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Islam: Back to the Future? By: Andrew G. Bostom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Judea Pearl (“The Future of Islam”), in responding to my essay, which focused quite narrowly on the Muslim doctrine of abrogation (of Koranic verses), offers both clarification, and more confusion. Pearl makes clear that he “…did not apply the ‘cultural baggage’ argument to Koranic verses” (i.e., this was wrongly attributed to him by Rabbi Steven Stein, not me, in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed), and he does not “…dispute the centrality of Jihadist ideology in Muslim history, jurisprudence, theology and even modern outlook.”

But while Pearl denies “attacking” the secular Muslim “apostate” Wafa Sultan, he certainly appears to do so in the approving way he paraphrases and quotes Rabbi Stein*, and the summary of his own exchange with Dr. Sultan:


[Sultan] “ ‘How can you attribute ‘good" intentions to a verse like: 'I have been ordered to fight all men until they say: There is no God but Allah.’ ” To which I [Pearl] replied: ‘The Muslim scholars with whom I communicate claim that this, and other aggressive verses  of that sort should be interpreted in a narrow local context, applicable to a specific period or specific battle in the life of the Prophet, and were not meant to be universally applicable’. Dr. Sultan answered that these are just attempts to redeem an irredeemable religion.”


Regardless, Judea Pearl makes a deliberate if confused and non-sequitur attack on what he terms my “solution…by implication” (I don’t know what a solution by implication means), that  “…1.3 billion Muslims can and should reject Islam or acknowledge its evil nature, before becoming bona fide members of modern society”. This is a rather bizarre projection from an essay which merely elucidates how pacific Koranic verses were cancelled by their bellicose counterparts, as per classical Muslim scholars and jurists, operating within what the renowned 20th century legal scholar G.H. Bousquet aptly termed the “dry and forbidding” confines of Islamic Law.


Three years ago, my colleague and mentor Ibn Warraq outlined his own suggested program for the reform of Islamic societiesnot Islam—beginning with a simple and logical, but profound step:

The only solution is to bring the questions of human rights out of the religious sphere and into the sphere of the civil state, in other words to separate religion from the state and promote a secular state where Islam is relegated to the personal. Here, Islam would continue to provide consolation, comfort, and meaning, as it has to millions of individuals for centuries, yet it would not decree the mundane affairs of state.


I agree with Ibn Warraq and reject Mr. Pearl’s offensive characterization of my so-called “implied” position, as opposed to my actual position about Islam as a private, de-politicized faith, consisting, for example of the well-known “five pillars”. But Mr. Pearl also states that he concurs with my assessment about the jihad (its “modern centrality” as he noted, above). Thus I hope he is willing to join me, along with true moderate Muslims (both those who are secular and those who identify themselves as believers) in condemning jihad as a demonstrably evil institution—in theory and historical practice—which till now, unfortunately, sacralizes the subjection of vast blocs of humanity by “MPED” (my mnemonic): massacre, pillage, enslavement, and deportation. And I also hope he and moderate Muslims would join me in condemning the corollary Islamic institution of dhimmitude, which, in theory and practice, sacralizes the complete, deliberately humiliating (see Koran 9:29) inequality—legally, financially, and socially—of all non-Muslims vanquished by jihad.


Before Mr. Pearl once again accuses me of being “…many times more illusionary” let me point out that such rare Muslim individuals do in fact exist, and if they didn’t, we’d have to cultivate them or live with the unacceptable status quo, indefinitely. MEMRI recently uncovered that most scarce, but cherished commodity—Dr. Iqbal Al-Gharbi, a Muslim reformer willing to acknowledge, and offer mea culpa for the living legacy of jihad (including jihad slavery), and dhimmitude.


Al-Gharbi on jihad: “We still insist that we are always the victims, and that we are always innocent. Our history is angelic, our imperialism was a welcome conquest [futuhat], our invaders [ghuzah] were liberators, our violence was a holy Jihad, our murderers were Shahids…”


Al-Gharbi on jihad slavery: “We must assess Islamic history objectively, and issue an historic public apology to the Africans who were abducted, enslaved, and expelled from their homes... The Arabs and the Muslims played a sizeable role in this loathsome trade. They alone caused the uprooting of 20 million people…”


Al-Gharbi on dhimmitude: “We must renounce the dhimmi laws that fill the books of jurisprudence, and apologize to the Christian and the Jewish minorities [for the past]. We must put an end to our changing of the facts, and to the miserable fabrications that we created in an attempt to prove that these minorities enjoyed a high status in the Islamic state, based on specific historical events presented in a truncated fashion and not in full. …The best example of this is the famous Pact of Omar that we present as the supreme example of tolerance and coexistence when in fact it set restrictions on minorities.”


Dr. Al Gharbi suggests this practical step: “The Islamic [world] must renounce, once and for all, the Islam…that divides the world into the camp of Islam and the camp of unbelief, the camp of war and the camp of peace. This division destroys any serious dialogue between religions and cultures.”


Historical acknowledgement and mea culpa, linked to a formal end to the bigoted and genocidal Islamic concept of Dar al Harb—Dr. Gharbi's welcomed prescription for initiating genuine reform within Muslim societies—all of it done without resorting to the kind of textual tinkering by so-called “creative minds” re-interpreting Koranic injunctions, as endorsed  by Judea Pearl. Unfortunately one of the “creative minds” Judea Pearl continues to support is Akbar Ahmed, despite a rather peculiar and selective “creativity”, Pearl himself has noted (at least to me, privately). For example Akbar Ahmed is one of the promoters of  the notion, pace Pearl,  of “re-interpreting, not rejecting the Koran” , while “renouncing the Hadith”. Yet as my colleague Robert Spencer pointed out to Judea Pearl, elsewhere Akbar Ahmed has stated (Akbar S. Ahmed, Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World, London/New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p. 18.) “…so great is the respect and affection the Prophet commands that his very sayings, hadith, are the source of wisdom and social practice in the Muslim world.” Moreover, Dr. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, claimed, as Judea Pearl once informed me, to be unaware of Ibn Khaldun’s own belligerent writings on the jihad (** here, p.161). When made aware of these views, Ahmed’s initial reaction, according to Pearl, was to question the accuracy of the translation, despite the fact that it was done by one of the pre-eminent 20th century American scholars of Islam, the late Yale Professor Franz Rosenthal (and derived, originally, from Rosenthal’s classic translation of  Ibn Khaldun’s “The Muqaddimah”).


K.S. Lal, the late Indian Professor of Islam, noted this difficult, if not intractable conundrum:


Muhammad could not change the revelation; he could only explain and interpret it. There are liberal Muslims and conservative Muslims; there are Muslims learned in theology and Muslims devoid of learning. They discuss, they interpret, they rationalize—but all by going round and round within the closed circle of Islam. There is no possibility of getting out of the fundamentals of Islam; there is no provision of introducing any innovation.


Confirmation of Lal’s observations at the “macro” level of international relations is manifested by the development of Shari’a (“sacred” Islamic Law)-based “human rights” constructs, such as the 1990 Cairo Declaration (i.e., the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam), to which all member states [now 57] of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)—including “secular” Turkey—are signatories. Indeed the intrepid Senegalese jurist Adama Dieng (a Muslim, who subsequently became a United Nations special rapporteur), then serving as secretary-general to the International Commission of Jurists,  declared forthrightly in February 1992   that the Cairo Declaration, under the rubric of the Shari’a,


...gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based; introduces, in the name of the defense of human rights, an intolerable discrimination against both non-Muslims and women; reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms..; [and] confirms the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, that attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.


And now even the Cairo Declaration appears to have been deemed inadequate to fulfill the global Shari’a-based needs of the 57 OIC states who are considering the establishment of their own international “world court” in order to “…try and condemn all those nations and individuals who have instigated or committed crimes against the Muslims”.


In 1909, the early 20th century scholar of Islam W.H.T. Gairdner described the same predicaments which still confront the Muslim world today. Gairdner (in,  Rebuke of Islam, 5th edition, London, 1920, pp. 147-148) expressed himself eloquently, without a trace of political correctness,


It remains to be seen how soon the reformers will realize the account that must sooner or later be settled between real civil and religious liberty and Mohammedan sacred law or ‘Shariat’ (including the Koran, and the Traditions)…It remains to be seen… whether the zimmi [dhimmi], (Christian or Jewish subjects) can ever really be accorded equal rights with the Moslem in Moslem states; whether the habit of freedom can be taught; and whether the root of the whole social evil, the position of women, can be touched, while a belief in the Koran remains…But apart from the problematic future, we have the historical past:- by the confession of the entire Moslem world itself, nothing could have been more deplorable from every point of view, moral, social, intellectual, political, and even religious, than the state of all Moslem lands before the reform movement from the West agitated them. This was freely admitted at a Moslem Conference held lately at Mecca…Is this confessed failure, then, due to Islam, or is it not? All that can be said is that Islam had practically had an absolute monopoly of influence where the state of things had been brought about; and that the impulse towards change in no case sprang—apparently could not have sprung—from any purely Islamic source. These are, at least, two solid facts. The ‘movements’ that spring from purely Islamic sources are typified by names like Abd ul Wahhab, the Mahdi, El-Senussi: And these movements are movements—backwards.


A century later Judea Pearl continues to promote an identical, stultifying “closed circle of Islam” strategy—which, as Gairdner described, failed so miserably 100 years ago—now recast, but not reconstructed in our era of  intellectually and morally bankrupt cultural relativism. What could be more “illusionary” than ignoring (or worse still, undermining) intellectually honest reformers of Islamic society, even if they include secular Muslim “apostates” such as Ibn Warraq, Wafa Sultan, and Hirsi Ali? Judea Pearl would do well to heed the warning of the Iranian secularist and historian, Reza Afshari who has chronicled the human rights tragedy  engendered  by Iran’s return to its theocratic roots in 1979, after a 50-year hiatus:


What we have from liberal Muslims today are only ideological claims punctuated by expressed good intentions. A sector of the traditional custodians of religion, the ulema, politicizing Islam did come to power[in Iran]; therefore it is logical to assume what we faced in the 1980s and 1990s was the result of Shi’ite Islam (at least an authentic version of it) injecting itself into the politics of a contemporary state. They created a record of what the `culturally authentic' rulers did… The issue is not Islam as a private faith of individuals. It is about what state officials claiming Islamic authority might have to say about the state's treatment of citizens.




[* …an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times by Rabbi Steven Stein (June 25) criticized Dr. Sultan for being insensitive to Muslim feelings and for ignoring genuine attempts by moderate Muslims to interpret their religion in a way that is compatible with progressive, modern norms. ”What if down the street there was a roomful of Muslims listening to a self-loathing Jew,” asked Rabbi Stein, “cheering her on as she spoke of the evils inherent in the Torah, in which it is commanded that a child must be stoned to death if he insults his parents, in which Israelites are ordered by God to conquer cities and, in so doing, to kill all women and children' and this imagined Jew completely ignored all of what Judaism teaches afterward?”]


[** Excerpts from, Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah; an introduction to history, translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal, New York, Pantheon Books, 1958, pp. 473,480. In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the mission and convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united , so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them at the same time. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense. It has thus come about that the person in charge of religious affairs is not concerned with power politics at all. Royal authority comes to those who have it, by accident and in some way that has nothing to do with religion. It comes to them as the necessary result of group feeling, which by its very nature seeks to obtain royal authority, as we have mentioned before, and not because they are under obligation to gain power over other nations, as is the case with Islam. They are merely required to establish their reli­gion among their own .


That is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained uncon­cerned with royal authority for about four hundred years. Their only concern was to establish their religion.

Thereafter, there were dissensions among the Christians with regard to their religion and to Christology. They split into groups and sects, which secured the support of the various Christian rulers against each other. At different times there appeared different sects. Finally, these sects crystallized into three groups, which constitute the sects. Others have no significance. These are the Melchites, the Jacobites, and the Nestorians. We do not think that we should blacken the pages of this book with discussion of their dogmas of unbelief. In general, they are well known. All of them are unbelief. This is clearly stated in the noble Qur'an. discuss or argue those things with them is not upto us. It is conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death."]

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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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