Now that Kingdom of Heaven has faded from the headlines and isn't garnering top box office receipts, it's time to check in with The Scholar of the House, Khaled Abou El Fadl.
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Islamic scholar who predicted: "In my view, it is inevitable – I'm willing to risk my reputation on this – that after this movie is released there will be hate crimes committed directly because of it. People will go see it on a weekend and decide to teach some turbanhead a lesson."
Well, have there been any hate crimes because of Kingdom of Heaven? No? Not even one?
This is by no means the first questionable statement from Khaled Abou El Fadl. He has asserted: “Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause. . . . Holy war (al-harb al-muqaddasah) is not an expression used by the Qur’anic text or Muslim theologians. In Islamic theology war is never holy; it is either justified or not. . . .”
His assertion that Islam doesn’t have a tradition of holy war suggests an unwillingness to face uncomfortable facts of Islamic history and theology. It’s unclear what term he would prefer to use for conquests of pagan Arabia by the Prophet Muhammad; the early Muslims’ extension of those conquests into Syria, Egypt, and eventually all of the Middle East and North Africa; the continuing pressure upon Christian Europe by the House of Islam — pressure that resulted in the conquest of Spain (later lost), Eastern Europe, and Constantinople, the jewel of Christendom. Whether or not Abou El Fadl will admit it, all of this and more was done in the name of jihad.
Abou El Fadl is widely known as an Islamic reformer. Is it reform to deny uncomfortable aspects of Islam, rather than confront them and call for change?
El Fadl’s emotional reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks was quoted around the country by people all across the political spectrum. He recounted what he called “a prayer, a wish, a plea: ‘Please, God, not Muslims. [Do not let it be] Muslims who have done this, or anyone who is calling themselves a Muslim.’” But he somehow knew: “Something in my heart just told me that I know it’s going to turn out to be someone who believes himself a Muslim to have done this. I wept for a good hour. It was so much suffering. As a professor who teaches in this field, and as a Muslim who is committed to this religion, for it to all to come to this.”
Come to what? El Fadl wasn’t crying over the attacks as such. “It wasn’t just that I was crying about the planes or the fear or the anxiety. . . . I was crying over what has happened to Muslim civilization. Where are we now? I was crying over the fate of something that I love dearly, and that is Islam.”
In El Fadl’s view, Muslim civilization didn’t begin to go wrong on September 11, 2001. He enumerates earlier events that caused him pain as well: “Well before this, there was the destroying of the Buddha statues; there [was] the oppression of women in Afghanistan; there [was] the decision to have Christians and Jews wear distinctive marks in Afghanistan. It’s ugliness after ugliness after ugliness.”
These expressions of regret are laudable as far as they go, but they leave the impression that violent Islamic intolerance is a relatively recent phenomenon. After all, the Taliban didn’t originate the idea that Muslim women should be heavily restricted, or that Christians and Jews in Muslim lands should wear distinctive marks. Even before Iran became Khomeini’s laboratory of the new Islamic state, in some areas of Iran Jews were made to wear distinctive yellow patches on their clothing as late as 1950. Nor was Iran or Afghanistan innovative in this; such laws are rooted in the classic directives of the Sharia for religious minorities. Distinctive dress for Muslims and Jews was first mandated over a millennium ago by the Caliph Ja’far al-Mutawakkil (847-861). Although the rules were relaxed here and there, the oppression of the dhimmis has been a constant of Islamic history.
But there is no hint of this from Khaled Abou El Fadl.
The public discourse on Islam and terrorism is largely dominated by self-important blowhards who are wrong and wrong again, wrong consistently, and yet are never called to account and are called upon as "experts" again and again. I think we should do what Khaled Abou El Fadl asked: stake his reputation on his predictions of hate crimes by viewers of Kingdom of Heaven.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch; author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter); and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Islamic Law and Non-Muslims (Prometheus). He is working on a new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (forthcoming from Regnery).