“Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization *
By Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
The Roots of Demonization and Its Cure
Muslims and their allies in Christianity and Judaism are facing what Sulayman Nyang has called “a new animal” in the history of human thought. This is the perception of impending universal chaos and the existential fear of ideological extermination, accompanied by a phobic identification and demonization of another religion as an alleged cause.
The fear of universal chaos has been growing for half a century, based on the perceptive global forecast by Robert Strausz-Hupe in 1957, that Communism would implode within a generation or two and inaugurate a world of demographic disruption accompanied by religious and ideological clash and by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. All three of these threats emerged in combination on schedule in the form of universal religious radicalization, which was most spectacularly manifested in the attack by self-proclaimed Muslims from abroad on the World Trade Center towers in New York and on the Pentagon as symbols of American globalization.
This demonization of America by radicals using their gross perversion of Islam as justification for their totalitarian ideology of hatred and terroristic destruction paved the way for a mirror-image demonization of Islam. Both of these movements toward demonization of the other had roots in the same existential fear that has been feeding religious exclusivism for millennia. The difference is that only in the era of the totalitarian mind has the goal been to exterminate the enemy not only physically but especially as carriers of a rival ideology.
The elimination of the sacred occurred for the first time in human history as a new ideology during the oxymoronically named “European Enlightenment.” The loss of transcendent meaning and purpose gave rise to two universal movements in human history. The first was the deeply spiritual Scottish Enlightenment, which gave rise to the American Revolution as a never-ending experiment in the pursuit of justice, order, and freedom. This necessarily was non-sectarian and was based on the reinforcing wisdom of divine revelation and natural law.
The second response to the loss of the sacred in Western thought and by projection throughout the world, as analyzed by Isaiah Berlin and Louis Cantori, was the growth of a monistic and monolithic ideology that rejected all religion except as a tool in the pursuit of power. The gurus of this militantly secular ideology inherited from Christianity the idea of perfection and claimed to have the power to produce heaven on earth. For this they invented the nation state as a substitute for God. From its perversion of Christianity this modernist movement adopted the imperial concept of salvation from chaos and evil through the pursuit of order without any concept of justice. The articulated values of this paradigm of thought, namely, individualism, pluralism, secularism, and equality, belie its unspoken, unarticulated cultural assumptions of its own power to impose a harmonious whole on humankind.
This drive to impose a self-conceived utopia on earth was mirrored in the secularization of religion by alienated Muslims in the East who borrowed their ideology from the West, even though they would die rather than admit it. Since their basic paradigm was a new secularized religion, both of these malignant mutations demonized each other as mortal enemies in an inevitable clash of civilizations. Both envisaged creative destruction as the key to their own power and to a global future of harmonious peace. Both seemed to be blithely unaware that the universal source of any harmonious whole is the traditionalist awareness of the transcendent as the ultimate source of truth, justice, and legitimacy.
This awareness, which is universal in all religions, was clearly stated by Thomas Jefferson, who taught that no nation can remain free unless the people are properly educated, that education consists above all in the knowledge of virtue, and that no nation can remain virtuous unless both personal and public life are infused with awareness and love of God. The Preamble to the American Constitution stated the corollary of this principle by listing five purposes for establishing the United States of America. Of these, the first was justice, then order and prosperity, and the last, as the product of the others, was freedom.
This principle of peace only through justice is basic to all the world religions and to its application through both economic and political self-determination by individual persons and their moral communities as the primary holders of sovereignty under God. The institutionalization of justice by persons working in community provides both the vision and the means to respect human responsibilities and pursue human rights as the classical essence of every one of humankind’s major religions. This is why enlightened persons must work in intrafaith dialogue within their own religions to recover their own classical traditions. And this is why they both can and must work together in interfaith dialogue and cooperation to help each other do so.
The Manifestation of Religious Demonization
Deconstructing the Sources
Absolute objectivity in human thought and communication is impossible, though the search for it in revelation and natural law is part of human nature. Bias or lack of objectivity has many names. In law it is called special pleading, and is the foundation of the American legal system wherein opposing lawyers try to present the most persuasively biased facts and arguments to support their respective clients. In politics, such bias is called lobbying. Lobbyists may claim to be objective, but no-one believes for a moment that they are. In religion such special pleading or lobbying is called apologetics, but in extreme cases the most descriptive term is “demonization.”
The recent book by Robert Spencer, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, is perhaps the best example anywhere of the world’s most intolerant demonization of a world religion. He claims total objectivity because he bases everything he says on Muslim sources. Unfortunately, he is highly selective by relying exclusively on Muslim sources that Muslims generally consider to be extremist and unreliable.
He writes, “I will report on what Muslim sources – sources regarded as reliable by most Muslims – say about Muhammad. And I will discuss some of these implications. … In writing this book I have relied exclusively upon Islamic sources.”
“From a historical standpoint,” he opines, “it is impossible to state with certainty even that a man named Muhammad actually existed, or if he did, that he did much or any of what is ascribed to him.” Imputing the idea to “some historians,” Spencer suggests that the Muhammad who comes to us in the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sirah (history) is a composite figure, constructed later to give Arab imperialism a foundational mythos.
His approach is best expressed in his statement, “For our purposes it is less important to know what really happened in Muhammad’s life than what Muslims generally accepted as having happened, for the latter still forms the foundation of Muslim belief, practice, and law. It is important to know the Muhammad of history, but perhaps even more important to know the Muhammad who has shaped and continues to shape the lives of so many Muslims worldwide. … It is this picture of Muhammad that remains true whatever the actual historical accuracy of this material. … Millions of Muslims look to Muhammad on how to imitate the man that Islamic tradition has dubbed al insan al kamil, or the Perfect man.”
A. Reliability of the Qur’an
“Historical certainty,” he suggests, “is not easy to ascertain with a text as sketchy as the Qur’an, as overwhelmed with false information as the Hadith, and as late as the Sira.” He adds, “When Islamic apologists say terrorists quote the Qur’an on jihad ‘out of context,’ they neglect to mention that the Qur’an itself often offers little context. … The Qur’an contains a good deal of detail about particular incidents in the Prophet’s life, but no continuous narrative [as in the Old and New Testaments]—- and the incidents it does relate are often told obliquely or incompletely, as if the audience knows the outline of the story already.”
Spencer attempts to deconstruct the model of the Prophet Muhammad by quoting Muslim stories to show that he was a terrorist and then claiming that the Qur’an was created to legitimize terrorism. He writes, “In the Qur’an again and again Allah is quite solicitous of his prophet, and ready to command what will please him.”
Spencer attempts to deconstruct the Qur’an by writing, “Allah himself is the only speaker throughout virtually all of the Qur’an. (Occasionally Muhammad seems to have lapsed a bit on this point: Surah 48:27, for example, contains the words ‘if Allah wills’ – an odd locution for Allah himself to be using).”
Spencer himself, however, would seem to give the answers to this “lapse” where he writes that, “The Qur’an is, according to Islamic tradition, a perfect copy of an eternal book – the umm al kitab, or Mother of the Book – that has existed forever with Allah,” and further when he quotes the Prophet’s wife, A’isha, as recorded in the hadith collections of both Bukhari and Muslim, as saying that the Prophet told her a few months before his final illness, “Gabriel used to recite the Qur’an to me once a year and for this year it was twice and so I perceived that my death has drawn near.”
The most serious problem with Robert Spencer’s approach to the Qur’an is demonstrated by his statement in his best-selling book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, that, “The clearest and most accurate translation is that of N. J. Dawood (Penguin), but Muslims tend to dislike it because Dawood was not a Muslim.” He then denigrates the Yusuf Ali translation which has many thousands of footnotes evaluating fourteen centuries of interpretative tradition. He fails even to mention the Muhammad Asad translation, which is superior in this regard even to the translation by Yusuf Ali, because the Asad translation excels in citing the wealth of classical Islamic scholarship on both the inner and outer meaning of the Qur’an and on the hadith that reflect this wisdom. The Dawood translation has no explanatory commentary and may come across as incoherent and self-contradictory to anyone who does not already know the Qur’an.
Citing Osama bin Laden’s copious quotes from the Qur’an, Spencer writes, “Of course, the devil can quote scripture for his own purpose, but Osama’s use of these and other passages in his messages is consistent (as we shall see) with traditional understanding of the Qur’an. When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent actions against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretative traditions that have moved them away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretative tradition.”
Spencer’s readers are carefully steered away from all contact with the Islamic interpretative tradition, which equals or exceeds that of any other religion, because any scholarly knowledge about Islam would expose all his extremist interpretations to ridicule.
B. Reliability of Hadith
“The Sunnah, or model, of the Prophet, which is largely comprised of the Hadith, is second only to the Qur’an in authority for most Muslims. …It is virtually impossible to tell with any certainty what is authentic in this mass of information and what isn’t. Muslims themselves acknowledge that there are a great many forged ahadith, which were written to give the Prophet’s sanction to the views or practices of a particular party in the early Muslim community. This makes the question of what the historical Muhammad actually said and did well-nigh insoluable.”
This statement by Robert Spencer makes it possible for him to ignore the hadith that contradict everything he says, but this does not deter him from citing other hadith as absolute proof for his favorite perversions and disinformation.
The problem can devolve into a vicious circle. The classical scholars evaluated the hadith not merely by the soundness of the chain of transmission but by the concordance of any specific hadith with the Qur’an. Extremist Muslims then resorted to justifying their favorite hadith by introducing the concept of abrogation in the Qur’an, whereby Allah supposedly overruled what He Himself had revealed by new revelations. They base this on Surah al Baqara 2:107, “Any ayah that we annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one.” This word ayah can refer either to a verse in the Qur’an or more generically to a message. The previous verse sets the context by referring to “those among the followers of earlier revelations who are bent on denying the truth.” Since objective analysis of the New Testament would reveal nothing inconsistent with the Qur’an, despite claims by many Muslims and Christians to the contrary, the use of the qualifier “among” might refer to the heterodox Christians in Arabia who had fled the Byzantine Empire. Those who advocate the doctrine of abrogation use verses that allegedly abrogate earlier ones to legitimate their favorite hadith and conveniently discredit the ones they do not like. The quest for the “historical Qur’an” and the “historical Muhammad” then does indeed become insoluable, which, of course, also serves the purpose of those whose agenda calls for the demonization of Islam as a religion and of the Prophet Muhammad as its living manifestation.
The clearest example of this process concerns the conditions for salvation. One of the clearest and most insistent messages throughout the Qur’an and in the teachings and practice of the Prophet Muhammad was the universality of salvation within the various religions that have developed in various times and places.
Only three conditions are given in the Qur’an as the requirements for salvation. These are: 1) belief in One God; 2) belief in the Day of Judgment, that is, in the justice of God both in this world and the next; and 3) the practice of good works.
Near the beginning of the Qur’an in the second surah, Baqarah 2:62, we have the standard formulation: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, the Christians (those who follow the teachings of the Gospel), and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward from their Lord, and they need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
In Surah al Baqara 2:112 an even more generic formulation is given: “Everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.” The literal translation is “everyone who surrenders his face unto God,” which is classical Arabic for one’s whole being. Whoever does so is a Muslim and it is in this sense that the terms islam (the religion) and muslim (the person who surrenders to God) are used throughout the Qur’an.
The worst heresy among Muslims is evidenced by the official Saudi translations of the Qur’an, which assert that the above two verses and all like them have been abrogated by verses that say only Muslims can enter heaven. For this they cite Surah Al-i-‘Imran 3:19, “The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam.” This, of course, is arguing in the classical vicious circle (circulosum viciosum), because the allegedly abrogated verses clearly define the terms Islam and Muslim. This doctrine of abrogation has functioned like a computer virus and has multiplied into the abrogation of hundreds of verses. Those who justify their new, hate-filled religion by asserting that God changed his mind through abrogation are playing God. This process of selective interpretation and deletion eventually would gut the entire Qur’an of all meaning. And, of course, it serves those whose purpose is precisely this.
The authenticity of the hadith concerned all the great classical scholars in Islam. Over the period of several centuries the greatest minds in the world, including the Muslim, Al Shatibi, the Jew, Maimonides, and the Christian saint, Thomas Aquinas, developed a holistic framework of higher purposes derived from divine revelation and natural law and from the intellectual processing of both to vet all questions concerning the authenticity of tradition and history, known in Islam as the hadith and sirah. The product of this effort was a universal code of human responsibilities and rights, known as the maqasid al shari’ah or universal purposes and principles of Islamic jurisprudence, which has never been even approached since then, but until recently was dead for six hundred years.
This normative methodology provides a framework for analyzing the conformity of hadith with the Qur’an. These maqasid, briefly, are freedom of religion (haqq al din), followed by three pairs: respect for human life (haqq al haya) and human community (haqq al nasl); respect for economic justice (haqq al mal) and political justice (haqq al hurriya); and respect for human dignity - including gender equity (haqq al karama) - and freedom of knowledge – including thought, speech, and assembly (haqq al ‘ilm). These are based on the methodology summarized by the greatest scholar in this field, Al Shatibi (died in 1388 in Grenada), in the words, “Anyone who seeks to obtain from the rules (ahkam) of the shari’ah something that is contrary to its purpose has violated the shari’ah and his actions are null and void.”
Another of the greatest Islamic scholars, Ibn Taymiyah (died 1328), a purifier of Sufism in his day, taught that the then standard taxonomy of Islamic law limited to five irreducible purposes or principles originally formulated by Abu Hamid al Ghazali (died 1111), failed to include the law’s most significant and sublime purposes. He wrote, “among this-worldly interests they list what guarantees the prevention of bloodshed and protects people’s material wealth, chastity, mental faculties, and outward religion, but they make no mention of forms of worship that are both outward and inward [including the five arkan or pillars of Islam], such as those that lead to the development of experiential knowledge of God, His angels, His books, and his apostles, as well as spiritual states and actions of the heart such as love and reverence for God, worshipping with complete devotion and sincerity, utter dependence upon Him and hope for His mercy and blessing.”
C. Reliability of Sirah
Spencer prefaces his analytical approach with his statement, “The sira, or biography of Muhammad, with the hadith and Qur’an, make up the sunnah. The first full-length biography, by Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar (704-773) did not appear until 150 years after his death. … Unfortunately, the original form of this book is lost to history. It exists only in a later revised and shortened version by Ibn Hisham, who died in 834, sixty years after Ibn Ishaq, and in fragments quoted by other early Muslim writers, including Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (839-923)”
“I will rely chiefly on Ibn Ishaq, since his work is the oldest chronologically, and also on Muhamad ibn Umar al Waqidi (d. 823) and upon his secretary, who also collected hadith, Muhammad ibn Sa’d (d. 845), who is considered to be more reliable than Waqidi.” Of Spencer’s 400 footnotes, 120 or more than a quarter refer to Ibn Ishaq as the source.
Spencer admits that the accuracy of Ibn Ishaq’s life of Muhammad is questionable, and he admits on page 27 that “Malik called Ibn Ishaq ‘an Antichrist, yet he says on page 30 that Ibn Ishaq’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad is his principal source for much of his book. Many scholars even today rely on Ibn Ishaq or what remains of his rewritten writings, but not as the sole source of stories that almost certainly were forgeries.
“For our purposes,” Spencer writes, “it is less important to know what really happened in Muhammad’s life than what Muslims generally accepted as having happened, for the latter still forms the foundation of Muslim belief, practice, and law. It is important to know the Muhammad of history, but perhaps even more important to know the Muhammad who has shaped and continues to shape the lives of so many Muslims worldwide. … It is this picture of Muhammad that remains true whatever the actual historical accuracy of this material.”
D. Satanic Verses
Spencer makes the subtle argument that the Prophet Muhammad was subject to being duped and therefore was not reliable, certainly not as a prophet of God.
Spencer devotes a section of his book to repeat the story of the Satanic Verses popularized by Salman Rushdie. He relies entirely on the authority of Ibn Ishaq, who he admits is unreliable and was rejected by the founder of what is still the major madhab or school of law in Islam, Malik ibn Anas (715-795), as a Dajjal or anti-Christ. Spencer claims illogically that the story cannot be dismissed as apocryphal because so many Muslims have believed it. It first originated almost two centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in a fragment cited by Muhammad ibn Sa’d (died 845) in his Tabaqat al Kubra (The Great Founding Generation) and by Al Tabari (839-923) in his Tarikh al Rusul wa al Muluk (The Heritage of Prophets and Kings) from what they both believed to be from the lost book of sirah by the first historian of the Muslim community, Ibn Ishaq (704-773). Oddly, other accounts of the lost book of Ibn Ishaq state that he declared this story to be a total fabrication by the zindiqs, who falsely claimed to be Muslims in order to undermine Islam from within on behalf of their Zoroastrian or Manichean religions.
According to the fabricated story, the pagan Quraysh threatened the Muslims’ very existence, so the Prophet Muhammad was desperate to reach an accommodation. He therefore added two polytheistic sentences after two verses of Surah al Hajj (53:19-20). The first is said to have read, “Have you then ever considered [what you are worshipping] in Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, as well as in Manat, the third and last [of this triad]?”, these being the three principal gods of pre-Islamic Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad allegedly then added, “These are the goddesses on high. Their intercession is worthy of being sought.” The Qurayshites thereupon allegedly prayed with him and exclaimed, “Now that you have proclaimed for them [our gods] a place in your new religion, we are all for you.”
In fact, there was no longer any need or even possibility of reconciling with the Qurayshite opponents of Islam, because the principal enemy of the Muslims, ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, had just converted to Islam and continued his determined war but now not against the Muslims but for them. Many men from the various clans of the Quraysh joined him, so that civil war threatened. The result was the Qurayshite decision to proclaim an armistice. This new turn of events persuaded most of the Muslims who had fled to Ethiopia (Habash) to return home because the threat to the Muslims had at least for a time disappeared.
Revelation confirmed the Prophet Muhammad in his monotheistic faith and strengthened him in his resistance to the Qurayshites’ search for a compromise. This revelation in Verse 23 of Surah al Hajj tells the Prophet Muhammad to say to his opponents: “These [allegedly divine beings] are nothing but empty names which you have invented – you and your forefathers – and for which God has bestowed no warrant from on high. They [who worship them] follow nothing but surmise and their own wishful thinking – although right guidance has now indeed come unto them from their Sustainer.” The reason for denying the power of any beings, angelic or otherwise, is the Islamic emphasis on the absolute power of God. “This intercession cannot be of the least avail [to anyone] – except after God has given leave [to intercede] for whomever He wills and with whom He is well-pleased.”
Those who accept the story of the three goddesses may seek to disprove the infallibility of the prophets in their conveyance of the divine messages and to discredit the purity of the Qur’an from corruption. Even if the story were true, however, the story also claims that God corrected the text and protected the Qur’an from corruption.
The strongest argument against those who assert the presence of Satanic power over the Prophet Muhammad is the fact that the flow of the surah would render the interspersion of the alleged verses illogical and non-sensical and therefore useless in reaching a compromise with the Prophet’s opponents. Like the equally spurious story about the massacre of the Banu Qurayzah, the origins and internal illogic of each preclude any serious consideration by objective scholars.
E. Borrowing from the Old and New Testaments
The similarity of Qur’anic accounts to those in the Old and New Testaments, argues Spencer, indicates borrowings, but this is based on the assumption that God did not reveal the truth to Muhammad. In contrast, Muslims explain the similarity by saying that the divine revelation in the Qur’an confirmed the validity of what had been passed down by Jews and Christians and added more meaning to it.
Spencer asks, “Did some of the Jews mock Muhammad’s prophetic pretensions by representing their own writings, or folkloric or apocryphal material, as divine revelation, and selling them to him?”
Spencer says that Muhammad borrowed from heretical Christian sources and cites as evidence the apparently absurd account in 5:110 (cited by Spencer as 113) wherein God says to Mary that Jesus would give this message to the Jews, as translated by Yusuf Ali, “… “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave.” This same account occurs in the heterodox “Infancy Gospel” and, according to Spencer, perhaps because of its bizarre nature, would suggest borrowing.
This, however, is a common Arab allegory, as explained in Muhammad Asad 3:49, notes 37-38, who translates it as “I have come to you with a message from your sustainer. I shall create for you out of clay, as it were, the shape of [your] destiny, and then breathe into it, so that it might become [your] destiny by God’s leave.” The word tayir or birds, as well as the singular ta’ir, in both pre-Islamic Arabia and in four places in the Qur’an denotes “fortune” or “destiny,” whether good or evil. Jesus was saying to the children of Israel that out of the humble clay of their lives he would fashion for them the vision of a soaring destiny, and that this vision, brought to life by his God-given inspiration, would become their real destiny by God’s leave and by the strength of their faith and love.
Spencer cites the similarity among Islamic, Zoroastrian, and Hindu religions of the houris or virgins who would be the companions of men in heaven. Citing Surah al Waqi’ah 56:36, he writes, “Allah ‘made them virgins,’ and according to Islamic tradition, virgins they would remain forever.” This pairing in heaven would be expected, because the Qur’an in Surah al Ra’d 13:3 teaches that every species of being was made to live in pairs and in communities, both in this world and in the next. Furthermore, the Qur’an states in Surah Yunus 10:48, “To every people we have sent a messenger,” and that all prophets taught in the language of the people who heard the message, which means that their standard allegories and metaphors would be used in the language of divine revelation. The commonality of allegories in many diverse countries and in different religions could come simply because different people came up with the same poetic ways of expressing what otherwise might be inexpressible.
* This is a pre-publication copy, with copyright in the name of the author, Robert D. Crane. Parts One and Three of this book are scheduled for publication separately by the International Institute of Islamic Thought as part of the Conference Proceedings of a panel, entitled “Countering Islamophobia: The Intellectual’s Response,” held at the IIIT’s offices in Herndon, Virginia, on October 17th, 2007. Part Two is scheduled for condensation and publication by the IIIT as Part Three of the book, Compassionate Justice: The Normative Approach to Human Rights, Robert D. Crane, 2008. The final published version will include all of the notes and references.
Dr. Crane is a former Franciscan monk of the Third Order who embraced Islam as a spiritual path while living in the Gulf emirate of Bahrain in 1976-77 writing the book, Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia, Praeger/CBS, 1977. He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1959 with a specialization on comparative legal systems. He is Director for Global Strategy at the Abraham Federation: A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice, and author or co-author of a dozen books, including Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence Between Science and Religion.