The death threats began shortly after September 11, 2001. Every few days, for about four months, Khaled Abou El Fadl would receive an angry, anonymous phone call at either his San Fernando Valley home or his UCLA office. In his e-mail inbox, he found ominous messages from obscured sources with warnings such as, "You know what we're capable of." At first, the pudgy, 39-year-old professor of Islamic jurisprudence dismissed the calls as harmless outbursts at a tense moment. But, as the fall of 2001 progressed, Abou El Fadl began suspecting that the threats were more serious than he had initially assumed. Twice in November, he noticed a van that inexplicably lingered outside of his relatively isolated home but then disappeared after he called the police. A few months later, he found the windows of his family's SUV smashed at a crowded movie theater parking lot. Neither the radio nor the cash in the car had been stolen; no other vehicle in the lot had been touched.
When he brought these incidents to the attention of police, they requested--and he granted--permission to tap his home phone. UCLA installed a red panic button next to his desk, ensuring that campus cops could respond within minutes to any crisis in his office. The FBI even assigned an agent to track down his tormenters. (To date, they have not been found.) All of this might sound like the prelude to a textbook hate crime, but the Abou El Fadl case has a twist: The callers weren't angry white men accusing him of terrorist sympathies; they were fellow Muslim Americans accusing him of selling out the faith.
On September 14, 2001, Abou El Fadl had published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Many Muslim Americans had condemned the week's attacks as un-Islamic. But Abou El Fadl felt this response amounted to an evasion. The attacks, he worried, didn't represent a deviation from mainstream Islam; they reflected a crisis at the core of the faith, the logical conclusion of "a puritanical and ethically oblivious form of Islam [that] has predominated since the 1970s." Centuries of Islamic intellectual development had been destroyed by the "rampant apologetics" of Muslim thinkers, which had "produced a culture that eschews self-critical and introspective insight and embraces projection of blame and a fantasy-like level of confidence and arrogance."