Saturday, February 28, 2009

Raymond Ibrahim: A Response to the Critics: Taqiyya Revisited (Part II)

Regarding my more recent “War and Peace—and Deceit—in Islam," others have written to me complaining that, by not juxtaposing more “moderate interpretations” to the mainstream ones I delineated (e.g., Tabari, Ibn Kathir, al-Qurtubi, al-Razi, al-Arabi, et al), I am supposedly “distorting.” While there are in fact “moderate interpretations,” most of these come from minority sects—such as the Ahmadiyyas or the Quraniyuns—who, as they make up a trivial percentage of the Islamic world, and are in fact often accused of and persecuted for apostasy by mainstream Muslims, are definitely not representative of the latter.Other critics express dismay as to how I can interpret certain verses as being supportive of taqiyya. Of course, being neither a Muslim nor one of the ulema, I hardly ever interpret this or that verse as being supportive of taqiyya/deception, but rather always attribute such exegeses to the appropriate jurist, scholar, or theologian—the ulema, who have the final say in mainstream Islam. (Ironically, being only a 4,000 word essay, I only supplied a tithe of the numerous albeit subtle taqiyya decrees and interpretations I have surveyed in Arabic texts dedicated to this topic.)

Still other critics point to strange English translations of the Koran that do not capture the actual meaning of the Arabic—definitely not the way the ulema understand it—in an effort to obfuscate the doctrine of taqiyya. For instance, some have written to me insisting that Koran 3:28 has “absolutely nothing” to do with deceit. As evidence, they quote the following translation from the website “Let not the believers take the disbelievers for friends in preference to the believers unless you very carefully guard against evil from them.”

The original Arabic says absolutely nothing about “guarding against evil from them.” (Is practicing taqiyya in regard to ayat al-taqiyya, or the verse of taqiyya?) Instead, the original Arabic most literally says, “Let believers not take infidels for friends in place of the believers; whoever does this shall have nothing left with Allah—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.” In other words, it does not warn Muslims against befriending infidels due to the latter’s proclivity for evil (which may contaminate Muslims who do not actively “guard” against it), but simply because they are infidels, non-Muslims—by default, the enemy. As for “guard[ing] yourselves” and “taking precautions,” once again, however one wants to interpret these, the fact is, the ulema have already settled and interpreted it as aforementioned: deceit.

(Incidentally, is it not curious that while people are nitpicking about what the latter half of that verse means, no one seems to be interested in the far from ambiguous former half, where Muslims are simply commanded to not befriend non-Muslims in the first place? Is that not, in and of itself, demonstrative of Islam’s position vis-à-vis the other, the infidel?)

Others have written to me, absolutely flabbergasted that I say Koran 4:29 or 2:195, which command Muslims to not “kill/destroy themselves,” encourages taqiyya. For the record, I said no such thing; the ulema have—such as the classical exegete Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (see Tafsir al-Kabir, vol.10, p.98). According to him, since Muslims are commanded to not “destroy themselves,” disclosing any truths that might lead to their destruction is forbidden. Thus a mujahid (“jihadist”), according to Razi, must conceal his identity, since infidels might “destroy” him if they were to discover what he was about. And so, in this sense, 4:29 and 2:195 do permit deception.

Others are scandalized that I wrote Allah himself is described in the Koran as being the best “deceiver” or “schemer.” They write to me insisting that the Koran uses no such language (based on their trusty English translations), but rather portrays Allah as the best “planner” or “plotter”—the words used, for instance, in the widely quoted translations of Yusuf Ali and Shakir. So, who am I to ascribe the word “deceiver” or “schemer” to Allah?

Simple: in the original Arabic, the word translated (actually, euphemized) into English as “planner/plotter”—makar—most literally denotes (and, to Arabic ears, connotes) deception. Moreover, according to the definitive Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary, the trilateral root “m-k-r” means “to deceive, delude, cheat, dupe, gull, double-cross.” One who takes on the attributes of “m-k-r”—such as Allah in the Koran—is described as “sly, crafty, wily, an impostor, a swindler.” In colloquial Arabic, a makar is a sly trickster.

My reliance on one canonical hadith as supportive of deception has also come under fire: Muhammad said, “If I take an oath and later find something else better, I do what is better and break my oath.” He also encouraged Muslims to do the same.

Many have written to me insisting that I “shamelessly” took these hadiths “out of context.” For the record, then, here is the context: Some Muslims came to Muhammad requesting camel mounts to ride, but “he took an oath that he would not give us any mounts, and added, ‘I have nothing to mount you on.’” Later, some mounts fell into the prophet’s share of war plunder, and he gave these to the men. Overcome by altruism, one of the men reminded Muhammad of his oath to which the latter replied, “If I take an oath [to not give the men mounts] and later find something else better [the opportunity to give mounts presents itself], I do what is better and break my oath.”

Now, if Muhammad swore he would not give mounts, but then when he was able to, he broke his oath (“to do what is better”), why should, say, jihadists fighting to make Allah’s word supreme, after giving oaths to infidels (e.g., peace-treaties of sulh, truces, etc) not break their oaths when they too are able “to do what is better”? After all, what is “better”: breaking an oath so some men can have camels to ride, or breaking an oath to make Islam—the embodiment of all good—supreme?

Once again, and whichever way one interprets this oath-breaking hadith, the fact remains: breaking truces with infidels has a long lineage in Islam. The authoritative Encyclopaedia of Islam, for example, simply states: “[T]here can be no question of genuine peace treaties [between Muslims and non-Muslims]… only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorized. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict”—that is, if the opportunity to do “something better” presents itself.

In closing, it should be noted that the most revealing aspect of the recent, and atypical, barrage of disgruntled e-mails regarding my “War and Peace—and Deceit—in Islam,” is that no Muslim (minus fringe Ahmadiyyas, etc.) has written to deny the more troubling aspects of the essay. For instance, while many nitpicked over the aforementioned, none have denied the fact that Muhammad permitted lying in certain situations, affirmed that “war is deceit,” and permitted Muslims to deceive and assassinate infidels—all according to canonical (sahih) hadiths (hence the reason mainstream Muslims cannot refute them).

Moreover, the main point of my essay was not to demonstrate that Islam permits deceit during war—a phenomenon I indicated also prevails among many non-Muslim strategists as well—but to show that, for Islam, warfare with non-Muslims is eternal, “until all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah (Koran 8:39). Yet no one wrote denying this classical Islamic formulation of the world into Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, which must be in perpetual war until the latter subsumes the former (except of course Michael Ryan, but he is simply another non-Muslim apologist).

Usually, silence is not necessarily indicative of assent; however, when large numbers of people take it upon themselves to criticize certain (minor) aspects of an argument, it seems reasonable to assume that their silence regarding the more revealing and problematic issues—such as eternal jihad—is, in fact, implicit assent.

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