Symposium: Islam, a Religion of Peace or War? Part I
By: Jamie Glazov
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Jamie Glazov talks to Ibn Warraq, Hussam Ayloush, As'ad AbuKhalil and Robert Spencer.

While threats of terrorist actions startle Americans as the nation rumbles forward toward war with Iraq, a crucial question surfaces: are Western security interests now threatened by militant Islam or, indeed, by Islam itself? Is the terrorism now threatening the West just headed by Muslim extremists, or is there something within Islam itself that spawns and nurtures an impending “clash of civilizations”? The debate continues to rage: is it possible for Islam to liberalize itself and live at peace with, and within, the democratic and modern world?

In this three-part series (Part II, Part III), to be run consecutively over the next three days, Frontpage Magazine is honoured and privileged to have four top-notch experts on Islam with us, albeit of very differing and diametrically opposed perspectives. It is our pleasure to welcome: Ibn Warraq, the author of  Why I am Not a Muslim; Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR); Robert Spencer, an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation and author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith; and As`ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus, and adjunct professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New War on Terrorism.

[1] Gentlemen, in this first section of the Islam Symposium, I have a feeling that, initially, there might not be a great need for me. I am going to begin with one question and then leave the floor. So let us begin: in terms of the threat that now presents itself to Western interests, and if we agree that there is a threat, does it reside in militant Islam or, ultimately, in Islam itself? Does the threat come from “extremists” or is there something inherent in Islam that is incompatible with a liberal, free and democratic society and now nurtures violence against the West?

Spencer: No one can speak for Islam as a whole. What is considered essential to Islam by one Muslim is heresy to another. The convicted terrorist conspirator Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman said: “Jihad and killing is the head of Islam. If you take it out, you cut off the head of Islam.”

Although before his imprisonment Sheikh Omar spoke at New York mosques at the invitation of Imam Siraj Wahaj, who has been a member of CAIR’s advisory board, I would expect that Mr. Ayloush would repudiate his view of Islam.Yet to justify such chilling views extremists make copious use of the Qur’an and Islamic history and tradition. Militant Muslims point to traditions of Muhammad such as this well-attested hadith: “I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection . . .”

Are the militants heretics? Maybe, but they represent an Islamic tradition that is just as old and legitimate than peaceful Islam -- if not more so.

AbuKhalil: Spencer (whose book I read and did not enjoy) never fails to show the extent of his ignorance about Islam, and more.  He cites for his knowledge of Islam either Western journalists or a fanatic cleric in a jail in the US. This is akin to establishing David Koresh or Ted Bundy as authorities on Christian theology. 

It is important to stress the following: none of the three religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) has clean hands in terms of absolute peace and equality (certainly not gender equality). The religion that has the bloodiest records (in actuality and deeds and in verse) is without a question Christianity. Spencer cannot expect to bash Islam and expect that the Christian record not be scrutinized with his same brush.  As for the question, people are equal around the world: and there are fanatics in every religion, and even among the secular humanists (a group to which I proudly belong).  It is time that we recognize that each group and nation has its share of kooks, crazies, and terrorists, and that the fact should not be blamed on an entire religion, or people or culture.

Spencer: Omar Abdel Rahman was a professor at the prestigious and important Al-Azhar university; I am not aware that David Koresh or Ted Bundy ever attained to such a position of influence. As for “Western journalists,” I rely on Muslim sources such as Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Taymiyya, Muhammad Muhsin Khan, S. K. Malik, and Sa’id Raja’i-Khorassani. Perhaps Mr. AbuKhalil would like to supply the names of the Western journals they worked for? Stooping to ad hominem attacks is the easy refuge of a man whose ideas are bankrupt. Let us rather stick to the issue at hand.

It is likewise specious and deceptive to try to defend Islam by defaming Christianity, and to try to tar Christianity with responsibility for the crimes of secular humanist regimes like Hitler’s and Stalin’s. The fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity is that only Islam has a tradition and doctrine that sanctions war against unbelievers. Only Islam has an entire institution of war and violence elaborated and endorsed by the greatest Muslim theologians and jurists from classical Islam to the present day. The Maliki jurist Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani said: “Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. . . . [Non-Muslims] have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them.” As’ad, show me where this doctrine has been renounced by any major Islamic sect, as Christians of all sects have renounced the theology of the Crusades. You cannot do so, because this is still part of Islam.

AbuKhalil: Spencer, again, never misses an opportunity to reveal his ignorance of matters Islamic. The fanatic cleric `Abdul-Rahman was not a professor at Al-Azhar: he taught for a while at a regional branch affiliated in name only with AlAzhar, and as soon as his views and extremism were revealed, he was soon sacked by the religious authorities. 

So while the authoriative AlAzhar administration decided that `Abdul-Rahman does not represent Islam, Spencer, who has no authoritative position among Muslims, insists that `Abdul-Rahman represents all of Islam, and all Muslims.  Not a single demonstration has been held by Muslims in support of `Abdul-Rahman.  Spencer is more obsessed with him than most Muslims for some reason.  Stalin was secular, but not Hitler. Hitler considered himself a Christian although he disagreed with some church institutions.  But more importantly, Spencer may be on to something here: he is now telling us that the Catholic Church, and the Popes of the Crusades, institutional anti-Semitism, Witch Hunts (which killed between 3 to 9 million), and Thomist theory of Just (read Christian) wars were all led by Secular Humanism. Spencer is being either dishonest or simply ignorant (again) when he suggests that Christianity did not have a doctrine of that sanctions war against unbelievers. Go read Thomas Aquinas and then come back to continue the debate. 

Spencer:  Here are the words of a former student and professor at Al Azhar who has now converted to Christianity and lives under an assumed name to avoid Islamic law's death sentence on apostates: "Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman taught me the subject 'Qur'an commentary' in Al-Azhar University. He left his job at the university to lead the two organizations 'Jihad' and 'Gamaa al-Islamia.'"

It is only careless reading that would make anyone think that I said that "al-Rahman represents all of Islam, and all Muslims." I am only saying that he represents a broad tradition in Islam, as does the current Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, who said that a suicide bombing that killed innocent bystanders was "a legitimate act according to religious law, and an Islamic commandment." An extreme view that virtually all Muslims reject? Great, As'ad! But when recruitment began for suicide bombers recently at the University of Alexandria in Egypt, 2,000 students signed up.

I will not bother answering this absurd business about the Catholic Church, which As'ad greatly exaggerates anyway. Only a fool or a liar would think that I asserted that secular humanism was responsible for the Church's sins, or that Hitler's explicitly pagan ideology was in any sense Christian.

It is simply specious to try to defend Islam by defaming Christianity. Here is the difference between Christian and Muslim extremism: Jerry Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist. He killed no one and called for no killing. In response, eight people were killed and 90 hurt in riots in India, and an Iranian official called for Falwell’s death. All involved invoked Islam.

Likewise the difference between Osama and Hitler or Karadzic is that Nazism was explicitly anti-Christian; it didn’t (and couldn’t) quote Christian Scripture to justify its actions. Karadzic is a nationalist; he targeted Christian Croats as well as Bosnian Muslims. In contrast, Muslim terrorists quote the Qur’an and Hadith and justify themselves by reference to Islamic theology.

When a man as eminent as Iran’s former UN Ambassador Sa’id Raja’i-Khorassani can say that the idea of human rights is a “Judeo-Christian invention” foreign to Islam, it does no good to dismiss this as a minority view. Why are these “extreme” views in power not just in Iran, but all over the Islamic world? Muslim moderates need to show plainly why this “extreme” Islam is illegitimate -- not to convince Westerners, but their fellow Muslims who are falling prey to this “extremism” in large numbers.

Ayloush: I think it would be important to say, at this point, that defaming other people’s religion is against Islam’s teachings. All extremists manipulate religion to fit their agenda of hatred. And yes, even Hitler claimed a Christian authority for his views. In a speech (Ref.: Oxford University Press), Hitler said: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them…”

As a Muslim, I know that this does not, in anyway, represent the teachings of our beloved Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). But it shows that no religion should be judged by the deviation of the few.

Islam, Christianity, and all other religions can co-exist peacefully, when the true followers stop tolerating the few haters among them. There is no room for those who try to negate the goodness in people who are different than us. I am a Muslim who studied Islam. I also learned about Christianity and Judaism from my many years as a young student at a Protestant private school and from my many Christian friends and relatives. And I learned that there is much more in common among all of us than both Bin Laden or Spencer would like us to believe!

Now, in terms of terrorism, I think that it is important to recognize that there is a growing threat, but not to Western interests alone -- but to the whole world. That threat is the rise in religious extremism. Hindu extremism in India, Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East, Jewish extremism in Israel, Christian extremism in Serbia and even in the U.S. 

Extremism is not unique to any particular religion. In December of 1999 the United Nations released a report which outlined a significant rise in religious extremism and intolerance throughout the world. “No religion is free from extremism,” stated the 23-page report. It added that religious intolerance should be viewed in the larger context of the economic, social and political conditions that foster it.  The study points out that “it is important to distinguish between such extremists using Islam for political purposes, who are in fact in the minority, and the majority of Muslims practicing Islam in accordance with the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination.”

Islam does not bear the responsibility of the actions by the extremists any more than Christianity bears the responsibility for Holocaust or for the genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.  Both actions carried significant religious overtones and were supported and cheered on by millions Christians.

Warraq:  For Mr. Ayloush, all religious extremism is of the same nature and fostered by economic and political conditions. Hindu, Jewish, and Christian fundamentalists have been responsible for acts of violence but these have been confined to particular countries. Islamic fundamentalism has global aspirations: the submission of the entire world to the all-embracing Sharia, Islamic Law. Nor do Hindus or Jews seek to convert the world to their religion. Christians do indulge in proselytism but do not use  international terrorism to achieve their aims.

Yes, the monotheist religions have been responsible for much violence in contrast to Buddhism. But Islam has not been subjected to the same soul-searching that Christianity has. Second, violence is intrinsic to Islam, reflected in the bloody campaigns and massacres of the Prophet Muhammad, and enshrined in the verses of the Sword in the Koran.

When Muslims commit acts of violence they are acting canonically, because the Quran and the  Hadith, the defining texts of Islam, and the Jurists tells them to. There is no difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism When Christians act violently they do so despite the teachings of Jesus which clearly preach tolerance, peace, and enjoin turning the other cheek.

What has the death of 150,000 people murdered by Islamists in Algeria  since 1992 got to do with U.S. foreign policy, or poverty ? Are extremists using Islam for political purposes? There is no such distinction as political and non-political in Islam, which has jurisdiction over an individual’s entire life.

AbuKhalil: First of all, in terms of Mr. Warraq, I feel silly replying to a person using a fictitious name in the US, where we are supposed to be free of religious persecution. Be that as it may: again, no religion has clean hands, and it will please me to no end if the world is ridden of all religions, all of them, not one of them. 

We secular humanists and antitheists object to religion on philosophical grounds; but to complain about one religion but not others is either religious fanaticism or bigotry or both. I am baffled by those who are selectively secular or selectively liberal: they are bothered by the religion of one group, but not by others. As for the Christian records: the millions who died in the last century were killed by governments and people who belonged not to Islam, but to the world of the Christian West. As for saying that peace is the message of Christianity: I must remind you that many in the US government would disagree, and Jerry Falwell has not killed (although he may have inspired those who attack abortion clinics, non-peacefully), but other Christians have killed.

Warraq:  Mr. AbuKhalil has only to read my book, Why I am Not A Muslim, to see that I am critical of ALL religions, particularly the monotheistic ones. In fact this is one of the reasons that it is NOT a best-seller, where anti-Islamic books written by Christians are. It is also clear from all my writings that I am a secular humanist  who advocates a clear separation of church and state. Christian have indeed killed but as I have already said , this despite the teachings of Christ, whereas  Muslims waging Jihad are killing in the name of God with AMPLE justification from
the Koran, Hadith and Sunna.

I would also like to say that I find Mr. AbuKhalil´s tone aggressive and offensive, with a tendency to reduce every argument to personal insults. Moreover, ALL my close family members remain Muslim, and I say this in the preface of my first book. My brother is the gentlest of all men that I know, he would not dream of hurting a fly. So I do not believe that all Muslims are homicidal maniacs. I said in a statement that I wrote after 9/11 (see www.secularism.org) that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that protection of Muslims should be increased. But I also pointed out that while
there were moderate Muslims, ISLAM itself was not moderate; there was only a difference of degree between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism , not of kind .

Spencer: Muslim fanatics murdered the Muslim “heretic” Rashad Khalifa in Arizona in 1990. Ibn Warraq knows what he’s up against.

The idea that fanaticism in all religions is equivalent is absurd. You see how you have to stretch to associate Falwell with killing; it’s unfortunately much easier to associate Muslim “extremists” with killing because these radicals work from the traditional teachings of Islam that preach war and violence.

The historical “mainstream” view of jihad is articulated by the great Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya. He agrees with the other schools of Sunni jurisprudence: “Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight,. . . they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g. by propaganda) and acts (e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).”

This is an elaboration of Muhammad’s words in a strong Hadith from Muslim, Bukhari, and Abu Dawud: “I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) . . . And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf . . .” There is no doctrine remotely like this in Christianity or any other religion besides Islam.

Ayloush:  Islam is not a pacifist religion. It requires its followers to defend themselves and all humanity against oppression, regardless who the aggressors might be. Even this “just war” is regulated by strict rules of conduct. 

The Qur'an says: 

 "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not do aggression, for God loves not the aggressors." (2:190)

“O you who believe, be persistently standing firm for God, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear God; indeed God is acquainted with what you do” (5:8)

As for Jews and Christians, Islam grants them a special status and calls them People of the Book because we believe that we all worship the same god, God of Abraham. We also believe in the same line of prophets and scriptures. After more than 14 centuries of Muslim rule over the Middle East, millions of Christians still share the same towns and villages with their Muslim brethren in mutual brotherhood and respect. The rare exceptions that happen impact all religious communities, equally. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who was also married to a Christian and a Jew, said: “Whoever harms a Christian or a Jew, it would be as if he has harmed me.”

AbuKhalil:  Notice that Spencer relies on that discredited school of Classical Orientalism: he wants to cite Ibn Taymiyyah (no mainstream view by any chance) to explain Muslims of the 21st century.  Do Christians today go to seek what St. Augustine had to say about heathens to govern their foreign policy? 

The Islamic past haunts Spencer much more than it does contemporary Muslims. As for what Jihad means: I have a whole section in my recent book (Bin Laden, Islam, and America's "New War on Terrorism") in which I show that the concept has had multiple meanings, beyond that of military combat, and that only fanatics like Bin Laden and anti-Muslims voices (like Spencer) insist that Jihad only means "Holy War." And the book was published in Arabic and I was not killed by Muslim fanatics for my secular views.  (I think that I am still alive, although Spencer may quote a medieval Muslim theologian from the 10th century to prove that I am in fact dead). That is his method.

And for Warraq, does he expect me to give him an award for kindly conceding that indeed not all Muslims are terrorists.  This is akin to anti-Semite who declares that he/she is not against all Jews.  That was exactly what Hitler’s foreign minister, Von Ribbentrop, stated during the Nuremberg Trial.

Spencer: I could quote dozens of authorities advocating jihad, ranging from the beginning of Islam to the present, and AbuKhalil would fasten on any one I chose to say that I am not quoting mainstream views. Actually, As’ad, there are Christians who still read St. Augustine, just as there are still Muslims who read Ibn Taymiyya and other authorities who advocate violent jihad. S. K. Malik’s book arguing that the Qur’an teaches that Muslims should wage war against unbelievers was published in Pakistan in 1979. Pakistan’s President Zia-ul-Haq said that it explained “the ONLY pattern of war” that a Muslim country could legitimately wage. Yeah yeah, I know: a marginal view. He was just the President, after all.

You are correct, of course, that jihad has many meanings beyond that of military combat. But if you think that jihad never has had or does not now have a meaning involving blood and violence, then you are missing, or trying to mislead Americans into missing, a huge element of Islamic history and the contemporary scene.

Ayloush: No religion should be judged through a selective reading of its scripture. And in every scripture, extremists can find justification for any of their act. See how the following Bible verses were used to justify the Crusades and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Christians and Muslims, the inquisitions, the enslavement and lynching of Black Africans, the blessing of Nazi German soldiers, the Apartheid in South Africa, the Catholic-Protestant pogrom cycle in Europe, and the bombing of abortion clinics? All in the false name of Jesus or God.

In Matthew 10:34 Jesus says: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth...but a sword.”

Ezekiel 9:6 “slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women”

Leviticus 25:44-46: “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you “you may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession for ever;”

Of course we Muslims do not judge Christianity or Judaism by those acts, but rather by our belief in the overall message of peace of the revered prophets Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them). Similarly, Islam should be judged by its message of justice and equality as followed by most of its 1.3 billion followers. I invite your readers to first read the whole Qur’an, without the biases of Islamophobic commentators.

Warraq: While only a small number of Christian fundamentalists believe that the Bible is literally the word of God, ALL Muslims believe that the Koran is the very word of God. While most Christians have no problem in rejecting the barbaric verses from the Bible, Muslims cannot reject the barbaric verses, of which there are hundreds, of the Koran quite so easily.

Moreover, the Koran is one of the fundamental sources of the Sharia, Islamic Law, hence the Koran is the source of barbaric punishments (amputation, crucifixion, immurement), the inferior status of women (inheritance, men can beat them, etc.), virulent anti-Semitism, hatred of non-Muslims, and Jihad, in the military sense (kill the infidels wherever you find them).

The theory and practice of Jihad, in the military sense was derived by the Classical Muslim theologians from the Koran; eminent Muslim thinkers like Ibn Tamiyyah , Averroes , and Ibn Khaldun , and not some fringe group refer constantly to the Koran for the justification of Jihad, Holy (and bloody) War. Though there are three verses that preach tolerance, they have been abrogated by the verses of the Sword that advocate the killing of non-Muslims.

Finally, it was the  reading of the Koran when I was still a Muslim that made me realize what a barbaric book it was, and made me an apostate.

AbuKhalil: Good for you for reaching any conclusion that you want. I must confess, however, that you (and I have read your book and Spencer's book) you treat Muslims the way anti-Semites treat Jews: you think that Muslims constitute a monolithic group, and it is of course silly to argue that "all Muslims" think of the Qur'an as the word of God and act accordingly. 

If you believe that, then you must believe that every Muslim is now looking for a pagan to kill, or that every Muslim engages in the beating of his wife (following that line in Surat An-Nisa'). In reality, people (of every religion) react to their holy text, whether it is the word of God or prophet, with much more flexibility. There is an injunction in the Quran permitting Mut'ah (temporary) marriage, although Sunnis abolished it a few years after Muhammad's death. The disturbing, intolerant, and exclusivist elements of the three holy religions are only believed and followed by the militant fanatics, that Spencer and Warraq insist are representatives of all world Muslims.

Spencer: As'ad, I recommend you take a course in reading comprehension. I have never written or said that militant fanatics are representative of all world Muslims. What I am saying is about principles: the Qur'an, as you seem to be admitting, is full of ingredients that can lead to militant and murderous fanaticism.

Until that fact is faced and the Qur'an and Sunna are re-evaluated on a massive scale, murderous fanaticism will be a part of Islam, and not a small, insignificant part either. If you can eradicate it, I will applaud. But I don't think you will be able to do so.

Thus, the difference between the Qur'an's "slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" (Sura 9:5) and the Bible verses he quotes is that in Islam, violence is not justified by twisting a few scattered verses; instead, it's enshrined in tradition and theology.

Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, translator of the Hadith collection Sahih Bukhari, explains that the Qur'an's violent verses actually take precedence over its peaceful ones: "At first 'the fighting' was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory." S. K. Malik in The Qur'anic Concept of War explains that Allah gave Muslims "a divine command making war a religious obligation for the faithful." All four schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence -- Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali -- teach an elaborate doctrine of jihad that sanctions killing in the name of Islam. Said the great Muslim jurist, philosopher, and historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406): "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations."

Are all these Muslims "Islamophobes"? Islam has an established tradition of Qur'an interpretation that allows modern Muslims to think themselves justified in committing acts of violence in the name of the religion. Christianity has no comparable tradition.

AbuKhalil: Spencer is so ignorant of the subject matter that he cannot distinguish between an authoritative source, and a source that most Muslims have not even heard of. I will shock Spencer: most Muslims do not fall on the Qur'an or Hadith to guide their daily lives; they do not look for a passage every day, and act upon it.

Just as Jews and Christians do not look up passages in the Old Testament to start their days. Those passages that Spencer cites are in no way more scary or horrific than some passages in Old Testament. Those passages are relevant only in so far as people may study them in a historic context, although kooks like Bin Laden (and the kooks exist everywhere unfortunately) may exploit those passages to their ends. Fortunately, Bin Laden has failed miserably to inspiring anybody besides his small group of fanatic who are on the run. All his appeals of mass Arab and Muslim demonstrations on his behalf were ignored.

Spencer: As’ad, I am shocked, shocked, to hear that Muslims are not guided by the Qur’an and Hadith. Actually, however, I knew this already, since most Muslims live ordinary lives and do not take seriously the exhortations to blood and violence that are in those books. But the question at hand is “is there something inherent in Islam itself that is incompatible with a liberal, free and democratic society”? I have shown that there is, and it is not a few scattered verses cherry-picked out of the Qur’an, but rather a long, developed, and precisely articulated doctrine and tradition of violent jihad against non-Muslims.

I may be ignorant, but I’m not so far gone as to let you throw sand in my eyes about the extent of terrorism in the Islamic world. Bin Laden may be a kook who hasn’t inspired anybody, but what about Jaffar Umar Thalib and his Laskar Jihad organization in Indonesia, which has murdered 10,000 Christians? What about Hamas, which has proclaimed “Jihad until either victory or martyrdom” and killed untold numbers? What about the Finsbury Park mosque in Britain (the shoe bomber’s mosque), where weapons and chemical warfare protection gear was found?

What about terror groups worldwide like the Abu Nidal organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group, Ahl-e-Hadees, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Al-Ittihad al-Islami, Armed Islamic Movement, ‘Asbat al-Ansar, Fighting Islamic Group, Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Muslim Brotherhood, and all the rest? All kooks? All of them devoted to Islam and yet getting it tragically wrong? Come on.

AbuKhalil: The groups you list are ones identified by the US government, which seems to be only concerned with violence and terrorism perpetrated by Muslim and Arab groups. If we can agree that killing of innocent people is terrorism (that is my definition anyway) then Israel and Hamas have both engaged in terrorism, although Israel has killed far more innocent Palestinians than vice versa. Yet, never has Israeli killing of Palestinians (which receives no shortage of Jewish religious support by many in Israel, especially the religious fundamentalist parties which are ever present in every Israel cabinet) been described as "Jewish terrorism."  Similarly, is the horrific terrorism of IRA "Catholic terrorism" or is it simply terrorism with no religious label?

Spencer: Go ahead As’ad. Call it Catholic terrorism. Now find me another example of it beyond the IRA. Instead, you’ll find the Pope and all Catholic tradition against it. Yet in Islam I have named for you dozens of groups that commit violence in the name of Islam, and I could name dozens more. And you will find no voice -- not a single one beyond the Sufis that are considered heretical and persecuted by their fellow Muslims in many countries -- repudiating the doctrine of jihad that has inspired this Muslim violence since the beginning of Islam and still does today. I asked you to name one Muslim authority who has repudiated violent jihad before and you didn’t, because you can’t. Jihad in the sense of waging war against unbelievers, giving them the choice of conversion, death, or submission, has been part of Islamic theology since the prophet Muhammad set out these three choices (Sahih Muslim 4294) and probably always will be.

AbuKhalil: Let me give you examples of Muslims rejecting Jihad: in 1991 Saddam declared Jihad on the US, and everybody (religious and lay people alike) ignored him altogether. Bin Laden and his kooks are declaring worldwide Jihad on the US every other week, it seems, and they are ignored. A statement by the most prominent Muslim (fundamentalist and less fundamentalist) thinkers, Muftis, Qadis, and writers from the Arab world was issued days after Sep. 11 (printed in Al-Quds Al-`Arabi newspaper and typically ignored by the US press because they did not appear on MSNBC or Oprah) condemned the theological arguments of Bin Laden. 

As for as Christian support for war, Billy Graham (an anti-Semite himself as we learn from the Nixon White House tapes, and if Ibn Al Warraq cares about anti-Semitism (as he is oblivious to anti-Islamism) he should condemn him) has never met a US war that he did not bless.  Some 63 percent of the US public (and many are Christians) are supporting the impending war on Iraq, and in Israel many Jewish religious authorities participate in the chants "Death to the Arabs," which is almost a popular song in Israeli politics.

Spencer: Once again, As’ad, you are refusing to face the issue at hand. I didn't ask you to give me an example of Muslims rejecting a particular call to jihad. They may have rejected bin Laden's call because they believe he lacks authority to call a jihad in the absence of a caliph, or because they believe that the objective situation doesn't call for a jihad at this time. But their rejection of Osama does absolutely nothing to establish what I asked you to establish: that they reject violent jihad in principle. That they reject violence as part of Islam. That they do not believe that it is part of Islam's mission to convert, kill, or subdue unbelievers, as the Prophet Muhammad commanded. You still have not, and will not, bring forth an example of a major Muslim leader doing that.

You will not because you cannot. You can find some who interprets it defensively (although the defensive situation is interpreted quite creatively), and who hedges it around in various other ways, but it is so firmly rooted in the Qur'an and Hadith that you can't find a significant Muslim tradition outside of the persecuted Sufis that discards it altogether.

Likewise in regard to Billy Graham and support for war, none of that establishes that there is anything inherent in Christianity that makes war on unbelievers part of the Christian's religious responsibility. Of course there is no such thing in Christianity, but there is in Islam. Thank God that many Muslims do not take it seriously, as you repeatedly and vehemently point out. But non-Muslims should not rest easy until this doctrine is actually removed from Islam.

Ayloush: Spencer’s attempt to portray Islam as on a mission to kill or convert non-Muslims reflects either his hopeless ignorance or more sadly, his unrepentant Islamophobia. His favorite tactic is the out-of-context quoting of sentences from Islamic texts.

Islam’s relationship with non-Muslims has been guided by Qur’anic verses such as:

“There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)

“God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just.” (60:8)

More importantly, Islam’s long history of tolerance speaks for itself. If Islam’s goal is to kill or convert non-Muslims then why is it that after over 700 years of Muslim rule, India is still 80% Hindu? Or why is it that Jews fled the European persecution of many centuries to live under Muslim rule in Spain in what they described as the “Golden Age of Judaism”? Or why is it that most Eastern Christians chose to fight on the side of their Muslim brethren against the invading Crusaders? Or why is it that tens of millions of Christians still live in peace in the Muslim world after over 1400 years of Muslim rule?

It took European colonists only few decades to wipe out the Natives in America; why couldn’t Muslims do it in 1400 years? The answer is because Islam’s goal is to free people from oppression and give them the God-given right to freely practice their respective religion and live with dignity as human beings, irrespective of their race, religion, or their economic status.

Mr. Spencer, this is Islam as most Muslims understand and follow.

Spencer: Is “out of context” the best you can do? Here’s some context for you. Muslim authorities throughout history have maintained that violent jihad is part of the Muslim community’s responsibility. They explain it this way:

Sura 9:29 says: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] until they pay the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”.

This is the triple choice: conversion, death, or submission. This verse comes from Sura At-Tawba, the last sura revealed. If any verse contradicts it,  Sura 9:29 must be given precedence because the sura from which it comes is the Qur’an’s last word on the subject. Even if the tolerance verses aren’t cancelled according to the Muslim principle of abrogation (naskh), the tolerant verses such as those you quote must be understood in light of Sura 9.

I didn’t make up this interpretation. It comes from respected Islamic authorities: Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, and innumerable other classic and respected Qur’an commentaries. And they were working from the Muhammad’s amplification of the triple alternative for unbelievers -- conversion, death, or submission -- in a strong Hadith in Sahih Muslim (4294).

You say, “If Islam’s goal is to kill or convert non-Muslims . . .” leaving out the third choice: submission. Yet that answers your question. When dealing with huge populations such as the Hindus, Muslims historically have taken this route. The Muslim record in India is one of continuing repression and humiliation of Hindus; hence the ongoing tensions between the communities today. And as for Jews and Christians living in peace in the Muslim world, they also tasted the meaning of the third alternative, submission.

Mr. Ayloush, you know full well that the Sharia teaches (in accordance with Muhammad’s triple alternative) that Jews and Christians cannot and should not be treated equal to Muslims anywhere in the Muslim world. Mr. Ayloush, tell us about the racist concept in Islamic law that labels Jews and Christians dhimmis and subjects them to humiliating regulations and the constant threat of persecution if they get out of line. Jews and Christians never were and never can be equal to Muslims under Islamic law.

If Islam’s goal is “to free people from oppression,” why didn’t you mention the thriving ancient Christian communities of Asia Minor or North Africa? Ooops -- they were wiped out. Why are Christians today fleeing their ancestral homelands in the Middle East as fast as they can? I’m glad that, as you say, most Muslims have rejected all this, but I’d like to see some Muslim authorities on record doing so, and on record renouncing and apologizing for jihad and dhimmitude. Come on, Mr. Ayloush, let’s have some real engagement with the issues. Calling me names doesn’t answer these points.

Ayloush:  Yes, Mr. Spencer, historical context is extremely important. In fact, those who are knowledgeable about Islam can explain to you that there is a whole science in Islam called the revelation context (Asbab An-Nuzool) in which the history, timing, and occasion of each verse is explained. Without this knowledge, no scholar would be able to interpret the Qur’an correctly.  Each of the over 6000 verses in the Qur’an represents a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad. Over 23 years, the revelation dealt with various topics from establishing the belief system of monotheism, to promoting moral values, to challenging common unjust cultural behaviors, to teaching lessons about previous prophets and nations, and to providing guidance and orders on actions required by Muslims in face of changing political and social environment. 

For example, when monotheism was first preached by Muhammad, Arab idol worshippers only put psychological pressure. So the Qur’anic verses (God’s revelation) ordered Muslims to persevere and remain in Makkah (Mecca). Later, when the pressure turned violent, the verses ordered Muslims to migrate to Madinah. When the Jewish tribes in Madinah made an alliance with Muslims, the new revealed verses ordered Muslims to uphold their agreement and treat Jews with respect and fairness. When one of the Jewish tribes broke the agreement and provided support to enemy invaders, the new verses commanded Muslims only to be fair and punish the guilty Jewish tribe and not all other Jewish tribes. And similarly, Muslims were ordered to uphold their treaties with pagans until the pagans broke them by an attack on innocent Muslims. Then a new revelation came from God giving permission to Muslims to seek justice, etc.

All those exceptional situations required a respective exceptional response. It is preposterous for a verse about fighting in self-defense against an aggressor to be twisted and applied in a peaceful situation against another innocent people. Only extremists such as Mr. Spencer or people from Al-Qaeda would promote such a twist. The normal relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is governed by the verses mentioned before and:

“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of God, is the best in conduct.” (49:13)

Spencer: You lecture me about context, but in my previous comment, I just finished giving you some context from respected Muslim commentators that you ignore. But that is ok, the attentive reader will notice.

Interlocutor: Gentlemen, forgive me, we are out of time for this first part of our dialogue on Islam. I would like to get into some more specific issues, concerning women in the Muslim world, the possibility of democracy etc., in Part II, in the next issue of Frontpagemag.com. So we will see you very soon, Ibn Warraq, Hussam Ayloush, Robert Spencer, and As`ad AbuKhalil. You have been most kind to join us. Take care for now.

To see Part II of the Islam Symposium, CLICK HERE

To see Part III of the Islam Symposium, CLICK HERE


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.