I must admit being almost hypnotically entranced by the televised debates among the various US presidential candidates, each of whom is emerging as a much more eloquent debater and, for most of the pack, a more vitriolic debunker of his opponents then he/she was at the beginning of this process. Of the candidates, none was more forthright (or outlandish, dependent upon the subjective assessment of the viewer) than Donald Trump, who was taken to task not so much for his demeaning characterization of women and Mexicans, but rather for his suggesting that Muslims must be especially vetted before being allowed entry into the United States as immigrants.
“Immigrants seeking asylum dare not be insulted, demeaned and denigrated merely because they are Muslims; such ethnic profiling defies the Constitution of the United States and the fundamental human right to religious freedom,” railed one opposing Republican candidate, to the delight of the democratic opposition and the enthusiastic applause of many in the mostly Republican audience.
President Barack Obama would certainly agree with their latter position – so anxious is he to be “politically and constitutionally correct” that he studiously avoids even the phrase “Muslim extremists,” using only “terrorist extremists” – as if there was ever a terrorist who wasn’t “extreme.” And indeed, did not the Founding Fathers of America justify their rebellion against the British Empire on the basis of their desire for religious freedom, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” a religious liberty which was denied the pilgrims by His Majesty’s Government of King George III? But how does the religion of Islam measure up to the freedom of religion so crucial to the founders of the American Constitution? Yes, Islam is one of the three monotheistic religions, standing alongside of Judaism and Christianity, but does Islam truly represent the faith of Abraham, our common forefather? God does tell Abraham, “I shall make you a great nation...
and through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2,3), but God later defines the content of that blessing which we must share with all of humanity: “Abraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation and through him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; for I have loved [known, chosen] him because he commands his children and his household after him that they take responsibility for the ways of the Lord, doing acts of compassionate righteousness and moral justice” (Genesis 18:18,19).
It is not only monotheism – one God – that Abraham discovered; it is specifically ethical monotheism, a God whose “ways” are compassionate righteousness and moral justice, a God of love who wants us to love every human being, a God of justice who expects every human being to be treated justly, to be entitled to freedom of thought and conscience as long as he/ she does not violate the physical wellbeing and human integrity of the other.
Our Jewish prophets, therefore, taught the world for the first time the eventual goal of peace for all humanity, painting a picture of the millennium as a time when “swords will be turned into plowshares, spears into preening hook, nation will not lift up sword against nation, and humanity will not learn war any more” (Isaiah 2, Micah 4), a time when the inviolability of every human being created in the Divine Image will be respected by all regardless of anyone’s religious ideology or ritual performance, when “all the peoples will go forth, each person in the name of his God, but we will go forth with the Name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (Micah 4:5). Moral absolution and ritual pluralism.
Very different is the Islamic picture emanating from the Koran and the Shari’a.
Antithetical to the religiously pluralistic Judeo-Christian view, the Islamic tradition sees the world divided into two entities, the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) wherein Muslims rule and Muslim law is enforced, and the House of War by Sword (Dar al-Harb), the rest of the world, where “infidels” still rule. According to Islamic traditional teaching it is the obligation of jihad – the military struggle of a holy war unto death – which beckons every Muslim to actively participate until the entire world submits to Muslim rule in every area of life (Islam, by Bernard Lewis, Wharton School Publishing, 2009, esp. P. 148).
Undoubtedly, the earlier chapters of the Koran and the Sufi interpretation of Islam in the 10th to 12th centuries understood jihad as a moral struggle for spiritual triumph, not as a bloody battle for Islamic religious domination.
As time went on, however, the notion of jihad as armed struggle against the infidel became dominant, promising a double reward to those actively involved in the holy war, booty in this world and delights of paradise in the next.
Moreover, in the late 19th and 20th centuries, when Western secular influences were beginning to infiltrate the Muslim world, the traditional extremist jihadist Islam gained in active ascendancy, even to the extent of suicide bombers (although previously suicide had been unalterably forbidden by Islam). The first major expression of this accelerated Islamic phenomenon emerged from Saudi Arabia, a Sunni manifestation which achieved heightened influence and power since the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are within its precincts.
A similar Islamic Sunni revivalist movement emerged from Egypt: Salafiyyah (“those pious ancestors who have gone before,” a return to past traditions of “purity” of faith) and whose offshoots are Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Hamas has even managed to establish free madrassas, transforming them from study centers to cells of extremist indoctrination for would-be suicide bombers.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 brought in its wake Shi’ite extremism in the form of Hezbollah (the Party of Allah) and al-Qaida, and has become the foremost purveyor of terrorism world-wide. Most worrisome of all is an offshoot of Syria-spawned Shi’ite al-Qaida known as Islamic State (IS), whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, entered the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, during Ramadan, July 5, 2014, where he established the First Caliphate after many generations. He was hell-bent on bringing about a return to 7th-century Islamic pristine purity by destroying Western-influenced secular apostasy in an apocalyptic war fraught with suicide bombings and nuclear explosions.
So far IS is on the march, brilliantly utilizing social media to influence even adherents from America, England and Western Europe.
Tragically, this is the face of Islam as it is being projected today – and although the Sunni and Shi’ite factions are at each other’s throats, their only real argument is who will be in charge at the time of the impending apocalypse: for both factions, world domination is the goal, armed jihad the means.
Is it possible to return to the earlier texts of the Koran to see jihad as an internal struggle for the spirit and soul of Islam rather than as an external military holy war seeking territory, infidel subjugation and world conquest? Of course it is, but it must be so declared by the Islamic religious leadership, which, except for rare examples, remains deafeningly silent.
To be sure, there is to be found also within our holy texts exhortations to destroy the indigenous nations of the Land of Canaan if they refuse to make peace with us, commanding us to pillage even the women and children (Deuteronomy 20:16,17, and within the book of Joshua). However, the Talmud (fairly equivalent in function to the Muslim Sharia) declares unequivocally that such warfare is totally forbidden today, that those seven nations (and even Amalek) no longer exist, that Sennacherib (722 BCE) removed and assimilated them completely so that no descendant can trace their lineage to them. (B.T. Berakhot 28b), and no such total warfare may be fought by Israel ever again.
Similarly, for 2,000 years the Catholic Church initiated murderous pogroms against innocent Jews especially during Christmas and Easter seasons, shed innocent Jewish blood in their inquisitions and auto-da-fe, but in 1965 – inspired by Pope John 23 and expressed by Pope Paul VI – came Nostra Aetate, a path-breaking document which insists that God does not repent of His covenants (so that the divine covenant with Israel remains eternally binding), that Jews are not guilty of deicide, that anti-Semitism is to be condemned and extirpated. This sacred document was accepted by the entire Vatical Council, Pope John Paul II called the Jews his elder brother and Pope Francis declared that Jews are not to be specifically targeted for conversion by any Church institution.
Pastor John Hagee, probably the most respected pastor in the Evangelical Movement, who preaches to a ministry of millions, declares the Jews to be God’s chosen people eternally and has developed a national movement, CUFI – Christians United for Israel. Pastor John Garr (a most respected theological voice among the evangelicals), has written a marvelous book in praise of Israel, God and Israel, which promises to be a best-seller.
Yes, there are millions of peace-loving Muslims who live within Israel and in countries throughout the world, but their voices are muted, they are frightened to condemn Arab terrorism, because the extremists have become so dominant. If President Obama truly wished to be religiously and morally correct, and not only politically correct, he should have called a meeting of Islamic leaders world-wide to promulgate just such a declaration of Islamic moderation – and it’s not too late.
But in the absence of such a declaration, and in the continuing shouts of “Allah Akhbar” during the manifold terrorist attacks by Muslims world-wide, all peace-loving countries must vet every Muslim seeking emigration, must investigate the political ideologies of the mosques in their midst, for this is the only way to protect the security of the citizens for whom they are responsible and encourage a more moderate Islamic religious leadership to emerge.
A religion which preaches armed jihad against those of different faiths – or those of no faith – does not deserve to be given a free pass on the basis of religious freedom; such a religion is a menace to religious freedom. Its adherents are promulgating death, not life, enslavement not freedom.
The ethical and moral monotheistic Islam must be encouraged – and even pressured – to publicly and officially declare itself, and distance itself totally from Islamic extremism for the sake of the free world.
Fatwas against the Islamic terrorists must make them the infidels and apostates. We are now in the midst of a third world war, and – despite President Obama – our main enemy is extremist Islam.