Islam’s Second Crisis: the troubles to come

sunset on Islam

Muslims will hold Islam accountable when Islamic revivalists promise utopia but deliver chaos and human rights abuses.

By Mark Durie:

In What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis charted the decline of Islam in the modern era and the resulting theological crisis for the Muslim world.

Now Islam is going through a second crisis, caused by the repeated failures of revivalist responses to the first crisis.  This second crisis, combined with the cumulative effect of the first crisis, which remains unresolved, will lead to a long drawn-out period of political and social instability for Muslim societies.


The first millennium of Islam was a period of expansion through conquest.   However for five centuries from around 1500, Western powers were pushing back Islamic rule.  There were numerous landmarks of the ascendancy of the West (which includes Russia), such as:

  • the conquest of Goa in India by the Portuguese in 1510;
  • the liberation of Christian Ethiopia in 1543 with the aid of the Portuguese soldiers;
  • the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 and
  • the ensuing liberation of Hungary and Transylvania;
  • Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt in 1798;
  • the USA-Barbary State Wars of 1801-1815, which put an end to tribute payments by the US to the north African states to prevent piracy and the enslavement of US citizens;
  • a long series of defeats for the Ottomans in Russo-Turkish wars stretching across four centuries and culminating in the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish war,
  • which led to the independence of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria;
  • the overthrow of Muslim principalities in Southeast Asia by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English;
  • the final destruction of Mughal rule in India at the hands by the British in 1857;
  • the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire as a result of WWI;
  • and finally, the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, in territory formerly ruled by Islam, which was considered by many Muslims to be the crowning humiliation in this long line of defeats.

We are not just talking about Western colonialism.  Some of the victories over Muslim principalities involved the occupation or colonisation of primarily Muslim lands, but many involved the liberation of non-Muslim peoples from the yoke of Muslim rule, such as in Ethiopia, Hungary and India, and some were defensive responses to Islamic aggression, such as the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna.

While the external borders of Islam kept shrinking, its position of dominance within its own borders was also being challenged.  During this same period there were in many places improvements in the conditions experienced by non-Muslims under Islamic rule – a weakening of the dhimmi system – which communicated to Muslims an impression of their own faith’s loss of dominance and its loss of ‘success’. A landmark in this long process was the Paris Peace Treaty of 1856, which settled the Crimean War.  As part of this settlement the Ottomans were compelled to grant equal rights to Christians throughout their empire.

The gradual process of improvement of conditions for Christians and Jews under Islam was regretted by Muslim scholars, who saw it as evidence of Islam’s decline.  For example a request for a fatwa from a Egyptian Muslim judge in 1772 lamented the ‘deplorable innovations’ of Christians and Jews, who were daring to make themselves equal to Muslims by their manner of dress and behavior, all in violation of Islamic law.

In a similar vein, the Baghdad Quranic commentator Al-Alusi complained that non-Muslims in Syria during the first half of the 19th century were being permitted to make annual tribute payments by means of an agent, thus escaping the personal ritual degradations prescribed by Islamic law.  He concluded:  “All this is caused by the weakness of Islam.”

Why would Islam’s lack of dominance be evidence of weakness?

Islamic doctrine promises falah ‘success’ to the religion’s followers, symbolized by the daily call to prayer which rings out from minarets: ‘come to success, come to success’. The success promised by Islam has always been understood to be both spiritual and material: conquest and rule this life, and paradise in the next. The Qur’an states that Allah has sent Muhammad “with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to triumph over all (other) religions” (Sura 48:28).

Islam’s theology of success meant that the global failure of Islamic armies and states at the hands of ‘Christian’ states constituted a profound spiritual challenge to Islam’s core claims. Just as Muslim scholars had always pointed to the military victories of Islam as proof of its divine authority, this litany of defeats testified to its failure as the religion of the successful ones.

The urgency of the question ‘What went wrong?’ drove the Islamic revival, an interconnected network of renewal movements which have as their central tenet that Muslims will once again be ‘successful’ – achieving political and military domination over non-Muslims – if they are truly devoted to Allah and implement Islamic laws faithfully.   These are reformation movements in the original (medieval) sense of the Latin word reformatio, for they seek to restore Islam to its former glory by returning to first principles.

Some of the main formative strands of Islamic revivalism have been:

  • the Wahhabi movement which originated in the 18th century;
  • the Deobandi movement in India and Pakistan which dates from 1866;
  • Jamaat e-Islami, which was founded 1941 in India;
  • the Muslim Brotherhood, founded 1928;
  • and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Out of these have come a myriad of offshoots and branches such as the Taliban (from the Deobandi movement); Al Qaida (a product of the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood theologian Said Qutb); the missionary movementTablighi Jamaat; and Hizb Ut-Tahrir.

Even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the ‘United Nations’ of the Muslim world, is a revivalist organization: this is reflected in its Charter which states that it exists “to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world”, a euphemism for reestablishing Islam’s dominant place in world affairs.

In essence, Islamic revivalist movements aim to restore the greatness of Islam and make it ‘successful’ again.  This hope is embodied, for example, in the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan “Islam is the solution”.  This implies that when Islam is truly implemented all the problems human beings face – such as poverty, lack of education, corruption, and injustice – will be solved.  The flip-side of this slogan is the thesis that all the problems of the Muslim world have been caused through want of genuine Islamic observance:  Allah allowed his people to fall into disarray because they were not faithful in obeying his laws. The correction to this spiritual problem should therefore be more sharia compliance.  This is the reason why headscarves and burqas have been appearing on Muslim women’s heads with increasing frequency all around the world.

For a time it appeared to many Muslims that the revivalist program was working.  The Iranian Islamic revolution, and the later victory of jihadis in Afghanistan and the break-up of the Soviet Union was considered to be evidence of the success of the revivalist program.  This was the certainly view of the translator of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam’s jihadi tract Join the Caravan:

“The struggle, which he [Sheikh Azzam] stood for, continues, despite the enemies of Islam. ‘They seek to extinguish the light of Allah by their mouths. But Allah refuses save to perfect His light, even if the Disbelievers  are averse. It is He who has sent His messenger with the guidance and the true religion, in order that He may make it prevail over all religions, even if the pagans are averse.’ [Qur'an, 9:32-33] Since the book was written, the Soviets have been expelled from Afghanistan, by Allah’s grace, and the entire  Soviet Union has disintegrated.”

Utopian claims are risky, because they open up the possibility for even greater failure, and amplified cognitive dissonance as the gap between one’s faith and reality widens.  The first crisis of Islam was the rise of West through superior technological, economic and military prowess.  The second crisis is the failure of Islamic revivalism as a response to the first crisis.  The second crisis could prove even more painful and profound in its effects on Islam than the first.

The manifestations of revivalism’s failures are as diverse as the Islamist movements which generated them.  One could point to:

  •  the atrocities and backwardness of the Taliban;
  • the corruption and cruelty after the 1979 Iranian Revolution;
  • the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to govern for the benefit of the Egyptian people, leading to a wildly popular military coup in 2013;
  • the present-day economic collapse of Turkey under big-talking Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan;
  • the genocidal campaigns of Khartoum’s military campaigns against its own citizens, causing more than a million casualties;
  • and the ongoing Iraqi and Syrian jihad-driven bloodbaths.

Everywhere one looks there are good reasons for Muslims to question the Islamic revivalist creed. The outcomes of more than two centuries of theological fervor are not looking good. Muslim states are not realizing the utopian goals set by these movements.  Indeed the opposite is the case: again and again, wherever revivalist movements have gained the ascendancy, human misery has only increased. Too many Muslim states continue to be models of poverty and economic failure, despite all those female heads being covered up.

One inevitable consequence of this trend is disenchantment with Islam, and a growing sense of alienation from the religion. The manifest failure of the revivalist creed creates a sense of anxiety that Islam is under threat, not from the infidel West, but from reputational damage caused by the revivalists themselves.  It is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

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Fasten your seat-belts: the world will be in for quite a ride in the years to come, as Muslims – who constitute around a quarter of the world’s population – struggle to make theological sense of the trashing of their religion’s utopian vision.  It is one thing to blame the infidels for this – or the proxy tyrants which revivalists claim the West has foisted on the Muslim world – what is more threatening by far is the damage being done to Islam’s name by revivalist Muslims themselves.

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Dr Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.

The Ultimate “Unmentionable”?: Bernard Lewis Served with Huma Abedin & A.O. Nasseef on the IMMA Editorial Board

Huma Abedin

Huma Abedin

By Andrew Bostom:

This past week my colleagues Andrew McCarthy and Diana West strove gamely to remind (at least) conservatives of “tweet-martyred” Huma Abedin’s Muslim Brotherhood/Wahhabist connections, most notably vis a vis her longstanding (and familial) ties to the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs.

Having explored these connections in great detail last August, which McCarthy and West now deftly allude to in their excellent commentaries, a more detailed summary of my original findings merits recapitulation. Moreover, McCarthy’s apt title, “The Huma Unmentionables,” is the perfect segue to a rather striking (if disconcerting) discovery I made that may indeed be the ultimate “unmentionable” regarding the conservatives’ (especially neoconservatives’) ultimate sage on all-things-Islamic, Bernard Lewis.

Over the past 34 years, Huma Abedin’s family has been responsible for the editorial production of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA)’s academic journal, known as Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs. Journal, from 1979-1995, and Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs [JMMA], from 1996. till now, starting with family patriarch Syed Z. Abedin’s, and Huma’s mother, Saleha Abedin‘s, founding involvement since 1979, and subsequently joined by Huma’s brother Hassan Abedin (1996 to present), Huma herself (1996 to2008), and Huma’s sister, Heba (married name Khalid, or Khaled2002 to present).

Syed Abedin, in the inaugural edition of the IMMA journal, gives an effusive tribute to one of his IMMA co-founders, Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef,Chairman of the IMMA. During his concurrent tenure as Secretary-General of the Muslim World League — a combined Saudi Wahhabi, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated organization — in July, 1988, Naseef also created theRabita Trust, and became its chairman. On October 12, 2001, then President George W. Bush’s Executive Order named Rabita Trust as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity, and the US Treasury Department froze its assets, while Naseef was still serving as the Trust’s chairman. Nasseef remained on the IMMA journal Editorial Board through 2003, overlapping Huma Abedin’s tenure for 7-years (i.e., 1996-2003).

The April/May 2012  issue of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs journal (JMMA) featured two essays, introduced with lavish praise by Editor Saleha Abedin, which champion, unabashedly:

  • The global hegemonic aspirations of major 20th century Muslim Brotherhood jihadist ideologues, such as the eminent Muslim Brotherhood theoretician, Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), and Abul Hasan Nadwi (d. 1999)
  • The more expansive application of Sharia within Muslim minority communities residing in the West, with the goal of replacing these non-Muslim governing systems, as advocated by contemporary Muslim Brotherhood jihadist ideologues, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Taha Jabir al-Alwani

One of these JMMA essays repeats, approvingly, Qutb’s pejorative characterization of the West as a “disastrous combination of avid materialism, and egoistic individualism.” Abul Hasan Nadwi, was a founding member of the Muslim World League, a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (now Cooperation), a member of the World Supreme Council of Mosques, and a member of the Fiqh Council of Rabita.  In a triumphal 1951 manifesto extolling Islamic supremacism, Nadwi had proclaimed  ”Behold the world of man looking with rapture at the world of Islam as its savior, and behold the world of Islam fixing its gaze on the Arab world as its secular and spiritual leader. Will the world of Islam realize the hope of the world of men? And will the Arab world realize the hope of the Muslim world?” Citing Nadwi with admiration, the same JMMA article opines, “[T]he confrontation has taken the shape of an ‘Islamic project’ in the Muslim world against Western modernity…. The war that has been declared against Western modernity now seeks a new modernity…unlike Western modernity.”

Another featured essay from the April/May 2012  issue of the JMMA is a fitting complement to  the journal’s endorsement of the global Islamic supremacist agenda. This essay endorses the so-called “innovative” application of the  “Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities,” living, for example, in the West, whose stated purpose is, “enforcement of shari’ah on the Muslim communities.” However, by the essay’s own expressed standard: “The theory of the Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities is most easily clarified by shedding light on its founders.”

The two founders of this legal doctrine, as the essay  notes, are Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar, and Taha Jabir al-Alwani of Virginia, USA. Qaradawi haspublicly advocated:

  • The re-creation of a formal transnational United Islamic State (Islamic Caliphate)
  • The jihad conquests of Europe, and the Americas
  • Universal application of the Sharia, including Islamic blasphemy law, and the hadd punishments (for example, notably, executing so-called “apostates” from Islam)

Al-Alwani, writing as president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a think tank created by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, stated, regarding a (then) new English translation of the classic Shafiite manual of Islamic jurisprudence Reliance of the Traveller,  “from a purely academic point of view, this translation is superior to anything produced by orientalists in the way of translations of major Islamic works.” Notwithstanding al-Alwani’s glowing tribute,  Reliance of the Traveller sanctions open-ended jihadism to subjugate the world to a totalitarian Islamic Caliphate; rejection of bedrock Western liberties-including freedom of conscience and speech-enforced by imprisonment, beating, or death; discriminatory relegation of non-Muslims to outcast, vulnerable pariahs, and even Muslim women to subservient chattel (who must be segregated and undergo female genital mutilation); and barbaric punishments which violate human dignity, such as amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and lashing for alcohol consumption. Moreover, Al-Alwani wished Islamized Spain had conquered America and spread Islam in our hemisphere, not Christianity. He stated,  “Perhaps some of them [Muslims from Spain] would have been the ones who discovered America, not someone else, and America could have possibly been today among the lands of the Muslims”

Al-Alwani was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Sami Al-Arian who pled guilty to conspiracy to aid the terrorist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition, al-Alwani published an essay online, discovered (and translated from Arabic to English) in July 2011, entitled “The Great Haughtiness”, which promoted conspiratorial Islamic Jew-hatred replete with Koranic references, conjoined to modern “Zionist conspiracies”

The Abedin family “academic” journal is a thinly veiled mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sharia-supremacist agenda.

Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis

But now the ultimate “unmentionable” omitted by both McCarthy and West in their fine expositions. Bernard Lewis’ apologetic tendencies must have been attractive to the Muslim Brotherhood/Saudi Wahhabi front Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, and its pseudo-academic Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs (JMMA). Regardless of whether Lewis was a willing dupe, or not, he served on the editorial board of the JMMA for some 14 years, from 1996 to2010, thus overlapping with Nasseef for 7-years (like Huma), and Huma herself for 12-years. This revelation should be pondered in conjunction with a very lengthy WSJ analysis-a Bernard Lewis pom-pom section if there ever was one-by Peter Waldman, circa February, 2004  (“A Historian’s Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight  Bernard Lewis’s Blueprint — Sowing Arab Democracy — Is Facing a Test in Iraq Peter Waldman /Wall Street Journal, Feb 3, 2004). The WSJ investigative essay stands as confirmation of Lewis’s profound influence in shaping the “Islamic democracy agenda,” no matter what Lewis has done to disingenuously reinvent  his role in the Iraq invasion and larger “Islamic democratization” efforts (as in this April, 2012 interview), including his support the removal of  the “cunning autocrat” Hosni Mubarak.

These critical limitations of Bernard Lewis’ judgment have implications which must be recognized by all those for whom Lewis remains an iconic source of information, and advice, especially policy advice.

 

Are There Many Islams? Or Just One?

one-or-two-islamsBy Citizen Warrior:

The following was written by Traeh Lledew, creator of the two excellent resources, A Chronological Qur’an and Quoting Islam:

Many media discussions nowadays seem to hinge on the answer to the above question.
To support the idea that there is no single Islam, some point to the varied behavior of Muslims and the contradictory aspects of the Qur’an (tolerant verses as against totalitarian verses). Other analysts claim such contradictions are resolved by the Qur’an itself, and point to the Qur’an’s own doctrine of abrogation (Qur’an 2:106 and 16:101). Thus many Muslim scholars of Islam teach that the militant and totalitarian verses produced later in Muhammad’s career abrogate (cancel) the tolerant verses produced earlier in his career. From that point of view, there are no real contradictions and in the end only one Islam, the totalitarian, final, perfected Islam.
However, Bill Warner, who runs the Center for the Study of Political Islam, balances against the doctrine of abrogation a contrary perspective: many Muslims take everything in the Qur’an as eternally true. Warner concludes that Islam is dualistic, not logically consistent. A Muslim can believe two contradictory things at once, so long as the contradiction is present in the Qur’an. From that point of view, while the doctrine of abrogation does to some extent resolve contradictions, it is simultaneously true that it doesn’t — that the whole Qur’an, including both sides of any contradictions in it, is considered by Muslims eternally true. Allah is so dictatorially all powerful that he is not bound by anything, not even logic.
But having found the Qur’an at least somewhat contradictory and dualistic, does Warner stop there? Does he claim there is no single Islam? No. That would be too imprecise an answer. Warner comes out of a scientific background, and tries to drill down into the details. He takes a statistical approach, and looks at the trilogy of core Islamic texts — Qur’an, Hadith, Sira — quantitatively, asking how much of the trilogy is tolerant and peaceful, versus how much is totalitarian and violent. He finds that the percentage of tolerant statements is quite small, of totalitarian statements quite large. So although he doesn’t say there is one Islam, he does find an overwhelmingly predominant form of Islam. For example, in the most canonical hadith collection, Sahih al-Bukhari, Warner finds that over 98% of jihad hadiths refer to violent jihad. This confirms historian Bernard Lewis’ similar contention that in the core Islamic texts, “jihad” almost always means military jihad to defend or expand Muslim power.
So Warner’s view, by getting into specifics, really goes beyond the imprecise alternatives: Islam is One/Islam is Many.
Another perspective that influences the debate about this question is what might be called the “decontructionist” view. Even if you don’t know what the philosophy of “deconstruction” is, there’s a good chance its claims have seeped to some extent into your consciousness by a sort of cultural osmosis. The deconstructionist viewpoint is that a text can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways and can mean just about anything.
The more one thinks about that claim, however, the more it seems a gross exaggeration. While texts have elasticity of meaning to varying degrees, such elasticity is hardly infinite, and that is even more true with texts that are not largely poetic or mythical in content. The Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira are full of quite literal statements and commands. Because of that, Islam’s texts and past history have virtually always steered most interpretation into fairly similar and fairly definite grooves. Islam is not whatever one wants it to be. It is a rather definite historical reality. Many years ago, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis wrote of Islam’s inherent totalitarianism.
So we should not go to the deconstructionist extreme of suggesting that anything can mean anything. While Lewis Carroll or some other fantasist might be able to treat Islam’s core texts as almost a blank slate on which one could write just about any meaning whatever, the people who most seriously and religiously approach Islam’s texts generally go by what the texts actually say. Minor ambiguities of meaning dispersed throughout those texts do not erase their clear overall thrust.
So is there one Islam? Are there many Islams? The answer is much closer to the first alternative, though the second has some validity. The bottom line is that, despite real diversity among Muslims globally, there are also overwhelming commonalities of interpretation worldwide, as numerous international polls of Muslim opinion have shown. While there are many liberal Muslims, totalitarianism, to one degree or another, is and always has been the majority interpretation. It is no accident that the core Islamic region of the world has the worst human rights record of any region on the globe: Islam’s core texts, despite some vagaries, at bottom teach an expansionist theocratic totalitarian program.