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Bernard Lewis Gets It Wrong By: Andrew G. Bostom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 14, 2008


Last week (March 6, 2008) The Jerusalem Post published an interview with historian Bernard Lewis that touched on a range of subjects, from Lewis’ own cultural identity, to his views on feminism and jihad.

Writer Rebecca Bynum has commented aptly on Lewis’ remarks about feminism, and the condition of women; I will confine my own analysis to Lewis’ remarkable statements on the jihad.

Lewis’ Claim (1):

What we are seeing now in much of the Islamic world could only be described as a monstrous perversion of Islam. The things that are now being done in the name of Islam are totally anti-Islamic. Take suicide, for example. The whole Islamic theology and law is totally opposed to suicide. Even if one has led a totally virtuous life, if he dies by his own hand he forfeits paradise and is condemned to eternal damnation. The eternal punishment for suicide is the endless repetition of the act of suicide. That's what it says in the books. So these people who blow themselves up, according to their own religion - which they don't seem to be well-acquainted with - are condemning themselves to an eternity of exploding bombs.

Doctrinal and Historical Reality (1):

But Lewis conflates “suicide”—as the tragic outcome, for example, in modern parlance, of clinical psychiatric depression, which is impermissible in Islam—with “martyrdom,” which is extolled.

“Martyrdom operations” have always been intimately associated with the institution of jihad. Professor Franz Rosenthal, in a seminal 1946 essay (entitled, “On Suicide in Islam”), observed that Islam’s foundational texts sanctioned such acts of jihad martyrdom, and held them in the highest esteem:

…death as the result of “suicidal” missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since[such] death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts.

Unequivocal, celebratory invocations for acts of martyrdom during jihad are found in the Koran, and even more explicitly, in the canonical hadith. Prominent examples include:

[Koran 9:111] “Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain.”

[Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 53] Narrated Anas bin Malik: “The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah's Cause).”

[Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 54] Narrated Abu Huraira: “The Prophet said, ‘By Him in Whose Hands my life is! Were it not for some men amongst the believers who dislike to be left behind me and whom I cannot provide with means of conveyance, I would certainly never remain behind any Sariya’ (army-unit) setting out in Allah’s Cause. By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.”

The American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, in a letter to Prince Potemkin dated June 20, 1788 while Jones commanded Russian naval ships, wrote about a naval engagement with the Turkish fleet (outside Kimbourn) involving an unsuccessful martyrdom operation planned by the Muslim sailors:

…for it was the intention of the Turks to attack us and board us, and if we had been only three versts further the attempt would have been made on the 16th [June 1788] (before the vessel of the Captain Pacha [Pasha] ran aground in advancing before the wind with all his forces to attack us,), God only knows what would have been the result…The Turks had a very large force, and we have been informed by our prisoners that they were resolved to destroy us, even by burning themselves, (in setting fire to their own vessels after having grappled with ours.) [note added by Jones]: Before their departure from Constantinople, they swore by the beard of the Sultan to execute this horrible plan…if Providence had not caused its failure from two circumstances which no man could forsee.]

How tragic that the bigoted Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual advisor” Yusuf al-Qaradawi writes more clearly about this awful subject than does Mr. Lewis. For example, at the July 2003 meeting (in Stockholm) of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (which he heads), Qaradawi emphasized the orthodox Islamic basis for martyrdom operations:

Those who oppose martyrdom operations and claim that they are suicide are making a great mistake. [T]he one who carries out a martyrdom operation does not think of himself. He sacrifices himself for the sake of a higher goal, for which all sacrifices become meaningless. He sells himself to Allah in order to buy Paradise in exchange. Allah said: 'Allah has bought from the believers their souls and their properties for they shall inherit Paradise... the one who carries out a martyrdom operation has a clear goal, and that is to please Allah

Lewis’s Claim (2):

Another example is jihad. Jihad has a number of meanings. Jihad, in the sense of war, is a religious obligation, which means that it is elaborately regulated. Indeed, the laws relating to jihad are quite specific. One should not attack women, children or the elderly, for instance, unless they attack you first. Weapons of mass destruction are also generally disapproved. This is discussed in medieval texts. For instance, poisoning the water supply of an enemy under siege was disapproved, as was the mistreatment of prisoners. In other words, these people are totally disregarding their own tradition.

Doctrinal and Historical Reality (2):

Lewis misrepresents the very loose nature of the “prohibitions” on attacking women and children, etc., i.e., they could be attacked simply for propagandizing against the Muslims. But most egregious is the fact Lewis completely ignores the basic concept of Dar ul Harb, and mubaa, “licit” harbis, as well as the designed impact of jihad terror on such non-Muslims—acts committed simply because they were not under the rule of Islamic Law. Lewis also ignores the fact that Muhammad himself set the “perfect” example for using mangonels (catapults hurling boulders, and burning materials, an ancient form of WMD) indiscriminately, against infidels (and thus their women and children), sanctioned destroying their harvests, and practiced slaughtering infidel prisoners of war—all of which were motifs incorporated in to Islamic Law on the jihad

Armand Abel, the leading 20th expert on the Muslim conceptions of Dar al Harb and Dar al Islam, elucidates the most prominent features of this medieval Islamic formulation, as follows:

Together with the duty of the “war in the way of God” (or jihad), this universalistic aspiration would lead the Moslems to see the world as being divided fundamentally into two parts. On the one hand there was that part of the world where Islam prevailed, where salvation had been announced, where the religion that ought to reign was practiced; this was the Dar al Islam. On the other hand, there was the part which still awaited the establishment of the saving religion and which constituted, by definition, the object of the holy war. This was the Dar al Harb. The latter, in the view of the Moslem jurists, was not populated by people who had a natural right not to practice Islam, but rather by people destined to become Moslems who, through impiousness and rebellion, refused to accept this great benefit. Since they were destined sooner or later to be converted at the approach of the victorious armies of the Prophet’s successor, or else killed for their rebelliousness, they were the rebel subjects of the Caliph. Their kings were nothing but odious tyrants who, by opposing the progress of the saving religion together with their armies, were following a Satanic inspiration and rising up against the designs of Providence. And so no respite should be granted them, no truce: perpetual war should be their lot, waged in the course of the winter and summer ghazu. [razzias] If the sovereign of the country thus attacked desired peace, it was possible for him, just like for any other tributary or community, to pay the tribute for himself and for his subjects. Thus the [Byzantine] Empress Irene [d. 803] “purchased peace at the price of her humiliation”, according to the formula stated in the dhimma contract itself, by paying 70,000 pounds in gold annually to the Caliph of Baghdad. Many other princes agreed in this way to become tributaries – often after long struggles – and to see their dominions pass from the status of dar al Harb to that of dar al Sulh. In this way, those of their subjects who lived within the boundaries of the territory ruled by the Caliphate were spared the uncertainty of being exposed arbitrarily, without any guarantee, to the military operations of the summer ghazu and the winter ghazu: indeed, anything within the reach of the Moslem armies as they advanced, being property of impious men and rebels, was legitimately considered their booty; their men, seized by armed soldiers, were mercilessly consigned to the lot specified in the Koranic verse about the sword, and their women and children were treated like things.

To illustrate but one regional example of the concept of Dar ul Harb as realized in history, Ibn Hudayl, a 14th century Granadan author of an important treatise on jihad, explained the original methods which facilitated the violent, chaotic jihad conquest of the Iberian peninsula, and other parts of Western Europe, during the prior six centuries:

It is permissible to set fire to the lands of the enemy, his stores of grain, his beasts of burden — if it is not possible for the Muslims to take possession of them — as well as to cut down his trees, to raze his cities, in a word, to do everything that might ruin and discourage him, provided that the imam (i.e. the religious 'guide' of the community of believers) deems these measures appropriate, suited to hastening the Islamization of that enemy or to weakening him. Indeed, all this contributes to a military triumph over him or to forcing him to capitulate.

And the 20th century historian Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq characterized the impact of these repeated attacks, indistinguishable in motivation from modern acts of jihad terrorism, such as the Madrid bombings on (3/11/04), or the London bombings (7/7/05):

It is not difficult to understand that such expeditions sowed terror. The historian al-Maqqari, who wrote in seventeenth—century Tlemcen in Algeria, explains that the panic created by the Arab horsemen and sailors, at the time of the Muslim expansion in the zones that saw those raids and landings, facilitated the later conquest, if that was decided on: 'Allah,' he says, 'thus instilled such fear among the infidels that they did not dare to go and fight the conquerors; they only approached them as suppliants, to beg for peace.'

Sadly, once again, Qaradawi's views on Dar ul-Harb, Muhammad as the prototype jihadist, and jihad terrorism to be directed against all Israeli citizens, whom he further described as classic harbis, licit targets in the Dar al Harb, are much more clear than those of Mr. Lewis:

It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar Al-Harb [the Domain of Disbelief where the war for the domination of Islam should be waged, i.e. including within Western Europe and America] is not protected. Because they fight against and are hostile towards the Muslims, they annulled the protection of his blood and his property... in modern war, all of society, with all its classes and ethnic groups, is mobilized to participate in the war, to aid its continuation, and to provide it with the material and human fuel required for it to assure the victory of the state fighting its enemies. Every citizen in society must take upon himself a role in the effort to provide for the battle. The entire domestic front, including professionals, laborers, and industrialists, stands behind the fighting army, even if it does not bear arms.

Allah has also made the prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors [Mujahideen] since he ordered Muhammed to fight for religion... the first assignment is to prepare the hero who is willing to put his life in his own hands for Allah's sake, and he who does not care whether he encounters death or death encounters him...He [i.e., a self—immolating bomber] kills the enemy while taking self—risk, similarly to what Muslims did in the past... He wants to scare his enemies, and the religious authorities have permitted this. They said that if he causes the enemy both sorrow and fear of Muslims... he is permitted to risk himself and even get killed.

Finally as to the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs), murder—which would certainly qualify as a form, if not the ultimate form of “mistreatment”—was a sanctioned and commonly exercised option. The classical Baghdadian jurists Abu Yusuf (from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, d. 798) and al-Mawardi (a Shafi’ite jurist, d. 1058) were prolific, respected scholars who lived during the so-called Islamic “Golden Age” of the Baghdadian-Abbasid Caliphate. They wrote the following, based on their interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunna (i.e., the recorded words and deeds of Muhammad):

...that one can even...finish off the wounded, or kill prisoners who might prove dangerous to the Muslims.. As for the prisoners who are lead before the imam, the latter has the choice, as he pleases, of executing them, or making them pay a ransom, for the most advantageous choice for the Muslims, and the wisest for Islam. The ransom imposed upon them is not to consist either of gold, silver, or wares, but is only in exchange for Muslim captives…[Abu Yusuf Ya’qub Le Livre de l’impot foncier Translated from Arabic and annotated by Edmond Fagnan. Paris” Paul Geuthner, 1921, Pp. 301-302.]

...As for the captives, the amir [ruler] has the choice of taking the most beneficial action of four possibilities: the first to put them to death by cutting their necks; the second, to enslave them and apply the laws of slavery regarding their sale and manumission; the third, to ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners; and fourth, to show favour to them and pardon them.”....[Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah. The Laws of Islamic Governance, trans. by Dr. Asadullah Yate, (London), Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1996, p. 192.]

Indeed such odious “rules” were iterated by all four classical schools of Islamic jurisprudence, across the vast Muslim empire. Specifically, Ibn Abi Zayd Al_Qayrawani (d. 996), head of the North African Maliki school at Qairuan, and the famous Syrian jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) of the Hanbali school under the Mamluks, wrote the following:

There is no inconvenience to kill white non-Arabs who have been taken prisoner”. [Ibn Abi Zayd Al_Qayrawani, La Risala ou Epitre sur les elements du dogme et de la loi de l’Islam selon le rite malikite. 8th ed. Translated from Arabic by Leon Bercher. Algiers: 1980, p. 163]

…If a male unbeliever is taken captive during warfare or otherwise, eg., as a result of a shipwreck, or because he has lost his way, or as a result of a ruse, then the imam may do whatever he deems appropriate: killing him, enslaving him, releasing him or setting him free for a ransom consisting in either property or people. This is the view of most jurists and it is supported by the Koran and the Sunna…” [Ibn Taymiyya, in Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, Princeton, NJ, 1996, p. 50]

And the magnitude of such POW killings could be quite extensive. Amir Timur, who as Rene Grousset has observed, “killed from Koranic piety,” prior to fighting and defeating an army under Sultan Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Tughluq on December 17, 1398, had his forces butcher in cold blood 100,000 Hindu prisoners accumulated while advancing toward Delhi.


Andrew G. Bostom is a frequent contributor to Frontpage Magazine.com, and the author of The Legacy of Jihad, and the forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.



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