Aug 2nd 2009

Can Fresh Interpretations of Islamic Text Prevent a Possible "Clash of Civilizations?"

by Tawfik Hamid

Dr. Hamid, a former member of an Egyptian Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

Since 9/11, the possibility of a clash of civilizations has become an unavoidable area of discussion among intellectuals as well as the general public. The inaction of Islamic scholars around the world to those who incorrectly interpret the religion's sacred texts to further the influence of extremism undoubtedly increases the likelihood of such a clash. The war declared by jihadists on the free world has resulted in the killing and torturing of thousands of people. This has ranged from terror attacks, and the murder of innocent victims in the name of Islam, to paralyzing vital cities such as Mumbai. All such events share the common involvement of Islamic groups that are fueled by ideologies of hatred and violence.

The passive attitude of many Muslims and Islamic scholars has aggravated the problem because this passivity is interpreted by the jihadists - correctly or incorrectly - as a permission for terrorist activity. What message do these scholars convey when they issue a fatwa of apostasy against Salman Rushdie for writing a novel or when they issue other fatwas against many modern Islamic reformers without issuing a similar one against Bin Laden and the terrorists? As an ex-jihadist, I believe that such a fatwa labeling terrorists as apostates can prevent many young Muslims from pursuing the path of terror.

In addition, Islamic scholars need to start teaching certain phrases in the Quran differently. As a Muslim who is dedicated to telling the truth, I must admit that there are certain phrases and expressions in the Islamic text that have the capacity to encourage violence unless that text is taught in peaceful way. For example, there are verses in the Quran about killing infidels and idolatries, as well as fighting Jews and Christians. These include the well-known verse of the sword that says "...slay the Idolatries wherever you find them" {Quran 9:5}. Jihadists simply use such verses to create a mindset of hatred and violence toward others.

Current books of Islamic jurisprudence add more fuel to the fire by noting that it is an obligation for the Muslim Umma to declare wars on non-Muslim nations until the people of these nations convert to Islam. According to ALL accepted schools of Islamic jurisprudence, non-Muslims are to be offered conversion to Islam, to pay a Jizzia (humiliating tax), or to be killed. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was therefore not inventing a new rule when he offered the US subjugation to Islamic rule in order to stop terrorism.

The jihadists are responsible for their acts of violence, but so too are our Islamic scholars for teaching such jurisprudence and not changing it. These same scholars, who loudly proclaim that "Islam is a religion of peace," still teach that Jews are pigs and monkeys. For example, in Friday prayer service on Jan 9 2009, inside the al-Azhar Mosque, a 1,000-year-old center of religious learning, the preacher Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef described the Jews as: "... a people whom God has become angry at and whom he cursed so he made monkeys and pigs out of them. They killed prophets and messengers and sowed corruption on Earth. They are the most evil on Earth." This anti-Semitic view is not solely that of this preacher, but rather is a widespread teaching articulated by many Islamic scholars that is derived from mainstream Islamic books.

One of the ways to solve some of the aforementioned theological problems is to look deeply into the Quranic text itself. ALL verses that order believers to declare wars on non-believers or to use violence against infidels use the suffixes Al or Alazhina (meaning "The") before the word "Infidel." The use of this expression really applies more to a certain stage in history when early Muslims were fighting with other tribes. The difference in Arabic between kill "Man Kafar" (any Infidel) and Kill "Al-Kafereen" (the Infidels) is like the difference between visiting "a white house" and visiting "the white house" in Washington!. Therefore, emphasizing the meaning of "The" in the Quranic verses can serve to better prevent many young Muslims from pursuing the path of generalized violence. Without teaching the text in this manner, we actually allow radicals to use such texts to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims.

It is hard to deny the presence of inflammatory statements against the Jews in our Islamic text. The Quran uses at least 5 different expressions that describe certain groups of Jews in different historical contexts. The first of these is Yahood {Quran 5:64; 9:30}, or certain tribes in the Arabian Peninsula during the early stages of Islam who, according to Islamic history, had a conflict with Mohamed. Others are AlaZhina Hadu, which are those who returned back to God {Quran 7:156}, and Bani Israel, which refers to Children of Israel {Quran 44:30}. The fourth is Ashab Al-Sabt {Quran 4:47}, which was a village that disobeyed Moses and the Torah, and the fifth is Ashab Mosa {Quran 26:61}, Israelites who crossed the sea with Moses.

All of these Arabic expressions are interpreted and translated simply as "Jews" However, this incorrectly targets all Jews throughout history, even those in the present day. It is essential to teach the proper context of any text in order to better curb the influence of radical Islam. For example, most of the criticism in the Quran is directed toward the "Yahood" and to "Ashab Al-Sabt" rather than to the Children of Israel.

In fact, Muslim scholars who insult the Children of Israel must realize that most of the messengers described in the Quran belong to these Children. Therefore, insulting all the Children of Israel by labeling Jews as pigs and monkeys is an insult to these messengers. Such an insult is considered a grave sin in Islam. In fact, the Quran actually has positive verses about the Children of Israel {2:47; 44:32; 45:16}.

In addition, the Quran forbids judging someone by the mistakes of someone else {Quran 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7}. Therefore, judging and hating the current Jews based upon possible historical conflicts between some of them and Mohamed is - in actuality -un-Islamic. The same goes for judging all Jews based solely on the grievances many Arabs have with the Israeli government. Applying the verses about the Yahood or Ashab Al-Sabt to all Jews and, on the other hand, limiting the usage of the more positive ones about the Children of Israel in Islamic religious textbooks, has resulted in an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

In short, if Islamic scholars issue a fatwa labeling the terrorists as apostates, start limiting the use of "The" in violent Islamic texts to ONLY a historical context, and stop cursing all Jews as well as calling them pigs and monkeys, a possible war of civilizations can be better avoided.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 29th 2023
EXTRACT: "In his 2018 book Destined For War, political scientist Graham Allison observes that the US and China are headed toward what he called the “Thucydides’ Trap,” a reference to the ancient Greek historian’s account of Sparta’s efforts to suppress the rise of Athens, which ultimately culminated in the Peloponnesian War. A better analogy, however, is the message sent by the Athenians to the inhabitants of the besieged island of Melos before executing the men and enslaving the women and children: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." ---- Allowing China and other authoritarian countries to shape the rules would result in a world order based solely on this “realist” principle. It is a nightmare scenario that the G7 countries and other liberal democracies must strive to prevent. ---- China’s assertions about the decline of the West reveal an underlying anxiety. After all, if liberal democracy is failing, why do Chinese officials consistently express their fear of it? The fact that leaders of the Communist Party of China have instructed rank-and-file members to engage in an “intense struggle” against liberal-democratic values indicates that they view open societies as an existential threat."
May 28th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) decreed that generative AI content must “embody core socialist values and must not contain any content that subverts state power, advocates the overthrow of the socialist system, incites splitting the country or undermines national unity.' ” .... "This implies that the harder the CAC tries to control ChatGPT content, the smaller the resulting output of chatbot-generated Chinese intelligence will be – yet another constraint on the AI intellectual revolution in China. Unsurprisingly, the early returns on China’s generative-AI efforts have been disappointing."
May 20th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Cognitive dissonance occurs when one’s beliefs and actions conflict with each other." .... "This conflict might constrain people from acquiring new information that will increase the existing dissonance" .... "if someone commits wholeheartedly to Trump, they may well experience dissonance as they watch the news from that Manhattan courthouse. But they don’t necessarily stop supporting him. Instead, they might seek yet more information about the “deep state” and how it is persecuting Trump, or preach more about his positive attributes and the witch hunt against him." .... " If so, we can expect to see more conspiracy theories and more proselytising from the hardcore supporters going into 2024 and beyond. Donald Trump may not be finished just yet."
May 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "....the US possesses advantages in developing large language models (LLMs). It benefits from close business-university collaboration, lubricated by a deep-pocketed venture-capital industry. It is no coincidence that ChatGPT came out of the US, and out of Greater Silicon Valley in particular." .... "Developing countries would seem to be at a significant disadvantage in this AI arms race and are at risk of losing their competitive advantage: abundant low-cost labor. Yet AI also holds out the promise of benefits for these countries." .... " however, economic development depends on human development – that is, on the accumulation of human capital. Where developing countries lack the resources, financial and otherwise, to increase significantly their spending on traditional modes of education, AI holds out hope for providing what is missing."
May 2nd 2023
EXTRACT: "The past decade has not been kind to neoliberalism. With 40 years of deregulation, financialization, and globalization having failed to deliver prosperity for anyone but the rich, the United States and other Western liberal democracies have seemingly moved on from the neoliberal experiment and re-embraced industrial policy. But the economic paradigm that underpinned Thatcherism, Reaganomics, and the Washington Consensus is alive and well in at least one place: the pages of the Economist."
Apr 25th 2023
EXTRACT: "Yet there is an important twist for the US: a chronic shortfall of domestic saving casts the economic consequences of conflict with China in a very different light. In 2022, net US saving – the depreciation-adjusted saving of households, businesses, and the government sector – fell to just 1.6% of national income, far below the longer-term 5.8% average from 1960 to 2020. Lacking in saving and wanting to invest and grow, the US takes full advantage of the dollar’s “exorbitant privilege” as the world’s dominant reserve currency and freely imports surplus saving from abroad, running a massive current-account and multilateral trade deficit to attract foreign capital."
Mar 31st 2023
EXTRACT: "Although the EU will have gained more internal stability, its basic character will have changed. Security will be a central concern for the foreseeable future. The EU will have to start thinking of itself as a geopolitical power and as a defense community working closely with NATO. Its identity will no longer be defined mainly by its economic community, its common market, or its customs union. The bloc has already accepted Ukraine as a candidate for future membership, and that decision was driven almost entirely by geopolitical considerations (as was also the case, previously, with Turkey and the West Balkan states)."
Mar 30th 2023
EXTRACT: "As I have long warned, central banks ..... will likely wimp out (by curtailing monetary-policy normalization) to avoid a self-reinforcing economic and financial meltdown, .... "
Mar 30th 2023
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu is simply unfit to be prime minister of Israel. He is a liar, a schemer and a fraud. If he has an ounce of integrity left in him, he should resign and save the country instead of stopping short of nothing, however evil, to save his skin."
Mar 29th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Though Mao Zedong viewed himself as Joseph Stalin’s peer, leading the world’s peasant communists as Stalin led its proletarians, behind closed doors Stalin reportedly called Mao a “caveman Marxist” and a “talentless partisan.” " ----- "Stalin’s behavior enraged Mao." ---- "When ..... Khrushchev, took over as Soviet premier following Stalin’s death in 1953, Mao paid back for Stalin’s disdain – and then some. On his return from his trip to Beijing in 1958, Khrushchev talked incessantly about how unpleasant his experience had been." ---- "Even if Xi did not have the upper hand before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war of choice in Ukraine, he certainly has it now..." --- "So, when Xi arrived in Moscow ..... he carried himself with an air of superiority, whereas Putin’s expressions appeared strained."
Mar 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "The spectacular collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) – the second-largest bank failure in US history – has evoked memories of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, which sparked the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But the current situation is, at least for Germans and other Europeans, more reminiscent of the “founder’s crash” (Gründerkrach) of 1873. Then, as now, an era of cheap credit had fueled a tech boom and then triggered a banking crisis. In those days, the startups were in railroads, electronics, and chemistry, but there were also a large number of financial startups rising with the tide. In both cases, the crisis was rooted in bad accounting rules that turned the financial system into a playground for gamblers."
Mar 16th 2023
EXTRACT: "Putin is desperate for a ceasefire, but he does not want to admit it. Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the same boat. But US President Joe Biden is unlikely to jump at this seeming opportunity to negotiate a ceasefire, because he has pledged that the US will not negotiate behind Zelensky’s back. -- The countries of the former Soviet empire, eager to assert their independence, can hardly wait for the Russian army to be crushed in Ukraine. At that point, Putin’s dream of a renewed Russian empire will disintegrate and cease to pose a threat to Europe. -- The defeat of Russian imperialism will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world. It will bring huge relief to open societies and create tremendous problems for closed ones."
Mar 15th 2023
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, a war broke out in the Middle East which resulted in a global oil embargo.... " ---- " Many historical accounts suggest the decade of global inflation and recession that characterises the 1970s stemmed from this “oil shock”. But this narrative is misleading – and half a century later, in the midst of strikingly similar global conditions, needs revisiting." ----- "In early 2023, the global financial picture feels disconcertingly similar to 50 years ago. Inflation and the cost of living have both risen steeply, and a war and related energy supply problems have been widely labelled as a key reason for this pain." ---- "In their public statements, central bank leaders have blamed this on a long (and movable) list of factors – most prominently, Vladimir Putin’s decision to send Russian troops to fight against Ukrainian armed forces. Anything, indeed, but central bank policy." ---- "Yet as Figure 1 shows, inflation had already been increasing in the US and Europe long before Putin gave the order to move his troops across the border – indeed, as far back as 2020."
Mar 7th 2023
EXTRACT: "The United States is in the midst of a book-banning frenzy. According to PEN America, 1,648 books were prohibited in public schools across the country between July 2021 and June 2022. That number is expected to increase this year as conservative politicians and organizations step up efforts to censor works dealing with sexual and racial identity."
Feb 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "As was the case before World War I, it is tempting to minimize the risk of a major conflict. After all, today’s globalized, interconnected world has too much at stake to risk a seismic unraveling. That argument is painfully familiar. It is the same one made in the early twentieth century, when the first wave of globalization was at its peak. It seemed compelling to many right up to June 28, 1914."
Feb 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "Another front has opened in the global rise of populist authoritarianism. With their efforts to weaken Israel’s independent judiciary, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his corrupt coalition of Messianic fascists and ultra-Orthodox allies are determined to translate their anti-democratic rhetoric into authoritarian policy."
Feb 17th 2023
EXTRACT: "One year on from the start of a military operation that Moscow was expected to win easily, there are increasing signs of anger, frustration and resistance from ordinary Russian soldiers. These are important reminders that these men are not mindless pawns who will do Putin’s bidding under any circumstances."
Feb 16th 2023
EXTRACT: "Over the past few days, more details have emerged about the alleged Russian plot in Moldova. Apparently, well-trained and well-equipped foreign agents were meant to infiltrate the ongoing protests, then instigate and carry out violent attacks against state institutions, take hostages and replace the current government. This may seem far-fetched, but is it? Yesterday, Moldova denied entry to Serbian soccer fans who had planned to support their team, FK Partizan Belgrade, in a Europa Conference League match against the Transnistrian side Sheriff Tiraspol. ---- " ..... there is a history of Serbian football hooligans being involved in paramilitary activities, including war crimes committed by the notorious Arkan Tigers during the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Moreover, Russia attempted to overthrow the Montenegrin government in October 2016, just ahead of the country’s Nato accession the following year, in a plot eerily prescient of what was allegedly planned recently in Moldova.
Feb 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "As the British novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote, the past is “a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Alas, this does not mean that we necessarily do things better now. But to understand that lesson, we have to follow Santayana’s advice, and study history very carefully.."
Feb 7th 2023
EXTRACT: "Others who have left Russia include tens of thousands of the country’s excellent computer scientists, whom the armament industry desperately needs. In fact, so many Russians have emigrated to neighboring countries that Armenia expects its 2022 GDP growth to come in at a whopping 13%. Unlike oil fields, this is capital that Putin cannot nationalize or seize."