Islam has an image problem, and American Muslim organizations know it.
If you ask them, this problem comes from people lying about Islam. Irresponsible, hate-filled Christian preachers and others decry Islam as a violent religion, Muslim spokesmen claim, and this bigotry gives rise to acts of violence against Muslims. The Council on American Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups have dedicated themselves to heading off such attacks by setting the record straight. On its website CAIR says that it was established in order to "promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America," and declares that "we believe misrepresentations of Islam are most often the result of ignorance on the part of non-Muslims and reluctance on the part of Muslims to articulate their case."
Laudable — but the cure offered by American Muslim groups may be worse than the disease. Instead of taking the post-September 11 interest in Islam as an opportunity for a thorough and searching examination of the root causes of Islamic terrorism and the hatred that fomented the terrorist attacks, all too often these groups have constructed a "positive image of Islam" out of smoke and mirrors. Instead of dealing forthrightly and constructively with the concerns and questions that non-Muslims have had since the attacks, CAIR, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and others seem interested in what one ex-Muslim termed "throwing sand in our eyes."
Sand in hand, the IIIT recently sponsored general mailing of a flyer entitled "Q & A on Islam and Arab Americans." Virtually everything about this little flyer is misleading, starting with the title itself: although it purports to be about "Arab Americans," in fact it is solely about Islam. Several times the author of the flyer does what American Muslim groups in other contexts scold non-Muslims for doing: equating Muslims and Arabs. In one place it states that American Muslims come "from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins," yet in the very next column it poses the question, "What is an appropriate way to greet an Arab-American?," and explains in the answer that "some Muslims feel it is inappropriate for unrelated men and women to shake hands." While it acknowledges that "most Arab-Americans grew up in the USA and do not require special greetings," it makes no mention of the main reason why for most American Arabs, it’s completely irrelevant what Muslims feel about shaking hands or anything else: the vast majority of Arab Americans are Christians.
This confusion is common; it even appears at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). This organization lists boxer Muhammad Ali as a member of its Advisory Board. Ali is a famous American convert to Islam, but does that make him an Arab? The ADC does acknowledge that most Arab Americans aren’t Muslims, but the boxer’s inclusion raises an intriguing question about the group’s overall agenda: it "welcomes people of all backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities as members," but is it welcoming them into an Arab group or a Muslim group? Perhaps the blurring of the distinction between a racial group (Arabs) and a religious group (Muslims) is in service of efforts to portray Muslims as a racial group subject to discrimination in the United States, and thus entitled to privileged victim status.
In any case, the distortions and inaccuracies of this flyer are indicative of the half-truths and untruths that American Muslim groups are propagating today:
1. Islam means peace. The flyer notes that "the Arabic word for ‘Islam’ means ‘submission,’ and it derives from a word meaning ‘peace.’" Indeed, in Arabic, Islam and salaam ("peace") share the same linguistic root, but this in itself is virtually meaningless. All sorts of words share the same roots, and can still have quite divergent meanings — such as the English word love and the related Sanskrit word lubh (lust). Noting the derivation of the word Islam in this brief information flyer can only be an attempt to lend credibility to the currently fashionable idea that Islam is a religion of peace.
But that idea glosses over some troubling facts.
2. "Jihad does not mean ‘holy war,’" says the IIIT flyer, which originally ran in USA Today. "Literally, jihad in Arabic means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression."
This is the prevailing notion in academic circles today. Articulating the currently accepted orthodoxy, Duke University professor of Islamic studies Bruce Lawrence agreed that jihad doesn’t mean "holy war": he defines this all-important Islamic concept as "being a better student, a better colleague, a better business partner. Above all, to control one’s anger." To its credit, the flyer’s explanation goes farther than Lawrence by mentioning the battlefield, and in this it is more accurate than the professor’s preposterously innocuous farrago. Islamic theology distinguishes between the "greater jihad," which involves "struggle against evil inclinations within oneself," and the "lesser jihad," which is hinted at here as "struggle in the battlefield for self defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression."
Still, left unmentioned is the fact that throughout history, Muslims have not stopped at self-defense or fighting against tyranny. "In premodern times," observes the noted scholar of Islam Daniel Pipes, "jihad meant mainly one thing among Sunni Muslims, then as now the Islamic majority. It meant the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims (known in Arabic as dar al-Islam) at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims (dar al-harb). In this prevailing conception, the purpose of jihad is political, not religious. It aims not so much to spread the Islamic faith as to extend sovereign Muslim power (though the former has often followed the latter). The goal is boldly offensive, and its ultimate intent is nothing less than to achieve Muslim dominion over the entire world."
Pipes adds: "Jihad was no abstract obligation through the centuries, but a key aspect of Muslim life. . . . Within a century after the prophet’s death in 632, Muslim armies had reached as far as India in the east and Spain in the west. Though such a dramatic single expansion was never again to be repeated, important victories in subsequent centuries included the seventeen Indian campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazna (r. 998-1030), the battle of Manzikert opening Anatolia (1071), the conquest of Constantinople (1453), and the triumphs of Uthman dan Fodio in West Africa (1804-17). In brief, jihad was part of the warp and woof not only of premodern Muslim doctrine but of premodern Muslim life."
Has this changed? Certainly it’s quite different from the idea of jihad purveyed by Muslim groups and the major media today. But this older idea of jihad is alive and well in the Islamic world. One manual of Islamic law — said to conform "to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community" by Al-Azhar University of Cairo, Egypt, the oldest and most prestigious university in the Islamic world — calls jihad "a communal obligation" to "war against non-Muslims. . . . The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax . . . The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim."
Some Muslims assert that because there is no caliph today (the caliphate was abolished by the secular state of Turkey in 1924), there can be no jihad. That’s one reason why some radical Muslims urge that the caliphate must be restored. Says Britain’s Sheikh Omar Bakri: "The Muslim Ummah [worldwide Muslim community] has never before been in a position where we are divided into over 55 nations each with its own oppressive kufr [infidel] regime ruling above us. There is no doubt therefore that the vital issue for the Muslims today is to establish the Khilafah [caliphate]."
Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden isn’t waiting for this restoration to declare jihad, and he is by no means isolated in this perspective in the Islamic world — witness the many terrorist groups around the world that rally under the name of jihad. Pipes asks, "And what about all the Muslims waging violent and aggressive jihads, under that very name and at this very moment, in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Ambon, and other places around the world? Have they not heard that jihad is a matter of controlling one’s anger?"
3. Islam condemns terrorism. The "Q & A" asserts that "Islam does not support terrorism under any circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle in Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism, he is not following Islam. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain."
This assertion is closely allied to the differing explanations of the meaning of jihad. There is no necessary connection between jihad and terrorism, and indeed, many moderate Muslims declare that their extremist brethren who justify terrorism on Islamic grounds only do so by distorting the concept of jihad. "Jihad is misused," says an expert in PBS’s documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. "There is absolutely nothing in Islam that justifies, uh, the claim of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or other similar groups to kill innocent civilians. That is unequivocally a crime under Islamic law. Acts of terror violence that have occurred in the name of Islam are not only wrong, they are contrary to Islam."
Once again, this is not as much of an open-and-shut case as these authorities would like us to believe. After all, no less an authority than George Bush’s "imam of peace," Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, disagrees. Bush quoted him in late 2001 at the United Nations as saying that "terrorism is a disease, and that Islam prohibits killing innocent civilians." But evidently his definition of terrorism would differ from that of the average American: according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), last spring Tantawi called suicide bombing "the highest form of Jihad operations," and added that "every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment."
Tantawi is no isolated crank. He holds his position at Al-Azhar by the grace of the Egyptian government, and he uses that position to wield enormous influence in the Islamic world: the New York Times called Al-Azhar the "revered mosque, the distinguished university, the leading voice of the Sunni Muslim establishment. . . . It has sought to advise Muslims around the world that those who kill in the name of Islam are nothing more than heretics. It has sought to guide, to reassure Westerners against any clash of civilizations."
Nor is Tantawi singular in his opinions. Abu Bakar Bashir, suspected mastermind of the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali as well as bombings of churches in 2000, declared that "martyrs’ bombs are a noble thing, a jihad of high value if you are forced to do it. For instance, in Palestine there is no other way to defend yourself and defend Islam. All Ulamas [Muslim leaders] agree with martyrs’ bombs because we are forced to do it. There is no other way to defend ourselves and to defend Islam. . . . We are obliged to defend ourselves and attack people who attack Islam. In Islam there is no word for hands up, there is no word for surrender, there are only two things, win or die . . . if infidels do want to attack Islam, fight Islam, so we are instructed to fight them."
Instructed by whom? Does Abu Bakar Bashir read the same Qur’an that moderate Muslims say condemns terrorism?
After a shooting at a church in Pakistan, police detained another Muslim cleric, Mohammed Afzal, who is alleged to have told his people that "it is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians . . . You should attack Christians and not even have food until you have seen their dead bodies."
Presumably Afzal would not consider Christians "innocent civilians." Osama and other Muslim extremists have maintained that the people killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not innocent, but complicit in what they imagine to be the American government’s worldwide oppression of Muslims. Consequently, they argue that they were fitting victims of jihad — even envisioned only as a struggle against "tyranny or oppression."
Disquieting evidence indicates that such ideas are not restricted to obscure covens of ranting radicals, shunned by decent Muslims everywhere. According to MEMRI, "Mahmoud AlZahhar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, told the Israeli Arab weekly Kul AlArab, ‘Two days ago, in Alexandria, enrolment began for volunteers for martyrdom [operations]. Two thousand students from the University of Alexandria signed up to die a martyr’s death. This is the real Egyptian people.’"
Two thousand students from one university? Didn’t these two thousand students know that "those who kill in the name of Islam are nothing more than heretics"? Didn’t they know that "terrorism goes against every principle in Islam"?
The point is not that the moderates who wrote the flyer are wrong and that these radicals are right. The point is that these radical Muslims use the Qur’an and other core Islamic sources to justify their actions, and their exegesis is compelling enough to win over large numbers of Muslims. Moderate Muslims have thus far not been remotely successful in reading the radicals out of Islam. Certainly terrorism is not universally accepted in the Islamic world, but with terrorist groups rallying under the banner of jihad in all corners of the globe today, IIIT might have performed a valuable service by explaining how this violation of "every principle in Islam" came to be so widely accepted in the Muslim world.
4. "Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness." This assertion is stated but left unsupported in the IIIT flyer; elsewhere it is often buttressed with quotations from the Qur’an. One verse in particular is often invoked to make the claim that Islam teaches peace and mercy: "That was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as though he had saved all mankind" (Sura 5:32).
There are exceptions in this verse, however — "murder or other villainy in the land" — and these are particularly troubling in light of other teachings of the sacred book of Islam:
"Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" (Sura 48:29).
"Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate" (Sura 9:73).
"The true believers fight for the cause of Allah, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan" (Sura 4:76).
"When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly" (Sura 47:4).
"Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors. Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage." (Sura 2:190-191). The part of this passage that forbids striking first explains why Osama and other terrorists couch their self-justifications in the terminology of self-defense.
"When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy [i.e., the jizya, the special tax on non-Muslims], allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful" (Sura 9:5).
"Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given [i.e., Jews and Christians] as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued" (Sura 9:29).
"Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is able to give them (believers) victory" (Sura 22:39).
Muslim apologists today condemn virtually any quotation of such verses as quoting "out of context." One Islamic information website cautions against this and notes that "it should be emphasized that so many revelations in the Holy Quran came down to provide guidance to Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims based on what they were confronting at that time. Therefore, it is important to understand and know the historic context of the revelations for a proper understanding of these verses." Muslims have declared that the violent verses above were revealed to Muhammad at a time when the infant Islamic community was in danger of being exterminated altogether by powerful external enemies, and that these verses have no force unless Muslims find themselves in similar circumstances.
However, in November 2002, Dr. Sheikh Bakr Abed Al-Razzaq Al-Samaraai said in a Ramadan sermon at Mother of All Battles Mosque in Iraq that "jihad has become an obligation of every individual Muslim. Anyone who does not comply, will find himself lost in [hell], side by side with Haman, Pharaoh and their soldiers. These are not just words of a sermon delivered from the pulpit of a mosque with enthusiasm, they are religious law. Ask the jurisprudents, if you don’t know that."
How could the good doctor issue such a challenge if he knew that Islam was a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and that anyone who investigated his claim would find that out?
Also speaking of fighting during Ramadan was Dr. Fuad Mukheimar, whom MEMRI identifies as "an Al-Azhar University lecturer and secretary-general of the Egyptian Shari’a Association." According to Mukheimar, throughout history Muslims have waged "a number of honorable battles during the month of Ramadan — to the point where this month came to be called ‘The Month of Jihad.’ The nation of Islam came to be called ‘the Jihad-fighting nation,’ and its moral values came to be called ‘the values of warfare.’"
Was this cleric referring merely to self-control and the like, as explained in Bruce Lawrence’s concept of jihad? Unfortunately, no. He assumes that jihad involves fighting for Islamic society: "Fasting is a continuous commandment, until Judgment Day . . . and the same is true for Jihad, because Muslim society needs it to defend [its] faith, honor, and homeland."
Similarly, the November 2002 letter purporting to be from Osama bin Laden and offering a sweeping justification for terrorism invoked several of the verses quoted above as well as many other Qur’anic texts. After issuing a series of demands to America and the West, the letter warns: "If you fail to respond to all these conditions, then prepare for fight with the Islamic Nation. . . . The Nation which is addressed by its Quran with the words: ‘Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers. Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of believing people. And remove the anger of their (believers’) hearts. Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise’ [Quran 9:13-15]."
Muslim terrorists either blithely ignore the context that moderate Muslims use to hedge the Qur’an’s violent verses, or claim that the believers today face the same sort of challenge that they did at the time the verses were revealed, and so the verses are applicable to the present situation.
Again: this is not to say that the extremists are right and the moderates are wrong, but only that the extremist view is based on ample Qur’anic support that moderate elements have not yet effectively refuted.
What’s more, the Islamic theory of abrogation (naskh) also cuts against the idea of Islam as a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness. This is the doctrine that Allah cancels certain verses of the Qur’an and replaces them with other ones. Curious as it may seem, the doctrine of abrogation is founded upon the Qur’an itself: "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?" (Sura 2:106).
Devised by Muslim divines in order to explain away contradictions in the Qur’an, this theory holds that the cancelled verses remain in the Qur’anic text, but without any binding force for believers. The scholars who have advanced this doctrine, which is generally accepted in the Islamic world, work from simple chronology: verses that were revealed later in Muhammad’s prophetic career cancel contradictory verses from earlier.
There is no universally accepted chronology of the revelations of the Qur’an, but the broad outlines of the prophet’s life make it clear that the bellicose verses were revealed later than the peaceful ones. His more conciliatory revelations come from his early prophetic career in Mecca, when he still had high hopes of winning over Arabian Jews and Christians. Later, however, when it became abundantly clear that Jews and Christians would not accept him as a prophet, Allah’s messenger became bellicose: revelations from the latter part of his career in Medina are considerably more hard-edged. Hence, according to the idea of naskh, the peaceful verses are abrogated but the violent ones are still in effect. Muslim extremists are fully aware of this. It is another reason why they feel free to quote the Qur’an in support of their violent actions today: they clearly believe that when they do so, they are using the book properly and "in context."
No refutation of such ideas is included in the IIIT’s information flyer or from virtually any American Islamic source. Unfortunately, this is the sort of reading of the Qur’an that they decline even to discuss.
5. Islam is tolerant of other beliefs. Moderate Muslims like to quote Sura 2:256, "There is no compulsion in religion," in support of the idea that Islam is a broadly tolerant faith. It has become a commonplace of discussions about Islam today that the great Islamic empires of old were tolerant of Jews and Christians to an extent that non-Christians were never tolerated in medieval Christendom. "It is a function of Islamic law," says the IIIT flyer, "to protect the privileged status of minorities. Islamic law also permits non-Muslims to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by minorities themselves."
Once again, there is some truth to this, but it is neither wholly true nor the whole truth. It is true that Islamic law, the Sharia, allows Jews and Christians to practice their religious beliefs in an Islamic state; however, other religions are not accorded the same privilege: while Islamic states can according to the Sharia make "a formal agreement of protection" with Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, "such an agreement may not be effected with those who are idol worshippers," that is, Hindus, Buddhists, and others.
Also, the "tolerance" granted to Jews and Christians is severely circumscribed. Jews and Christians are termed "People of the Book" in the Qur’an — that is, communities that have received a genuine revelation from Allah. That’s why they’re offered this "protection" in an Islamic state. However, the Qur’an also teaches that both Jews and Christians have incurred the curse of Allah (cf. Sura 5:60 and many others) for their refusal to receive Muhammad as a legitimate prophet and his Qur’an as a book from Allah. Consequently, the tolerance they enjoy is nothing like that of a modern-day secular state, although Muslim apologists often succeed in equating the two in the face of the general Western ignorance of Islamic history and theology.
In fact, the Sharia dictates that such a "protection" agreement between Muslim rulers and Jewish and Christian subjects "is only valid when the subject peoples: follow the rules of Islam . . . (those involving public behavior and dress, though in acts of worship and their private lives, the subject communities have their own laws, judges, and courts, enforcing the rules of their own religion among themselves); and pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)."
The jizya is a special levy on non-Muslims, whose higher tax rates contributed much to the magnificent Islamic empires of old. It is not the Sharia’s only restriction on non-Muslims: according to classic Islamic law, non-Muslims in an Islamic state "are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar); are not greeted with "as-Salamu ‘alaykum" [the standard Muslim greeting, "Peace be with you"]; must keep to the side of the street; may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed; are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, . . . recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays; and are forbidden to build new churches."
There is indeed no "compulsion" in any of this: Jews and Christians are not forced to become Muslims. But there is also precious little dignity and respect.
Such humiliating laws are rarely enforced today even where the Sharia is the law of the land, although they have not disappeared entirely from the Islamic world. Nor have they been renounced or rejected by Islamic clerics of any sect. There is no mufti or imam in the world today apologizing for the abject status of the dhimmis, the Jews and Christians under Islamic rule, as the Pope and many Protestant groups have apologized for the Crusades and other perceived enormities of Christendom. These laws could be revived by any Muslim ruler who wants to restore the pure observance of Islam — and such reformers have not been rare in Islamic history.
Even if this never happens, however, such laws should be borne in mind by anyone who wants a true and accurate picture of Islamic "tolerance."
6. Islam respects Christianity. The IIIT flyer correctly informs readers that "Islam teaches that Christians and Muslims are both ‘people of the book.’ By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Bible and the Koran. The main difference between Christians and Muslims is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God."
It is debatable whether or not much is left of the "basic beliefs articulated through the Bible," or at least of the New Testament, once the idea of Jesus’ divine Sonship is removed. Although the Qur’an states that "nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’" (Sura 5:82), it also claims that Christians are under Allah’s curse: "The Jews call ‘Uzair [Ezra] a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!" (Sura 9:30).
Once again, this is no dead letter. Anti-Christian Muslims point to the fact that the Qur’an even undercuts its own assertion that Christians will be "nearest in love" to Muslims: "O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust" (Sura 5:51).
In a recent Friday khutba (sermon) at a mosque in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Qadhi, in a decidedly un-ecumenical mood, called Christianity "one of the distorted religions," and "a faith that deviates from the path of righteousness." He also labeled it a "false faith" and a "distorted and deformed religion." The Sheikh decried the present-day situation, in which "many Muslims . . . know about Christianity only what the Christians claim about love, tolerance, devoting life to serving the needy, and other distorted slogans. . . . After all this, we still find people who promote the idea of bringing our religion and theirs closer, as if the differences were miniscule and could be eliminated by arranging all those [interreligous] conferences, whose goal is political
. . ."
Another Saudi imam, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munajjid, preached in a similar vein: "Muslims must . . . educate their children to Jihad. This is the greatest benefit of the situation: educating the children to Jihad and to hatred of the Jews, the Christians, and the infidels."
Of course, these Wahhabi sheikhs are no more representative of Islam as a whole than are the moderates who claim that Islam respects Christianity. But they have read the Qur’an as well as the moderates, and their conclusions about Islam and Christianity are quite different. The irenic vision of the IIIT flyer is anything but a full or adequate description of the real Muslim perspective on Christianity.
7. Islam respects Judaism. In its treatment of Judaism, the IIIT flyer replicates its language regarding Christianity: "Islam teaches that Jews and Muslims are both ‘people of the book.’ By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Torah and the Koran. The main difference between Jews and Muslims is that Jews do not believe in prophets after the Jewish prophets, including Muhammad and his teachings."
Jews and Muslims may share basic beliefs, but we have already seen that the Qur’an places Jews under Allah’s curse. This idea recurs in the Qur’an, which also says that Allah turned the Jews into detested beasts: "Say: ‘O people of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?’ Say: ‘Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil; these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!’" (Sura 5:60).
Muslim radicals today routinely echo this language. Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi of the Palestinian Authority declared recently that Jews are "the enemies of Allah, the nation accursed in Allah’s book. Allah described [them] as apes and pigs."
Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi was clearly referring to the Qur’an. Is it then remiss to trace at least some of the impetus for the anti-Semitism that is rampant in the House of Islam today to the core beliefs of Muslims? But again, the IIIT flyer gives readers no inkling that this problem even exists.
8. Muhammad was a man of peace. "This is his message," says the American convert to Islam Hamza Yusuf in PBS’s documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet: "spread peace, feed people food, and do some devotional practice and you will enter paradise without any trouble."
Spread peace? Perhaps, but radical Muslims might add that this must be done by the force of arms. After all, this is the example of the prophet himself. "According to one calculation," notes Daniel Pipes, "Muhammad himself engaged in 78 battles, of which just one (the Battle of the Ditch) was defensive."
The prophet was a man of principle: he not only engaged in these battles, but his teachings were consistent with them. Says a Muslim tradition about Muhammad: "A man came to Allah’s Messenger and said, ‘Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).’ He replied, ‘I do not find such a deed.’"
How would Hamza Yusuf explain this? There’s no way to tell — evidently he would prefer to ignore it.
As the American people learn more and more about Islam, Islam’s image problem is getting worse, not better. One principal reason for this may be the dissonance between the loud and repeated claims of Islamic spokesmen in the United States and the facts that Americans are learning about Islam. If the International Institute of Islamic Thought and other Muslim groups really want to educate the American people about Islam, they would acknowledge and deal squarely with the questions that are really in people’s minds: does Islam provide a justification for terrorism? Have the dozens of groups that preach and perpetrate violence in the name of Islam all around the world really "hijacked" the religion? If they are using the Qur’an to justify their actions, what are moderate Muslims doing to forestall this kind of interpretation of the sacred book of Islam?
It isn’t enough to say, as Muslim spokesmen never tire of repeating, that there are kooks of every creed and that every creed can be used to justify violence. This still leaves unanswered the question of why there are so many more terrorist groups worldwide invoking Islam than there are terrorist Christian groups.
By ignoring such questions, Muslim advocacy groups in the United States have only made matters worse, giving non-Muslims good reason to suspect their intentions and honesty. The next time American Muslim spokesmen decry Islam’s image problem, in all fairness they should point fingers not at Christian fundamentalist preachers or at scholars who raise uncomfortable questions, but at themselves.
This essay is available in print form from the Free Congress Foundation.
Robert Spencer is an adjunct fellow of the Free Congress Foundation and a Board member of the Christian-Islamic Forum. He is the author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books), as well as the monographs "An Introduction to the Qur’an," "Women and Islam," "Islam and the West," and "An Islamic Primer," which are available from the Free Congress Foundation.