File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
the basis of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) methodology—we bring young people ..... Emily Soloff. Shane & Enid Staten. Randall Gray Styers. Joel Tiebloom ...
www.ifyc.org/files/file/Funders/FY05_06%20IFYC%20Annual%20Report.pdf - Similar pages
From www.danielpipes.org | Original article available at: www.danielpipes.org/article/273
The Western Mind of Radical Islam
by Daniel Pipes
[N.B.: The following reflects what the author submitted, and not exactly what was published. To obtain the precise text of what was printed, please check the original place of publication. Also, this version includes some post-1995 factual updates]
Fat'hi ash-Shiqaqi, a well-educated young Palestinian living in Damascus, recently boasted of his familiarity with European literature. He told an interviewer how he had read and enjoyed Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Sartre, and T.S. Eliot. He spoke of his particular passion for Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, a work he read ten times in English translation "and each time wept bitterly."1 Such acquaintance with world literature and such exquisite sensibility would not be of note except for two points - that Shiqaqi was, until his assassination in Malta in late 1995, a fundamentalist Muslim and that he headed Islamic Jihad, the arch-terrorist organization that has murdered dozens of Israelis over the last two years.
Shiqaqi's familiarity with things Western fits a common pattern. His successor as head of Islamic Jihad was Ramadan `Abdullah Shallah, a scholar who had previously lived in Britain and the United States for nine years and at the time of Shiqaqi's death taught political science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Eyad Ismail, one of the World Trade Center bombers recently extradited from Jordan, also had a special affection for the United States. According to his brother, "He loved everything American from cowboy movies to hamburgers."2 His sister recalled his love of U.S. television and his saying "I want to live in America forever." The family, she commented, "always considered him a son of America."3 His mother confirmed that "he loves the United States."4
Islamist intellectuals are also very much at home in the West. Hasan at-Turabi, the effective ruler of Sudan, the man behind the notorious "ghost houses" and the brutal persecution of his country's large Christian minority, often flaunts his knowledge of the West, telling a French interviewer that most fundamentalist leaders, like himself, are "from the Christian, Western culture. We speak your languages."5 In a statement that sums up this whole outlook, a fundamentalist in Washington asserted, "I listen to Mozart; I read Shakespeare; I watch the Comedy Channel; and I also believe in the implementation of the Sharia [Islamic sacred law]."6
This pattern points to a paradox: the very intellectuals intent on marching the Muslim world back to the seventh century also excel in Western ways and seem very much to appreciate at least some of them. How does this happen? What does it indicate about their present strengths and future course?
Fundamentalists are Westernized
Fundamentalist leaders tend to be well acquainted with the West, having lived there, learned its languages, and studied its cultures. Turabi of the Sudan has advanced degrees from the University of London and the Sorbonne; he also spent a summer in the United States in 1961, touring the country on a U.S. taxpayer-financed program for foreign student leaders. Abbasi Madani, a leader of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), received a doctorate in education from the University of London. His Tunisian counterpart, Rashid al-Ghannushi, spent a year in France and since 1993 makes his home in Great Britain. Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's leading militant politician and now its prime minister, studied in Germany. Mousa Mohamed Abu Marzook, the head of Hamas's political committee, has lived in the United States since 1980, has a doctorate degree in engineering from the University of Louisiana, and has been a permanent U.S. resident since 1990. In recent years he lived in northern Virginia with his wife and six children.7 He was arrested in 1995 at a New York airport on his way into the country to register his son in an American school.
Indeed, the experience of living in the West often turns indifferent Muslims into fundamentalists. Discussing Mehdi Bazargan, an Iranian engineer who spent the years 1928-35 in France, Hamid Dabashi dissects the process many Muslim students undergo:
Beginning with the conscious or unconscious, articulated or mute, premise that they ought to remain firmly attached to their Islamic consciousness, they begin to admire "The Western" achievements. . . . They recognize a heightened state of ideological self-awareness on the part of "The West" that they identify as the source and cause of its achievements. They then look back at their own society where such technological achievements were lacking, a fact they attribute, in turn, to the absence of that heightened state of ideological self-awareness.8
The key notion here, the French analyst Olivier Roy explains, is the rather surprising notion that ideologies are "the key to the West's technical development." This assumption leads fundamentalists "to develop a modern political ideology based on Islam, which they see as the only way to come to terms with the modern world and the best means of confronting foreign imperialism."9
Some of the leading fundamentalists fit this pattern. The Egyptian Sayyid Qutb went to the United States in 1948 as an admirer of things American, then "returned" to Islam during his two years resident there,10 becoming one of the most influential fundamentalist thinkers of our time. `Ali Shari`ati of Iran lived five years in Paris, 1960-65; from this experience came the key ideas of the Islamic Revolution. In other cases, fundamentalist thinkers do not actually live in the West but absorb its ways at a distance by learning a Western language and immersing themselves in Western ideas, as did the Indo-Pakistani journalist, thinker and politician Sayyid Abul A`la Mawdudi (1903-79). In still other cases, reading Western works in translation serves just as well. Morteza Motahhari, a leading acolyte of Khomeini's, made as thorough a study of Marxism as possible in the Persian language.
Many of fundamentalism's intellectual lights share a background of technical accomplishment. Erbakan quickly rose to the top of the engineering profession in Turkey as a full professor at Istanbul Technical University, director at a factory producing diesel motors, and even head of the country's Chamber of Commerce. His political party is known sometimes as the "engineers' party." Layth Shubaylat, a Jordanian firebrand, is also president of the Jordanian Engineers Association. These men take special pride in being able to challenge the West in the area of its greatest strength.
Actual terrorists also tend to be science-oriented, though less accomplished. Ramzi Yusuf, the accused mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, is an electronics engineer and explosives expert with an advanced degree from the Swansea Institute in South Wales;11 Nidal Ayyad was an up-and-coming chemical engineer at Allied Signal; and Eyad Ismail studied computers and engineering at Wichita State University. This same pattern holds in the Middle East: Salah `Ali `Uthman, one of three terrorists who attacked a bus in Jerusalem on 1 July 1993, was a student of computer science at the University in Gaza. The most notorious anti-Zionist terrorist of recent years is one Yahya Ayyash, nicknamed "The Engineer." Many fundamentalist Egyptians who engage in violence against the regime have science degrees, including the leader of the gang that assassinated Anwar as-Sadat in 1981.
Fundamentalist knowledge of the West seems to focus on engineering and comedies, but it's not limited to that. In a statement of beliefs from his Manhattan jail cell, Ramzi Yusuf cited the Encyclopedia Britannica and The New York Times, as well as one of Newton's laws of physics.12 This man is no bumpkin. One of his friends says that the remarkable thing about Ramzi Yusuf was his apparent pleasure in learning about new languages, cultures, and peoples, then proceeding to blow them up.13
So much knowledge of the West points to who fundamentalists are: not peasants living in the unchanging countryside but modern, thoroughly urbanized individuals, many of them university graduates. Notwithstanding all their talk about recreating the society of the Prophet Muhammad, fundamentalists are modern individuals at the forefront of coping with modern life. These are women struggling to keep their virtue on extremely packed buses, entrepreneurs attempting to live by the Qur'anic strictures on usury, and engineers working out the spiritual significance of the computer.
Ignorance of Traditional Islam
In contrast to this ostentatious familiarity with Western ways, fundamentalists are distant from their own culture. Turabi admitted to a French interviewer, "I know the history of France better than the history of Sudan, I love your culture, your painters, your musicians."14 He offered no comparable praise for Sudanese painters and musicians. Having found Islam on their own as adults, many fundamentalists are ignorant of their own history and traditions. Some of "the new generation of Islamic fundamentalists," Martin Kramer notes, "are born-again Muslims, ill-acquainted with Islamic tradition, who often see Islam only as an ideology of power."15 Tunisia's Minister of Religion Ali Chebbi goes further, saying that they "They ignore the fundamental facts of Islam."16 Like Mawdudi, these autodidacts mix a bit of this and that, as Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr explains:
Mawdudi's formulation was by no means rooted in traditional Islam. He adopted modern ideas and values, mechanisms, procedures, and idioms, weaving them into an Islamic fabric. . . . he sought not to resurrect an atavistic order but to modernize the traditional conception of Islamic thought and life. His vision represented a clear break with Islamic tradition and a fundamentally new reading of Islam which took its cue from modern thought.17
On reflection, this lack of knowledge should not be surprising. Fundamentalists are individuals educated in modern ways who seek solutions to modern problems; of course they know the West's ways better than their own country's traditions. The Prophet may inspire, but they approach him through the filter of the late twentieth century. In the process, they unintentionally substitute Western ways for those of traditional Islam.
Traditional Islam - the immensely rewarding faith of nearly a billion adherents - developed a civilization that for over a millennium gave order to the lives of young and old, rich and poor, sophisticate and ignorant, Moroccan and Malaysian. Alienated from this tradition, fundamentalists dispense with it in the chimerical effort to return to the pure and simple ways of Muhammad. To connect spiritually to the first years of Islam, when the Prophet was alive and the faith was new, they seek to skip back thirteen centuries. The most mundane issues inspire them to recall the Prophet's times. Thus, an author portrays the "survival tactics" employed by Muslim students at American universities to retain their Islamic identity as "much like the early Muslims during the Hijra [from Mecca to Medina]."18
Fundamentalists see themselves not as tradition-bound but as engaged in a highly novel enterprise. According to Iran's spiritual leader, `Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i, "The Islamic system that the imam [Khomeini] created . . . has not existed in the course of history, except at the beginning [of Islam], and does not exist elsewhere in the world today."19 Ghannushi similarly asserts that "Islam is ancient but the Islamist movement is recent."20 In rejecting a whole millennium, the fundamentalists throw out a great deal of their own legacy, from the great corpus of Qur'anic scholarship to the finely worked interpretations of law. They are not absorbed by the splendors of mosque architecture.
On the contrary, they admire efficient factories and armies. For them, no less than for a Swedish aid official, the Muslim world is backward and they too urgently seek its overhaul through the application of modern means. When this process goes slowly, they blame the West for withholding its technology. Thus, `Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian arch-radical, plaintively bemoans that "the United States and the West will never give us the technology" to pursue what he quaintly calls "the science of industrialization."21
The fundamentalists' goal turns out to be not a genuinely Islamic order but an Islamic-flavored version of Western reality. This is particularly apparent in four areas: religion, daily life, politics, and the law.
I. Imitating Christianity
It's certainly not their intent, but fundamentalist Muslims have introduced some distinctly Christian notions into their Islam.
Church-like structure. Traditional Islam was characterized by informal organizations. Virtually every major decision - establishing a canonical text of the Qur'an, excluding philosophical inquiry, or choosing which religious scholars to heed - was reached in an unstructured and consensual way. This has been the genius of the religion, and it meant that rulers who tried to control the religious institution usually failed.
Fundamentalists, ignorant of this legacy, have set up church-like structures. The trend began in Saudi Arabia, where the authorities built a raft of new institutions. Already in 1979, Khalid Durán wrote about the emergence of a "priestly hierarchy with all its churchly paraphernalia":
A number of religious functionaries have come into being whose posts were previously unheard of, for example: the Secretary of the Muslim World League, the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference, the Rector of the Islamic University in Medina, and so [on] and so forth. For the first time in history the imam of the Ka'ba has been sent on tour of foreign countries as if he were an Apostolic Nuntius.22
The Islamic Republic of Iran soon followed the Saudi model and went beyond it, Shahrough Akhavi explains, to institute a Catholic-style control of the clergy:
the centralization that has occurred in the religious institution in Iran is unprecedented, and actions have been taken that resemble patterns in the ecclesiastical church tradition familiar in the West. For example, in 1982, Khomeini encouraged the "defrocking" and "excommunication" of his chief rival, Ayatollah Muhammad Kazim Shari`atmadari (d. 1986), although no machinery for this has ever existed in Islam. Other trends, such as centralized control over budgets, appointments to the professoriate, curricula in the seminaries, the creation of religious militias, monopolizing the representation of interests, and mounting a Kulturkampf in the realm of the arts, the family, and other social issues tell of the growing tendency to create an "Islamic episcopacy" in Iran.
Even more striking, Akhavi notes, is how Khomeini made himself pope:
Khomeini's practice of issuing authoritative fatwas, obedience to which is made compulsory, comes close to endowing the top jurist with powers not dissimilar to those of the pope in the Catholic church. After all, compliance with a particular cleric's fatwas in the past had not been mandatory.23
In creating this faux Christian hierarchy, fundamentalists invented something more Western than Islamic.
Friday as sabbath. In a similar confusion, fundamentalists have turned Fridays into a Sabbath, something it had not previously been. Traditionally, Friday was a day of congregating for prayer, not a day of rest. Indeed, the whole idea of sabbath is alien to the vehemently monotheistic spirit of Islam, which deems the notion of God needing a day of rest falsely anthropomorphic. Instead, the Qur'an (62:9-10) instructs Muslims to "leave off business" only while praying; once finished, they should "disperse through the land and seek God's bounty" - in other words, engage in commerce. A day of rest so smacks of Jewish and Christian practice, some traditional Islamic authorities actually discouraged taking Friday off. In most places and times, Muslims did work on Fridays, interrupted only by the communal service.
In modern times, Muslim states imitated Europe and adopted a day of rest. The Ottoman Empire began closing government offices on Thursday, a religiously neutral day, in 1829. Christian imperialists imposed Sunday as the weekly day of rest throughout their colonies, a practice Muslim rulers adopted as well; for example, the Republic of Turkey did so in 1935, responding in large part to business interests that preferred to be on a European calendar. Upon independence, virtually every Muslim government inherited the Sunday rest and maintained it. S. D. Goitein, the foremost scholar of this subject, notes that Muslim states did so "in response to the exigencies of modern life and in imitation of Western precedent."24
Recently, as the Sunday sabbath came to be seen as too Western, Muslim rulers asserted their Islamic identities by instituting Friday as the day off. Little did they realize that, in so doing, they perpetuated a specifically Judeo-Christian custom. And as Fridays have turned into a holiday (for family excursions, spectator sports, etc.), Muslims have imitated the Western weekend.25
In other ways too, Muslims have become Christianized. With the solitary exception of the Isma`ilis, traditional Muslims did not organize to spread Islam; missionary work was undertaken by individuals such as merchants. Only in the nineteenth century, when faced with organized Christian missionary work, did the Muslims respond in kind. Or this description of athletic games sponsored by an offshoot of Hamas within Israel proper, part of an effort to make sure apprentice fundamentalists get trained in the martial arts:
Games are always preceded by prayer and proceed without any interruptions, in perfect sportsmanship, without any cursing and bickering between players and fans. Players wear long trousers, and after the games the members of each team embrace their opponents, enjoy a festive meal, and conduct a joint prayer for both teams.26
If one looks at the order that fundamentalists have created, it is clear how much they take from the West. Take the structure of their governments: Even the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was more traditional that most Islamists, founded a government supposedly founded on the pure principles of Shi`i Islam that is a republic based on a constitution that represents the nation via the decisions of a parliament which is chosen through popular elections - every one of these Western concepts.27
When it comes to understanding history, traditional Muslims saw the world either as static or as steadily in decline. The era of Muhammad was the best, and every generation since has witnessed degeneration. The idea of progress, so endemic to the modern West, is alien. In this world view, "there is no place for development, progress or social advancement and improvement."28 In contrast, the fundamentalists assume profound changes are underway, and very possibly for the better. Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential fundamentalist thinkers, accepted the Marxist notion of stages of history, adding only an Islamic stage. Around 1950, he predicted the twentieth century would witness the demise of the capitalism in the West and the blossoming of communism. But communism, although it would satisfy material needs, would not fulfill the spiritual side. "At that stage, Qutb argued, Islam would be the only candidate for the leadership of humanity."29 Well, Qutb had a few details wrong, but what is of special interest is how he accepts the Marxist (and very un-Islamic) notion of history unfolding in stages.
But perhaps the most striking Westernisms of daily life that fundamentalist Muslims have introduced are associated with women. Taking up the veil and separating women from men may appear to be an archaism, and that's certainly how the fundamentalists see these acts, but it isn't. Fundamentalists actually espouse an outlook more akin to Western-style feminism than anything in traditional Islam.
Traditional Muslim men certainly did not take pride in the freedom and independence of their women; but fundamentalists do. Ahmad al-Banna, son of the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brethren, adopts a feminist outlook that leads him to reinterpret Muslim history according to Western standards: "Muslim women have been free and independent for fifteen centuries. Why should we follow the example of Western women, so dependent on their husbands in material matters?"30
Traditional Muslim men took pride in their women staying home; in well-to-do households, they almost never left its confines. Hasan at-Turabi has something quite different in mind: "Today in Sudan, women are in the army, in the police, in the ministries, everywhere, on the same footing as men."31 Turabi proudly speaks of the Islamic movement having helped "liberate women."32 Following the adage that "the best mosque for women is the inner part of the house," traditional women prayed at home, and female quarters in mosques were slighted; but fundamentalist women regularly attend public services and new mosques consequently allot far more space to women's sections.
For centuries, a woman's veil served primarily to help her retain her virtue; today, it serves the feminist goal of facilitating a career. Muslim women who wear "Islamic dress," writes a Western analyst, are usually well educated, often in the most prestigious university faculties of medicine, engineering, and the sciences, and their dress signifies that although they pursue an education and career in the public sphere, they are religious, moral women. Whereas other women are frequently harassed in the public sphere, such women are honored and even feared. By the late 1980s, Islamic dress had become the norm for middle-class women who do not want to compromise their reputation by their public activities. Boutiques offer Parisian-style fashions adopted to Islamic modesty standards.33
The establishment of an Islamic order in Iran has, ironically perhaps, opened many opportunities outside the house for pious women. They do work in the labor force and famously serve in the military. A parliamentary leader boasts, not without reason, about Iran having the best feminist record in the Middle East, and points to the number of women in higher education.34 In keeping with this spirit, one of Khomeini's grand-daughters attended law school and then lived in London with her husband, a cardiac surgeon in training; another organizes women's sporting events. Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, the president of Iran, proudly declared that "Under the Islamic Republic, women have full rights to participate in social, cultural, and political activities."35
If the veil used to symbolize a woman's uncontrollable (and therefore destructive) sexuality, fundamentalists see it as the sign of her competence. Turabi declares, "I am for equality between the sexes" and goes on to explain how covering up helps achieve this key feminist goal: "A woman who is not veiled is not the equal of men. She is not looked on as one would look on a man. She is looked at to see if she is beautiful, if she is desirable. When she is veiled, she is considered a human being, not an object of pleasure, not an erotic image."36
Curiously, some fundamentalists see the veil representing not careers and equality, but something quite different: positive sexuality. Samira Isma`ili, a woman in Sharjah, hints at this when she points out an implication of being completely covered: "Being anonymous gives me freedom."37Shabbir Akhtar, a British writer, is more explicit. For him, the veil serves "to create a truly erotic culture in which one dispenses with the need for the artificial excitement that pornography provides."38 Traditional Muslims, it hardly needs emphasizing, did not see veils as a substitute for pornography.
III. Turning Islam into Ideology
Traditional Islam emphasized man's relations with God while playing down his relations to the state. Law loomed very large, politics small. Over the centuries, pious Muslims avoided the government, which meant almost nothing to them but trouble (taxes, conscription, corvée labor). On the other hand, they made great efforts to live by the Shari`a.
Infected by the twentieth-century disease, fundamentalists make politics "the heart" of their program.39 They see Islam less as the structure in which individuals make their lives and more as an ideology for running whole societies. Declaring "Islam is the solution," they hold with Khamene'i of Iran that Islam "is rich with instructions for ruling a state, running an economy, establishing social links and relationships among the people and instructions for running a family."40 For fundamentalists, Islam represents the path to power. As a very high Egyptian official observes, to them "Islam is not precepts or worship, but a system of government."41 Olivier Roy finds the fundamentalist inspiration to be far more mundane than spiritual: "For many of them, the return to religion has been brought about through their experience in politics, and not as a result of their religious belief."42
Revealingly, fundamentalists compare Islam not to other religions but to other ideologies. "We are not socialist, we are not capitalist, we are Islamic"43 says Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia. Egypt's Muslim Brethren assert they are neither socialist nor capitalist, but "Muslims."44 This comparison may seem overblown - socialism and capitalism are universal, fundamentalist Islam limited to Muslim - but it is not, for fundamentalists purvey their ideology to non-Muslims too. In one striking instance, Khomeini in January 1989 sent a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev asserting the universality of Islam. Noting the collapse of communist ideology, he implored the Soviet president not to turn westward for a replacement but to Islam.
I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan. . . . I call upon you seriously to study and conduct research into Islam. . . . I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.45
As interpreted by a leading Iranian official, this letter "intended to put an end to . . . views that we are only speaking about the world of Islam. We are speaking for the world."46 It may even be the case - Khomeini only hints at this - that Islam for him had become so disembodied from faith, he foresaw a non-Muslim like Gorbachev adopting Islamic ways without becoming a Muslim. If so, the transformation of Islam from faith to political construct is then total.
IV. Overhauling the Sacred Law
Even as fundamentalists pay homage to Islam's sacred law, they turn it into a Western-style code and three age-old characteristics of the Shari`a disappear: its elaboration by independent scholars, its precedence over state interests, and its application to persons, rather than territories.
Developed by the state. Through the centuries, jurists (faqihs) wrote and interpreted the Islamic law on their own, with little control by governments. The jurists early on established that they were answerable to God, not to the prince. Joseph Schacht, a leading scholar of this subject explains: "the caliph, though otherwise the absolute chief of the community of Muslims, had not the right to legislate but only to make administrative regulations with the limits laid down by the sacred Law."47 Rulers did try to dictate terms to jurists but failed. In the years a.d. 833-849, four successive caliphs imposed their understanding of the Qur'an's nature (that it was created by God, as opposed to the religious scholars, who said it had always existed). Despite energetic attempts by the caliphs (which included the flogging of a very eminent religious authority), the effort failed, and with it the pretensions of politicians to define the contents of Islam.
The jurists retained full control of Islamic law until the nineteenth century, when the British, French, and other European rulers codified the Shari`a as a European-style body of state law. Independent Muslim states, such as the Ottoman Empire, followed the European lead and also codified the Shari`a. With independence, all the Muslim rulers maintained the European habit of keeping the law firmly under state control; by the 1960s, only in Saudi Arabia did it remained autonomous.
Starting in 1969, Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhafi of Libya started the new wave of expanding the Shar`i content of state laws (for example, in the criminal statutes). He did so as ruler, using the state apparatus to compel jurists to carry out his orders. Fundamentalist Muslims in many countries then emulated Qadhdhafi, giving the state authority over the Shari`a even as they extended its purview. They made no effort to revert to the jurists' law of old but continued practices begun by the European powers.
When fundamentalists do on rare occasions protest this state domination of the law, it carries little conviction. Turabi remarks that "Islamic government is not total because it is Islam that is a total way of life, and if you reduce it to government, then government would be omnipotent, and that is not Islam."48 Turabi's enormous power in the Sudan makes it hard to take this critique seriously. Fundamentalists accept Western ways because, first, they know the imperial system far better than the traditional Muslim one, and so perpetuate its customs. Second, reverting to the traditional Muslim way would, Ann Mayer of the Wharton School points out, "entail that governments relinquish the power that they had gained over legal systems when European-style codified law was originally adopted,"49 and why should they do that?
State interests take priority. The state takeover invariably causes problems. Perhaps most important is that, in the traditional arrangement, the jurists jealously maintained their independence in interpreting the law. They insisted on God's imperatives taking absolute priority over those of the ruler. Such acts as prayer, the fast of Ramadan, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, they insisted, must never be subjected to the whims of despots. Jurists got their way, for hardly a single king or president, not even so ardent a secularist as Turkey's Kemal Atatürk, had the temerity to interfere with the Lord's commandments.
But Ayatollah Khomeini did. In January 1988, he issued an edict flatly contravening this ancient Islamic assumption. In a remarkable but little-noted document, the ayatollah asserted that "The government is authorized unilaterally to abolish its lawful accords with the people and . . . to prevent any matter, be it spiritual or material, that poses a threat to its interests." This means that, "for Islam, the requirements of government supersede every tenet, including even those of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca."50 Subordinating these acts to raison d'état has the effect of diminishing the Shari`a beyond recognition.
Khomeini - a classical educated scholar, an authority on Islamic law,51 and an eminent religious figure - justified this edict on the grounds that the interests of the Islamic Republic were synonymous with the interests of Islam itself. But this hardly explains so radical and unprecedented a step. The real reason lies in the fact that, like countless other twentieth-century rulers, he sought control of his country's spiritual life. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao subordinated religion to the state, so why not Khomeini? His edict subordinated Islam to the total state. Khomeini may have looked medieval but he was a man of his times, deeply affected by totalitarian ideas emanating from the West.
More generally, it had been the case that only highly qualified jurists could rule on the law. Now anyone with political power - voter, parliamentarian, or military despot - has potential authority over the outcome. This inevitably leads to the law becoming a tool of state power.
Applies to geographic jurisdictions. In traditional Islam (as in Judaism), laws apply to the individual, not (as in the West) to the territory. It matters not whether a Muslim lives here or there, in the homeland or in the diaspora; he must follow the Shari`a. Conversely, a non-Muslim living in a Muslim country need not follow its directives. For example, a Muslim may not drink whisky whether he lives in Tehran or Los Angeles; and a non-Muslim may imbibe in either place. This leads to complex situations whereby one set of rules applies to a Muslim thief who robs a Muslim, another to a Christian who robs a Christian, and so forth. The key is who you are, not where you are.
In contrast, European notions of law are premised on jurisdictions. Commit a crime in this town or state and you get one punishment, another in the next town over. Even highways have their own rules. Where you are, not who you are, is what counts.
Ignorant of the spirit underlying the Shari`a, fundamentalists enforce it along territorial, not personal lines; Turabi declares that Islam "accepts territory as the basis of jurisdiction."52 As a result, national differences have emerged. The Libyan government lashes all adulterers. Pakistan lashes unmarried offenders and stones married ones. The Sudan imprisons some and hangs others. Iran has even more punishments, including head shaving and a year's banishment.53 In the hands of fundamentalists, the Shari`a becomes just a variant of Western, territorial law.
This new understanding most dramatically affects non-Muslims, whose millennium-old exclusion from the Shari`a is over. Now they must live as virtual Muslims. `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman, the Egyptian sheikh in an American jail, is adamant on this subject: "it is very well known that no minority in any country has its own laws."54 `Abd al-`Aziz ibn Baz, the Saudi religious leader, calls on non-Muslims to fast during Ramadan. In Iran, foreign women may not wear nail polish - on the grounds that this leaves them unclean for (Islamic) prayer. Entering the country, the authorities provide female visitors with petrol-soaked rags and insist they wipe clean their varnished nails. A fundamentalist party in Malaysia wants to regulate how much time unrelated Chinese men and women may spend alone together.
This new interpretation of Islamic law creates enormous problems. Rather than fairly much leaving non-Muslims to regulate their own conduct, as did traditional Islam, fundamentalism seeks to intrude into their lives, fomenting enormous resentment and sometimes leading to violence. Palestinian Christians who raise pigs find their animals mysteriously poisoned. The million or two Christians living in the northern, predominantly Muslim, region of the Sudan must comply with virtually all the Shar`i regulations. In the southern Sudan, Islamic law prevails wherever the central government rules, although "certain" Shar`i provisions are not applied there;55 should the government conquer the whole South, all the provisions would probably go into effect, an expectation that does much to keep alive a forty-year civil war.
Despite themselves, the Islamists are Westernizers. Even in rejecting the West, they accept it. However reactionary in intent, Islamism imports not just modern but Western ideas and institutions. The Islamist dream of expunging the Western ways from Muslim life, in short, cannot succeed.
The resulting hybrid is more robust than it seems. Opponents of militant Islam often dismiss it as a regressive effort to avoid modern life and comfort themselves with the prediction that it is doomed to be left behind as modernization takes place. But this expectation seems mistaken; because it appeals most directly to Muslims contending with the challenges of modernity, Islamism's potential grows as do its numbers. Current trends suggest that it will remain a force for some time to come.
1Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, 17 March 1995.
2The New York Times, 4 August 1995.
3The New York Times, 5 August 1995.
4Radio Monte Carlo, 3 August 1995.
5Le Figaro, 15 April 1995. Turabi is right that fundamentalist leaders take pride in their knowledge of the West - with the great exception of Ayatollah Khomeini, a dour octogenarian. Symbolic of this lack of curiosity, he spent almost four months in a suburb of Paris and not once stepped foot in the French capital.
6Robert H. Pelletreau, Jr., et al., "Symposium: Resurgent Islam in the Middle East," Middle East Policy, vol. 3, no. 2 (Fall 1994), p. 20.
7The New York Times, 28 July 1995. There he was an active member of the Hamas-backed organization, the United Association for Studies and Research.
8Hamid Dabashi, Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (New York: New York University Press, 1993), p. 326.
9Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, trans. by First Edition (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 68.
10Ronald L. Nettler, Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist's View of the Jews (Oxford: Pergamon, 1987), p. 26.
11Mary Anne Weaver, "Children of the Jihad," The New Yorker, 12 June 1995. He acknowledges this technical competence in Al-Hayat, 12 April 1995 and Al-Majalla, 28 May 1995.
12Untitled paper issued by Ramzi in April 1995, starting "My name is ABDUL-BASIT BALOCHI . . ."
13Weaver, "Children of the Jihad." Weaver also reports that Ramzi Yusuf's maternal uncle, who is being sought by the Pakistani police for his involvement in fundamentalist violence, served as a regional manager for the Swiss-based charity Mercy International.
14Le Figaro, 15 April 1995.
15Martin Kramer, "The Jihad against the Jews," Commentary, October 1994, p. 39.
16The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 1995.
17Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama`at-i Islami of Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 7-8. For a detailed exposition of Mawdudi's Western orientation, see Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
18Shahed Amanullah, The Minaret, July-August 1994.
19Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 4 June 1994.
20Quoted in François Burgat and William Dowell, The Islamic Movement in North Africa (Austin, Tex.: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, 1993), p. 9.
21Shahid, Farvardin 1369/1990.
22Detlev H. Khalid [Khalid Durán], "The Phenomenon of Re-Islamization," Aussenpolitik, 29 (1978): 448-49.
23Shahrough Akhavi, "`Ulama': Shi`i `Ulama'," in John L. Esposito, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), vol. 4, p. 263.
24S. D. Goitein, Studies in Islamic History and Institutions (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), p. 111, n. 1.
25Occasionally, a Muslim does recognize this distortion. Here is Omar Bakri Muhammad, qadi of the so-called Shari'ah Court of the United Kingdom: "Unfortunately, some Muslims have become consumers of the western culture to the extent that many Muslims celebrate and wrongly take the day of Friday as a weekly holiday in contrast to Saturday of the Jews and Sunday of the Christians. Whereas the idea of a holiday does not exist in Islam and contradicts with the Islamic culture" (decision dated 20 December 1999).
26Ma`ariv, 3 February 1995.
27On which, see Asghar Schirazi, The Constitution of Iran: Politics and the State in the Islamic Republic, trans. by John O'Kane (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997).
28W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 3.
29Walid Mahmoud Abdelnasser, The Islamic Movement in Egypt: Perceptions of International Relations, 1967-81 (London: Kegan Paul International, 1994), p. 173.
30Corriere della Sera, 29 August 1994.
31Le Figaro, 15 April 1995.
32An-Nahar, 15 July 1995.
33Valerie J. Hoffman-Ladd, "Women and Islam: Women's Religious Observances," in Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 330.
34Mohammad Javad Larijani, Resalat, 28 June 1995.
35"An Interview with Iranian President Khatami," Middle East Insight, November-December 1997, p. 31.
36Le Figaro, 15 April 1995.
37Associated Press, 30 March 1997.
38Shabbir Akhtar, Be Careful With Muhammad! The Salman Rushdie Affair (London: Bellew Publishing, 1989), p. 100.
39Burgat and Dowell, Islamic Movement, p. 21.
40Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 7 June 1995.
41Usama al-Baz, The Washington Times National Weekly Edition, 24-30 April 1995.
42Roy, Islam and Resistance, p. 80.
43The New York Times, 28 March 1980.
44Al-Ahram Weekly, 2-8 February 1995.
45Radio Tehran, January 8, 1989. Khomeini is by no means the only fundamentalist to see the decline of socialism as an opportunity for his favored ideology. Turabi of the Sudan agrees: "Now that socialism has disappeared, there is a great void that only Islam can fill." La Vanguardia (Barcelona), 16 July 1995.
46Mohammad Javad Larijani, Resalat, 28 June 1995.
47Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 53. Those "administrative regulations" in fact amounted to a great deal of law.
48Quoted in Milton Viorst, "Sudan's Islamic Experiment," Foreign Affairs, May/June 1995, p. 53.
49Ann Mayer, "The Shari`ah: A Methodology or a Body of Substantive Rules?" in Nicholas Heer, ed., Islamic Law and Jurisprudence (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), p. 182. This discussion relies heavily on Mayer's account.
50Keyhan, January 8, 1988. Nor was this Khomeini's only pronouncement along these lines. For example, shortly after coming to power, he announced that "to serve the nation is to serve God" (Radio Tehran, 3 November 1979).
51For example, Sayyed Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini, Risalat Tawzih al-Masa'il, trans. by J. Borujerdi, A Clarification of Questions (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1984).
52Quoted in Judith Miller, "Faces of Fundamentalism: Hassan al-Turabi and Muhammed Fadlallah," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1994, p. 132.
53Mayer, "The Shari`ah," p. 193.
54The New Yorker, 12 April 1993.
55Minister of State Ghazi Salah ad-Din al-Atabani, quoted in Milton Viorst, "Sudan's Islamic Experiment," p. 51.
A few additional examples:
"Government Wants Non-Muslims Tried by Acheh Islamic Court":
The Indonesian government has insisted that Muslims and non-Muslims alike in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam district of Muslim-devout Aceh province should be tried by a planned Islamic Court. Non-Muslims accused of committing crimes such as theft and adultery, would be tried under the Sharia inspired bylaws, state secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra told the special committee deliberating a crucial bill on Aceh's future administration.
Mahendra, responding to the proposals of several legislators who wanted non-Muslims to be given the freedom to choose under which law they would be tried, said it would only create legal uncertainty. "Should such freedom be given, non-Muslims will certainly choose to be tried under the Criminal Code, because it carries more lenient punishment," Yusril told the hearing, held to discuss the authority of the planned Islamic Court, also known as Mahkamah Sharia.
Yusril said that in the case of adultery, non-Muslims who committed adultery with Muslims would undoubtedly opt for trial by Indonesia's penal code, because it was more lenient than stoning or other forms of corporal punishment stipulated under Islamic Law. ... Yusril said later in the hearing that non-Muslims could be exempted for trial by the Islamic Court only in cases related to domestic matters, such as distribution of wealth as well as business and monetary issues.
(April 26, 2006)