An August 12 Washington Times editorial endorsed President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic Fascism” to denote the ideology of the jihad terrorists whose plot to slaughter thousands of airline passengers leaving Britain was thankfully disrupted. The editorialists characterized the jihadists ideology more specifically as
…chauvinistic, regarding non-Muslims as a lesser breed of expendable or contemptible dhimmis and infidels. It favors autocracy and severe social and economic restrictions, as did the Taliban. It demands the total subordination of the individual to the group—sometimes manifesting in murderously suicidal deaths like the fiery destruction Britain's would-be bombers sought. This is not mainstream Islam, of course. It is a corruption of the faith.
Ignoring the expected outpouring of complaints from apologists for jihad terror who cynically decried (for example here, here) any “Islamic” references, or other less pressing semantic concerns ( “Islamism” versus “Islamic fascism” ), the Washington Times editorial, indirectly, raises this critical question: just what comprises “mainstream” Islam (“of course”), as opposed to “corruption of the faith”?
These pressing corollary questions arise as well: What is the origin of “chauvinistic” concepts such as the treatment of non-Muslims as “contemptible dhimmis and infidels” who are rightfully placed under “severe social and economic restrictions”? Is it accurate to maintain that such discriminatory beliefs and practices merely derive from the very recent Taliban movement in (Pakistan and) Afghanistan, are unrelated to “mainstream” Islam, and further, represent a “corruption” of Islam? Is it really out of bounds to even consider that the heinous practice of suicide-homicide bombings may have profound Islamic religious justification?
In his seminal The Laws of Islamic Governance al-Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned jurist of Baghdad, examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non-Muslim) populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel “dhimmi” (which derives from both the word for “pact”, and also “guilt”—guilty of religious errors) population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the Koranic poll tax (jizya), based on Koran 9:29. The “contract of the jizya”, or “dhimma” encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim "dhimmi" peoples. Collectively, these "obligations" formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims-Jews, Christians, [as well as Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists]-subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; a requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims. It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Shari' a. The writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali (d. 1111) highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative, and prominent feature of the Shari'a:
...the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle.. .Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]...on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]... They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells...their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddler-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths...[dhimmis] must hold their tongue.
The practical consequences of such a discriminatory system were summarized in both A.S. Tritton’s 1930 The Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects, and Antoine Fattal’s 1958 Le Statut Legal de Musulmans en Pays' d'Islam, pioneering treatises on the status of the dhimmis:
…[C]aliphs destroyed churches to obtain materials for their buildings, and the mob was always ready to pillage churches and monasteries…dhimmis…always lived on sufferance, exposed to the caprices of the ruler and the passions of the mob…in later times..[t]hey were much more liable to suffer from the violence of the crowd, and the popular fanaticism was accompanied by an increasing strictness among the educated. The spiritual isolation of Islam was accomplished. The world was divided into two classes, Muslims and others, and only Islam counted…Indeed the general feeling was that the leavings of the Muslims were good enough for the dhimmis. [Tritton]
If he [the dhimmi] is tolerated, it is for reasons of a spiritual nature, since there is always the hope that he might be converted; or of a material nature, since he bears almost the whole tax burden. He has his place in society, but he is constantly reminded of his inferiority...In no way is the dhimmi the equal of the Muslim. He is marked out for social inequality and belongs to a despised caste; unequal in regard to individual rights; unequal in the Law Courts as his evidence is not admitted by any Muslim tribunal and for the same crime his punishment is greater than that imposed on Muslims...No social relationship, no fellowship is possible between Muslims and dhimmis... [Fattal]
Thus when the Taliban ordered Afghanistan’s tiny residual Hindu minority (as reported in 2001) to wear yellow badges inscribed with the words “I am a Hindu”, this action was in full accord with Islamic law. And a 1950 report from the American Jewish Committee (p.67) makes clear that in the pre-Taliban modern era discrimination as sanctioned by Islam was typical for Afghanistan’s small Jewish minority community, now (having escaped via India to Israel) extinct:
Scattered among the primitive Muslim population, whose religious observance has remained untouched by any modern influence, the Jews in Afghanistan are still subject to all the forms of discrimination which rigorous adherence to the Koran requires. They have to pay the jizya poll-tax imposed upon infidels, and the payment is accompanied by humiliating ceremonies as laid down in Sura 9:29 of the Koran. Until recently they were not permitted to buy food in the market or send letters abroad. There are no Jews in the Government service or in the police. Though every Jew must report for military service at the age of 20, he is not permitted to carry arms and is not given a uniform, the Jews being employed only in the lowest type of menial work.
Professor Franz Rosenthal, the great American scholar of Islam, who, 50 years ago, translated Ibn Khaldun's classic Introduction To History, also wrote a seminal essay entitled “On Suicide in Islam” in 1946. Rosenthal’s research confirmed how Islam extolled “suicidal” martyrdom attacks:
While the Qur’anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act....On the other hand, death as the result of “suicidal” missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are no[t] suicides in the proper sense of the term. (Emphasis added.) 1
These orthodox Islamic views have been reiterated by Yusuf Al Qaradawi—“spiritual” leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European Fatwa Council, and immensely popular Al-Jazeera television personality. Sheikh Qaradawi openly endorsed murderous Palestinian homicide bomber “martyrdom” operations against innocent Israeli citizens (all of whom are considered “combatants” who obstruct the “call to Islam”) during a fatwa council convened in the heart of Europe (in Stockholm, July, 2003).
Those who oppose martyrdom operations and claim that they are suicide are making a great mistake. The goals of the one who carries out a martyrdom operation and of the one who commits suicide are completely different. Anyone who analyzes the soul of [these two] will discover the huge difference between them. The [person who commits] suicide kills himself for himself, because he failed in business, love, an examination, or the like. He was too weak to cope with the situation and chose to flee life for death…In contrast, the 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…While the [person who commits] suicide dies in escape and retreat, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation dies in advance and attack. Unlike the [person who commits] suicide, who has no goal except escape from confrontation, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation has a clear goal, and that is to please Allah
For the past decade, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi has served as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam. Sheikh Tantawi, who is the nearest equivalent to a Muslim Pope, has also confirmed the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews, characterizing these grisly attacks as
…the highest form of Jihad operations…the young people executing them have sold Allah the most precious thing of all…every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land
On July 25, 2005, historian David Littman attempted to deliver a prepared text in the joint names of three international NGOs, but was prevented from doing so by the intervention of Islamic members of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights. Following repeated interruptions he was unable to complete his speech. Littman was simply trying to support the argument that those who issue fatwas to kill innocent people in the name of Islam are not real Muslims and should be treated as apostates. But as he noted, just before the 7/7/05 London bombings a major conference of 170 Muslim scholars from 40 countries meeting in Amman, Jordan gave an opinion in a Final Communiqué, dated July 6, 2005:
It is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.
This unfortunate communiqué clearly provides immutable protection to authentic Islamic advocates of homicide bombing—like the “esteemed” clerics Yusuf Qaradawi and Al-Azhar Grand Imam Tantawi.
Given the vitality of destructive but sacralized Islamic doctrines (such as dhimmitude, and jihad martyrdom) that date from the religion’s formative years, editorialists, policymakers, and theologians must avoid glib formulations and start addressing the uncomfortable realities of mainstream Islam
1 Franz. Rosenthal. “On Suicide in Islam.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1946, Vol. 66, pp. 243, 256
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