Sunday, 31 January 2016

No, Maajid Nawaz: Islam Is Not "Native" To The West

I have written of my skepticism about the "Muslim reformer" Maajid Nawaz before. On top of that, it is also worth reading this piece over at Gates of Vienna, dissecting some of the claims made about Islam by Nawaz in his much-publicized book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, which he co-authored with atheist Sam Harris. Please note that I do not personally agree with all of the author's conclusions about Nawaz and his motivations, but I do think it is a useful overview of how deceptive - willfully or otherwise - he can be when he discusses specific elements of Islamic theology and law.

All of that can then serve as illuminating background for Nawaz's latest musings about Islamic reform, from a talk he gave in Sydney this weekend.

After answering a range of questions at an event at Sydney University, including on his former membership to extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and how to prevent radicalisation in young people, Nawaz told the largely Caucasian crowd to "own" the problem of Islamic extremism.

"When we finally realise that Muslims are here to stay, that they are native to the west, their version of Islam is native to the west, we will own that conversation on equal terms," he said. "When we look at it like that, we stop 'other-ising' and we will feel like we own the problem and therefore own the conversation, as we do with Christianity. No one sees Christianity as alien to the west. They feel like they own the debate because Christianity is viewed as native to the west."

What on earth is Nawaz talking about? Islam is not "native to the West". Muslims are not "native to the West". Islam only has a significant presence in the West at all because of immigration, and because marauding Muslim armies brutally invaded Spain and the south of France in the eighth century, subjugating and persecuting the indigenous peoples.

Ultimately it is ridiculous to say that any religion is "native" to anywhere, since no religion has existed forever, but if anyone has the impression that Christianity is native to the West, that would be because it has been present here for all of modern history, and because it has shaped and cultivated so much of our culture and traditions. In a very real sense, it created the West. It did not spread throughout the Western world by violent conquest, as Islam did, and Western culture has not been directly shaped by Islam at all, despite propaganda aimed at convincing us to the contrary.

So Nawaz's formulation here is based on an utterly absurd supremacist lie, that Islam is "native" to Western civilisation. But more than that, his suggestion just makes absolutely no sense as any part of a solution. How will Westerners accepting that Islam is native to the West facilitate Islamic reform? If we stop "otherising" Muslims and Islam, will the likes of ISIS respond by beating their guns into plowshares and reinterpreting the verses of the Qur'an that they use to justify their atrocities? Once we "own" the debate on extremism, will Muslim clerics be convinced that the Qur'an should not be taken literally and that Muhammad's example is not an acceptable model to follow in the modern world?

Maajid Nawaz's "wisdom" here is just pure pretentious nonsense. He has been around for years now, and despite all his talk of deradicalisation, and his otherwise sensible suggestion that Muslims should desist from taking the Qur'an completely literally, I have still never seen any evidence that he actually has any kind of cohesive plan for Islamic reform, or understands the steps that would be required in moving Muslims away from Qur'anic literalism. I cannot possibly claim to know his true thoughts or motivations, but it seems to me that he is simply a terrible reformer, at best.

And at the same time, while I don't personally subscribe to this view, Nawaz's tendency to serenade us with ridiculous nonsense like this  - and his failure to answer important questions about his methods - gives me some sympathy with those who see him as something in fact much worse than an incompetent reformer: as a stealth jihadist, waging an incredibly sophisticated campaign of deception in service of insidious ends.

Churchill Was The Prototypical Anti-Dhimmi

It was reported recently that Italian authorities covered up naked statues exhibited at a world-famous museum in Rome for an official visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The vast censorship effort was reportedly implemented as a show of "respect" to Rouhani (because he really deserves it), out of fears that the exposed private parts of ancient Roman gods could offend Iranian (i.e. Shi'ite Islamic) sensitivity. Wine was also banned from official receptions.

Starting in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Western world has lost appreciation for its values, heritage and culture, and seems to express a deep shame - and even hatred - for it on a regular basis. Consequently, we seem to have adopted a general rule of thumb that goes something like this: "When in Islamic countries, observe Islamic values; when in our own countries, observe Islamic values". Hence, the kind of fawning, self-abasing dhimmitude we have just seen in Italy.

Winston Churchill, on the other hand, was a man who loved Western civilisation, and knew that Islam was a threat to it, and that kowtowing before Muslim demands and "sensitivities" was a disastrous thing to do. He wrote eloquently of the weaknesses of the Islamic outlook, and clear-sightedly compared the Qur'an to Mein Kampf.

He also had a marvelous response when confronted with supremacist Muslim demands to "respect" their values even when they were the ones who were visiting him, and should have been respecting his values.

Prior to a meeting in Egypt in 1945, the Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud sent word to Churchill that “the King could not allow drinking or smoking in his presence”. Churchill replied:

I was the host and I said that if it was his religion that made him say such things, my religion prescribed as an absolute sacred ritual smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, after and if need be during, all meals and the intervals between them. Complete surrender.

Such bold defiance in the face of religiously-inspired intolerance stands in stark contrast to the Western leaders of today - who allow Islam unlimited access into the West before inviting it to trample on our customs and heritage.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Other Choice

With all the mania surrounding Donald Trump, it can be easy to forget that there are, in fact, other candidates in the US Presidential race, and that some of them have useful, rational things to say.

Today, Republican candidate Ben Carson pointed out that eradicating Islamic State will not stop jihad terrorism. “The Islamist threat is now like a hydra, and cutting off the head that is ISIL will not kill the beast,” he said. “The defeat of the Islamic State and elimination of its caliphate is necessary but insufficient to ending our broader conflict against radical Islam, A Carson administration will wage war against radical Islamic terrorism as a global movement, not just as discrete entities.”

Today it is very rare to hear anyone talk about this being a global jihadist movement driven by common motives and goals (which is what it is), so Carson's understanding is very welcome. He also added: “In short, our enemies are transnational jihadist organizations. Based on their understanding of the tenets of Islam, these enemies are intent on imposing a supremacist and totalitarian form of government on others."

Exactly right. Carson has already shown in previous comments that he has a deeper understanding of Islam than any of the other candidates. While Trump steamrolls everyone and everything in his path with fire and bluster, Carson seems to be the calmer, more rational option. I don't know too much about him or his views, if I'm honest, but I've seen enough of Trump (because how can anyone avoid him at the moment?) to know that while he is coming up on the right side of many issues that ordinary Americans feel strongly about, his overall comprehension of the world around him seems to be only held in place at the moment by his sheer charisma and fire-breathing self-confidence. Give him any real political power, and his lack of intelligence would show through all the more.

I'm not one of those folks who is going to sit here and demonise Donald Trump until you never want to hear his name ever again - I don't like him, but I don't think he's a Nazi either - and it seems inconceivable that he now won't win the Republican nomination for the presidency, but if you're a conservative American voter, and have deep concerns about the future of Islam in your country, there is no better alternative in the running than Ben Carson.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Is This How You De-Radicalise A Muslim?

In a piece published recently at the Huffington Post, Asma Afsaruddin - a Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations at Indiana University - claims to have "deradicalised" (she doesn't use that word, but it's essentially what she means) one of her students by telling him how his "monolithic" view of Islam was all wrong. Some of the points she makes are worth further examination.

The professor says her student - who she calls Fulan - was indoctrinated in Wahabbism while being educated in Saudi Arabia, and came back with a huge amount of respect for Ibn Kathir, a 14th-century Muslim scholar whose work is readily available in most Muslim bookshops and mosques even in the UK. She says that Fulan was preoccupied with Ibn Kathir's discussion of the so-called "Verse of the Sword" from the Qur'an: "When the sacred months have passed, then slay the polytheists wherever you may encounter them." (9:5)

Having already told us that we should never get the impression that Islam and the Qur'an are monolithic and only subject to a single valid interpretation, Asma immediately tells us, in black and white terms, that the correct interpretation is that this verse "was directed specifically at the Meccan polytheists who had attacked the Prophet Muhammad and his small community of Muslims in the seventh century." End of story, apparently. She also adds towards the end of the piece: "One could conclude that Ibn Kathir and Ibn Taymiyyah's [another famous Muslim scholar who mentored Ibn Kathir] views were as strident as they were because of the dangerous times they lived in. The Islamic world was under siege during their period by foreign aggressors who could only be effectively repelled by a military counterattack. These two scholars were not speaking for all Muslims everywhere for all time."

The claim that the Verse of the Sword was only ever intended to apply to the Muslims Muhammad was fighting in the seventh century is entirely the professor's interpretation, and is not backed up by centuries of exegetical and juristic tradition. But more than that, she is also not even telling the truth when she says that these renowned Islamic scholars only ever meant to apply the verse's strictures to their own military situations.

Here is part of what Ibn Kathir says about the verse:

These Ayat [verses] allowed fighting people [not just Mongols or any specific group, just 'people' ~ Ed] unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations...This honorable Ayah (9:5) was called [i.e. BEFORE Ibn Kathir! ~ Ed] the Ayah of the Sword, about which Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, "It abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolator, every treaty, and every term.'' Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas commented: "No idolator had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara'ah [chapter 9 of the Qur'an] was revealed [i.e. in perpetuity ~ Ed].

Clearly, then Ibn Kathir was not just talking about fighting any specific enemies the Muslims might have had in his day, but about all infidels who do not yet "embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations" - especially since he also says in his commentary on this verse that idolaters should be killed "on the earth in general", indicating that he envisioned jihads being waged against people who had never even made contact with Muslims, let alone threatened them.

The same thing is evident in the writings of Ibn Taymiyya. For example:

Since jihad is divinely instituted, and its goal is that religion reverts entirely to Allah and to make Allah's word triumph, whoever opposes the realisation of this goal will be fought, according to the unanimous opinion of Muslims. Jews and Christians, as well as Zoroastrians (Magians), must be fought until they embrace Islam or pay the jizya without recriminations. Jurisconsults do not agree on the question of knowing if the jizya should be imposed on other categories of infidels; on the other hand, all consider that it should not be required of Arabs [hence they should convert to Islam or be killed or expelled].

Note that he doesn't say that only Mongols should be fought, but that "whoever" stands in the way of the total domination of Islam should be fought, including Jews and Christians.

Asma says that she managed to convince Fulan not to listen to Ibn Kathir or Ibn Taymiyyah by reading the writings of "many different scholars" who apparently disagreed with their interpretation of the Qur'an, but she does not mention who they are or what kind of influence they had, or continue to have.

Next, she goes on to lament the fact that Fulan was ignoring "other scholars who emphasized spiritual and intellectual striving as important components of jihad. After all, jihad in its basic meaning signifies 'struggle' or 'striving,' which can be carried out in different ways." That is true, of course, when it comes to jihad as a mere Arabic word, but it remains the case that jihad of the sword was always the predominant meaning of the term within Islamic theology. The nineteenth-century British Orientalist E.W. Lane, whose work is admired by both native Arab and non-Arab speakers, carefully studied the etymology of the word jihad, and concluded that it “came to be used by the Muslims to signify generally he fought, warred, or waged war, against unbelievers and the like.” Even Al-Azhar University, the highest educational and spiritual authority in Sunni Islam, has emphasised the same thing:

The word 'Jihad' means exerting all efforts. It means also struggling hard until you feel exhausted. To strive against the enemy is to fight him. Jihad – from the viewpoint of religion – means exerting all efforts in repelling the enemies and in fighting them. Jihad is an Islamic word which other Nations use in the meaning of 'war'.

Interestingly, the professor cites another contemporary of Ibn Kathir - Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, who she says "wrote a beautiful moving treatise describing the inner spiritual struggle as a continuous feature of jihad. Needless to say, this particular work is ignored by militants and apparently was not part of the texts that my student had been exposed to in Saudi Arabia."

The problem with this is that whatever Ibn Qayyim wrote about spiritual jihad, he still also wrote that "jihad is obligatory until the word of Allah reigns supreme, and until all are of the religion of Allah, until the religion of Allah triumphs over all religions and until they [infidels] pay the poll tax while in a state of inferiority.” It is entirely possible for Muslims to believe passionately in the importance of both spiritual and violent jihad without contradiction. Needless to say, Asma Afsaruddin ignores this fact, and this text of Ibn Qayyim's.

Next she observes that "Interpretations of law, whether religious or secular, are always influenced by specific historical and cultural contexts." That might be true, but it also ignores the fact that the jurists of Islamic law long ago declared its interpretation to be fixed and unalterable, in line with the idea that the "gates of ijtihad" - independent reasoning and reform of sharia - are closed and will remain forever thus. The professor might disagree with that, and that's fine, but it will do no good to just pretend that "mainstream Muslims" all believe that we can reinterpret Islamic law however we want as the cultural and social winds change, because that's just not the case.

At the end of the day, if the professor truly did manage to convince her young Muslim student to look at Islam in a less radical way by using these arguments, that's all to the good. However, I can't help thinking that her dishonest presentation of the facts wouldn't stack up well against someone better informed, and that if I can pick holes in her argument, then a slick, sophisticated jihadi recruiter would probably be able to pick ten more.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Major Arab Newspaper Promotes Sharia Punishments

Today, Asharq Al Awsat, "the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper", published a defence of Saudi Arabia's recent execution of 47 people charged with "terrorism", including a Shi'ite cleric, which is threatening to trigger a fresh bout of sectarian violence driven primarily by the belligerence of Iran.

In its short column, the newspaper cited sharia as a justification for the executions, and concluded with a quotation from the Qur'an (dodgy use of the English language as per original):

In Islamic Law 7, crimes are prohibited and each has specified consequential punishment once committed: “Theft, Adultery, Verbal abuse, Consumption of intoxicants, Prostitution, Defection (abandoning one’s religion), and Banditry. 
The convicted 47 have been proven guilty of Banditry, which inflicts on a social level and directly harms the community. 
On the statement of Banditry religious scholars have referred to a Quran citation that specifically explains on the crime’s fall out [Al-Maidah Ayat: 33] 
“The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land. That shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a great punishment;”

Aside from its inflammatory content, the quoted Qur'anic verse is notable for being the one that directly follows an oft-quoted verse used by Islamic apologists to demonstrate that Islam is a Religion of Peace: "whosoever killeth a human shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind." (5:32)

For the sake of "balance", it should be noted that Asharq Al Awsat - which was set up and remains based in London - is generally viewed as a pro-Saudi paper, but it is influential nevertheless (it only has a modest circulation, but its Arabic Twitter feed has 1.5 million followers). Its brazen defence of Saudi barbarity based on Islamic principles demonstrates yet again the MAINSTREAM character of so-called "extremist" Islamic values, available to ordinary Muslims around the world, and ready to be seized upon by anyone with the will and the piety to take the obvious lethal next steps.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Where Does A "Common Interest" In Jihad Come From?

The would-be jihadis, who found inspiration in their Holy Book of Peace

Earlier this week, it was reported that an aspiring suicide bomber and his secret wife who had a "common interest" in violent jihad have been found guilty of planning an ISIS-inspired terror attack on London after testing lethal bombs in their back garden.

Mohammed Rehman, 25, planned to blow up either Westfield shopping centre or the London Underground to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. His jihadi dream was funded by his wife Sana Ahmed Khan, 24, who used payday loans to buy fertiliser which her husband engineered into bombs.

We are extremely fortunate that their plan was impeded before it could come to fruition, but once again we are struck by - no, ASSAULTED by - the fact that nobody is seriously considering where such an "interest" in violent jihad could have come from. Sure, the linked Daily Mail article spends A LOT of time speculating that it might be to do with drugs, boredom, etc. It even quotes a key figure in the Counter Terrorism Unit saying: "It is clear that Rehman and Khan shared a radical and violent extremist ideology. They actively accessed extremist material on the internet and used social media to develop and share their views as they prepared acts of terrorism. The removal of access to terrorist and violent extremist material on the internet is a critical element in preventing radicalisation and terrorist atrocities and we will continue to work with partners to remove such material whenever it is discovered."

And yet, buried almost ONE HUNDRED PARAGRAPHS into this immense article is a clue to a key contributor to their "radicalisation" that has nothing to do with the Internet, or drugs:

But the court heard that Khan had also underlined passages in a copy of the Koran that read: 'Slay them wherever you find them and drive them out from the places they drove you out…such is the reward of the unbelievers.' 
Another marked passage read: 'Warfare if [sic - should be "is"] ordained for you though it is hateful for you. It may happen that you hate a thing that is good for you and that you love a thing that is bad for you.'

Aha! The Qur'an! Who'd have thunk it? The first passage quoted above is verse 2:191. The second is 2:216.

But surely, you will inevitably protest, they are taking these verses out of context? After all, most Muslims interpret these verses completely differently, don't they?

As for context, let's consult one of the greatest Qur'an commentaries of all time, shall we?

Abullah al-Qurtubi (d.1273) was a revered Andalusian Muslim scholar. An online Muslim bookstore says his tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an) is “one of the great classical commentaries”, and adds that Qurtubi “was a man of great modesty who disdained worldly honours and throughout his life wore the simple gown and cap of the ordinary Muslim.” An English translation of the first volume of his tafsir, by the venerated translator Aisha Bewley, was published a few years ago to great fanfare and acclaim.

Hardly an "extremist" to most Muslims, then, Qurtubi's discussion of the first quoted verse and the surrounding verses (i.e. the context) reaches the following stark conclusions:

This is a command to fight every idolater in every place...It is an unqualified command to fight without any precondition of hostilities being initiated by the unbelievers. The evidence for that is in the words of Allah, "and the din [religion] belongs to Allah alone." The Prophet said, "I was commanded to fight people until they say, 'There is no god but Allah.' The ayat [Qur'an verse] and hadith [tradition of Muhammad] both indicate that the reason for fighting is disbelief because Allah says, "until there is no more fitna," meaning disbelief in this case. So the goal is to abolish disbelief and that is clear... 
If they [non-Muslims] stop and become Muslim or submit by paying jizya [poll tax signifying submission to Islamic rule] in the case of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians]. Otherwise they should be fought and they are wrongdoers and only transgress against themselves...The wrongdoers are either those who initiate fighting or those who remain entrenched in disbelief and fitna. (p.496)

With regards to the second verse, Qurtubi writes:

This means that fighting is obligatory and refers to the obligation of jihad. Allah makes it clear that He has made the trial of fighting a means to reach the Garden [of Paradise]. What is meant by fighting is fighting enemies among the unbelievers. This is known from the context. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was not given permission to fight while he was in Mecca. When he emigrated, he was given permission to fight those idolaters who fought him and then he was given permission to fight idolaters in general... 
You do hate the hardship in jihad but it is good for you in that you conquer, have victory, take booty and are rewarded and whoever dies dies a martyr. You do love peace and not fighting but it is evil for you since you will be overcome and abased and your authority lost. (pp.544-546)
Qurtubi was - and remains - a greatly admired and respected authority among Muslims, and his Qur'an commentary has been widely read by Muslims around the world in many languages. He is, in other words, a MAINSTREAM Islamic scholar. Are there Muslims who will disagree with his interpretation? Sure. But the problem is that Qurtubi represents a major strand of Islamic thought that dates back centuries, and is still prominent in the Islamic world. It is, simply, orthodox Islam, NOT extremist or radical Islam.

Authorities are spending so much time looking into "the Internet" as the source of our little radicalisation problem, that they completely ignore the niqabbed elephant in the room: mainstream Islamic teaching.

Until that ends, and our law enforcement and intelligence agencies get real about this, I can guarantee there will be many more Muhammad Rehmans and Sana Ahmed Khans in the weeks, months and years to come.