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The American Muslim and Islamic moderation

October 12, 2008
Robert Spencer
You can't win! At The American Muslim last week, Sheila Musaji asked, "What exactly is required to be considered a "moderate" Muslim?" Ever ready to be helpful, I gave Musaji ten points for Islamic moderation here. But now in a new article, "Robert Spencer's 10 Points of Obfuscation," Musaji complains, "Why is it that Islamophobes continue to come up with 'tests' that American Muslims must pass in order to be considered moderate, or for that matter to be considered real Americans[?]"

Well, Ms. Musaji, I am not an "Islamophobe," which is a trumped-up, propagandistic, manipulative concept in any case, and I came up with this "test" -- which, incidentally, said nothing about being a "real American" -- because you asked what would make a moderate Muslim. I was just answering your question. No good deed goes unpunished!

Anyway, in her new article Ms. Musaji answers, after a fashion, my points on Islamic moderation, and so out of respect for her, I will reply to her response -- even though she complains that she has "no real hope that the response will be seriously considered." That is an extremely odd statement, given my repeatedly stated willingness to discuss and debate these issues. Here is a partial list of the Muslim and non-Muslim Islamic apologists who so far have either ignored or declined my invitation to debate (or have agreed to debate in principle but never yet quite gotten around to agreeing to any specifics of when or where the debate would happen). Apologies to anyone I have inadvertently left off:

Ahmed Afzaal
Akbar Ahmed
Karen Armstrong
Jamal Badawi
Robert Crane
Dinesh D'Souza
Carl Ernst
John Esposito
Suhail Khan
Mark LeVine
Khaleel Mohammed
Grover Norquist
Omid Safi

So it appears that it is not I who am unwilling to discuss these issues seriously, Ms. Musaji. Rather, it is your friends and allies who are unwilling to do so. What are they afraid of? If I am really the "satanic ignoramus" of Khaleel Mohammed's febrile imaginings, it ought to be easy to dispatch me in a debate and thereby put an end to my wicked influence. But no one seems willing to try.

And so now to your remarks:

Why is it that Islamophobes continue to come up with "tests" that American Muslims must pass in order to be considered moderate, or for that matter to be considered real Americans. Daniel Pipes has a test and I'm proud to say, that I like Hamza Yusuf would fail.

That's telling.

David Horowitz has a petition for Muslim students to sign to prove their "moderation" as part of his recent "Islamo Fascism Awareness Week" whose four key principals any Muslim could agree with, but which would require any Muslim signing the petition to agree with the mischaracterization of terrorists and extremists as "Islamo Fascists" thus blaming the religion of Islam for their criminal acts. [...]

Hogwash. The term "Islamo-Fascists" no more blames the religion of Islam than the term "Italian Fascism" blames Italy for fascism. It merely refers to those Muslims -- who obviously really exist -- who invoke Islam to justify violence and supremacism, whether they are invoking Islamic doctrines correctly or not. I suspect Ms. Musaji knows enough basic English grammar to know this. She certainly appears to know about logic, quoting no less unimpeachable a source as Wikipedia to argue that "tu quoque is only a fallacy when one uses it so as to divert attention from the issue at hand, or to avoid or fail to respond to an argument that non-fallaciously gave one the burden of proof. By accusing me of using a tu quoque argument Spencer is suggesting that I am arguing that an action is acceptable because your opponent has performed it. I have never made such an argument."

Actually she has, as we shall see. But here she goes on:

What I assert is that if an action is wrong, it is wrong no matter who commits the action, and it is inconsistent to label the action as wrong only when it was carried out by a Muslim. [...]

Quite so. But her claim that I am doing that is false. If there were a Jewish or Christian group committing acts of violence and justifying them by reference to Biblical teachings, and vowing to conquer and subjugate the U.S. in accord with religiously-based doctrines of supremacism, I would oppose it no less strenuously than I oppose jihad and Islamic supremacism. But there isn't, despite Ms. Musaji's valiant attempts to pretend otherwise.

My best guess is that Spencer will play more word games and use such inanities as Muslims are lying (using taqiyyah) when they state their position, or all Muslims believe that the gates of ijtihad are closed, or that all Muslims agree that some verses are abrogated (theory of naskh). In the past he has even criticized Muslim scholars who have attempted to clarify that a particular understanding of an issue is not Islamic by insisting that their position is not the "genuine" Islamic position. I am not a scholar, just an ordinary American Muslim, so I certainly cannot expect to fare better. [...]

It is general Muslim belief that religious deception, taqiyya, is allowed under certain circumstances; that the gate of ijtihad is closed -- that is, that innovation on matters settled in Islamic law is forbidden or at least discouraged; and that some verses of the Qur'an are abrogated (Ms. Musaji, does alcohol have "some profit" for mankind (Qur'an 2:219) or is it an "abomination, of Satan's handiwork" (Qur'an 5:90)?). If you follow the links, you will see that it is Islamic scholars who say these things, not I -- but Ms. Musaji doesn't tell her readers that. And her "all Muslims agree" formulation is a red herring: "all Muslims" don't agree on much of anything, and I have never asserted otherwise. You can find people who call themselves Muslims asserting all sorts of things, but that is ultimately beside the point. The question here is what do the sources that most Muslims recognize as authoritative say, and on that score, as I show in the links above, there is no significant disagreement among them about taqiyya, ijtihad, or abrogation.

But anyway, I am not going to be intimated out of invoking those things if Ms. Musaji's remarks call for it. We shall see.

1. Acknowledge the existence of and repudiate the traditional Islamic imperative, taught by all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence that Muslims recognize as orthodox, to impose Islamic law upon non-Muslims, whether by force or by stealth.

I'm not a scholar so I won't get into historical discussions by various schools of thought regarding their interpretations. I can only say that as an American Muslim I believe that the Constitution and its protections of religious freedom, separation between church/synagogue/mosque/temple and state is the best system of government for a multi-cultural society that has been developed anywhere. I don't want to see Islamic law or any religious law imposed on anyone anywhere against their will. As an American, this country is my first priority and for that reason I would oppose anyone who wished to impose their particular religious belief on others. That includes not wanting my children to be taught creationism in school as science. I would hope that all Americans of all faith groups would take this stand in defense of our Constitution against those from any religion who wish to impose their religion on others, for example:

Musaji then continues with a series of quotes from Christian Fundamentalists, saying this like "we should take this nation back for Christ." Of course, it is very common to equate these "Christianists" with "Islamists" -- so common that I wrote a book refuting that equivalence last year. The problems with this equation are many. One is that none of the sources Musaji quotes, with the possible exception of Gary North, actually want to replace the Constitution with Biblical law; their statements are only assertions that Christians should be allowed a role in public life, not entirely marginalized in the name of the separation of Church and state. Moreover, there are no armed groups of Christians around the world attempting to impose Biblical law by force or other means, or justifying acts of violence by reference to any Christian teachings.

So in short, Musaji's answer here is another example of the tu quoque fallacy. She says nothing about the abundant evidence of the supremacist and expansionist imperative within Islam. Nothing at all. And she ends up with another red herring, quoting the tired old warhorse "There is no compulsion in religion" (Qur'an 2:256), when the Islamic legal imperative is not to compel non-Muslims to become Muslim, but to subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law, but otherwise allow them -- "no compulsion"! -- to practice their religions as long as they submit to Islam and pay the jizya in accord with Qur'an 9:29.

2. Renounce any intention, now or in the future, to replace the U.S. Constitution with Islamic law.

I do not want to live under any theocracy. I am an American and will defend the Constitution from anyone belonging to any religion who wishes to undermine or replace it with any other system at any time. That would include all of the following:

Then follows more tu-quoque quotes from Christians. Will Ms. Musaji really defend the Constitution from Muslims who want to undermine it and replace it with Sharia, in accord with the Muslim Brotherhood's "grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions"? Time will tell.

3. Clarify, and call upon other Muslims in America to clarify, what is meant by the words "terrorism" and innocent" in Muslim condemnations of terrorism, so that it is clear that what is being condemned is the murder of American and other non-combatants by Muslims acting in the name of Islamic jihad.

Muslim condemnations of terrorism go well beyond condemning acts of terrorism by Muslims against non-Muslims, they condemn all acts of terrorism against any civilians whether carried out by individuals, groups, or state agencies. These condemnations include acts of torture, pre-emptive attacks on other countries, colonialism, covert assassinations of political leaders, and the use of WMD's. That it is possible to find some Muslims who hold a different view is tragic, but not surprising when we see that there are members of all faith groups who seem to have a sort of split personality when it comes to ethics and morality. Read my article "Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism" for my views. [...]

Musaji here completely sidesteps the point. I asked that Muslims clarify what they mean by words like "terrorism" and "innocent" because some Muslims deny that any non-Muslim can be innocent. Bland blanket statements do not address this issue -- and following this she throws in still more tu quoque.

4. Repudiate the idea that Muslims have a divine mandate to force, when possible, Jews, Christians, and other "People of the Book" to pay a special religion-based tax from which Muslims are exempt (Qur'an 9:29).

This is a red herring. There is no Caliphate and there has not been since the end of WWI. There is no reason in the modern world under any existing forms of government for a separate tax on non-Muslims (jizya from which Muslims were exempt) or for a State enforced collection of a different tax from Muslims (zakat from which non-Muslims were exempt). [...]

A red herring?! Yet the fact there is no caliphate is one of the principal reasons why jihadists are fighting today -- to restore the caliphate so that Muslims can wage offensive jihad and collect the jizya. Right now all the jihads that are being fought are cast as defensive, because there is no caliph. And simply to say that there is no caliphate today does not constitute repudiation or rejection of this expansionist, supremacist imperative.

Musaji then quotes the old dissembler Robert Crane explaining that jizya was simply compensation of the dhimmis' being exempt from military service, and claiming it was lower than zakat, the tax Muslims are required to pay. That claim is flatly false, as I demonstrate here.

5. Call upon Muslims in America to institute comprehensive, honest, and transparent programs in mosques and Islamic schools, teaching the virtues of the non-establishment of religion, and teaching directly against Islamic supremacism and the idea that Muslims must fight against Jews and Christians until they "feel themselves subdued" (Qur'an 9:29).

I don't know any American Muslims who are not staunch defenders of the separation of church and state (the non-establishment of religion).

Really? Here's one who isn't. Here's another. Here are some more. There are others. I am glad Ms. Musaji opposes them.

I have heard many Friday sermons (khutbas) praising the non-establishment of religion and religious freedom in the United States. And, in fact it is only evangelical Christians who I have heard making statements about breaking down this wall of separation. (see the response to question 1 above).

I trust Ms. Musaji will retract this claim after perusing the writings at the three Muslim sites I linked above.

All the American Muslims that I know, myself included would fight against anyone who wanted to destroy our Constitution by attempting to establish a state religion.

Good. I welcome Ms. Musaji's help against the Muslim Brotherhood's stealth jihad.

Whatever is taught in religious schools or in any other schools comes under the laws of the United States. If anyone is teaching anything that would encourage the overthrow of the government then they should be prosecuted under the law.

I trust, then, that Ms. Musaji would support the prosecution of the operators of this school.

I am uncertain what you mean by Islamic supremacism - if it means that Muslims believe that they are following the true religion, then there is no problem, everyone of any faith believes that they are following the true religion. If you mean that Muslims believe they are superior to other people, then that is not something that I believe or have ever heard taught in any mosque. If there are individuals who hold such a view they are simply bigots.

I mean those who are pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood's "grand jihad" to ensure that in the U.S. "God's religion" -- that is, Islam -- "is made victorious over all other religions." I am glad Ms. Musaji opposes them and considers them to be bigots, although they include members of ISNA, ICNA, MAS, and MSA -- all groups named as allies in that same Muslim Brotherhood memorandum. It will be interesting to see what happens when word gets out that Ms. Musaji has condemned these groups.

As for Qur'an 9:29 - it is only Islamophobes and Muslim extremists who hold the interpretation of this verse that you hold and who refuse to look at other verses of the Qur'an.

How interesting! So please tell me, Ms. Musaji: are venerable Islamic authorities such as Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Kathir, the two Jalals, Ibn Qayyim, as-Suyuti and Zamakhshari "Islamophobes" or "Muslim extremists"?

6. Call upon Muslims in America to institute comprehensive, honest, and transparent programs in mosques and Islamic schools, teaching against honor killing, and against the idea-which is enshrined in Islamic law-that a parent faces no penalty for killing his or her own child (see ‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2).

"For that reason, we ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul for other than murder or spreading corruption in the land, it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity..." (Qur'an 5:35)

I know of no Muslims who are teaching anything but condemnation of honor killing.

A manual of Islamic law certified by Al-Azhar as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy says that "retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right." However, "not subject to retaliation" is "a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring's offspring." ('Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2).

I am glad Ms. Musaji condemns the practice. Now: will she advocate institution of programs that teach against it, so as to counter those who believe as does this manual of Islamic law?

7. Call upon Muslims worldwide, including in Saudi Arabia, to end all institutionalized discrimination against and harassment of non-Muslims, and to allow churches and other houses of worship to be built in majority-Muslim countries with an ease comparable to that with which mosques are currently built in Western countries.

I don't believe that as an American citizen I have any influence on Saudi Arabia or other countries. I can state my opinion, and have that all houses of worship should be allowed in all countries and should be shown respect. I am a firm believer in democracy, and as the citizen of a democracy I can attempt to make my voice heard by my elected officials, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy it is an absolute monarchy (a system of government that is outdated to say the least) and attempting to influence a dictator, tyrant, or absolute monarch would have to be a matter for all the governments of the world and world public opinion to attempt.

We can't call for justice because we have no influence? I refuse to be so defeatist.

8. Repudiate the idea that a Muslim who renounces Islam and adopts any other faith or no faith at all should be killed-as is the teaching of Muhammad and all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence-and call upon Muslim groups in America to teach the freedom of conscience as a God-given right in American mosques and Islamic schools.

I was one of the initiating signatories to the statement "On Apostasy and Islam: 100+ Notable Islamic Voices affirming the Freedom of Faith" and the front page of TAM has an appeal for others to sign on to this statement. We have also published numerous articles by scholars and community leaders who have made the same appeal.

This statement acknowledges that "Undeniably, the traditional position of Muslim scholars and jurists has been that apostasy [riddah] is punishable by death." Yet when I have noted that fact in the past I have been called an "Islamophobe" and worse. I trust Ms. Musaji will drop that hateful and defamatory rhetoric now. I am glad that she has signed that statement, and look forward to her signing on to more than just one of these elements of genuine moderation.

9. Call upon Muslims in America and worldwide to drop the traditional and authoritative Islamic prohibition of marriage between non-Muslim men and Muslim women, and to repudiate and teach against the idea of divinely sanctioned wife-beating (Qur'an 4:34).

There are reasons for the prohibition of marriage between non-Muslim men and Muslim women (although marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women are allowed) and that is a matter for scholars to consider and issue fatwas about, and for individual Muslims to decide upon for themselves. [...]

Of course there are reasons for this, and those reasons are supremacist. If a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man, this means that the non-Muslim community always diminishes, because the law envisions the woman becoming a member of her husband's household. Thus women can always join Islam, but they can't leave it.

The translation and interpretation of Qur'an 4:34 has been very much controversial over the centuries....

Musaji then goes on to try to obfuscate the fact that the verse calls for the beating of a disobedient woman. But it is clear that that's what the verse does say. For the Arabic word adriboo to mean "to forsake, to avoid, to leave," as Musaji wishes it to, it would require the preposition 3an (عن). But it doesn't carry that preposition here. It is worth noting how several translators render the key part of this verse:

Pickthall: "and scourge them"
Yusuf Ali: "(And last) beat them (lightly)"
Al-Hilali/Khan: "(and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful)"
Shakir: "and beat them"
Sher Ali: "and chastise them"
Khalifa: "then you may (as a last alternative) beat them"
Arberry: "and beat them"
Rodwell: "and scourge them"
Sale: "and chastise them"
Asad: "then beat them"

Sheikh Syed Mahmud Allusi in his Qur'an commentary Ruhul Ma'ani gives four reasons that a man may beat his wife: "if she refuses to beautify herself for him," if she refuses sex when he asks for it, if she refuses to pray or perform ritual ablutions, and "if she goes out of the house without a valid excuse."

Also, Muhammad's example is normative for Muslims, since he is an "excellent example of conduct" (Qur'an 33:21) - and Aisha reports that Muhammad struck her. Once he went out at night after he thought she was asleep, and she followed him surreptitiously. Muhammad saw her, and, as Aisha recounts: "He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?"

Aisha herself said it: "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women."

10. Condemn Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist organizations, and the Islamic Republic of Iran for its continuing the barbaric practice of stoning people to death. Call upon Muslim groups to teach against stoning as a punishment for adultery or anything else in American mosques and Islamic schools.

Nonsense. You are mixing political issues with other issues. My opinion of Hamas and Hizballah is a political opinion just as an Irish American's opinion of the IRA (the military wing or the charitable wing) or a Jewish American's opinions about Israeli settler groups, the Jewish Defense League or other groups is a political opinion. I will and have condemned particular actions of these organizations,

Where?

but to be required to make a blanket condemnation of an entire organization is to oversimplify the issues.

Oh, really? How very revealing.

As for Iran's method of capital punishment, I am against capital punishment in any form whether it is stoning, the gas chamber, shooting, the guillotine, or lethal injection. I stand with Tariq Ramadan who has appealed for a moratorium on capital (hudud) punishments. [...]

A moratorium, but not an outright prohibition? A moratorium until what conditions change?

And, for the matter of teaching stoning as a punishment for adultery in American mosques and Islamic schools, I have never heard of such a thing being taught...

Here is some news.

Anyway, I am sorry that Ms. Musaji apparently found her way clear to accept only one of my ten points for moderation. But her response certainly helps clarify where she and The American Muslim really stand.

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