the 'attacks' on Islam, stupid!
Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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).
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:
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).
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..."
a reformation stop terrorism?
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.
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.
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).
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)?
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).
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
believe it is imperative now that level-headed and
truly intelligent members of this country speak out
against the absurdity of these arguments.
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.
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.
Riyad Nadwi, PhD
19 July 2005