Islam between Radicalism and Reform

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Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod, PhD. – July 28, 2015:

“We can give up the business of saying that this has nothing to do with Islam,” stated Hudson Institute scholar Hassan Haqqani while discussing jihadist violence at Washington, DC’s American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on July 21.  Haqqani and AEI’s conference “Islamic Extremism, Reformism, and the War on Terror” examined insightfully radicalism’s literal rootedness in Islam and its reform prospects to a conference room filled with about 80 listeners.

Notwithstanding prevalent “political correctness,” AEI moderator Danielle Pletka stated that the atrocious Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria, or ISIL) “may not be the form of Islam that should be, but it is, in fact, certainly a form of Islam.”  The ideology of groups like ISIL, noted the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Haqqani, “may be a variant, it may be a distortion, it may be an extreme view, but it does have to do with Islam.”  Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid noted that Graeme Wood, the author of the “great Atlantic article,” had once expressed on a panel with Hamid that, theologically speaking, “ISIL is an example of the Islamic reformation.”

Hamid explained that, by reverting to the sources of Islamic doctrine, Muslim “reform and reformation can lead to ascendant conservative forces.”  A “reformation of sorts” by late 19th and early 20th century Islamic thinkers, for example, led to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  Their “mainstream Islamism” is an “attempt to reconcile pre-modern Islamic law with the modern nation-state.”

Hamid questioned whether “Islam is uniquely resistant to secularization.”  “Prophet Muhammad,” Hamid noted of Islam’s founding figure, “was not just a prophet or theologian, but also a politician, a warrior, a merchant, and, perhaps most importantly, a head of state, a small kind of mini-state.”  Thus any advocacy in Islam of separating religion and politics must “go up against the prophetic model,” which “even not particularly religious Muslims really value.”  “There are ways to do that,” he qualified, “but they are challenging and it’s unlikely to get a critical mass of support in the Muslim world.”

Hamid added that Islam’s “Quranic inerrancy” entails a “creedal requirement to believe that the Quran is not just the word of God, not just inspired by God, but God’s actual speech.”  Contrary to Christian understanding of divinely-inspired, but man-made scripture, in Islam’s view of the Quran “every single letter and word is not mediated.”  “Even a lax Muslim has a more intense commitment to the [Quranic] text theoretically than a right-wing evangelical does to the Bible.”

Against such dogmatism Abbas Kadhim, a School of Advanced International Studies professor originally from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, presented a more flexible understanding of Islamic reform.  For him this entailed “going back to the roots of Islam and then trying to derive from those roots what works for this time and this age, just like the Muslims throughout the centuries.”  Appearing on the panel after Kadhim, the Gallup pollster Mohamed Younis appeared to concur, stating that Islamic law or “sharia is the utopian ideal” mediated in implementation throughout history by complex, prudential human jurisprudence.  “ISIL is not a traditionalist movement,” he argued, but “actually a complete deviation or walking away from the traditions of jurisprudence within Islam,” demonstrating a “need to increase the jurisprudential literacy” of Muslims.

Kadhim took an almost iconoclastic approach to various Islamic tenets befitting his background in which, he argued, Shiite theology’s greater emphasis on ijtihad or individual intellectual exertion contrasted with Sunni doctrine.  The Islamic doctrine ofQuranic abrogation, for example, entails that later revealed (and often more violent) verses in the Quran replace earlier (often more benign) verses.  Yet German orientalist Theodor Nöldeke showed that “this is a mess here” trying to determine the Quran’s chronological order.

Kadhim also noted that Islam’s second canonical source, the hadith relating what Islam considers as Muhammad’s exemplary biography, are sayings about him recorded some 200 years after his death.  Hadith validity therefore depended upon a narrator “chain of transmission” or isnad, yet Kadhim rhetorically questioned his audience “how many of you can reproduce what we said in the last 15 minutes?”  He concluded that “Muslims have lied and attributed things to the prophet for 1,400 years,” dishonestly using Quran and hadith to “advance a certain agenda.”  Nonetheless, “in certain schools of Islam certain dead people have an omnipresent authority,” like the 13th century Ibn Taymiyyah among the Sunni Hanbali legal school dominant in the Arabian Peninsula.

Such outside-the-box Islamic thinking appealed to Haqqani, who noted that groups like ISIL have a “radical ideology, and all ideologies when they are fought need an ideological counter-narrative,” like Cold War Communism.  “Give a voice to the voices in the Muslim world that are being shut up” was his global strategy for encouraging Islamic diversity in the face of often repressive Muslim-majority societies.  He noted, for example, an Egyptian scholar for whom the initial Muslim community under Muhammad in seventh-century “Medina was not really a state in the modern sense.”  Similarly, panelist Jennifer Bryson, an Arabic scholar whopreviously questioned Pletka and others calling the Islamic State as such, described Muhammad “as more of a community leader.”

In this view, Haqqani stated, the “purpose of Islam is piety and not power” and the “whole notion of an Islamic state is flawed.”  Given his apolitical, pietistic understanding of Islam, he noted that Islam’s Shiite-Sunni division derives from seventh-century conflicts over Muhammad’s choice of succession in the initial Muslim caliphate.  “What relevance does it have in the 21st century?” he asked, and proclaimed among his mixed Shiite-Sunni fellow panelists “let the Shia be Shias, and let the Sunnis be Sunnis.”

Kadhim’s fellow Iraqi Shiite conference presenter, Zainab Al-Suwaij from the American Islamic Congress, concurred in a “need to diversify the voices” among Muslims.  In particular, “certain organizations” in the United States habitually unnamed by her inappropriately claim to speak for all American Muslims.  Did she have in mind the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose representatives were in the AEI audience?

Islamic diversity and nuance formed Bryson’s antidote for aggressive and authoritarian Islamic agendas.  For the recentChattanooga jihadist, the “problem was that he was disconnected from the very rich and complex traditions of Islam” characterized by “ongoing discussion.”  Yet precisely such variety explained for Hamid Islam’s recurring malign manifestations throughout the world.  “If you want to find something in Islamic tradition to justify whatever you are doing,” he stated, “you probably will be able to find it somewhere because Islam is such a diverse, rich tradition.”

While groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIL in fact have an anchoring in Islamic canons, protestations by Bryson and others of Islam’s diversity do not explain how benign Islamic views would necessarily overcome opposition.  Kadhim’s scriptural critiques could just as well call into question Islam in its entirety and outrage the devout as lead to religious refinement.  Haqqani’s appeal for Shiite-Sunni tolerance downplays recurrent historical hostility within a divided Dar al-Islam among theological groups whose cosmic conflicts are no less passionate than America’s Civil War.  Making Islam, a faith not known for accepting debate and discussion, into a true religion of peace will be difficult indeed.

Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School.  He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies.  He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.

The Lure of Fantasy Islam

A Problem From Heaven – Why the United States Should Back Islam’s Reformation

Egyptian men read the Koran at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo,  September 2008 NASSER NURI / REUTERS

Egyptian men read the Koran at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, September 2008 NASSER NURI / REUTERS

Imagine a platform for Muslim dissidents that communicated their message through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Imagine ten reformist magazines for every one issue of the Islamic State’s Dabiq or al Qaeda’s Inspire. Imagine the argument for Islamic reform being available on radio and television in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, and Urdu. Imagine grants and prizes for leading religious reformers. Imagine support for schools that act as anti-madrasahs.

Such a strategy would also give the United States an opportunity to shift its alliances to those Muslim individuals and groups that actually share its values and practices: those who fight for a true Muslim reformation and who currently find themselves maligned, if not persecuted, by the very governments Washington props up.

Foreign Affairs, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, June 16, 2015:

We have a problem—not a problem from hell, but one that claims to come from heaven. That problem is sometimes called radical, or fundamentalist, Islam, and the self-styled Islamic State is just its latest iteration. But no one really understands it. In the summer of 2014, Major General Michael Nagata, the commander of U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East, admitted as much when talking about the Islamic State, or ISIS. “We do not understand the movement,” he said. “And until we do, we are not going to defeat it.” Although Nagata’s words are striking for their candor, there is nothing new about the state of affairs they describe. For years, U.S. policymakers have failed to grasp the nature of the threat posed by militant Islam and have almost entirely failed to mount an effective counteroffensive against it on the battlefield that matters most: the battlefield of ideas.

In the war of ideas, words matter. Last September, U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the Islamic State “is not Islamic,” and later that month, he told the UN General Assembly that “Islam teaches peace.” In November, Obama condemned the beheading of the American aid worker Peter Kassig as “evil” but refused to use the term “radical Islam” to describe the ideology of his killers. The phrase is no longer heard in White House press briefings. The approved term is “violent extremism.”

The decision not to call violence committed in the name of Islam by its true name—jihad—is a strange one. It would be as if Western leaders during the Cold War had gone around calling communism an ideology of peace or condemning the Baader Meinhof Gang, a West German militant group, for not being true Marxists. It is time to drop the euphemisms and verbal contortions. A battle for the future of Islam is taking place between reformers and reactionaries, and its outcome matters. The United States needs to start helping the right side win.

TONGUE-TIED

How did the United States end up with a strategy based on Orwellian Newspeak? In the wake of 9/11, senior Bush administration officials sounded emphatic. “This is a battle for minds,” declared the Pentagon’s no. 2, Paul Wolfowitz, in 2002. But behind the scenes, there was a full-blown struggle going on about how to approach the subject of Islam. According to Joseph Bosco, who worked on strategic communications and Muslim outreach in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2002 to 2004, although some American officials defined Islam as inherently peaceful, others argued that, like Christianity, it had to go through a reformation. Eventually, an uneasy compromise was reached. “We bridged the divide by saying that most contemporary Muslims practice their faith peacefully and tolerantly, but a small, radical minority aspires to return to Islam’s harsh seventh century origins,” Bosco wrote in The National Interest.

Administration officials could not even agree on the target of their efforts. Was it global terrorism or Islamic extremism? Or was it the alleged root causes—poverty, Saudi funding, past errors of U.S. foreign policy, or something else altogether? There were “agonizing” meetings on the subject, one participant told U.S. News & World Report. “We couldn’t clarify what path to take, so it was dropped.”

It did not help that the issue cut across traditional bureaucratic demarcations. Officers from the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command argued for the integration of public diplomacy, press relations, and covert operations. State Department officials saw this as yet another attempt by the Pentagon to annex their turf. Veterans of the campaign trail warned against going negative on a religion—any religion—ahead of the 2004 election. For all these reasons, by the middle of that year, the Bush administration had next to no strategy. Government Accountability Office investigators told Congress that those responsible for public diplomacy at the State Department had no guidance. “Everybody who knows how to do this has been screaming,” one insider told U.S. News. But outside Foggy Bottom, no one could hear them scream.

Administration officials eventually settled on the “Muslim World Outreach” strategy, which relied partly on humanitarian projects carried out by the U.S. Agency for International Development and partly on Arabic-language media outlets funded by the U.S. government, such as Alhurra (a plain vanilla TV news channel) and Radio Sawa (a 24-hour pop music station that targets younger listeners). In effect, “Muslim World Outreach” meant not touching Islam at all. Karen Hughes, who was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2005 to 2007, has said that she “became convinced that our nation should avoid the language of religion in our discussion of terrorist acts.”

Here, if in few other respects, there has been striking continuity from Bush to Obama. From 2009 to 2011, Judith McHale served in the same position that Hughes had. “This effort is not about a ‘war of ideas,’ or winning the hearts and minds of huge numbers of people,” McHale said in 2012. “It’s about using digital platforms to reach that small but dangerous group of people around the world who are considering turning to terrorism and persuading them to instead turn in a different direction.” The whole concept of “violent extremism” implies that the United States is fine with people being extremists, so long as they do not resort to violence. Yet this line of reasoning fails to understand the crucial link between those who preach jihad and those who then carry it out. It also fails to understand that at a pivotal moment, the United States has opted out of a debate about Islam’s future.

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A Former Muslim’s Grave Warning to America

hirsi_ali-492x486American Thinker, By Matthew Vadum, June 11, 2015:

Islam “has begotten a bloodthirsty ideology that is determined to destroy the principles of liberty and humanity and basic decency,” ex-Muslim and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali said June 3 at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Hirsi Ali knows what she’s talking about.  Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, she was raised Muslim.  She spent her childhood and young adulthood in Africa and Saudi Arabia.  She fled as a refugee to the Netherlands in 1992, where she earned a political science degree and was elected to the Dutch House of Representatives.  After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hirsi Ali renounced Islam.

Last week she accepted an award from the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which prides itself on “strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles and values that sustain and nurture it.”

Some in the conservative movement refer to the annual Bradley Prizes event, which was emceed this year by commentator George Will, as the “conservative Oscars.”  The other recipients this year were James W. Ceaser, a political science professor at the University of Virginia; Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College; and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, chairman of the Institute for the Study of War.

The late Christopher Hitchens called Hirsi Ali, whose former religion forced female circumcision on her, someone “of arresting and hypnotizing beauty,” and “a charismatic figure” who writes “with quite astonishing humor and restraint.”  In 2005, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

She famously said, “Islam is not a religion of peace.  It’s a political theory of conquest that seeks domination by any means it can.”

Her latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, was published in March by Harper.  (It was reviewed by Katherine Ernst in City Journal.)

“My argument is that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them,” she writes in Heretic.  She continues:

Instead we must acknowledge that they are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contained in the hadith.

Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms: Islam is not a religion of peace.

For expressing the idea that Islamic violence is rooted not in social, economic, or political conditions – or even in theological error – but rather in the foundational texts of Islam itself, I have been denounced as a bigot and an “Islamophobe.”  I have been silenced, shunned, and shamed.  In effect, I have been deemed to be a heretic, not just by Muslims – for whom I am already an apostate – but by some Western liberals as well, whose multicultural sensibilities are offended by such “insensitive” pronouncements … today, it seems, speaking the truth about Islam is a crime.  “Hate speech” is the modern term for heresy.  And in the present atmosphere, anything that makes Muslims feel uncomfortable is branded as “hate.”

In the book, Hirsi Ali writes that it is her goal “to make many people – not only Muslims but also Western apologists for Islam – uncomfortable” by “challenging centuries of religious orthodoxy with ideas and arguments that I am certain will be denounced as heretical.”

“My argument is for nothing less than a Muslim Reformation,” she writes.  “Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam’s core concepts, I believe, we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion.”

In her remarks at the Kennedy Center, Hirsi Ali summarized what brought her to this point and what needs to be done.  With the exception of the opening pleasantries, here follows a transcript of this brave woman’s speech:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bradley Foundation is committed to strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles, and values that sustain and nurture it.  It supports limited, competent government, a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity and a vigorous defense at home and abroad of American ideas and institutions.

It may same strange to you that I, an immigrant black woman from a Muslim family, should identify so strongly with those goals.  Let me explain to you why I do.  There are three reasons.

First, it’s because my life’s journey which has taken me from Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to Kenya to the Netherlands and finally here, could not have been better designed to make me appreciate American principles and American institutions.

Second, I think I can justly say that I was among the first in my age group of millions of Muslims to admit that our faith, no longer mine, has begotten a bloodthirsty ideology that is determined to destroy the principles of liberty and humanity and basic decency.

Even after 9/11 there are still those who naively believe that it’s a threat only in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  The reality as our general [i.e. Jack Keane] just laid out, is that it is now a global threat.  A recent report by the United Nations Security Council confirmed that more than 100 countries are now supplying recruits to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the United States is one of them.

This year alone the number of U.S.-based individuals in Islamic terror-related cases has risen to 40.  What concerns me is not jihad, or it’s not only jihad.  It’s also the nonviolent activities from preaching to fundraising that are its essential seedbed.  Often those who engage in these activities are very skillful at representing themselves as moderates.

Let me quote you the words of Abdurahman Alamoudi, a founder of the American Muslim Council, who at one time was an Islamic advisor to President Clinton and a goodwill ambassador to the State Department, as well as being consulted by some eminent Republicans.

“We have a chance,” he declared to a Muslim audience, “to be the moral leadership of America.  It will happen, it will happen praise Allah the Exalted.  I have no doubt in my mind.  It depends on me and you, either we do it now or we do it after a hundred years, but this country will become a Muslim country.”

That is the authentic voice of a plot against America today.  I am glad to report that Alamoudi is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for financial and conspiracy offenses involving the Libyan government and the al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the then-crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Third, and finally, I have come to see that there is a creative threat close to American institutions, the ones opposed by those within the West who appease the Islamic extremists.

Last September our president insisted the Islamic State is not Islamic.  Later that month he told the U.N. General Assembly that Islam teaches peace.  Phrases like “radical Islam” and “Islamic extremism” are no longer heard in the White House press conferences.

The approved term is “violent extremism.”  Ladies and gentlemen, if we don’t define the problem, if we can’t bring ourselves to define the problem, then how on earth can we ever hope to solve it?  [audience applauds]

The decision not to call violence committed in the name of Islam by its true name is a very strange one.  Imagine if Western leaders during the Cold War had gone around calling Communism an ideology of peace or condemning the Baader-Meinhof Gang for not being true Marxists.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is time to drop the euphemisms and verbal contortions.  As I argue in my most recent book, Heretic, a battle for the future of Islam is taking place between reformers and reactionaries, between dissidents and jihadists, with the majority of Muslims caught in the middle unsure which side to take.  The outcome matters, matters to Muslims but it matters to us and to global peace, and the United States needs to start helping the right side to win.

Sometimes people who want to smear me use the sham term, “Islamophobe,” which is designed to imply that those who scrutinize Islamic extremism are bigots.  Well, I may have a phobia, but it’s not directed against Muslims.  After all I used to be one.  My phobia is towards any ideology, whether it is Communism, Fascism, or Islamism, that threatens individual freedom and the institutions that protect those freedoms.

That is why I am so grateful and so proud to accept this honor from you tonight.

Thank you, very, very much.

Hirsi Ali’s personal story bears some resemblance to that of Dutch politician Geert Wilders.  Wilders is a member of the Dutch House of Representatives and leader of his country’s Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), or in English, the Party for Freedom.

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Uncovered: Bin Laden Concerned About Reformist Muslims

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro. June 2, 2015:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a list of declassified letters and open-source reading material found inside Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. Among the items were documents that likely include the name of Clarion Project counter-terrorism analyst Ryan Mauro and other files indicating that the Al-Qaeda chief was concerned about modernist Muslim reformers.

Three of the 10 miscellaneous documents that were retrieved are from the 2007 Intelligence Summit held in St. Petersburg, Florida, specifically the conference advertising, exhibitor prospectus and participants map. As one of the featured speakers, Mauro’s name and biography would be in the material. The event was billed as the most prestigious intelligence conference in the country.

It is unclear why the event caught Bin Laden’s attention but it was likely the section of the event called the Secular Islam Summit, which featured anti-Islamist Muslims and former Muslims calling for a reformation in Islam in accordance with secular-democracy and modern human rights. The Summit unveiled the St. Petersburg Declaration rejecting Sharia governance and Islamism.

Muslim speakers at the event included Iranian activist Manda Zand Ervin who is featured in our film, Honor Diaries; Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former associate of current Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri;  Tashbih Sayyed, editor-in-chief of Pakistan Today and The Muslim World Today; Hasan Mahmud of the Free Muslims Coalition, Jordanian writer Shaker al-Nabulsi and Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alusi.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity and designated terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates, attacked the Secular Islam Summit.

CAIR board chairman Parvez Ahmed claimed it had no legitimacy and inaccurately characterized its speakers as entirely former Muslims and foes of Islam. CAIR criticized the event for drawing a connection between Islamic teachings and terrorism and accused it of promoting Islamophobia.

Genieve Abdo, a keynote speaker at a CAIR fundraiser, took CAIR’s stance in the Washington Post. She applauded CAIR for having “denounced any notion of a Reformation as another attempt by the West to impose its history and philosophy on the Islamic world.”

Abdo argued that CAIR is more representative of Muslims and so the Secular Islam Summit should be dismissed. She also cited another curious figure as a preferable source over the Summit’s: The radical imam of New York-based Masjid at-Taqwa, Siraj Wahhaj.

Abdo portrayed Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood as the future of Islam. She advised the West to accept that its “hopes for full integration by Muslims in the West are unlikely to be realized and that the future of the Islamic world will be much more Islamic than Western.”

“The political future of the Arab world is likely to consist of Islamic parties that are far less tolerant of what has historically been the U.S. foreign policy agenda in the region and that domestically are far more committed to implementing sharia law in varying degrees,” Abdo wrote.

Bin Laden’s bookshelf also included a RAND Corporation study titled Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources and Strategies by Cheryl Benard. It concluded that U.S. should support Muslim modernists first; support Muslim traditionalists against the fundamentalists; confront and oppose fundamentalists and selectively support secularists.

Bin Laden either requested these materials about Muslim movements against Islamism or his closest aides felt they would peak his interest. At the very least, he was not dismissive of their significance otherwise they would not have invested time to retrieve and presumably review them.

If the highest echelons of Al-Qaeda viewed anti-Islamist Muslim activists as worth paying attention to, then so should we.

****

Here are the videos of the conference: (Playlist)

Secular Islam Summit – Press Conference PT1

Secular Islam Summit – Press Conference PT2

Secular Islam Summit Panel 1 Pt1

Secular Islam Summit Panel 1 Pt2

Secular Islam Summit Panel 2 Pt1

Secular Islam Summit Panel 2 Pt2

Secular Islam Summit Panel 2 Pt3

Secular Islam Summit Panel 3 Pt1

Secular Islam Summit Panel 3 Pt2

Secular Islam Summit Panel 4 pt 1

Secular Islam Summit Panel 4 pt 2

Secular Islam Summit Panel 4 pt 3

Secular Islam Summit – Panel 5 PT1

Secular Islam Summit – Panel 5 PT2

Secular Islam Summit – Panel 5 PT3

Islam’s ‘Reformation’ Is Already Here—and It’s Called ‘ISIS’

vcBy Raymond Ibrahim, May 7, 2015:

The idea that Islam needs to reform is again in the spotlight following the recent publication of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.  While Ali makes the argument that Islam can reform—and is in desperate need of taking the extreme measures she suggests to do so—many of her critics offer a plethora of opposing claims, including that Islam need not reform at all.

The one argument not being made, however, is the one I make below—namely, that Islam has already “reformed.”  And violence, intolerance, and extremism—typified by the Islamic State (“ISIS”)—are the net result of this “reformation.”

Such a claim only sounds absurd due to our understanding of the word “reform.”  Yet despite its positive connotations, “reform” simply means to “make changes (in something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.”

Synonyms of “reform” include “make better,” “ameliorate,” and “improve”—splendid words all, yet words all subjective and loaded with Western connotations.

Muslim notions of “improving” society can include purging it of “infidels” and “apostates,” and segregating Muslim men from women, keeping the latter under wraps or quarantined at home. Banning many forms of freedoms taken for granted in the West—from alcohol consumption to religious and gender equality—is an “improvement” and a “betterment” of society from a strictly Islamic point of view.

In short, an Islamic reformation will not lead to what we think of as an “improvement” and “betterment” of society—simply because “we” are not Muslims and do not share their first premises and reference points.  “Reform” only sounds good to most Western peoples because they naturally attribute Western connotations to the word.

Historical Parallels: Islam’s Reformation and the Protestant Reformation

At its core, the Protestant Reformation was a revolt against tradition in the name of scripture—in this case, the Bible.  With the coming of the printing press, increasing numbers of Christians became better acquainted with the Bible’s contents, parts of which they felt contradicted what the Church was teaching.  So they broke away, protesting that the only Christian authority was “scripture alone,” sola scriptura.

Islam’s current reformation follows the same logic of the Protestant Reformation—specifically by prioritizing scripture over centuries of tradition and legal debate—but with antithetical results that reflect the contradictory teachings of the core texts of Christianity and Islam.

As with Christianity, throughout most of its history, Islam’s scriptures, specifically its “twin pillars,” the Koran (literal words of Allah) and the Hadith (words and deeds of Allah’s prophet, Muhammad), were inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  Only a few scholars, or ulema—literally, “they who know”—were literate in Arabic and/or had possession of Islam’s scriptures.  The average Muslim knew only the basics of Islam, or its “Five Pillars.”

In this context, a “medieval synthesis” flourished throughout the Islamic world.  Guided by an evolving general consensus (or ijma‘), Muslims sought to accommodate reality by, in medieval historian Daniel Pipes’ words,

translat[ing] Islam from a body of abstract, infeasible demands [as stipulated in the Koran and Hadith] into a workable system. In practical terms, it toned down Sharia and made the code of law operational. Sharia could now be sufficiently applied without Muslims being subjected to its more stringent demands…  [However,] While the medieval synthesis worked over the centuries, it never overcame a fundamental weakness: It is not comprehensively rooted in or derived from the foundational, constitutional texts of Islam. Based on compromises and half measures, it always remained vulnerable to challenge by purists (emphasis added).

This vulnerability has now reached breaking point: millions of more Korans published in Arabic and other languages are in circulation today compared to just a century ago; millions of more Muslims are now literate enough to read and understand the Koran compared to their medieval forbears.  The Hadith, which contains some of the most intolerant teachings and violent deeds attributed to Islam’s prophet—including every atrocity ISIS commits, such as beheading, crucifying, and burning “infidels,” even mocking their corpses—is now collated and accessible, in part thanks to the efforts of Western scholars, the Orientalists.  Most recently, there is the Internet—where all these scriptures are now available in dozens of languages and to anyone with a laptop or iphone.

In this backdrop, what has been called at different times, places, and contexts “Islamic fundamentalism,” “radical Islam,” “Islamism,” and “Salafism” flourished.  Many of today’s Muslim believers, much better acquainted than their ancestors with the often black and white teachings of their scriptures, are protesting against earlier traditions, are protesting against the “medieval synthesis,” in favor of scriptural literalism—just like their Christian Protestant counterparts once did.

Thus, if Martin Luther (d. 1546) rejected the extra-scriptural accretions of the Church and “reformed” Christianity by aligning it exclusively with scripture, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (d. 1787), one of Islam’s first modern reformers, “called for a return to the pure, authentic Islam of the Prophet, and the rejection of the accretions that had corrupted it and distorted it” (Bernard Lewis,The Middle East, p. 333).

The unadulterated words of God—or Allah—are all that matter for the “reformists,” with ISIS at their head.

Note: Because they are better acquainted with Islam’s scriptures, other Muslims, of course, are apostatizing—whether by converting to other religions, most notably Christianity, or whether by abandoning religion altogether, even if only in their hearts (for fear of the apostasy penalty).  This is an important point to be revisited later.  Muslims who do not become disaffected after becoming better acquainted with the literal teachings of Islam’s scriptures, and who instead become more faithful to and observant of them are the topic of this essay.

Christianity and Islam: Antithetical Teachings, Antithetical Results

How Christianity and Islam can follow similar patterns of reform but with antithetical results rests in the fact that their scriptures are often antithetical to one another.   This is the key point, and one admittedly unintelligible to postmodern, secular sensibilities, which tend to lump all religious scriptures together in a melting pot of relativism without bothering to evaluate the significance of their respective words and teachings.

Obviously a point by point comparison of the scriptures of Islam and Christianity is inappropriate for an article of this length (see my “Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam” for a more comprehensive treatment).

Suffice it to note some contradictions (which naturally will be rejected as a matter of course by the relativistic mindset):

  • The New Testament preaches peace, brotherly love, tolerance, and forgiveness—for all humans, believers and non-believers alike.  Instead of combatting and converting “infidels,” Christians are called to pray for those who persecute them and turn the other cheek (which is not the same thing as passivity, for Christians are also called to be bold and unapologetic).  Conversely, the Koran and Hadith call for war, or jihad, against all non-believers, until they either convert, accept subjugation and discrimination, or die.
  • The New Testament has no punishment for the apostate from Christianity.  Conversely, Islam’s prophet himself decreed that “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.”
  • The New Testament teaches monogamy, one husband and one wife, thereby dignifying the woman.  The Koran allows polygamy—up to four wives—and the possession of concubines, or sex-slaves.  More literalist readings treat all women as possessions.
  • The New Testament discourages lying (e.g., Col. 3:9).  The Koran permits it; the prophet himself often deceived others, and permitted lying to one’s wife, to reconcile quarreling parties, and to the “infidel” during war.

It is precisely because Christian scriptural literalism lends itself to religious freedom, tolerance, and the dignity of women, that Western civilization developed the way it did—despite the nonstop propaganda campaign emanating from academia, Hollywood, and other major media that says otherwise.

And it is precisely because Islamic scriptural literalism is at odds with religious freedom, tolerance, and the dignity of women, that Islamic civilization is the way it is—despite the nonstop propaganda campaign emanating from academia, Hollywood, and other major media that says otherwise.

The Islamic Reformation Is Here—and It’s ISIS

Those in the West waiting for an Islamic “reformation” along the same lines of the Protestant Reformation, on the assumption that it will lead to similar results, must embrace two facts: 1) Islam’s reformation is well on its way, and yes, along the same lines of the Protestant Reformation—with a focus on scripture and a disregard for tradition—and for similar historic reasons (literacy, scriptural dissemination, etc.); 2) But because the core teachings of the founders and scriptures of Christianity and Islam markedly differ from one another, Islam’s reformation is producing something markedly different.

Put differently, those in the West calling for an “Islamic reformation” need to acknowledge what it is they are really calling for: the secularization of Islam in the name of modernity; the trivialization and sidelining of Islamic law from Muslim society.  That is precisely what Ayaan Hirsi Ali is doing.  Some of her reforms as outlined in Heretic call for Muslims to begin doubting Muhammad (whose words and deeds are in the Hadith) and the Koran—the very two foundations of Islam.

That would not be a “reformation”—certainly nothing analogous to the Protestant Reformation.

Habitually overlooked is that Western secularism was, and is, possible only because Christian scripture lends itself to the division between church and state, the spiritual and the temporal.

Upholding the literal teachings of Christianity is possible within a secular—or any—state.  Christ called on believers to “render unto Caesar the things of Caesar [temporal] and unto God the things of God [spiritual]” (Matt. 22:21).  For the “kingdom of God” is “not of this world” (John 18:36).  Indeed, a good chunk of the New Testament deals with how “man is not justified by the works of the law… for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal. 2:16).

On the other hand, mainstream Islam is devoted to upholding the law; and Islamic scripture calls for a fusion between Islamic law—Sharia—and the state.   Allah decrees in the Koran that “It is not fitting for true believers—men or women—to take their choice in affairs if Allah and His Messenger have decreed otherwise. He that disobeys Allah and His Messenger strays far indeed!” (33:36).   Allah tells the prophet of Islam, “We put you on an ordained way [literarily in Arabic, sharia] of command; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who are ignorant” (45:18).

Mainstream Islamic exegesis has always interpreted such verses to mean that Muslims must follow the commandments of Allah as laid out in the Koran and the example of Muhammad as laid out in the Hadith—in a word, Sharia.

And Sharia is so concerned with the details of this world, with the everyday doings of Muslims, that every conceivable human action falls under five rulings, or ahkam: the forbidden (haram), the discouraged (makruh), the neutral (mubah), the recommended (mustahib), and the obligatory (wajib).

Conversely, Islam offers little concerning the spiritual (sidelined Sufism the exception).

Unlike Christianity, then, Islam without the law—without Sharia—becomes meaningless.   After all, the Arabic word Islam literally means “submit.”  Submit to what?  Allah’s laws as codified in Sharia and derived from the Koran and Hadith—the very three things Ali is asking Muslims to start doubting.

The “Islamic reformation” some in the West are calling for is really nothing less than an Islam without Islam—secularization not reformation; Muslims prioritizing secular, civic, and humanitarian laws over Allah’s law; a “reformation” that would slowly see the religion of Muhammad go into the dustbin of history.

Such a scenario is certainly more plausible than believing that Islam can be true to its scriptures and history in any meaningful way and still peacefully coexist with, much less complement, modernity the way Christianity does.

Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared on PJ Media in June 2014

Reformist Approach to Sharia a Refreshing Break with Academic Apologists

Rumee-Ahmed-ramadan-770.JPGJihad Watch, by Andrew Harrod, May 2, 2015:

In a refreshing departure from Sharia apologias common in Middle East studies, University of British Columbia Islamic law professor  rejected the “myth” of Sharia (Islamic law) as a “static, fixed, reified entity” on April 22 in the Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies’ wood-paneled boardroom. Ahmed’s presentation, “Shari’a 2.0: Islamic Systematics and the Science of Islamic Legal Reform” before a student-dominated audience of about fifteen, demonstrated simultaneously Sharia’s all-too human origins as well as its embedded dangers.

He described a “sharp, sharp disconnect” between contemporary and historical Islamic interpretations of Sharia. According to the former, Islamic legal scholars substantiated their claim of being central to legitimating Islamic regimes that claimed to rule by God’s law. Yet judges who were not legal scholars often made politically motivated legal decisions that were subject to subsequent overruling by temporal rulers such as caliphs. Campaigning armies, meanwhile, would simply make unilateral decisions without consulting legal scholars on issues such as the division of spoils.

Concerning pre-colonial Islamic legal scholars, Ahmed questioned the power and reputation of such men in a world of three percent literacy. Political patronage could compromise the purity of their intentions. Danger lurked, he noted, since their struggles with rulers could lead to imprisonment or even execution.

Ahmed expressed a “very cynical view” regarding past legal use of Islam’s canonical texts. Quran 8:67-68, concerning the Muslim victory at the Battle of Badr under Muhammad, suggested that taking prisoners manifested a failure to fulfill a divine command to fight the enemy. But “sharp breaks” throughout history in the acceptance of taking and ransoming prisoners by Sunni Islam’sHanafi school of jurisprudence demonstrated how Islamic law responded to political developments with theological reinterpretation.

Practical realities aside, Ahmed described how earlier Islamic legal scholars created in their voluminous writings “subjunctive worlds.” Although these legal visions often had no expectation of implementation, they expressed the “ideal relationship between human beings and God.” “Writing a book of law is never a waste of time,” he noted, but is a “way to express your religiosity” or a “devotional act” similar to prayer. The intricacy of such legal thinking means that attempts to reform a single point of Islamic law on, for example, punishments involving whipping necessitates considering several other elements of Islamic legal theory.

Islamic legal history is replete with controversies surrounding reform, he said. Quran 5:38 was “pretty clear” in mandating hand amputation as punishment for stealing, although some had tried to interpret this verse to mean “cut off their power” with imprisonment. Several hadith, or canonical narratives of Muhammad’s life, however, did indeed mandate amputation and formed a corresponding pre-colonial Islamic legal consensus, contrary practice notwithstanding.

Slavery’s permissibility received a similar “unequivocal yes” in Islamic law sixty or seventy years ago. Political pressures forced Muslim scholars to justify abolition in what Ahmed described as a “little bit of a technical argument” premised on the understanding that “times have changed.” The Islamic State (ISIS), though, has recently reintroduced slavery, arguing that times have changed again.

Other controversies involving Sharia have been addressed creatively, Ahmed noted. The Egyptian jihadist group Gama’a al-Islamiyya, for example, discovered in Western contract law a unique basis for abolishing airline hijacking: the purchaser of an airline ticket may not violate its terms by destroying or seizing the plane. In the political sphere, while many European diaspora Muslims vote simply for the sake of political participation, the Sharia principle of maslaha or public good allows conservative Muslims to participate in non-Muslim politics in order to advance Islam.

One of Ahmed’s Powerpoints stated, “Gender: The Greatest Challenge to Islamic Reform.” “Gender pervades every part of Islamic law,” he explained, a law that was traditionally patriarchal. The Quran, for example 4:11, prescribes half the inheritance for women as for men.

Nonetheless, Sharia’s past malleability made Ahmed optimistic that in Islam, “any law, no matter how entrenched it seems in Muslim texts, can be reformed.” To this end, he is developing an application allowing popular citation of legal arguments and sources in order to “democratize” and “crowdsource Sharia.” That way, less educated and “state-sponsored ulama” (religious scholars) will “not have a monopoly on Islamic law.”

Ahmed himself would like to “get less religion” in Muslim governance, but Sharia is not going to disappear from Muslim societies anytime soon, including pertinent national constitution clauses. An “overwhelming number” of surveyed Muslims expressed a belief in Sharia, often including corporal punishment, as divine. Alternatively, millions of Muslims sought an Islamic theological basis to justify their support for human rights norms such as gender equality. “Context driving law is not just legitimate, it’s inevitable,” he concluded.

Ahmed’s illuminating and refreshingly honest examination of Sharia raised several important concerns surrounding Islamic law and its reform. On one hand, critical examination of Sharia’s past could cause many Muslims to be as reform-minded as Ahmed and to reject Sharia as a divinely-ordained, unalterable legal code that demands future application. On the other hand, Sharia contains serious moral failings not easily resolved even with the most sophisticated (or sophistic) Islamic theological and legal arguments.

As presented by Ahmed, Islamic law suffers from an unwieldy, unstable, and incoherent structure stemming from Islam’s doctrinal foundations. As one of his slides stated, Islam’s arbitrary conception of God is “beyond our moral code.” Islamic norms then derive from Muhammad, who “is supposed to be the pristine believer” in Islamic teaching and thus, according to some Islamic teachings, incapable of sin. On the basis of the life of this seventh-century desert dweller, Islamic law has accepted slavery while possessing an “unnecessary amount of information on the law of wells.” Developing modern legal standards for a free society within such a body of law will be difficult indeed, which is why Ahmed’s insistence on reform is so important.

Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project; follow him on twitter at @AEHarrod. He wrote this essay for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

The Search for “Moderate Islam”

Goodbye Cruel WorldPhilos Project, by Andrew Harrod, April 8, 2015:

Critical observers should be cautious when presented with the idea of a moderate Islam. While keynote speakers at a recent Washington Institute for Near East Policypresentation asked their audience to believe that this ideal is not only attainable, but already a reality, their articulation of a true Islamic religion of peace fell short of convincing the crowd – and rightly so.

“Fighting for Moderate Islam: Ideas and Activism on the New Front Line” was headlined by The Washington Institute’s David Pollock, who opened the event by explaining that would-be Islamic reformers like Washington Institute colleague Mohammed Dajani are in considerable danger because of their beliefs. Assailants torched Dajani’s car at his Jerusalem home the day his article “A Plea for Moderate Islam” appeared, and this was only one of many threats to the man’s life. Dajani described the about-face he made after witnessing the generous humanity of his “perceived enemy,” Israel, and recounted how ill-received his Saul-to-Paul-like conversion was from his fellow Palestinians.

During his tenure as a professor at Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, Dajani faced accusations of CIA recruitment and the teaching of “American Islam.” Experiences he faced while leading a 2014 student trip to the Nazi death camp memorial at Auschwitz, a topic of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories among majority-Muslim communities, finally forced his resignation.

American Islamic Congress co-founder and executive director Zainab Al-Suwaij said that she is constantly worried about threats similar to Dajani’s – not just abroad, but here at home. Al-Suwaij, the Iraqi granddaughter of a Shiite ayatollah, fled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship after participating in the 1991 post-Gulf War revolt to overthrow Hussein before establishing her career and family in the United States. Soberly, she said that Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States made her realize that “the terror I had left behind is not always back there.”

Al-Suwaij said that extremism within the American Muslim community is dehumanizing and is “spreading like a cancer – quietly.” She pointed out that this form of jihadism in America has often been masked by moderation since the events of 9/11, giving the false illusion that “we are now in a safer place.”

An attendee at President Barack Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit, Al-Suwaij said that she would have preferred that the event be titled “Countering Radical Islamism,” which was the actual focus of the president’s summit. Although Al-Suwaij said that “Muslims and Islam – their religion – are the first victims of this dangerous ideology,” she was reticent to give specifics about the Islamist backgrounds of groups like theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America.

Al-Suwaij said that what she sought most of all was “a voice of moderate Islam” that involved a reinterpretation of Islamic canonical texts. She said that this was not unheard of, but had occurred fairly often in Islamic history – albeit mostly due to pressure from Islamic regimes, not from the Muslim grassroots. She accused groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria of their own kind of brutal revisionism.

In all, Al-Suwaij said that she was optimistic that the social climate within Islamic communities would change for the better. Although extreme groups like ISIS have limited appeal among Muslims, she attributed deficient American Muslim anti-extremism efforts to the widespread desire of those who simply want to live a “normal life” without political fights. After all, many American Muslims simply do not care to air their dirty laundry for the world to see.

Seconding Al-Suwaij’s call for ideological warfare, Dajani said that another “version of Islam” is needed, in the face of groups like the Islamic State. He said that it was wrong for struggles against jihadist threats to consume so much military attention while “soft messages” that can influence Islam get little notice. Hence his assertion that Israel’s anti-terrorism barrier (the “wall”) was ineffective and consumed resources that would be better spent winning Palestinian friendship with development aid. His overgenerous spirit also included former ISIS fighters who were disillusioned when they returned to their home countries. His prescription: “Don’t treat them like criminals; embrace them.”

Dajani’s devil came in his theological details. To promote his vision of Islam, he founded the Wasatia Reconciliation Center, an organization whose name is derived from the Arabic word wasat from Quran 2:143, a word that can mean “middle ground.” Although Dajani said that he seeks to avoid extremes, his online explanatory documents note that, in the “Holy Quran,” wasat also “means justice, righteousness and goodness,” as various English Quran translations indicate. A writer at Islamic Revival argued that wasat “is unrelated to being extreme or moderate,” but requires the Muslim community to “resume the Islamic way of life by re-establishing the true State of Islam.”

Similarly shallow canonical foundations can also be found in Dajani’s rejection of Islamic anti-Semitism. He failed to counter copious instances of Islamic anti-Semitism such as a well-known, infamous canonical saying – or hadith – of Muhammad that predicted a genocidal end-times battle with the Jews. While Dajani called this hadith “fabricated,” Islam scholar Martin Kramer countered by saying its authenticity is “rated triple-A.”

Dajani also cited a hadith that described the Prophet Muhammad’s standing in respect for the funeral bier of a Jew, but more detailed Islamic interpretations explained that the prophet had merely stood for the angels who were receiving that Jew’s soul.

In a later interview, Dajani clarified that he hopes most of all to build “bridges of understanding” between people of various faiths whose values are common among religions. He rejected a “radical school” that believes “Islam has come to correct the other religions, rather than to complement other religions,” even though such correction is standard Islamic dogma. “Taken as a whole, the Quran’s moral message is consistent,” he said, but his evaluation rejects Islam’s abrogation doctrine, under which chronologically later, aggressive Quran verses replace earlier, tolerant passages.

Dajani’s presentation expressed optimism in winning over the Muslim people, but conceded that “people tell me that this is a one-man effort.” He and Al-Suwaij undoubtedly mean well, but Islam’s often violent, intolerant canons present steep theological hurdles to developing an Islam with a human face. Al-Suwaij and Dajani’s well-wishers should look before they make any leap of faith on the basis of an Islamic reform project.

Sisi’s religious revolution gets underway

 

By Michele Antaki:

Last week, the news spread across the web that Egypt’s President Al-Sisi had “cancelled Islamic education” in all of Egypt. Was it in fulfillment of his New Year call for a religious revolution?  Was that dramatic announcement for real or a just a wild rumor?

Bonjour Egypte, a French-language online publication, announced on February 20th that Al-Sisi’s Ministry of Education had “published a manual of values and ethics, for all levels of education, after canceling the program of Islamic education.” It added: “The decision is explained by the lack of moral values in the Egyptian street. Sissi, a champion of secularism and an enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood, has canceled the teaching of Islam in the schools of Egypt.”

The same word-for-word announcement had already been made by a different publication on 26 June 2014, only to be denied as a fake in an online forum one day later.

On February 22, in the Saudi holy city of Mecca where a counter-terrorism conference was held in the aftermath of the slaughter of 21 Copts by the Islamic State, Grand Imam Ahmed Tayyeb called for a radical reform of religious education to prevent the misinterpretation of the Quran by extremists. “The only hope for Muslim nations to restore their unity is to deal with this Takfiri trend [accusing other Muslims of being unbelievers] in our schools and universities.” He offered no indication whether this reform had been effected in Egypt and to what extent.

When Sisi called for a religious revolution on January 1st, 2015 before an assembly of ulema and clerics at prestigious Al-Azhar University, the world caught its breath. Could it be that the leader of a great Muslim nation, seat of the foremost Sunni Islamic learning center, was truly intent on carrying out such a historic and unprecedented reform?

Sisi knew that in requesting the revisiting of the “corpus of texts and ideas” that had been “sacralized over the years” and were “antagonizing the entire world,” he was taking enormous risks and not endearing himself to the radical fringes of his people. And indeed, voices calling out for his death were quickly heard on programs broadcast by Turkey-based Muslim Brotherhood channels: “Anyone who kills Egyptian President Abdel Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and the journalists who support him would be doing a good deed,” said Salama Abdel Al-Qawi on Rabea TV.  On Misr Alaan TV, Wagdi Ghoneim clamored that “whoever can bring us the head of one of these dogs and Hell-dwellers” would be “rewarded by Allah.”

In calling for a ‘religious revolution,’ Sisi also knew that he was up against tremendous odds, owing to Al-Azhar’s educational curricula that had been promoting a radical Salafist and Wahhabist brand of Islam for quite some time.

On Jan 4, the popular satellite TV host Ibrahim Issa showed, with book in hand, that what Al-Azhar taught in its curricula was exactly what Daesh [ISIS] practiced. To wit, that “all adult, free and able men” were to “kill infidels,” and do so “without so much as a prior notice or even an invitation to embrace Islam.” Issa, in his characteristically refreshing and funny style, chided his audience for being so deeply in denial. “So you find Daesh horrible, don’t you? Oh dear, oh dear! But why, when Daesh does exactly what Al-Azhar teaches?” He added that there was “no hope that Al-Azhar would ever lead the “religious revolution’” requested by Sisi, unless Al-Azhar was first willing to “reform itself.”  For how could an entity that was “part of the problem be also part of the solution?”

As Sisi had done, Issa made the distinction between religion/doctrine/belief (deen/ akida) on the one hand, and the thinking/ideology (fikr) on the other. He further explained that what was meant by the latter was the body of interpretative and non-core texts — such as Bukhari’s Hadith, for example, which narrated violent episodes taken from the lives of the Prophet’s companions. Those were amenable to re-interpretation in terms of contextual relevance.

In an earlier, Dec.14 program, Al-Azhar refused to consider the Islamic State as an apostate. On Dec.11, Al-Azhar had called the Islamic State criminal while insisting that “No believer can be declared an apostate, regardless of his sins.”  Nonsense, opined Issa. Apostasy had been declared many times against believers. The real reason for the reluctance was simply that ISIS’s practices were based on Al-Azhar’s teachings,[i] which had been allowed to stand for decades with the regrettable connivance and complicity of the State. Consequently, if ISIS was now declared an apostate, so should Al-Azhar.

Issa’s views echoed those of Sheikh Mohammed Abdallah Nasr, a former Al-Azhar student and a leading figure of the “Azhariyyun” Civil State Front, which is opposed to political Islam. “Although many consider Al-Azhar a representative of moderate Islam, its curricula incite hatred, discrimination and intolerance, and are a doctrinal reference for the Islamic State,” he said to MCN direct.

Read more at American Thinker

Michele Antaki was raised in Egypt and France. LLM of Law – France. PG Diploma of Conference Interpretation – UK. She was a UN interpreter in NY for 27 years in 4 languages – Arabic, English, French, Spanish.

Also see:

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: How to Win the New Cold War Against Muslim Theocracy

Published on Mar 8, 2015 by Rebel Media

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy tells TheRebel.media’s Brian Lilley how the West should fight the spread of Muslim supremacism here and abroad.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Obama Must Confront the Threat of Radical Islam

An ISIS member waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.

An ISIS member waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.

ISIS is recruiting young Muslims from around the globe to Jihad, and the White House apparently doesn’t understand why

Time, By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Feb. 20, 2015:

How can the Obama Administration miss the obvious? Part of the answer lies in the groups “partnering” with, or advising, the White House on these issues. Groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council or the Islamic Society of North America insist that there should be no more focus at the Summit on radical Islam than on any other violent movements, even as radical Islamic movements continue to expand their influence in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Amplifying a poor choice of Muslim outreach partners, however, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have argued in recent days that economic grievances, a lack of opportunities, and countries with “bad governance” are to blame for the success of groups such as ISIS in recruiting Muslims to their cause. Yet, if this were true, why do so many young Muslims who live in societies with excellent governance—Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, the United States—either join ISIS or engage in Jihadist violence in their own countries? Why do young Muslims with promising professional futures embark on the path of Jihad?

Neither the Summit partners nor the U.S. Administration can effectively answer these questions.

Both Denmark and the Netherlands have “good governance.” Denmark and the Netherlands not only offer free health insurance but also free housing to Muslim refugees, along with high-quality education for their children. This should produce an outpouring of gratitude by young Muslims towards the host society, and no Jihadists.

Yet there are dozens of Jihadists hailing from the Netherlands and a recent attack in Copenhagen was committed by a man who was raised in Denmark and had effectively enjoyed years of Danish hospitality.

The question is not limited to Europe. Minnesota, for instance, is hardly a state with “bad governance.” Minnesota offers ample opportunity for immigrants willing to work hard. Yet more than a dozen young men from the Twin Cities area have joined the Jihadist movement in recent years.

How can Barack Obama or John Kerry explain this? Based on President Obama’s public statements and John Kerry’s analysis in The Wall Street Journal, they cannot.

It is worth remembering Aafia Siddiqui, the M.I.T.-educated neuroscientist who could have enjoyed a prestigious and lucrative career in the bio-tech industry but instead chose to embrace radical Islam, eventually becoming known as “Lady Al-Qaida.”

Or think of the three Khan siblings who recently sought to leave Chicago in order to go live in Syria under the rule of ISIS. The Khan sister, intelligent and studious, had planned to become a physician. The siblings were intercepted before they could fly out of the country, and prosecutors argue they wanted to join armed Jihad. Defense attorneys have a different explanation, stating the siblings desperately wanted to live under a society ruled by Shariah law—under the rule of Allah’s laws, without necessarily wanting to commit acts of violence.

It is this motivation—the sincere desire to live under Islamic religious laws, and the concomitant willingness to use violence to defend the land of Islam and expand it—that has led thousands of Western Muslims, many of them young and intelligent—and not the oft-described “losers”—to leave a comfortable professional and economic future in the West in order to join ISIS under gritty circumstances.

In its general strategy, the U.S. Administration confounds two things. It is true that in “failed states” criminal networks, cartels, and terrorist groups can operate with impunity. Strengthening central governments will reduce safe havens for terror networks. Secretary Kerry’s argument in The Wall Street Journal is different, however, namely: If we improve governance in countries with “bad governance,” then fewer young people will become “violent extremists.” That’s a different argument and not a plausible one. In fact, it’s a really unpersuasive argument. Muslims leave bright, promising futures to join ISIS out of a sense of sincere religious devotion, the wish to live under the laws of Allah instead of the laws of men.

In reading Kerry’s piece, I am glad that in the late 1940s the U.S. had people such as George Kennan employed in its service to see the Communist threat clearly and describe it clearly. But where is today’s Kennan in this administration? Who in the U.S. government is willing to describe the threat of radical Islam without fear of causing offense to several aggressive Islamic lobby groups?

American policymakers do not yet understand Islamism or what persuades young Muslims to join Jihad: sincere religious devotion based on the core texts of Islam, in particular early Islam’s politicized and aggressive period in Medina (compared to Islam’s spiritual and ascetic period in Mecca).

How does one tackle misguided religious devotion of young Muslims? The answer lies in reforming Islam profoundly—not radical Islam, but mainstream Islam; its willingness to merge Mosque and State, religion, and politics; and its insistence that its elaborate system of Shariah law supersedes civil laws created by human legislators. In such a reform project lies the hope for countering Islamism. No traditional Islamic lobbying group committed to defending the reputation of Islam will recommend such a policy to the U.S. government. Yet until American policymakers grapple with the need for such reform, the real problem within Islam will remain unresolved.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.

Sisi’s Brave New Egypt?

El-Sisi (1)Frontpage, by Raymond Ibrahim, Jan. 21, 2015:

Originally published by PJ Media.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi continues to be the antithesis of longstanding mainstream media portrayals of him.

First there was his historic speech where he, leader of the largest Arab nation, and a Muslim, accused Islamic thinking of being the scourge of humanity—in words that no Western leader would dare utter. This remarkable speech—which some say should earn him the Nobel Peace Prize—might have fallen by the wayside had it not been posted on my website and further disseminated by PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon, Michael Ledeen, Roger Kimball, and many others, including Bruce Thornton and Robert Spencer.

Instead, MSM headlines on the day of and days after Sisi’s speech included “Egypt President Sisi urged to free al-Jazeera reporter” (BBC, Jan 1), “Egyptian gays living in fear under Sisi regime” (USA Today, Jan. 2), and “George Clooney’s wife Amal risks arrest in Egypt” (Fox News, Jan. 3).

Of course, the MSM finally did report on Sisi’s speech—everyone else seemed to know about it—but, again, to portray Sisi in a negative light. Thus, after briefly quoting the Egyptian president’s call for a “religious revolution,” the New York Times immediately adds:

Others, though, insist that the sources of the violence are alienation and resentment, not theology. They argue that the authoritarian rulers of Arab states — who have tried for decades to control Muslim teaching and the application of Islamic law — have set off a violent backlash expressed in religious ideas and language.

In other words, jihadi terror is a product of Sisi, whom the NYT habitually portrays as an oppressive autocrat—especially for his attempts to try to de-radicalize Muslim sermons and teachings (as discussed in this article).

Next, Sisi went to the St. Mark Coptic Cathedral during Christmas Eve Mass to offer Egypt’s Christian minority his congratulations and well wishing. Here again he made history as the first Egyptian president to enter a church during Christmas mass—a thing vehemently criticized by the nation’s Islamists, including the Salafi party (Islamic law bans well wishing to non-Muslims on their religious celebrations, which is why earlier presidents—Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and of course Morsi—never attended Christmas mass).

Accordingly, the greetings Sisi received from the hundreds of Christians present were jubilant. His address was often interrupted by applause, clapping, and cheers of “We love you!” and “hand in hand”—phrases he reciprocated. Part of his speech follows:

Egypt has brought a humanistic and civilizing message to the world for millennia and we’re here today to confirm that we are capable of doing so again. Yes, a humanistic and civilizing message should once more emanate from Egypt. This is why we mustn’t call ourselves anything other than “Egyptians.” This is what we must be—Egyptians, just Egyptians, Egyptians indeed! I just want to tell you that Allah willing, Allah willing, we shall build our nation together, accommodate each other, make room for each other, and we shall like each other—love each other, love each other in earnest, so that people may see… So let me tell you once again, Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you all, Happy New Year to all Egyptians!

Sisi stood side-by-side with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II—perhaps in remembrance of the fact that, when General Sisi first overthrew President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Pope Tawadros stood side-by-side with him—and paid a heavy price: the Brotherhood and its sympathizers unleashed a Kristallnacht of “reprisals” that saw 82 Christian churches in Egypt attacked, many destroyed.

It is also significant to recall where Sisi came to offer his well-wishing to the Christians: the St. Mark Cathedral—Coptic Christianity’s most sacred church which, under Muhammad Morsi was, for the first time in its history, savagely attacked, by both Islamists and the nation’s security (see pictures here).

Once again, all of this has either been ignored or underplayed by most mainstream media.

There is, of course, a reason the MSM, which apparently follows the Obama administration’s lead, has been unkind to Sisi. One will recall that, although Sisi led the largest revolution in world history—a revolution that saw tens of millions take to the streets and ubiquitous signs and banners calling on U.S. President Obama and U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to stop supporting terrorism (i.e., the Brotherhood)—U.S. leadership, followed by media, spoke only of a “military coup” against a “democratically elected president,” without pointing out that this president was pushing a draconian, Islamist agenda on millions who rejected it.

So what is the significance of all this—of Sisi? First, on the surface, all of this is positive. That Sisi would criticize the Muslim world and Islamic texts and thinking—in ways his Western counterparts could never—and then continue his “controversial” behavior by entering the Coptic Christian cathedral during Christmas mass to offer his greetings to Christians—a big no-no for Muslim leaders—is unprecedented. Nor can all this be merely for show. In the last attack on a Coptic church, it was two Muslim police officers guarding the church who died—not the Christian worshipers inside—a rarity.

That Sisi remains popular in Egypt also suggests that a large percentage of Egyptians approve of his behavior. Recently, for instance, after the Paris attacks, Amru Adib, host of Cairo Today, made some extremely critical comments concerning fellow Muslims/Egyptians, including by asking them “Are you, as Muslims, content with the fact that today we are all seen as terrorists by the world?… We [Egyptians] used to bring civilization to the world, today what? — We are barbarians!  Barbarians I tell you!” (More of Adib’s assertions here.)

That said, the others are still there—the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, those whom we call “Islamists,” and their many sympathizers and allies.

Worst of all, they have that “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas” that has been “sacralized over the centuries” (to use Sisi’s own words) to support them—texts and ideas that denounce Sisi as an “apostate” deserving of death, and thus promising a continued struggle for the soul of Egypt.

Also see:

Sisi Is Just Another Caliphate-Idealizing Apologist For Islam Whose In-Actions Speak Louder Than His Hollow Words (andrewbostom.org)

Egyptian president has more guts to speak out about radical Islam than Obama [VIDEO]

al-sisi-egypt-elec_2921226bBy Allen West, Jan. 10. 2015:

Last night, I watched the movie “Fury” which depicts the brutality of fighting total war in close combat in the armor and infantry against the enemy — the final days of World War II against Germany. I found it rather strange and somehow timely to watch this film after what happened this past week in France. Sometime, someplace, there will have to be a leader who steps forth and understands the concept of civilizational warfare. There has to be one who can define and face the enemy and inspire a nation to seek victory. We are looking for such a leader in the West, but perhaps someone will come from another place to inspire us.

As reported in The Washington Times by my friend Charles Ortel, “The biggest story not yet covered appropriately in mainstream media plays out now in Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attacks the root causes of continuing conflict between certain adherents of Islam and freedom-loving secularists, in defiance of President Obama and of fierce critics.”

 

“Living in a nation of 87 million persons, where an estimated 90 percent are Muslim, President el-Sisi is certain that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization, or a force for good and so his government holds hundreds of members of that organization in prison, where many face death sentences, including former President Mohammed Morsi. To see what President el-Sisi confronts now, peruse the still-operating English language website of the brotherhood.”

It is truly fascinating that here is the one leader in the Muslim world who has the courage not only to confront the enemy, but also its ideology. After all, it was el-Sisi who has taken on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in Egypt, the Sinai and in neighboring Libya.

The former general has also stood against the Islamic terror group Hamas. But what confounds me is not his actions –truly heroic — but the actions of our own president, Barack Hussein Obama. It was Obama who in 2009 went to the University of Cairo and delivered a speech where he requested Muslim Brotherhood members should appear front and center. It was Obama who applauded the ascension of Mohammad Morsi as Egypt’s president. And it has been Obama who has seemingly turned his back on Egypt since its ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. There’s that nagging question of allegiance again.

When it came down to choosing between Hamas, Turkey, and Qatar as opposed to Israel and Egypt — under el-Sisi — our president chose the former, not the latter. And now, it is el-Sisi who is calling out the Islamists and the clerics, mullahs, imams who are causing strife globally.

As Charles writes, “President el-Sisi plays for his life against determined internal and external opposition while President Obama merely preens before friendly partisan crowds. Recently this year, the fully engaged leader of Egypt began a drive to reform Islam from within. His address to religious authorities at Al-Azhar University in Cairo on Jan. 1 is a stunning “must-read” and “must-share” development that only now is getting attention it so richly deserves. Wednesday, President el-Sisi put in a public appearance at a Christmas mass in Cairo — an historic first in Egypt’s modern history.” Funny, here in America we’re struggling in some places just to say Merry Christmas.

There couldn’t be any bigger contrast in leadership at a critical time such as this.

From the events this week in Paris we must learn that we cannot shy away from defining this enemy. The cultural jihadist apologists must no longer be given a platform. It is unbelievable that anyone would refer to the Islamic terrorists who wrought savage carnage this week as “activists.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah e-Sisi has shown us that we must fight the ideology which fuels the jihad. We cannot win this battle by denying who the enemy is — and if it takes the Egyptian president to show us the way — well, Molon Labe!

Coalition of Concerned Citizens Seeks Response to El Sisi’s Call for “Religious Revolution”

 

January 7, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today letters were issued to several Islamic organizations in the United States by a Coalition of concerned citizens to get their official response to recent comments by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The organizations contacted for their response included the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the North American Islamic Trust.

The Coalition sought responses for the following questions:

  • Is it the position of your organization that the imams of Al Azhar have a responsibility to renounce the “mindset” of jihad, conquest, and, as suggested by President Sisi, genocide of the world’s non-Muslims?
  • Is it the position of your organization that the time is right for a “religious revolution,” as President Sisi stated?
  • Is it the position of your organization that jihad is a holy obligation for all Muslims?

On New Year’s Day, President Sisi addressed the famous Egyptian University, Al Azhar. Occasionally called the “Vatican” of Islam, Al Azhar is a major center of Sunni Islamic thought, one of the most important scholarly institutions in the Islamic world.

President Sisi urged the imams (religious leaders) at Al Azhar to denounce the violence and revolution that has defined the Middle East since the Arab Spring. He urged the venerable institution to condemn the idea that “1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!”

Since the Arab Spring, the moderate and stable regimes have been under sustained assault by terrorist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other affiliated networks. President Sisi came to power in Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, who is himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Sisi’s speech is seen as a direct challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood and the idea that jihad, or war against non-Muslims, must define Islam. According to the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad is the duty of all Muslims, and the highest honor for Muslims is actual death fighting jihad. (The motto of the organization states, “God is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of God is our wish.”)

In November, CAIR and MAS were designated as terrorist organizations by the United Arab Emirates. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have also designated the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic umbrella organization operating around the world, including in the United States, as a terrorist organization.

The Coalition, which includes retired military leaders, journalists, and citizen activists, will publicly release any and all responses from these organizations.

Below is a copy of the letter sent to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Identical letters were sent to the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim American Society, the North American Islamic Trust, and various chapters of the Muslim Students Association.

LETTER TO THE ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA

January 7, 2015

Mr. Azhar Azeez
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
P.O. Box 38
Plainfield, IN 46168

Dear Mr. Azeez:

This is a request for your organization’s official response to the speech given by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

On New Year’s Day, President Sisi stated (in part) before an audience at Al Azhar University in Cairo:

“I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”

In light of President Sisi’s comments, we ask for public clarification on the following points:

  • Is it the position of ISNA that the imams of Al Azhar have a responsibility to renounce the “mindset” of jihad, conquest, and, as suggested by President Sisi, genocide of the world’s non-Muslims?
  • Is it the position of ISNA that the time is right for a “religious revolution,” as President Sisi stated?
  • Is it the position of ISNA that jihad is a holy obligation for all Muslims?

Please note that this letter will be made public and published. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Wallace Bruschweiler
Data Security Holdings

Leslie Burt
The Counter Jihad Report

Mark Kohan
Conservative Party USA

Trevor Loudon
New Zeal Blog

Gary Kubiak & Dick Manasseri
S.E. Michigan 9.12 Tea Party

Terresa Monroe-Hamilton
NoisyRoom.net

Charles Ortel
Washington Times Columnist

William Palumbo
Qatar Awareness Campaign

Brent Parrish
The Right Planet

Thomas E. Snodgrass, Colonel, USAF (Ret)
Right Side News

Hannah Szenes
Journalist

Paul E. Vallely, Major General, US Army (Ret)
Stand Up America