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Spencer vs. Mohammed, Round II By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Below are two rounds of exchanges between Khaleel Mohammed and Robert Spencer, finishing off a dialogue that started with Spencer's Frontpage article, Muslim Feminism? -- The Editors.

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Spencer’s Errors
By Khaleel Mohammed

In his recent response to my criticism of his article "Islamic Feminism?", Robert Spencer talks about me and my sustained attack on him and his work. I find this interesting since my only material against him is based on when we met in a Frontpage symposium and now in my critique of his criticism of an Indonesian reformer. But a perusal of the web would indicate that he has tried to malign my scholarship on several occasions, whereas I have basically ignored his ranting against Islam.

Mr. Spencer wants the “fair-minded” reader to disregard me as an authority both now and in the future. Here is the problem: What constitutes the reliability of an authority on Islam is NOT dictated by Islamophobic writers. Mr. Spencer seeks to deny that I should be deemed as an authority on Islamm but by his own admission, he is not an authority. Indeed in his book he admits to having studied Islam for twenty years, and then uses the quotes of “Islamic jihadists” and “traditional Islamic sources.” Therein lies the problem: the quotes of Islamic jihadists are simply their views; and the “traditional Islamic sources” if selectively used for manipulation are nothing else but that—tools for manipulation.

 

In admitting that he has made a difference between Qur'an and Hadith—he still insists that the Qur’an gives the Hadith sanction. So then, Fazlur Rahman, Azizah al-Hibri, Asma Barlas, Rifat Hasan, Mohamad Arkoun, Chiragh Ali, Leila Ahmed all of whom are scholars of Islam are now wrong? I cite those names simply to prove a point. Mr. Spencer has quoted names and he is right about their positions—but the name citing can continue—the position of hadith is not a monolithic one as he makes out. And EVERY academically respected researcher points out that the evolution of the genre is as I have presented it. 

 

Mr. Spencer accuses me of not doing research—it is true that I choose not to read the work of certain people, and rather rely on the historically reliable material to which I have access, and the writings of bonafide scholars, amongst them Wael Hallaq (a non-Muslim, by the way and one of the finest scholars in Islam), Harald Motzki, Hugh Kennedy et al. They have NO malicious agenda, and they are true scholars; I would suggest he read their books instead of trying to get quotes from jihadists.

 

Why did I resent his attack on Mulia? What is his agenda? And I note that he seeks to denigrate every Muslim thinker, every reformer. Here is a lady trying her best to read her scripture, going back to see what it means—and succeeding in Indonesia…and here is someone who harbors this tremendous ill-will towards Islam seeking to denigrate her actions. That she is swimming upstream, I do NOT deny. That Islam is in a state of crisis, I do not deny. Why, one is forced to ask, is Mr. Spencer so incensed at this woman and her struggle? Is it because it puts a Muslim in a good light?

 

Now, quoting Ibn Kathir…as an authority—that was a good one. Yes, Mr. Spencer is correct, for many Muslims Ibn Kathir certainly is an authority, but that is precisely the argument within Islam now—many Muslim scholars are fighting against the effect of his medieval thinking, and they are succeeding. The works of Irshad Manji, Fatima Mernissi, as well as my own submissions to academic journals are among the fruits of such successful attempts. .

 

Yes we are talking of today and not seventh century Arabia—so I find it difficult that Mr. Spencer should seek to devalue the work of those who work so hard to bring Islam into the contemporary world. My own "pristine judgment," even if it were that comes from someone trained in Usul al-Fiqh--and as any scholar ought to know, Usulis have that right. But even so, the scholars who share the opinion that I have on the issues that I raised are many -- amongst them Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad al-Ghazali, Taha al-Alwani. I guess they are not authorities and need to be vetted by Mr. Spencer and his ilk?

 

On the issue of the Abrahamic texts: yes, it is true that other Abrahamic religions have gotten around problematic verses (of course several scholars reject this--among them Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and Irving Greenberg), and Muslims have not for the most part. That, is precisely the battle of modern Islam. And that is why when people like Spencer seek to deny this occurrence, researchers such as myself take issue. What he ends up doing is aiding the very jihadists against whom he harangues: all they have to do is point out how deep-rooted his anti-Islam disposition and tell the Muslims that he represents western bigotry.

 

There are other researchers who say things that I do not like about Islam—amongst them Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson and Rachel Ehrenfeld. But these people take the time to differentiate between radicals and non-radicals: Spencer does not. I do not find them taking one hadith and using that to tar all of Islam—for they would not expect me to take one verse of the Bible or Christian Testament and tar the respective religions of those texts.

 

The hadith of Aisha—quoted at length—certainly is one that is negative. I could counter with hundreds of other hadiths that show that the women of Arabia at Muhammad’s time knew hunger, and that their childbearing as a symbol of suffering made them the worst of sufferers—but this would be indulging in apologetics: and since that would also mean relying on hadith, I will not resort to them.  My point is that here is Mr. Spencer, self taught, reading these works and trying to find every negative portrayal of Islam.

 

And so Mr. Spencer condemns me for not being a trustworthy voice in the argument for Muslim moderation: my answer is simply, and typically that of a Muslim, my everything is for God, Lord of the Universe. If that offends you and makes me untrustworthy, so be it. If you do not wish to rate me as a scholar, that is your right, but you must admit that Christianity has changed as has Judaism, and Islam is in that stage now. You must answer as to why you are so opposed to admitting this fact, and so vehemently seek to oppose those Muslims who do something about change. You must answer as to why you quote verses of the Qur’an that you claim guide Muslims to be duplicitous about their true intentions.

 

Yet, for all of the foregoing, let me extend that which I thought I would never do to Mr. Spencer: if, Sir, you say that your fight is against radical Islam, then I too have the same fight. I do not argue with you that normative, contemporary Islam needs to be changed. I do not deny that my positions on Quran and Hadith are minority ones. No more than the reformist positions within Judaism and Christianity were at one time minority ones. Every single Muslim I have met, taught, and learned from admits we have problems: from within in that we need to come to grips with modernity, from without that there are those who shamelessly seek to take certain interpretations, or create certain interpretations to vilify. Yet, Islam still grows....not only by birth, but by conversion. Strange for a religion that supposedly is so backward.

 

Mohammed’s Fact-Mugging

By Robert Spencer

 

Khaleel Mohammed asserts that I have tried to malign his “scholarship” on several occasions, while he has “basically ignored” my “ranting against Islam.” In fact, however, I published nothing about him and his work until after our June 25, 2004 FrontPage Symposium, in which he began his practice of misrepresenting my positions and my beliefs — a nasty habit he has been unable to shake to this day.

 

At the same time, however, his argumentation is so poor that I doubt he will be able to win over many people of good will to his point of view. For instance, he writes: “Mr. Spencer wants the ‘fair-minded’ reader to disregard me as an authority both now and in the future. Here is the problem: What constitutes the reliability of an authority on Islam is NOT dictated by Islamophobic writers.” Aside from his use of the empty, trumped-up, and politically manipulative word “Islamophobic,” Khaleel Mohammed here suggests that I am asking people to take my word for it that he is not a reliable authority. But anyone who reads our exchange can see that I wasn’t asking anyone to take my word for anything: unlike Khaleel Mohammed, everything I said about Islam I supported from Islamic authorities.

 

Of course, that isn’t enough for Khaleel because he dislikes how I use these authorities: he insists that I have “selectively used” traditional Islamic sources as “tools for manipulation.” But that would give one the impression that I have portrayed Islam incorrectly or inaccurately, wouldn’t it? Yet Dr. Mohammed himself notes that the Indonesian Muslim reformer Musdah Mulia is “swimming upstream.” He even admits that his own “positions on Quran and Hadith are minority ones.” If that is so, how have I manipulated Islamic sources? All I have done is explain the majority views within Islam on certain texts and disputed questions — and Khaleel Mohammed admits that they are indeed majority views, but excoriates me for saying so. If torturing logic were a prosecutable offense, Khaleel Mohammed would be doing hard time.

 

Mohammed then plays a name-dropping game, pretending that I cited various Islamic authorities to prove that “the Qur’an gives the Hadith sanction,” and reeling off a list of “scholars of Islam” who presumably deny that the Qur’an does so. But in reality I didn’t cite any authorities to prove that the Qur’an gives the Hadith sanction, but to prove that most Muslims believe that the Qur’an gives the Hadith sanction. For example, I quoted Ahmad Von Denffer saying that “there is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the contents of the sunna are also from Allah” (emphasis added). And I quoted Islamic apologist Akbar Ahmed explaining that “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.”

 

This is a key distinction. My only point was that most Muslims don’t share the views on Islam of Musdah Mulia — or Khaleel Mohammed — and that they face an uphill battle. I can’t imagine why Khaleel Mohammed would have found this objectionable when he himself admits that his are minority views. His Islam may be quite chummy and inviting, and appealing to Western audiences, but it is simply not an Islam that would be recognized as such by most Muslims in the world today. Maybe it should be, and I wish him well in this effort, but no non-Muslims should have any illusions about how widely his views are accepted. Muslims and non-Muslims often like to pretend that the battle for Islam has already been won, and that the global jihad is the work of a “tiny minority of extremists.” Unfortunately, reality is more complicated, and the outcome of this particular battle is by no means assured; Khaleel Mohammed doesn’t help it, either, when, instead of thanking those who point out the weakness of moderate arguments and working to strengthen them, he shoots the messenger. Seven scholars — eight, including Khaleel — rejecting hadith does not make for a movement.

 

And as for Khaleel’s Islamic authorities who reject hadith — Fazlur Rahman, Azizah al-Hibri, Asma Barlas, Rifat Hasan, Mohamad Arkoun, Chiragh Ali, and Leila Ahmed — it is interesting to note first of all that all of these are modern writers. Theologians within the Islamic tradition who rejected the authority of hadith are somewhat thin on the ground. But are even these authorities the enemies of hadith that Khaleel makes them out to be? About the Punjabi theologian Fazlur Rahman (1911-1988), his disciple M. Yahya Birt insists: “Fazlur Rahman is not saying that Hadith are unhistorical or even that if they are historical, they lack legal normativeness….Of course, he realises that if all Hadith were to be given up, then all that would remain is an unbridgeable gap between us and the Prophet. The Qur’an would then become subjective putty in our hands, to be moulded into any shape that we desired.” (And we couldn’t have that, now, could we?) In an address at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels on women’s rights in Islam, Azizah al-Hibri explained that in speaking about women and Islam, “we start with the Qur'an and Hadith which are the major texts for Muslims.” Asma Barlas takes issue with “a hadith-based interpretation of the Qur’an,” but she does at least admit that “most Muslims view this as the only legitimate way to read the scripture” — which was my only point in my original article.

 

But Khaleel Mohammed’s fine contempt for research is amply illustrated by this statement: “Mr. Spencer accuses me of not doing research—it is true that I choose not to read the work of certain people…” That is, he doesn’t choose to read my work. That doesn’t trouble me, but it is amusing that someone engaged in an ongoing attack on my credibility and the quality of my work would openly admit that he doesn’t actually read what I write. This is as silly as his statement that I accused him of a “sustained attack” on me when in reality, he says, he has only attacked me in two articles. Anyone who troubles to read my last reply will see from its first sentence that the “sustained attack” to which I was referring was to Khaleel’s previous article alone. Why trouble with facts when you’ve got a good character assassination groove going?

 

Khaleel Mohammed then tells me to read Wael Hallaq and other scholars “instead of trying to get quotes from jihadists, or using the hateful rhetoric of anti-Islamic writers.” Well, Khaleel, that all depends. Am I “trying to get quotes from jihadists” in order to smear innocent people, or carry out some nefarious Islamophobic scheme? Of course not. I am trying to alert people to the reality of what the jihadists say and do — and its basis in Islamic teachings. Until those Muslims who call themselves reformers acknowledge that basis in Islamic teachings and make some attempt to disabuse Muslims of the idea that their religion commands violence against unbelievers, their reforms are hollow. Yet when I have tried to ask Muslim reformers how they plan to convince Muslims of the correctness of their benign version of Islam, they have heaped contempt and abuse on me. That’s all right — I can take it. But it leaves the fundamental questions unanswered. For example, Wael Hallaq, whom Khaleel thinks I should read, says in his book A History of Islamic Legal Theories (a good read — I recommend it) that in modern attempts to reform Islam, “the Quran and the Sunna were by and large left untouched for the obvious reason that they constituted the connection between the believers and their God. Law can never be deemed Islamic without it being somehow anchored in these two sources.” (p. 260). What, then, are we — moderate Muslims as well as non-Muslims — to do when Muslims read the Qur’an and Sunna and think it is telling them to do violence?

 

Khaleel says that I seek “to denigrate every Muslim thinker, every reformer.” In fact, no. I am just asking questions, and finding that most “Muslim thinkers” and “reformers” do not wish to and/or cannot answer them. He criticizes me again for asking these questions of Musdah Mulia, saying: “Why, one is forced to ask, is Mr. Spencer so incensed at this woman and her struggle? Is it because it puts a Muslim in a good light?” No, Khaleel, it’s because no light can be good if it is based on false pretenses. According to journalist Haroon Siddiqui, Mulia “wears the hijab but says it’s not Islamically mandatory.” Great — so how does Musdah Mulia explain away the hadith in which Muhammad commands that “when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except…face and hands” (Sunan Abu Dawud, book 32, no. 4092). Sunan Abu Dawud is one of the Sahih Sittah, the hadith collections considered most reliable by Muslims. Those Muslims who seem, like Mulia, to ignore the “authentic” ahadith also have to explain what all the hundreds of millions of Muslims who apparently accept those ahadith think they are doing. Has Mulia done so? Have you, Dr. Mohammed?

 

Yet Khaleel insists that contrary to what I would “like to think,” (as if he knows), “many Muslim scholars are fighting against the effect of [Ibn Kathir’s] medieval thinking, and they are succeeding. Contrary to what Mr. Spencer would like to think, the work of Ibn Kathir and his ilk are losing power….The works of Irshad Manji, Fatima Mernissi, as well as my own submissions to academic journals are among the fruits of such successful attempts.” While I can’t profess to be impressed with a grand total of three reformers (plus a few chronicled by MEMRI, and some other intrepid ones whom Khaleel doesn’t name, and who are just as haughty, contemptuous, and mute about the big questions as the others) I certainly wish this enterprise well. It is worth noting that at least one of these three reformers have received death threats. In any case, I don’t think their reform will get anywhere unless they admit that jihad terrorists use the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify violence, and convincingly refute that usage on Islamic grounds. Then moderates will actually have a chance to win the debate within Islam. Can that be done? It hasn’t been done yet.

 

That is the only thing I ever ask of Islamic reformers: show us how you are going to do it. I refuse to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. There are numerous texts in the Qur’an and Sunna that, on their face, enjoin violence: how are you going to blunt their force among Muslims? I do not accept that asking this is, as Khaleel Mohammed characterizes it, an attempt to “devalue the work of those who work so hard to bring Islam into the contemporary world.” In fact, the answer to that question is the key to whether or not they will succeed in bringing Islam into the contemporary world.

 

It will be a herculean task. Just how herculean is indicated by another “reformer” Khaleel cites, Muhammad al-Ghazali. Al-Ghazali is included in a group about which Dr. Mohammed sneers: “I guess they are not authorities since Mr. Spencer and his ilk has not vetted them?”  I confess to lacking confidence that a man who upholds the death penalty for those who leave Islam is really bringing Islam into the contemporary world. In 1992, the Egyptian secularist Faraj Foda was murdered; Muhammad al-Ghazali commented: “The killing of Faraj Foda was in fact the implementation of the punishment against an apostate which the imam (the state) has failed to implement.” Behold the great reformer!

 

Khaleel Mohammed admits that “other Abrahamic religions have gotten around problematic verses… and Muslims have not for the most part. That, is precisely the battle of modern Islam.” But then he says that I “seek to deny this occurrence” — and even claims that while others “take the time to differentiate between radicals and non-radicals; Spencer does not.” Character assassination is so much fun, isn’t it, Khaleel? It might be more fun, however, if you had a scrap of evidence on your side. I challenge you to produce even one statement from anything I have written in which I have denied that there are moderate Muslims who are fighting for a peaceful Islam, or said that all Muslims are “radical.” You will not be able to find such a statement. Nor will you be able to find me “taking one hadith and using that to tar all of Islam,” as you accuse me of doing with the hadith in which Aisha complains that Muslim women suffer more than others. I quoted part of that hadith in my piece on Musdah Mulia because she was saying that Islam improved the condition of women. Evidently Aisha didn’t think it did. Is it tarring all of Islam to point that out? All right: if it is, then let’s all agree to ignore uncomfortable passages from Qur’an and Hadith. Unfortunately, however, the jihadists are unlikely to play along. All I am doing, again and again, is asking them how moderates propose to win the battle against them. But none have so far deigned to explain.

 

I don’t think Khaleel Mohammed will do so either. After all, he says: “Mr. Spencer condemns me for not being a trustworthy voice in the argument for Muslim moderation: my answer is simply, and typically that of a Muslim, my everything is for God, Lord of the Universe. If that offends you and makes me untrustworthy, so be it.” No, sir. What makes you untrustworthy is that you misrepresent, again and again, what I have written and what I believe — and that is not all that you misrepresent. That should be clear to anyone who reads our exchanges.

 

To wit: Khaleel continues, “If you do not wish to rate me as a scholar, that is your right, but you must admit that Christianity has changed as has Judaism, and Islam is in that stage now. You must answer as to why you are so opposed to admitting this fact, and so vehemently seek to oppose those Muslims who do something about change.” Of course, I will be happy to admit that Islam is undergoing a worldwide reformation as soon as I see evidence that it is. Even a hundred, even a thousand scholars that Khaleel could name who believe that Islam is a new species of Quaker pacifism will not make for a reformation. That has to come from the ulama of various nations actually renouncing the doctrines of violent jihad (although even that may not do the job). Has that happened? No. Are there people nevertheless working for change within Islam? Of course. And I do not oppose them: as I have explained, all I am doing is asking how they plan to win. None so far will tell me.

 

After this, Dr. Mohammed adds: “You must answer as to why you quote verses of the Qur’an that you claim guide Muslims to be duplicitous about their true intentions (your claim for Taqiyya).” Of course, I have never said that all Muslims are always duplicitous, or that all Muslim reformers are deceivers (although some famous American moderate Muslims are now behind bars) — but I would ask Dr. Mohammed to explain exactly what Qur’an 3:28 and 16:106 mean, if they are not telling Muslims that in certain circumstances they should be duplicitous.

 

Dr. Mohammed concludes his exercise in fact-mugging and smear-mongering by saying I was right all along: “I do not argue with you that normative, contemporary Islam needs to be changed. I do not deny that my positions on Quran and Hadith are minority ones….Every single Muslim I have met, taught, and learned from admits we have problems…” And all I have done is asked for an honest explanation of how you propose to solve them. Not just I, but many other Americans of good will who wish the moderate Muslim endeavor all success would be substantially reassured if this question were not answered with obfuscation and insults, but with courtesy, openness, and honesty.

 

Final Response To Spencer

By Khaleel Mohammed


There is an Arab saying: "The best of speech is that which is short and to the point." I will try to use that approach to the best of my ability now regarding Mr. Spencer's response.


I see no need that authorities should be cited to "prove" that the majority of Muslims uphold hadith. I have not doubted this at any time, but what I do take issue with is that the names he quoted also support that concept. Suddenly he wants to assume that the names I have mentioned against hadith are the only ones agreeing with me. I find that misleading and manipulative: as Mr. Spencer ought to know, as does any researcher, there are thousands of Malaysian and Indonesia scholars who share my view, as there are in Pakistan and India, and Egypt. I think that before Mr. Spencer quotes Birt's views about what Fazlur Rahman supposedly said, he should read Fazlur Rahman's theory on "double movement" on Quran'ic interpretation. Al-Hibri et all are simply recognizing the status of hadith: they are NOT supporting it. Who is trying to mislead whom here?

 

Misrepresent? I quoted Wael Hallaq, my teacher. And so, Mr. Spencer, in attempting perhaps to prove that I did not understand him cites from his book. But my focus again is on the difference between Quran and Hadith, and here is what Hallaq says:  "It must be remembered that when Muslim writers spoke of early periods, they were hardly  concerned with searching for pure historical facts. . . whatever really happened in the past has unconsciously been considered immaterial because for them, what counts is what they thought had taken place" (The gate of ijtihad: A Study in Islamic Legal History, Ph.D thesis, 1983: 3). And this is precisely the idea that several others and I do: show the Muslim community that several formulations need be reexamined.

 

Now Mulia's wearing of the headscarf although she says it is not mandatory: for her people, as in so many Eastern countries, she recognizes it as a custom. But no:  Mr. Spencer wants to show his knowledge in hadith and cites on from the "authentic hadith." I find it surprising that Mr. Spencer should harp on the "authenticity" of this hadith, when, had he done his research in the original sources, he would have found lo and behold! Abu Daud himself wrote regarding that hadith: " Hadha Mursal: Khalid b. Durayk never met Aisha.".  (Sunan Abu Daud, 3: 65; Beirut: Dar al Kutub al ilmiyyah, 1996). As Mr. Spencer also ought to know, a hadith that is considered "mursal" is not considered authentic on its own.

 

In truth, Mr. Spencer could have come with stronger hadith. But would that have made his point? The so-called Six Authentic Books is a general term--of which Abu Daud is NOT considered very highly amongst scholars--are under severe scrutiny. Nasir al Din al Albani wrote a series of books "the series of weak hadiths"--challenging several of the narrations in these books. And he received the King Faisal Award for his work in hadith. Long before him, Al-Daraqutni (d. 995/6) had questioned several of al-Bukhari's hadith. So the issue of questions is not a new one--what I show is that new impetus has been giving to challenging the hadith--and the fact that Saudi Arabia could give an award to a man who openly defied that nation's scholars proves my point.

 

Misrepresenting? I said that in my previous response "But even so, the scholars who share the opinion that I have on the issues that I raised are many -- amongst them Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad al-Ghazali, Taha al-Alwani (bolding mine)." But Mr. Spencer tries to raise another issue of Shaykh al-Ghazzali to mislead the reader: I am not concerned with his views on other subjects. All I wanted to show was that respected figures support what I say ON THE ISSUES I RAISED. Like Mr. Spencer, I too am appalled by al-Ghazzali's views on several other matters, as I am appalled by Dr. al-Alwani's).

 

What will Reformers do with difficult Quranic texts? Put them into historical perspective. How are we going about this process? Well, the vast literature in the Arab and Muslim world right now on the subject is something that Mr. Spencer may not choose to read. Irshad Manji's book being translated in 16+ languages may be unimportant to him. But to Muslims--that is important. The April 27th. Christian Science Monitor Report that in Turkey, women have brought significant change to the Muslim order may be meaningless to Mr. Spencer...but again, it shows to any unprejudiced person that changes are going on in the Muslim world. (see also the work of al-Albani mentioned earlier). Our change may not be quick enough for Mr. Spencer--but we work with realism and a sincere desire for success.

 

The life of my student--and now heroine--Bariza Umar--may be insignificant to Mr. Spencer, but the fact that she could have the courage to stand up to the Pakistani authorities and refuse to sign a form (see Muslim Wake Up, April 23: Let God be the Judge) makes me know that my influence is being felt. My student Nahar al Sabil in Saudi Arabia telling the authorities that the Islam he learned from an insignificant Guyanese is more humane to him...that tells me I am succeeding. And my work is far less significant that that of the other reformers I mentioned earlier. The fact that Abdul Aziz Sachedina can have got the attention of Ayatollah Sistani tells me that reformists are succeeding.

 

So what are we doing? If that is not enough, then someone's head is buried in the sand. How we do it? Writing, lecturing--showing that the Qur'anic verses have to be placed in context. That Hadith is problematic. That is all we need to do...once the questions are raised, and they are now raised, we are happy. Will we succeed entirely? I think not...no more than Christians have succeeded in ridding Christianity of all its problems. At least we acknowledge ours.  Perhaps Mr. Spencer should, instead of seeking to cure Islam without a full understanding of its primary sources, seek to fix that which is in a language he understands: the best selling status Tim LaHaye's novels that tell of Jesus returning to earth to wipe out all non-Christians shows that before he seeks to remove the mote from the eye of Islam, he should seek to extricate the log from the eye of that which is closer to him.

 

Now for the Qur'anic verses that purportedly lead to duplicity. Hmmm. I wonder if Mr. Spencer were able to read those in the original Arabic if he would still hold his position? But to respond:  The term "wali" means "a protector, a guardian"--as when a "wali" takes care of a minor. And the verse therefore is "Let not the believers take the rejecters of faith as protectors instead of (other) believers. Whosoever does so has no connection with God--unless you beware of them fully."  (end of trans). Where is the duplicity here? When a believer is in a position that s/he has to go against a believer and choose as authority another disbeliever, s/he should do so with full awareness of that disbeliever's rejection of her religion. In the US, we may NOT be happy with any president we select, but we nonetheless work with him, while fully aware of our views regarding his stance. Is this wrong?

 

The next verse: Whoever believes in God after s/he has believed--except s/he who is forced to seem so while his heart finds peace in faith--but such as open their hearts to disbelief, on them is God's wrath..." end of translation.  Is this duplicitous? It is called preservation of life. Does any other religion's normative teachings suggest otherwise?

 

And with that, I rest my case.

 

Final Response to Mohammed

By Robert Spencer

 

In his latest salvo Khaleel Mohammed continues his increasingly tiresome practice of misrepresenting what I have written and then excoriating me for saying something I did not say. He says that I want “to assume that the names I have mentioned against hadith are the only ones agreeing with me” and asserts that “there are thousands of Malaysian and Indonesia scholars who share my view, as there are in Pakistan and India, and Egypt.” In reality, I never denied any of this. My point was a different one: that his is a minority view, which he now grants. Any attentive reader who has made it this far will recall that I wrote this above, which shows his charge here to be false: “Even a hundred, even a thousand scholars that Khaleel could name who believe that Islam is a new species of Quaker pacifism will not make for a reformation.”

 

Likewise he says that various authorities “are simply recognizing the status of hadith: they are NOT supporting it. Who is trying to mislead whom here?” In fact I cited them only to illustrate the status of hadith, not to claim that they supported this view. In fact, about Asma Barlas I wrote that she “takes issue with ‘a hadith-based interpretation of the Qur’an,’ but she does at least admit that ‘most Muslims view this as the only legitimate way to read the scripture’ — which was my only point in my original article.” Now Khaleel Mohammed says that I am trying to mislead readers by suggesting that these people support the status of hadith — despite the fact that I explicitly said that Asma Barlas does not. Who is trying to mislead whom here, Khaleel?

 

It’s the same thing with Wael Hallaq: Dr. Mohammed asserted that I should read his work, implying that I hadn’t. In fact I have, so I quoted a pertinent section from his book A History of Islamic Legal Theories. Now this becomes a nefarious attempt on my part, says Khaleel, “perhaps to prove that I did not understand him.” Where did I say he didn’t understand Hallaq? Let him bring his proof if he is truthful. My point in quoting Hallaq was to illustrate the uphill battle that Muslim reformers face — a battle that Khaleel has granted.

 

As for Hallaq’s statement, which Dr. Mohammed quotes, that Muslim writers “were hardly concerned with searching for pure historical facts” and “what counts is what they thought had taken place,” I discuss this fact in my books Islam Unveiled and Onward Muslim Soldiers. Of course, Dr. Mohammed doesn’t read my work, he just attacks what he likes to pretend I’m saying, so he doesn’t know that. In those books, I discuss the fact that many scholars such as Hallaq and Ignaz Goldziher have done important work in investigating the authenticity of hadith, but that these theories have made little headway in the Islamic world, where ones that are considered authentic are still considered normative by most jurists. If Dr. Mohammed wants on the basis of these investigations to “show the Muslim community that several formulations need be reexamined,” I wish him all success. In my article on Musdah Mulia and subsequently all I have said is that he will face difficulties in doing this. He agrees with this, and yet continues to heap abuse upon me.

 

One of his principal tactics in doing so is to impugn my knowledge of Islam. This is something he has in common with other Islamic apologists — many of whom have derided me as “ignorant” without ever actually proving me wrong. It generally goes something like this:

 

Me: The Qur’an teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).

Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. You have to know hadith.

Me: The Hadith teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).

Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. You have to know Islamic law.

Me: Islamic law teaches violence against unbelievers (with citations).

Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. It doesn’t mean that. And Muslims today don’t pay attention to these ancient laws.

Me: Modern-day jihad terrorists cite Qur’an, Hadith, and Islamic law to justify violence against unbelievers (with citations).

Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. Most Muslims see these things differently.

Me: Great. How will they refute the jihadist exegesis and so end jihadist recruitment among Muslims?

Islamic apologist: You are ignorant. I am not going to speak with you about this any more.

 

Khaleel Mohammed plays the ignorance card not only by asserting that I have not read books that I have read, but also by assuming that I do not read paragraphs immediately adjacent to ones I quote. Regarding the hadith in which the Muslim prophet Muhammad says that women must cover all but their face and hands, he says of me: “Had he done his research in the original sources, he would have found lo and behold! Abu Daud himself wrote regarding that hadith: ‘Hadha Mursal: Khalid b. Durayk never met Aisha.’ (Sunan Abu Daud, 3: 65; Beirut: Dar al Kutub al ilmiyyah, 1996). As Mr. Spencer also ought to know, a hadith that is considered ‘mursal’ is not considered authentic on its own.”

 

Thanks for the lesson, Khaleel. That notation is in fact right next to the material I quoted in my edition of Sunan Abu Dawud, and I am well aware of its existence. So why didn’t I tell the world that this was a “mursal” hadith? Let me answer that first by explaining, as you did not do, what a “mursal” hadith is. Mursal means “hurried,” and a mursal hadith is one with a missing link in the chain of transmitters (isnad) between the Prophet and the person reporting the hadith. What is the significance of this broken chain? Not much. There are four principal schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence: the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi’i, and Hanbali. Malikis and Hanafis accept mursal ahadith without question; some jurists even prefer them to ahadith in which the chain of transmitters is unbroken, because they take the broken link to signify that the one relating the hadith has done his own research and found the hadith to be sound! The Shafi’is accept them if various other conditions are met. Hanbalis accept mursal ahadith if no other material contradicts them — can Khaleel Mohammed produce any that does so in this case? If so, why does no one seem to know about it in Saudi Arabia, where that form of Hanbalism known as Wahhabism holds sway? Abu Dawud himself accepted mursal ahadith as long as no better-attested ahadith contradicted them. Clearly also the testimony of Islamic history and current Islamic practice all over the world, where if women do not cover themselves in this way, hardline Muslims pressure them to do so, indicates that the teaching of this hadith is generally accepted as authentic. So why didn’t I say it was a “mursal” hadith? Because it doesn’t matter: most Muslim scholars accept it.

 

Why did Khaleel Mohammed not explain all this, but rather make the disingenuous and misleading claim that “a hadith that is considered ‘mursal’ is not considered authentic on its own”? Who is trying to mislead whom here, Khaleel?

 

Khaleel Mohammed also takes me to task for me dismissing al-Ghazali’s opposition to the Hadith because he approved of the murder of Faraj Foda. “I am not concerned,” huffs Khaleel, “with his views on other subjects. All I wanted to show was that respected figures support what I say ON THE ISSUES I RAISED.” Well, that’s just dandy, Khaleel. Logged and noted: al-Ghazali supports hadith reform. That he also supports murder for blasphemy I do not actually think of as a different subject: it shows that to reform Islam, questioning Hadith is not enough. Much more must be done. Maybe if the great reformer Khaleel Mohammed took a few minutes off from misrepresenting me, he would have time to do the hard work that must be done in other areas.

 

The rest of it is just more smears. Khaleel says: “The life of my student--and now heroine--Bariza Umar--may be insignificant to Mr. Spencer…” Where has Bariza Umar come up before? Where did I say she or her work was insignificant? Bring your proofs, if you be truthful. I’m just thrilled that “Abdul Aziz Sachedina can have got the attention of Ayatollah Sistani.” Does it really mean that “reformists are succeeding”? I hope so. Maybe Sachedina can get Sistani to drop his classification of unbelievers as unclean, on a par with urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dog, pig, alcoholic liquors, and “the sweat of an animal who persistently eats najasat [i.e., unclean things].” You can find that today, Khaleel, on Sistani’s website, www.sistani.org. There is no direct link, but if you go to his site, hit “English,” then “Islamic laws,” and then “Najis [Unclean] Things,” you’ll see it. “Kafir” (unbeliever) is #8, right between “pig” and “alcoholic liquors.” Gee, this reform is going along just swimmingly! Sistani for Nobel!

 

But of course, Khaleel Mohammed doesn’t mention this little nugget from Sistani. We are just supposed to be content that Sachedina is getting to him. Maybe I only noticed it because, as Khaleel says, I lack “a full understanding of [Islam’s] primary sources.” Yes, indeed. I never did get that secret decoder ring that turns “beat her” (Qur’an 4:34) into “give her a hug.” But Dr. Mohammed says that my attention is wrongly focused: “the best selling status Tim LaHaye's novels that tell of Jesus returning to earth to wipe out all non-Christians shows that before he seeks to remove the mote from the eye of Islam, he should seek to extricate the log from the eye of that which is closer to him.” Tell you what, Khaleel: as soon as Tim LaHaye beheads a non-Christian and Fox News gleefully replays the video, I’ll get right on that.

 

As for the Qur'an 3:28 and 16:106, which permit duplicity, Mohammed says: “Hmmm. I wonder if Mr. Spencer were able to read those in the original Arabic if he would still hold his position?” He actually has no idea whether or not I can read the Arabic, and to what extent, any more than he knows what books I have or have not read, but that is immaterial: in discussing these before I relied, as I always do, on translations made by Muslims for Muslims. Most often I use those by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. I suppose those two Muslims didn’t know enough Arabic to render these verses properly?

 

In any case, Khaleel translates 3:28 as “Let not the believers take the rejectors of faith as protectors instead of (other) believers. Whosoever does so has no connection with God--unless you beware of them fully.” Then he asks: “Where is the duplicity here?” I’ll tell you, Khaleel: it’s in the passage you render as “unless you beware of them fully.” What does this mean? Ibn Kathir renders it as “unless you indeed fear a danger from them.” He explains its meaning this way: believers should not take unbelievers as protectors “except those believers who in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers. In this case, such believers are allowed to show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda said, ‘We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.’”

 

So now I have invented the idea that Qur’an 3:28 enjoins duplicity, out of “Islamophobia” and ignorance of Arabic? Come on, Khaleel. Who is trying to mislead whom here? Your quarrel is with Ibn Kathir and his ilk, not with me. You are fighting the wrong battle. If you were really committed to Islamic reform, you would join me in combating the ill effects that the violent passages of the Qur’an and Hadith are having in the world today. That you do not do so, and instead expend your energies on inaccurate and disingenuous attacks on me, speaks volumes.




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