By Robert Spencer
According to Islamic supremacist hate groups such as the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), no one would have any problem with Islam if it weren’t for bigoted non-Muslims who irresponsibly “link Islam to terrorism” – and this link, they claim, gives rise to acts of violence against Muslims. Hamas-linked CAIR and its allied groups have for years now been pumping out disinformation designed to “clear up misconceptions” about Islam and set the record straight. On its website Hamas-linked CAIR says that it was established in order to “promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,” and declares that “we believe misrepresentations of Islam are most often the result of ignorance on the part of non-Muslims and reluctance on the part of Muslims to articulate their case.”
However, the cure offered by American Muslim groups may be worse than the disease. All too often these groups construct a “positive image of Islam” out of smoke and mirrors. Instead of dealing forthrightly and constructively with the concerns and questions that non-Muslims have about Islam’s relation to jihad terrorism, Islamic supremacist groups in the U.S. are more interested in throwing sand in our eyes.
A quintessential example of this is a publication of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a Muslim Brotherhood group: “Q & A on Islam and Arab Americans,” which originally ran in USA Today and circulates widely. It’s a handy compendium of many of the chief claims that Islamic supremacists make in order to lull non-Muslims into complacency and confuse them regarding the nature of the jihad threat.
1. Islam means peace. The flyer notes that “the Arabic word for ‘Islam’ means ‘submission,’ and it derives from a word meaning ‘peace.’” Indeed, in Arabic, Islam and salaam (“peace”) share the same linguistic root, but this in itself is virtually meaningless. All sorts of words share the same roots, and can still have quite divergent meanings — such as the English word love and the related Sanskrit word lubh (lust). Noting the derivation of the word Islam in this brief information flyer can only be an attempt to lend credibility to oft-repeated claim that Islam is a religion of peace. But that idea glosses over Islam’s doctrines of war and subjugation, with the IIIT does not address and pretends do not exist.
2. “Jihad does not mean ‘holy war,’” says the IIIT. “Literally, jihad in Arabic means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression.”
This was a precursor to Hamas-linked CAIR’s deceptive and misleading “#MyJihad” campaign, which attempts to convince non-Muslims that jihad is about making friends and getting exercise. To its credit, the IIIT goes farther than Hamas-linked CAIR by mentioning the battlefield, and in this it is more accurate than CAIR’s preposterously innocuous farrago. Islamic theology distinguishes between the “greater jihad,” which involves “struggle against evil inclinations within oneself,” and the “lesser jihad,” which is hinted at here as “struggle in the battlefield for self defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression.” Still, left unmentioned is the fact that throughout history, Muslims have not stopped at self-defense or fighting against tyranny. One manual of Islamic law — certified as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community” by Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious and influential Islamic institution among Sunni Muslims worldwide — calls jihad “a communal obligation” to “war against non-Muslims.” It is an obligation to make war upon “Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians” until they “become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax,” and to fight “all other peoples until they become Muslim.”
3. Islam condemns terrorism. The “Q & A” asserts that “Islam does not support terrorism under any circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle in Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism, he is not following Islam. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain.”
This is a problem of definition. Islamic spokesmen routinely refer to the actions of Israel and the U.S. as “terrorism,” but to those of Hamas and Hizballah as justified acts of “resistance” against “oppression.” For example, the late Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, was a foe of terrorism of such renown that President George W. Bush quoted him at the United Nations in late 2001 as saying that “terrorism is a disease, and that Islam prohibits killing innocent civilians.” But Tantawi also called suicide bombing “the highest form of Jihad operations,” and added that “every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment.” His understanding of what constituted “terrorism” was quite different from that of most Americans.
This verse is adapted from the Talmud and even in the Qur’an is laid down as an instruction to the Jews, not to all people. And it also stipulates exceptions: “except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land” — and these are particularly troubling in light of other Qur’anic teachings:
“Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another” (48:29).
“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate” (9:73).
“The true believers fight for the cause of Allah, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan” (4:76).
“When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly” (47:4).
“When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful” (9:5).
“Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given [i.e., Jews and Christians] as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued” (9:29).
“Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is able to give them (believers) victory” (22:39).And on and on. Muslim apologists today condemn virtually any quotation of such verses as quoting “out of context.” Yet they never explain what would be the proper context of such exhortations to hatred and violence, or why, if they only applied to Muhammad’s time as is often claimed, they are enshrined in the book that is supposed to be applicable for all people at all times. Nor do they explain why so many Muslims worldwide today misunderstand them -- by taking them at face value.
5. Islam is tolerant of other beliefs. Islamic apologists like to quote Qur’an 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion,” in support of the idea that Islam is a broadly tolerant faith. It has become a commonplace of discussions about Islam today that the great Islamic empires of old were tolerant of Jews and Christians to an extent that non-Christians were never tolerated in medieval Christendom. “It is a function of Islamic law,” says the IIIT article, “to protect the privileged status of minorities. Islamic law also permits non-Muslims to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by minorities themselves.”
It is true that Islamic law, the Sharia, allows “the People of the Book” (primarily Jews and Christians) to practice their religious beliefs in an Islamic state; however, the “tolerance” granted to Jews and Christians is severely circumscribed. Islamic law dictates that the “protection” (dhimma) agreement between Muslim rulers and Jewish and Christian subjects “is only valid when the subject peoples: follow the rules of Islam...(those involving public behavior and dress, though in acts of worship and their private lives, the subject communities have their own laws, judges, and courts, enforcing the rules of their own religion among themselves); and pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)” (Reliance of the Traveller, o11.3a, b).
The jizya is a special levy on non-Muslims, whose higher tax rates contributed much to the magnificent Islamic empires of old. It is not the Sharia’s only restriction on non-Muslims: according to classic Islamic law, non-Muslims in an Islamic state “are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar); are not greeted with “as-Salamu ‘alaykum” [the standard Muslim greeting, “Peace be with you”]; must keep to the side of the street; may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed; are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, . . . recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays; and are forbidden to build new churches” (Reliance of the Traveller, o11.5).
There is indeed no “compulsion” in any of this: Jews and Christians are not forced to become Muslims. But there is also no dignity or respect.
6. Islam respects Christianity. The IIIT flyer correctly informs readers that “Islam teaches that Christians and Muslims are both ‘people of the book.’ By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Bible and the Koran. The main difference between Christians and Muslims is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God.”
Yet although the Qur’an states that “nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’” (5:82), it also claims that Christians are under Allah’s curse: “The Jews call ‘Uzair [Ezra] a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (9:30).
7. Islam respects Judaism. In its treatment of Judaism, the IIIT flyer replicates its language regarding Christianity: “Islam teaches that Jews and Muslims are both ‘people of the book.’ By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Torah and the Koran. The main difference between Jews and Muslims is that Jews do not believe in prophets after the Jewish prophets, including Muhammad and his teachings.”
Yet we have just seen that the Qur’an places Jews under Allah’s curse. This idea recurs in the Qur’an, which also says that Allah turned the Jews into detested beasts: “Say: ‘O people of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?’ Say: ‘Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil; these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!’” (Sura 5:60). It also says that the Jews are the worst enemies of the Muslims (5:82).
8. Muhammad was a man of peace. “This is his message,” says the American convert to Islam Hamza Yusuf in PBS’s documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet: “spread peace, feed people food, and do some devotional practice and you will enter paradise without any trouble.”
Spread peace? Yet Muhammad was a man of war, participating in 78 battles, all but one of which were offensive. He himself said: “I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was guaranteed the protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah.” (Sahih Muslim 30)
As the American people learn more and more about Islam, Islam’s image problem is getting worse, not better. One principal reason for this may be the dissonance between the loud and repeated claims of Islamic spokesmen in the United States and the facts that Americans are learning about Islam. If the IIIT, Hamas-linked CAIR, and other Muslim groups really want to educate the American people about Islam, they would acknowledge and deal squarely with the questions that are really in people’s minds: does Islam provide a justification for terrorism? Have the dozens of groups that preach and perpetrate violence in the name of Islam all around the world really “hijacked” the religion? If they are using the Qur’an to justify their actions, what are moderate Muslims doing to forestall this kind of interpretation of the sacred book of Islam?
By ignoring such questions, Muslim advocacy groups in the United States have only made matters worse, giving non-Muslims good reason to suspect their intentions and honesty. The next time American Muslim spokesmen decry Islam’s image problem, in all fairness they should point fingers not at “Islamophobes,” but at themselves.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His upcoming book, Not Peace But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam, will be available in March.