Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod, April 14, 2016:
The presentation “Islam: Fear over Knowledge” provides the “knowledge you need to combat Islamophobia,” stated Geneva Pope from the local Interfaith Communities for Dialogue on April 3 in an Annandale, Virginia, Presbyterian church. This biased introduction set the tone for a whitewashing of Islam before over 100 listeners by Georgetown University professor Jonathan Brownand Imam Zia Makhdoom in an event promoted by the Fairfax, Virginia, county government.
Makhdoom, whose Alexandria, Virginia, mosquehas featured various extremist affiliations, began the event proclaiming Islam a “message of peace, of brotherhood, and of equality for the entire humanity.” Christians in places like Egypt and Iraq “have lived there for centuries peaceably, as brothers and sisters,” although “conditions may have not have been perfect.” Numerous Middle Eastern Christians who have endured centuries as persecuted dhimmis under Muslim-majority rule refute his contentions (see here, here, here, and here).
“Taking one life is the equivalent of taking the life of the entire humanity” is a teaching “verbatim in the Quran,” Makhdoom stated with an oft-invoked reference to Quran 5:32. Yet, as is almost universal among Muslim apologists like him, his not so verbatim scriptural quotation ignored this verse’s exception for fitna, an Arabic word translated by the Muslim reformer Irshad Manji as “villainy in the land.” Sanctioned by the subsequent verse 5:33’s brutal death penalty, fitna invocations have justified violence against all kinds of Islam’s perceived opponents such as American troops in Afghanistan.
Mahkdoom substituted fiction for fact in his presentation of Islam and violence. Muslims “have a martial history and there was a time when the Muslim community was very small and it had to engage in warfare…in defending itself,” he stated, as if jihad (holy war) had no central role in Islamic expansion. “Very extreme, fringe elements within the Muslim world” like Al Qaeda use a “completely literalistic understanding of our passages and our traditions, especially when it comes to warfare,” as if Islamic doctrine allowed for nonliteral Quranic interpretation.
Makhmood’s fellow Muslim, the convert Jonathon Brown, gave Islam a similarly benign gloss. “I don’t know of anything in the Quran or the sunna of the prophet or the sharia that says that Muslims cannot live in peace with non-Muslims. In fact they have and continue to do so,” he stated. He seemed oblivious to Islamic law’s (sharia) jizya poll tax humiliatingly imposed upon non-Muslims such as Christians as well their current worldwide persecutions in Muslim-majority countries.
“Martyrdom in Islam is a good thing,” Brown stated, although “nowadays everyone thinks about martyrdom as someone going and blowing up a bus or something.” As shown by Christians in the Roman Empire who willing submitted to execution for their faith, the “idea of dying for a good cause is not a controversial issue” across cultures. He failed to mention that Islamic doctrine considers not just dying, but also killing for Islam in jihad to be a “good thing.”
Brown noted Islamic references to martyrs receiving 72 virgins in paradise, a doctrine so mesmerizing in popular imagination. As he has previously written, this specific idea comes from an unreliable hadith or bibliographical narrative from “Prophet Muhammad’s authoritative precedent.” Nonetheless, he himself has previously analyzed what the former Muslim and Christian theologian Patrick Sookhdeo copiously documents in Understanding Islamic Theology, namely that “Muslim Paradise is the carnal man’s fantasy.”
Considering Islam’s relationship to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Brown stated that many “people are not thinking about causality in a very specific way. They are thinking about it like maybe two-year olds.” ISIS developed “in the wake of the American-led invasion of Iraq and the destruction of that country’s economic, political, social infrastructure.” “Sometimes those causes of violence have more to do with our own actions,” he stated while ignoring the role of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis and their regional allies like Iran in tearing Iraq apart despite America’s extensive nation-building efforts.
“You can’t explain violence done by Muslims through their religion,” Brown asserted, “Muslims who justify acts of violence through their religion are a statistically insignificant percentage” of 1.5 billion Muslims globally. While referencing the discredited book Who Speaks for Islam, he, like his Georgetown colleagues, ignored recent studies attributing 70 percent of worldwide terrorist attacks to Sunni extremists. Trinkets with images of Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah seen by Brown in Yemen represented merely the desire of supposedly aggrieved Muslims in “standing up against the imperial West.” Well-educated Muslim-Americans “are much less likely to engage in acts of violence than the average American,” notwithstanding their disproportionate involvement in domestic terrorism irrespective of general crime.
Brown cited statistics from a recent Odin Text analysis of the Quran and Old and New Testaments to suggest that the former was the least violent of the three scriptures. By contrast, the study itself concedesits “analysis is superficial.” He himself admitted that the “New Testament is a really tough book to use if you want to justify violence.”
Yet even for a perfect God “it is impossible to compose a text in human language that no one could ever misuse,” Brown stated in seeming contradiction to the Islamic doctrine concerning the Quran’s miraculous nature. “Human language is inherently a product of the human character” and often utilizes “metaphors of violence.” But Quranic verses advocating wife-beating (4:34) or the jizya (9:29) are hardly metaphorical.
“Don’t judge other people’s scriptures,” Brown warned to any non-Muslims who might doubt his reassurances. The “people who get to define a religion are the people who believe and practice that religion.” Such reasoning would apparently exclude ex-Muslims like Sookhdeo from criticizing their former faith or those who have suffered under Islamic rule like Middle Eastern Jews.
Only concerning apostasy did Brown indicate Islam’s less pacific side. The “vast majority position in Islamic law” throughout Islamic history until the late 19th century did indeed mandate death for apostasy, something understood as treason to the Islamic community. Even today many Muslim scholars, while accepting individual apostasy, still oppose “actively campaigning” for conversion away from Islam.
The event’s propagandistic nature raised concerns among critical audience members about the panel’s promotion by city government. While event facilitators sometimes collected unflattering flyers about Islam distributed by these audience members in order to prevent wider dissemination, Muslim faithful distributed proselytizing literature like this booklet. Although the host church appeared unworried, concerned citizens in Fairfax and elsewhere should monitor the appropriate relationship between Islamic apologists like Brown and Makhdoom and state authorities in America.
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.