Zuhdi Jasser, M.D.: Islam’s Luther—or its Don Quixote?

News Abroad

Timothy R. Furnish, Ph.D., is a recovering college professor and current writer, researcher and analyst specializing in Islamic history, sects, eschatology, ideology and Mahdism. He learned Arabic at taxpayers' expense while in the U.S. Army and, later, studied Farsi, Turkish and Ottoman while a doctoral student at Ohio State University. His first book was Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden and his second, due out in 2010, is The Caliphate: Threat or Opportunity? He maintains an HNN blog, Occidental Jihadist, as well as a website dedicated to covering Mahdism and Muslim eschatology: mahdiwatch.org.

The most high-profile and articulate proponent of “moderate” Islam on the American scene today is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician, U.S. Navy veteran and–based on a recent hour-long phone interview—all-around nice guy.  Dr. Jasser appears regularly on TV and radio shows spanning the political spectrum, from MSNBC’s “Hardball” to Fox New Channel’s “The Glenn Back Show” where he condemns jihadists and argues that the world’s second-largest faith has been perverted by Bin Ladin and his ilk.   Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which has approximately the same membership (1500) as the Islamist apologist Council on American Islamic Relations (1700)—but of which only about 13% is Muslim.  Unfortunately, there are good reasons why AIFD attracts so few Muslims and why Dr. Jasser’s organization, despite its popularity on both ends of the media political spectrum, may prove to be the Don Quixote of the anti-Islamist struggle.

Jasser appeals to both history and theology to support his position.  He is a strong proponent of an American-style separation of mosque and state, which he sees as “the only solution to the Islamist problem.”  Jasser correctly traces the genesis of that idea back to its roots in the inter-Christian conflicts that waged from the Protestant Reformation to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the English Revolution—but some key misunderstandings of this Christian history cast doubts on his efforts to apply that Western model to the Islamic world.  For example, he states that the Protestant Reformation was led “by laypeople who overthrew the theocrats.”  On the contrary, the leaders of the Reformation were mostly clerics:  Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Tyndale, etc.  There was huge popular support for the Reformation, but religious elites ran the show.  And the “theocrats” were not really overthrown; rather, their ranks were simply broadened to include non-Catholic polities (Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican).  

This history matters, because Dr. Jasser hopes that Islam can be reformed by the laity, and he thinks Islamic societies can thereby quantum leap from shari`a to mosque-state separation.  But he’s putting the Enlightenment cart before the Reformation horse.  In the West, before the eighteenth century layman Voltaire could argue that it’s acceptable to belong to NO denomination, the sixteenth century pastor Luther had to break the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church and allow other brands of the faith to exist.  With the exception of Turkey, the Islamic world is still in need of religious reformation—tolerance of competing brands of Islam other than the majority Sunni sect—before  it can move on to the mosque-state secularization of its own enlightenment.

Continuing this historical analogy, Dr. Jasser sees his AIFD as “Protestant” and the Islamists—with their hierarchies of authority and establishment status—as “Catholic.”  He also includes the mystics of Islam, the Sufis, within this establishment fold, going against the current (largely correct) conventional wisdom that Sufis are an “antidote” (in Stephen Schwartz’s term)  to Islamism and jihadism.  While it is true, however, that Sunnism, like Catholicism, is the largest branch of its respective faith, Jasser’s analogy is off-base because it understates the true root of all Islamic extremism and violence:  a literal interpretation of the Qur’an which stems from the renunciation by Sunni scholars, over a millennium ago, of the doctrine known as ijtihad, “independent reasoning” in Qur’anic exegesis.

The renunciation of ijtihad has allowed any violence-prone Sunnis the theological cover of arguing, for example, that “behead the unbelievers” (Sura Muhammad:3ff; Sura al-Anfal:12) must be taken literally.  Islam is thus quite unlike Christianity, where allegorical and other non-literal interpretations of the Bible have long been tolerated within the three major branches:  Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy (while literalists do predominate within the evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant ranks, they are a minority—albeit a large one—within the world’s 2+billion Christian membership).  In Christianity the largest branch, Catholicism (1+ billion), is decidedly non-literalist in approaching the Bible—whereas in Islam Sunnism is, au contraire,  officially and firmly literalist in reading the Qur’an.  It is this very Qur’anic literalism and its attendant black-and-white, us-versus-them world view (beloved of the many engineers among Sunni Islamist ranks, as Jasser points out)—not size or institutionalization per se—that really drives Islamic-based violence and terrorism.

Non-literalism does exist in Islam, but mainly in sects such as the Ismai’ilis ( Sevener Shi`is, differing from the Twelver Shi`is of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon), the Barelwis of India and Pakistan, the Zaydis (Fiver Shi`is) of Yemen and the Ibadis of Oman, and in some of the Sufi orders.  Ironically, given Iran’s current antipathy toward the U.S., even the Twelver Shi`is and their glowering ayatollahs hold more chance of Islamic reformation than do the Sunnis, because in Twelver Shi`ism ijtihad has never been prohibited.  And while this has allowed for negative developments such as Khomeini’s theocratic vilayet-i faqih (literally “rule of the jurisprudent”),  it could equally well allow for more positive rulings in the future—like perhaps a fatwa that decapitating non-Muslims is meant to be understood in a rhetorical, not bloody, sense. 

Jasser, however, insists that “Islamic reform must come from within the Sunni world,” not from Shi`is or sects.  He dislikes the Twelver Shi`i “respect for genetics” (all Shi`is, particularly Twelvers, believe the only legitimate rulers of the Muslim world should be those men descended from Muhammad through his son-in-law and cousin Ali) and the “borderline Muslim” nature of other sects.  But as long as ijtihad is officially off the table for mainstream (Sunni) Islam, the best hope for an Islamic reformation and a follow-on enlightenment is found in these very sects which, all told, comprise perhaps 7-8% of the world’s Muslims, or about 100 million people—twice as many if the Twelver Shi`i ranks  are included.  Luther started with far fewer Christians.

Dr. Jasser’s well-meaning quest is, in essence, an attempt to resurrect the doctrine of the Mu`tazilah, a group in early Islamic history which held that reason was as important as revelation, that the Qur’an was a created (not co-eternal with Allah) book and that humans had free will.  However, Mu`tazilism was disenfranchised and discredited within Sunnism by the tenth century CE, and although there have been sporadic attempts since to revive it—especially among Westernized Muslims, of whom Jasser is just the latest and most articulate—the doctrine died out in Islam’s largest branch.  Yet Mu`tazili ideas survive today in sects such as the Zaydis and the Ibadis—another reason that we should place our hope for Islamic reformation there, rather than in the Sunni world.

While his view of religious history might leave something to be desired, Jasser’s courage is never in doubt—as, for example when he takes on the established Sunni  doctrine of naskh, or “abrogation,” which holds that the later-revealed suras or “chapters” of the Qur’an trump earlier, more pacific ones.  Thus, Sura al-Tawbah [9]:5, which states “when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them—capture, besiege, ambush them,” is held by the consensus of Sunni clerics to overrule Sura al-Baqarah [2]:256 and its famous injuction “let there be no compulsion in religion.”  Jasser can argue this because he believes that the true chronological order of the Qur’anic chapters is not known, and it should be understood and read not as a time-stamped set of rules but rather as an “anthology” of Allah’s revelations to Muhammad.  He also disagrees with the Sunni religious consensus—exemplified today by the likes of the influential Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi—that Islam is a matter of collective interpretation; Jasser maintains that individuals are permitted, indeed required, to interpret the Qur’an for themselves and live accordingly. 

But there is a major problem with this very American and, indeed, Protestant approach to the Qur’an:  practically no Muslim follows it at this stage in history.

It is impossible not to wish Dr. Zuhdi Jasser well in his efforts to—as another reform-minded Muslim, Irshad Manji puts it—“take back Islam from the guys with beards.”  But while Jasser’s approach resonates with both conservative and liberal media in this country, as well as with many government officials, his neo-Mu`tazili approach has a major flaw:  it strikes very few chords among Muslims themselves, either here or overseas.  Understandably Jasser, raised a Sunni in Syria, hopes his co-religionists might adopt his atypical, Western Muslim view—but why waste time tilting at Sunni windmills when that battle has long since been won among Islam’s sects?  His Sunni-centrism notwithstanding, the Obama administration would be far better off with Dr. Jasser representing America to the Islamic world than with its current ambassador to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain—who apparently sympathizes with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and sees Islam as more misunderstood than in need of reform.

An Ambassador Jasser, armed with the imprimatur of the U.S., would quite likely find a receptive audience for his views not at the OIC but among truly moderate Muslim leaders such as the Aga Khan, imam of the world’s Isma’ilis; Hisham Kabbani, American-based shaykh of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi order; and Muhammad Tahir al-Qadri, the UK-based Barelwi cleric who recently issued an anti-terrorism fatwa.  These men, religious leaders all, represent venerable Islamic intellectual and religious traditions in which the Qur’an, while not yet the province of individual interpretation, can be read other than literally.  If Jasser could win allies to his view among these groups, he might very well transform from Islam’s Don Quixote to its Luther—and pave the way for, eventually, its Voltaire.

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Alex Jordan - 10/25/2010

An excellent academic treatise! Very enlightening. But where do we go from here? Relive Luther's Reformation, the religious Renaissance?! How about a bit of Utilitarianism? The Roman way - solitudinem faciunt, pacem apellant?

R. Craigen - 5/3/2010

Hi sorry all, to reply after such a haitus; I don't have much time for this stuff. I haven't yet read all of the conversation that ensued after Omar's reply to my use of the Um dat al Salik (Reliance of the Traveller) definition of Jihad.

Omar says

That is a truncated and totally incomprehensive and as such not only inaccurate but misleading definition of JIHAD.
Jihad in Sharia falls under two major classifications:
1-Al Jihad al Akbar (Akbar=Bigger) which is with oneself and includes, inter alia, (self) rejection of al kabaer (kabbaer=major sins ),self control ,patience,fortitude, and discipline, social service, seeking knowledge abroad, seeking a job abroad to improve one's family financial situation. Etc etc

A reminder--the book I cited is the leading text for sharia around the world. Omar's phrase, "bigger jihad", used for one form of Jihad is an ironic rhetorical inversion attributed to Mohammad in the hadith cited in this passage which follows the definition I quoted, in Um dat:
The greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet - may Allah venerate him and give him peace - said as he was returning from jihad: ”We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.”

I am glad Omar brings this up as it affords the opportunity to point out the function this secondary definition serves in the sharia manual -- namely, disambiguation. That is, it is an aside within the manual whose purpose is to ensure that the "lesser jihad" (warfare against the infidel to establish the religion) is not confused with another arabic concept, "greater jihad", or the struggle against self.

Which of the two conceptions of jihad has legal standing within the framework of sharia? It is pretty easy to see. After raising the point of disambiguation there is no further mention anywhere in this 600 page manual about this "greater jihad". In other words, it has no standing whatsoever in terms of Islamic law.

But the "lesser jihad", the so-called Jihad fi sabil Allah, which is violent jihad against non-muslims, is discussed in delicious detail for 8 long pages.

What sort of detail? I recommend everyone visiting here get your own copy of Um dat -- there are free downloads available online -- and read through the whole section. Don't take my word for it, but I'll summarize some parts here:

- An Islamic "scriptural basis" for going to war against nonmuslims, how this is laudatory and how vile it is for muslims to refuse to participate, either by actual fighting or by supporting those who do with their money and resources.

- The obligatory nature of Jihad (i.e., it is a divine command and muslims are enjoined to participate and to regard nonparticipation as disobedience to Allah). The distinction between Jihad as an individual obligation (when you have opportunity you as an individual must do it) and as a communal obligation (the whole community must ensure that jihad is done, and it is ok for some individuals not to do so as long as the community's obligation is being fulfilled), how and when each applies.

- The conditions for surrender, and conditions under which surrender is not permitted.

- The conditions for temporary ceasefire (i.e., only when muslims are too weak to fight -- never when they have the upper hand until they have completely subdued or killed the infidels)

- Under what conditions women must fight, and at what stage in life a boy becomes obligated.

- The role of the Caliph in commanding Jihad, and how the community should engage in Jihad when there is no Caliph.

- The ultimate goals of Jihad; the rules of engagement; treatment of enemy property in Jihad; how to divide plunder and booty.

- Human booty (male captives as slaves, for ransom or as bargaining chips; captive women and children as possessions).

Yep, Omar, I stand by my point. It is not Jews and Christians who smear the name of Jihad; it would be very hard to present a more odious picture of Jihad than is found in this most authoritative Islamic source.

It is like the popular comeback to the line "Ruffian, you have befouled my reputation!":

"My good man, that would be impossible to do!"

If not impossible, it is at least hard to conceive what would befoul the reputation of Jihad more than the facts as laid out by Islamic authorities.

Your own attempt at apologetics, Omar, don't fare much better. Do you really think that "spreading the faith by conquest, only if denied the opportunity to do so peacefully" is somehow regarded by westerners as a morally lofty approach to spreading one's faith? I really think you do.

So to help you, Omar, see this for what it is, let us try inverting the notion, as it is detailed in Sharia manuals:

Western missionaries come to your nation (I'm guessing that's Jordan, but it could be any OIC nation), and proclaim their religion. Let's say their religion is Jedi'ism (which I've made up, since this story is pretty inconceivable for, say, Christianity or Judaism).

A call to faith is made: "Come to Jedi'ism, abandon Islam, be a Jedi and enter the one true faith!" But, only a few muslims respond. Most refuse outright. Many mock the Jedis and make fun of their prophet Skywalker. So the Jedis declare a holy war. They first kill those muslims who mock the loudest. They plot to overtake the political and legal system. They fight in the courts and on the streets, for dominance at every level. They form gangs and beat up on people who cling to Islam and who resist becoming Jedis. Anyone who actively resists the dominance of Jedi'ism is subject to murderous attacks.

Are the Jedis justified in responding with such religious violence to "spread their faith" simply because they are "denied the opportunity to do so peacefully"?

All I have done above is to formulate, in story form, what Sharia lays out, what is articulated by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in the west, and what we are seeing play out in countries like Britain and Holland where the Muslim community is emboldened by rapidly rising numbers.

I haven't even gotten into your canard about defending against "alien invaders". Which alien invaders were attacked on 9/11? Which alien invaders did the Barbary pirates kill and plunder in the name of Allah? In what sense were the peaceful trading caravans "invading aliens" when Mohammad ordered his men to ambush them to increase his wealth?

In territorial disputes like we see in Palestine today, Omar, who is "the alien"? If EVERYONE used your polarizing analysis, then EVERYONE would be the alien invader, and EVERYONE would have a right to go to war to kill his neighbor, and there would be no peace until everyone except for one religion or ethnicity is dead.

Sorry, this is a detestable approach. The world will not have peace while some large group regards this as the normal way to negotiate with "aliens"!

N. Friedman - 4/30/2010

Hi Art and Fahrettin,

I am still waiting for my library to get Professor Herf's book, the research for which Art has spoken positively about for some time.

Fahrettin's point about Nazi Germany's intentions and behavior is, I think, a case in point about the need to define terms. I agree with Art that acting as a revolutionary power means, at least in part, acting without regard to a rational measure of the utility of actions. In the case of Germany, turning on the country's Jews (among whom were a great many people who had great scientific and other skills) and invading the USSR (a country far beyond Germany's capacity as a second front in an all out war) was not remotely utilitarian. It was the act of a revolution.

On the other hand, I think Fahrettin has an interesting point that the Nazis were not necessarily looking to spread the revolution but, instead, to increase the territory over which Nazis ruled. Of course, the Nazis did make converts to their cause, whether or not that was the primary end, as opposed to a means to gain and control territory. So, there was a part of the Nazi project which was traditional in nature, namely, enlargement of national territory. However, the project did seek to spread their manner of rule.

As for Fahrettin's relative, I am glad that he was a teacher of tolerance and moderation. That is, of course, an important part of Islam. My point instead, so that it is understood as I intended it, is to note that spreading Islamic rule was a part of traditional Islam but not a personal part for the average person in civil society - except for the soldiers, of course. It was, rather, primarily a component of the imperial policy of the imperial leader of the country. In that manner, such element was reminiscent of other imperial ideologies but it is one that has clear definition in religious texts. What the Islamists have done has involved adopting the imperial element of the faith - once the province of the leader - to their political agenda, making what was once national policy into a personal ideology and borrowing the ascetic ideology of the soldier and making it something for anyone and everyone.

art eckstein - 4/30/2010

Dear Fahrettin,

Part of the problem here is that via the personage especially of the vile Amin al-Husseini the Nazis beamed thousands of hours of anti-semitism = Islam/Nazism = Islam especially to Egypt and the Palestine Mandate between 1941 and 1945. A lot of the radio broadcasts were aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood (ancestor of Hamas and al-Qaeda). Husseini never recanted his genocidal wartime Nazism, and yet was greeted as a hero in the Arab world (not least by Hassan al-Banna, leader of the MB).

My colleague Jeffrey Herf discovered *3000 pages* of transcribed Husseini broadcasts, done by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which have lain untouched in the U.S. National Archives since 1945. 3000 pages of this stuff, Fahrettin. They are often vile but the point is that Husseini combined Nazis with his version of Islam. Herf's published a book about it: "Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World" (Yale University Press, 2009). Here, then, is one source of the cancer, and yes, it originates in the West.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/30/2010


my great grandfather was one of the leading Islamic theologians in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. My grandfather told me a lot about Islamic theology. I never heard anything about killing people. I did get to hear that racism against our fellow human beings is a sin against God's creation.

You Hitler example is one point. That is where all this modern antisemitism originated. Some Islamists treat AH as a "good guy" to be imitated. But that demonstrates the nature of the problem. Hitler had nothing to do with Islam. Anyone who wants to imitate him is acting to an ideology which has nothing to do with Islam.

Of course some (too many) people might not understand the point.

They should be told that Hitlerism is not Islam and not get publicly confirmed that yes, their criminal stupidity is Islam.

I once asked one Turkish Hitler admirer what he admired about that man. He replied that Hitler had been the man to make Germany to what it is. He was surprised to hear that Germany had been a major power long before Hitler and that Hitler had actually broken Germany. I don't know if he believed me.

There you have a need for enlightening information. Unfortunalety I do not see anyone trying.

art eckstein - 4/30/2010

Dear Fahrettin,

I have five Muslim friends. Two (Pakistani-Americans) invited me to Rosh Ha-Shana dinner last September. They made a real Jewish dinner (starting with matzoh-ball soup). Another is an Iranian-American girl with a culinary degree from Paris and her own food-blog.

These folks are believing Muslims; the Iranian-American girl wears a hijab. But they are modern people and easily combine Islam with modernity.

Obviously, they would never threaten anyone with death over religious differences. But they live in the West, and are in some sense refugees from the terribly narrow and bigotted societies from which they have fled. The Iranian govt from which my student fled DOES explicitly threaten death on a vast scale, in fact genocide, against the Jews--while simultaneously denying that the Holocaust ever happened. How's *that* from an irrational position?

Hitler's invasion of the USSR was a perfect example of a huge and irrational foreign relations action taken for ideological reasons. It's all in Mein Kampf. The result was destruction on an unimaginable scale. And whereas Hitler may have *believed* that killing the Jews made the war-effort more efficient the whole point is that it was obvious to any ideologically-blinded person that it made the war-effort much less efficient. But that's the point: Hitler was *ideologically blinded*. Both NF and I think it may be the same with the Iranian govt.

We could be wrong; and the evidence isn't all one way (as I talked about). But at the moment the preponderance of the evidence does not go in a good direction.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/30/2010

delete the line stating

"for me this is not ideology or export of revolution."

It was ideology but not export of revolution.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/30/2010

I don't as a Moslem see any religious reasons to threaten anybody with death and find that line of argument disquieting and potentially counter productive.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/30/2010


I do not know if you read Hitler's Tischgespräche. This is a summary of what he told his chums at dinner in the time he was in Rastenburg, managing the war effort against Russia.

The whole point of Hitler was the war against Russia. He was convinced that the German race needed more living space and he was conquering it in the east.

The war in the West was for him a disatraction he had never wanted.

The prosecution of the Jews was a disatraction he did want. That was idelogy. His ideology told him he was increasing his efficiency by prosecuting the Jews.

For me this is not ideology or the export of revolution.

He was simply repeating what other European powers had done previously. The new thing was that he was doing it to his fellow white skinned European Christians. He justified that by claiming them to be sub humans.

This claim also reflected how Europeans in the 19th century saw the rest of the world. That was was legitimated Western colonialism.

Of course the idea that he could win his war against the rest of the world because he represented the biologically superior group was ideology. Believing that was ultimately his cardinal mistake.

art eckstein - 4/29/2010

Back from Brown. There's a huge debate among International Relations people (the structural realists) over whether Iran will act rationally or not. So far it has rationally in the sense that they bet that the West was too weak, divided and whimpy to stop them from their nuclear program. They played the Europeans for absolute fools as the Europeans were assuring the U.S. that sophisticated Euro-diplomacy would win the day. Ha.

In that sense, the Mullahs have played a Machiavellian game. So far.

One could also point to the USSR in China: Stalin wanted control of Manchuria in 1945 and he not only killed a lot of Japanese to get it but Soviet troops actually fired on Chinese Communist troops of Mao to warn them away from "Soviet" territory. This is national interest trumping revolutionary ideology.

But NF correctly points to other, disturbing examples. The Islamic radical seize a country and wreck it because of their ideology to go back to the 7th century. A "rational" govt wouldn't do that. NF provided three examples where Islamic radical govts did do that.

As for radical-ideological foreign actions, Hitler injured his WWII war effort by expending a great deal of effort to kill millions of Jews at a time when the soldiers and railway capacity could have been better used against the Allies. He did it for ideological reasons. Indeed, the cardinal mistake of Hitler invading the USSR was done for ideological, not strategic reasons, and it led to 25 million casualties (including 5 million Germans). You can't have a bigger "revolutionary" act than that.

The French revolutionary govt certainly intended to export the revolution when French "national interest" would have dictated a less aggressive and warlike policy, yes.

So for me, when I see A-jad and his vile cronies explicitly threatening Israel with death on religious grounds, and missiles being paraded through Iranian cities threatening Israel with death, and the Iranian govt is very very hard at work to create both an atomic bomb and missiles with the range to hit Israel, and we know that a radical version of Islam plays a huge role in govt decisions--well, I tend to agree with NF that the danger is real and the Mullahs and Ajad (like Hamas but unlike the USSR in the past) mean what they say.

N. Friedman - 4/28/2010


Please delete: "The question I see raised by your post - a post which accepts much of what my most recent post asserts - is concerns revolutionary governments behave."


The question I see raised by your post - a post which accepts much of what my most recent post asserts - concerns how revolutionary governments behave.

N. Friedman - 4/28/2010


The question I see raised by your post - a post which accepts much of what my most recent post asserts - is concerns revolutionary governments behave. It is my distinct impression that revolutionary type governments tend to want to spread the revolution, by force as seen necessary. So, I see your acknowledgment of the revolutionary nature of the Islamists in power as evidence for my position.

Exhibit A is Nazi Germany.

Exhibit B is revolutionary France.

Art can fill us in on how much, if any, real correlation there is between revolutionary internal activity and revolutionary external activity. I assume that there is considerable correlation although, as with many things, it depends in part on how we define revolutionary and what counts as evidence of it and as evidence of wanting to spread itself.

I agree with you that students of theology make poor engineers. That is a big limiting factor on what Iran can accomplish by means of its anachronistic domestic policies. Of course, obtaining the means to build (and then actually building) nuclear weapons would, in theory, allow Iran to project force far beyond what is suggested possible by the country's domestic failures.

Similar problems, but to a far smaller extent, plagued the USSR, a country which had difficulty making a toaster that worked but had nuclear weapons in large numbers and the ability to deliver them anywhere on Earth and to project its power anywhere. Of course, the USSR was not adverse to scientific learning and engineering but, instead, had difficulties motivating people to work in earnest. Still, that there is a mismatch between competence and control of powerful weapons gave major advantages to the USSR until the country, of course, imploded. Perhaps, Iran's revolutionary government will meet a similar fate.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/28/2010

Mr Friedman,

It is true that Islamists when they come to power reorder society according to their ideology. All revolutions do, most of them with horrible brutality. Remember Stalin and later the Red Khmer. For religious Moslems they are implementing God’s order, which is why I see secularism as the only way forward for Islamic countries. How can God’s will ever become obsolete? Ideology can be counter productive as a study of communism will also show. Was Stalin a lunatic? Hitler? Or is ideology lunatic by replacing common sense? I felt the Europeans were being lunatic when they lit the powder keg Yugoslavia, but clinically they were not. How about the idea of a military intervention in Congo to bring them democracy, is that insane or a joke? Democracy in Afghanistan? Or is it rhetoric? Germans tend to take their politicians very seriously, but the Orient?

The lact of utility in underdeveloped countries can be reflecting a simple lack of technical abilities more than Islamist ideology. I would not expect people who have dedicated their live sto theology to have much technical understanding.

My feeling is that Iran will for a very long time not try to erase Israel from the map but use the issue to gain influence and bleed Israel as the USSR and the USA also did. They were overjoyed at the last Israeli Lebanon war so more of the same could be planned. They might risk a war with Israel thinking they might have more to gain than lose. There was one article in the Economist a couple of years ago that Greece had officially asked the NATO allies if they would help Greece get her will if they started a war against Turkey and lost it. In 1897 they did exactly that, started a war. Lost it and the West helped make them the victor at the peace table by forcing Turkey to practically give up Crete. So losing a war can be a winning strategy, especially, if you don’t mind the casualties. I remeber Iran was suffering horrible casualties in the Iraq war and the Ayatollah responded by telling people to make more children.

That context is not one in which to feel sanguine.

N. Friedman - 4/28/2010


You have made some fascinating arguments that I shall have to consider. My response below should, accordingly, be taken as tentative.

You now live in a country in which the leadership, in the 1930's into the 1940's meant what it said and said what it meant - and the world ignored it entirely, taking the view that the rhetoric was too crazy to be believed. In this regard, I note Winston Churchill's history of WWII and, more particularly, the fascinating portion titled The Gathering Storm. Churchill notes that, unlike many others in his generation, he treated Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, as a pretty fair outline of what the Nazis believed in and what they would do in power. He notes that Hitler, in fact, acted, once in power, pretty closely in accord with his ideology.

So, it seems to me that there are circumstances where rhetoric is sincere and, no doubt, there are times when the rhetoric is just talk, employed for reasons that hide underneath a more typical policy. Your contention is that the Iranians have more traditional imperial aims.

What you write is, of course, plausible. Certainly - and this would be a reason that, for example, Art might side with you -, Structural Realist like Art might assert that, absent unusual circumstances, countries pursue rational aims. And, I think there is a plausibility to such an understanding of International relations.

I have, however, a very difficult time discounting what Iran and al Qaeda within the Structural Realism paradigm. Where, in fact, the Islamists have come to power, they have sought to reorder society in accordance with their ideas about Islam, to the extent they can and notwithstanding the fact that creating an anachronistic domestic political order is an invitation for failure. Hence, the Taliban state in Afghanistan, the Hamas state in Gaza, the Islamist state in Sudan, among others, have sought to create Utopian orders that lack much in the way of utility - other than to foment hatred and war. In Iran, we have anachronistic thinking that has a modern, electoral, veneer but which, when push comes to shove, is governed by anachronistic forces - with people stoned to death for adultery, etc. - such that Iran cannot even fix its own oil fields.

That tells me that we are not merely dealing with countries that want to extend their power and influence. Rather, we are dealing with countries in which there are forces in conflict that can, as occurred in Germany, bring lunatics to power.

You ask whether we can believe Ahmadinejad. In that he represents a lunatic fringe, I do not see why we should discount his words and substitute a rational overlay on them.

The rest of what you write is, I think, a reasonable interpretation whether or not, I agree with it. I would still like to understand why, say, an Israeli listening to the rulers of Iran assert Israel will be destroyed, having parades with missiles marked "Death to Israel" and having a more than a half century of conflict in their region where, in fact, the rulers of the states surrounding Israel have acted not only with hostility but have created multiple wars, should feel sanguine that the Iranian leadership does not mean what it says. In that the Israelis are supposedly trigger happy - at least that is the view of many of the country's enemies -, would you not think that the Iranian leadership would realize that their rhetoric will likely create a war? Why are the Iranians inviting war or is it your view that they just do not believe the Israelis will act on the theory that the Israelis actually understand what the Iranian leadership means?

art eckstein - 4/28/2010

One more, instead of attempting to answer facts, evidence and logical arguments with facts, evidence and logical argument of his own, Omar resorts to personal attacks on the motives of those who bring forth the facts, evidence and logical arguments--as if such a response could ever be convincing to anyone.

As I've noted before, perhaps in Omar's culture such a response *is* convincing. That, in itself, tells us a lot. But Omar still doesn't understand that it is not convincing to the readers of HNN, which is a blog for serious professionals.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/28/2010

Mr Friedman

It is of course true that troops are always given reasons which will motivate them. The US is always fighting for freedom. Historically sometimes this was indeed the case and sometimes it was (is) not. The German army used to wear belts which stated „god with us“. Islamic troops are naturally fighting for God and Islam but this is not really the casus belli we should be talking about.

I do not doubt the existence of religious simpletons or fanatics. I just doubt that they are a casus belli.

The discussion here is by people who believe in strictly following religious rules. In the real world, Islamic law is a law which like secular law often has to allow and even legitimate political actions. In Islam there is the concept of hile-i sherriye „cheating in Islamic law“, which means manipulating the Islamic law to fit what would technically be illegal. Think of American films where a sly lawyer boxes his client free by imaginative interpretation of law. The trick also works in an Islamic jurisdiction. There is also the concept of taqiyye, which means you can tell whatever lies you think is necessary to reach the targets you have defined for yourself. There is some strange stuff coming out of Iran, but does anybody believe Mr A. really thinks he is talking to the 12th imam?

You write:

If we go by what the leaders (of Iran) say, the goal is to reverse the thread of history which has made the West dominant and to replace the West as dominant power.

At the time of the Monroe doctrine, the US was working towards the same target and actually reached it a century later. This is a secular and a priori legitimate target for any country which thinks it has the ability to reach such a target. It will bring them in conflict with the existing powers in their own region, as the US was in conflict with England and Spain which dominated the Americas and later reached out to other parts of the world. Make war and conquer others is exactly what the US did do.

So here is one difference between me and the Americans: I do not see the Monroe doctrine as something desirable but simply as something a coming imperialist power did do. It had some very evil aspects, the worst being what was done to the native Americans to make place for European immigrants. Here might be certain analogy with hostility towards Israel, which is real and dangerous.

I do not think the Iranian priority is erasing Israel from the map. This would rob them of the emotional topic which they are using to increase their influence in the Arab world. Another analogy: If the USA had followed Mr Churchill and erased the USSR from the map in 1945 they could not have continued to dominate the Western world for the next half a century.

I read in Western newspapers that Islamic fanatics are fighting to dominate the World necessitating Western interventions in the Islamic world but for me this is on the same level as somebody talking to the hidden imam. It is ridiculous to imagine that suicide attacks are going to lead to an Islamic dominated World.

It is true that the Western public no longer would support a strictly religious legitimation for foreign policy.

First, it does not follow that Western policy lacks a religious motivation (250000 Bosnian Moslems killed in the 1990ies).

Second it does not follow that Western policy is less aggressive as a consequence of secularisation. They just moved forward to using other arguments which people will accept. That is how propaganda, religious or otherwise, works.

And about empires:

Who can builds one using whatever idelogy he can find.

It is of course true that Moslems motivated by Islam did build an empire. But so did Alexander, Rome, Britain, France and the Soviet Union just to name a few. Empires seem to be something people love, if they can. Iran was long before Islam the dominating power in the middle east. So it might be true that the soldiers of the Caliphate were motivated by religion but that was not the reason for the empire building. One of the most powerful Islamic leaders, Mehmet II who conquered Istanbul in 1453 actually thought about becoming a Catholic to get the Pope to declare him the Emperor of Rome and only gave the idea up because that was more than he could sell his army. There you have the simple soldier who has an entirely different perspective that his imperial lord. Power is the ultimate motivation.

Getting back to the discussion, understanding the rational motivations behind Iran’s or even Al Qaida actions would allow rational reactions. Totally ignored by the West in their obsession with evil Islamic fanatics is what the Moslem non combatants think about western policies. No holds barred armtwisting and threatening with bombing countries back into the stone age sometimes seem to have replaced diplomacy to find arrangements which Moslem populated countries will accept.

There are conflicts which Christians started against Moslems because they think they have a right to victimize Moslems: Cyprus, Bosnia, Armenia vs her neighbors. There are other conflicts which the West started against Islamic countries for balance of power reasons: Kurdish secessionism, the coming partitioning of Sudan, plans by Ralph Peters for redesigning the map of the Middle East. There is the simple fact that Arab oil wealth is making Western countries rich and not the Arabs thanks to a political geography designed exactly for that effect. (seen the film Syriana?) The discrimination of Moslem minorities in Western Europe. All these Western produced conflicts are poisoning international relations and are now in danger of turning into one major war. The only way to prevent that is by finding diplomatic solution which Islamic countries will find acceptable in the long run. In all these conflicts the West is trying to win by armtwisting and ruthless propaganda.

In the long run, this will not work. There will be points at which there might be no alternative to military threats and actions, but only by understanding the other side can the fighting be limited to dimensions where it would be winnable. Getting carried away by theological arguments is a losing strategy. It is also dangerous because anti Koranic arguments are being used as a cover to legitimate anti Moslem strategies which are simply not acceptable.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/28/2010

Mr. Friedman
I note your "I am enjoying Omar rendition of Islamic doctrine ".(#142556)

Actually it is NOT "my" rendition, although I obviously subscribe to it, but that of a great number of what we deem to be thoughtful people.
I can sum it up as the outgrowth of two major forces:
- the identification and strict observance of the critical fundamental invariable tenets of Islam as distinct from the "cursory"( that we deem temporary) tenets that accompanied it in its 1500 years old, religious and political, march
-the need to formulate a general outlook that while observing fundamentals does respond to the needs,opportunities and constraints of the ever changing world in which we all live together i.e. in which we live with non Moslems and desire to interact positively with them in the spirit of "lakum dinakum wa lana dinna=you have your religion and we have our religion."

I understand your, and some others', attitude towards Islam to spring from and to be solely dominated by an antiquitated, trivia based, perception that is primarily politically motivated and that ,as such, is deliberately negatively selective and intrinsically ill willed.

However the important thing here is NOT your perception of Islam (we are not running in a popularity contest) but what Moslems believe to be is its invariable fundamentals that also respond to the needs and constraints of the world in which we all live and share.

Obviously that Islam does not nor will ever appeal to you and yours and will inevitably disappoint and provoke you in many ways ( as with Jihad which is bound to ) ; but that is neither of primary nor secondary importance to us.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010


I too would like to see Fahrettin's justification for his position. As you say, Fahrettin has shown himself more than able to defend himself, so we shall see.

art eckstein - 4/27/2010

Dear NF,

Like I said in my posting, of the two possible interpretation of the crazy and hate-filled words of A-jad, the Mullahs, Hezb, Hamas, and their henchmen, I am on the side of taking their words at face value, and not seeing them as mere bluster covering a more moderate position.

I agree with what your wrote here:

"My gut reaction is that we have no choice but to take the crazy talk that comes out of places like Iran seriously - whatever is actually intended. If I say to you, God told me to kill you and I was buying knives and guns, you would be an idiot to translate such statement into mere bluster."

So the question, though NF addresses me, is how Fahrettin (not me) will respond to NF's arguments.

I think he does see the religious craziness as bluster covering other issues that are at least somewhat amenable to compromise, though it is compromise of a sort that would be very painful for the West to accept. But I shouldn't speak for him; he's great at speaking for himself. I hope he posts once more in the conversation here.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010


As always, you make interesting points.

While I agree with you regarding the possibility that words may either be said with their apparent meaning or not, I think that the issue is doubly difficult to decipher in a part of the world which has not gone as far through the desacralization of the public square as the West has. After all, such statements have no real translation into secular style speech. And, we really cannot know for sure whether the religious nonsense stated is for consumption by religious masses or, by contrast, said in earnest.

My gut reaction is that we have no choice but to take the crazy talk that comes out of places like Iran seriously - whatever is actually intended. If I say to you, God told me to kill you and I was buying knives and guns, you would be an idiot to translate such statement into mere bluster.

Moreover, there really are good reasons to take the Islamists seriously. Islamist politics is, after all, a product of a religious revival movement in a part of the world in which religion plays an important role in life - in a way that it does not play anymore in the West, which has more or less compartmentalized religious expression. On pages 191 - 192 of M.J. Akbar's interesting book The Shade of Swords, he writes:

Some conceptual misunderstanding arises from a word that has become shorthand for all problems: fundamentalism. To most in the West, fundamentalism is some repository of all evil. If however, by fundamentalism you imply conviction in the basic tenets of the faith, then more than ninety per cent of the Muslim population is fundamentalist. Any other term - say, Islamist - appears equally prone to misinterpretation. The better solution might be to use 'fundamentalism', but explain what it does not imply.

Most Christians might shrug if asked whether they really believed that Jesus turned water into wine, or raised Lazarus from the dead. Muslims by contrast do not doubt that Allah's angels helped the Prophet at the battle of Badr. Allah is a living god to them, as palpable and meaningful as an ideal parent might be.

I think that Akbar is likely mostly correct in what he writes. And, when we ignore the role played by religion in a country ruled by a group of religious clerics, I think we do so at our peril. And, when these clerics make noises about remaking the world and create a theological justification for that effort - as is the case in Iran -, I think there is real reason to worry.

I note that Timothy has mentioned that the Iranian view that they can act to advance the coming of the occulted imam is not traditional Shi'a Islam. It is something new, which, to me, makes it all the more scary.

I might also suggest: nasty rhetoric directed at Jews tends, if we go historically, to have a high percentage of sincerity. So, that is another reason to take the lunatic statements by Iran's leaders seriously and not to translate such statements to mean less than the words literally say.

A. M. Eckstein - 4/27/2010

There is a divide, an intellectual and emotional divide between analysts who believe what A-jad, the Mullahs, Hezb and Hamas horrifically proclaim about themselves and what their aims are, and those analysts who don't believe it and think the fanatical religious propaganda and outrageous comments constitute a cover for other, more limited aims.

The first group remembers that Hitler made clear what his aims were, and was disbelieved by those who thought they could make deals with him.

The second group notes that while the USSR talked a game of world revolution, and China did too, their govts were more responsible in their actions than in their propaganda.

These two groups have a hard time communicating with one another, since they start from very different premises.

As an ex-New Leftist, I myself tend to take the statements of A-jad, Khamenei, Khomeini, Hamas, Nasrullah at face value since I remember the tremendous power of ideology on my own youth. I think Fahrettin is on a different wavelength on this. I'm not saying which one is objectively correct. I think both have a case.

My personal view is that those who believe that these religious fanatics mean to do what they threaten to do, that they mean what they say and they explain why God tells them to say it--I lean strongly in that direction. Major Hassan didn't shoot 45 people because he was suffering from U.S. Army stress. His only stress so far had been moving from DC to Texas. He acted for the reason he says he acted, for religious (Islamic) reasons. Lots of people, because they judge others by their own pale or nonexistent religious beliefs, can't accept this, though.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010


Wars are normally explained, at least in the West, to people as being defensive. In a circumstance where the right to declare offensive war is technically the right of a party which does not currently exist, the Caliph, obviously the war will be described as defensive.

But, that does not mean anything since, if we listen to what people say, they make clear that their defense includes what people normally understand to be offense.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010


State specifically what is left out by these scholars when explaining Jihad to extend the House of Islam.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010


As always, you make important contributions, whether or not I agree with them.

In this case, I agree with some of what you write, at least until you get to the part about Iran - more about which below -, although I do think that the fighters in Afghanistan who just kept fighting were motivated, whatever the goals sought by their leaders, by religious indoctrination.

It seems to me that there can be a difference between what leaders pursue by means of war and what the troops think they are doing when they fight. That has been true in the West and, so far as I know, it is true throughout the world. The troops of the Taliban - a group of religious fanatics to begin with - thought and think they are doing God's work. And, understanding their religious motivation is important to understand what makes them tick - and, as such, in either reaching an accommodation with them or defeating them.

As for Iran, we can only go by what the country's leaders say and the ideology under which they justify their rule suggests. The rest is speculation. The country's rulers have said pretty clearly that they have hostile aims toward Europe, the United States and Israel. It is not, as your comments indicate, a Monroe Doctrine merely to keep such countries out of Iran's part of the world. If we go by what the leaders say, the goal is to reverse the thread of history which has made the West dominant and to replace the West as dominant power.

If we go by their ideology, which is expressly religious - so, presumably, it must have something to do with how the clerical party which rules Iran thinks -, they assert that the hidden imam may be ready to return and that Muslims can pave the way for that return by making war. It is the ideology, if that ideology is actually believed by the leaders - and not merely used to get people to fight -, that makes Iran rather dangerous because, if this version of Shi'a Islam is the view of the leaders, anything is possible.

Maybe Westerners are not correctly understanding these modern expressions of Medieval ideas. But, I do not see how the views seemingly expressed by the Iranian leadership can be ignored and transformed into a simple Monroe Doctrine idea when, as expressed, they seem to state an aim to make war in order to conquer others.

As for the rest, you transform the likes of al Qaeda and others to remove the religious veneer. I think there is less to this than meets the eye. Which is to say, I think that religious ideas do motivate people to pursue religious/political aims, the two being blurred into one. And, in a society in which rather little can pass muster with people that contradicts religious precepts, religion and politics certainly blur. And, of course, in Islam, religion and politics are, in fact, technically merged, which makes things more difficult to disentangle by those expressing the ideas and by non-believers hearing and reading the ideas. I am also willing to bet that the speakers of such ideas have difficulty disentangling religion and politics in their thoughts.

Note: I am not saying that this is feature only of Islam. In the period - and this was not as long ago as some people may think - when religion played a larger role in the politics of the West, there was little to disentangle the two. I recall reading online a headline from the New York Times from WWI in which Jerusalem was liberated, as expressed in the paper, for Christianity. Western politicians and liberal newspapers would not write such things today. This difference in expression, then to now, does represent a sea change in how educated people think - something that is important to understand when listening to people who speak of liberating land from Europeans - as Ahmadinejad has spoken - to return Islam to its dominant position in the world.

N. Friedman - 4/27/2010

Omar write: "Absolutely NOT since the cardinal over riding injunction here is: " no compulsion in religion"!"

That is why your interpretation of your own religion is wrong. The lesser version of Jihad is to spread Muslim rule under Muslim law. When denied the right to spread that rule, Islamic law permits Muslims to start a war.

I might add: Professor Crone shows in her scholarship that Muslims have not always followed the injunction not to spread the faith by compulsion. See her book, God's Rule : Government and Islam. Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought , in which she chronicles mass conversions by compulsion.

art eckstein - 4/27/2010

Well, I think this incident in Persia referred to by Omar as JUSTIFICATION for Muslim conquest of Persia speaks for itself. The Persian ruler (a fanatical Zoroastrian) does not want Islam to be preached in Persia, though he is "invited" to allow it? Then this justifies Muslim CONQUEST, according to Omar.

That's our point, Omar--that's our point! I think you just can't see it!

"No compulsion in religion", I'm sure Omar knows that this refers to the right of the Jewish tribe Banu an-Nadir to raise children of the Ansar among them as Jews. Answer: no, "because there is no compulsion of relgion."

I'm sure you also know that many Islamic scholars believe this verse was in any case abrogated by the later command to wage Jihad until people convert or are forced to pay the special tax open to People of the Book (but not to pagans, who MUST convert), by which the latter in any case are forced to recognize the superiority of Islam and their inferior status.

In short, and no matter what its historical context, al-Baqara 256 was abrogated by the later at-Tawba 5.

The proof is that eight Islamic countries CURRENTLY mandate death for apostacy from Islam. NO other religion imposes this.

I'm not saying that this is all of Islam, where there are many diverse currents, some of which are liberal and humane. But one very important current is totalitarian, and aggressive. Omar, don't deny it.

Fahrettin Tahir - 4/27/2010

While a theological discussion can be important I believe such discussions miss out the political issues involved. The bottom being that Jihad is war and war is always a political phenomenon.

We have been seeing increasing military action in the last 10 years in which one side uses theological arguments for ist actions and the other side enjoys demonstrating that medieval religious argumenst are, well, medieval.

This has been leading to intesifying work on using theology to delegitimate what the west thinks is a religious onslaught.

Germany has established a chair for Islamist theology in the university of Munster. The appointed Professor, a German named Mohammed started off by claiming that there was no proof that the real Mohammed actually existed!

Last month there was a meeting of scholars in the southern Turkish town of Urfa (Edessa) where the concept of Jihad seems to have originated. The US diplomats behind the show seem to actually have hoped that a second meeting in the same town could give up the concept solving the US policy issues.

Any Moslem will laugh about such ridiculous actions.

There is war in Afghanistan because the West used conservative people to fight against Soviet style modernisation and these people just kept on fighting. There was hardly a point in Afghan (Kurdish, Somali, Yemeni ... ) history when they were not fighting one thing or the other. There is nothing theological about such behaviour.

Iran seems to be trying to enforce something resembling a Monroe doctrin for the Middle East. Individuals and states might like or dislike this but there is essentially nothing Islamic about a major power trying to dominate the neighborhood.

The Al Qaida seems to me to be an Arab revolutionary movement. Looking at the conservative, corrupt, incompetent people who run a lot of Arab countries a revolutionary movement to overthrow them should not be surprizing. Other revolutions (France, Russia, China, Iran) have also produced disgusting results without the first three being Islamic.

Religious education being all the people in some Arab countries get it is no surprize that they justify their actions with theology. It is not hard to imagine movements using Marxist or nationalist arguments to prosecute similiar revolutionary strategies, if the people had had a corresponding education.

Wars are always political.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/27/2010

Mr Friedman; you write:
"The issue, today is the modification of the Jihad doctrine to modern circumstances. That, after all, is what non-Muslims now face, there being no Caliphate or Sultan and, even if there were, no means to carry out Jihad by traditional, imperial, methods. So, the doctrine has been rethought - rather brilliantly - to combine offensive and defense together, by which Jihad becomes a personal responsibility - not merely a communal endeavor -, so that the the approval of the Caliph is not longer required and so that the ascetic ideal is enough to drive fighting for the ultimate cause, saving Islam and overcoming Islam's enemies."

Out of context and despite its authorship this is, substantially, a good outlook of and on the duty of Jihad as perceived by Jihadists in the present world.
Despite your declared goal your :"So, the doctrine has been rethought - rather brilliantly - to combine offensive and defense together, by which Jihad becomes a personal responsibility - not merely a communal endeavor -, "
is quite apt to which I have the following objections:
A-there is absolutely no "offensive" element for Jihad in today's world; it is primarily "defensive" against proven enemies.
B-Jihad is, always was, a personal responsibility in the frame work of a communal responsibility and joint effort.
C-some Islamist conquests were imperial in the sense of empire building as in the conquest of Spain which was overwhelmingly Christian .
The earlier conquests were not although they actually led to what became an empire.
D-Patently resisting i.e. fighting aggression as by the USA in Iraq etc and aggression and usurpation by Israel in Palestine can not wait for the emergence or reemergence of a Caliph or of a Prince of the Devout .
In as much as their aggression is dynamic and ongoing the reaction should be immediate

By the way you seem to have touched on a good question here, possibility inadvertently, that is being thoroughly rehashed here and now , namely: who has the "authority" to declare Jihad??
The emerging consensus seems to indicate that in resisting aggression it is a personal responsibility to be undertaken whithin a collective, not personal, frame work .
Re your
“The issue, today is the modification of the Jihad doctrine to modern circumstances. That, after all, is what non-Muslims now face “
what non Moslems have to face is : it is the religious and patriotic duty of every Moslem to resist aggression and usurpation and that does NOT involve ,imply or request any “modernization “

Once again , alas to you and yours, neither Islam nor Jihad are what you desperately want them to be.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/27/2010

NOT satisfied with small fish (?!?) Professors Lewis and Goldhizer now it is the redoubtable Professor Eckstein that I have to contend with!

He inquires:
"... we want to spread Islam peacefully but if the infidels don't come over voluntarily then jihad requires us to spread the faith by conquest. Is that what you're saying the "lesser" jihad means (Omar)?"

Absolutely NOT since the cardinal over riding injunction here is: " no compulsion in religion"!

The "peacefully" means the right "to preach” with ruler in power consent, or at least non interjection, in other words it means the “right to free speech" without ruler proscription!

The historical trivia, in the context of the point at hand, the redoubtable Professor marshals here by pass , side line or ignore a cardinal historical fact of which he might or might NOT be aware:
The conquest of both, then, Persian and Byzantine ruled domains were PRECEDED by special emissaries inviting the ruler to accept Islam AND asking for his permission to preach to the people.
Both emissaries were beheaded, that is when conquest was undertaken!

(The other neighborly domain was Abyssinia. Its ruler was equally invited at the time but politely declined the invitation; Abyssinia was NOT invaded!)

omar ibrahim baker - 4/27/2010

Mr. Friedman
"Has Lewis stated anything that is inaccurate? Has Goldhizer stated anything that is inaccurate?" you inquire.
Accuracy ordains completeness.
To simply: assume someone says “all monotheistic religions forbid sexual relations” and stops there without adding the major qualification
"between brother and sister "!
How accurate would his statement be?

Is that NOT 1+1=2?

According to the quotes you presented BOTH, particularly B. Lewis who, knowing better, is deliberately so, are inaccurate in the sense that both are deliberately incomplete through deliberate TRUNCATION that would necessarily disfigure and mislead.

Another word for that would be “selectivity” in which pseudo “scholars” hand pick a certain phrase, truncate it and then portray it as the all encompassing definition of the issue at hand !
Exactly as you did with my words by removing the cardinal qualification which made/ makes a great difference in the general perception.
( A subjective argument on your part from which you hastily, after I unveiled it, withdrew by extending it , at (#142508), to (people have the right even NOT to )“accept the right of Muslims to proselytize. “ a point I did NOT dispute.)

That was as crass an attempt at a deliberate misleading misrepresentation, i.e. propagandist, as could be that you are still maintaining now despite its proven bankruptcy and insincerity in a presumed objective discussion.

art eckstein - 4/27/2010

1. Neither Goldhizer nor Lewis are "opponents of Islam." That's just slander on Omar's part, smearing them so he doesn't have to answer their specific facts.

2. But since Omar now has mentioned me, I'd like to go back to the following phrase from Omar:

"Al Jihad al Azkhar (azkhar=smaller) which encompass spreading the faith by conquest, only if denied the opportunity to do so peacefully."

Friedman dealt with the "greater" jihad--lots of religions have that idea. But he responded to the "less" jihad by indicating, yeah--that's the part we're worried about, Omar, spreading the faith by conquest, and there's plenty of history of Islamic imperialism to demonstrate why we should worry.

To which Omar responded, you distort what I say because you leave out the last part of the sentence, "only if denied the opportunity [to spread the faith] peacefully."

Does adding that last phrase really help you against Friedman's reasonable concerns, Omar? Because it sounds like the meaning of the full sentence is, we want to spread Islam peacefully but if the infidels don't come over voluntarily then jihad requires us to spread the faith by conquest. Is that what you're saying the "lesser" jihad means?

You certainly can't claim that this understanding of the "lesser" jihad has played no part in Muslim history, Pursuit of the "lesser" jihad is exactly how the Muslims conquered by military violence the places we now call: Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and eastern Austria. The period is more than a thousand years of military conquest, 642 to 1683 A.D.

Now--Is this inconceivably vast military conquest all supposed to be an accident, Omar, or "defensive" (!!), or somehow a fantastic misinterpretation by early Muslims of the meaning of al Jihad al Azkhar? Isn't it rather the proper and logical expression of your definition of al Jihad al Azkhar, that is: spread the faith, peacefully if possible, but by force if necessary?

Spreading the faith by violence: The popular South Park cartoon show here in the U.S., which constantly makes fun of Jesus, and Jews, and Hindus, was forced this week to censor a depiction of Muhammad because of threats of death to the cartoonists coming from a Muslim group in New York. Now the precedent has been set: South Park can be as gross as it wishes to everyone else, and every other religion, but Muslims, threatening violence, are granted special immunity, claim a specially privileged place in society, exempt from being made fun of though no one else is--on pain of murder. Al Jihad al Azkhar indeed.

Yeah--that's one thing we're worried about.

art eckstein - 4/26/2010

NF and Tim,

Why does Omar always BS this way? I think we must canvass the possibility that for Omar, attacking the general morality and "good faith" of an opponent is a reputable way of responding to the opponent's factual arguments. It's just as good as attacking his actual facts and logical arguments with other facts and logical arguments. In fact, attacking his "good faith" is even better than the latter, because you can be lazy as Omar is and simply raise vague suspicions without actually having to research or prove anything (that is, prove from a western point of view).

NF, this is why Omar isn't actually likely to respond to your demand that he show where Goldhizer or Lewis is wrong on the facts. In his cultural way of arguing he doesn't have to. Accusations of bad faith are just as good to him as proving it. Accusations of bad faith are just as good as *proving* bad faith with facts, and accusations of bad faith *take the place* of having to prove *anything* with facts.

Of course, it's possible that this isn't an example of intellectual childishness on Omar's part but, as Tim says, it's an example of taqiya.

N. Friedman - 4/26/2010

Hi Tim,

I am enjoying Omar rendition of Islamic doctrine. Again, according to Omar: "Al Jihad al Azkhar (azkhar=smaller) which encompass spreading the faith by conquest, only if denied the opportunity to do so peacefully."

Omar's version of the doctrine is, frankly, outrageous. I have, as you know, defended the traditional Jihad doctrine as being akin to the imperial policies of the classical world - the world in which the Jihad notion arose. In traditional Islam, after all, Jihad became the purview of the Sultan/Caliph - imperial policy, as it were, even if, on a personal level, it appealed to the ascetic ideal, as shown by your professor, David Cook. Of course, most rulers were not dumb enough to make war on the pretext that proselytizing was inconvenienced.

The issue, today is the modification of the Jihad doctrine to modern circumstances. That, after all, is what non-Muslims now face, there being no Caliphate or Sultan and, even if there were, no means to carry out Jihad by traditional, imperial, methods. So, the doctrine has been rethought - rather brilliantly - to combine offensive and defense together, by which Jihad becomes a personal responsibility - not merely a communal endeavor -, so that the the approval of the Caliph is not longer required and so that the ascetic ideal is enough to drive fighting for the ultimate cause, saving Islam and overcoming Islam's enemies.

To Omar: if refusing proselytizing is ground for war, then Christians and Jews have really good cause for war against Muslims. After all: try proselytizing Christianity in Mecca or Medina.

N. Friedman - 4/26/2010

Again, Omar,

Has Lewis stated anything that is inaccurate? Has Goldhizer stated anything that is inaccurate?

Clearly not because you have not shown anything stated by Lewis or Goldhizer to be inaccurate.

But, let's return to what you stated. According to you, Islamic law calls for war if Muslims are not allowed to proselytize. First, that is a disgusting notion.

Second, the issue of allowing proselytizing arises in conjunction with a hudna, not in the abstract. So, frankly, your second point is way off base.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/26/2010

Mr Freidman
1-Do not speak for me as a matter of principle and civility.
2-Very few intensely politicized, that is doctrinaire, "scholars" manage to have their knowledge supersede and over rule their political affiliations.
This is particularly true of B. LEWIS who, as an avid Zionist, was actually fighting for a cause that is, almost by definition, the antonym of Islam.
His deeper than normal knowledge of Islam and of course of Jihad made him realize from the outset that it would inevitably be the nemesis and the mortal enemy of his beloved Zionism.
With such an affiliation and knowledge you can hardly expect him NOT to do everything in his power to combat Islam by, primarily but not exclusively, further alienating the Christian West towards it through his “scholarship” .

I have read a very interesting interview with an Arab historian who studied with and under Lewis.
He was full of praise for his knowledge and dedication but also noted that when it came to Zionism and Israel he abandoned all that made him such an outstanding Professor and became irrationally blinded and biased.
The other side of that same coin would be a conscious and subconscious intrinsically hostile attitude towards that nemesis to both: Islam.

I tend to believe that your implication that knowing better something will tend to make you less hostile towards it; that is naive.
Actually in many cases the more you know about it the harder you resent it and the more you loathe it as with our attitude towards Israel and Zionism.
Patently the opposite, the reverse, is also true.
RE "BS'ing" that is your domain that I happily leave to you.
(I note that you have avoided my question about the Moslem Brotherhood and the Lewis book you mentioned.)

Timothy Furnish - 4/26/2010

Mr. Friedman,
You know Omar will never stop "BS'ing." It's part-and-parcel of his taqiyah (or perhaps, less charitably, brainwashing).
Note how he managed to work Israel into the discussion of my topic--when I never even mention Israel in the article!
Omar doesn't even see that his problems are not with me (and you),but with Jasser--who DOES acknowledge that jihad sometimes means "holy war," and not necessarily defensive either.
Sometimes I weary of trying to convince people of the obvious. But, like many others, I soldier on.

N. Friedman - 4/26/2010


Again, show me mistakes made by these scholars.

Being a Zionist does not make on incapable of understanding Islam or of being sympathetic to Islam. Lewis is both. That you are incapable of thinking that a scholar of renown - which Lewis is - is incapable of separating politics from scholarship is a comment about you.

Goldhizer is among the fathers of the study, in the West, of Islam. He was more sympathetic to Islam than most people, including most scholars, of his time including many Muslims. Why? Because he was of the generation of Western scholars who saw in Islam a tolerance of infidel that was sorely lacking in Christianity. And, as a Jew, that particular paradigm of Islam as protector of infidels under its rule was an important one. That said, Goldhizer's views, if you bother to read his writing, are both erudite and sympathetic to Islam.

Frankly, though, one can hate Islam and be a great scholar of Islam. Have you ever considered that possibility?

Goldhizer was, in fact, aware that Jihad had multiple meanings. However, the one I picked to quote him on was Jihad to spread Islamic rule. The question is: is he correct? Both of us know for a fact that he is.

Stop BS'ing.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/26/2010

Mr. Friedman
To define JIHAD as ""jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") ", whether primarily or solely, as presumably Goldhizer does ( if that is a verbatim ,additonless quote )would belie your contention of a scholarly and/or devout Moslem.
Having studied at Al Azhar means nothing in this respect ( By the way and for your erudition seeking knowledge in alien lands is a form of Jihad!).
JIHAD is simply much more than that (AL Jihad Al Akbar jihad al nafess=the greater Jihad is with oneself. )

Professor Lewis, not to detract from his academic standing , however, being politically active in his later years and a self declared Zionist that “American historian Joel Beinin has called him "perhaps the most articulate and learned Zionist advocate in the North American Middle East academic community ..." “ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Lewis ) can hardly be deemed as objective vis a vis Islam.

I am sure you can come up with much more from Judeo/Christian academia and following some possibly dating as far back as 700 AD (?) but that can never change what JIHAD is in Islam and IS to a true Moslem.
JIHAD is, simply, NOT what you crave for it to be.
( Are you sure Mr.Friedman that the Moslem Brotherhood "endorsed" , not just published, a Professor Lewis' book and which book was that ?)

N. Friedman - 4/26/2010

I cited to Goldhizer because he is among the most sympathetic figures, so far as attempting to show Islam in an intelligible and sympathetic light, that has ever lived. He is also considered among the greatest non-Muslim scholars of Islam who have ever lived. If you take issue with anything he has written - and, note: your comment merely attacks him as the equivalent of a propagandist when, in fact, he is essentially father of Western scholarship on Islam, is outrageous and disreputable.

For the record, he was the first non-Muslim to be permitted to study at Al-Azhar University. He was known to pray with Muslims - in Islamic prayers, by the way. He consider Islam a positive force in the world, a force that equaled, in his view, more so than Christianity, most particularly in its treatment of non-Muslims in its territories. He saw Islam as a fulfillment of Judaism, which to a religious Jew is a great compliment.

As for Professor Lewis, the Muslim Brotherhood has endorsed and published at least one book he has written. He is among the world's leading scholars of Islam and the history of Islam. His writing is extremely sympathetic to Islam, most particularly as it emerged in the Ottoman Empire - a country about which is among the world's greatest scholars. He is a chaired emeritus Professor of History at Princeton University. That, Omar, is the man you equate with a rank amateur who has essentially no knowledge of Judaism.

Now, do you have any basis to claim that Goldhizer or Lewis misstate the classical position of Islam on Jihad? I rather doubt it.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/26/2010

Mr. Friedman
For completeness you should have added the redoubtable Professor Eckstein to the phalanx of anti Islam opponents!
That would have been truly devastating and Islamdom does owe you gratitude for sparing it such a fate!

INTERESTINGLY you make two points:
1-".... or even (Not) accept the right of Muslims to proselytize".
Of course nobody as far as we are concerned negate that right ; contrary to what you imply!
2-Quoting declared anti Islam "scholars" is the real propaganda in which you, and ilk, indulge.
Remember that I never quoted anti Jewish propagandists and my sole reference was a born Jew the late honourable Dr Israel Shahak ; that would secure more traction coming from in-house; so to speak .
Once again I tell you ISLAM is NOT what you and others wanted to be!
Islam is what true Moslems reckon it to be.

N. Friedman - 4/25/2010


I left the part about conquest, only if resisted out, because, frankly, that is immaterial. People have the right not to be conquered by force if they do not accept Muslim rule or even accept the right of Muslims to proselytize. In fact, in the manner stated by you, it is a hideous point of view.

In fact, you have manipulated the Islamic view of Jihad to make it sound more palatable to non-Muslim ears. Since it is you who are altering Islamic theology beyond its breaking point, lets deal with its actual content. So that we are clear, I below quote what famous scholars assert the traditional Muslim position to be:

1. Ignaz Goldziher:

In addition to the religious duties imposed upon each individual professing Islam, the collective duty of the "jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") is imposed on the community, as represented by the commander of the faithful. Mohammed claimed for his religion that it was to be the common property of all mankind, just as he himself, who at first appeared as a prophet of the Arabs, ended by proclaiming himself the prophet of a universal religion, the messenger of God to all humanity, or, as tradition has it, "ila al-aḥmar wal-aswad" (to the red and the black). For this reason unbelief must be fought with the force of weapons, in order that "God's word may be raised to the highest place." Through the refusal to accept Islam, idolaters have forfeited their lives. Those "who possess Scriptures" ("ahl al-kitab"), in which category are included Jews, Christians, Magians, and Sabians, may be tolerated on their paying tribute ("jizyah") and recognizing the political supremacy of Islam (sura ix. 29). The state law of Islam has accordingly divided the world into two categories: the territory of Islam ("dar al-Islam") and the territory of war. ("dar al-ḥarb"), i.e., territory against which it is the duty of the commander of the faithful ("amir al-mu'minin") to lead the community in the jihad.

2. Bernard Lewis, from The Muslim Discovery of Europe.

In the Muslim world view the basic division of mankind is into the House of Islam (Dār al-Islām) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). The one consists of all those countries where the law of Islam prevails, that is to say, broadly, the Muslim Empire; the latter is the rest of the world. Just as there is only one God in heaven, so there can be only one sovereign and one law on earth. Ideally, the House of Islam is conceived as a single community, governed by a single state, headed by a single sovereign. This state must tolerate and protect those unbelievers who are brought by conquest under its rule, provided, of course, that they are not polytheists but followers of one of the permitted religions. The logic of Islamic law, however, does not recognized the permanent existence of any other polity outside Islam. In time, in the Muslim view, all mankind will accept Islam or submit to Islamic rule. In the meantime, it is a religious duty of Muslims to struggle until this end is accomplished.

The name given by the Muslim jurists to this struggle is jihād, an Arabic word meaning effort or striving. One who performs this duty is called mujāhid. The word occurs several times in the Qur'ān in the sense of making war against the unbelievers. In the early centuries of Islamic expansion, this was its normal meaning. Between the House of Islam and the House of War there was, according to the sharī‘a, the Holy Law as formulated by the classical jurists, a state of war religiously and legally obligatory, which could end only with the conversion or subjugation of all mankind. A treaty of peace between the Muslim state and a non-Muslim state was thus in theory juridically impossible. The war, which would end only with the universal triumph of Islam, could not be terminated; it could only be interrupted for reasons of necessity or of expediency by a truce. Such a truce, according to the jurists, could only be provisional. It should not exceed ten years and could, at any time, be repudiated unilaterally by the Muslims who, however, were obliged by Muslim law to give the other side due notice before resuming hostilities.

So, yes. If people do not want to live under Islamic law and refuse, Jihad doctrine says that Muslims can start a war. By the ethics of the ancient world, it was just fine. But that is not the world we live in anymore. By the ethics of the modern world, the classical Islamic position is a morally depraved.

Since you clearly do know the position of the Islamic tradition, your effort to make it sound like mere efforts at proselytizing are what is at stake are, frankly, disingenuous and dishonest. No one is fooled and you are shown to be a propagandist.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/25/2010

Mr. Friedman
It is typical of you to quote me in “spreading the faith by conquest. “ while totally, and of course deliberately, failing to add the very next qualification to that expression:”.., only if denied the opportunity to do so peacefully, " although both expressions are only separated by a coma and not a full stop!

That is not only typical but also symptomatic of the overall approach to Islam by all those who are
not only biased, a priori, but with a definite anti Islam predisposition and a political agenda to serve.
Not that we care much about it as such as much as we care about the deliberate Jewish/Zionist/Christian Fundamentalist message it carries: the alienation of the West to Islam for political reasons.

The West, and the rest of the world, would rightly be concerned if Jihad was the way you want it to be: the first expression WITHOUT the cardinal qualification that immediately follows it.
But neither Jihad, nor Islam for that matter , IS what you want it to be.
ISLAM is a universal humane message to be adopted “without duress” ( La ikrah bil din= NO compulsion in religion.)

However we never fail to note the systemic Zionist/Jewish inspired and driven resistance in the WEST, and particularly in the USA , to any non hostile depiction of Islam as recently demonstrated by the action taken by the Zionist/neocon Bush Administration which denied Tarek Ramadan a visa to lecture about Islam at Notre Dame ? University, a leading Catholic USA University.

Your disapproval of that aspect of Lesser Jihad, resistance to aggression and combating of the aggressor and usurper, is understandable in that many would rather that neither Israeli usurpation and expansionism nor American aggression be resisted at all!
Which attitude betrays, once again, your political message !

N. Friedman - 4/24/2010


Non-Muslims have every reason to be concerned with the aspects of Jihad that impact on them - namely, Muslims - to quote you above - "spreading the faith by conquest." The so-called "greater" Jihad is a matter directed to Muslims only and is common to a great many religions.

In any event, as M.J. Akbar, who is Muslim, notes:

Jihad is the signature tune of Islamic history. If today's Muslim rulers are reluctant to sound that note, it is often because they are concerned about the consequences of failure. As in every bargain, there are two sides. Allah promised victory to the Muslim, but only if the believer kept faith with him. Defeat becomes an indictment of the ruler, and is therefore risky, particularly as Muslims have a long tradition of holding their rulers accountable. They are enjoined to do so.

Which is to say, the lessor Jihad is, to non-Muslims and Muslims alike, the more important matter. It has to do with war and peace, life and death.

And, that Jihad as war has been woven into Islamic law makes the matter all the worse, since religious law, by its very nature, is difficult to reform. Which is to say, if Jihad includes war - which it surely does - that is not a good thing. It is a bad thing, that harps back to an earlier age in which the idea of peace was a non-starter. It is something that surely needs re-thinking, if the world is not to destroy itself.

For anyone interested, there is an excellent study on the theoretical and historical background of Jihad called Understanding Jihad, by Professor David Cook. The first chapter can be read online here.

I might also note that, historically speaking, the "greater" Jihad is a comparatively late innovation. By contrast, it is to the early days of Islam that those speaking the language (and committing acts of depraved violence) of Jihad now employ, e.g., the Salafis. So, the discussion of the greater Jihad when, in fact, today's Islam is being heavily influenced by speakers of the language of Jihad fi sabil Allah (Jihad in the path of Allah - i.e. Jihad war, the lesser Jihad) is disingenuous and amounts to propaganda.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/24/2010

That is a truncated and totally incomprehensive and as such not only inaccurate but misleading definition of JIHAD.
Jihad in Sharia falls under two major classifications:
1-Al Jihad al Akbar (Akbar=Bigger) which is with oneself and includes, inter alia, (self) rejection of al kabaer (kabbaer=major sins ),self control ,patience,fortitude, and discipline, social service, seeking knowledge abroad, seeking a job abroad to improve one's family financial situation. Etc etc


2-Al Jihad al Azkhar (azkhar=smaller) which encompass spreading the faith by conquest, only if denied the opportunity to do so peacefully, and the defense of one's family, society, land, home and community against ALIEN aggression etc etc.
For obvious PR reasons Western Media chose to dwell on one aspect only: THE SELF DEFENSE AGAINST ALIEN AGGRESSION which, Sharia wise, is totally acceptable and justifiable, actually "mandatory", as in Palestinian, Arab and Moslem resistance to Israel and Iraqi resistance to American aggression while, of course, failing , for reasons of its own, to see both Israeli and American aggression for what they truly are.

R. Craigen - 4/22/2010

Omar says

Dr Jasser, if what Professor Furnish is accurate in his depiction*, seems to reflect the prevalent Judeo/Christian, but contemporarily more Judeo than Christian , hyper negative perception of JIHAD!

I'll let you in on something Omar -- the "hyper negative perception of JIHAD" comes from muslims, not "Judeo/Christians".

Here's how my copy of Um dat Al-Salik (the most widely disseminated manual of Sharia Law) defines Jihad (From the preface to Section 9.9, which is entirely about JIHAD):

Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is derived from the word
“mujahada” signifying warfare to establish the religion

What's not to be hyper negative about? With the highest authorities of Sunni Islam putting their stamp of approval on this document, who needs scheming "Judeo/Christians" to smear the good name of Jihad?

R. Craigen - 4/22/2010

I agree that people often miss the boat on the reformation by failing to acknowledge (or even directly contradicting) that it was a return to what is sometimes called "literalism" (though I disagree with this term -- I prefer to think of it as a "roots" movement: "Let's get back to basics". Literalism is not a completely apropos term, and misses the heart of the matter). As you say, the reformation was also ultimately healthy for the catholic church.

The reformation had such a positive effect because its primary thrust was to move Christianity back onto its foundations.

Alternatively, the reformation made Christianity MORE christian, or rather more like the early church.

In this way the Salafi sect is very much like Luther's reformation, being a "return to roots" movement in Islam. Problem is: this is a force diametrically opposite to the enlightenment.

What Jasser represents is poles apart from this: the development of a new, grassroots lay version of Islam that skips the reformation (return to roots) and goes straight to enightenment. Not to make Islam MORE Islamic, but LESS, and in a good direction (ie, less like early Islam). For, although the Christian reformation created an environment of freethinking that fostered the enlightenment, Islamic reformation, in the analogous, Salafi sense, would do precisely the opposite.

Good luck to Jasser with this, and I hope his experiment works.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/19/2010

Contrary to Dr Jasser’s, presumed, and Dr Furnish’s, confident and slightly self congratulatory, assertion that Sunnis have abandoned “ Ijtihad” a more than cursory knowledge of the present Moslem, both Sunni and Shiite, intellectual milieu will show an ever dynamic exchange of ideas and perceptions and an ongoing dialogue often leading to a semi consensual acceptance among the more interested and seriously engaged MOSLEMS !

Some of the previously held as unchallengeable dogma assertions have been subjected to vigorous inspection as with the politically cardinal point of the dual identity of Islam as being both for life ( a governance system) and a religion (DIN wa Dunya) and its corollary about the worldly and religious dual authority of the Caliph was challenged by Ahmad Abdul Razik some seventy plus years ago.(NOT to mention the far more drastic revisions of Said Qutub, more recently )

The previous wide spread assertions than no non Muslim, or a woman, can be made” judge” in a Moslem state were equally challenged and, to the satisfaction of many, proven to be non essentials to and irreconcialable with Islam .
(An objective scholarly but knowledgeable review of the discussions that the Moslem Brotherhood’s recent declaration of principles provoked ,even in the Brotherhood’s ranks, will attest to an unfettered exchange of ideas in the original and true spirit of Ijtihad)

The trouble with Professor Furnish’s assertions to the contrary is that this IJTIHAD DID NOT LEAD to what Professor Furnish and Co were hoping , and the USA was clamoring, for : the repudiation of Jihad..

Herein lies the crux of the issue at hand: that both Professor Furnish and the USA are politically motivated in their outlook and expectations , that both are waiting for an immediate pro USA/Israel political outfall from any dynamism for them to accept it as a step forward in the evolution of Islamic thought.

For IJTIHAD to be recognized as such is however a purely pan Islamic affair and whether it is met with their approval is totally immaterial and non consequential as far as Islamdom is concerned!

omar ibrahim baker - 4/19/2010

For those who care to follow the Arabic original:
"antum alam bi shoun duyakum= " should read:"antum alam bi shoun duNyakum= "

omar ibrahim baker - 4/19/2010

*: I tend to take Professor Furnish at his word in this instance.
Having never read or heard of Dr Jasser before, I do NOT preclude such an attitude, not necessarily by Dr Jasser, in an effort by some to disown Jihad for better "to sell" Islam mainly in the Judeo/Christian world and in the USA in particular!

Timothy Furnish - 4/19/2010

Mr. Baker,
Here's the link to Dr. Jasser's organization's website, AIFD: http://www.aifdemocracy.org/
Check it our for yourself.

omar ibrahim baker - 4/19/2010

" on his efforts to apply that Western model to the Islamic world. "
Probably herein lies the predetermined failure of Dr Jasser and of the Judeo/Christian West in their quest: the attempt to emulate and reproduce, reenact, "the Christian model" to “reform” Islam.

NOT that that certain failure is and would be the output of an envious, close minded and xenophobic outlook towards Christianity per se (Christianity is held in great respect and esteem in Islam)as much as the outcome from the decisive formative influence of two, tending to three, fundamental factors:
a-That Islam, both theologically and historically, contains its own intrinsic, built in, self corrective and self adjusting mechanisms for its own evolution and, when the need arises, its reformation.
a1- Theologically in the Prophets injunction “ antum alam bi shoun duyakum=You, Moslems, know better the exigencies of your world” (in which” dunya” means both time(age) and place)!
This injunction is an unmistakable authorization for the Umma to act and react to the demands of a changing , ever evolving, world, thus not only allowing BUT actually mandating and ordaining change when and if, as is inevitable, a new world (dunya) demands it.
a2-Historically: the precedent set by the second Khalifa, Omar ibn al Khattab, who suspended the application of some fundamental rulings of Islam during the FAMINE years.

b-Christian reformation was the output of , the resultant from, diverse political, economic and social factors responding to the needs of, and particular to the conditions in, the Western World in which and when it took place !
Those same needs and conditions cannot conceivably ever be similar or objectively equivalent in the Moslem world to warrant “ the Christian model”, or dictate, a similar “treatment”. (It is NOT a case of, say, bronchitis for which to administer the same medication to which most humans respond similarly!)

c-A third, though less determining factor in my mind, is the state of deepening hostility, that has characterized and poisoned relations, and attitudes, between the two worlds for quite some time past, the Crusades , and presently/recently
the outcome of colonialism/imperialism,the implantation of Israel in Palestine, USA brutal high handedness in Iraq etc etc and the reflexive, predominantly negative, reactions it evokes.

Dr Jasser, if what Professor Furnish is accurate in his depiction*, seems to reflect the prevalent Judeo /Christian, but contemporarily more Judeo than Christian , hyper negative perception of JIHAD!

Possibly no greater divide separates our two worlds than our respective perceptions of and attitude towards JIHAD.
Whereas in Islam it is not only a fundamental self corrective, faith propagating and self defending principle but equally and concurrently an intrinsic cultural component,foundation block, it has been, on the other hand, consistently vilified and demonized in the West.

An Islam without Jihad would be the equivalent of, say, a Christianity without the morality of the Crucifixion!.
As such and as it truly is, that is bereft of and sanitized from the deliberate distortion to which Jihad was subjected to in the Western Mind , JIHAD is untouchable both religiously and culturally!
*: I tend to take Professor Furnish at his word in this instance.
Having never read or heard of Dr Jasser before, I do NOT preclude such an attitude, not necessarily by Dr Jasser, in an effort by some to disown Jihad for better "to sell" Islam mainly in the Judeo/Christian world and in the USA in particular!

Jonathan Dresner - 4/18/2010

Part of the problem with the use of the Reformation as an historical analogy is widespread misunderstandings of what Reformation actually involved. The Reformation didn't transform 'Christianity': It created a new, successful model of sectarian division based on a more literal biblical view than the Roman Catholic, and drove the Catholic Church to carry our extensive and productive reforms. Orthodox branches of Christianity were untouched by Reformation, as were those few sects beyond Europe like the Nestorians of Asia.

I'm not saying that the Reformation didn't produce good results, in the long run, but the resulting warfare and ongoing sectarian tensions mean that it was not an easy process, by any means.

My immediate reaction to both Mr. Furnish and Dr. Jasser is that the Reformation of Islam must offer believers something they can't get from existing sects and practices. Luther gave them faith and control: what is Jasser really offering? What do the ijtihad sects have that Sunnis might want? And if it's really worth having, why aren't Sunnis making the jump? If it's because (as I suspect) the ijtihad sects have ethnic and regional ties which non-members can't really become part of, then importing ijtihad into Sunni is really the only way of getting a Reformation that will impact large numbers of Muslims.