Middle East studies in the News
Confused Islamic Apologetics
by Andrew G. Bostom
Dr. Eric Ormsby, a Professor of Islamic Studies at McGill University wrote a book review of Feisal Abdul Rauf's "What's Right with Islam," which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, August 4, 2004.
Ormsby's review displays the two overlapping tiers of apologetics which pervade contemporary print media presentations of Islam, distorting or fully concealing basic historical realities. The treacly apologism of Feisal Abdul Rauf and his ilk persuades only those who are devoid of any understanding of Islamic theology and history; however, the faint-hearted "critique" of Abdul Rauf provided by Professor Ormsby, is more damaging, because in the end, it serves only to further obfuscate the truth. I will support this contention by elaborating on four specific points Ormsby addresses in his review.
First, Professor Ormsby maintains, in relation to suicide bombing:
Mr. Abdul Rauf notes, rightly, that both suicide and the taking of innocent lives are expressly and unequivocally forbidden in Islamic teaching.
This statement conflates and distorts Islamic theology, and Muslim history, past and present. Professor Franz Rosenthal, the great American scholar of Islam, who, 50 years ago, translated Ibn Khaldoun's classic Introduction To History, also wrote a seminal essay entitled "On Suicide in Islam" in1946, in which he observed:
While the Qur'anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act....On the other hand, death as the result of "suicidal" missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are no[t] suicides in the proper sense of the term.1 (Emphasis added.)
That is why even clerics such as the popular Al-Jazeera personality Yusuf Al Qaradawi openly sanction murderous Palestinian homicide bomber "martyrdom" operations against innocent Israeli citizens (all of whom are considered "combatants" who obstruct the "call to Islam") during fatwa councils convened in the heart of Europe.2 The sad reality, which both Abdul Rauf and Professor Ormsby choose to deny or ignore, is that such hideous pronouncements are in fact on firm theological footing.
Second, in related statements regarding Al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism, Ormsby states further:
In a sacred tradition recounted by the medieval mystic and theologian al-Ghazali (to whom Mr. Abdul Rauf devotes some admiring pages) we read that "if a man is murdered in the East and in the West another man takes delight in the murder, both he and the murderer are partners in the crime"' Mr. Abdul Rauf doesn't mention this tradition, so dear to Sufis, but it would have strengthened his case.
It would have been helpful if Ormsby had clarified whether or not, in fact, Al-Ghazali's noble sounding sentiments applied to the murder of a non-Muslim by a Muslim. This is not a rhetorical point. Shari'a law makes clear that a non-Muslim's life is of lesser value than the life of a Muslim, both in terms of punishment for the crime of murder, and compensation to the murder victims family. And the eminent Islamic scholar W.M. Watt, who lavishes praise on Al-Ghazali, also stresses Al-Ghazali's Muslim orthodoxy:
…acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, and he is by no means unworthy of that dignity…He brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contact…the theologians became more ready to accept the mystics as respectable, while the mystics were more careful to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.3
Below is what Al-Ghazali actually wrote about jihad war, and the treatment of the vanquished non-Muslim dhimmi peoples (from the Wagjiz, written in 1101 A.D.):
…one must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year...one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of The Book – Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked…One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need...
…the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle…Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]…on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells…their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle[-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths…[dhimmis] must hold their tongue…. 4 (Emphasis added.)
Moreover, Al Ghazali's views regarding non-Muslim dhimmis – which were typical of the prevailing written opinions of Muslim theologians and jurists during the Abbasid-Baghdadian Caliphate – resulted in tangible acts of dhimmi persecution, as recorded, for example, in this contemporary chronicle from Baghdad by Obadyah the Proselyte, in 1100 A.D.:
…the Caliph of Baghdad, al-Muqtadi [1075-1094], had given power to his vizier, Abu Shuja… [who] imposed that each male Jew should wear a yellow badge on his headgear. This was one distinctive sign on the head and the other was on the neck- a piece of lead of the weight of a silver dinar hanging round the neck of every Jew and inscribed with the word dhimmi to signify that the Jew had to pay poll-tax. Jews also had to wear girdles round their wastes. Abu Shuja further imposed two signs on Jewish women. They had to wear a black and a red shoe, and each woman had to have a small brass bell on her neck or shoe, which would tinkle and thus announce the separation of Jewish from Gentile [Muslim] women. He assigned cruel Muslim men to spy upon Jewish women, in order to oppress them with all kinds of curses, humiliation, and spite. The Gentile population used to mock all the Jews, and the mob and their children used to beat up the Jews in all the streets of Baghdad…When a Jew died, who had not paid up the poll-tax [jizya] to the full and was in debt for a small or large amount, the Gentiles did not permit burial until the poll-tax was paid. If the deceased left nothing of value, the Gentiles demanded that other Jews should, with their own money, meet the debt owed by the deceased in poll-tax; otherwise they [threatened] they would burn the body.5
Simply put, the views of the much lionized Al-Ghazali are identical to those of countless classical and contemporary Muslim theologians, including Qaradawi, who justify jihad terror, including the "incidental" killing of non-combatants, and the sacralized inferiority of non-Muslims. And second tier apologists such as Ormsby also choose to not to discuss the theological realities which are at the root of the unique Islamic institution of jihad itself, expressed eloquently by the contemporary scholar Bassam Tibi:
At its core, Islam is a religious mission to all humanity. Muslims are religiously obliged to disseminate the Islamic faith throughout the world. "We have sent you forth to all mankind" (Q. 34:28). If non-Muslims submit to conversion or subjugation, this call (da'wa) can be pursued peacefully. If they do not, Muslims are obliged to wage war against them. In Islam, peace requires that non-Muslims submit to the call of Islam, either by converting or by accepting the status of a religious minority (dhimmi) and paying the imposed poll tax, jizya. World peace, the final stage of the da'wa, is reached only with the conversion or submission of all mankind to Islam…Muslims believe that expansion through war is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Qur'anic command to spread Islam as a way to peace. The resort to force to disseminate Islam is not war (harb), a word that is used only to describe the use of force by non-Muslims. Islamic wars are not hurub (the plural of harb) but rather futuhat, acts of "opening" the world to Islam and expressing Islamic jihad. Relations between dar al-Islam, the home of peace, and dar al-harb, the world of unbelievers, nevertheless take place in a state of war, according to the Qur'an and to the authoritative commentaries of Islamic jurists. Unbelievers who stand in the way, creating obstacles for the da'wa, are blamed for this state of war, for the da'wa can be pursued peacefully if others submit to it. In other words, those who resist Islam cause wars and are responsible for them. Only when Muslim power is weak is "temporary truce" (hudna) allowed (Islamic jurists differ on the definition of "temporary"). 6
Lastly, regarding this second point, it is of interest to note another fact ignored by Ormsby: Al-Ghazali's virulent misogyny. In two works, his The Revival Of The Religious Sciences and the Book of the Counsel for Kings, Al-Ghazali defines the "role" of women, warns of their guile, mischief, meanness, and immorality, and outlines what women must endure because of Eve's actions in the Garden of Eden:
She should stay at home and get on with her spinning, she should not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbours and only visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her husband and respect him in his presence and his absence and seek to satisfy him in everything; she must not cheat on him nor extort money from him; she must not leave her house without his permission and if given his permission she must leave surreptitiously. She should put on old clothes and take deserted streets and alleys, avoid markets, and make sure that a stranger does not hear her voice or recognize her; she must not speak to a friend of her husband even in need. ... Her sole worry should be her virtue, her home as well as her prayers and her fast. If a friend of her husband calls when the latter is absent she must not open the door nor reply to him in order to safeguard her and her husband's honour. She should accept what her husband gives her as sufficient sexual needs at any moment.... She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband's sexual needs at any moment.
As for the distinctive characteristics with which God on high has punished women, (the matter as follows): "When Eve ate fruit which He had forbidden to her from the tree in Paradise, the Lord, be He praised, punished women with eighteen things: (1) menstruation; (2) childbirth; (3) separation from mother and father and marriage to a stranger; (4) pregnancy; (5) not having control over her own person; (6) a lesser share in inheritance; (7) her liability to be divorced and inability to divorce; (8) its being lawful for men to have four wives, but for a woman to have only one husband; (9) the fact that she must stay secluded in the house; (10) the fact that she must keep her head covered inside the house; (11) the fact that two women's testimony has to be set against the testimony of one man; (12) the fact that she must not go out of the house unless accompanied by a near relative; (13) the fact that men take part in Friday and feast prayers and funerals, while women do not; (14) disqualification for rulership and judgeship; (15) the fact that merit has one thousand components, only one which is attributable to women, while 999 are attributable to men…."7
Third, although Professor Ormsby does offer some muted criticism of Abdul Rauf's hagiography of Muslim Spain, once again, this critique grossly understates the historical reality and the alarming depth of the distortion:
For example, he heads up a venture called the Cordoba Initiative, inspired by a rose-colored view of medieval Islamic Spain. Of Muslim Cordoba, a city of great and subtle culture but one also riven by ethnic and tribal rivalries, he writes: "For many centuries, Islam inspired a civilization that was particularly tolerant and pluralistic...Great philosophers such as Maimonides were free to create their historic works within the pluralistic culture of Islam." He sees this as a model for the future but fails to note that Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher who wrote in Arabic, had to escape Cordoba with his family when a mere teenager because of the intolerance of the Almohad Dynasty, moving first to Fez and finally settling in Cairo.
From the two greatest modern historians of Muslim Spain, Evariste Levi-Provencal8 and Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq,9 we learn the following, all of which occurred before (and thus in addition to) the 12th century Almohad persecutions alluded to by Professor Ormsby:
Iberia (Spain) was conquered in 710-716 AD by Arab tribes originating from northern, central and southern Arabia. Massive Berber and Arab immigration, and the colonization of the Iberian peninsula, followed the conquest. Most churches were converted into mosques. Although the conquest had been planned and conducted jointly with a faction of Iberian Christian dissidents, including a bishop, it proceeded as a classical jihad with massive pillages, enslavements, deportations and killings. Toledo, which had first submitted to the Arabs in 711 or 712, revolted in 713. The town was punished by pillage and all the notables had their throats cut. In 730, the Cerdagne (in Septimania, near Barcelona) was ravaged and a bishop burned alive. In the regions under stable Islamic control, Jews and Christians were tolerated as dhimmis – like elsewhere in other Islamic lands - and could not build new churches or synagogues nor restore the old ones. Segregated in special quarters, they had to wear discriminatory clothing. Subjected to heavy taxes, the Christian peasantry formed a servile class attached to the Arab domains; many abandoned their land and fled to the towns. Harsh reprisals with mutilations and crucifixions would sanction the Mozarab (Christian dhimmis) calls for help from the Christian kings. Moreover, if one dhimmi harmed a Muslim, the whole community would lose its status of protection, leaving it open to pillage, enslavement and arbitrary killing.
By the end of the eighth century, the rulers of North Africa and of Andalusia had introduced rigorous Maliki jurisprudence as the predominant school of Muslim law. Three quarters of a century ago, at a time when political correctness was not dominating historical publication and discourse, Lévi-Provençal, wrote:
The Muslim Andalusian state thus appears from its earliest origins as the defender and champion of a jealous orthodoxy, more and more ossified in a blind respect for a rigid doctrine, suspecting and condemning in advance the least effort of rational speculation.10
Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Many thousands of non-Muslim captives were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves, brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women. Society was sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, with the Arab tribes at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Berbers who were never recognized as equals, despite their Islamization; lower in the scale came the mullawadun converts and, at the very bottom, the dhimmi Christians and Jews.
The Andalusian Maliki jurist Ibn Abdun (d. 1134) offered these telling legal opinions regarding Jews and Christians in Seville around 1100 A.D.:
No…Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to [greet] them with the [expression], "Peace be upon you'. In effect, ‘Satan has gained possession of them, and caused them to forget God's warning. They are the confederates of Satan's party; Satan's confederates will surely be the losers!" (Qur'an 58:19 [modern Dawood translation]). A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace.11
Ibn Abdun also forbade the selling of scientific books to dhimmis under the pretext that they translated them and attributed them to their co-religionists and bishops. In fact, plagiarism is difficult to prove since whole Jewish and Christian libraries were looted and destroyed. Another prominent Andalusian jurist, Ibn Hazm of Cordoba (d. 1064), wrote that Allah has established the infidels' ownership of their property merely to provide booty for Muslims.12
In Granada, the Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela, and his son Joseph, who protected the Jewish community, were both assassinated between 1056 to 1066, followed by the annihilation of the Jewish population by the local Muslims. It is estimated that up to five thousand Jews perished in the pogrom by Muslims that accompanied the 1066 assassination. This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade. The Granada pogrom was likely to have been incited, in part, by the bitter anti-Jewish ode of Abu Ishaq a well known Muslim jurist and poet of the times, who wrote:
Bring them down to their place and Return them to the most abject station. They used to roam around us in tatters Covered with contempt, humiliation, and scorn. They used to rummage amongst the dungheaps for a bit of a filthy rag To serve as a shroud for a man to be buried in...Do not consider that killing them is treachery. Nay, it would be treachery to leave them scoffing." [The translator then summarizes: ‘The Jews have broken their covenant (i.e., overstepped their station, with reference to the Covenant of Umar) and compunction would be out of place.]13
Fourth, although he expresses some concern about Abdul Rauf's opinions regarding the Shari'a, Ormsby's comments devolve into muddle. Specifically, Professor Ormsby ignores the tragic impact of the Shari'a, for over thirteen centuries, on all non-Muslims and Muslim women.
Mr. Abdul Rauf's strangest and most startling views are of America, which he sees as what he calls a "Sharia compliant" nation -- that is, a nation whose underlying principles correspond to Islamic law. He bases this claim on an eccentric reading of the history of monotheism, allied with what he calls "the Abrahamic ethic." Monotheism, he holds, implies social equality, so American "democratic capitalism" is somehow inherently Islamic. I can think of no compelling logical connection between monotheism and democracy; historically, indeed, the two have rarely gone together. That America is based on the same Judeo-Christian foundations as Islam would seem to me to account for the correspondences that Mr. Abdul Rauf detects.
During ancient times, through the present era, profound discrimination against non-Muslims in the legal, sociopolitical, economic and religious domains, has persisted in Islamic societies wherever the Shari'a has been implemented. Two salient examples, one from Muslim Spain, apropos to Abdul Rauf's disingenuous "Cordoba Initiative," and the second from the modern Shari'a state of Iran, are provided below:
…by converting [to Islam], one would no longer have to be confined to a given district, or be the victim of discriminatory measures or suffer humiliations…Furthermore, the entire Islamic law tended to favor conversions. When an "infidel" became a Moslem, he immediately benefited from a complete amnesty for all of his earlier crimes, even if he had been sentenced to the death penalty, even if it was for having insulted the Prophet or blasphemed against the Word of God: his conversion acquitted him of all his faults, of all his previous sins. A legal opinion given by a mufti from al-Andalus in the ninth century is very instructive: a Christian dhimmi kidnapped and violated a Moslem woman; when he was arrested and condemned to death, he immediately converted to Islam; he was automatically pardoned, while being constrained to marry the woman and to provide for her a dowry in keeping with her status. The mufti who was consulted about the affair, perhaps by a brother of the woman, found that the court decision was perfectly legal, but specified that if that convert did not become a Moslem in good faith and secretly remained a Christian, he should be flogged, slaughtered and crucified….14
Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the leader of a Shi'ite Sufi order, wrote an "Islamic perspective" on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.15 According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian's important analysis of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh's tract became "…the core ideological work upon which the Iranian government…based its non-Muslim policy."16 It is critical to understand that Tabandeh's key views on non-Muslims, summarized below, were implemented "…almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran."17 In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims, under the Shari'a:
Thus if [a] Muslim commits adultery his punishment is 100 lashes, the shaving of his head, and one year of banishment. But if the man is not a Muslim and commits adultery with a Muslim woman his penalty is execution…Similarly if a Muslim deliberately murders another Muslim he falls under the law of retaliation and must by law be put to death by the next of kin. But if a non-Muslim who dies at the hand of a Muslim has by lifelong habit been a non-Muslim, the penalty of death is not valid. Instead the Muslim murderer must pay a fine and be punished with the lash.18
Finally, even the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam included the triumphal announcement that the Shari'a has primacy over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and included the specific proclamation that God has made the umma (Islamic community) the best nation, whose role is to "guide" humanity.21 This statement captures the indelible influence of the uniquely Islamic institutions of jihad and dhimmitude on the Shari'a, rendering sacred and permanent the notion of inequality between the community of Allah, and the infidels. Thus we can see clearly the differences between the Cairo Declaration, which sanctions the inequalities inherent in the Shari'a, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which does not refer to any religion or to the superiority of any group over another, while stressing the absolute equality of all human beings.22
However, there are hopeful signs of change, which academics like Professor Ormsby should acknowledge, and champion. A handful of intrepid Muslim intellectuals have in fact begun to break the taboos surrounding criticism of the Shari'a, and its obvious incompatibility with modern human rights standards. For example, the Senegalese jurist (and Muslim), Adama Dieng, then serving as secretary-general to the UN Commission on Human Rights, declared courageously, in 1992, that the Cairo Declaration introduced an intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women.23 And, more recently, Professor Bassam Tibi stated explicitly that a meaningfully reformed Islam must embrace the pluralistic spirit of the Western Enlightenment, and reject the anachronistic Shari'a, which is incompatible with modern human rights constructs:
...In the context of religious tolerance-and I write this as a Muslim- there can be no place in Europe for Shari'a…Shari'a is at odds with the secular identity of Europe and is diametrically opposed to secular European constitutions formulated by the people… I hold out for the superiority of common sense over religious faith (i.e., absolute religious precepts); individual human rights (i.e., not collective human rights); secular democracy based on the separation of religion from politics; a universally accepted pluralism; and a mutually accepted secular tolerance. The acceptance of these values is the foundation of a civil society….24
1. Rosenthal, Franz. "On Suicide in Islam." Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 66, pp. 243, 256.
2. "Al-Qaradhawi Speaks In Favor of Suicide Operations at an Islamic Conference in Sweden," MEMRI, July 24, 2003.
3. Watt, W.M. [Translator]. The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, Oxford, England, 1953, p. 13.
4. Al-Ghazali (d. 1111). Kitab al-Wagiz fi fiqh madhab al-imam al-Safi'i, Beirut, 1979, pp. 186, 190-91; 199-200; 202-203. [English translation by Dr. Michael Schub.]
5. Scheiber, A. "The Origins of Obadyah, the Norman Proselyte" Journal of Jewish Studies (Oxford), Vol. 5, 1954, p. 37. Obadyah the Proselyte was born in Oppido (Lucano, southern Italy). He became a priest, and later converted to Judaism around 1102 A.D., living in Constantinople, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Egypt.
6. Tibi, Bassam. "War and Peace in Islam," in The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives, edited by Terry Nardin, 1996, Princeton, N.J., pp. 129-131.
7. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, 1995, Amherst, NY, p. 300.
8. Levi-Provencal, E. Histoire de l'Espagne Musulmane, Paris, 1950, Vol. 1.
9. Dufourcq, A.D. La Vie Quotidienne dans l'Europe Medievale sous Domination Arabe, Paris, 1978; see especially chapter 1, "Les Jours de Razzia et d'Invasion."
10. Levi-Provencal, E. Histoire de l'Espagne Musulmane, p. 150.
11. Vajda, G. "À propos de la situation des Juifs et des Chrétiens à Séville au début du XIIe siècle", Revue des Études Juives, 99 (1935), pp. 127-129.
12. Arnaldez, R. "La guerre sainte selon Ibn Hazm de Courdoue," in. Etudes d'orientalism dediees a la memoire de Levi-Provencal. Paris, Vol. 2, 1962, pp. 445-59.
13. Perlmann, M. "Eleventh Century Andalusian Authors on the Jews of Granada," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 18, 1948-49, Pp. 286-87.
14. Dufourcq, A.D. La Vie Quotidienne dans l'Europe Medievale sous Domination Arabe, pp. 194,196.
15. Tabandeh, Sultanhussein. A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, English translation by F. J. Goulding, London, 1970.
16. Sanasarian, Eliz. Religious Minorities in Iran, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 173, footnote 92.
17. Sanasarian, Eliz. Religious Minorities in Iran, p. 25.
18. Tabandeh, Sultanhussein. A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, p. 17.
19. Tabandeh, Sultanhussein. A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pp. 18-19.
20. Tabandeh, Sultanhussein. A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, p. 37.
21. David Littman, "Universal Human Rights and Human Rights in Islam", Midstream 1999; Vol. 45 (February-March): Pp. 2-6.
22. A Compilation of International Instruments. Volume I: Universal Instruments (Part 1 and Part 2), New York/Geneva: UN (Centre for Human Rights), 1993-94, 5th rev. (ST/HR/I/Rev.5), pp. 418 and pp. 950.
23. Adama Dieng, Press Release (Geneva, 5 December 1991). E.CN.4/1992/SR.20, paragraphs. 17-20.
24. Bassam Tibi, "A Plea for a Reform Islam," in The End of Tolerance?, London, 2002, pp. 243-44.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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