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What Makes A “Moderate Muslim”? By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 08, 2008


At the reliably truth-free publication known as The American Muslim last Sunday, Sheila Musaji published an article, “What exactly is required to be considered a ‘moderate’ Muslim?” In it, she takes me to task for this statement: “And I wonder why Sheila Musaji has never written an article about the physical and emotional distress that peaceful Muslims suffer when their coreligionists commit violence in the name of their religion, and why she has never called upon those Muslims to stop committing acts of violence and supremacism in Islam’s name.”

Musaji responds by offering a blizzard of links purporting to demonstrate that she and many other Muslims have done just that, and that I am willfully ignoring them in order to demonize Muslims. And not only that, but there’s the inevitable tu quoque: “I don’t see any articles by Robert Spencer condemning violence and terrorism carried out by Christians.”

Actually, Sheila Musaji apparently missed my book Religion of Peace?, in which I do that, but the issue here isn’t really acts of violence committed by Muslims as opposed to acts of violence committed by Christians. Human nature is everywhere the same, and you can find people of every creed and philosophy committing acts of violence and brutality. But in Islam violence and supremacism are taught by authoritative sources, whereas in Christianity and other traditions they are not. So what is needed is not a simple tally of Bad Things Done By Religious People, followed by condemnations in number matching the tally. What is needed is a recognition by people like Sheila Musaji and other Muslims in America that there are these supremacist and often violent doctrines in Islam, and a genuine rejection of them and attempt to reform them. None of that, however, is forthcoming -- and at that point that is itself no surprise.

And that is the problem with her exhaustive (and exhausting) list of Muslim groups condemning “terrorism,” and with her own articles doing just that. Take, for example, this:

As the Editor of The American Muslim (TAM), I issued a statement on 9/11 in which I said: “We are Americans and Muslims and proud to be both. We are as shocked and horrified by this insane act of terrorists as any other Americans. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We also want those responsible to be caught and brought to justice. They may happen to consider themselves Muslims (as Timothy McVey [sic] and Slobodon Milosovic may have considered themselves to be Christians) and may even have twisted the teachings of their religion to justify their actions, but terrorism is not the act of any person who understands anything about the teachings of any of the world’s religions. There is no religious justification for such actions.”

Note her tu-quoque assertions about McVeigh and Milosevic, and her assertion that they may have “twisted the teachings” of Christianity -- presumably to justify the bombing of office buildings and genocide. But in fact, neither McVeigh nor Milosevic ever offered any justification for their actions that was based on the teachings of Christianity, twisted or untwisted. Neither pointed, or could have pointed, to teachings of Christianity that justify violence against unbelievers to justify their actions, because there are no such teachings of Christianity. This is in sharp contrast to Osama bin Laden and Islamic jihadists the world over, who regularly and copiously quote the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as the teachings of authoritative Islamic jurists, to justify their actions. Compare, for instance, the writings of Sheila Musaji and Osama bin Laden, and see who quotes the Qur’an and invokes Muhammad’s example more often.

But glaringly and conspicuously absent from Musaji’s own writings, as well as from all the Muslim condemnations of terrorism to which she links, is any recognition of, much less condemnation of, the fact that there is not a single traditional school of Islamic jurisprudence that does not teach that it is an obligation of the Muslim community to wage war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law.

Here is proof:

Shafi’i school: A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, stipulates that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians...until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)...while remaining in their ancestral religions.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8).

Of course, there is no caliph today, and hence the oft-repeated claim that Osama et al are waging jihad illegitimately, as no state authority has authorized their jihad. But they explain their actions in terms of defensive jihad, which needs no state authority to call it, and becomes “obligatory for everyone” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.3) if a Muslim land is attacked. The end of the defensive jihad, however, is not peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals: ‘Umdat al-Salik specifies that the warfare against non-Muslims must continue until “the final descent of Jesus.” After that, “nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent” (o9.8).

Hanafi school: A Hanafi manual of Islamic law repeats the same injunctions. It insists that people must be called to embrace Islam before being fought, “because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith.” It emphasizes that jihad must not be waged for economic gain, but solely for religious reasons: from the call to Islam “the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war.”

However, “if the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya], it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.” (Al-Hidayah, II.140)

Maliki school: Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that “in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with “power politics,” because Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”

Hanbali school: The great medieval theorist of what is commonly known today as radical or fundamentalist Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, 1263-1328), was a Hanbali jurist. He directed that “since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”

Of course, these are all extremely old authorities -- such that one might reasonably assume that whatever they say couldn’t possibly still be the consensus of the Islamic mainstream. The laws of the United States have evolved considerably since the adoption of the Constitution, which itself has been amended. So why shouldn’t this be true of Islamic law as well? Many observers assume that it must be, and that contemporary jihadists’ departure from mainstream Islam must be located in its preference for the writings of ancient jurists rather than modern ones. But in this, unfortunately, they fail to reckon with the implications of the closing of the gate of ijtihad.

Ijtihad is the process of arriving at a decision on a point of Islamic law through study of the Qur’an and Sunnah. From the beginning of Islam, the authoritative study of such sources was reserved to a select number of scholars who fulfilled certain qualifications, including a comprehensive knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as knowledge of the principle of analogical reasoning (qiyas) by which legal decisions are made; knowledge of the consensus (ijma) on any given question of Muhammad, his closest companions, and the scholars of the past; and more, including living a blameless life. The founders of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence are among the small number of scholars -- mujtahedin -- thus qualified to perform ijithad. But they all lived very long ago; for many centuries, independent study of the Qur’an and Sunnah has been discouraged among Muslims, who are instead expected to adhere to the rulings of one of those established schools. Since the death of Ahmed ibn Hanbal, from whom the Hanbali school takes its name, in 855 A.D., no one has been recognized by the Sunni Muslim community as a mujtahid of the first class -- that is, someone who is qualified to originate legislation of his own, based on the Qur’an and Sunnah but not upon the findings of earlier mujtahedin.

Islamic scholar Cyril Glasse notes that “‘the door of ijtihad is closed’ as of some nine hundred years, and since then the tendency of jurisprudence (fiqh) has been to produce only commentaries upon commentaries and marginalia.”

So -- will Sheila Musaji care to condemn the supremacist imperative delineated by these authoritative, traditional sources? Specifically, since she is asking me what is required to be considered a moderate Muslim, I can tell her that I believe it would be sufficient to do the following:

1. Acknowledge the existence of and repudiate the traditional Islamic imperative, taught by all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence that Muslims recognize as orthodox, to impose Islamic law upon non-Muslims, whether by force or by stealth.

2. Renounce any intention, now or in the future, to replace the U.S. Constitution with Islamic law.

3. Clarify, and call upon other Muslims in America to clarify, what is meant by the words “terrorism” and innocent” in Muslim condemnations of terrorism, so that it is clear that what is being condemned is the murder of American and other non-combatants by Muslims acting in the name of Islamic jihad.

4. Repudiate the idea that Muslims have a divine mandate to force, when possible, Jews, Christians, and other “People of the Book” to pay a special religion-based tax from which Muslims are exempt (Qur’an 9:29).

5. Call upon Muslims in America to institute comprehensive, honest, and transparent programs in mosques and Islamic schools, teaching the virtues of the non-establishment of religion, and teaching directly against Islamic supremacism and the idea that Muslims must fight against Jews and Christians until they “feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).

6. Call upon Muslims in America to institute comprehensive, honest, and transparent programs in mosques and Islamic schools, teaching against honor killing, and against the idea -- which is enshrined in Islamic law -- that a parent faces no penalty for killing his or her own child (see ‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2).

7. Call upon Muslims worldwide, including in Saudi Arabia, to end all institutionalized discrimination against and harassment of non-Muslims, and to allow churches and other houses of worship to be built in majority-Muslim countries with an ease comparable to that with which mosques are currently built in Western countries.

8. Repudiate the idea that a Muslim who renounces Islam and adopts any other faith or no faith at all should be killed -- as is the teaching of Muhammad and all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence -- and call upon Muslim groups in America to teach the freedom of conscience as a God-given right in American mosques and Islamic schools.

9. Call upon Muslims in America and worldwide to drop the traditional and authoritative Islamic prohibition of marriage between non-Muslim men and Muslim women, and to repudiate and teach against the idea of divinely sanctioned wife-beating (Qur’an 4:34).

10. Condemn Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist organizations, and the Islamic Republic of Iran for its continuing the barbaric practice of stoning people to death. Call upon Muslim groups to teach against stoning as a punishment for adultery or anything else in American mosques and Islamic schools.

Do those things, Ms. Musaji, and I will happily acknowledge that you are indeed a “moderate” Muslim.


Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.



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