One of the questions I am most often asked is “Where are the Muslim leaders denouncing terrorism in all its forms?” This question has become all the more urgent lately in light of statements such as this one from the Lebanese cleric Sheikh Maher Hammoud: “It is not the Islamic way to bomb places like the Red Cross or Iraqi police. But in principle, Ramadan is a blessed month and known as a month for jihad.” For many Muslims, that means Ramadan is a month for war — as taxi driver Abdullah Hissein put it after an American helicopter was downed in Iraq last Sunday: “We usually celebrate Ramadan at the end of the month. Now we are celebrating in the beginning after these infidel Americans were shot down.”
Urgent as it is, the search for moderate Muslims has been complicated by the behavior of Muslim groups such as the Global Relief Foundation and American military chaplain Yousef Yee. Likewise the Global Relief Foundation, a Chicago-area Muslim charity, issued a statement on December 11, 2001, urging Americans “to remember the tragedy as we unite against terrorism and disaster worldwide. . . . To forget the tragedy would be acquiescing to terror, and to the misery it brings. We will join hands and fight against terror wherever it strikes.” Global Relief even sued the U.S. government and several American news organizations, including the New York Times, for publishing stories alleging that it had ties to terrorism; however, in October 2002, however, the Foundation was placed on the United Nations list of “organizations subject to sanctions”; its assets were frozen to prevent them from going to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Yee, of course, told the media after 9/11 that the attacks were “un-Islamic and categorically denied by a great majority of Muslim scholars around the world.” But now he has been charged with attempting to give classified information to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
But radical Muslims posing as moderates just makes it all the more urgent to find some real moderates. Daniel Pipes correctly noted recently that “promoting anti-Islamists and weakening Islamists is crucial if a moderate and modern form of Islam is to emerge in the West.” Consequently I read with great interest an account in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune of the teachings of Dr. Jamal Badawi, who last Saturday gave a talk at the University of Minnesota entitled “Does Islam Promote Hate and Violence, and What Exactly is This Holy War Business?”
According to the Star Tribune, Dr. Badawi insisted that “a careful reading of the Qur’an leaves no doubt” that “Islam is a religion of peace and nonviolence.”
Well, if the world needs anything today, it needs a large — indeed, global — contingent of Muslims who believe this, are ready to act upon it, and are willing to confront radical Muslims and dispute their differing understanding of the Qur’an and the Sunna, the traditions of the Prophet.
As I am aware of some of the objections that these radicals might make to Dr. Badawi’s contention, I will raise them here. If Dr. Badawi sees this, I invite him to respond, and I assure him that I mean these questions with all respect and would love to see thoughtful and compelling answers from him. For it should be clear by now that simply to assert flatly that the Qur’an teaches peace isn’t enough: the people who really need convincing aren’t Western non-Muslims, but the radical Muslims who are convinced that it teaches violence.
The article reports Badawi as explaining that “when people quote just one Qur’anic passage they pull the meaning out of its historical context and out of the complex system of translation from Arabic to another language.”
Fair enough. Two questions:
1. Does Dr. Badawi then reject the extensive theological and legal tradition within Islam that teaches that the Muslim community must wage war against unbelievers until they convert to Islam or submit to Islamic rule? This tradition is not based just on one verse, but many, as well as upon many statements of the Prophet Muhammad and rulings of Muslim legal scholars from all four major schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence — as I explain in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers.
2. Can translations of the Qur’an and other Islamic texts made by Muslims for Muslims be trusted? Many (such as the Qur’ans of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall) contain numerous verses enjoining violent jihad. If these have a substantially different meaning in Arabic, why are they universally mistranslated?
The article quotes Dr. Badawi: “It is a common misconception, especially after the tragic events of September 11th, that the attitude of hatred and violence towards non-Muslims is embedded in Islamic sources.” He, in contrast, “contends that the Prophet Mohammed did not preach violence against people of other faiths.”
In light of the fact that many Muslims seem to hold this misconception, I would be interested to hear Badawi’s explanation of many passages of the Qur’an and Hadith. For space reasons I will ask about only one here. In a well-attested hadith, Muhammad says: “When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. . . . Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. . . . If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them” Sahih Muslim, book 19, no. 4294).
Dr. Badawi, what would you say to a Muslim who invoked this passage and others in support of the idea that Muhammad did, in fact, “preach violence against people of other faiths”?
“The challenge,” says Badawi, “is that many say that the Qur’an calls Jews and Christians infidels. It’s a term that many incorrectly translate as kafir. But infidel means someone who has no faith. How could Jews and Christians be infidels when the Qur’an is clear that they worship the one God, the God of Abraham?”
“One passage,” says the article, “often is quoted by those who say Islam is a religion of violence. It’s an exhortation to kill unbelievers wherever one finds them. [Badawi is referring to Sura 9:5.] However, Badawi says the passage refers to pagan Arabs of Mohammed’s time. ‘The verse has nothing to do with Jews and Christians,’ he said.”
Dr. Badawi, the Qur’an also 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, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Sura 9:29). The People of the Book are primarily Jews and Christians. What then would you say to a Muslim who included Jews and Christians among those who should be fought on the basis of this verse?
Again, I raise these questions seriously. I am not saying that Dr. Badawi is being dishonest or trying to mislead his hearers. Any preacher of nonviolence in a Muslim context has my support. But if he does not answer these questions, I question the effectiveness of his presentation and others like it among Muslim audiences. And they are the ones who must be convinced.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (new from Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).