Is Islam Dominated by Radicals?

April 20, 2008

The Rosenkranz Foundation recently sponsored a debate of the resolution, “Islam Is Dominated by Radicals”. Six experts debated the resolution, including two Muslim women, one on each side. It was very well done, although in a strictly time-limited format there are always important points left unmade (hence my comments here).

On the side for the resolution were Paul Marshall, with the Hudson Institute; Asra Nomani, a Muslim woman who has been fighting against radicalization of Islam; and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist. Against the resolution were Reza Aslan, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Edina Lekovic, from the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia.

It is disconcerting that this panel included Edina Lekovic, who once edited a paper which published a pro-terrorist article, lied about doing so on national television, then personally attacked Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert, who made her dishonesty public. The very fact that a woman who has links to radicalism herself, and has falsely denied those links, gets invited to speak publicly about Islam supports the notion that Islamic radicalism has hegemony in this country. Why is it so hard to find spokespeople for Islam who have no links to radicalism?

The first speaker for the resolution, Paul Marshall, defined “radicals” as “those who are striving for a political order representing a reactionary version of Islam that denies legal and civic equality to men and women and also denies it on the basis of religion. It also denies freedom of speech and freedom of thought….” Those opposed to the resolution neither accepted nor refuted this definition, they simply ignored it and spoke as though violence is the only radical issue to discuss.

For purposes of this debate, this is an OK definition. At least it isn’t limiting the discussion to the Jihadists; it’s time we get past the idea that only the Jihadists are a threat. Islamic Supremacists desire a vision which is wholely unacceptable from the perspective of the West, whether they accomplish it peacefully or not.

The only downside to using the term “Radical Islam” to describe Islamic Supremacists is that it implies these “radicals” are advocating a form of Islam that is contrary to mainstream, traditional, scholarly Islam. This is, unfortunately, not the case. These people’s world view is radical as compared to mainstream Western thought, but not radical as compared to mainstream Islamic scholarship. For simplicity, in this article I will use “radical” as defined by Mr. Marshall, and “moderate” to mean those within Islam who oppose the “radicals”, even though these definitions have their problems in the larger picture.

Although this was not specifically the topic, some causes of radicalism were alleged, but they were not debated with any thoroughness. The Islamic doctrines that support radicalism were barely mentioned.

The basic argument for the resolution was that Islamic radicals, even if not a majority of the Muslim population, control all levels of power through the Muslim world, and thus they dominate Islam. Saudi oil money is one means used for disseminating a radical view, but not the only means. The debaters for the resolution were very persuasive, and the percentage of the audience who agreed with them shifted dramatically in their favor during the debate. There are just a couple points I’d like to expand upon, which I did not feel were adequately addressed during the debate.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (for the resolution) mentioned the UK poll which found that 36% of Muslim youth (ages 16-24) believe apostates should be killed. Richard Bulliet from the other side said this shows the radical view does not have hegemony (power), because it is a minority view. However, this ignores an important dynamic: a significant minority which is willing to use violence will have hegemony over an acquiescent majority. As we have discussed, apostates are, indeed, intimidated by “radical” Muslims, even in the West. There is no question but that their freedom of expression is severely curtailed even in the West, and it is virtually squelched in Muslim countries. Even if this were the only facet of Islamic Supremacy regarding which the “radicals” have hegemony (and it is not), it would be alarming by itself.

Reza Aslan (against the resolution) made a bizarre comparison between that 36% figure above and a poll showing that “46 percent… of American Christians believe that the Constitution and American laws should be changed in order to match Christian law and Christian values.” What kind of bizarre comparison is this? Christian “radicals” can be fairly compared with Muslim “radicals” when:

  • Ex-Christians worldwide are afraid to speak out about why they left Christianity in fear for their lives
  • Christians hold big protests calling for the death of anyone who has insulted them
  • Christians form a world-wide movement that’s for stoning for adulterers and gays; for the court testimony of women to count half that of men; for the removal, by force if necessary, of all non-Christians from power; for non-Christians to pay an extra tax in lieu of being killed; etc.
  • These things are not happening, obviously, so we can relax about the Christian radicals.

    Reza Aslan cites a declaration of many leading clerics outlawing “takfir”, which means declaring a Muslim to be a non-Muslim. “Takfir” is often used by Jihadists who want to kill unsupportive Muslims: It is illegal under Islamic law for a Muslim to kill a Muslim, but if a Muslim is pronounced a non-Muslim with a fatwa of takfir, voila! It’s suddenly legal to kill him. Although the ban on takfir was cited as evidence that radicalism has no hegemony, this is a mixed blessing at best: the Jihadists do not consider themselves bound by a bunch of clerics, so they will continue to pronounce takfir as before; however, the moderates now are hamstrung in efforts to distance Islam from the Jihadists. The ban on takfir means that no one can declare Osama bin Laden to be a non-Muslim, which would actually be a good move for the moderates.

    Incidentally, Robert Spencer had been invited to participate in this debate for the resolution, and then was disinvited at the request of one of the speakers against the resolution (he does not know which one, nor does it matter). Mr. Spencer is extremely knowledgable, articulate, and backs up virtually everything with solid data. The fact that someone did not want to debate him is a compliment to him, and not to the someone.

    What is a “real Muslim”?

    January 4, 2008

    Who is excluded from any group helps define who is included. We can gain an insight into the orthodox meaning of a “Muslim” by taking a look at what defines a person who has left Islam, according to Islamic Law (Sharia). This is also essential for understanding the basics of Islamo-Fascism. There are Muslims who do not subscribe to the orthodox view; but substantial numbers, probably more than half of Muslims worldwide, do. I’m defining orthodox as believing the Quran was written word-for-word and letter-by-letter by Allah; believing Mohammed was a superior human worthy of emulating; believing in the authenticated Hadith (traditions) and the Sira (early biographies); and believing in the ijma (consensus) of mujtahedin (great scholars) of Sharia. Many Muslims who are orthodox by that definition are unaware of the full implications of accepting that list of doctrines.

    My source text for this article is from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, 1994 Revised Edition. This manual represents the Shafi’i school (and it’s worth noting that all four schools agree on 75% of their rulings, according to the introduction to Reliance of the Traveller). Dr. Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani, President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and President of the Fiqh Council of North America, writes “There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English-speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language….In view of the utility of this eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence and its rank among well known standard Shafi’i legal texts, its translation into English is regarded as a useful, auspicious step….” The book is certified by the prestigious al-Azhar University, whose certification states: “…we certify that the above-mentioned translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.”

    In addition, the editors had the option to omit anything they felt was not pertinent information for our times. The introduction states that “rulings about matters now rare or nonexistent have been left untranslated unless interesting for some other reason.” For example, rulings on slavery have been left untranslated (even though slavery and near-slavery are still practiced in parts of the Muslim world.) Additionally, Muslim reviewers of the book on generally find the book to be of practical use.

    Reliance of the Traveller lists 20 “Acts that entail leaving Islam” (pgs. 596-598), while mentioning that “There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless.” I’ll be discussing five of these 20 acts:

    • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus…belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it….”

    So, Islamic Law mandates acceptance of every verse of the Quran. Anyone who denies “any verse” is an apostate. Picking and choosing the desirable verses is not good enough. Here is a small sampling of the verses which a Muslim is not allowed to deny, according to Sharia [bracketed words added by me for clarity]:

    “Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (2:216)

    “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.” (4:34)

    “Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors? Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.” (5:59-60)

    “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

    “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (9:29)

    “Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” (9:111)

    “Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not [a good example] in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming.” (60:4)

    If you believe these verses could mean something drastically different from what they appear to mean, read here to find out how mainstream Muslim commentators have interpreted them.

    • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma…) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse….”

    This manual defines ijma: “Scholarly consensus (ijma’) is the agreement of all the mujtahids…of the Muslims existing at one particular period after the Prophet’s death…about a particular ruling regarding a matter or event….[T]he ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [expert legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.” (pgs. 23-24) There are also specific conditions for ijma to be reached: that a number of mujtahids live concurrently, and that they all without exception agree on a conclusion which each expresses individually and explicitly.

    So, it would seem that according to this manual, in order to be a Muslim, a person must support the ijma of mujtahedin. Excerpts from Islamic manuals indicate that this ijma includes: jihad, death penalty for apostates, lower-class (dhimmi) status for non-Muslims in a Muslim state, and more. To deny any one of these, according to this manual, would constitute apostasy. It is understandable that reform efforts within Islam have not succeeded in the past 1000 years.

    • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah….”

    I have included this one to illustrate why the Islamic world has been in stagnation for about a millennium. While the Christian world embraced scientific principles and strove to discover natural laws, the Islamic world took the position that the concept of natural laws was blasphemous, because it meant that those natural laws ruled the universe rather than Allah. Recently, in a quick backpedal, Muslim apologists have been “discovering” that all of modern science is miraculously in the Quran, without providing any explanation for why Muslims are now learning science from non-Muslims. Despite the backpedalling on matters of science, Islam has somehow also retained the belief that Allah is micro-managing the universe, as shown by the frequent use of “Insha’Allah” (if Allah wills it). Nothing happens without Allah’s will.

    • Act that entails leaving Islam:“(20) … to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message…to be the religion followed by the entire world….”

    Thus, to accept other religions or non-religion as equal to Islam is to be an apostate.

    And what happens to apostates? According to this same manual, “There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (…or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).” (pg. 596) In fact, there is an Islamic practice of “takfir” which means declaring a Muslim to be an apostate. This is often used by Jihadists as an excuse to kill Muslims. It’s against Islamic Law for a Muslim to kill another Muslim, but if the intended victim is declared an apostate, suddenly it’s legal. This is what happened to Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, who was declared to be an apostate and assassinated.

    However, before rushing off to pronounce takfir on someone, it would be good to also be aware of another way to become an apostate:

    • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr)….”

    So, if Muslim A declares Muslim B to be a disbeliever, but Muslim B is in fact a believer, then Muslim A has, presto chango, made himself an unbeliever.

    Given the importance of being correct when pronouncing takfir, a Muslim’s willingness to do so is a good indication of his confidence in his position. Pronouncing takfir is also a way of marking the “line in the sand” between who is a Muslim and who is not. For this reason, it is not a good sign that currently, the most noticeable group who uses takfir to define Islam is the Islamists.

    What would let us know the Muslim world no longer advocated fascist doctrines?

    One indication that Islam has been successfully reformed and lost its fascist edge would be if and when the following acts would cause a person to be declared an apostate by all Muslim religious authorities, and all Muslim organizations would declare the following acts to be “un-Islamic”:

    • to express the belief that violent Jihad can ever, under any circumstances, be justified;
    • to express the belief that there should be any penalty whatsoever for apostates, heretics, or critics of Islam;
    • to express the belief that non-Muslims or women should be treated differently from Muslim men under the law;
    • to express the belief that every verse of the Quran (in its traditionally accepted interpretations) must be believed and taken literally as the word of Allah;
    • to express the belief that Mohammed’s actions, as recorded in the Sira and Sunnah, are to be emulated;
    • to express the belief that Islamic law should rule any land.

    As I’ve never heard of any one of these acts causing a fatwa of takfir by any prominent group of clerics, I’m not expecting this transformation to happen this week, and perhaps not ever.