Dr. Eric Ormsby, a Professor of Islamic Studies at McGill University wrote a book review of Feisal Abdul Raufâ€™s â€œWhatâ€™s Right with Islam,â€ which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, August 4, 2004.
Ormsbyâ€™s review displays the two overlapping tiers of apologetics which pervade contemporary print media presentations of Islam, distorting or fully concealing basic historical realities. The treacly apologism of Feisal Abdul Rauf and his ilk persuades only those who are devoid of any understanding of Islamic theology and history; however, the faint-hearted â€œcritiqueâ€ of Abdul Rauf provided by Professor Ormsby, is more damaging, because in the end, it serves only to further obfuscate the truth. I will support this contention by elaborating on four specific points Ormsby addresses in his review.
First, Professor Ormsby maintains, in relation to suicide bombing:
Mr. Abdul Rauf notes, rightly, that both suicide and the taking of innocent lives are expressly and unequivocally forbidden in Islamic teaching.
This statement conflates and distorts Islamic theology, and Muslim history, past and present. Professor Franz Rosenthal, the great American scholar of Islam, who, 50 years ago, translated Ibn Khaldoun's classic Introduction To History, also wrote a seminal essay entitled â€œOn Suicide in Islamâ€ in1946, in which he observed:
While the Qurâ€™anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act....On the other hand, death as the result of â€œsuicidalâ€ missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are not suicides in the proper sense of the term.1
That is why even clerics such as the popular Al-Jazeera personality Yusuf Al Qaradawi openly sanction murderous Palestinian homicide bomber â€œmartyrdomâ€ operations against innocent Israeli citizens (all of whom are considered â€œcombatantsâ€ who obstruct the â€œcall to Islamâ€) during fatwa councils convened in the heart of Europe.2 The sad reality, which both Abdul Rauf and Professor Ormsby choose to deny or ignore, is that such hideous pronouncements are in fact on firm theological footing.
Second, in related statements regarding Al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism, Ormsby states further:
In a sacred tradition recounted by the medieval mystic and theologian al-Ghazali (to whom Mr. Abdul Rauf devotes some admiring pages) we read that â€œif a man is murdered in the East and in the West another man takes delight in the murder, both he and the murderer are partners in the crimeâ€â€™ Mr. Abdul Rauf doesn't mention this tradition, so dear to Sufis, but it would have strengthened his case.
It would have been helpful if Ormsby had clarified whether or not, in fact, Al-Ghazaliâ€™s noble sounding sentiments applied to the murder of a non-Muslim by a Muslim. This is not a rhetorical point. Shariâ€™a law makes clear that a non-Muslimâ€™s life is of lesser value than the life of a Muslim, both in terms of punishment for the crime of murder, and compensation to the murder victims family. And the eminent Islamic scholar W.M. Watt, who lavishes praise on Al-Ghazali, also stresses Al-Ghazaliâ€™s Muslim orthodoxy:
â€¦acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, and he is by no means unworthy of that dignityâ€¦He brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contactâ€¦the theologians became more ready to accept the mystics as respectable, while the mystics were more careful to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.3
Below is what Al-Ghazali actually wrote about jihad war, and the treatment of the vanquished non-Muslim dhimmi peoples (from the Wagjiz, written in 1101 A.D.):
â€¦one must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year...one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of The Book â€“ Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revokedâ€¦One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need...
â€¦the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostleâ€¦Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]â€¦on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]â€¦ They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bellsâ€¦their houses may not be higher than the Muslimâ€™s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle[-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] bathsâ€¦[dhimmis] must hold their tongueâ€¦. 4
Moreover, Al Ghazaliâ€™s views regarding non-Muslim dhimmis â€“ which were typical of the prevailing written opinions of Muslim theologians and jurists during the Abbasid-Baghdadian Caliphate â€“ resulted in tangible acts of dhimmi persecution, as recorded, for example, in this contemporary chronicle from Baghdad by Obadyah the Proselyte, in 1100 A.D.:
â€¦the Caliph of Baghdad, al-Muqtadi [1075-1094], had given power to his vizier, Abu Shujaâ€¦ [who] imposed that each male Jew should wear a yellow badge on his headgear. This was one distinctive sign on the head and the other was on the neck- a piece of lead of the weight of a silver dinar hanging round the neck of every Jew and inscribed with the word dhimmi to signify that the Jew had to pay poll-tax. Jews also had to wear girdles round their wastes. Abu Shuja further imposed two signs on Jewish women. They had to wear a black and a red shoe, and each woman had to have a small brass bell on her neck or shoe, which would tinkle and thus announce the separation of Jewish from Gentile [Muslim] women. He assigned cruel Muslim men to spy upon Jewish women, in order to oppress them with all kinds of curses, humiliation, and spite. The Gentile population used to mock all the Jews, and the mob and their children used to beat up the Jews in all the streets of Baghdadâ€¦When a Jew died, who had not paid up the poll-tax [jizya] to the full and was in debt for a small or large amount, the Gentiles did not permit burial until the poll-tax was paid. If the deceased left nothing of value, the Gentiles demanded that other Jews should, with their own money, meet the debt owed by the deceased in poll-tax; otherwise they [threatened] they would burn the body.5
Simply put, the views of the much lionized Al-Ghazali are identical to those of countless classical and contemporary Muslim theologians, including Qaradawi, who justify jihad terror, including the â€œincidentalâ€ killing of non-combatants, and the sacralized inferiority of non-Muslims. And second tier apologists such as Ormsby also choose to not to discuss the theological realities which are at the root of the unique Islamic institution of jihad itself, expressed eloquently by the contemporary scholar Bassam Tibi:
At its core, Islam is a religious mission to all humanity. Muslims are religiously obliged to disseminate the Islamic faith throughout the world. â€œWe have sent you forth to all mankindâ€ (Q. 34:28). If non-Muslims submit to conversion or subjugation, this call (daâ€™wa) can be pursued peacefully. If they do not, Muslims are obliged to wage war against them. In Islam, peace requires that non-Muslims submit to the call of Islam, either by converting or by accepting the status of a religious minority (dhimmi) and paying the imposed poll tax, jizya. World peace, the final stage of the daâ€™wa, is reached only with the conversion or submission of all mankind to Islamâ€¦Muslims believe that expansion through war is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Qurâ€™anic command to spread Islam as a way to peace. The resort to force to disseminate Islam is not war (harb), a word that is used only to describe the use of force by non-Muslims. Islamic wars are not hurub (the plural of harb) but rather futuhat, acts of â€œopeningâ€ the world to Islam and expressing Islamic jihad. Relations between dar al-Islam, the home of peace, and dar al-harb, the world of unbelievers, nevertheless take place in a state of war, according to the Qurâ€™an and to the authoritative commentaries of Islamic jurists. Unbelievers who stand in the way, creating obstacles for the daâ€™wa, are blamed for this state of war, for the daâ€™wa can be pursued peacefully if others submit to it. In other words, those who resist Islam cause wars and are responsible for them. Only when Muslim power is weak is â€œtemporary truceâ€ (hudna) allowed (Islamic jurists differ on the definition of â€œtemporaryâ€). 6
Lastly, regarding this second point, it is of interest to note another fact ignored by Ormsby: Al-Ghazaliâ€™s virulent misogyny.
THE COMPLETE ARTICLE WITH ALL 24 ENDNOTES AT: