Everyone loves moderate Muslims, but no one is quite sure how to identify them. Unfortunately, some of those who claim to be moderates have turned out not to be: as one police official in Southern California said a few years back, “We’ll come back from a Kumbayah meeting with a local mosque and realize that these guys who just agreed to help us are in our terror files!” And Fawaz Damra, the former imam of the largest mosque in Cleveland, Ohio, was a signer of the Fiqh Council of North America’s condemnation of terrorism – not very long before he was ordered deported for his ties to terror groups. These days many politicians seem to be having trouble identifying moderates, for recently two Muslim leaders have been showcased who appear to be anything but moderate – underscoring the need in these days of the global resurgence of Islamic terrorism for our public officials to have a much more comprehensive understanding of Islam than most have today.
First was Imam Husham Al-Husainy, who prayed against “oppression and occupation” at a Democratic National Committee winter meeting. And now Imam Yusuf Kavakci of the Dallas Central Mosque has offered a prayer very similar to Al-Husainy’s in the Texas State Senate. Kavakci was there at the invitation of Republican State Senator Florence Shapiro, the senior Jewish member of the State Senate. Kavakci first told the assembly: “We will pray by reading from first chapter, opening chapter, Al-Fatiha, from holy Quran, followed by recitation, traditional way of recitation of text from holy Quran, with an addition.” Then he recited the Fatiha, which is the most common prayer in Islam: “In the name of god, Allah, the beneficent, the merciful. All praise is for Allah, our lord, the lord of the worlds, the compassionate, the merciful, master of the day of judgments. Oh, god, Allah, you alone we worship, and you alone we call on for help. Oh, Allah, guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those who have earned your wrath or of those who have lost the way.” And he added: “Our lord, have mercy on us from yourself and guide us in our efforts, strivings, and works.”
The traditional Islamic understanding of this is that the “straight path” is Islam -- cf. Islamic apologist John Esposito’s book Islam: The Straight Path. The path of those who have earned Allah’s anger are the Jews, and those who have gone astray are the Christians. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains:
Allah asserted that the two paths He described here are both misguided when He repeated the negation ‘not’. These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why `anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as `led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. Those who know, but avoid implementing the truth, deserve the anger, unlike those who are ignorant. The Christians want to seek the true knowledge, but are unable to find it because they did not seek it from its proper resources.
This is why they were led astray. We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews,
Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath (5:60).
The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them,
Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path (5:77).
It isn’t just Ibn Kathir. Most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
Thus it is likely that Kavakci was leading the Texas State Senate in a prayer that they become Muslims, and not remain Christians or Jews. Moreover, in December 2004, Kavakci belied his reputation as a moderate by speaking at a conference in Dallas, “A Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary” – the Ayatollah Khomeini. Did State Senator Florence Shapiro or any of the other Senators know this? If not, why did they think it unimportant to check into his background? If so, do they not realize the implications of allowing someone who believes Khomeini to be a “great Islamic visionary” to address them? Did anyone ask Kavakci what he thought of Khomeini’s famous statement that “Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world....But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world”? Did they even know or care that Khomeini ever made such a statement?
Khomeini also rebuked the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace crowd: “Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]….Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur’anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”
Does Kavakci also spit upon those foolish souls? Does he approve of the state of war that the Islamic Republic of Iran has maintained against the United States since the earliest days of the Khomeini regime?
Instead of finding answers to such questions, Florence Shapiro and other State Senators listened to Kavakci’s prayer that they abandon their ancestral faiths and congratulated themselves on their tolerance. Before claims of moderation are simply taken at face value, those who are working with them owe it to the people they are serving to exercise at least some diligence in checking the background of those whom they’re dealing with. Otherwise they might ultimately find themselves whistling “Kumbaya” past the graveyard. Would the Texas State Senate have asked a Nazi chaplain to give an invocation for them in 1942?
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