Monday, 18 April 2016

The Middle East Eye: Blind to the Truth About Jihad (Part 2)

The Middle East Eye's disingenuous recent article "When is it permissible to fight in Islam?" continues to conflate jihad as a method of establishing Islamic political rule around the world with the overly simplistic idea of forced conversion.

As I noted at the end of the last part of this rebuttal, the Qur'an does in fact allow for the forced conversion of pagans and polytheists (basically anyone apart from Jews and Christians, who as "People of the Book" get the special privilege of merely being subjugated instead of killed), in its notorious Verse of the Sword (9:5). It is remarkable, therefore, when the author of the MEE piece cites another Islamic apologist, Fazlur Rahman, who claims: "There is no single parallel in Islamic history to the forcible conversion to Christianity...en masse carried out by Charlemagne...although, of course, isolated cases of such conversions may have taken place."

What an outrageous falsehood this is! The entire history of Islamic conquest and rule in India is one long chronicle of mass forced conversion, with some 80 million Hindus having fallen victim to the Muslim sword between 1000 and 1525 AD. Constant similar outrages were perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, as one expert on the region notes:

The writings of the Turkish poet and prince Danishmend Ahmet Gazi, founder of one of the strongest Turkoman principalities in Eastern Turkey, indicate that conversion of Christians by the sword was common. In many instances prisoners as well as inhabitants of conquered territories were given the choice of either conversion or death. In the course of his campaign against the city of Comana, Malik Danishmend was determined either to convert the inhabitants or to massacre them. After the capture of Comana, the populace opted for conversion rather than extermination. The citizens of Euchaita faced the same dilemma. When Malik conquered the city, he offered its inhabitants the choice of death or Islamization. The same Turkish poet relates that in one city, nearly 5,000 people accepted Islam, while a similar number of its inhabitants were put to the sword.

The author of the MEE piece clearly doesn't know any of this - or at least doesn't want us to know it - and so he tries to beguile us with the fact that the Qur'an says "There is no compulsion in matters of faith" (2:256). Which is all well and good, but doesn't magically rule out the command to "slay the polytheists wherever you find them" (9:5), and also still allows the forceful spread and implementation of Islam as a POLITICAL SYSTEM as enunciated by the likes of Sayyid Qutb, without forcing anyone to convert.

We are then treated to a paragraph about the idea of jihad as a kind of "just war" to extirpate injustice and oppression:

Nevertheless, several modern authors hold that the idea of jihad as bellum justum can clearly be traced in classical Islamic texts. In this respect, those scholars refer to Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), who distinguishes between hurub jihad wa-adl (wars of jihad and justice) and hurub baghy va fitna (wars of sedition and persecution).

Left untouched in all of this is any discussion of what Ibn Khaldun actually said about jihad as an offensive institution. Here is what the great Muslim historian and social scientist wrote in his Muqaddimah, summarising centuries of pre-existing orthodox Islamic thought:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universality of the [Muslim] mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense...Islam is under obligation to gain power from other nations.

Kind of confirms everything I've been saying up until now, doesn't it?

Next the author quotes Qur'an 5:32, "Whoever kills a person [unjustly] is as though he has killed all mankind", which is such a tired argument, and was dealt with definitively by me recently enough, that I am not going to waste time debunking it yet again here. Anyone who finds this argument remotely compelling needs to go here and get a reality check.

Next up, this: "In addition, Muslims are also urged to avoid inflicting harm on animals, plants or generally the civilian infrastructure of those they are fighting."

It is true that many of these inhibitions have been incorporated into Islamic legal theory, but this is hardly universal. For example, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d.1111), a Muslim philosopher and legal theorist, and a renowned spiritual authority, wrote the following about jihad (emphasis mine):

One must go on jihad (i.e. warlike razzias or raids) at least once a may use catapults against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the ahl al-kitab [People of the Book] is enslaved, his marriage is automatically revoked...One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need... 

Similarly, the fourteenth-century Spanish Muslim jurist Ibn Hudayl wrote:

It is permissible to set fire to the lands of the well as to cut down his trees, to raze his cities, in a word, to do everything that might ruin and discourage him...[being] suited to hastening the Islamisation of that enemy or to weakening him. Indeed, all this contributes to a military triumph over him or to forcing him to capitulate.

The self-contradiction about wanton destruction among Islamic scholars most likely stems from the example of Muhammad, who was himself inconsistent on this matter. Although apologists frequently cite various hadiths in which Muhammad forbids wanton destruction in war, they rarely mention his own violation of this rule, and Allah's endorsement of this violation. The hadith record that during the Muslim siege of the Jewish Banu Nadir tribe, the Prophet of Islam ordered that the date palms of the Nadir be burned (Muslim b.19, no.4326). The Nadir Jews, surprised, asked him: “Muhammad, you have prohibited wanton destruction and blamed those guilty of it. Why then are you cutting down and burning our palm-trees?” Allah justified Muhammad’s action in a revelation that can be found in the Qur'an: "Whatsoever palm-trees ye cut down or left standing on their roots, it was by Allah's leave, in order that He might confound the evil-livers." (59:5). This incident, and accompanying verse, have been used ever after as a justification for similar behaviour by subsequent generations of jihadists.

It is clear from all of the above, and from the analysis provided in the previous part of this rebuttal, that the Muslim author of the Middle East Eye piece is either woefully unqualified to speak accurately about the subject on which he writing, or that he is being massively dishonest with the publication's readers about the real issues affecting Islamic jihad terrorism around the world today.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Middle East Eye: Blind to the Truth About Jihad (Part 1)

In his book Inside Jihad, Muslim reformer Dr. Tawfik Hamid argues that the best way for Muslims to re-interpret the Qur'an's most violent passages, in a way that will militate against their capacity to incite to violence, is to "preach the importance of 'al-' ('the')". Hamid's argument is that the use of the Arabic word "al" in the Qur'an changes the context of verses which appear to sanction violence against unbelievers.

For example, the Quran never employs the universal article “mn” in its verses about jihad against non-believers, but almost always employs “al", meaning "the". Mn kafar would mean “infidels” in the universal sense, while al-kafireen means “the infidels” – a more specific designation. Thus, there is a big difference between killing mn kafar and killing al-kafireen, in the same way that in English, "kill infidels" and "kill the infidels" can have different meanings: one signifies all infidels, the other - through the presence of the word "the" - signifies that the verse is talking about someone specific, namely the infidels that existed at the time of the verse's revelation, and not all infidels throughout space and time. Therefore, Muslims today should not fight and kill infidels, since only a specific group from the past is being referred to in this verse.

It's an interesting approach to the text, albeit one that is not shared by the vast majority of Muslims. And regardless of any concerns I may have about it as an argument, the thing that worries me most of all is that the vast majority of Islamic apologetics never even reach this level of sophistication.

An example of this can be seen in a piece published this weekend at the Middle East Eye, entitled "When is it permissible to fight in Islam?", which tries to appear like a balanced examination of a complex issue, but really just provides us with standard counter-factual baloney that anyone with any real acquaintance with the Islamic sources can see through immediately.

It starts off by pointing out that there are some verses in the Qur'an that appear to sanction offensive warfare against infidels, while others, such as the one below, appear to allow it only in self-defense:

Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been oppressed – Allah indeed has power to grant them victory – those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: "Our Lord is Allah" (22:39-40)

This is indeed true, but it then moves straight on to a discussion of offensive jihad, implying that any "extremist" who would argue that jihad should be an offensive struggle to propagate Islam is just disingenuously ignoring passages like the one above.

What the piece completely ignores is that Islam has always had a built-in mechanism to cope with contradictions like this: abrogation.

It is a traditional Islamic belief that there are three stages in the Qur’anic revelation concerning jihad: first non-violence, then defensive war, then offensive war to submit the entire world to Islam. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq (d.773), was the first to articulate this. At first, he says, the Prophet “had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood. He had simply been ordered to call men to God and to endure insult and forgive the innocent.” But when Muhammad's circumstances changed, Allah “gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly.” Eventually, “God sent down to him: 'Fight them so that there be no more seduction', i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. 'And the religion is God's,' i.e. until God alone is worshiped.”

In other words, according to Ibn Ishaq, and many other prominent scholars of Islamic history, the Qur'anic verses which speak of tolerance, or of warfare only in self-defense, were only applicable at the time they were initially revealed, while the final stage, of offensive warfare to submit unbelievers to the authority of Islam, is applicable now and for all time.

This is where abrogation comes in. This is the idea that some directives in the Qur'an have been cancelled out by others. It is based on the Qur'an itself: “Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?” (2:106)

The doctrine of abrogation is of particular importance in understanding one of the Qur'an's most violent verses, known in Islamic theology as the Verse of the Sword: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

The prominent Qur'anic commentator Ibn Kathir (d.1373) quotes several authorities, including Muhammad's cousin Ibn Abbas, to assert that the Verse of the Sword “abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty and every term...No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara'ah [the ninth chapter of the Qur'an] was revealed.” The Spanish Muslim scholar Ibn al-Arabi (d.1148) taught that the Verse of the Sword abrogated 124 more peaceful verses of the Qur'an.

The failure to mention any of this throughout the article allows the author to pretend that those who claim that jihad is something more than just self-defense are simply ignoring inconvenient texts. In actual fact, they are just following the traditional Islamic exegetical method of contextualising the Qur'an's commands.

The piece then cites the influential Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayyid Qutb (d.1966) as an example of someone who believes the Qur'an sanctions offensive jihad. As it notes, Qutb cited the following Qur'anic verse in support of this idea:

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [non-Muslim poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (9:29)

The author wants us to believe that Qutb just plucked this verse out of context and is therefore understanding it erroneously. But he makes no mention of the fact that Qutb himself invoked abrogation as part of his reasoning. In his book Milestones (the same book this piece is discussing), Qutb approvingly invokes an earlier authority, Ibn Qayyim (d.1350), to make the point that there was a gradual development in the conception of jihad in the Qur'an: “Muslims were first restrained from fighting...then they were commanded to fight against the aggressors; and finally they were commanded to fight against all the polytheists.” He also concludes that “[a]fter the period of the Prophet, only the final stages of the movement of jihad are to be followed; the initial or middle stages are not applicable”.

Since this article did not mention this, even to argue against it, it is clearly unsatisfactory and incompetent as an attempt to factually examine the evidence.

It gets worse when it cites Mahmud Shaltut, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar from the late 1950s, writing of this same verse: "If this verse had meant that they [non–believers] must be fought because of their unbelief and that unbelief had been the reason why they should be fought, then it would have been laid down that the aim of fighting consisted in their conversion to Islam. Collecting poll taxes from them would not have been allowed in that case and they would not have been allowed to abide by their own religion."

Despite Shaltut's prominence in Islamic circles at this time, this statement appears to be woefully ignorant of centuries of Islamic tradition explaining the purpose of jihad in Islam. In fact, we can turn once against to Shaltut's contemporary, Sayyid Qutb, for a clear explanation. The following comes from Qutb's widely-read multi-volume commentary on the Qur'an:

As the only religion of truth that exists on earth today, Islam takes appropriate action to remove all physical and material obstacles that try to impede its efforts to liberate mankind from submission to anyone other than God... 
The practical way to ensure the removal of those physical obstacles while not forcing anyone to adopt Islam is to smash the power of those authorities based on false beliefs until they declare their submission and demonstrate this by paying the submission tax. When this happens, the process of liberating mankind is completed by giving every individual the freedom of choice based on conviction. Anyone who is not convinced may continue to follow his faith. However, he has to pay the submission tax to fulfil a number of objectives... 
[B]y paying this tax, known as jizya, he declares that he will not stand in physical opposition to the efforts advocating the true Divine faith.

So in Qutb's view - which did not originate with him, but which existed for centuries before him - the purpose of jihad as delineated in Qur'an 9:29, at least regarding Jews and Christians, is not to force them to accept Islam, but rather to force them to accept the Islamic legal system, relegating them to dhimmi status and payment of the jizya if they refuse to convert. But if they do convert, they do so freely. Believe it or not, Qutb actually believed that this set-up was the most wonderfully tolerant way of going about inter-faith relations that anyone could ever dream up, and gushes repeatedly in his commentary that this proves the greatness and beneficence of Allah.

Lastly, we are told that Mahmud Shaltut asserted that "no single verse in the Qur'an exists that affirms conversion as an aim of fighting non-believers". This is flagrantly false, since we have already discussed one - the Sword Verse, 9:5, which commands Muslims to fight idolaters and pagans until they "establish worship and pay the poor-due" - that is, begin worshipping Allah and pay zakat, a charitable tax that is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The choice for them is either conversion or the sword. Ibn Kathir says of 9:5 that polytheists “have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.” As I will demonstrate later, that is clearly not just his opinion.

More to follow in response to the Middle East Eye tomorrow...

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

We Can See What British Muslims Really Think - And It Should Worry The Hell Out of Us

As we await the airing tomorrow of the Trevor Phillips documentary "What British Muslims Really Think", which has already gained a lot of publicity in the press, I have been perusing through the full survey produced by ICM, which can be read here, and thought I would just briefly share some results that stood out to me. Please note that I have tried to avoid stats that I have already seen discussed online elsewhere, and which I have already Tweeted about.

  • Page 91 – 47% of British Muslims disagree with gay teachers being allowed to teach in schools
  • Page 132 – 39% “don’t feel favourable or warm" towards Jewish people - the most unfavourable rating towards any religious group in the survey
  • Page 200 – Perversely / extremely tellingly, 44% also think antisemitism is not a problem in the UK!!!
  • Page 262 – 24% sympathise with those who commit violence to protect their religion / 18% support those who commit violence against people who mock Muhammad
  • Page 287 – 78% say that no publication should be allowed to publish pictures of Muhammad
  • Page 351 – Most Muslims get the majority of their news and current affairs information from television, of which 72% rely on the BBC (Page 353 adds the caveat that 53% of such Muslims implicitly trust the Beeb to give them a balanced view)
  • Page 378 – 53% of adult Muslims in this country do not have a job (granted, some are - or claim to be - disabled or retired)
  • Page 403 – 13% described themselves as "sympathetic to violence".
Overall, it is quite clear that that many of these statistics paint a very disturbing picture of attitudes in the British Muslim community - and one that is not at all surprising to anyone who actually knows anything about Islam. Trevor Phillips is on record as saying: “For a long time, I too thought that Europe’s Muslims would become like previous waves of migrants, gradually abandoning their ancestral ways, wearing their religious and cultural baggage lightly, and gradually blending into Britain’s diverse identity landscape. I should have known better.”

Indeed he should have, but at least he has the courage to admit that he "got almost everything wrong" about Islam in Britain.

One final thought: If this is what the situation is like in the UK now, do you think that after Britain has taken in thousands more Muslim immigrants over the next ten years, the situation will be better or worse?

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Islam And Nazism: Brothers In Hate

In February of this year, the anti-Islamisation street protest group PEGIDA held their first rally in the UK, which was covered by an article in Newsweek. Predictably, the article was mostly dedicated to smearing the group as "far-right", citing its viewpoints on Islam as being self-evidently evil and extreme. And yet paradoxically, given where the piece tried to place PEGIDA on the political spectrum, it clearly expressed some sort of semi-concealed ire at one particular banner which had been displayed at the rally. It read "Islam=Nazism". Apparently such sentiments are beyond the pale and make those who express them akin to Nazis themselves (that's assuming we can even call Nazism "far-right" in the first place).

And yet, it is clear that Islam does have an ideological kinship with Nazism. Winston Churchill described Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, as “the new Qur’an of faith and war, turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.”

There is no doubt that Hitler viewed Islam and Nazism as ideological bedfellows. Evidence for this can be found in the memoirs of Albert Speer, who was Hitler's Minister of Armaments and War Production:

Hitler had been much impressed by a scrap of history he had learned from a delegation of distinguished Arabs. When the Mohammedans attempted to penetrate beyond France into Central Europe during the eighth century, his visitors had told him, they had been driven back at the Battle of Tours. Had the Arabs won this battle, the world would be Mohammedan today. For theirs was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament. Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire. 

His admiration for Islam is confirmed by other sources, as well. Dr. Herman Neubacher, the first Nazi Mayor of Vienna, wrote that Hitler had told him Islam was a “male religion”, and reiterated the belief that the Germans would have been far more successful conquerors had they adopted Islam in the Middle Ages. Additionally, General Alexander Loehr, a Luftwaffe commander, maintained that Hitler had told him that Islam was such a desirable creed that he longed for it to become the official religion of the Nazi Secret Service. 

Heinrich Himmler also championed the violent nature of Islam. He was of the opinion that religion in general was a negative influence on soldiers – with the exception of Islam. He wrote: “I must say I have nothing against Islam; for it preaches to its members in this division and promises them paradise if they have fought and died. A practical and agreeable religion for soldiers!” He oversaw the creation of several Muslim-only divisions of the Waffen SS in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also sought to create a modern equivalent of the janissary system employed for centuries in the Ottoman Empire, whereby non-Muslim children were kidnapped or captured in battle and turned into soldiers fighting against their own communities. This prompted SS General Gottlob Berger to remark: “For the first time a connection is being established between Islam and National Socialism on an open, honest base, since it will be ruled from the North where blood and race are concerned, and from the East ideologically and spiritually.” 

This spiritual connection to Islam was also espoused by yet another of the main architects of the Holocaust: Adolf Eichmann. Writing in 1956, while he was still in hiding in Argentina, Eichmann lamented the fact that, in his view, he would never get a fair trial in Europe, because Christianity, “to which a large part of Western thought clings,” had been irrevocably corrupted by the Jews. He therefore turned to those he called his “large circle of friends, many millions of people”, to whom he wrote:

But you, you 360 million Mohammedans, to whom I have had a strong inner connection since the days of my association with your Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, you, who have a greater truth in the suras of your Qur'an, I call upon you to pass judgment on me. You children of Allah have known the Jews longer and better than the West has.  Your noble Muftis and scholars of law may sit in judgement upon me and, at least in a symbolic way, give me your verdict. 

Ultimately, Eichmann’s dying wish was that his “Arab friends” could complete the total annihilation of the Jewish people that he had started.

The intimate connection between Islam and the horrors of Nazism is widely known to historians, but apparently not to the public at large. The Nazis collaborated closely with Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem prior to World War II. In 1943 they produced an illustrated biographical booklet which declared al-Husseini to be Muhammad’s direct descendant, an Arab national hero, and the “incarnation of all ideals and hopes of the Arab nation.” 

Husseini played a major role in the horrific events of the Holocaust. He provided active support for the Germans by recruiting (under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler) Bosnian Muslims for dedicated Muslim-only Nazi SS units, which brutally suppressed local resistance movements in Yugoslavia.  During a 1944 radio broadcast to the Arab world, he also directly ordered local Muslims: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.”  

In a 1954 essay, the Mufti himself confirmed the inspiration the Nazis derived from Islamic jihad, noting that during a speech in 1938, “Hitler Noted the Jihad of the Palestinian Arabs as a Worthy Example” for the German-speaking residents of the Sudetenland, urging them to undertake an armed rebellion against Czechoslovakia. 

Nearly seventy years later, the majority of analysts appear to be ignorant of these facts. While it is commonplace to hear people (falsely) attributing Christian motivations to Hitler's actions, and blaming Christianity for the horrors of the death camps, we almost never hear about the role of Islam and Muslims in the Holocaust, or about Hitler's admiration for the Islamic faith. 

Not only was there an ideological affinity between Nazism and Islamic ideals, but Muslims themselves played a major role in the Holocaust. This convergence of classical Islamic jihad and antisemitism with Nazi ideals has gone in both directions – for example, Mein Kampf is still a bestseller in some Muslim countries (see here, here, here, here and here for examples), while numerous modern neo-Nazi groups consider Islamic jihadists to be their natural allies. Many Nazis also converted to Islam and continued their hate campaigns against Jews after the war, with help from their fellow Muslims. 

With very rare exceptions, almost all Muslims in the Arab world were either indifferent to or actively supportive of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust, and there was no large-scale effort on the part of any Muslim group or individual to save beleaguered Jews in Arab lands, comparable to those of, say, Raoul Wallenberg.

I have not written all of this in order to imply that Hitler was a Muslim. But it remains true that Hitler - despite his racist loathing of Arabs - appears to have believed that Islam was ideologically consistent with his own worldview, and drew inspiration from its perceived successes. Muslims also seem to have been, and continue to be, far more admiring and sympathetic towards Nazism than most Christians have ever been. 

It is not "far-right" or "hateful" to notice any of these facts. Rather, it is a key step in understanding the nature of the threat we face, and how we can defeat it.