A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (8)

This part concludes the discussion begun in Part Seven. The Open Letter to Congress defining jihad is repeated here.

Open Letter to Congress (repeated):

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):

4. My concern is that Saudi scholars say one thing in English, but they say another in Arabic. For example, this website, which is still named after bin Baz, has English and Arabic sections. Once I click on the English version of the site, I find only words of peace. But once I click on the following two links, I find him espousing a more aggressive definition of Jihad. At this link I find the title, "The Value of Jihad and the Mujahadeen." And this link has the title "The Requirement to Be Hostile to Jews and Mushrikun" (this last word means those who associate another deity with Allah). In your letter (endnote 2, below), you criticize former Israeli UN ambassador Dore Gold’s book, Hatred’s Kingdom (Regnery, 2003), but those are the translations of the titles that he gives (p. 288, endnotes 22 and 24). Do you believe he mistranslates the titles? Here follow two questions based on my point no. 4:

  1. Can you explain why we do not have access to the English translations of more aggressive views on jihad?

SaB (2005):

First, Muslims scholars are not obliged to translate their works to other languages just as Western scholars are not expected to translate their works into the major languages of the world.

Second, I have no specific explanation regarding differences in translation between Arabic and English texts in Sheikh Bin Baz web site; however, they might be simple mistakes. Nevertheless, I think that the very fact that the text was posted in Arabic will allow Westerners to discover the Sheikh’s views; they are very clear and published widely in the internet and other media.

JA (2006): First, I may not have made my Question A clear. I intended to point out the two faces of the websites: peace in English and qital or jihad in Arabic. Second, I doubt whether the difference in subject matter in English and Arabic are "simple mistakes." My hunch is that the two faces are deliberate. Also, their viewpoints may be available on the web for all to see, but many Westerners cannot read Arabic. This would not normally be a concern for them, except that these two-faced websites are not about flower festivals, but about war and violence waged on infidels, who include many Westerners, and others around the globe.

JA (2005): B. Bin Baz seems to believe that Christians belong to the mushrikun? Does this reflect the view of mainstream Wahhabism?

SaB (2005):

First, Christians do not belong to the Mushrikeen as a group that is given this name. This said, the epithet of "Mushrik" does apply to many of them. This is like saying, for example, that someone is a democrat, but he is not a member of the Democratic Party.

This should come as no surprise if one understands what is meant by "shirk," which is the foot of "Mushrik." A mushrik is one who worships something else besides God. One may be a mushrik even if he or she believes in the existence of only one Creator.

In the "times of ignorance," the Arabs, who were the first to be invited to Islam by Prophet Muhammad, never believed in more than one Creator; there are hardly any people who do so. But the Arabs of the times of ignorance nevertheless may fairly be described as mushrikeen or polytheists because they worshipped idols which they took to be intermediaries between them and the one God. Christians likewise believe in the existence of one Creator, but they worship Jesus as a son of that Creator; this leads to their being labeled as polytheists in the Islamic sense.

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

If that was the case, why then does the Quran in Sura 10:94 ask Muhammad and Muslims to consult with the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) – if the Christians were idol worshipers (Mushrikeen)? Did Muhammad not know that?

SaB (2005):

Second, What Shk. Bin Baz believes, that the Oneness of God, should be the belief of all Muslims since it is what the Qur'an clearly affirms:

Qur'an 005:72-74 "They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! God is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! Whoever ascribes partners to God, for him God has forbidden Paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evildoers there will be no helpers. They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! God is the third of three; when there is no God except the One God. If they desist not from so saying, a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. Will they not rather repent to God and seek forgiveness of Him? For God is Forgiving and Merciful."

JA (2006): Contrasting your answer at the beginning of your first point and at the end of it is interesting. At the beginning you write:

First, Christians do not belong to the Mushrikeen as a group that is given this name. This said, the epithet of "Mushrik" does apply to many of them. This is like saying, for example, that someone is a democrat, but he is not a member of the Democratic Party.

But at the end you write:

Christians likewise believe in the existence of one Creator, but they worship Jesus as a son of that Creator; this leads to their being labeled as polytheists in the Islamic sense.

I am happy that you are open about this. Now we Christians know where we stand with Wahhabism (or you choose the label). Clarity is better than confusion. It must be noted, however, that your prophet was no theologian, so he misrepresents Christian belief in Sura 5:72-74. We are monotheists, but our monotheism is very special. We believe that for eternity past, before God created the heavens and the earth, he lived in perfect triune community and fellowship. He never lived in isolation or loneliness, all by himself. Now he calls us to join this community in heaven, to be with him, either after we die or after the Last Day (whichever comes first). For me, this is an indispensable and precious doctrine and promise that I could never give up. I have already written an article on the subject.

See the addendum, below, which translates a fatwa by bin Baz on jihad. It is not only defensive.

JA (2005):

5. This website quotes from many Friday sermons in Mosques throughout Saudi Arabia in September 2002, one year after 9/11. The sermons do not express a high view of Christians and Jews and women. Do you know whether these sermons reflect the views of mainstream Wahhabism?

6. These scholars on Saudi television in February 2005 seem to have an aggressive view of jihad. Do you believe that they reflect mainstream Wahhabism?

SaB (2005):

First, I repeat, no one here would call himself a "Wahhabi."

Second, Preachers are not necessarily scholars and in many cases they speak from the standpoint of their personal opinions. Many Muslim scholars have disagreed with such personal opinions.

Third, while the statements of such preachers may indeed be somewhat strange, they pale by comparison to the sayings of some of the West’s most popular preachers today:

Sue Lindsey, Associated Press Writer, Tue Aug 23, 12:21 PM ET:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson has suggested that American agents assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop his country from becoming "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."

At the end of his tour, Graham stood in front of the camera and said: "As soon as I get back (home) I'm going to share what I've seen here. Khartoum should be hit with the full force of American military strikes. Why not? These people are just as evil as Saddam Hussein." (Please see Sudan: Christian Right might inflame war, observers fear; AFRICANEWS, May 2001 - source).

Is it fair to suggest that these preachers’ statements represent Christianity and all Christians?

JA (2006):

First, this is a series of broadcasts on Saudi IQRA TV, about an especially wicked Jew in Muhammad’s day. National TV programs like this only reinforce "Jew hatred."

Second, these quick interviews with "the man on the street" aired on IQRA TV. Every one of them despises Jews and would not even shake their hand. The Jews are the "eternal enemies," say two Muslims. Saudis or not, Wahhabis or not, these interviews were aired on IQRA TV and fuel the fire of "Jew hatred" in your country.

But what about free speech? It could be said that IQRA TV is following this principle. In reply, are opposite views expressed? How much air time does IQRA TV give to them?

As for Pat Robertson, he has apologized for his misguided remarks. Have the numerous preachers of hate apologized? They preach at main mosques all over Saudi Arabia. Incidentally, Robertson did not live in the first century, so he was no founder of Christianity. But Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ordered the assassinations of his enemies. He "succeeded." Some victims were women who merely mocked him with poems or with a few spoken words. Thus, Robertson’s words "pale by comparison" to Muhammad’s real-life, violent actions.

Now, Franklin Graham. A student in one of my classes was a missionary to Sudan, working in a medical clinic. He told me privately after class that he saw non-Muslim Sudanese women who were maimed so they could not have children. Their breasts were cut off, to cite only one of his examples. "Who did this to them?" I asked. "Muslims," came the reply. Maybe Graham saw the same things or worse after his tour.

Finally, you write in your Open Letter to Congress, above:

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.

I have already written in Part Five that Islam indeed violates these rules, at least the Islam ordained by Muhammad. Since our multipart dialogue is so long, the following list is reduced from Part Five, and the translation is done by Hilali and Khan, except for the first one.

(1) Women captives are sometimes forced to "marry" their Muslim masters, regardless of the marital status of the women. That is, the captors are allowed to have sex with the enslaved, married or not, in most cases. The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:

4:24 And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands (as prisoners of war) . . . (Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Meaning of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 319).

Maududi, a highly respected Sunni commentator, says in his comment on the verse that it is lawful for Muslims to marry women prisoners of war even when the prisoners’ husbands are still alive. But what happens if the husbands are captured with their wives? Maududi cites a school of law that says Muslims may not marry the women, but two other schools say that the marriage between the captive husbands and wives is broken (note 44). But why is any of this a debate in the first place?

The next hadith casually talks about disrobing a captured woman, but Muhammad takes her for himself. "Give me that girl!" he shouts at a Muslim raider returning from a raid. Why does he want her?

. . . When on the next day, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) again met me in the street, he said: O Salama, give me that girl, may God bless your father. I said: She is for you. Messenger of Allah! By Allah, I have not yet disrobed her. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent her to the people of Mecca, and surrendered her as ransom for a number of Muslims who had been kept as prisoners at Mecca. (Muslim 4345; see two other hadiths (and there are many) about Muslim captors having sex with women captives, here and here)

(2) Fruit trees may be destroyed. The Quran in Sura 59:5 says:

59:5 What you (O Muslims) cut down of the palm-trees (of the enemy), or you left them standing on their stems, it was by Leave of Allh, and in order that He might disgrace the Fsiqn (rebellious, disobedient to Allh).

This revelation in the Quran contradicts your assertion that Islam forbids harming the environment. However, if modern Islam has improved on original Islam found in the Quran and the Sunnah, then this is a welcome change. If this is so, then I hope the change is broadcast far and wide.

(3) Some hadiths say that Muhammad disapproved of killing women and children. But in several sound traditions, pagan women and children may be killed at night in war.

Narrated As-Sab bin Jaththama:
The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans)." I also heard the Prophet saying, "The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle." (Bukhari; Hima)

Sahih Muslim agrees:

It is reported on the authority of Sa'b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them. (Muslim 4321, and read the one below)

This short list of rules of jihad or qital has been taken from this article, which provides more rules and the historical context of each one. It also has a section on jihad in Islamic law. One law says that old men and Christian monks may be killed (click on the article and scroll down to "Classical legal opinions," no. six).

The purpose here is to balance out your positive picture and to expose all of original Islam. It is wrong to withhold the unpleasant and violent parts that too often are applied to the modern world inside or outside of Islam.

I know that you wrote your Open Letter to explain that "Wahhabi" is a misnomer and your version of Islam is the purest and peaceful. However, when it comes to violence, it is irrelevant to me whether it emanates from Wahhabis or some other Muslims—or you choose the label for your version of Islam besides "Muslims," which many other sects claim for themselves.

To conclude, this part of your Open Letter, above, says:

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 . . . .

Perhaps it would be good to ask here for concrete examples how these modern scholars have indeed corrected the violent version of Islam. And who are the scholars that the people must listen to? You said, above, that the preachers of hate merely express personal opinions, but then you say that they need to listen to the scholars. Are the preachers listening to them, and why should they? If even the preachers do not listen to them, on what basis can we expect that the common Saudi Muslim on the street would listen to them? The question in the end is: Who has the authority to bring correction in Islam?

Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that Islamic scholars can correct the ignorance and false belief. As noted, if modern Islam has improved on original Islam (found in the Quran and the Sunnah), then this is a welcome change. I hope it is broadcast far and wide.


Our friend and colleague has translated parts of a fatwa by bin Baz, a major sheikh and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, i.e. the highest religious authority of your country. It is clear that jihad is not only defensive.


Jihad is not for defense only

Many modern writers are confused in regards to the issue of Jihad. And many of them have dealt with his topic without any knowledge, and thought that jihad was decreed only to defend Islam and the followers of Islam, and that jihad was not ordained for Muslims to attack their enemies’ land, and either to invite them to accept Islam or to fight them until Allah’s word and his religion prevail. Since this was the case, I thought of covering this topic in my lecture tonight which I titled: Jihad is not for defense only.

… Since Muhammad’s message was for the whole inhabitants of the earth of the jinn and humans, and since Allah sent him with a sharia (law) which is suitable for all people during his time and after his time, until the day of resurrection…

… And since all messengers before Muhammad were sent as mercy to their people, to teach them and guide them, and to eliminate unjust laws and corruption, and to implement in its place the law of justice. In the same way Allah sent Muhammad – saw – too to destroy the corrupt systems of society, crooked values, and injustice,; and to replace them with a righteous system and just commandments…

… When the Messenger was in Mecca for thirteen years….there were no commands to fight his people because the Muslims were few and their enemies were more powerful and outnumbered them. So it was wise for Allah to prevent his messenger and the Muslims from physical jihad by hand, and only allowed them spiritual jihad by words…. (Sura 25:52)

… And when the messenger immigrated to Madina, Allah ordered him to cleanse it from corruption and corrupted people, and to build it with righteous people…and Allah gave permission to him and his companions to fight in Jihad as it was revealed in (Sura 22:39). In this verse Allah permitted them to fight in jihad because they were being treated unjustly; then Allah ordered and commanded Jihad in (Sura 2:216), and Allah made it a duty and revealed many other verses in this regard and ordered it in his great book (the Quran) and through his prophet, so it was first permitted and allowed; then it became a sufficient duty as said by scholars.

… As for Sura 2:190 some said this verse was a command to Muhammad to fight only those who fought him, and to cease fighting those who did not fight him; other said about this verse. There is nothing in this verse which indicates this meaning; rather it has a command to fight those who are fighting him – meaning those who deserve to be fought against…etc.

… And the later interpretation is clearer in regards to the meaning of the verse. This is why Allah said in few verses later (Sura 2:193), so it was known by this verse that the meaning is for Muhammad to fight the infidels and not just those who are fighting against him only. It meant the infidels as a whole until the religion (Islam) should be only for Allah, and there should be no more hostility except against the oppressors, and the oppression is the Shirk.

Then Allah revealed the Sword Verse in Sura 9 (9:5). And the former scholars (may Allah’s mercy be up on them) said this verse abrogated all of the previous verses which contained forgiveness and no fighting against the infidels. They said the Sword Verse is the verse of fighting, the verse of jihad, the verse which calls out to roll up our sleeves and to fight the enemies of Allah with our money and body, until they repent of their Shirk and perform the prayer and give the Zakat (alms), so if they did then they have sealed (protected) their blood and their monies by the truth of Islam.

This is what we know about this verse from all of the people of knowledge of the commentators and non-commentators, all of them said this verse has abrogated what came before it of those verses that contained commands for forgiveness or fighting only those who fight against us…and similar to it are Sura 8:39 … and Sura 9:36 and Sura 9:29, as Allah commanded fighting against the People of the Book and did not command to cease fighting against them unless they pay the poll tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. And Allah did not say until they give us the poll tax and then stop fighting us, but rather Allah said they pay the poll tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

… And in Sura 9:5 and 9:11 it is clear that Muslims should not stop fighting against the infidels until they repent of their shirk and accept Allah’s religion (Islam). Those are the ones that Muslims should cease fighting against, but as for the People of the Book, cessation of fighting does not take place until they pay the poll tax with submission; only then do we cease fighting against them even if they did not become Muslims.

Some scholars stated that the Sword Verse did not abrogate the previous verses, but rather the times will change, so when Muslims are strong and gain control and power, then they can use the Sword Verse and apply its meaning in fighting all the infidels until they enter into Allah’s religion (Islam) or pay the poll tax in general or only by the People of the Book. But if the Muslims become weak and are unable to fight all of the infidels, then there is no problem for them to fight as they can, and to cease fighting as they see fit. And the ruler should be the one who makes such a call, if he wills he can fight, or not to fight, or to fight some and not the others based on their strength, ability and the best interest of Muslims, and not based on their own desires or choosing. But he must evaluate the condition of the Muslim people and the state of their power and strength. If the Muslims were weak, then he can use the Meccan verses…, but when they become strong then they should fight based on their strength…just as the prophet did in Mecca and in Medina.

And if the Muslims gain power, control, strength and weapons that allows them to fight all of the infidels, then they should declare an all-out battle (Harb) against all of them, and declare jihad against all of them, just as the companions of the prophet did during the reign of Al Sadiq (Abu Bakr), Umar, and Uthman, and as the messenger of Allah did after the Sword Verse was revealed when he marched to Tabuk to fight the Romans.

And this is what Ibn Taimiah said: "There is no abrogation but different situations. As the Muslims were weak in the beginning so they were ordered to only fight those who fought them. But when they became stronger after the Hijra, they were ordered to go after those who fought them and to not fight those who did not fight them. But when Islam became very strong and the followers of Islam became stronger, and Muslims spread all over and people accepted Islam in scores, they were commanded to fight all of the infidels, to negate all treaties and not to stop fighting except against the People of the Book, provided they paid the poll tax with submission, and feel themselves subdued.

… As for those who say that the fighting is for defense only, their claim is something which none of the former scholars ascribe to. ...

But some of the brethren wrote articles to respond to this claim. They stated that what is known about the messenger of Allah after his immigration to Medina; fighting was made lawful to him, period; then jihad was made a commandment to him and he was ordered to fight those who fight him and cease from those who did not fight him. Then Allah revealed to him more verses which ordered him to fight in jihad without any exception, and not to cease from fighting anyone until he or she accepts Islam or pay the poll tax if he or she is qualified for it, as noted previously. This is what is known and accepted among scholars or people of knowledge.

… Those who claim that jihad is only for defense rely on verses that cannot be used to substantiate their claim.

These people use three verses to support their claim:

The first is Sura 2:190

The answer to that is that this verse does not mean that fighting is for defense, but rather it is a command for fighting to those who are capable of fighting, and leave behind those who are not capable, such as women and children and the like. That is why Allah sent a few verse down Sura 2:193, clearly refuting their claim about Sura 2:190. And even if what they said is true, this verse has been abrogated by the Sword Verse anyway.

The second verse they use to support their claim is Sura 2:256.

This claim is not valid either; as this verse was specifically mentioned of the People of the Book and the like, as they will not be forced to enter into Islam if they choose to pay the poll tax. This is one interpretation of the meaning of this verse. The second interpretation states that this verse also was abrogated by the Sword Verse…. And if they refuse Islam and pay the poll tax, then they must be fought as noted in the previous glorious verses.

The third verse they use to support this claim is Sura 4:90.

This was true when the Muslims were weak until they immigrated to Medina. Then it was abrogated by the Sword Verse. Also it can be interpreted that it applies only when Muslims are weak, but once they are strong, then it is not valid as it was stated in the other verses.

All of this shows that their claim is completely invalid.

End of translation

This link goes to the writings of Abdul Wahhaab.

Please continue the dialogue with Part Nine.

Articles by James Arlandson
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