Islam in Contemporary America

Now, let us discuss the issue of Islam in contemporary America. The story however, begins in ancient Arabia.

“The origins of Islam as a politico-religious movement are to be found in the life and times of Islam’s “prophet” Muhammad and his successors. Born around 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was orphaned at an early age; he was raised under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib. After his childhood Muhammad primarily worked as a merchant.

He told later followers that occasionally he would retreat to a cave in the mountains for several nights of seclusion and prayer; later, at age 40, he reported that, at this spot, he was visited by [presumably, the Biblical] Archangel Gabriel and received his first ‘revelation’ from God. Three years after this event Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that “God is One”, that complete “surrender” (lit. Islam) to Him is the only way (din)  acceptable to God, and that he, Mohammad, was a prophet and messenger of God. 

However, The Times of London has reported that radiocarbon dating of long lost pages from an early copy of the Koran (originally thought to date from around 700 CE), carried out by experts at the University of Oxford, says the fragments were produced between the years 568 CE and 645 CE – meaning that the possibility exists that at least part of the book attributed solely to Muhammad existed before he was born and quite likely before he proclaimed he was visited by angels.

Muhammad is generally believed to have lived between 570 CE and 632 CE. The man known to Muslims as “The Prophet” is thought to have founded Islam sometime after 610 CE, with the first Muslim community established at Medina, in present-day Saudi Arabia, in 622 CE.

“This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran’s genesis, that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven,” Keith Small of Oxford’s Bodleian Library told the Times.

Muhammad gained few followers early on, and met hostility from some Meccan tribes. To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some of his followers to Abyssinia before he and his followers in Mecca migrated to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijra Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the various tribes under the Constitution of Medina.

After eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered an army of 10,000 Muslim converts and marched on the city of Mecca. The attack went largely uncontested and Muhammad took over the city with little bloodshed. At the time the local Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj dominated the city, and were in constant conflict. Medinans saw in Muhammad an impartial outsider who could resolve the conflict. 

Muhammad and his followers thus moved to Medina, where Muhammad drafted the Medina Charter. This document made Muhammad the ruler, and he made sure it recognized him as the ‘Prophet of Allah’. The laws Muhammad established during his rule, based on the text and/or revelations of the Koran and the actions of Muhammad, are considered by Muslims to be Sharia or Islamic law.

The Constitution of Medina instituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of [Medina], including Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans. This constitution formed the basis of the first Islamic state. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter-tribal fighting between the clans of the Aus and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect, it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community—the Ummah. 

The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (622). In 632, a few months after returning to Medina from the Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity. 

The revelations (each known as Ayah, lit. ‘Sign [of God]’), which Muhammad reported receiving until his death, form the verses of the Koran, regarded by Muslims as the “Word of God” and around which their ‘religion’ is based. Besides the Koran, Muhammad’s teachings and practices (sunnah), found in the Hadith and sira literature, are also upheld by Muslims and used as sources of Islamic law (Sharia).

After the death of Muhammad, his community needed to appoint a new leader, giving rise to the title Caliph, meaning “successor”. Thus the subsequent Islamic empires were known as Caliphates. Alongside the growth of the Umayyad Empire, the major political development within Islam in this period was the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims; this had its roots in a dispute over the succession of the Caliphate.

Sunni Muslims believed the caliphate was elective, and any Muslim might serve as one. Shi’ites, on the other hand, believed the caliphate should be hereditary in the line of the Prophet, and thus all the caliphs, with the exception of Ali, were usurpers. However, the Sunni sect emerged as triumphant in most of the Muslim world, and thus most modern Islamic political movements (with the exception of Iran) are founded in Sunni thought.

Muhammad’s closest companions, the four ‘rightly guided’ Caliphs who succeeded him, continued to expand the state to encompass Jerusalem, Ctesiphon and Damascus, and sent armies as far as the Sindh [coastal Pakistan]. The Islamic empire stretched from Al-Andulus (Muslim Spain) to Punjab (India) under the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty. [Not surprisingly,] the conquering Arab armies took the system of Sharia laws and courts to their new military camps and cities, and built mosques for Friday jam’at (community prayers) as well as Madrasahs to educate (indoctrinate through rote memorization) local Muslim youth in the Koran.

These institutions resulted in the development of a class of ulema (classical Islamic scholars) who could serve as gadis (Sharia-court judges), imams [leaders] of mosques and madrasah teachers. These classical scholars – who lived and earned their livelihoods in the expansionist Islamic empire – gave legal and religious sanction to militarist interpretations of jihad (struggle, survival). The political terminology of the Islamic state was all the product of this period.

The sovereign’s religious function was to defend the Muslim community against its enemies, institute the sharia, and ensure the public good (maslaha). The state was an instrument to enable Muslims to live as good Muslims and Muslims were to obey the sultan [caliph] if he did so. They observed this edict: 

“…those who answer the call of their Lord and establish the prayer, and who conduct their affairs by Shura [consultation]. [Are loved by God]”

Eventually, the legal scholars and jurists who once upheld the rule of law were replaced by a law governed by the state due to the codification of Sharia by the Ottoman Empire in the early 19thCentury. How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19thCentury, the Ottoman Empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement.

The most important reform was the attempt to codify Sharia. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Sharia from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book. Once the law existed in codified form however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state.

[Thus, the religious became the political and the church (the religious community at large) became the state.] 

Therefore, it is clear that, unlike Christianity-based Western democracies, Islam does not separate religion from the state, a monumental Constitutional issue in America, and many Muslims argue it is apolitical Islam – not political Islam – that requires explanation and that it is an historical fluke of the “…short-lived heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970.”  In order to understand “modern” Islam, one needs to go no further than to contemplate the writings of the architect of the current incarnation of Islam, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini and others:

To wit:

“Dear students, you must watch the behavior and the activities of your teachers and professors so that if, God forbid, they say something wrong, you see them deviating, right away you must report them to the responsible officials. Teachers and professors, you must be alert to watch your own colleagues to see if some of them are trying to teach deviating thoughts during their lessons to the children of our Islamic nation so that they can be stopped. If this does not work, directly communicate with officials.”

“My dear children, you too take care of one another in the best possible way, and if you observe that some enemies in the appearance of friends or schoolmates are trying to attract your friends, introduce them to the responsible officials, and try to do all these things very secretly. Committed mothers and fathers, watch the comings and goings of your children and observe their activities.” – Ayatollah Khomeini (in a message on the first day of the school year, Qom, September 23, 1982. It is identical to systems in Nazi Germany and the atheistic-Communist Soviet Union.)

“When anyone studies a little or pays a little attention to the rules of Islamic government, Islamic politics, Islamic society and Islamic economy he will realize that Islam is a very political religion. Anyone who will say that religion is separate from politics is a fool; he does not know Islam or politics.” Tahrīr al-Wasīla vol. 1 

“According to religious law … [W]e made mistakes when we gave freedom … We have to deal with them harshly, and we will deal with them harshly.” – Ayatollah Khomeini (in a meeting with selected Members of Congress, Qom, August 18, 1979)

“In the revolution that was achieved in Iran, people were screaming that they wanted Islam; these people did not rise up so their country could have democracy.” – Ayatollah Khomeini (in a meeting with the Islamic Republic Television and Radio Committee, Qom, December 10, 1979 describing how Islam and democracy are completely incompatible.)

“People have to learn from the mother who brought her own son to court and then her son was hanged. This is one of the paradigms of Islam: that everyone has to be the same. Children, brothers, kids-if they do not accept advice, introduce them to government officials so that they can receive their punishment … this is their Islamic responsibility and their faith responsibility. This must be done.” -Ayatollah Khomeini (in a meeting with Islamic Republic police officers, July 24, 1981)

“Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.” Khomeini: Remarks to students and educators in Qom (March 13, 1979) 

“Islamic state means a state based on justice and democracy and structured upon Islamic rules and laws.” Imam’s Sahife, vol. 5, p. 133. (December 17, 1978)

“In Islam, democracy is included and people are free in Islam, both in expressing their opinions and their actions, until there is no conspiracy and they don’t bring up ideas which would deviate Iranian generations.” Imam’s Sahife, vol. 5, p. 468. (January 15, 1979. More deconstruction.)

“If one permits an infidel to continue in his role as a corrupter of the earth, the infidel’s moral suffering will be all the worse. If one kills the infidel, and this stops him from perpetrating his misdeeds, his death will be a blessing to him.” Khomeini speech on the day of Mohammed’s birth (1984) 

“Happy are those who have departed through martyrdom. Unhappy am I that I still survive.… Taking this decision is more deadly than drinking from a poisoned chalice. I submitted myself to Allah’s will and took this drink for His satisfaction.” Announcement of ceasefire with Iraq (July 20, 1988), Khomeini quoted in The Iran-Iraq War (2002) by Efraim Karsh 

“Islam is politics or it is nothing.” Bernard Lewis (April 28, 1988). “Islamic  Revolution”. The New York Review of Books.

“There is no room for play in Islam … It is deadly serious about everything.” Khomeini speech in Qum, as quoted in “Portrait of an Ascetic Despot”. Time. January 7, 1980.

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Khomeini as quoted in Nest of Spies: America’s Journey to Disaster in Iran (1989) by Amir Taheri, p. 269. Disputed by historian Shaul Bakhash

“Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. . .. But those who study Islamic Holy War (jihad) will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . .. Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.

Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! 

People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur’anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.” Khomeini as quoted in Holy Terror: Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism (1987) by Amir Taheri, pp. 241-3.

Does this remind you, in any way, of the Constitution of the United States? Any American ever elected or appointed to any federal office? There can be no interpretation of these statements, from the supreme spokesman of Islam in modern times, other than – religion and politics are inexorably linked in the governing of the Islamic state and that religious law, as delineated in the Quran (Koran) is also the statutory, and therefore the political, law of the land and that any challenge to this fact means certain death.

The most fundamental issue here is that religion, as defined and understood by the Founders, and as written about by the Drafters and the Ratifiers of the Constitution of the United States, was all about one’s relationship with a sole and benevolent Creator, called God in the Judeo-Christian tradition central to Western Civilization. Islam is all about one’s relationship with a malevolent human institution established by the man Mohammed in the 7th Century AD. The two are obviously and completely incompatible!

The Koran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding.  Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses about violence, the verses about violence in the Koran are mostly open-ended, meaning that they are not restrained by the historical context of the circumstances surrounding the text. In the Koran, they are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or objective as anything else in the Koran.

The context of violent passages is more ambiguous than might be expected of a perfect book from a loving God however, this can work both ways. Most of today’s Muslims exercise a personal choice to interpret their holy book’s call to arms according to their own moral preconceptions about justifiable violence. Apologists cater to their preferences with tenuous arguments that gloss over historical fact and generally do not stand up to scrutiny.  Still, it is important to note that the problem is not bad people, but bad ideology. Good ideology can save people from evil but bad ideology can only enhance the evil in some people.

For instance, Mohammed several times says don’t go after non-combatants, don’t kill women and children. But, you can point to other places where Mohammed seems to have advocated extreme measures when faced with an overwhelming foe or a setback on the battlefield. But then again, there are other scriptures that offer the opposite argument. The fact of the matter is that the Koran, and the other texts of Islam, endorse wholesale violence in some way in the service of religion.

Some passages tend to try and put restrictions on it but offer no sanction to those who choose to use scripture for their own savage ends – like is provided for in Catholicism where a serious violation of scriptural guidance is punishable by excommunication or the loss of one’s immortal soul to an eternity in the absence of the Creator’s presence and love. Islam, in contrast, promises to reward the most heinous of crimes against other human beings with an eternity with 72 virgins. In other words, Islam compares the love of the Creator to sex with virgins. Unimaginable!

There is no widespread evidence that the Muslim community in America is generally supportive of either the aims or the violent methods of what is known popularly as “radical Islam”. There are however, an increasing number of incidents (in the hundreds) of the recruitment and radicalization of individuals by Muslim teachers – including imams – in mosques, social clubs and prisons in America with the goal of inflicting terroristic violence on the American people and homeland. Unfortunately, virtually none of these reports come from the Muslim community – they result from police or national security efforts.

Curiously, the American Muslim community may not be generally supportive of “radical Islam” but, neither are they generally supportive of keeping radical Islamists off of the streets of the United States nor of the active support of any movement to purge “radical Islam” from the face of the earth. Perhaps they too are afraid of what radical Islamists will do to them if they speak out – as they are cautioned about in the Koran.

This effect may be the result of the fact that, unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace in the Koran to abrogate or even balance out the many that call for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation by paying a prohibitive tax, convert to Islam, or are killed.  Muhammad’s own martial legacy – and that of his companions – along with the remarkable stress on violence – is, of course, the source that begets terror.

The paradox with Islam is that the Koran commands that the entire world must be brought under the Islamic umbrella, by force if necessary, which would lead to one monolithic humanity. But, even Islam today is not monolithic. No moderate Muslim therefore, can or will speak out against this medieval concept for fear for their own lives or those of their families since radical Islamists are commanded to kill moderate Muslims in pursuit of this goal. The result is the appearance of a monolithic religion. Since Khomeini came to power in 1979, moderate American Muslims have, so far, failed to confront this paradox.

No matter where radical Islam rears its head, it places the ultimate blame for all of the ills it cites in defense of its brutality, on the world’s Jews.

“The Qurayza were a Jewish tribe which lived in Northern Arabia, at the oasis of Yathrib (which we now know as Medina), until the 7th Century, when their conflict with Muhammad led to their demise.

Jewish tribes [who were not traditional nomads] reportedly arrived in Hijaz in the wake of the Jewish-Roman wars and introduced their agriculture to the region, putting them in a culturally, economical and politically dominant position.  However, in the 5th Century, the Aus and the Khazraj, two Arab tribes that had arrived from Yemen, gained dominance. When these two tribes became embroiled in conflict with each other, the Jewish tribes, now clients or allies of the Arabs, fought on different sides, the Qurayza siding with the Aus.

In 622, the Muhammad arrived at Medina from Mecca and reportedly established a compact between the conflicting parties. While the city found itself at war with Muhammad’s native Meccan tribe of the Quraysh, tensions between the growing numbers of Muslims and the Jewish communities mounted.

In 627, when the Quraysh and their allies besieged the city in the Battle of the Trench by digging a network of defensive trenches, the Qurayza [the Jewish tribe] are said to have violated a treaty with Muhammad by allying with the attacking tribes, aiming to attack Muslims from behind while the other attacked from the front. However, other sources state that the Qurayza did not appear to have committed any hostile act and had been overtly correct in their behavior.

After the Battle of the Trench ended (a stalemated siege with almost no casualties on either side), the two Arab tribes left the area, leaving the Jews alone in the face of 3000 jihadis of Mohammad. The tribe was besieged by the Muslims, agreed to negotiate a surrender. They were charged with treason by a judge accepted by both parties, Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, who had previously negotiated for the Qurayza. It is said that Sa’d made Mohammad happy.

Even though they were no longer a threat, according to Sa’d’s verdict and under Mohammad’s supervision, the men were beheaded, possibly as many as 900, and mass-buried in a trench dug for the occasion. All of the women and children were taken captive and enslaved. Mohammad took one of the new widows for himself. The tribe had been exterminated and the eternal war between Muslims and Jews had begun.

Next time: Muhammad and the Koran

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