Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Izzaldin Abuelaish and a Palestinian Activist

 Dr. Izzaldin Abuelaish, about whom I write here, recently gave this talk at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington DC to a standing ovation. I encourage everyone to watch his moving speech.

When it was over, the Jewish moderator said to the spellbound audience, "Let us take a minute of silence to absorb the powerful and beautiful message of love, faith, hope, and action that Dr. Abuelaish gave us. Let's sit quietly for a minute before we ask our questions."

A minute later the floor was opened to questions, after the moderator reminded the audience, "Please ask only  questions and keep your speeches to a minimum."

The first person to the microphone was a Palestinian woman. She knew she would be on c-span TV watched by the nation, and was conspicuously wearing her chic keffiyeh. Her "question", which begins at 43:15, was as follows, "Thank you, doctor, for your very profound message. I believe in your message of love and peace and everything you were saying tonight. I want to know your opinions on the following. First of all, the practicality of the colonization of Palestine. I'm working with a group of Arab-American activists who are calling for the dissolution of the Palestine Liberation Organization because they are helping the Israelis manage the occupation. I also want to know your opinion on boycott divestiture and sanctions of Israel. I want your thoughts about why the Palestinians are not taking to the streets to demand their freedom and their rights from their occupiers and oppressors and colonizers. Why aren't prominent Jewish Americans coming forth all across the world demanding as they did for South Africa and apartheid. Why aren't Jewish Americans, Jewish European, and Jews all over the world demanding peace and justice for the Palestinians? Thank you."

I can't imagine how this woman could have made a greater tactical blunder. It has famously been said that the Palestinians never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity, and she blew this one. For the past forty-five minutes, Dr. Abuelaish had been speaking directly to the conscience of his Jewish audience. His simple but powerful message was, "I am a Palestinian doctor from Gaza, the first to work in an Israeli hospital. I have devoted my life to the care and healing of both Israeli and Palestinian patients. My life changed forever on January 16, 2009, when an Israeli bomb struck our Gaza family home and instantly killed my three lovely daughters. But I will not stop doing all I can do bring our two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli, together in peace."

It was a hard-hitting message to the heart, but the self-described "activist" didn't hear it. She was probably rehearsing her own speech the entire time he was talking, waiting for her opportunity to rush to the microphone. She wanted to talk about boycott divestiture! And in her two short angry minutes she completely undid all that the doctor had worked for 45 to accomplish in the hearts of his audience. The sad part is that she is completely unaware of what she did.

For six decades the Palestinians have fought the Israelis with wars, demonstrations, boycotts, United Nations and Arab League resolutions, skyjackings, suicide bombers, and Qassam rockets. As Dr. Phil often says on his TV show, "So how's that working out for you?" The simple reality is that Palestinians in Gaza are living worse today than ever, and as long as those rockets keep coming over or they have dreams of retaking Jerusalem, the Israeli government won't give a damn. And when someone comes along like Dr. Abuelaish, to plant a message with humility and dignity that can touch hearts and bring change, activists such as this young woman in her keffiyah chic and angry rhetoric rip out the seed before it can even begin to grow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Experiment

Here's an interesting two-part experiment. It can be conducted by anyone at all, regardless of religious persuasion or lack thereof.

Part 1: Choose a Muslim neighbor, friend or colleague, and ask three simple questions. Although the answer to the first question might appear obvious, ask it anyway, "Are you a Christian?" Without hesitation she will reply she is not a Christian but a Muslim.

Question number two: "Christians believe that Jesus is God and died on the cross for our sins, so I assume you don't believe that. Is that correct?" Again without embarrassment she will inform you she does not believe Jesus is God, nor did he die on the cross for our sins.

Now the final question: "Could you give me a few reasons you don't believe that?" She won't have to think a minute before giving them. They will probably include the fact that Islam does not believe Allah can be associated with any created being, no individual can bear the sins of another, and the Quran says that Jesus did not die.

Now it's time for part 2. Ask a non-Muslim the same questions but with a slight twist, "Are you a Muslim?" When he says that he is not, continue with, "Muslims believe that Muhammad was a Prophet from God, so I guess you are saying you do not believe he was a Prophet. Is that right?"

Chances are you will already sense some discomfort, some hesitation in the reply. Your interlocutor might explain that he is an agnostic, that he knows Muslims believe Muhammad is a Prophet, or that he's not really sure. If he does agree that he does not believe Muhammad to be a Prophet, proceed with question number three.

"Could you give me a few reasons why you don't believe Muhammad was a Prophet of God?"  I doubt if one American in a hundred could give an intelligent, cohesive reply.

If you do carry out this experiment, I'd love to learn the results. Leave a comment or send me an email.

PS - There are variations to the experiment. For example, ask the Jewish professor of religious studies at your local university (or any Jewish friend) if she is a Christian. When she replies she is not, confirm it is correct that she does not believe Jesus was God and learn her reasons. Then ask her if she is a Muslim. Again when she replies she is not, confirm it is correct she does not believe Muhammad was a Prophet of God, and again inquire about her reasons. The purpose of the experiment would be to see if she was as forthright in her second response as she was in her first.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quranic Numerology

For centuries the main Muslim argument for the Muajezat Al Quran, the miracle of the Quran, has been the challenge thrown out by Muhammad 1400 years ago, "You produce poetry this good if you don't think mine is from God (Quran 10:38)".

I've always thought the Prophet's argument (or Allah's depending on your perspective) was quite juvenile. Determining the best poet is like choosing the best musician on American Idol - it's all subjective. Not only that, in Muhammad's version of Saudi Arabian Poet the runner-up lost not only the contest but her head as well. Muhammad was so threatened by the poetry of the Jewish poetess Asma bint Marwan that he sent one of his brave Mujahidin to kill her at night as she laid in bed with her nursing child. Can you imagine what he would have done to someone who wrote poetry claiming it was from God and equal to his?

Actually, we don't need to imagine. When Muhammad conquered Mecca, the city from which he had fled 10 years earlier, he had a list of people who were to be killed "even if they were seeking protection behind the curtains of the Kabah". One of these was Abdallah bin Saad, who had previously copied Muhammad's revelations but then left Islam.  According to these sources, Abdallah made suggestions to improve Muhammad's recitations, but when Muhammad accepted the improvements, Abdallah gave up all belief that the recitations were from God.  The Prophet certainly didn't want to take a chance Abdallah would produce poetry similar to that he had heard from Muhammad, or spread the news of how he had improved Muhammad's recitations, so he was killed. A woman named Fartana committed the crime of "singing satirical songs about the Apostle", and she was killed as well. I find it interesting that on the one hand Muhammad would challenge people to produce poetry like his, and then on the other certainly kill anyone who tried. And I find it amazing that Muslims today see this as evidence of the inspiration of the Quran.

It's not really that difficult to produce poetry equal to the Quran. Surah 108 describes a mythical river in paradise named Kauthar and the first ayah is Innana Ataynaka Al Kauthar (We have given you Kauthar). In a conversation between a Kafir and a Mumin (a non-Muslim and a Muslim), the Kafir said, "I can produce poetry as good as the Quran, and here is an example: Innana Ataynaka Al Fauthar." When the Mumin asked, "What is Fauthar?", the Kafir replied, "It's the river next to Kauthar!"

With non-Muslims around the world beginning to examine not the poetry but the content of the Quran, and Muslims unable to respond to that criticism, they are increasingly resorting to other techniques to prove its miraculous nature with websites like this one. One of these techniques is numerology, or assigning spiritual significance to the repitition of a word in the Quran. Many online articles emphasize that the word Al Yaum, which means the day or today, is mentioned 365 times in the Quran.

I find it quite impressive that Allah would choose the calendar of the Kuffar rather than that of the Mumineen to express his miracle. It is the pagan Julian calendar that has 365 days, not the Islamic lunar calendar with ten days less. Muslims, of course, argue this only increases the validity of the miracle - it was intended to persuade the unbelievers!

Speaking of numerology, the word Muhammad is mentioned 4 times in the Quran. Guess how many times Khanzeer (pig) is mentioned? You are absolutely right. Now there's a miracle for you!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Homegrown Terrorism and Deradicalization

Just google the terms "homegrown terrorism" and "violent radicalism" and you will see how seriously law enforcement and intelligence agencies are taking the threat of young Western Muslims becoming radicalized to the point that they either travel overseas to engage in militant Jihad or prepare to carry out acts of terror within  their own countries.

There seem to be two broad approaches to the problem. One is to minimize or pay little attention to the belief system of the radical, and only put him or her on the radar screen when there is evidence they are actually planning a terrorist operation. This seems to be the general principle of law enforcement agencies, and theoretically fits in well with the American ideal that you can believe anything you want as long as you don't disobey the law. The second approach, adopted by the current administration with the appointment of radicalization czar Professor Quintan Wiktorowicz to the National Security Council, includes engaging Muslim  scholars such as Dr. Tawfik Hamid, whom I have written about here, to deradicalize the belief system of young Muslims. The idea seems to be that moderate Muslims are to show extremist Muslims how they understand Muhammad, the Quran, and Jihad all wrong.

I have a problem with both approaches. My objection to the first is that belief is important, with one's system of belief laying the groundwork for action to come. The reason I could never be enticed in a thousand years by a FBI sting operation to set off a bomb in Times Square or bring down an aircraft with explosives hidden in my underwear is that there is nothing in my belief system allowing me to do that. If I believed it was a noble thing to do that would gain me the pleasure of Allah, it might be a different story.

My problem with the second approach is that when it comes to the Quran, the Hadith, and the Ghazawat or wars of Muhammad, the extremist wins every time. Anyone well-versed in Ilm Al Sharia, or Islamic law, will laugh at Dr. Hamid's protestations that the Quranic exhortations to kill Al Mushrikun, the unbelievers, only referred to the unbelievers of Muhammad's day because the Quran uses the definite article the unbelievers. The definite article is the default article in Arabic grammar; even a simple proverb like "Patience is a virtue" becomes "The patience is a virtue" in Arabic.

Here's a radical approach to deradicalization. The irreducible conviction of every Muslim, radical or moderate, is that Muhammad Rasoul Allah, Muhammad is the Prophet of God. That is either true or false. If it is true, we should all convert to Islam and become Muslims - you and I, Hilary Clinton, Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga included. If it is not true, we should all exert considerable effort to present historical and moral evidence to the Muslim Ummah that Laysa Muhammad Rasoul Allah - Muhammad is not a Prophet of God (something I did here and in the following dozen or so posts). Were we to be successful, that might make the deradicalization of radicalized young Muslims much more effective.

The predictable and immediate response of many people to my suggestion above is that it is both impractical and impossible - Muslims, they say, will never abandon Muhammad. I think that is a condescending attitude that underestimates the intelligence of still-believing Muslims. We as non-Muslims, after all, have reached the conclusion that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God, and many thousands of ex-Muslims have done the same. Why should we assume we and they are more intelligent and capable of critical thought than those who still believe?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yasir Qadhi and America as Abyssinia

In this important article about influential American Muslim leader Yasir Qadhi, author Andrea Elliott compares him with another young American Muslim with a significant following, Anwar Al Awlaki. She writes that Qadhi sees America as Abyssinia whereas Awlaki views it as Mecca. The difference is worthy of note.

I've often noted that Western non-Muslims have no idea how important events in the Prophet's life are to Muslims. These references to Abyssinia and Mecca refer to the thirteen years Muhammad spent in Mecca before migrating north to Medina with about 100 fellow Muhajirun (immigrants). Muhammad's proposal that the Quraysh of Mecca accept him as a Prophet of God had fallen on deaf ears except for some mostly poor individuals and slaves who responded to his leadership. When the Quraysh turned against them, Muhammad sent 83 of them to Abyssinia, now the Christian country of Ethiopia. Their Christian ruler was the Negus, and he not only welcomed the newcomers with full hospitality but allowed them to practice their faith without opposition.

The Quraysh were not happy that their fellow tribesmen had migrated to Abyssinia, and sent two emissaries to persuade the Negus to repatriate them. Although Islam's oldest historical reference, that of Ibn Ishaq, states that the Quraysh wanted to get them back "so they could seduce them from their religion and get them out of the home in which they were living in peace", it is important to realize this history was written 200 years after the events took place and was based upon generations of undocumented oral history. Mecca was a slave-driven society, and it is probable the Quraysh simply wanted to get back the slaves who had believed Muhammad's promise that by abandoning their former masters and following him they would obtain the wealth of the Persian and the Roman Empires.

The Quraysh emissaries, whose names were Amr and Abdallah, had a careful strategy to ensure the success of their mission. Knowing that fine leather was treasured in Abyssinia, they gave leather skins to each of the Negus' generals asking them to present their petition to their ruler. The generals did so, but the Negus said he would not return exiles who had come to him for protection without questioning them first. When the Muslim immigrants were summoned before the Negus and he asked them to explain their new religion, they replied they had been idolaters before Muhammad persuaded them to worship only one God. When the Negus asked if they had anything written from this God they responded by reciting Surat Maryam from the Quran, the chapter of the Virgin Mary.

They could not have chosen a better chapter. It begins with the miraculous birth of John the Baptist to his aged parents and continues with the equally miraculous birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary, adding a non-Biblical account of Jesus speaking as an infant. The surah goes on to describe the prophetic ministry of Moses and his brother Aaron before the Egyptian ruler Pharaoh, and freely intersperses Muhammad's conviction that he himself was a Prophet not only equal to but superior to all of those.

The Negus was impressed with the reading, and swore again that he would never betray the people who had come to him for protection. Amr and Abdallah, however, were not about to give up, and believing they still held the trump card informed the Negus that Muhammad and his followers did not believe that Jesus was God. The ruler responded by calling the Muslims again to ask them personally what they believed about Jesus.

Now the Muslims were in a quandary. Should they tell the truth and admit they did not believe Jesus was Divine, thus risking being forced back to Mecca? They decided to take another approach and informed the Negus their Prophet had informed them Jesus was "the slave of God, his Apostle, and his Word which he cast into Mary the Blessed Virgin". The Negus was pleased with their response, and reaffirmed his willingness for them to remain in his country as long as they wished. Children were born to the Muslims in Abyssinia, and they lived there in peace until some of them returned to Mecca some time later where soon afterwards they migrated with Muhammad to Medina. Others remained in Abyssinia for years, only returning at Muhammad's orders after he defeated the Jews at the Battle of Khaybar. Still others never returned but became Christians in Abyssinia, including Ubaydullah whose spouse later became one of Muhammad's wives.

How could Yasir Qadhi imagine that America is Abyssinia? In some ways the answer is obvious. America is the majority Christian country that opened its doors to Muslims fleeing oppression and poverty from all over the world. America has allowed them to prosper and practice their faith, and has rejected the call of those who suggest it should send them back. Muslims are indeed living in America today as their spiritual ancestors 1400 years ago lived in Abyssinia.

Anwar Al Awlaki sees it differently. America to him is Mecca, the city where Muhammad warned of the coming judgment of God. America-also-known-as-Mecca is the city that rejected the message of the Prophet, forcing him to flee until he could equip an army that would bring it to its knees. Just as Muhammad conquered Mecca ten years later with an army of ten thousand warriors, Anwar Al Awlaki and his army of Mujahidin are determined to obey the command of their Prophet to fight the Mushrikun and the Kuffar - those who reject the message of Muhammad - until only Allah is worshipped and his Deen established throughout the land (Quran 2:193).

Just as I've noted that we in the West have no idea how important Muhammad is to Muslims, I've also noted that the majority of Muslims follow the Prophet they wish had existed rather than the Muhammad who really did. Salafi leaders such as Yasir Qadhi and Anwar Al Awlaki are different in what they know exactly who Muhammad was and what he did. The position of Qadhi, in my opinion, is much weaker than that of Awlaki.
Muhammad never went to Abyssinia, and there is no indication his followers saw their stay there as anything more than a temporary respite from the troubles of Mecca. Rather than honestly state they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus and take the risk of being repatriated to Mecca, they couched their response to the Negus' questions about Jesus in terms that would satisfy him. There is no evidence that they tried to convert the Abyssinians to Islam, and there is also no indication they adopted the adversarial position to the Christians there that Muhammad later adopted towards the Jews of Medina.

I've written here that after reading Tareq Ramadan's What I Believe I really had no idea what he believes. The same is true of Yasir Qadhi. Even after reading Andrea Elliott's article carefully, not once but twice, I still do not know what he believes. Nor do I believe he would tell me if I asked.

Anwar Al Awlaki is, in more opinion, both more honest and more consistent. His message is short and sweet, "Watch out, America, we're coming to get you!" Although American law enforcement agencies might see Qadhi as their ally if not their friend, and view Awlaki as the enemy, I'm not sure the situation is that black and white.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Model for Middle East Dialogue - and why it won't work

Some time ago I heard former Secretary of Defense William Cohen (white) and his wife Janet Langhard Cohen (African-American) discuss their book Love in Black and White. One thing they said caught my attention, "There needs to be much more dialogue in America between blacks and whites, but white people have to start the conversation."

I decided to try that the following day with an African-American colleague at work. We had been cordial, the usual professional relationship, but not close. I asked her if I could tell her a story, and simply recounted my experience of hearing William and Janet Cohen the previous evening. She gave me a quizzical look, as in "And why are you telling me this?", but listened to my story. It was the first of some good conversations, and we have become friends.

I was reminded of the Secretary and his wife's advice today on the subway. A young black man came through the car handing out cards. I noticed he was only giving them to African-Americans, and sure enough he walked past without offering me one. When he sat on the seat behind me, I turned around and asked if I could have one. It was an invitation to attend a play at a local college about the ancient Egyptian queen Hatshepsut entitled His Majesty herself.

As soon as he realized I was interested in what he had to say, he couldn't stop talking. He informed me he had also studied and written about Hatshepsut, and I told him I had visited her temple in Upper Egypt. He said he thought Hatshepsut was much more impressive than Cleopatra, and I agreed. Cleopatra, after all, slept her way into the history books with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but Hatshepsut did it all herself.

"There needs to be much more dialogue in America between blacks and whites, but white people have to start the conversation." Let's unpack this sentence a little. Why did the young man not initially hand me the card? The only reason I can think of is he could not imagine that an old white dude would be interested in a play a young black guy was advertising.

Throughout America's history, whites have held both wealth and power. What the Secretary and his wife were suggesting was that those in power, those who have traditionally held the upper hand, need to initiate dialogue with those who have been under their thumb. It's not going to be the other way around.

If that works in America, can it work anywhere? Could it work in Israel where the Israelis hold the power and the money and the Palestinians are under their thumb? Could it be successful in Egypt, where the Muslim majority places limits and restrictions on the minority Copts? Is the secret for success between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the Jews to initiate the dialogue, and could the Copts and Muslims in Egypt be reconciled if Muslims were willing to do the same?

I don't think so. The key ingredient for this model of dialogue is that each party must accept the other as equal. Because my belief system is that we are all created of equal value before God and each other, my mandate is to treat others as they would like to be treated by me. Throughout much of its history, America has strayed from this core conviction but it can return for the simple reason that it is a return to America's ideological roots.

What are the ideological roots of Islam? Correct me if I'm wrong, but Muhammad never envisioned his people living as a minority among a non-Muslim majority. His earliest message to impoverished slaves in Mecca was that if they followed him they would overthrow the rulers of the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires, and his final instructions to his followers in Medina were they were to continue to engage in Jihad fi Sabeel Allah, fighting for Islam, until only Allah was worshipped everywhere (Quran 2:193).

Again correct me if I'm mistaken, but Muhammad never intended for non-Muslims to live within a Muslim society in full equality. His instructions for Jews and Christians in Arabia, followed later by the Muslim generals who conquered Egypt, were very clear. Non-Muslims were to live as Dhimmis within the Muslim majority. Argue all you want about whether Dhimmi means "protected citizen" or "second-class citizen", but one thing is clear - it does not mean "equal citizen".

Twenty-five years ago, American government employees were not allowed to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization. I was lying by a hotel pool in Tunis one day when a friend who worked for the BBC thought he would do something "illegal" - introduce me to a Palestinian official who was also at the pool. The official was Yasser Arafat's Public Affairs Chief, and we talked for an hour. I've never forgotten one thing he said, "We will regain Israel and Jerusalem even if it takes until 2050. The simple reason is we will have more children than the Israelis."

And that is why the "Cohen Model of Dialogue" can work in America, but will never work in Israel. As long as Palestinians harbour the hope that Israel will once again be theirs, with them in control and the Jews a minority, there will be no peace. The Jews remember what happened to them in Medina 1400 years ago, and it will not happen again. And as long as Muslims in Egypt see the Copts as less than them in any way, there will be no reconciliation.

Perhaps young Palestinians today are different than the official I met 25 years ago at the pool in Tunis. And perhaps young Egyptian Muslims are different than their ancestors who would allow their Muslim son to marry a Copt (with the stipulation that the children be raised Muslim and she receive no inheritance if he died), but would never allow their Muslim daughter to marry a Coptic man. If these young people are indeed different, which would include the willingness to distance themselves from the historical Muhammad, there can be hope for peace.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Loonwatch has said that I am dishonest. For those not following the story, I came to the defense of Al Mutarjim at Translating Jihad when Loonwatch pointed out his mistake of using a passive participle "that which is translated" rather than the active participle "the translator" for his screen name. I continued in his defense when Loonwatch criticized him for translating the word Nikah as "sex" and not as "marriage", noting that I thought the word meant both.  

At the addendum of this recent posting, Loonwatch said the following about me:

SATV’s dishonesty can be gauged by his conciliatory comment on our site. He said, "I believe that much of your response to Translating-Jihad was also quite good. I won’t speak for him, but I agreed with much of your grammatical analysis. Where I disagree is your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic.

SATV takes, however, a completely opposite attitude on his blog. Would SATV like to be honest and state on his blog that he agrees with our grammatical analysis of Al-Mutarjim’s “translation”?

Also, note here the invocation of a “whenever” and “anybody” argument once again: “your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic“. Here, we are talking about one particular person and one particular site. Each stands on its own merits. Al-Mutarjim specifically and Translating-Jihad specifically are deliberately mistranslating and obfuscating Arabic. The evidence speaks for itself, and SATV’s refusal to admit this speaks to his own dishonesty."

I have carefully read Loonwatch's grammatical analysis of the Fatwa that caused this duststorm, and I can say that I agree with that analysis. I agree that the primary meaning of the word Nikah is marriage, and I agree that the Mufti who issued the Fatwa was not advocating sex with young girls. I also appreciate Loonwatch's stated position of opposing the Mufti's argument that engagement with young girls is allowable in the 21st century.

Call it a platform, an agenda, a modus operandi - everybody has one. Al Mutarjim stated his openly and clearly when he said, "I resolved to work to expose this darkness, in order to defend this country and its inhabitants, and also to open the eyes of those already enslaved by Islam."

With this stated agenda, it is only natural that Translating-Jihad would feature articles that represent, from his perspective, "this darkness". My question to Loonwatch is, Why are you leaving this responsibility to Al Mutarjim? Why is is Al Mutarjim, and not Loonwatch, who points out the glaring inconsistency between the Arabic and English al-Qassam Brigades website coverage of the slaughter of the family at Itamar? Why does Loonwatch not find these articles, translate them correctly rather than simply criticize the translations of Al Mutarjim, and then explain how they do not represent the religion Loonwatch purports to be the true Islam?

I've never stated my agenda, but it's quite obvious to anyone who has been reading SATV for awhile that I believe most Muslims follow the Prophet they wish had existed rather than the Muhammad who really did, that Islam has a tight grip on them, and I hold great admiration for those who have the courage to break away.

So, Loonwatch, have I been honest enough? If so, let's share a beer together.....or would it have to be a coke?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Shall Not Hate by Dr. Izzaldin Abuelaish

A few years ago at an anti-Israel seminar on the West Coast I almost caused a riot when I stated that Hamas could have peace with Israel the next day if it wanted to. The Palestinian moderator asked me if I had ever visited the West Bank or Gaza. When I replied I had not, he said I was in no position to judge if I did not know how his people were living.

Although I thought his was a foolish thing to say - after all, I've never heard anyone argue that a condition for criticizing the Iraq War is to have personally spent time in Baghdad - I took his advice seriously and determined to follow it at the next opportunity. I was working in Iraq at the time, so instead of returning to California as usual for my next vacation I traveled to Israel and spent some time exploring it and the West Bank (there was no way I could get into Gaza). It was a wonderful trip, and I wrote it all down. Following is my journal account of traveling overland from Jerusalem back to Amman at the end of the trip:

"When I caught the bus to Jerusalem from Ein Gedi the following morning, I knew it came close to the Allenby Bridge before turning left and passing Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, but because the bridge is in the West Bank and Israeli buses don't go there I assumed I needed to return to Jerusalem, go to the Palestinian bus station, and get a shuttle to the bridge. I also knew that all the guide books say you need to get a Jordanian visa at the Jordanian consulate in Tel Aviv to enter Jordan. For that reason I had specifically requested a visa at the airport in Amman that would get me back into the country from Israel. While leaving Jordan on the way to Israel, I had shown the visa to at least two officials to make sure I could get back into Jordan on that visa, and they assured me I could.

"When I got off the bus in Jerusalem, a taxi driver immediately offered to drive me to the Allenby Bridge for 100 dollars. When I told him I would just go to the bus station and take a shuttle (for 1/20th of the price) he gave me the need reservations to get on those shuttles, they go through all the checkpoints and sometimes the Israelis don't let them go, etc. The bus driver was listening to this conversation and asked me, "Why you no tell me you want to go to Allenby Bridge? I drop you off at Jericho and you catch a local taxi, very easy." For some reason, knowing I didn't have a lot of time and having a couple hundred dollar bills left over in my pocket, I said to the taxi driver, 'OK, take me to the bridge.' As always, the conversation on the way there was in itself worth the price. I hadn't even known there were Kurdish Jews, but his father had come to Israel from Iraqi Kurdistan. He didn't speak much English and I don't speak Hebrew, but we got along in Arabic just fine. He told me about his kids, and his daughter who worked on the border police and her Ethiopian husband who also was a captain with the border police. He asked me if I had gotten the Jordanian visa in Tel Aviv, and I said I had gotten it in Amman before coming. He gave me a strange look and said, "Well....I don't want to say what you have to do, but I brought an American here last week and he did not have the visa and I had to take him to the border point way up north and he had to pay me a few hundred more dollars."

"We finally got to the checkpost at the Israeli side of the border, and a young female soldier came out to look at my passport. I showed her my Jordanian visa and she replied, "This is no good....where's the other one?" Suddenly I had the sinking realization that this particular location was not really part of Israel or Jordan but under a separate status. It wasn't the Jordanians who required the visa to get into Jordan; it was the Israelis who demanded it to get to the bridge and into official Jordanian territory. She gave me my passport and told me my visa was no good. It was exactly three o'clock, and as she handed me my passport she got her jacket and walked to her vehicle because it was the end of her shift. A new team was coming on, and the taxi driver said to me, "Uskut! La Tatakalam!" Shut up and don't say a word! So I uskutted, and the soldier on the new shift walked up to us. The taxi driver began speaking to him in Hebrew. "How are you you know my daughter so-and-so who is on the border police and her husband is Captain so-and-so? This poor stupid American didn't even know he had to get a visa and he has to go to Amman today....." Before I knew it, the barrier was lifted and we were on our way. When we got to the crossing, the driver asked me to give him some extra so he could give some Bakshish to the soldier who had let us through. I gave him a twenty; I'd be quite surprised if he actually gave it to the officer, but it was certainly worth it to me. If I'd taken the shuttle from Jerusalem as I'd planned, I might still be there."

The checkpost I crossed was the same one Dr. Izzaldin Abuelaish describes in his book I Shall Not Hate. If I as an American made it across a checkpost merely on the whim of the Israeli border guard, I can only imagine the frustration and humiliation Dr. Abuelaish experienced the thousands of times he crossed the border from Gaza into Israel.

Izzaldin, as far as I can tell, is one of those rare individuals who has always tried to do the right thing. He was born in poverty in a Gazan refugee camp, and the family farm his parents had evacuated is now the home of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Rather than dropping out of school, as his Palestinian classmates did like flies, Izzaldin determined to persevere, learning both English and Hebrew in the process. He became a doctor, the first Palestinian doctor to work at a prestigious Israeli hospital, and established deep friendships with his Jewish counterparts. His entire world came crashing down on January 16, 2009, when in the midst of Israel's war on Gaza two rocket shells tore into his house and blew the bodies of three of his daughters and a nephew into kingdom come.

But Dr. Abuelaish refuses to hate. He argues that Palestinians and Israelis can and must share a common future. He believes that leaders on both sides are entrenched in fear and hatred, but hope lies in a new generation of young people who desire peace more than conflict.

Do I agree with everything Dr. Abuelaish says? Not at all. Do I believe that he, along with Muslim reformers such as Tawfik Hamid about whom I write here, believes in the Prophet he wishes had existed rather than the Muhammad who really did? Yes, indeed. Do I think that his message of loving your enemies and praying for those who mistreat you sounds a whole lot more like Jesus than Muhammad? Again, a resounding Yes.

But the message of Dr. Abuelaish is powerful, and I urge you to read his book. If you are inclined to listen rather than read, you can watch a compelling interview here. And if you have an electronic book reader (much more important than your TV or microwave), you can simply type in the title of his book, click the purchase button, and you'll be starting the first chapter in less than 15 seconds. And it's less than half the price you'd pay in the bookstore!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Coexistence: How Egypt Can Succeed Where Muhammad and the Palestinians Failed

In 623 AD the majority Jewish population of an Arabian settlement named Yathrib, now known as Medina, looked with probable benign interest at the arrival of an itinerant preacher named Muhammad bin Abdallah and a hundred or so of his followers from the town of Mecca 250 miles to the south. The Jews had lived in Yathrib for centuries, with a history that stretched back to their exile from Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Titus in 73 AD. They worked hard to make a living, and were known for their olive groves and their craftsmanship. They also maintained their faith, with rabbis teaching and guiding them from their Scriptures.

Harsh living conditions and wars in the Yemen to the South had forced Arab tribes such as the Khazraj to also wend their way to Yathrib in the generations before the arrival of the preacher. Uneducated and seeking employment, the Arabs worked for the Jews but the relationship was not always a good one. The Arabs often stole from the Jewish agricultural settlements, with the Jews threatening retaliation. At the same time, Arab women who had a high infant mortality rate sometimes gave their newborn infants to the Jewish women to be raised so the children could have a chance to live and grow.

When some members of the Khazraj tribe led by Abbas ibn Ubada (I've told the story here) met the preacher at a fair near Mecca, they realized that with his leadership they might be able to gain the upper hand over their Jewish rivals if he came to Yathrib. The preacher had been trying for 13 years to persuade any tribe to accept him as its leader, and saw this as his golden opportunity. He went to Yathrib anticipating that he would be able to persuade both the Jews and the Arabs to welcome him as a Prophet (I've told this story as a three-part series here and here and here). When the Jews rejected his message he turned against them. He and his army destroyed their olive groves, appropriated their property, and expelled them from the city. In a single day Muhammad slaughtered as many as 900 men and boys by beheading them and dumping their bodies into a mass communal trench.

Muhammad could have used his influence to develop a prosperous working relationship with the Jews, but he did not. Of utmost importance to him was that he be acknowledged as a prophet, and rather than cooperate with the rabbis he attacked them. Rather than unite the desert expertise of the Arabs with the industrial and agricultural skill of the Jews to develop trade caravans he could send to Damascus and Yemen, he found it easier to simply waylay the caravans of others. He could have coexisted with the Jews in peace and prosperity, but he failed.

Thirteen hundred years later in the middle of the 20th century, the Arabs of Palestine also faced a unique opportunity for prosperity and coexistence with the Jewish population of the newly-formed nation of Israel. Just as the Jews arrived from Europe to establish a homeland, many of the Arabs had migrated in the preceeding few generations from countries such as Yemen and Iraq to seek employment in Palestine. The Arabs were unwilling, however, to accept the new Waaqia Siyasi, or political reality. Leaders including Yasser Arafat and others amassed personal fortunes while promising their Palestinian followers that someday they would all gather together for As Salat fil Quds (prayers in Jerusalem). Sixty years later, the Palestinians languish by the millions in poverty and refugee camps scattered throughout Lebanon, Gaza, and the rest of the area. Rather than seek peace, many still live in hatred and dream of Intiqam (revenge). They could have worked it out, but they failed.

Following the 25 January Revolution, Egypt now faces the same opportunity for freedom, prosperity, and coexistence with its non-Muslim citizens that Muhammad encountered in Yathrib and the Palestinians faced in Israel. Under the influence of Muhammad, Egypt has been reluctant to allow Copts positions where they have authority over Muslims. Other than a few token Christian Ministers in the government and members of Parliament, few if any Copts are department heads - let alone directors - of Egyptian hospitals and universities. Copts are rarely, if ever, appointed judges where they administer justice to Muslims. Muslim women are not allowed to marry Coptic men, and it is inconceivable in today's Egypt to imagine a Coptic President.

Is it possible that Muslims in Egypt can break away enough from Muhammad, can leave him far enough behind, to really accept the Copts as equal in every way in their own country? Is it possible that every barrier preventing the Copts from advancing in every way can be removed in Egypt? Removing references to religion from Egypt's constitution will be a beginning, but only a beginning. Removing the prejudices placed by Muhammad in the hearts of his Egyptian followers will be a much greater challenge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Muslims, Moses and the Raids of Muhammad

I've often noted that one of the reasons it is difficult to talk with Muslims about Muhammad and Islam is that Muhammad and Islam are the last things they want to talk about. Ask a Muslim a question about Muhammad, and he'll ask you a question about Moses!

True to form, Loonwatch introduced an announced series on Jihad by talking about - guess who - Moses. Following a detailed analysis of his wars, Loonwatch said they would continue with a discussion of the wars of Muhammad. I'm looking forward to that, and wonder which approach they will take.

Will it be the classic "Stages of Jihad" approach taught by Muslim scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi? He states that Jihad was revealed to Muhammad in three stages. When Muslims first faced opposition in Mecca, Allah's instructions were to be patient, pray, and not retaliate (Quran 4: 77). After the first Muslims migrated to Medina, permission to fight was given to "those who were fought against" (Quran 22:39). In the final stage, Muhammad was ordered to fight the unbelievers until there was no more Fitnah (Quran 2:193), defined by Qaradawi as persecution or oppression of the believers, and until Allah alone was worshipped (Quran 8:39). If Loonwatch takes that approach, it will be interesting to read their explanation of how Usama bin Ladin is wrong for believing that same war is continuing today.

Or will Loonwatch choose the rose-tinted glasses approach of Reza Aslan, who in No god but God describes Muhammad's practice of robbing trade caravans as follows, "Just to make sure the Quraysh got Muhammad's message challenging Mecca's religious and economic hegemony over the Peninsula, he sent his followers out into the desert to take part in the time-honored Arab tradition of caravan raiding. In pre-Islamic Arabia, caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from the wealth of larger ones. It was in no way considered stealing, and as long as no violence occurred and no blood was shed, there was no need for retribution. The raiding party would quickly descend on a caravan - usually at its rear - and carry off whatever they could get their hands on before being discovered. These periodic raids were certainly a nuisance for the caravan leaders, but in general they were considered part of the innate hazards of transporting large amounts of goods through a vast and unprotected desert."

So robbing caravans carrying the foodstuffs entire Arab tribes depended upon for survival was just a matter of boys will be boys, like university students on spring break in Daytona? Tell that to Amr bin al-Hadrami. He was leading a trade caravan carrying dry raisins, leather, and other goods when Muhammad's marauders decided to attack. Historian Ibn Ishaq records that the Muslims determined to kill as many caravan personnel as possible before making off with the booty. Amr was killed with an arrow, the others were taken prisoner and later released for ransom, and Muhammad was given one-fifth of all the stolen merchandise.

Perhaps Loonwatch will adopt the argument of Tariq Ramadan, who justifies the raids in his book The Footsteps of the Prophet by saying they were to take back the equivalent of the properties in Mecca that were expropriated from the Muslims who migrated to Medina with Muhammad. I like this! So if someone from Philadelphia steals my car, I can just go to Philadelphia and steal someone's car in retaliation? I wonder how far that would get me in court! But even more serious is the fact that Tariq's claim is without any historical documentation. It is important to understand that there are only a few extant writings of the early history of Islam. Their well-known authors include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, Al-Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, and al-Tabari. Apart from that, there is nothing. If what Tariq said was true, it would have been recorded by these early historians, but there is nothing there. It is easy for Tariq to claim to unknowing and gullible Westerners that the properties and belongings of the immigrants were stolen after their departure, but it is only his speculation, his attempt to justify Muhammad's raids.

Perhaps Loonwatch will take the even more fanciful approach of author Muhammad Haykal in his book The Life of Muhammad. Haykal argues that the raids were really intended to make peace with the Quraysh and other enemies of Muhammad. The Muslims had to show themselves strong, according to Haykal, to entice the other tribes to seek peace with them.

Behind all these justifications is the claim that Muhammad's raids were somehow a form of self-defense. It is impossible to read them in the original Islamic source documents - not the apologies written by Aslan and Ramadan and others 14 centuries later - and conclude they were in any way undertaken in self-defense. Page after page of the original biographies read like this, "And after three months in Medina, the Prophet sent out his army against this or that tribe." These raids were aggressive acts of war to gain wealth and power.

The camel caravans were the economic life-line for the Arab tribes in Muhammad's day. The goods that were bought and sold in destinations such as Damascus provided the foodstuffs and supplies that enabled the Arabs to live. When Muhammad moved to Medina, he could have developed his own caravans, but found it easier to simply rob the caravans of others. It will be interesting to see how Loonwatch handles that.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Following my recent post on defending Muhammad, an editor at Loonwatch correctly pointed out a mistake I made in transcribing an Arabic sentence. Instead of the correct, "I ask forgiveness from God," I had rendered it as "May God forgive me." I appreciate the editor's correction.

But I wonder if he missed something. The point of the story I was telling was that a Christian friend had shouted out loud, "God you suck!" and did not fear God's retribution because her relationship with him is based on love. A Muslim woman, I suggested, would never dare shout openly, "Allah you suck!" because her relationship with her Deity is fear-based. Throwing in the Arabic phrase as I did was simply for fun; it added nothing but a little spice to the story. And like a cougar pouncing on its prey, the editor leaped at my mistake and completely missed the point of the story.

It wasn't the first time. In two recent posts, available here and here, I noted that the Quran, believed my Muslims to be perfect in every way, contains at least one if not several apparent grammatical mistakes in Quran 5:56. I noted, as I describe in detail here, that Muhammad thought the structures carved from the rocks at Madayn Saleh were houses built by the Thamudians when in fact they were tombs built by the Nebateans. I suggested that the Quran's explanation of fetal development is unscientific, and asked Muslims how Muhammad's "marriage" to Safiya (discussed at length here in my review of a book by Omid Safi) can be considered anything other than rape.

Responses from Muslim readers were predictable. I was insulting the Prophet, said some, while others condemned my alleging the Quran contains mistakes. Others thought I was ignoring the issue of whether Translating-Jihad had mistranslated the Arabic word Nikah. But no-one even tried to answer my questions.

Speaking of Nikah, Translating-Jihad initially translated the word as meaning Sexual Intercourse, and Loonwatch replied that it means Marriage. Although I don't have a pony in this race, I would simply suggest it means both. Correct me if I'm wrong but in Muhammad's time there were only two kinds of sex, Nikah which was sex within marriage that was Halal (permitted), and Zina or sex outside of marriage that was Haram (prohibited).

When Translating-Jihad says that Nikah means sexual intercourse, and Loonwatch replies that it means marriage, they are both correct. The Aqd Al Nikah is the Marriage Contract - give one point to Loonwatch. On the other hand incest in Arabic is known as Al Nikah Al Maharim, or illegal sexual activity within the family - give one point to Translating-Jihad.

Of much more significance to me is that marriage in Islam equals the permission to have sex. When the Prophet allowed his warriors to "marry" female captives of war, he was allowing them to have sex with them. It granted sexual gratification to soldiers far from their homes, and had nothing to do with love, faithfulness, or mutual respect.

Marriage is viewed much differently in Christian and Muslim societies. Christians view marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman in which they both vow faithfulness to each other for the rest of their lives. Marriage in Islam is not a covenant but a contract, the Aqd Al Nikah, which allows a man to have sex with a woman. As far as the legal aspect is concerned, it's not that much different than purchasing a camel. Just as he can purchase a second or third camel without informing the first, he can yuzawwij alayha, or marry a second wife without even informing the first, much less receiving her permission. Just as a man beats a disobedient camel, the Quran commands him to beat a recalcitrant wife. And just as a man can sell his camel anytime he wants to purchase a better one, all he has to do is pronounce his wife Mutalaqa three times and she is divorced. Shaykhs have even recently issued Fatwas that this can take place on Facebook and as text messages on mobile phones.

Loonwatch's argument with Translating-Jihad also included whether sex with young girls (call it marriage if you will) was encouraged or discouraged within Islam. Again that seems to be missing the point. The problem is not that it is encouraged or discouraged, but simply that it is allowed. The reason it is allowed is that Muhammad did it.

The question to be asked is,  "Is sexual intercourse between a 50-year old man and a nine-year-old child ever justified, in any circumstance?" My answer is "No", Muhammad nonwithstanding. The second question is, "Is a man ever justified in beating his wife, in any circumstance?" My answer again is a firm "No", the Quran nonwithstanding.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Article Two of Egypt's Constitution

A raging debate, which unfortunately seems far beneath the radar screen of the short attention span of the Western media, is currently taking place in post-Mubarak Egypt about what kind of country Egypt will become. At the heart of the debate are 13 short Arabic words that make up Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution.

Egypt's first modern Constitution was written in 1923, soon after Egypt achieved independence from the British. The Constitution was significantly changed with the overthrow of the monarchy in 1953, and has been modified several times since. The current Constitution, available in English  here, contains 211 short Articles all of which are subject to amendment.

Article 2  reads as follows:  Islam is the Religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).

This article did not always read this way. It did not appear at all in pre-modern constitutions before 1923, and even then only stated that "the religion of the state is Islam and its language is Arabic". In 1971 Anwar Sadat added the clause, "Islam is a source of legislation," and President Mubarak in 1981 changed it to its present form as the principle source.

The reason President Sadat added the additional clause to Article 2 is a fascinating story. The present Article 77 states, "The  term of the presidency shall be six Gregorian years starting from the date of the announcement of result of the plebiscite. The President of the Republic may be re-elected for other successive terms."

Article 77 did not always read that way, but originally limited a President to two terms. Anwar Sadat wanted more, and struck a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to amend Article 77 in exchange for the additional Sharia clause in Article 2.

Soon afterwards Sadat began giving public speeches wearing the traditional gelebiya, calling himself Ar Rayyis Al Mumin (the Believing President), and reminding Egyptians that An Nabi wal Khulafa Ar Rashidun (Muhammad and his four immediate successor) had all been Rulers for Life. Although the   Brotherhood recognized this as a farce and did not for a second believe Sadat was one of the Awliya As Saliheen, or faithful Muslims, they accepted his political stunt because they got Article 2.

When Sadat was assassinated and Mubarak realized the Brotherhood posed a threat to him as well, he further placated them by again amending Article 2 to read that Sharia would be the main source of Egyptian law.

Much of the above information was given by Coptic writer and political observer Naji Youssef during this Arabic interview with host Rashid. Naji advocates removing Article 2 in its entirely.

"The problem with Article 2," he said, "Is that when it states that Sharia is the main source for legislation, there is no room for Ijtihad (independent thought), Tafsir (critical analysis) or Muarada (opposition). To oppose it is to oppose Allah and his Sharia, which is not allowed in Islam."  
"The basic definition of a Dawlah Medaniyah (civil state)," continued Naji, "Is a state ruled by law not based on religion. Law must be firm and clear, reflecting the needs of the people and applied to everyone irrespective of their religion or beliefs. This is not a political clash between Muslims and Christians with Muslims wanting Article 2 and Christians demanding its removal, but is important to everyone because we are all citizens of one country."

"Some people," added Naji, "Believe that if we oppose Article 2 we are doing something against Islam. This is not the case, and I am convinced that Muslim intellectuals who were not thinking merely from the religious perspective understood the danger of this Article from the very first day."

When asked if Article 2 guaranteed the rights of all of Egypt's citizens, Naji replied, "It does not guarantee human rights for any Egyptian citizen, not just the Copts. If you claim that Sharia is the main source for Egyptian law, what Sharia are you talking about? Are you talking about the Sharia of the Sunnis, or the Shia, or the Christians, or others?"

Rashid quickly retorted that "Christian law" certainly would have no place in Egypt's constitution, but acknowledged Naji's point that there were different interpretations of Islamic law. Naji then said, "If you tell me, as an Egyptian Christian, that the principles of Sharia form the basis of law I want to know what you are talking about. At the very outset, Muslims should agree on these principles if they want to say they are the source of law. If they cannot agree among themselves what Sharia is, how can they say it is the basis for Egyptian law? As a Christian citizen, I should not have to study Islamic law to know how Egypt's law apply to me."

"What does Article 2 mean," Naji continued, "When it says Islam is the religion of the state? The state is made up of institutions and interests. Can I say that Islam is the religion of the Ministry of the Interior, Islam is the religion of the Ministry of Agriculture, or Islam is the religion of the Egyptian Military? What do they mean when they say the religion of the state is Islam?"

"This does not only apply to Christians," added Naji, "But to Muslims as well. Where is the place for a Muslim who does not agree with another Muslim's interpretation of Sharia?"

"The Quran-only Muslims," noted Rashid, "Do not believe in the Hadith or the Sunnah (the sayings and life practices of Muhammad), but claim to be true Muslims. Sharia to them is not the same as for the Salafists, which in turn differs from the Sharia of the Muslim Brotherhood. And all of them are different from the Sharia of the Sufis!"

"That is why I am arguing," replied Naji, "Not from the standpoint of a Muslim or a Christian or an atheist or anyone else but as an Egyptian citizen. I am saying we need civil law that is not based on religion, and treats everyone exactly the same way."

"When I stand in front of the judge," continued Naji, "It should make no difference what his religion is or mine. The same law should apply to all. As it stands, if I am a Shia wanting a ruling about Zawaj Mutaa (temporary marriage), I will seek out a Shia judge because Sunni Islam does not recognize temporary marriage. When you tell me that the religion of the state is Islam, I feel that as a Christian I am not a part of this state."

"Should religion be mentioned at all in the Constitution?" asked Rashid. "The state is made up of Muslims, Christians, Bahais, atheists, rationalists and agnostics. They all need to be able to stand equally in front of the law."

"There is absolutely no need," replied Naji, "To mention religion in the Constitution. I want to repeat that this is not intended as an attack against Islam. I remind you again that this phrase was originally included in Article 2 for the political purposes of Presidents Sadat and Mubarak, not to serve the society. When you insert a clause in the Constitution merely to achieve your own political interests, knowing that others will exploit it for their religious interests, you have not served your people."

"Shaykhs are now describing this as the line in the sand," continued Naji. "They are accusing us of trying to remove the law of God from the Constitution. They know that the easiest way to inflame the passions of uneducated people is to claim that we are trying to remove Islam from the Constitution. As soon as you say, "This is against Islam," people stop thinking."


1. Recent media reports such as this in the New York Times note that Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is also calling for a Dawlah Medaniyah, or civil government, in Egypt. Are Yusuf Qaradawi and Naji Youssef advocating the same thing? The more I follow unfolding events in the Middle East and North Africa the more I realize how critical definitions are, particularly in the realm of religion and politics. As noted above, the word Sharia has different meanings even to different groups of Muslims. The term Dawlah Medaniyah is the same. It is extremely important to know whether a "civil government" means the same to Dr. Qaradawi as it does to Naji Youssef. I strongly suspect it does not.

2. Dr. Qaradawi warned Egyptians in his Tahrir Square sermon, "Do not let the enemies of Islam take this revolution from you." But who are the enemies of Islam? In an incredibly vitriolic sermon only available in Arabic, Shaykh Mohamed Hassan recently described any Egyptian who would want to change "even a single letter" of Article 2 of Egypt's Constitution as an "enemy of Allah and of Islam". Are Shaykhs Qaradawi and Hassan on the same page, or poles apart?

3. "As soon as (a Muslim apologist) says, 'This is against Islam,'" said Naji, "People stop thinking." Unfortunately, this is as true in America as it is in Egypt. Muslims here have even come up with a name for it. They call it Islamophobia.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Loonwatch and Defending Muhammad

Many websites dedicate themselves to the defense of Islam, a religion that seems to continually require defending. One site I've recently come across, Loonwatch, does this by attacking critics of Islam. Their title says it all; if you don't see things the way we do, you are crazy, incompetent, and a loon.

I've often thought that Muslims have a love-hate relationship with their Prophet and his Deity. It's like a relationship with someone who accepts no criticism, who always tries to make you feel that every problem in the relationship is your fault. Unable to criticize Muhammad, or even verbalize or discuss doubts and questions they might have about him, Muslims are forced to attack those who do.

I recently attended a church-related class taught by a woman who is a serious Christian. She related that during a moment of frustration the day before had she shouted out, "God, you suck!"

"Immediately," she continued, "I felt as if God responded to me, 'Good for you! I'm proud of you. You've finally reached the point where you tell me honestly how you feel!'"

A Muslimah reading the above would be shocked. "Astaghfir Allah, may God forgive me!" she would say. She would never dare even think, much less say, such a thing.

One of the most amazing suras of the Quran that emphasizes the dysfunctional relationship between Muhammad and his followers is Al Tahrim (Quran 66). I've told the story here, and won't repeat it again except to say that Muslim apologists in the West love to say Muhammad was upset with his wife Hafsah because she told Ayesha he had bad breath from eating honey. It was in Riyadh, where Muslims are much less concerned with presenting a white-washed version of the Prophet's life than their Western counterparts, that I learned the true story. At any rate, whether the issue was honey or Muhammad sleeping with Mary the Copt in Hafsah's own bedroom, the result was the same. Rather than accept any responsibility for his behavior he put all the blame on his young wives (Ayesha was still a teenager and Hafsah in her early twenties), threatening to divorce them and using his trump card that Allah would be really angry at them if they ever did this again. It is always the fault of the Muslim or the Muslimah, never the fault of the Prophet.

I was once in a group discussion where an associate I'll call Mansour was explaining to us the "true meaning" of Jihad. He gave us the usual line of how it means a peaceful struggle to achieve spirituality, and repeated the weak Hadith, so often used in the West, of Muhammad telling his warriors they had finished the lesser Jihad of battle to dedicate themselves to the greater Jihad of spirituality.

Mansour had no idea I knew the difference between a Sufi and a sunflower seed, and when he was finished I told him I'd never heard an Arabic-speaking Shaykh in the Middle East even mention that Hadith, because it was not authentic. I reminded him there are entire chapters of the authentic Hadith collections entitled Jihad and they refer without exception to the primary meaning of the word, which is effort put forward for the strengthening and conquest of Islam.

After the discussion was over, another Arabic-speaking colleague said to me, "Don't you know that Mansour was upset by what you said today? Why do you ask him those hard questions? Why don't you just let him be a happy Muslim!"

And so I say to the writers and readers of Loonwatch, "Baraka Allah fikum, wa uwafiq-kum fi Nasr Rasul Allah wal-Deen". May God bless you, and grant you success as you strive to achieve victory for the Prophet of Allah and his Religion. And may you continue to be happy, happy Muslims!"