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It's the 'attacks' on Islam, stupid!
By Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD


Over the last ten days we have witnessed impassioned debates and frantic searching for the underlying factors that may have caused four seemingly 'normal' young men to blow up commuters - and themselves - in London. The explanations offered by politicians, journalists and pseudo-scholars range from the simplistic ('they-hate-freedom', 'mere-criminality' and 'literalism') to the opportunistic ('Islam-is-the-problem', 'death-cult-ideology' and 'frustrated politics'). Unconvinced by these, and rightly so, the British public continue to seek answers to this global phenomenon that has now become a local problem for British citizens. Some argue justifiably that there are many people in this country with profound concerns and frustrations over the injustices in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya and Iraq but they do not explode bombs in cities to make their point. So what is it that causes people to make the leap from frustration to terrorism?

The problem, as I see it, is not simply the isolated injustices such as those in Palestine etc, but the underlying message that these persistent policies convey collectively. The message that comes across loud and clear and burrows into the consciousness of Muslims is that Islam is being targeted. Most Muslims around the world are convinced, with good reason, that Islam is under attack from people in the West.

Muslims, unlike the Jewish race, do not define themselves primarily through ethnicity. Islam is a core component in the identity of a Muslim and so when Islam is perceived to be under attack, the natural consequence is one of trauma and anxiety. The subsequent reaction is frustration and simmering anger at one's own inability to combat the onslaught. In this perturbed state of victimisation there is a natural tendency to gravitate towards the first person who offers to defend Islam.

Unwise choices at this crucial juncture lead some into counterproductive violence and self-fulfilling prophecies. The attack on the Quran and Islam is followed by a violent reaction, which then leads to the blaming of the Quran and Islam and the cycle repeats itself. The attacks on Islam are justified through violence perpetrated by Muslims, which in turn is justified via more attacks on the Quran and Islam and so on. My fear is that if this is allowed to continue it will most certainly lead to Huntington's 'Clash of Civilisations', a clash that will last until, of course, one side becomes extinct. Muslims do not have an emperor through whom to surrender when on the brink of catastrophe as the Japanese did in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Agitators

To address this problem constructively and effectively, I believe that Muslims, on the one hand, need to provide intellectual alternatives for responding to attacks on Islam and, on the other hand, to identify and shame those who have made a career for themselves in attacking Muslims and their faith. These people fall into three categories: pro-Israel advocates, orientalist clerics and their confused 'Muslim' students masquerading as journalists or academics.

Within the last two weeks I have seen and heard statements from: Charles Moore (who has failed to respond to my questions of 13 December 2004) writing in the Telegraph (09 July 2005) that 'If you look at the Koran, you will find many glorifications of violence'; Boris Johnson declaring that 'Islam is the problem' (The Spectator, 16 July 2005); Ziauddin Sardar theorising of a terrorism with 'deep roots in Islamic history' and an 'Islamic tradition that is intrinsically inhuman and violent in its rhetoric, thought and practice' (New Statesman, 18 July 2005); and Irshad Manji claiming 'literal interpretation of the Quran is the main problem'. Attacking the Quran and Islam has become such a popular sport that even fascists like Nick Griffin (friend of the fascist terrorist Roberto Fiore) have also joined the band wagon brandishing selective verses from the Quran and forgetting, of course, that the ideology he follows was responsible for the death of 50 million people in World War II.

The Pro-Israel Melanie Phillips

For reasons that elude many, the BBC has made Melanie Phillips a regular panelist on its famous weekly programme The Moral Maze that discusses contemporary moral issues. It is a platform which she exploits at every opportunity to attack Islam and Muslims. Until now, I had chosen to ignore her idiocy hoping that she and those of her ilk mentioned above would not be able to persuade discerning Radio 4 listeners to accept the inconsistencies and venom she and others propagate.

But given recent tragedies and the highly charged atmosphere in the aftermath of the London bombings, I think the time has come to respond so that both the BBC and those who are genuinely keen to promote objective and respectful dialogue in this country can see the folly of this approach. In the 13 July 2005 broadcast of The Moral Maze (repeated on the following Saturday) Ms Phillips declared in her usual brazen style that:

"There are many views about different religions, as we all know. The major religions have holy texts that can be interpreted in many ways: they all have good and bad and so forth and so on. But I think one has to look very carefully at what the Quran says, which is as far as I can see, unlike the holy books of Judaism and Christianity, explicitly says that the faithful should kill unbelievers. Now that is a terrible thing to say. And also one has to look at the history of Islam."

As a Muslim who holds in high esteem the Prophet Moses (may God shower His choicest blessings upon him), it is painful for me to reiterate the strange laws that have come to be associated with that great servant of God. However, when dealing with people of a mindset that appears impervious to rational arguments and objective thought, there comes a time when the only remaining option is a jolt to their consciousness, since 'nothing so educates as a shock'.

Therefore, Ms Phillips let us see how you would feel when one gives you the same treatment as you mete out to others. Please allow me to fill in the gaps in your knowledge of your own faith, not as perceived through the guidance of the Prophet Moses but as recorded and practiced in the Talmudic (Halakhah) law and tradition.

Israel Shahak informs us in his frank and revealing work Jewish History Jewish Religion: "As for Gentiles, the basic Talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved. Although it is forbidden to murder them outright. The Talmud itself expresses this in the maxim 'Gentiles are neither to be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down [into it]. Mimonides explains: As for Gentiles with whom we are not at war... their death must not be caused, but it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of death; if, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued, for it is written: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy fellow but [a Gentile] is not thy fellow. In particular, a Jewish doctor must not treat a Gentile patient. Mimonides - himself an illustrious physician - is quite explicit on this... However, the refusal of a Jew - particularly a Jewish doctor - to save the life of a Gentile may, if it becomes known, antagonise powerful Gentiles and so put Jews in danger. Where such danger exists, the obligation to avert it continues. In fact, Mimonides himself was Saladin’s personal physician… The whole doctrine - the ban on saving a Gentile's life or healing him, and the suspension of this ban in cases where there is fear of hostility - is repeated (virtually verbatim) by other major authorities, including the 14th Century Arab'ah Turim and Karo's Beyt Yosef and Shulhan 'Arukh.' (Shahak, I. 1994 pp 81-2).

According to the Talmudic law, a Jew who passes near an inhabited non-Jewish dwelling must ask God to destroy it, whereas if the building is in ruin he must thank the Lord of Vengeance (Tractate Berakhot, p 58b). This text is found not only in old books or the works of a fanatical fringe or of pre-Reformation followers of Judaism but in some of the official Israeli booklets published by the Central Region Command of the Israeli Army, in which the Command's Chief Chaplain Colonel Rabbi A. Avidan (Zemel) writes:

"...when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are ostensibly good" (Tohar hannesheq le'or hahalakhah 'Purity of weapons in the light of the Halakhah', Central Region Command 1973).

This doctrine is also found in letters published in the yearbook of one of Israel's most prestigious religious colleges, Midrashiyyat No'am, where leaders and thinkers of the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim are educated. In one letter a soldier, Moshe, seeks advice from a Rabbi: 'In one of the discussions in our group, there was a debate about the 'purity of weapons' and we discussed whether it is permitted to kill unarmed men - or women and children? ...I could not arrive at a clear decision, whether Arabs should be treated like the Amalekites, meaning that one is permitted to murder them until their remembrance is blotted out from under heaven.' To which Rabbi Weiser replied: 'On the one hand… we seem to learn that if a Jew murders a Gentile, he is regarded as a murderer and, except for the fact that no court has the right to punish him, the gravity of the deed is like that of any other murder. But we find the very same authorities in another place... that Rabbi Shim'on used to say: "The best of Gentiles - kill him; the best of snakes - dash out its brains" ...According to the commentators of the Tosafot, a distinction must be made between wartime and peace, so that although during peace time it is forbidden to kill Gentiles, in a case that occurs in wartime it is a mitzvah (imperative, religious duty) to kill them..."

Will a reformation stop terrorism?

We are constantly being told that Islam needs a reformation like Judaism and Christianity to solve the problem of terrorism. Boris Johnson, in his ignorance of history, parades the popular mantra 'When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam's medieval ass?', oblivious of the fact that the 18th century Haskalah (Jewish Reformation) did not to prevent Jewish terrorism against British troops in the 20th century (e.g. bombing of The King David Hotel by Irgun Tsvai-Leumi in 1946). A reformation in Christianity did not prevent imperialist violence against native inhabitants of the countries they invaded. If anything, the constant targeting of the Quran and promotion of intellectually inept Muslims with half-baked theories for reforming Islam contributes like no other cause to the escalation of the problem.

Irshad Manji, Farid Esack, Amina Wadud, Ziauddin Sardar et al are not nightmares for the terrorists as they would have you believe but in fact are recruiting sergeants for the frustrated Muslim youth. All that the terrorist would need to do is point to these individuals and say 'look at what they intend to do with Islam'. Hollow statements of this not being a 'war on Islam' are eclipsed by the tangible reality of hundreds of policy documents, statements, articles and books demanding a reformation of Islam to create what can only be seen as distance between Muslims and their source of guidance - the Quran.

If people are able to point to the London bombings and draw spurious parallels with isolated verses of the Quran then may not others be permitted also to draw parallels between the Jewish post-Reformation theft of land, and the post-Reformation religious laws that prohibit usury and deception among Jews but allow it for Gentiles in Palestine? Shahak reveals under the heading of Deception in business: 'It is a grave sin to practice any kind of deception whatsoever against a Jew. Against a Gentile it is only forbidden to practice direct deception. Indirect deception is allowed, unless it is likely to cause hostility towards Jews or insult to the Jewish religion' (Shahak p 89).

Melanie Phillips, you extol the virtues of our civil society and moral behaviour, but does not the old Talmud, and all early rabbinical authorities, decree that if a Jew finds property whose probable owner is Jewish, then the finder is strictly enjoined to make a positive effort to return his find by advertising it publicly, but if it belongs to a Gentile the law forbids him or her to return it? Have you not read that 'rabbinical authorities including Mimonides consider it mandatory to exact as much usury as possible on a loan to a Gentile' (Shahak p 89)?

These are realities found not only in pre-Haskalah Judaism but, as Israel Shahak writes in 1994, 'virtually all Zionists - and in particular 'left' Zionists - share the deep anti-Gentile attitudes which Orthodox Judaism keenly promotes' (p 97).

The notion that a forced reformation on Muslims so as to reinterpret the Quran is the magic bullet to eradicate terrorism and all violence is to suggest that Christianity and Judaism were, after their respective reformations, unable to justify violence from their texts. To accept this one does not only have to abandon the faculty of reason but also dismiss centuries of history. When people are convinced that they are being targeted, then justification for violence can be derived from any source. The Nazis did it with Kant's philosophy, the Korean monks did it using Buddhism, the imperialists did it using the theory of evolution, and the Neo-Cons are still using the Bible to justify their neo-imperialist violence. Islam is not plagued by a corrupt papacy for which we need a 'Luther', nor are followers of the Quran imperial invaders for which a 'Ghandi' is needed.

I believe it is imperative now that level-headed and truly intelligent members of this country speak out against the absurdity of these arguments.

The realities of the world we inhabit today are complex. The verses in the Quran that Ms Phillips referred to above are specific to combatants in the context of war. It is categorically inconceivable in Islamic jurisprudence that they, as she implies, call on Muslims to indulge in the indiscriminate killing of all non-Muslims. It defies all the principles of fiqh that Muslims should be at war with a country that has granted them sanctuary and freedom to practise their religion.

Conspiracy or not, the only benefit that I can see in the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians is to help those who are attacking Islam, which is where the crux of the matter lies. The vicious circle begins when young Muslims perceive Islam to be under attack. They then become susceptible to anyone offering to defend it and in choosing the wrong company and taking drastic action they inadvertently create reasons for more attacks. The way out of this predicament and to break the cycle is for the West to rein in those who have made a profession out of attacking Islam and for our youth to adopt alternative methods of responding to the challenges that we face, such as fortifying themselves with the capabilities of intellectual self-defence. Any other 'clever' attempt, such as to exploit the situation in order to force a reformation of Islam, will only lead to more conflict. We need to forget the mind games and leave Islam alone. Let the Muslims live and come to terms naturally, as they are doing, with the modern world instead of trying to tell them which verses they should or should not believe in. If we are sincere in our political declarations that Islam is not a religion of terror, then we need to stop using the word Islamic to characterise terrorism.

Shaikh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
19 July 2005
Director, OCCRi