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Islam Symposium Part III: The Right to Dissent, Comedy and the Burqa By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 06, 2003

Welcome back to our Islam Symposium. In the first two parts (Part I, Part II) of this three part series, our guests debated whether Islam is a religion of peace or war and whether or not it is compatible with personal choice and democratic rights. Today, we finish by discussing the right of political dissent, the apparent lack of comedy and self-mockery in Islamic civilization, and the roots and meaning of the burqa.

Once again, joining us are: 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.

[4] Could the hypothetical “liberal” Muslim society I suggest allow a political party whose main purpose is to celebrate human nudity and to simultaneously denounce and mock the Islamic religion? Could a person just stand in a permitted public space and make speeches about the Qur’an being fictitious? Could he do this without any fear of persecution by the authorities? Could there be high-profile intellectuals, like Noam Chomsky, bell hooks, Cornell West etc in America, who dedicate their entire lives to completely rejecting the values of their own Muslim society and, far from being punished, win tremendous material and cultural rewards for doing so?

Warraq: You are simply asking: will Islamic societies eventually become as free as American society with its extraordinary tolerance of every kind of  life style, and its absolute freedom of expression. Obviously not in the short term, but there are human rights organisations in the Islamic world which are fighting very courageously for exactly the same rights we enjoy and appreciate in the West. I am optimistic.

AbuKhalil: Typically, the West, whatever it means, is taken as the paradise of freedom, although places vary in freedoms in the Wset, with Sweden and Denmark, for example, having more freedom than other countries. But in the U.S., there was a woman who was recently Exposing herself publicly. Should we take up her case as an example of persecution? Or that only occurs if the persecutors are in Muslim countries?

Again, people argue these positions with little awareness of the history of Islamic civilization. I do not deny that in today's Muslim world there exists a severe condition of political oppression, largely for political reasons, and not for some cultural or religious reasons. 

In the history of Islam, there were thinkers (Ibn Al-Muqaffa', AlHallaj, Ibn Rushd, Ibn AlRiwandi, and in 20th century, AlAzm, AzZahawi, Hadi Al-Alwi, etc) who were free thinkers in every way.  I, modestly, speaking, wrote scathing and mocking articles against fundamentalism and religiosity in Arabic, and I still travel in the Arab world. 

It is more dangerous to criticize royal families, than to criticize religion in many cases.  Just recently, the pro-American government of Jordan placed three journalists on trial because they discussed openly Muhammad's sexual life. This was a political decision (and it did not bother the US government, as long as US troops are allowed there).  Islamic past, I am afraid, was more open than the presence, although cases of persecution existed.  At least, people openly debated theology, and in pro-US Saudi Arabia you cannot do that. Note how many oppressive government is now protected by the US, which makes the US culpable in Arab oppression. 

Spencer: As'ad, you missed again! The question here was not about American policy. Free thinkers have always been under pressure in Islamic societies -- except for times when they became relaxed about Islamic orthodoxy. Why was Al-Azm, the "Apostate of Damascus," imprisoned? Why did Hadi Al-Alwi die in exile? I'm glad that you can travel freely in the Arab world. But the question is: is that because of Islamic law, or in spite of it?

AbuKhalil: Al-Azm of Damascus, a friend of mine, is a courageous atheist and secularist, and he is not in prison. Spencer: please update your information, and try to use more current sources. He still writes, and recently publicly signed a petition asking Saddam to reign from power. And the man is not in jail.

Spencer: As'ad, do you really expect to get away with this kind of dishonesty and distortion? I didn't say that Al-Azm was in prison now. I asked why he was imprisoned. Or are you denying that he was ever in prison? And would you care to explain to us why he was in prison? For publishing a book in 1969 that was critical of Islamic orthodoxy. In "secular" Syria! Do you deny all this?

Ayloush: Islam considers freedom of speech not only a right, but rather a duty upon every human being. It is a religious duty upon those who have the argument, the knowledge or the understanding to speak up to challenge religious, political, or social behavior, interpretation, or implementation deemed incorrect or unfair. This culture of debate has filled the Islamic libraries with thousands of volumes on all types of controversial issues dealing with all aspects of Islam, science, art and philosophy, over the last 14 centuries.  

It was this openness in the Muslim world that preserved, expanded and delivered to the rest of the world the Greek and Roman art, science, and philosophy after it was deemed un-godly and ordered destroyed by the Europeans. At the time when scientists and philosophers were charged with blasphemy in the Dark Ages of Europe, their counterparts were receiving generous grants and admiration for their work in the Muslim world, for centuries and centuries. 

However, I have to admit that in recent history, many parts of the Muslim world have sunk in a modern social and intellectual dark age, in spite of Islam. This is the result of many years of colonialists and undemocratic governments trying to suppress any dissent or free-thinking in those societies. Fortunately, this cycle is in its declining phase as Islam’s true values are re-emerging to challenge extremism, intolerance, and hopelessness. 

[5] Is it just a misperception that laughter, comedy and frivolity seem to be conspicuously lacking in much of the Arab Muslim world? Why is it difficult, for instance, to imagine a stand-up comedy club, like on BET comedy, in an Arab Muslim society, with an Arab Muslim woman on stage cracking “inappropriate” jokes and shocking people -- and everyone in the audience is roaring with laughter? Why is this scenario difficult to picture? And what does this mean? Do we agree that humor, and the freedom to exercize it in creative, spontaneous, bold, daring and even shocking ways, is connected not only to the beauty of life, but also to the importance of true democratic freedom?

AbuKhalil: Nobody who reads Arabic can make such generalizations. Jokes are such a weapons of opposition that Nasser of Egypt after 67 warned against jokes, and so did tyrant Saddam.  Jokes against Saddam and other tyrants abound in the Middle East, in secrecy and in the open, and many writers and comedians suffered due to their open mocking of political conditions. Egypt is widely known for that, and the foremost Egyptian Arab comedian `Adil Imam devoted a whole movie (The Terrorist) to mock the personality of the Islamic fundamentalist activist.  Please, before judging Arabs and Muslims, learn a little bit about them.

Interlocutor: Prof. AbuKhalil, obviously I am aware that all people all over the world tell jokes and have humor – including Muslim Arabs. The question is why a form of frivolity and spontaneous and daring fun appears to be missing as a visible cultural phenomenon in much of the Arab Muslim world. So I ask again: why is it difficult to imagine a stand-up comedy club, like on BET comedy, in an Arab Muslim society, with an Arab Muslim woman on stage cracking “inappropriate” jokes and shocking people -- and everyone in the audience is roaring with laughter? Why is this scenario difficult to picture? And what does this mean?

AbuKhalil: Perhaps the scenario is difficult to imagine because you do not know Arabic, and cannot follow cultural events in Beirut or Cairo or even Damascus, where comedians regularly defy authorities and regulations and push the limits. In Lebanon, there are tons of nightclubs where comedians lampoons almost everybody and everything, and often in the presence of officials in the audience.


Interlocutor: Lebanon?? Are we certain Lebanon is representative of Muslim Arab society? For instance, wouldn't all people have a very hard time imaging the scenario I propose occurring in places where Sharia Law is a religious and cultural guiding post?


Spencer: As'ad, your comedians may be quite popular, but I notice you don't say that they operate in Jeddah or Qom. The question is referring to a genuine strain within Islam, is it not? After all, Imam Khomeini said: "Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious." And beyond Khomeini, is there not a troubling resistance to self-criticism within Islam that is often accompanied by a lack of humor?


AbuKhalil: Again, I rest my case. For the stereotypes and generalizations to hold, we always have to arrive at Jidda and Qom, where less than 1 percent of all Muslims reside. You focus on the exceptions, thereby making my case for me.

Spencer: You know full well that I referred to Jeddah and Qom as exemplary of strict Muslim societies, not as specific places where comedy is outlawed. I notice you don't address the Khomeini quote. After all, he didn't just stay in Qom and preach khutbas on Fridays in the mosque; he was the leader of a large Muslim nation. Or did they all regard him as a kook while hailing the 1979 revolution? The question of why a man with this point of view could become leader of a Muslim country remains unanswered.

Ayloush: I am not sure where did you get this impression from. Islam greatly stresses the importance of living a balanced life. The Prophet Muhammad frequently reminded his followers that life is not merely a set of worshipping rituals. His whole life is an example of that balance. While he was a religious leader, a head of state, a husband, a father, and a friend to many, he still managed to enjoy and bring fun to many around him. The Sunnah (the collection of his traditions) narrates to us that he invited entertainers to conduct their circus-like shows inside his Mosque, he raced with his wife, he joked and laughed with his companions, he played and encouraged others to be playful with young children, and included poets in his inner circle of companions. 

Even today, across the Muslim world (and, respectfully, it is obvious that you have little real knowledge of it) you will find plenty of comedy clubs, plays and movies. Actually, this light spirit is a common practice even in prayer sermons and lectures. 

As for which of the "bold, daring and even shocking ways" of speech is acceptable, that takes us back to the point I made before about the right of any society to decide what is acceptable, what is distasteful, and what is illegal. Canada and most European countries have very strict personal and group libel and defamation laws. In France for example, one can be fined and sent to jail for mocking any religion. Is France not a true democracy?

While Islamic teachings allow everyone to have all the right to intellectually debate any religion, they do not allow for the defamation or mockery against God, any religion, or prophet. And again, just because it is different than our practices, it gives us no right to condescend.

Interlocutor: And so what happens when almost every kind of free thought and action outside Islamic guidelines falls under the category of “defamation or mockery against God, any religion, or prophet”?

Ayloush: This is not realistic. Such type of talk and thought does not constitute any significant percentage of any society’s discourse. The percentage of people who wish to engage in insulting and defaming other people’s religions, prophets, or gods is greatly smaller than the number of people who will be insulted as a result of such actions. Therefore, this tiny minority will have to live by the wish of the overwhelming majority and find someone else to mock to prove that they are intelligent!

I am puzzled about why you find this so strange when such laws exist in most Western countries (Europe and Canada in specific) and are not unique to Islamic societies.


Is it OK when such laws are voted by Westerners and a crime against humanity when voted by Muslims? Why do we assume that we have the right or the duty to lecture to Muslims when most of us know very little, if any, about Islam; when most of us confuse Islamic teachings with cultural behavior practiced by Muslims, Christians, and Jews in that part of the world? When most of us get their information about Islam from Islamophobes such as Mr. Spencer? May be it is time to find out about Islam from Islam itself, for a change. May be it is time to ask why hundreds of thousands of Westerners have chosen Islam as their new religion, about two third of them women. Why did Cat Stevens (former rockstar), Wilfried Hofmann (former NATO director of information),  Leopold Wiess (former Austrian Jewish statesman), Herbert Hobohm (former German diplomat), and other intellectuals and leaders choose Islam?


Why is it that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West when Muslims do not have organized proselytizing? There must be something other than the “mission to kill non-Muslims” which Mr. Spencer would like us to believe. There must be something other than the lack of freedom to “be notoriously sexually promiscuous”?  May be it is Islam’s compatibility with all societies that respect human rights after all, including the West. May be it is Islam’s struggle for justice and equality for human beings. May be it is Islam’s focus on the spiritual needs for mankind in order to achieve the desired relationship with the Creator, fellow human beings, and nature. May be it is Islam’s simplicity, humility, and tolerance.


Spencer: Mr. Ayloush, the tone of your responses throughout this Symposium has been aggressive and insulting, as Ibn Warraq noted about AbuKhalil. You have not dealt with ANY of my substantive points, but content yourself with tagging me with the ridiculous and empty label of "Islamophobe," as if that answers all the material from Muslim sources that I have brought forth. It is not “hating Islam” to tell the whole truth about the religion. Also, you consistently misrepresent my positions: I challenge you to find any place where I have written that Muslims have a "mission to kill non-Muslims." Then you have the gall to pontificate about insulting and defaming others!

I would be happy, and I think all the readers of this Symposium would be happy, to "learn about Islam from Islam itself." That is what I have done for over 20 years: immersed myself in writings by Muslims and for Muslims. In this Symposium I have reported on some of the troubling aspects of what I have found, because they shed light on the question that was originally put forward in this exchange. If you want anyone to believe you when you say these things about Islam's “struggle for justice and equality for all human beings,” you should at least have the courtesy to explain the material about jihad, dhimmitude, and women that seems to contradict your bald and unsubstantiated assertions. Insults aren't arguments, Mr. Ayloush. You have answered nothing, and in so doing you have done nothing but damage to the cause you claim to advance.


Ayloush: Yes Mr. Spencer, you are the one who said: “Islam will continue to produce people who think it part of their religious duty to make war against unbelievers,” in the second part of this Symposium. Spending 20 years or 50 years studying something does not make you an expert if your intention is not to be fair minded to start with. There are anti-Semites who spent more than your 20 years to study Judaism to attack it and the Holocaust to deny it. What does that make them? They are called anti-Semites with 20 years of hate experience. Big deal! Mr. Spencer, just clear your heart from the hatred of Muslims and I assure you will feel better about yourself and the rest of the world. (However, I can not guarantee you a comparable book sales profits.)


Spencer: Sir, maybe it makes you feel better to compare me to anti-Semites, but it doesn't answer any of the points of Islamic theology that I have put forth here. We haven't met, and you have yet to establish why my quoting of Muslim sources shows that I "hate" Muslims. You haven't even answered my points. For example, you say my quote of Ibn Kathir establishing that the Verse of the Sword abrogates the Qur'an's words of peace is "selective." Of course: every quotation is selective unless the entire book is reproduced. But find me a quote from Ibn Kathir that says that the Qur'an verses of tolerance overrule its verses of violence; the passage you refer to doesn't do that. Or better yet, find me a Muslim authority who has renounced jihad by the sword as part of Islamic doctrine, and renounced dhimmitude as its pattern of relations with non-Muslim minorities. It's easier to charge me with "hate" than it is to do that, isn't it? 

Warraq:  Excuse me for a moment gentlemen, let me comment on the whole issue of the freedom of speech. Freedom of expression, as Salman Rushdie once said, is worthless if we do not have the right to blaspheme. In terms of the question regarding humor, see David Pryce Jones, The Closed Circle. I think Pryce-Jones´ insight about the culture of shame and honour would explain why self-mockery is absent from Islamic culture.


AbuKhalil: It is sad but indicative that you rely on a book that is discredited by all academics of Islam and me. An author who knows no Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Orou, and who generalizes about Arabs and Muslims, and in the first edition of the book, your mentor Jones thought that Turkey is an Arab country. Lovely.


Warraq: Instead of using arguments from authority, Khalil would do well to read Pryce Jones and try to answer him. Pryce- Jones, who is a far more sophisticated historian than Khalil can ever hope to be, does not think Turkey is an Arab country; Khalil is really clutching at straws. When talking of honour and shame, Pryce-Jones is not talking of just honour killings, instead he is able to show that this ethical code permeates every level of Islamic societies, political, social, economic, and cultural. Both Taslima Nasreen and I have often been chided by liberal Muslim friends for not criticizing Islam, BUT FOR CRITICIZING ISLAM IN FRONT OF WESTERNERS.  For that was to bring shame on their culture.


[6] In terms of the burqa under the Taliban: how do certain Muslim males actually come to devise the idea of a burqa for women, and implement it into reality? From where does this impulse stem? Would it be wrong to suggest that this is a logical extension of Islam? The sources for segregating and covering women, and forcing them to be out of touch and sight, is, after all, rooted in Islamic teachings, and different degrees of mandatory body "covering" are an Islamic reality for most Muslim women throughout the world, are they not? If the burqa "defamed" Islam, where, once again, were the demonstrations of Muslims in different parts of the world protesting this slander of their religion?


Warraq: You would have to ask the Taliban why they insist on the burqa for their women. Islam is the fundamental cause of the repression of Muslim women and remains the major obstacle to the evolution of their position Islam has always considered women as creatures inferior in every way: physically, intellectually, and morally. This negative vision is divinely sanctioned in the Koran, corroborated by the hadiths, and perpetuated by the theologians.


AbuKhalil: I never understand the fixation with veils and Burqa, as if clothing determines whether a woman is free or not.  Betty Friedan, the founder of modern US feminism, admitted in her recent memoirs that she was herself victim of domestic violence by her husband.  As for the origins of the veil, we learn from Women and Gender in Islam (by Leila Ahmed published by Yale University Press) that it originated in CHRISTIAN Byzantine societies, and spread to urban centers of Islam after Muhammad's death.


In talking about Islam (or judging Islam, as people always do in the west) we have to distinguish between that is which cultural from that which is religious. Female genital mutilation (a barbaric practice) for example is cultural and not religious. The distinction is important.  Can we say that because female domestic violence is quite prevalent in the US, that it must be due to Christianity because the Old Testament allows it? And please do not say that Christians do not hold the biblical world literally: a book on the New York Times bestseller list now is about trying to explain current and future events by looking at the Bible.

Interlocutor - Prof. AbuKhalil, you say, “I never understand the fixation with veils and Burqa, as if clothing determines whether a woman is free or not.” So, let me try to understand this: you do not see any connection with the issue of freedom when a woman, let us say in the previous Taliban Afghanistan or in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t want to wear any covering but cannot act on her wish because she will face punishment? What do you think of the many women in the Muslim world who have had acid thrown in their faces when they chose not to wear the face covering? Is this not related to the issue of freedom? What would happen to a woman in Saudi Arabia or Iran today who decided to walk around in public without the mandatory covering because that was her choice? Is this not related to the issue of freedom?


AbuKhalil: Women should be free to dress how they wish without legal or cultural impediments. Women in the Muslim world mostly dress freely (and sometimes the free choice is veil or burqa), and only in Iran and Saudi Arabia among all Muslim countries are women required to adhere to a dress code, and yet people fixate on that.  Yes, of course, there should be total freedom for female dress, and I wish that western dress for example takes into consideration women's health, comfort, and real body shapes.  In the East, women are veiled to prevent men from being aroused sexually by women, and in the West women are clothed to arouse men sexually.  The bottom line is the same: that women are sexual objects to be veiled or revealed.

Interlocutor:  But could one not argue that the bottom line is that humans should live free from religious authorities telling them how they must live their private lives? Must not a true democracy give women their own choices on what to do with the components of all their humanity, including their physical beauty, without a fear of punishment?

Spencer: As'ad, even if the veil did come from Byzantine Christian society and not from the Hadiths (yes, thank you, I know the Arabic plural is Ahadith) that mandate it for Muslim women, why did Byzantine Christianity discard the veil and Islam keep it? If female genital mutilation is cultural and not religious (and I acknowledge, of course, that it is not practiced by most Muslims), why did Sheikh Tantawi, the highest spiritual authority in Sunni Islam, praise it as an "honor" for women and give it an Islamic cast? I'd be glad to distinguish between the cultural and the religious; I just wish Tantawi would too. And are we to believe now that Christians take the Bible literally enough to beat their wives (although any Christian who beats his wife because of the Bible isn't reading the whole book) but that virtually no Muslims take the Qur'an literally? Sura 4:34 sanctions wife-beating; Amnesty International estimates that 9 out of 10 Pakistani wives have been beaten by their husbands. I guess these husbands were all reading the Old Testament?

Once again you are sidestepping the question and trying to deflect attention from uncomfortable aspects of Islam. The fact that in secular society women sometimes get harmed actually does nothing to establish whether or not women in Islam are treated with the dignity proper to them as human beings.

AbuKhalil: Oh please, we have a shameful record of domestic violence right here in the U.S. and we are not in apposition to preach about it, or even about honor crimes. Some 40% or more female victims of homicide in the US are killed by husbands or boyfriends, and domestic violence is 30 percent of all women, one of the highest rates in the world. Pakistan has one of the highest records, and so does India and the U.S., who belong to different cultures. Others argue that figures of the U.S. are in fact higher than 30% percent, and McKinnon cites four studies which cite 75% rates of domestic violence. And yes, I believe that people should live free of religious authorities, and if I design my own republic, I would relegate all clerics of all religions to more meaningful occupations. Plumbing would be much better for them.


Interlocutor: Wait a second, but human evil and institutional evil are two different things. There are some evils that no society can mend. Yet the U.S. washes its dirty laundry in public, while many societies, like many Muslim Arab societies, do not, so when we consider statistics, shouldn’t we have to take all of this into account? Moreover, isn’t the key here that in the U.S. and other Western societies, while evil will always exist in the hearts of humans, the laws will punish domestic violence? Moreover, an abused woman, though obviously in terrible constraints, still has the possibility of seeking help and escape and prosecution against her abuser. In many Muslim Arab societies, meanwhile, the difference is that the state and culture give sanction to the domestic violence against women --  there is no recourse like there is in the West. Correct?

Ayloush: I agree with Prof. Abu Khalil in that one needs to differentiate between what is cultural and what is religious. And certainly, many of the Taliban practices such as the mistreatment of women or denial of education to young girls go against the Islamic teachings. In pre-Islamic Arabia, women were considered a source of shame to a tribe, treated as a property of a man, denied the right to choose their husband, forbidden from inheriting or having their own business, and considered irrelevant in the eye of the gods.

Islam completely reversed all of this and made men and women complementary partners in rights and duties, on issues of life and religion.

History tells us that one of the major reasons for Arab tribal leaders to then  oppose Islam was that it challenged the status quo domination over women and slaves. Today’s abuses against women by men are certainly un-Islamic and also not exclusive to one religious community. It is rampant in the poor and un-educated areas of Hindu India, Buddhist Thailand, Christian and Muslim Africa. Let’s stop pointing fingers and start doing something to stop it.

The Prophet Muhammad said: "The most complete in faith among you (men) are the ones who are best in kindness and character towards their wives".

On the issue of "body covering", Islam requires modesty appearance from men and women. For women, Islamic scholars have mostly defined it to be loose dress on the body and head cover on the head, and not the face. As long as a society protects the rights and provides equal opportunities of education and employment for men and women, it should have the right to choose its general social guidelines. Why is it acceptable for a company to establish required, but reasonable, dress code for its employees and not for a country? Countries should have the right to vote and decide their social guidelines which could include the ban or legalization of gambling, nudity, pornography, abortion, and alcohol. The arrogance of being the only super-power must not allow us to force a social and cultural hegemony on the rest of the world.

Spencer: Amen. I certainly don't want to see any imposition of Western cultural norms on the rest of the world. But you are simply throwing sand in our eyes about women in Islam. "Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other" (Sura 4:34). That's cultural? Hardly. And that's the foundation of much of what you discuss above. You know full well that the Taliban was enforcing provisions of the Sharia taught by all four Sunni madhhabs, or schools of jurisprudence: the Maliki, Hanafi, Hanbali, and Shafi'i.  These laws are not enforced in most Islamic countries today, but they are still on the books, ready to be enforced by any group like the Taliban once it takes power.

According to Amnesty International, in Saudi Arabia women “who walk unaccompanied, or are in the company of a man who is neither their husband nor a close relative, are at risk of arrest on suspicion of prostitution or other ‘moral’ offences.” Is that cultural, or part of the Sharia? You know it is part of the Sharia. And I could name hundreds of other elements of the Sharia that humiliate and oppress women. The burqa is a minor matter: why isn't a woman's testimony admissible in her own rape case? Why must there be four male Muslim witnesses who saw the act? You know why: because Muhammad demanded four witnesses in order to exonerate Aisha of adultery (see Sura 24:13 and Sahih Bukhari vol. 3, book 52, no. 2661). Yet that has created a situation in which women who are raped are accused of adultery after the accused male denies the act. Sisters in Islam, a Muslim women's rights group, estimates that as much as seventy-five percent of the women who now populate Pakistani prisons are actually victims of rape. That's not cultural: until the Qur'an's requirement of four witnesses is universally discarded, it will continue. Let’s stop pointing fingers and whining about "Islamophobia" and start doing something to stop this. 

Ayloush: The actual translation of the verse is: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means.” (4:34)

Like in Christianity and Judaism (such as in: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God,” Corrinthians 11:3; see also Corinthians 14:34, Timothy 2:11-14, and Genesis 3:12-16), Islam states that as an organizational matter, the husband is the head of the household because he is religiously required to fulfill all the financial needs of the family. All money owned or earned by a wife is fully entitled to her. This has nothing to do with superiority.

The Qur’an also says: “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dower you have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.” (4:19)

“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (30:21)

In Islam, a marriage is based on mutual love and mercy. It is a partnership to raise a family that worships God and abides by His commandments. Again, when Saudi Arabia, Taliban, or even your Muslim neighbor mistreat women, it occurs despite of the teachings of Islam.

Note: Rape charges do not require four witnesses. According to Muslim scholars, a rapist could be sentenced to death based solely on forensic evidence.

I wish I am allowed the space to respond to the rest of your false claims.


Spencer: Even using your translation of Sura 4:34, please note that "strength" is in parentheses because it is not in the Arabic, which says only "given the one more than the other." More what? Strength, maybe, but not necessarily. Pickthall, a Muslim, gives this translation: "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other." "Excel" comes closer to "superior." In any case, it makes it clear that the translation I gave is an acceptable rendering of the verse.

As for the Biblical quotes: we are not debating Christianity. As for the four witnesses for rape, I could quote hundreds of authorities. The great Shafi'i Sheikh Ahmad ibn Naqub al-Misri says in 'Umdat al-Salik that "if testimony concerns fornication or sodomy, then it requires four male witnesses.” It quotes Sheikh 'Umar Barakat: “in the case of fornication, that they have seen the offender insert the head of the penis into her vagina.” Al-Azhar certifies that Umdat al-Salik "conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.”

Interlocutor: One second, let me interrupt here for a minute. I am trying to crystallize something. Hussam, if I understand you correctly, from what you were saying earlier, if a woman in a Muslim country decides that she does not want to wear the hijab, because she does not find it to be a “reasonable dress code”, and she walks outside without it because she doesn’t want to wear it, you support her being punished because “countries should have the right to vote and decide their social guidelines”.  Right? Please do not enlighten me about Western “oppression” and just answer the specific question please. You support her punishment, correct?

Ayloush: The quick answer to your specific question is: not necessarily. It depends on many factors. Is such a law the popular wish of the people or is it imposed on them by an undemocratic government? Have the opposing minority been sensitized and addressed about the reasons why the majority wants this law? Have a transition period been allowed, if necessary?

The objective answer to your question is that what I said before that I support the right of every society to pass laws which do not violate universal human rights in order to regulate their affairs. Of course, the punishment for breaking such laws should not be cruel and unusual relative to the rules violated.

This support comes from my duty to respect the wish of the majority, regardless of my own desires.

The world would be in a much better shape if we learn about each other more than we patronize each other.

O Allah (God), forgive me for any shortcoming in what I said or wrote.

O Allah (God), show us the truth and give us the strength to follow it.

And show us falsehood and give us the strength to avoid it.

Spencer:  The interlocutor’s point about institutional evil is sound: the inferiority and abuse of women is routinely justified in Islam by appeals to the Qur'an and Sunna. In 2000 the Turkish Muslim cleric Kemal Guran expressed a common Muslim view in his booklet, The Muslim’s Handbook. In it, he says that "men can beat their wives as long as they do not strike the face and only beat them moderately.” Guran also “suggests that men are naturally superior to women.” In the same year, the Spanish imam Mohamed Kamal Mostafa’s book Women in Islam “recommends verbal correction followed by a period of sexual abstinence as the best punishment for a wife, but does not rule out a beating as long as it is kept within strict guidelines.” AbuKhalil and Ayloush will howl that these are only 2 examples, but beware: I have many more.

I'm glad that there are "strict guidelines," but these are subjective in the application. And more importantly, the plain word of the Qur’an supports all this. But apparently some would prefer to ignore Sura 4:34.

Overall, I would just like to say the following to Mr. Ayloush: with your ridiculous insults, crude bluster, self-righteous posturing, and substanceless answers, you are hardly one to lecture us about patronizing one another. You have still never addressed the fact that the oppression of women — devaluation of her testimony, restrictions on freedom of movement, abject sexual servitude (a wife has no right to decline sexual relations at any time her husband requests them, if she is not ill) — is written into the Sharia. Call me all the names you want, but I did not write the Sharia. And Americans will continue to have troubling questions about Islam, such as the ones I have raised throughout this Symposium, until you stop slinging insults and answer them honestly and fully. Until then, shame on you.

Ayloush: Those authors are entitled to their opinions, they do not exclusively speak for Islam. The Qur’an can best be understood in light of how Prophet Muhammad applied it in his life. The Prophet frequently condemned those who beat their wives and he himself never hit any of his wives, but rather was a model husband in terms of love, compassion, and respect. And that’s how every Muslim man who truly practices his religion treats his wife.

If Islam is so bad to women, then why are most (65% to 75%) of all new converts to this fastest growing religion been Western women? I guess they are not as intelligent as Spencer. Spencer must be special, he sees what no one else sees!

And for God’s sake, Mr. Spencer, do not speak on behalf of Americans. Your bias and extremism are a disgrace to our American values of fairness and tolerance. The similarities among hate mongers never cease to amaze me. A minority of Muslim extremists sees no goodness in Christians and demonizes their teachings. On the other end, a minority of Christian extremists, such as Spencer, engages in the same behavior against Muslims. Ironically, both promote a common clash of civilizations.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of followers and leaders of these two close and similar religions do not abide by this narrow-minded view and rather support a dialogue of civilizations that will bring peace, prosperity, and justice to all mankind. And if anyone needs to be ashamed, Mr. Spencer, it is those who act in contradiction to the peaceful teachings of Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them).

And God's peace (salam) to all readers.

Spencer: Sir, I have said repeatedly about all the evidence I have put forth that ALL Muslims do not think this way. Only that all this is an established part of Islamic tradition, and that non-Muslims have a right to know this. Your continual misrepresentations of my positions as "seeing no goodness in" Muslims, combined with your continual failure to address my substantive points from Muslim sources except with ad hominem attacks, should show any fair-minded reader which one of us is really doing the hating here.

Interlocutor: Gentlemen, I have a feeling that we need a few more symposiums. . . unfortunately, our time is up. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have all of you join us for this three part series of the Islam Symposium. Hussam Ayloush, As'ad AbuKhalil, Ibn Warraq and Robert Spencer, than you for kind participation. We hope to see you all again soon. Take care for now.

To see Part I of the Islam Symposium, CLICK HERE

To see Part II 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.

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