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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > CAIR's Lament About "Misuse" Of Islamic Terminology Appears To Be Inadvertent Reality Check

CAIR's Lament About "Misuse" Of Islamic Terminology Appears To Be Inadvertent Reality Check

Attempts To Whitewash Terms Like Sharia And Jihad Backfires
December 19, 2021

Is CAIR's Complaint about the Misuse of 'Islamic Terminology' Actually a Confession?


On August 27, 2021, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released an op-ed titled

"How the Misuse of Islamic Terminology Endangers Muslim Communities."[1] This op-ed started out:

Allah. Sharia. Jihad. Caliphate. Hijab.

For decades, American Muslims have been working to educate political leaders and media personalities who misuse these and so many other Islamic terms when commenting on current events.

Although our community has made considerable progress in improving discourse about Islam in the mainstream media and the halls of Congress, our nation's reaction to recent events in Afghanistan show that our work is far from finished–especially when it comes to two particular words that prominent voices continue to either ignorantly or deliberately abuse.

Those two words were Sharia and Jihad.

CAIR decried how the term "Sharia" was misunderstood and misused by those who sought to disparage Islam. CAIR wanted to set the record straight about Sharia and so addressed certain subjects in which CAIR claimed that the term Sharia had been misunderstood and misused. Let's look at a few of those claims.

Sharia vastly improved the Condition of Women

CAIR claimed that the Sharia had vastly improved the condition of women with the advent of Islam. But the evidence indicates otherwise.

Let's examine that claim by first looking at the latest edition of a report issued annually by the World Economic Forum: "Global Gender Gap Report 2020." On p. 8 of the report we find this information:

The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time. The index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, education, health and political criteria (see Figure 1), and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups.[2]

The above-mentioned Figure 1, titled "The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings," is on p. 9 of this report and ranks 153 counties based on the size of the gender gaps in the above four categories. The larger the gender gap, the more inequality there is between men and women. The first country listed, Iceland (1), has the smallest gender gaps; the last country listed, Yemen (153), has the largest gender gaps.

Let's look at some of the countries on this list. Based on information in the World Factbook,[3] I have listed in bold those countries whose major religion is Islam.

Here are the top 35 countries with the smallest gender gaps:

1 Iceland, 2 Norway, 3 Finland, 4 Sweden, 5 Nicaragua, 6 New Zealand, 7 Ireland, 8 Spain, 9 Rwanda, 10 Germany, 11 Latvia, 12 Namibia, 13 Costa Rica, 14 Denmark, 15 France, 16 Philippines, 17 South Africa, 18 Switzerland, 19 Canada, 20 Albania, 21 United Kingdom, 22 Colombia, 23 Moldova, 24 Trinidad and Tobago, 25 Mexico, 26 Estonia, 27 Belgium, 28 Barbados, 29 Belarus, 30 Argentina, 31 Cuba, 32 Burundi, 33 Lithuania, 34 Austria, 35 Portugal.

Here are the bottom 35 countries with the largest gender gaps:

119 Benin, 120 United Arab Emirates, 121 Japan, 122 Kuwait, 123 Maldives, 124 Tunisia, 125 Guinea, 126 Vanuatu, 127 Papua New Guinea, 128 Nigeria, 129 Burkina Faso, 130 Turkey, 131 Bhutan, 132 Algeria, 133 Bahrain, 134 Egypt, 135 Qatar, 136 The Gambia, 137 Tajikistan, 138 Jordan, 139 Mali, 140 Togo, 141 Mauritania, 142 Côte d'Ivoire, 143 Morocco, 144 Oman, 145 Lebanon, 146 Saudi Arabia, 147 Chad, 148 Islamic Republic of Iran, 149 Democratic Republic of the Congo, 150 Syria, 151 Pakistan, 152 Iraq, 153 Yemen.

As we can see, there is only one country whose major religion is Islam that is listed among the top 35 countries with the smallest gender gaps. However, among the bottom 35 countries with the largest gender gaps we find 29 countries whose major religion is Islam.

CAIR had pointed out in its op-ed piece that Sharia was based on the commands of Allah in the Koran, "the practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sunnah), and the consensus of the juristic scholars." Could there be a basis in the Sharia for the above results?

Here is some of what the Koran and the teachings of Muhammad have to say about Muslim women:

  1. When witnesses are needed concerning property matters, it is preferable to find two men; but if you cannot find two men, then find one man and two women. This is based on Koran 2:282:

…And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her…

So, Allah states that two women are needed so they can help each other remember. Adding insult to injury, Muhammad told a group of Muslim women

"…I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Messenger! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the witness (evidence) of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence."[4]

So, according to Muhammad, Allah's determination that it requires the testimony of two women to equal that of one man is an indication of a deficiency in female intelligence.

  1. Koran 2:221 states that a Muslim woman can only marry a man who is a Muslim. On the other hand, Koran 4:3 allows a Muslim man to have up to four wives, and Koran 5:5 allows him to even marry Jewish and Christian women.

And once the Muslim woman is married, her husband gains a tremendous amount of control over her. As Muhammad said:

If I were to command anyone to prostrate before anyone, I would have commanded the wife to prostrate before her husband, because of the enormity of his right upon her.[5]

Although Muhammad did say that the wife has certain "rights" over her husband:

"O Messenger of Allah! What are the rights that our wives have over us?" He replied: "That you feed her when you eat, and clothe her when you wear clothes, and that you avoid hitting her in the face, or disgracing her, and that you avoid abandoning her except at home."[6]

  1. The husband is allowed to beat his wife or wives. This is stated in Koran 4:34:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other…As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful)…

The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir explained that such a beating was to be neither "violent" nor "severe."[7] He also pointed out that:

Scholars said…The husband should beat his wife lightly, in a way which does not result in breaking one of her limbs or affecting her badly.[8]

And Muhammad himself said "to beat them [wives] but not with severity."[9] Muhammad also said, "A man should not be asked why he beats his wife."[10]

With teachings such as these, and many other similar teachings,[11] it is not surprising that 29 of the 35 countries with the largest gender gaps have Islam as their major religion.

Women as Chattel

CAIR claimed that it "was the sharia that ended the position of women as chattel in pagan Arabia." Since one of the bases for Sharia is the teachings of Muhammad, let's consider what Muhammad had to say about this.

In the hadith below, Muhammad and some of the early Muslim rulers showed that the woman was completely uninvolved in the choice of whom she was to marry. 'Umar (who became the second Caliph to succeed Muhammad) wanted to marry off his daughter, Hafsa. He offered her to 'Uthman (who became the third Caliph) and then to Abu Bakr (who became the first Caliph). Muhammad then "demanded" her hand, and she was married to Muhammad. However, Abu Bakr later assured 'Umar that he would have taken her if Muhammad had changed his mind. All with no input from Hafsa:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar: 'Umar bin Al-Khattab said, "When (my daughter) Hafsa bint 'Umar lost her husband… I met 'Uthman bin 'Affan and suggested that he should marry Hafsa saying, 'If you wish, I will marry Hafsa bint 'Umar to you.' On that, he said, 'I will think it over.' I waited for a few days and then he said to me, 'I am of the opinion that I shall not marry at present.' Then I met Abu Bakr and said, 'If you wish, I will marry you Hafsa bint 'Umar.' He kept quiet and did not give me any reply and I became more angry with him than I was with 'Uthman. Some days later, Allah's Messenger demanded her hand in marriage and I married her to him. Later on, Abu Bakr met me and said, 'Perhaps you were angry with me when you offered me Hafsa for marriage and I gave no reply to you?' I said, 'Yes.' Abu Bakr said, 'Nothing prevented me from accepting your offer except that I learnt that Allah's Messenger had referred to the issue of Hafsa; and I did not want to disclose the secret of Allah's Messenger, but had he (i.e. the Prophet) given her up I would surely have accepted her.'"[12]

So even the daughter of a future caliph was considered nothing more than a piece of chattel by Muhammad and the early Muslim leaders. And Muhammad is considered the perfect man whose example Muslims are to follow (Koran 33:21).

Sharia protects Civilians

CAIR claimed that Sharia "introduced rules of warfare that protect civilians…" Not really.

Women and Children

In terms of protecting civilians, much is made about the claim that Muhammad prohibited the killing of women and children. I examined this claim by taking a chronological approach to Muslim battles and raids, and Muhammad's statements about women and children from 624 to 632.[13] The reality is that during Muhammad's lifetime he both approved of and prohibited the killing of women and children. Protecting women and children was a situational decision on Muhammad's part.

This was summed up well in the essay The Clarification Regarding Intentionally Targetting [sic] Women and Children where there is a chapter providing examples of allowable ways of both intentionally and unintentionally killing women and children. This chapter ended with an apt summary of this issue:

These are some of the situations which are exceptions to the general prohibition against killing women and children of the kuffar; amongst these situations, it is permissible to sometimes kill them intentionally, and also unintentionally – as long as there is a Maslahah [benefit (in this case, greater than the benefit of enslaving them)] for the Muslims and Mujahidin in doing so.

So all these prove that the protection ['Ismah] of their blood is not unrestricted – unlike the prohibition of fornication and sodomy and the likes, which are unrestrictedly forbidden. Rather – the Shari'ah of Islam has made the blood of their women and children permissible in these exceptions. So this reveals the mistake of the people who claim that their protection ['Ismah] is unrestricted and absolute under all circumstances.[14]

So in spite of CAIR's claim, the reality is that Sharia has created exceptions where women and children can be intentionally killed.

Beheading Jewish Combatants and Noncombatants

In March 627 Muhammad supervised the beheading of 600-900 captured Jewish males from the defeated Banu Qurayza tribe.[15] As it was later described:

The Messenger of God breakfasted at the market and gave instructions for a furrow to be dug there [in which to bury those to be killed]…The Messenger of God sat with the distinguished among his companions. He called for the men of the Banu Qurayza, and they came out at a leisurely pace, and their heads were cut off.[16]

Muhammad had ordered that all of the males who had reached puberty were to be killed, whether combatant or non-combatant.[17] As one pre-pubescent survivor later related:

It was narrated from Sufyan: "Abdul-Malik bin 'Umair narrated to us; 'Atiyyah Al-Qurazi narrated to me, he said: I was among the captives of Banu Quraizah, and they examined (us). Those whose pubes had started to grow were executed, and those whose pubes had not started to grow were not executed. I was among those whose pubes had not started to grow.'"[18]

It was a hot summer day, and eventually Muhammad felt some compassion for those waiting to be beheaded:

The Messenger of God said, "Be good to your captives. Let them rest; quench their thirst until they are cool. Then, kill those who remain. Do not apply both the heat of the sun and the heat of the weapons." It was a summer's day. They let them rest. They quenched their thirst and fed them. When they were cool the Messenger of God began to kill those who were left.[19]

Muhammad ordered the Torture of Three Jewish Civilians

After the conquest of Khaibar in 628 Muhammad ordered the torture of three Jewish civilians. It began with Muhammad asking Sa'yah ibn-'Amr about a bag of treasure:

"What has become of the bag which Huyai brought from the banu-an-Nadir?" To this Sa'yah answered, "Wars and expenses have emptied it." But the Prophet remarked, "It was a short time and a big sum of money. Moreover, Huyai was killed before that." The Prophet then turned Sa'yah over to az-Zubair and the latter put him to the torture.

As a result of the torture, Sa'yah revealed where some of the treasure was hidden.[20] It had been hidden by Kinana bin al-Rabi, who had earlier denied knowing anything about that treasure.

After the treasure was found by the Muslims, Muhammad ordered the torture and killing of bin al-Rabi for having denied any knowledge of that treasure. After that, Muhammad

…commanded that the other Ibn Abi l-Huqayq (the brother of Kinana) also be tortured and then handed over to the care of Bishr b. al-Bara' to be killed by him. Some say that he cut off his head. After that the Messenger of God felt he had the right to their property and imprisoned their children.[21]

Muhammad ordered the killing of Civilians

  1. Muhammad gave an order to kill old non-Muslim men:

It was reported from Al-Hasan, from Samurah bin Jundab who said: "The Messenger of Allah said: 'Kill the old polytheist men, but spare their children.'"[22]

  1. Muhammad personally ordered the killing of four civilian non-Muslims who had criticized him: 1) 'Asma' Bint Marwan;[23] 2) Abu 'Afak;[24] 3) Ka'b b. al-Ashraf; [25] and 4) Abu Rafi'.[26]
  2. And after the Muslim conquest of Mecca in 630 Muhammad killed some civilians who had criticized him:

Allah's Messenger killed some men in Makkah who used to satirize and harm him, and the poets who survived fled in all directions for their lives.[27]

According to CAIR, the teachings of Muhammad are one of the bases for Sharia. In spite of CAIR's claim, Muhammad's teachings show a disregard for the protection of civilians.

Jihad does not mean Holy War

"Jihad" was the second word that CAIR claimed was being "either ignorantly or deliberately" abused. CAIR wrote: "As for jihad, it literally means 'striving,' it does not mean 'holy war.'"

However, for many years CAIR has been distributing a Koran translation, The Message of the Qur'an, that CAIR claims enhances "the understanding of Islam in America." As of 2016 CAIR had distributed over 130,000 copies of this Koran.[28] Here are some interesting footnotes found in that Koran.

…the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Qur'anic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war… (The Message of the Qur'an, n. 167, p. 51.)

…he was taken prisoner in a jihad – that is, a holy war… (The Message of the Qur'an, n. 72, p. 284.)

…a woman taken captive in a "holy war" (jihad)… (The Message of the Qur'an, n. 58, p. 727.)

So in spite of what CAIR claims, for many years CAIR has been equating jihad with "holy war" in the Koran translation it has been promoting and distributing for the sake of enhancing "the understanding of Islam in America."

Anti-Muslim and Xenophobic Bile

CAIR was very critical about statements made by Fox News' Tucker Carlson and a guest of Carlson's named J.D. Vance in regard to Afghan refugees coming into the United States. CAIR wrote:

The attitudes of the Afghan refugees are "very different from those of most Americans," Carlson said. Citing a Pew poll, he said that "99% of Afghan Muslims support, for example, enacting sharia law."

J.D. Vance then

…joined the fun. He alleged that 40% of Afghans "believe that suicide bombing is a reasonable way to solve a problem….who wants people like that in their community?"

According to CAIR, these statements were examples of "anti-Muslim and xenophobic bile."

But the reality is that Carlson was accurately quoting from a Pew Research Center report; and Vance was quoting from that same report, although in that report the actual percentage of Afghans who thought that "suicide bombing" in defense of Islam was often or sometimes justified was 39%. For more information about this, and additional disturbing information about the attitudes and beliefs of Afghan refugees coming into the United States, see my article, "Bringing in Afghan Refugees with all of their 'Luggage.'"[29]

It would be best if CAIR took up its "anti-Muslim and xenophobic bile" charge with the Pew Research Center instead of those quoting from Pew's own report.


CAIR wrote in this op-ed piece:

In the wake of the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan earlier this month, American Muslims are again seeing their religious language used in a derogatory, inaccurate way by those in our society who are supposed to know better…It is true that no matter how many times we explain this, many bad actors will ignore us and continue to misuse Islamic terms. They know the truth about Muslims, but they don't care.

Religious language used in an inaccurate way by those who are supposed to know better. Islamic terms misused by those who know the truth about Muslims, but don't care.

As this article has shown, CAIR has repeatedly made inaccurate claims when talking about the religious language of Islam. And since CAIR claims to be a Muslim organization representing the Muslims in the United States, one can infer that CAIR claims to know the truth about Muslims and Islam. With this in mind, it sounds like the above statement by CAIR is not a complaint, but rather a confession.

Dr. Stephen M. Kirby is the author of six books about Islam. His latest book is Islamic Doctrine versus the U.S. Constitution: The Dilemma for Muslim Public Officials.

[1] Edward Ahmed Mitchell & Ismail Allison, "CAIR OP-ED: How the Misuse of Islamic Terminology Endangers Muslim Communities," CAIR, August 27, 2021, https://www.cair.com/op_eds/cair-op-ed-how-the-misuse-of-islamic-terminology-endangers-muslim-communities/.

[2] "Global Gender Gap Report 2020," World Economic Forum, p. 8, https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf.

[3] https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/

[4] Muhammad bin Ismail bin Al-Mughirah al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 1997),Vol. 1, Book 6, No. 304, p. 210.

[5] Abu al-Fida' 'Imad Ad-Din Isma'il bin 'Umar bin Kathir al-Qurashi Al-Busrawi, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), abr. Shaykh Safiur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, trans. Jalal Abualrub, et al. (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2000), Vol. 2, p. 444.

[6] Abu Dawud Sulaiman bin al-Ash'ath bin Ishaq, Sunan Abu Dawud, trans. Yaser Qadhi (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2008), Vol. 2, No. 2142, p. 550.

[7] Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 2, p. 446.

[8] Abu al-Fida' 'Imad Ad-Din Isma'il bin 'Umar bin Kathir al-Qurashi Al-Busrawi, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), abr. Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa'i, trans. Chafik Abdelghani ibn Rahal (London: Al-Firdous Ltd., 1998), Part 5, p. 53.

[9] Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), trans. Alfred Guillaume (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 651.

[10] Muhammad bin Yazeed ibn Majah al-Qazwini, Sunan Ibn Majah, trans. Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2007), Vol. 3, No. 1986, p. 135.

[11] For more information regarding what Islam teaches about Islam, see my book Islamic Doctrine Versus the U.S. Constitution: The Dilemma for Muslim Public Officials (Washington, D.C.: Center for Security Policy Press, 2019), pp. 119-144. A free PDF download of my book is available at https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Kirby_Islamic_Doctrine.pdf.

[12] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Book 64, No. 4005, p. 205.

[13] Stephen M. Kirby, "Muhammad and the Killing of Women and Children," Jihad Watch, February 23, 2021, https://www.jihadwatch.org/2021/02/muhammad-and-the-killing-of-women-and-children.

[14] Commentary in The Clarification Regarding Intentionally Targetting [sic] Women and Children, At-Tibyan Publications, October 31, 2004, p. 39, http://archive.org/details/IntentionalityTargetingWomenAndChildren.

[15] The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), p. 464; and Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, trans. and annotated Michael Fishbein (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1997), p. 35.

[16] Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Waqidi, The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi, trans. Rizwi Faizer, Amal Ismail, and AbdulKader Tayob, ed. Rizwi Faizer (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), p. 252.

[17] The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), pp. 465-466; and The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, p. 38.

[18] Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5, No. 4404, p. 45.

[19] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi, p. 252.

[20] Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Jabir al-Baladhuri, The Origins of the Islamic State, Being a Translation from the Arabic, Accompanied with Annotations, Geographic and Historic Notes of the Kitab Fituh Al-Buldan of Al-Imam Abu-L Abbas Ahmad Ibn-Jabir Al-Baladhuri, trans. Philip Khuri Hitti (1916; rpt. Lexington, Kentucky: Ulan Press, 2014), p. 43.

[21] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi, p. 331.

[22] Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 3, No. 2670, p. 296. A variation of this, specifying pre-pubescent boys instead of children in general, was reported in Abu 'Eisa Mohammad ibn 'Eisa at-Tirmidhi, Jami' At-Tirmidhi, trans. Abu Khaliyl (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2007):

Samurah bin Jundab narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: "Kill the elder men among the idolaters and spare the Sharkh among them."

Jami' At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3, No. 1583, p. 353. The commentary for this hadith noted that "the Sharkh are the boys who did not begin to grow public hair."

[23] The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), p. 676.

[24] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi, pp. 86-87; and The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), p. 675.

[25] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi, pp. 91-96.

[26] The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), pp. 482-483.

[27] Safiur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2008), p. 521.

[28] Laurie Jaghlit, "CAIR's Quran Project UPDATE and Partnership Opportunity," CAIR, April 13, 2016, https://www.cair.com/press_releases/cairs-quran-project-update-and-partnership-opportunity/.

CAIR's Koran is The Message of the Qur'an, trans. Muhammad Asad, (Bristol, England: The Book Foundation, 2003). It is interesting to note that Muhammad Asad was born Leopold Weiss, "the grandson of an Orthodox Rabbi," in 1900 in Lwow (Lvov), in what is now Poland. He learned Arabic in his early 20's and converted to Islam in 1926. He died in Spain at the age of 92. See The Message of the Qur'an, pp. iv-v.

[29] Stephen M. Kirby, "Bringing in Afghan Refugees with all of their 'Luggage.'" Jihad Watch, August 30, 2021, https://www.jihadwatch.org/2021/08/bringing-in-afghan-refugees-with-all-of-their-luggage.


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