A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (7)

Soliman al-Buthe (or al-Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.

1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter (in blue).

2. Months later in that same year, Mr. al-Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues (in green). He sought the advice of Saudi scholars, as well.

3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions (in black). Sometimes I embed this part in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.

Open Letter to Congress (continued):

Misconceptions on Jihad

The scholars of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been among the most vocal opponents of religious extremism and terrorism in the Muslim world. Long before September 11, 2001, our scholars had warned against the dangers of extremism and spoken decisively against the spreading of civil strife and violence in the name of "jihad." All Muslim terrorism is both created by and reflects an ignorance of the tenets of Islam and a false belief in the meaning and rules of jihad. This can only be corrected by the scholars of Islam, and it is counter-productive for the United States to claim that it is fighting terrorism while targeting those most able to correct the ignorance in which such terrorism is born.

Jihad does not equate with terrorism or the spreading of civil strife; rather, jihad is a concept with which most of your citizens would agree if correctly understood. In Islamic belief, the greatest jihad is the struggle that each soul must wage against itself to live a pure and good life. At the same time, Islam empowers its adherents to defend their lives, property, and honor from attack. When injustice is present, Islam not only tolerates fighting, it is required. When, however, a Muslim is required to fight, his behavior is constrained by a detailed code of conduct that prohibits attacks on innocent civilians, the harming of the environment, the destruction of places of worship, and the harassment of priests and non-combatants. That said, Muslims do not seek war with our enemies. However we recognize, as does the West, that sometimes war is unavoidable. The rules of engagement in Islam are well defined and Islam views the peaceful resolution of disagreement and conflict as being preferable to war.

JA (2005): It is true that some scholars hold these views on jihad, such as the seeming moderates at this Saudi website http://fatwa-online.com/. But it is also true that other Saudi scholars see jihad as offensive, not defensive. The views of peaceful Saudis do not potentially harm the non-Islamic world, but the views of the radicals lash out and harm people.

SaB (2005): First, we know of no scholar who has interpreted "jihad" to be preemptive in the sense of waging war against innocent people simply just because they are not Muslims. Such an interpretation would be a clear violation of God's equally clear command:

Qur'an 002:190-193 "Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loves not, aggressors. And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! God is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers."

Those who said that jihad is not only defensive meant that one need not wait until a promised attack occurs, and then only to fight back. Thus Muslims are allowed only seek out and attack those whom they discover to be preparing to attack them. This is why they termed this kind of jihad, jihad at-talab (i.e., "seeking out or going after").

Second, Isn’t it the fact that the West (and especially the United States) that is lashing out and harming people all over the world, both Muslims and non-Muslims, by employing President Bush’s concept of "preemptive war"?

JA (2006): We have invited a colleague and friend, formerly of Saudi Arabia, to comment on our dialogue. He adds:

Please see what Osama bin Laden had said in an interview regarding fighting and his fatwa against Americans, Christians & Jews – and see the kind of verses he is using to support that, here.

Furthermore, this statement of yours disagrees with the historical facts: "we know of no scholar who has interpreted "jihad" to be preemptive in the sense of waging war against innocent people simply just because they are not Muslims." The truth? Within a hundred years after Muhammad’s death in AD 632, the Muslim armies conquered a huge part of the world from India to Spain. Did all those countries attack Arabia and Islam so that Muslims were forced to simply defend themselves? Or was it not the initiative of the Caliph to start those wars and conquer further countries? Muslims all over the world are proud of this historical period and the great advance of Islam. They call it "opening these countries for Islam." It allegedly brings justice, so that conquered peoples may get to know and accept the message of Islam. Again, the crucial term is "innocent" (your word). Muhammad (supposedly) sent letters to the various emperors. They did not accept Islam; therefore they were no longer innocent. They had to be warned, but then Muslims were free to attack those countries.

Next, you state that Muslims are not allowed to wage war "against innocent people simply just because they are not Muslims." If I understand these words, they imply that President Bush wages war just because a nation is made up of Muslims. The reply to this follows, after I quote some other of your words in this section. You state that "Muslims are allowed only [to] seek out and attack those whom they discover to be preparing to attack them" . . . .

In reply, this somewhat describes the US position before the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, if we factor in our allies. (1) Hussein violated numerous United Nations Resolutions after the Gulf War. (2) Hussein violated the "no-fly" zone repeatedly. (3) His military fired on our jets during patrols many times, in violation of the terms of surrender signed in the Gulf War. (4) We had obligations to protect countries in the Gulf region, and his actions were aggressive. (5) Evidence is now surfacing from countless pages of documents (most are untranslated so far) and actual discoveries that Hussein in fact had weapons of mass destruction and sought to improve the use of this weaponry (he used them against his own citizens). (6) Evidence is now surfacing that Saddam had contacts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (7) Bush said in speeches leading up to the invasion that he would not wait until the threat becomes imminent, but would take action as a dangerous regime threatens its neighbors and our allies. (8) It is true that Hussein’s capabilities could not reach us directly, but they could wreak damage on our allies or aid and abet non-conventional militants to attack us. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan, located around the other side of the globe from the US, proves this. It provided the environment for militants to launch their attacks. Thus, Bush did not invade Afghanistan or Iraq just because the majority of their citizens are Muslims.

As for harming and lashing out, Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of his own people during his reign of terror. Now people can live in peace, except when Sunnis and other factions, some of whom are called to jihad in Saudi Arabia, detonate car bombs.

Finally, the world is now threatened by Iran. Does Iran threaten Saudi Arabia? It remains to be seen whether President Bush and his Administration will make a "preemptive" strike on its nuclear facilities. However, for now, negotiations continue apace, but for how long?

SaB (2005): Third, Westerners and particularly many Americans seem to be utterly unrealistic in their thinking that they can do what they want with people around the world in defense of what their politicians deem to be America’s national interest and then expect universal love and trust from the people of the world.

JA (2006): Here is my view on worldwide love and trust. I don’t seek these things. I first care about doing the right thing. If this wins me love and trust, then great. If not, then so be it.

What about the American contribution to the world (or doing what it wants with people around the world, to paraphrase your words)? The timeframe is after the First World War (1914-1918), when America finally grows in its international influence, until the present day. This beginning point is crucial, because we were not well established on the international stage before then. Here is a list of names that I come up with at the moment:

Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin (Khrushchev, Brezhnev and other dictators up to Gorbachev), Benito Mussolini, General Hideki Tojo, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, and an assortment of Eastern European dictators.

These persons have at least three characteristics in common: (1) Hyper-control (authoritarianism or totalitarianism) over their citizens; (2) the cause of deaths and misery on a wide scale (e.g. by economic mismanagement, starvation, wars, direct murders en masse); Stalin was responsible for 24 million deaths and Mao for 50 to 75 million; (3) opposition by America and its allies, in one way or another or to one degree or another.

To cite a few specific examples, it is true that we had to be allies with Stalin to fight Hitler, and President Roosevelt looked the other way as Stalin took over Eastern Europe, but we eventually fought his puppet regime in Korea. President Truman provided the Berlin airlift which caused the survival of a free Berlin, as an island in unfree communist East Germany. Does anyone of a sound mind doubt that China would conquer Taiwan if the US gave the green light or looked the other way or (God forbid) did not exist? Thus, our opposition to these fascists is mixed, but at least we have been trying since 1918 to the present.

Based on this list of dictators and American (and allied) opposition to them, I believe that America (and its allies) has benefited the world more than harmed it, though my country is far from perfect. South Korea, Germany, and Japan all breathe the fresh air of freedom and democracy, and so do many Eastern European countries today. At least in part, America (and its allies) helped them achieve this God-given right. Incidentally, Korea did not have oil, but we sacrificed our men (around 38,000) to give the bottom half of the Peninsula freedom and prosperity. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld describes (scroll down towards the end) a nighttime satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula. The North is entirely dark except Pyongyang, the showcase city, but the South glows with prosperity.

So how does all of this relate to Islamic nations?

First, Saddam Hussein should be added to the Horrible Hall of Fame, and we and our allies fought and overthrew him. President Bush wants to spread freedom around that part of the globe, as the Iraqis carve out their own version of democracy.

Second, these regimes listed above have some other features in common. They killed dissenters and critics, and they refused to permit their citizens to leave the official ideology, on pain of death or imprisonment.

Third, is there a religious-political ideology that began with an authoritarian leader who passed on his rulership to authoritarian successors? Did these men lash out and harm and wage aggressive wars on peaceful peoples who did not attack them in the slightest? Is there a religious-political ideology that kills critics and apostates, today? Is there a religious-political ideology that exercises absolute control over and imposes harsh and brutal laws on its citizens?

It seems, therefore, that imperfect America and its imperfect allies have helped, imperfectly or successfully, people enjoy freedom, so they can live as they want within justice and modern laws that do not directly come from the seventh century. But we have a long way to go.

Our Saudi friend and colleague adds:

Why do many of the Muslim leaders remain in power for decades? Why are their people longing for freedom? Why do their people leave and immigrate to other countries, especially to Europe, America and Australia, if they are living in a peaceful and democratic condition in their own land? Why do Muslim countries have the worst human rights conditions in the world?

SaB (2005): Fourth, I am one of those who believe that both our and Western interests can be served by, among other things, peaceful dialogue. That is why I wrote to you. The sense I have, however, is that you believe that all the blame is on our side, and that no good can be achieved unless we reject our religion and toe the Western line.

Fifth, there is no such thing as Wahhabism; this is a name which the enemies of Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahab gave to his teachings to claim that he was advocating something other than Islam. And this is precisely what the Western – and particularly American – propaganda machines are spewing forth.

JA (2006): I am glad you wrote me and we are dialoguing. As for the blame being on the Muslim side unless Muslims reject their religion, they are "free" to keep their religion, until they leave it. Then they may be tortured, imprisoned, or executed. Moreover, in Part Three I asked:

Since Islam is the continuation of religions, is it the will of Allah that Islam must spread around the world?

And you answered:

a. Islam sees itself, as does contemporary Christianity, as the only means by which mankind can be saved. As such, all Muslims are inspired by concern for their brothers in humanity to spread this soul-saving message.

You added below that short excerpt (a):

b. The requirement that Muslims spread their faith through argumentation and reason is what God asserts in Qur'an 061:009 . . . .

You and "all Muslims" want Islam to spread around the world, hopefully converting as many as possible, especially adherents to polytheistic religions. In Part 8, you will say that Christians are polytheists. Islam must win out.

Toe the Western line? Islamic countries are too often breeding grounds for terrorism today, and this lashes out and harms people all over the globe, in small, secret ways. Granted, Wahhabism—or whatever label you choose—may not cause all of the terrorism, but it certainly cannot be exempt from any questions in this regard.

JA (2005) 1. You say that the purpose of jihad is to establish justice where injustice prevails. Do you believe that Arab Muslims (or any Muslims) are establishing justice in the Sudan?

SaB (2005): First, we have never claimed that everything that everything [sic] a Muslim or group of Muslims does reflects Islamic values and teachings. By the same token, I doubt that Christians would believe it fair for them to be held to such a standard.

Second, and to the immediate point, the war in Darfur is not a religious war, for all Sudanese Darfurians are Muslims. Moreover, the war has nothing to do with color since all participants are black. It has nothing to do with racial discrimination since. Sudanese tell us that Darfurians from all tribes are to be found in the government, in the army, in the police force, among business people etc. What, then, is the problem? It is an old problem between settlers and grazers that has unfortunately taken a political twist, only then to be exploited by foreign powers. We hope that it will soon be solved.

JA (2006): It is true that one group of Muslims does not reflect all Islamic values and teachings. But in your second paragraph of your Open Letter, above, you speak of "Islam" and "a Muslim" and "Muslims" generally. Further, I never said anything about Darfur, a region in western Sudan. I asked about Sudan generally. I have already linked to a report by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy. Since its summary is brief, I repeat it here.

Jihadist government [in Sudan] is waging [genocide] against non-Muslim blacks.

So it is a fact that war is being waged by northerners (Arab Muslims) on southerners (black non-Muslims). And Darfur is in equal trouble from Islam.

JA (2005) 2. Sayyid Abdul A’La Maulana [sic, Maududi] in his commentary on the Qur’an (e.g. Sura 8, vol. 2, p. 156, note 50) frequently argues for the distinction between Dar-al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar-al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief). Do you believe that the non-Muslim world, for example, America, lives in the second Abode? Do you believe therefore that it also lives in Dar-al-Harb (Abode of War)?

SaB (2006): The abode of war, as the name indicates, is the abode of people with whom Muslims are in a state of war. It does not seem to make any sense to describe a country as an abode of war when there are diplomatic, business, and cultural relations with that country.

JA (2006): This sounds reasonable in theory, even though Maududi says that non-Islamic lands are in the Abode of unbelief and therefore are vulnerable to war, whether in an actual state of war or not. However, if you say that your version of Islam has improved on or rejects this religious-political philosophy, then so much the better. But I omit a discussion of the reality or practice.

Our Saudi friend and colleague adds:

I suggest that Mr. alButhi start reading the commentaries of his own people regarding this issue. The Quran clearly states in Sura 21:105 that the land shall be inherited by the righteous. This in fact was a direct quote from Psalm 37:29, yet the Quran manipulated the true meaning of this verse in the Psalms. When we read the Quran Commentary regarding this verse, we find that these commentators state that the land is the one under the rule of the unbelievers, and that Allah promised the Muslims to gain it by any mean. Does not this mean war against the unbelievers in order to gain the land? Please see these links to the Arabic commentaries on this verse: Ibn Kathir, Tabari, Qurtubi.

JA (2005) 3. Please explain Sura 9:29, which reads as follows:

Fight [q-t-l] against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of Scripture (Jews and Christians) until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Hilali and Khan, parenthetical notes are original)

The verb jihad is not used, but the other verb for fighting, qatala (q-t-l), is used. What is the difference between jihad and qital?

SaB (2005): Jihad is a general term; it does include war. There general meaning, however, is much broader, and jihad may be carried out without war ("strive against them (by preaching) with the utmost endeavor, with it (the Qur'an))", Sura Al-Isra [Sura 17]. This verse well illustrates the Westerners’ misinterpretation of jihad as "holy war."

JA (2006): Sura 17 was revealed in Mecca. This historical context demonstrates that Muhammad had no military power to strive for his religion in a violent way. He had to take the path of peace and tolerance at that time. If only that were the complete story of Islam! Then came the Hijrah or emigration from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. His ten years in Medina tell the fuller story. He waged military jihad, sending out or going out on seventy-four raids, assassination hit squads, confrontations, skirmishes, or full-scale wars. Thus, the (peaceful) Meccan suras are often used to misinterpret or whitewash jihad. The (violence-filled) Medinan suras balance out the positive picture of Islam (see my point three in the very next section).

SaB (2005): And here is our interpretation of "jihad";

First, If this verse is taken in isolation from other verses and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, and if it is taken out its historical context with no regard to Muslims’ practice, then it might be understood to mean that Muslims are ordered to fight all people of scripture.

Second, we know that, according to Qur’an, Muslims can have all kinds of relationships with non-Muslims. They can make peace treaties with them; they can take some of them as allies; they can intermarry; they can allow them to live as individuals among them, and so on.

Third, since the main message of all true Prophets is to guide people to the right path to God, prophets generally have started by inviting the people in a peaceful and nice way to the truth, after which they have expended great effort to explain the right path to them and use different means of persuasion in order to secure acceptance of the message. Our Prophet tells us that one gets the best of rewards by being given by God the honor of guiding even a single person to the truth. The reward that one gets in this case, the Prophet tells us, is greater than that of fighting enemies and killing them or being killed by them.

JA (2006): My numbered reply corresponds to your three points.

(1) The historical context of Sura 9:29? Muhammad launched his Tabuk "Crusade" in late AD 630 against the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a rumor that a huge army was mobilizing to invade Arabia, but the rumor was false, so his large number of jihadists or qitalists returned home (so says Western scholarship), but not before imposing a jizya tax on northern Christians and Jews. They had three options: (1) fight and die; (2) convert to Islam; (3) or submit and pay the second-class-citizen jizya tax for the "privilege" of living under Islam. Thus, Sura 9:29 commands battle for theology and practice. It says nothing explicit about a real and physical harm done to Islam. However, if you claim that Islam today has moved past such violent verses in the Quran, then I hope this improvement on the prophet and his book will be broadcast far and wide, especially to al-Qaeda and its kind.

Also, I believe that we may get distracted by the term "jihad" when we should instead focus on "qital." This word has no ambiguity, and Muhammad commanded it on peaceful people.

(2) You say that Muslims may make peace treaties with non-Muslims. It is true that Muhammad signed the Treaty of Hudaibiyah (AD 628) when he was weak (due to his failed pilgrimage to the Kabah without Meccan permission), but the treaty did not last long. In addition, it must be stated that the Quran warns against alliances and treaties with non-Muslims. These famous verses in Sura 9 free Muhammad from all treaty obligations with polytheists unless they become Muslims. If polytheists have been faithful to their treaty, then he must wait until its terms have expired. Then they may be attacked, after sacred months have passed by.

9:1 Freedom from (all) obligations (is declared) from All‚h and His Messenger (SAW) to those of the MushrikŻn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of All‚h), with whom you made a treaty . . . 3 And a declaration from All‚h and His Messenger to mankind on the greatest day (the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah - the 12th month of Isl‚mic calendar) that All‚h is free from (all) obligations to the MushrikŻn (see 2:105) and so is His Messenger. So if you (MushrikŻn) repent, it is better for you, but if you turn away, then know that you cannot escape (from the Punishment of) All‚h. And give tidings (O Muhammad SAW) of a painful torment to those who disbelieve. 4 Except those of the MushrikŻn with whom you have a treaty, and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor have supported anyone against you. So fulfill their treaty to them to the end of their term. Surely All‚h loves Al- MattaqŻn (the pious - see 2:2). 5 Then when the Sacred Months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Isl‚mic calendar) have passed, then kill the MushrikŻn (see 2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Sal‚t (Iq‚mat-as-Sal‚t), and give Zak‚t, then leave their way free. Verily, All‚h is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Hilali and Khan)

It is on verses like these that Islamic law is built, and the treaties may be temporary, as Islam defines it.

Our Saudi friend and colleague adds:

Look at what Muhammad did after he signed a treaty how he soon negated it. For more information on this, please read this article (see the section on Entering Mecca).

You say that Muslims may marry Christians and Jews, but this needs to be clarified. Christian or Jewish men are not permitted by sharia (Islamic law) to marry Muslim women. So the marriages go in only one direction, which puts Muslim men in control, according to traditional Islam, especially the Islam of Saudi Arabia. Please see my article on Muslim-Christian marriages, here.

Further, Islam allows non-Muslims as "individuals" (not as authorities?) to live among Muslims. In reply, they are known as dhimmis. They are second-class citizens who have to pay a special tax. I have heard the explanation that this tax gives them various exemptions, such as not fighting in wars, but the dhimmis are still treated as subservient. Too often Islam is excessively controlling and imposes violent laws that oppress people, so why would dhimmis want to live under it, if these conquered peoples were not deprived of a choice?

(3) It may be true that Allah grants rewards to his Muslims if they bring people to the truth by peaceful means, but this is not the whole story. The prophet of Islam grants military jihadists or qitalists extra earthly and heavenly status and rewards for fighting in military jihad or qital. Three passages provide the evidence.

First, Sura 4 was revealed over a three-year period in the middle of Muhammad’s career (AD 625-627). He is not quite as secure as he will be when he conquers Mecca in AD 630. For now, he needs to recruit jihadists or qitalists for his raids, conflicts, and wars. One way to get them to join up is to promise earthly or heavenly rewards.

4:74 Let those (believers) who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter fight in the Cause of All‚h, and whoso fights in the Cause of All‚h, and is killed or gets victory, We shall bestow on him a great reward. (Hilali and Khan)

Second, this verse in Sura 4 teaches that Allah has created at least a two-tier system in his Muslim ummah or community: (A) Those who "strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives" and (B) those who sit at home. The disabled are in a separate category.

4:95. Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of All‚h with their wealth and their lives. All‚h has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home). Unto each, All‚h has promised good (Paradise), but All‚h has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward; (Hilali and Khan)

At the end of Muhammad’s life, he reinforces this two-caste system: see Sura 9:38-39, 41, 44, 86, 87.

Finally, as seen in 4:74, an economic bargain is offered to jihadists or qitalists in the next verse. Allah purchases their lives in exchange for Islamic paradise. Sura 9 is the last sura to be revealed in its entirety.

9:111 Verily, All‚h has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for the price that theirs shall be the Paradise. They fight in All‚h's Cause, so they kill (others) and are killed. It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him in the Taur‚t (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and the Qur'‚n. And who is truer to his covenant than All‚h? Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded. That is the supreme success. (Hilali and Khan)

This "revelation" is completely wrong about the Bible’s command to fight in bloody wars in order to bring heavenly rewards. Moses ordered wars that were time-specific (more than 3,000 years ago), location-specific (holy land), and purpose-specific. But Moses or Joshua or the judges did not promise heaven, automatically, for the express act of dying in wars. Certainly Jesus did not order bloody jihads or qitals.

All of these passages use win-win-win logic from Islam’s point of view. If a jihadist or qitalist dies fighting, then he gets Islamic paradise. If he wins and lives, then he gets material spoils. If he is defeated but escapes with his life, then he gets to fight another day.

Please continue this part of our dialogue on jihad in Part Eight.

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