Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions about the World's Fastest-Growing Faithby Robert Spencer
In "Islam Unveiled," Robert Spencer dares to face the hard questions about what the Islamic religion actually teaches--and the potentially ominous implications of those teachings for the future of both the Muslim world and the West. Going beyond the shallow distinction between a "true" peaceful Islam and the "hijacked" Islam of terrorist groups, Spencer probes the… See more details below
In "Islam Unveiled," Robert Spencer dares to face the hard questions about what the Islamic religion actually teaches--and the potentially ominous implications of those teachings for the future of both the Muslim world and the West. Going beyond the shallow distinction between a "true" peaceful Islam and the "hijacked" Islam of terrorist groups, Spencer probes the Koran and Islamic traditions (as well as the history and present-day situation of the Muslim world) as part of his inquiry into why the world's fastest growing faith tends to arouse fanaticism. "Islam Unveiled" evaluates the relationship between Islamic fundamentalism and "mainstream" Islam; the fixation with violence and jihad; the reasons for Muslims' disturbing treatment of women; and devastating effects of Muslim polygamy and Islamic divorce laws. Spencer explores other daunting questions--why the human rights record of Islamic countries is so unrelievedly grim and how the root causes of this record exist in basic Muslim beliefs; why science and high culture died out in the Muslim world--and why this is a root cause of modern Muslim resentment. He evaluates what Muslims learn from the life of Muhammad, the man that Islam hails as the supreme model of human behavior. Above all, this provocative work grapples with the question that most preoccupies us today: can Islam create successful secularized societies that will coexist peacefully with the West's multicultural mosaic?
- Encounter Books
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1ST PBK
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.06(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.66(d)
Read an Excerpt
ISLAM UNVEILEDDISTURBING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE WORLD'S FASTEST-GROWING FAITH
By ROBERT SPENCER
ENCOUNTER BOOKSCopyright © 2002 Robert Spencer
All right reserved.
"ISLAM IS PEACE."
George W. Bush went to a mosque to say it late in 2001. The September 11 terrorist attacks, he averred, "violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith." In his September 20 address to Congress, he elaborated: "The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics-a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam."
The President's counterpart in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair, concurred: September 11, he said flatly, "has nothing to do with Islam."
In 1998, President Bill Clinton had made a similar pronouncement in a speech before the United Nations:
Many believe there is an inevitable clash between Western civilization and Western values, and Islamic civilizations and values. I believe this view is terribly wrong. False prophets may use and abuse any religion to justify whatever political objectives they have-even cold-blooded murder. Some may have the world believe that almighty God himself, the merciful, grants a license to kill. But that is not our understanding of Islam.... Americans respect and honor Islam.
Of course Americans should respect and honor Muslims, like all people, But does Islam teach Muslims in return the courtesy? Is George Bush right in saying that the terror of September 11 represented only a "fringe form of Islamic extremism"?
Certain assumptions are so ingrained that it is difficult even to notice their presence. In the contemporary Western world, one such assumption is that all religions are fundamentally benign-in other words, essentially like Christianity. Westerners are fond of assuming that because Islam is (like Christianity) a religion, it must be (like Christianity) peaceful at its heart. And just as Christianity has its belligerent fundamentalists who misunderstand and distort its message of peace, so does Islam.
Western commentators these days are fond of pointing out that Muslims, like Christians, worship one God only, respect Jesus and Mary, and base their faith on a book considered to be the revealed Word of God, which contains stories of Adam and Abraham and Moses and David. One prominent scholar of Islam, Karen Armstrong, notes: "Constantly the Quran points out that Muhammad had not come to cancel the older religions, to contradict their prophets or to start a new faith. His message is the same as that of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, of Jesus." Armstrong, indeed, even blames Christians for the misapprehension that Islam is not a peaceful religion:
Ever since the Crusades, the people of Western Christendom developed a stereotypical and distorted vision of Islam, which they regarded as the enemy of decent civilization.... It was, for example, during the Crusades, when it was Christians who had instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world, that Islam was described by the learned scholar-monks of Europeas an inherently violent and intolerant faith, which had only been able to establish itself by the sword. The myth of the supposed fanatical intolerance of Islam has become one of the received ideas of the West.
If Islam truly is peaceful, then of course President Bush is right: the terrorists who attacked America must be acting against the principles of their own religion. That was the assumption at CNN when, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the network posted this poll question on its website: "Should a religion be judged by the acts of its followers?" For Westerners with Christian backgrounds-that is, most Westerners-it was a loaded question. With public opinion running high against Islam, the media was keeping up steady pressure on what it saw as unenlightened religious bigotry. If Christianity shouldn't be judged by the sins of particular Christians, then Islam shouldn't be judged by the sins of those Muslims who hijacked planes and rammed them into buildings full of innocent people.
It seems a reasonable enough caveat. But the reality is more complicated. Islam is indeed like Christianity in many ways, but in others it is as different as the sun is from the moon.
Who Speaks for Islam?
It all depends on whom you ask.
To some Muslims, the terrorist attacks on America violated the fundamental tenets of Islam and the plain words of the Qur'an. To some, they didn't. This is not a matter of learned Muslims looking askance while the uneducated, inflamed by the self-serving propaganda of extremist leaders, cheer for the cameras in Palestine as they watch replays of the planes hitting their targets. In fact, it's the learned Muslims who are split on the issue of terrorism.
This, in large part, results from the nature of authority in Islam. The religion has no central authority beyond the Qur'an, the holy book that Muslims believe was given by the one almighty God, Allah, to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. There is no supreme Islamic teacher who can tell Muslims-and the world-what Islam is and what it isn't. This makes for a multiplicity of voices in Islam, all appealing to Qur'anic authority and claiming to speak for true Islam.
This multiplicity is not the same as the Protestant idea that the believer can read the Bible and work out the truth on his own. Just as Protestant groups in practice developed their own traditions for interpreting the Bible and applying its message to their lives, so individual Muslims are guided in their communities to a right understanding of their sacred book. In Sunni Islam, which comprises over 85 percent of Muslim believers worldwide, a certain teaching authority is invested in the ulama: the (often national) community of muftis, the teachers and scholars of the Qur'an and Sunnah, or Muslim traditions, whose fatwas, or legal rulings on matters open to question of dispute, are generally accepted by believers.
But the muftis don't all agree about terrorism.
Some Muslim leaders have indeed condemned bin Laden's attacks outright. Saudi Arabia's Sheikh Saalih al-Lehaydaan, the head of the Islamic judiciary in a country that knows no law outside of Islam, declared: "Killing a person who has not committed a crime is one of the major sins and terrible crimes.... What happened in America is ... undoubtedly a grave criminal act which Islam does not approve of and no one should applaud."
Another prominent Saudi teacher of the faith, Sheikh Saalih as Suhaymee, agreed. He observed in his fatwa that Muslims are forbidden from "killing women, children, the elderly." He addressed a popular Muslim claim when he went on to say that this prohibition still holds "despite the fact that the associates of these categories of people may be involved in fighting with the Muslims." He thus concluded that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, because they killed "none but innocent non-Muslims and Muslims, from all the various parts of the world, of different races," were "not permissible." In fact, "Islam does not allow [this kind of attack] in any form whatsoever." He even claimed that "none of the scholars" who hold "the correct form of Islam, affirm the likes of these actions."
But this sheikh could establish no unanimity for his "correct form of Islam." Some other Muslim leaders did agree with him-to a point. One was Sheikh Omar bin Bakri bin Muhammad, the judge of Great Britain's Sharia, or Islamic law court, secretary general of the Islamic World League, and spokesman for the International Islamic Front for Europe, as well as founder of the radical international Muslim group al-Muhajiroun. On its website al-Muhajiroun posted a fatwa by Sheikh Omar, saying that, yes, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were "a crime and violation for the sanctity of Human beings [sic] which is prohibited in Islam." They were a crime even though the "US Government and its Military forces are a legitimate target as far as Islam is concerned." Muslims can legitimately attack American troops, Sheikh Omar explained, because the United States is "engaging in aggression and atrocities" against Muslims in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Sudan-and because of American support for "the Pirate State of Israel and the dictator Leaders in the Muslim world." Nevertheless, he tended to agree with the Saudi sheikh on the matter of noncombatants: "it is not a justification to attack American People because Islam forbid us to fight people because of their Nationality, Color, etc.... rather because of their aggression or occupation [sic]."
Yet this same imam, when asked what lessons Muslims could draw from the attacks on the United States, passed up the opportunity to instruct his coreligionists in how they could have responded to this "American aggression" without committing a crime in the eyes of Allah. Instead, all the lessons he drew were directed squarely at the Great Satan itself. The attacks, explained Sheikh Omar, were a consequence of "atrocities and the aggression committed by the US Government and its forces against the third World in general and the Muslim World." Going beyond even Osama bin Laden, this influential divine enumerated atrocities including not only American support of Israel, the occupation of Somalia and the bombing of Iraq and Sudan, but also the occupation of "Muslim land in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Turkey."
He further condemned Western governments and media as "people who victimize Muslims and Islam." The Western powers, explained the sheikh, are indifferent to "Muslim lives and blood." He pointed out that the attacks showed that Muslims had the "determination to die for a just cause." They "shake the arrogance of the Western Government and undermine their claims to be invulnerable country in the World [sic]."
The success of the attacks, Sheikh Omar concluded, showed that "there is no defense system could stand in the way of the determination of a person who wants to become a Martyr." His conception of a martyr, it should be noted, differs from the common Western idea, derived from Christianity. A Christian martyr is someone who is killed for his faith, without bringing his own death upon himself. The notion of a "martyr" as someone who kills others viewed as enemies of the faith, and in the process gets himself killed, is a distinctly Islamic construct.
Sheikh Omar's pronouncements about the reasons for the attack aren't too far removed from those voiced by icons of the left such as Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag; though presumably they didn't intend to inspire young men to dedicate themselves to destroying the Great Satan.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's favorite imams went even further. In the celebrated video in which bin Laden, for all intents and purposes, admitted complicity in the September 11 terrorism, he asked his guest: "What is the stand of the Mosques there [in Saudi Arabia]?" The sheikh who had come to pay homage to the terrorist mastermind replied, "Honestly, they are very positive." One prominent Saudi sheikh, he said, "gave a good sermon in his class after the sunset prayers.... His position is really very encouraging." Another, said the sheikh, "gave a beautiful fatwa, may Allah bless him."
On the thorniest question arising from the terrorist attacks, this second sheikh disagreed absolutely with those who condemned the attacks because they killed innocents: "This was jihad and those people were not innocent people [World Trade Center and Pentagon victims]. He swore to Allah."
Those who defend Islam say that these pro-bin Laden Saudis are Wahhabis, and that this explains their hard line.
The Wahhabis are the notoriously strict Muslim sect that holds sway in Saudi Arabia and maintains a haughty sense of superiority over the rest of the Muslim world. Founded by the Sunni reformist Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Wahhab (ca. 1700-1792), the Wahhabis purport to restore the purity of Islam by rejecting all innovations that occurred after the third Islamic century-that is, around the year 950. (Presumably Islamic practice before that date could be directly traced to the words and actions of the Prophet, but after that the connection to Muhammad becomes more tenuous.)
The most visible consequence of this reform is that Wahhabi mosques lack minarets, but the Wahhabis cut far deeper into the Islamic consciousness than that. Al-Wahhab rejected the widespread Sunni practice of venerating Muslim saints, calling it a species of shirk, the cardinal Muslim sin of worshiping created beings along with Allah. Based largely on this perception, he declared all non-Wahhabi Muslims to be unbelievers, and waged jihad, or holy war, against them. Wahhabi fortunes waxed and waned throughout the nineteenth century, but in 1932 the Wahhabi Sheikh Ibn Saud captured Riyadh and established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Wahhabi principles.
Other Muslim groups, in turn, despise the Wahhabis and deny their claim to represent anything like true or pure Islam. One Muslim characterized the Wahhabis venomously as unprincipled opportunists:
While claiming to be adherents to "authentic" Sunnah [Muslim tradition], these deviants are quick to label anyone who opposes their beliefs ... as "sufi," [that is, akin to adherents of the mystical Sufi sect, elements of which Wahhabis and other Muslims consider heretical] while exploiting the Muslims' love for Islam by overexaggerating the phrase "Qur'an and Sunnah" in their senseless rhetoric.
Many Western scholars blame the Wahhabis almost exclusively for terrorism, while maintaining a sharp distinction between Islam in its Wahhabi form and the genuine article. Journalist Stephen Schwartz, for instance, calls Wahhabism "the main form of Islamic fundamentalism." He asserts that "fundamentalism was always a tendency in Islam, as in every other religion, but did not gain permanent influence until the 18th century and the rise of Wahhabism." The Wahhabis, he says, prosper on Saudi oil money and an American military presence. If their funding were cut off, they would "dwindle to a feeble remnant," and presumably terrorism would decline as well.
Certainly Wahhabis have generously supported terrorists. The Saudi government's affection for the Taliban is well documented. But the problem of Islamic terror is not simply the problem of the Wahhabis. There are disquieting signs that Muslim terror is much more broadly based. It is precisely the Wahhabis' claim to represent pure Islam that has inspired Muslim groups from North Africa to Indonesia-and gives the Wahhabis and their spiritual kin resilience and staying power. As former education secretary William J.
Excerpted from ISLAM UNVEILED by ROBERT SPENCER Copyright © 2002 by Robert Spencer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >