:
First, the method of this religion is very practical. This movement treats people as they actually are and uses resources which are in accordance with practical conditions. ...  
The second aspect of this religion is that it is a practical movement which progresses stage by stage, and at every stage it provides resources according to the practical needs of the situation and prepares the ground for the next one. It does not face practical problems with abstract theories, nor does it confront various stages with unchangeable means. Those who talk about Jihad in Islam and quote Qur'anic verses do not take into account this aspect, nor do they understand the nature of the various stages through which this movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage. 
A third aspect of this religion is that the new resources or methods which it uses during its progressive movement do not take it away from its fundamental principles and aims. From the very first day, ... [Muhammad's] call was one and the same. He called them to the submission to One God and rejection of the lordship of other men. On this principle there is no compromise nor any flexibility. To attain this purpose, it proceeds according to a plan, which has a few stages, and every stage has its new resources, as we have described earlier.
When Qutb says that the method is 'very practical', he means it is pragmatic.  There are phases or stages in establishing an Islamic state, and each stage requires distinct methods.  The Islamic movement, Qutb argues, must use persuasion and teaching, and also violent jihad, but each in its own time and stage.

Even the Qur'an, he says, must be interpreted according to this doctrine of stages, different verses of the Qur'an applying as circumstances vary.  There is a time to call people peacefully to Islam, as the Qur'an teaches, and a time to fight and kill unbelievers, as the Qur'an also teaches.

The challenge is to discern the correct stage, and also to remain committed to the fundamental principle (Qutb's third point), so that whatever the methods being used, the final goal of establishing an theocratic state is never compromised. It is wrong, Qutb says, to argue about whether jihad is defensive or agressive: the answer depends upon the circumstances.  Also, just because you are in a phase of peaceful persuasion should not mean that you have relinquished, even to the least degre, anything of the end goal of toppling non-Islamic power and establishing an Islamic political order.

This doctrine of the stages of establishing Islam has been widely promoted and taught by Islamic organizations throughout the West.  I have documented examples in The Third Choice, including the following (pp.66-67 -  slightly edited): 
In October 2002 the Arabic-language quarterly Al-Manar Al-Jadid Magazine (published in Arabic under the auspices of the Ann Arbor-based Islamic Assembly of North America) included a biographical essay by Muhammad ‘Abduh on the achievements of Abdul-Hamid ibn Badis. The essay bore the title ‘The Understanding of Abdul-Hameed Ibn Baadis of the Phases of Da‘wah’. ... Abduh describes the role of Ibn Badis in leading the Islamic revival in Algeria before World War II, through a carefully planned series of phases. Ibn Badis is praised in the essay for his skilful use of deception. Early in his career he focused on training the young. During this initial phase he would assure the French authorities that his efforts were apolitical, and he supported French political ideals:
"We are Algerian Muslim people in the colonial province of the French Republic. So because we are Muslims we act for the preservation of the traditions of our religion. And indeed, a government who is ignoring the people’s religion cannot manage it properly. We are not intending by this to mix religion and politics into all of our matters … And because we are a colony, we seek to fasten the bonds of friendship between us and the French nation. And we call on France to adhere to its three foundational principles: Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood."
Later, when Ibn Badis formed an association of Algerian ulamas, he was careful to include in their (fabricated) constitution the stipulation that "It is not permitted for the Jam’iyyah [Association], under any circumstances to get involved in political matters." 
When Ibn Badis was challenged for inciting people against the French authorities, he was then able to protest that he had no interest in politics:
Then what business has the Jam’iyyatul ‘Ulamaa [the Association of Ulamas] in this matter, when it is a religious organisation, merely corrective, and completely far away from politics?!’
Muhammad ‘Abduh comments:
'And that was just to conceal the real activities that were happening. Indeed, the Jam’iyyah got involved into politics by another avenue … his plan was to encircle [colonialism] and to destroy [it] … step by step.'
 ‘Abduh praises Ibn Badis’ patient strategy, pursued over three decades, which began with a focus on religious education, then progressed through formal organization of the Muslim community to the phase of political engagement and resistance. The movement was being prepared for a fourth phase, the use of force, when Ibn Badis passed away in 1940.
Today, what distinguishes Al Qa'ida from the Muslim Brotherhood is not their basic ideological framework.  It is rather their judgement about what stage applies at the present time.

The Brotherhood has been unswerving in its ideological commitments.  To this day, Milestones remains a basic text for the movement.  It has not been disavowed.  The fundamentals have not changed.

In some respects the Brotherhood has already won tremendous gains in Egypt, which is now much more religiously conservative than fifty years ago.  Today the Muslims of Egypt are highly sympathetic to sharia law.  In a recent Pew poll  59% to 27% of Egyptian Muslims favoured Islamists over modernizers, while around four out of five people support  sharia penalties such as stoning adulterers, cutting of thieves' hands and killing apostates — around the same level as in Pakistan, and much higher than for the other Muslim countries in the survey (see Egypt "Lost", or Found by Andrew Bostom in Human Events.  An earlier University of Marland/World Public Opinion Survey found that 67% of Egyptian Muslims hanker for an Islamic Caliphate, and 74% of the sample supported a strict application of sharia law.  Egyptian school textbooks today teach jihad and anti-infidel hatred (see here), which is a return to the values taught to Egyptian Muslim children more than a century ago (see commentary by Andrew Bostom).

The Brotherhood's work of quiet persuasion and teaching has been bringing great results.  It has been winning the grassroots, while Mubarak's grasp of the reins of power has weakened.

A similar story can be told in Pakistan:  the Islamic movement has succeeded, in a few generations, in radicalizing the religious allegiance of millions through the work of madrassas and other education efforts.  In both nations, long considered allies of America, the grassroots process of Islamization seems set to redirect the nation's policies away from support what Westerners call 'moderation'.

The question remains whether the Brotherhood in Egypt will be able to turn support for conservative Islam into a large swag of votes in a free and fair election.  Still outlawed in Egypt, its ability to succeed at the ballot box remains to be tested.  What seems sure is that, at the very least, it could  constitute a formidable minority party, just as Hezbollah does in Lebanon, and could be able to govern as part of a coalition.

But one thing we can be sure of, that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to become more moderate simply by participating in democratic elections.  On the contrary, increased power will more than likely lead to a reevaluation of the 'stage' it finds itself in, and could trigger the conditions for more violent strategies.

What Islam is All About by Yahya Emerick is a popular American Islamic textbook for school children. In several respects its teaching reflects the Brotherhood's ideology of phases for establishing Islam.  It explains that the political sucess of Muhammad in Medina, when Islam became politically dominant through the use of force, had to be preceded by a long preparatory phase in Mecca, during which the Muslims' faith was built up:
We want the ideal of Medina for the next millenium. But we will never get it without the struggle of the Meccan period. ... only when we produce a generation of people who actually fear the Day of Judgment and love to be closer to the Prophet's example, will we be able to make Islam dominant in the earth. (p.378)
Emerick explains to his young American Muslim audience a stock-standard Islamic criticism of Muslim states:
During the era called colonialism ... European Christian countries took over the Muslim world and divided it ... these Western ... Christians forced the people to follow un-Islamic-style political systems.  ... The Christians brain-washed these so-called "Muslims" into rejecting Islam and loving the West.  Then, when the Christian countries finally were forced to leave the Muslim lands, these traitors to Islam took over the nations and continued the same political system that the Christians brought. ... Thus we see that Muslim countries have not yet returned to being Islamic nations.  The Muslim world today is ... ruled by kings, priests, dictators and evil men. (p.383)
No doubt Hosni Mubarak would be considered one of these bad rulers, and western-style democracy an 'un-Islamic-style political system'.   Emerick looks forward to the day when Mubarak (and others like him) can be replaced by a genuine Islamic state.

Whether the uprisings in Egypt will usher in an Islamic order—the pristine Sharia state which Emerick eulogizes—remains to be seen.  But one thing remains absolutely certain:  the pathway to peace in Egypt will not involve the transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood into a peace-loving benevolent pro-democracy party.