Spiritual and Intellectual Jihad: A Best-Case Scenario for the Holy Land


by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

The “grand strategy” of Islam has always been to address issues of conscience in both domestic and foreign policy by focusing on causes rather than merely on effects. It focuses on the inner rather than the outer, on the spiritual dynamics of change rather than merely on their result in current events. And it focuses on the power of ideas in shaping human affairs rather than on the power that comes from bombs and ballots.

The challenge of bringing peace through justice in the Holy Land requires the transformation of Jewish self-perceived identity. Jews can perfect themselves as a people and thereby fulfill their destiny in the Holy Land only if they recognize the threats that secular Zionism poses to their future and instead embrace the guidance and opportunities of spiritual Zionism so beautifully taught by the Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935, Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook.

Identity transformation is required also for both Christians and Muslims. The Holy Land can resume its normal role as the world’s leading center of civilization interchange and enrichment only if the Christian civilization of the West transforms its drive for stability, and the Muslim civilization of the East transforms its drive for survival, into a drive for peace through justice.

The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peoples can fulfill their destiny as the principal catalyst of a new global civilization only by drawing on the best from their past in a joint effort of civilization renewal. This process of civilization renewal requires Muslims to found dedicated institutes of higher learning. A pioneering and cutting-edge venture in civilization renewal has been undertaken by a diverse group of progressive Muslim intellectuals, scholars, and professionals. They have founded Crescent University as a modern, mainstream, and egalitarian seat of higher learning modeled on other successful faith-based institutions. Their mission is to develop an American Muslim university equal to Oxford and Harvard by the middle of the present century.

Part One

Transformation of Self Identity from Secular to Spiritual Zionism

The current events of April, 2002, are a denouement of the so-called Second Intifada, which began in September, 2000, as a reaction to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s symbolical assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount in the heart of Old Jerusalem. His occupation of the Temple Mount by an armed force of a thousand Israelis put an end to the decade-long Oslo peace process, which, in the Palestinians’ perception, had succeeded only in gradually and incrementally restricting their rights and hopes in the Holy Land.

Increasingly, even supporters of secular Zionism are concluding that present trends seem to be leading to an eventual holocaust. Even separation of peoples into two sovereign ghettos might accomplish no more than buy time before the inevitable. There are alternatives, among which perhaps the most promising is the Abraham Federation, explained on the website of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, http://www.cesj.org Any s.uccessful solution, however, must address the most fundamental of the root causes of conflict, which is secular Zionism itself.

Conflict over the past century in the Holy Land, including the failure of Oslo, is an effect of the secularization of Judaism during the 19th century in Europe, caused in part by anti-Semitism, and by the devastating blow to the faith in the twentieth century by the Holocaust, which produced the phenomenon of secular Zionism. Alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation came to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal. A minor, splinter faction before the Holocaust, the secular Zionists by mid-century had become the dominant force in a revolution that replaced spiritual Zionism as the return to God by a secularized Zionism as the return to a modern secular state. The self-identity of Jews world-wide thus was transformed into loyalty to a national-security-state based on political and military power in conflict with the rest of the world.

The future of Jews in the Holy Land will depend on the extent to which they can overcome this secular transformation and re-transform their identity to recover and connect with their spiritual roots.

More than four years before the Second Intifada, the Associate Editor of the Middle East Affairs Journal, Laura Drake, identified the underlying problem of identity transformation in her 54-page article, “Reconstructing Identities: The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Theoretical Perspective.” This profound think-piece, published in the Winter/Spring issue of 1997-98, summarized her just-completed doctoral dissertation at American University.

Dr. Drake focuses on the identity destabilization and identity deconstruction among Israelis who no longer consider themselves Zionists and among Arabs who consider Arab identity to be merely a function of geography. She suggests that such a post-modern loss of consciousness on one side both causes and results from hegemony on the other side.

The beginning of the 21st century revealed how easily this negative process of identity loss can be reversed by threats to physical security deliberately instigated and aggravated by extremists on both sides. In early 2002, the mutual incriminations of a terrorist/anti-terrorist dance of death refurbished secular identities. At the same time it made ever more clear the need for the spiritual leaders of all the parties in the Holy Land during the rest of the 21st century to recover their pre-Holocaust and pre-Intifada identities as peoples called by God to bring peace through justice to the world.

The flourishing of Jewish civilization in the Holy Land will never come merely from the post-modern loss of modernist identities, because such a vacuum is unstable. Long-run security will come only from positive and pro-active commitment to recover classical identities.

The apostle of such classical identity for Jews was Abraham Isaac Kook, who was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935. He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.

Although the fundamentalist Gush Emunim, who have established fanatical settlements deep into the West Bank, invoke Rebbe Kook as their mentor, they make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind. Abraham Isaac Kook’s entire life bespoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the basic disposition of the Israelite nation,” he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.”

Universally recognized as the leading spokesperson of spiritual Zionism, Rabbi Kook went to Jaffa from Poland in 1904 to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the “holy sparks” in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.

As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the “microcosm of humanity.”

“If individuals cannot summon the whole world to God,” proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call. He appealed therefore to the Jewish people, “whose commitment to the oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications … and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light … by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Soloman’s Song of Songs.

But he warned, again “prophetically,” that, “when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height. In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness. Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible.” Each person then suffers: “The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one’s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment. In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction. … When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one’s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within. … The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.”

Rebbe Kook warns that “the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry. … It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.” “The love of the nation,” he taught, “or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, … but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations. … This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.”

“By transgressing the limits,” Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.”

Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant. “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. … It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation. … We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. … Our people will be rebuilt and established … through the divine dimension of its life. All the builders of the people will come to recognize this profound truth. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ‘Let us go and return to the Lord! And this return will be a true return’.”

And at this time, prophesied Rebbe Kook, who always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, “the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and of Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion … [and turn] the darkness to light.”

Part Two

Civilizational Renewal

If the causes of conflict are fundamentally the loss of spiritual awareness and commitment, the cures are their recovery. This is particularly important for Muslims in America, because they are called to the spiritual path both by their own religion and by their presence in America, whose founders and entire purpose are deeply spiritual. The spiritual power both of America and of American Muslims can be recovered only by recognizing their common origins in reliance on and commitment to their loving Creator.

Muslims are vice-regents of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, born with khilafa. Every individual Muslim has a duty, fard ‘ain, and the entire umma here in America has a responsibility, fard kifaya, to be God’s servants in weaving Allah’s grand design. Their role and very existence here in America is part of the divine purpose to bring real meaning and substance to the Founders’ conviction that America can and should be a moral leader of the world.

America is perhaps the only country where a truly Islamic culture can flourish and therefore may be the only leading Western country that can become functionally Islamic. By this I do not mean that the majority will make the shahada and formally become Muslims, but rather that the common principles of classical America and classical Islam will provide the paradigm of thought that guides public life.

The basic paradigm of what we call American “traditionalist” thought, which originated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England and culminated in the American Revolution almost a century later, is that order, justice, and freedom are interdependent. When freedom is construed to be independent of justice, there can be no justice and the result will be anarchy. When order is thought to be possible without justice, there can be no order, because injustice is the principal cause of disorder. When justice is thought to be possible without order and freedom, then the pursuit of order, justice, and freedom are snares of the ignorant.

This triune nature of peace through justice is thoroughly Islamic, but Muslim scholars have spelled it out in unsurpassed detail. The vision of Islam was fully articulated during the Islamic classical period and culminated in the writings of Al Shatibi six centuries ago in direct reliance on thematic analysis of the Qur’an and on the diplomacy of the Prophet Muhammad ( ). The great scholars of Islam, every one of whom was imprisoned at least once for refusing to corrupt Islamic tradition, developed guidelines for developing and applying Islamic law (shari’ah) in the form of a set of Islamic universal principles (kulliyat), essentials (dururiyat), or purposes (maqasid). Although there are some important fiqi guidelines to observe in this field, al Shatibi explained that the number and inner tectonics of these maqasid are flexible according to time and place.

The secret to the functional Islamization of America is to articulate vision. Vision shapes the public policy agenda, and whoever shapes the agenda controls policy.

For purposes of agenda formation, the universal principles of Islamic thought are seven responsibilities. When observed, they produce corresponding human rights. The first, haqq al din, is the duty to respect and maintain the purity of divine revelation, without which human reason is unreliable. The next three, which promote human survival, are haqq al haya, the duty to respect human life and the human person; haqq al nasl, the duty to respect the human family and group rights at every level of human association; and haqq al mal, the duty to respect private property and the universal human right to individual ownership of the means of production.

The second set of three maqasid promotes quality of life. These are haqq al hurriya, the duty to respect group self-determination through political freedom, including the second-order principles of governmental responsiveness (shura), representative government (ijma), and an independent judiciary; haqq al karama, the duty to respect human dignity, including freedom of religion and gender equity; and haqq al ‘ilm, which is the duty to respect knowledge, including freedom of thought, speech, and association, subject to the other six universal principles. These universal principles of Islamic law constitute a definition of justice, which, in turn, is the Islamic definition of human rights.

In order to clarify the picture of the real Islam in Western societies, the principal requirement is for Muslims to reflect the wisdom and beauty of Islam in their daily lives, because this is the best form of da’wa. Their responsibilities, however, go beyond this, particularly now that Islam has become well established in America during a century when its future and the future of civilization hang in the balance. They must introduce Islam into the public discourse on all issues of conscience. For this they need concerted effort by Muslim think-tanks or policy centers, and behind the think-tanks as essential intellectual support must be the institutionalization of higher education in the Muslim equivalent of Harvard or Oxford.

Some of the opinion leaders in the Muslim umma talk glibly about founding think-tanks, but without any idea of why, what, or how, other than to vent their frustration with American foreign policies. They are narcissistic to the extent of conceiving that a Muslim think-tank should address only issues that directly concern Muslims. They treat Islam as a special-interest group rather than as a universal religion divinely revealed to bring balance in our stewardship of the earth, mercy to the poor, wisdom to the powerful, and justice to all.

The function of a Muslim think-tank is to provide vision for a network of like-minded think-tanks in the non-Muslim policy community. It also should explore and evaluate different options for action.

In Islam, commitment to action is known as jihad. There are three kinds of jihad. The first two are found in the hadith or history of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad ( ). These are the jihad al akbar or greatest jihad, which is the struggle to overcome one’s unruly self. The second is the lesser jihad, the jihad al saghrir or asghrar, which is the armed battle to defend the human rights of one’s own people and of people everywhere. The third jihad, mentioned only by the word of God in the Qur’an, Surah al Furqan 25:52, is the jihad al kabir or great jihad. This jihad is called for in the exhortation wa jihidhum bihi jihadan kabiran, which means “struggle with it [divine revelation] in a great struggle.” This is the intellectual jihad, which normally follows the first two.

In the modern era, when the instinct to defend oneself with armed force can be self-defeating, the call to a great jihad requires Muslim intellectuals to counter the impending clash of civilizations by providing the intellectual basis for cooperation among civilizations in the articulation of common principles and the pursuit of common goals.

The scholars and political activists of Islam have a four-fold task, which is to: 1) develop a framework of thought consistent with the universal principles of classical America’s founders and of the classical scholars of Islam; 2) address the major issues of conscience in the world within the framework of these principles, known to Muslims as the maqasid al shari’ah; 3) enlist the leaders of interfaith dialogue, without which there can be no real civilizational cooperation and renewal; and 4) from this position of strength, engage the deep but destructive thinkers, who otherwise will develop a counter-culture on their own, cut off from the perennial wisdom that produces civilization. The challenge to the Muslim umma or community worldwide is nothing less than to mount a movement of global civilizational renewal at a time when the barbarians are not only at the gates of civilization but entrenching themselves inside.

Part Three

New Frontiers in Erudition and Enlightenment

After the calamity of America’s Black September, 2002, it became obvious to both Muslims and non-Muslims that enlightened Muslims need a reputable institutional voice in the mainstream of intellectual and political life. Only by cooperating with the intellectuals and opinion leaders of all faiths can Muslims help strengthen America’s original vision and values and shape a corresponding agenda for addressing the issues of conscience and concern both in America and around the world. The alternative is continuing confrontation by Muslim radicals steeped in ignorance, extremism, paranoia, hatred, and global terrorism.

The younger generation of the ten-million-strong Muslim population in America, which now produces 100,000 high school graduates a year, can play a critical role in reviving the classical, revolutionary thought of America’s revolutionary founders as well as of the enlightened scholars of Islam. This task of renewing the wisdom of the past in an ecumenical, classical education is necessary to build a world civilization that recognizes the legitimacy of all the world religions within the common paradigm that we might call functional Islam.

In response to the need, concerned Muslims formed Crescent University to serve both the national and global needs of Muslims by providing a ground-breaking seat of higher learning to produce new generations of thinking Muslims from all walks of life committed to help shape America’s global role and to promote Islamic ecumenism and the resulting global Islamic unity. Muslims must become creators rather than consumers of knowledge and technology so that they can become opinion leaders in the broader society.

The Muslim community in America has now come of age with a critical mass of top scholars and scientists, as well as prosperous professionals and entrepreneurs, to fill the distinctive marketing niche revealed in a Crescent Steering Group poll, which found a strong communal desire for a prestigious Muslim university to rank with the best universities in America. In order to keep it highly selective, skilled headhunters will recruit the finest faculty, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and professional marketers will attract the best students. The objective is not to replicate any inward-looking madrassah-style or seminary training but to incubate leaders of forward-looking Muslim generations residing and working in the West.

Crescent is a true university in the sense of its universal scope and its commitment to exploring new frontiers of knowledge together with its peers, such as Harvard and Yale, in the Ivy League. Crescent becomes a bridgehead to the future by stimulating critical Muslim thinking in an atmosphere of scholarly ingenuity, innovative investigation, philosophical diversity, and exploratory erudition.

Visionary in outlook and futuristic in orientation, Crescent exists to revitalize Islamic thought and theology and catalyze an authentic spiritual renaissance. Its purpose is to renew in the modern world the enlightenment of early Islam, when scholars and students from across frontiers and faiths pioneered the peerless intellectual freedom and dynamism renowned at Cordoba University in Andalusia and Sankore University in Timbuktu, as well as in Al Azhar in North Africa, Baghdad, and similar centers in Southwest Asia. These educational “Meccas” pioneered the scientific method in their search primarily for truth. They were copied by Europeans in their search primarily for power. Both East and West now recognize the need for a reinforcing balance.

Crescent, as the first fully-fledged American Muslim university, will encapsulate Islam’s twin focus on reason and revelation, scholarship and the sublime, science and religion. In its cutting-edge under-graduate and professional schools, Crescent will be the principal platform from which a new generation of informed, forward-looking Islamic leadership will emerge to help America meet the challenges of the modern world. By emphasizing the unique epistemological synthesis of scientific exploration and human wisdom, of secular knowledge and sacred understanding, of professional development and moral rearmament, Crescent can revive the Islamic genius in intellectual originality, scientific inquisitiveness, and technological leadership that spawns vibrant civilization.

The entire curriculum of Crescent is infused with the total spectrum of secular knowledge and spiritual learning, the timely and the timeless. Its graduate schools in the humanities will excel in everything needed to produce a global ethic by focusing on both personal and community responsibilities and on human rights (collectively known as the maqasid al shari’ah) inherent in the overarching Islamic paradigm of individual morality and economic and social justice. This will lead to new frontiers in normative economics, political governance, civic responsibility, and communal altruism, as well as personal ethics. These, in turn, will produce an Islamic ethics and an Islamic ethos as a model for the ongoing search in all the world religions.

Crescent’s bed-rock and all-embracing pluralism provides a haven for all open-minded seekers of truth, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to engage in an on-going process of interfaith dialogue, religio-cultural interaction, and spiritual affirmation, in order to strengthen the pillars of all civilizations in the structure of a global unity incorporating diversity, which is possible today for the first time in human history

All the religions and denominations in America recognize that their faith and future depend on faith-based education and they all have founded and are maintaining universities that bring to bear their contributions to the mosaic that is America and to the solution of its problems of conscience. Muslims can do no less, particularly because Islam by its very nature is universal and ecumenical and therefore is well-suited for leadership in bringing non-sectarian faith-based wisdom into the “public square.” Islam, as developed and applied in America, can and should be a principal force in completing the American Revolution, or, as President Ronald Reagan put it, in launching the Second American Revolution as a non-hegemonic model for the entire world. The Muslim contribution to this task of civilizational renewal can best begin with the founding of Crescent as a world-class American Muslim university dedicated to this goal.

The teaching method or pedagogy of Crescent University customizes the world-famous Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge) collegiate and tutorial system in a residential community of scholars and students, with class sizes limited to 20 students. Crescent follows the Continental system of comprehensive examinations at the end of the first two years and upon graduation, as well as the system of external examiners to avoid the debilitating grade inflation that is contaminating American academia.

The core curriculum is based on the great books of Western and Eastern civilizations, building upon and enhancing the successful experiments at the two St. John’s campuses and at Sarah Lawrence College. The great books at Crescent include those of the Islamic civilization as part of the broader Islamic, Christian, Jewish civilization, which can become the basis of a pluralist and open world civilization of the future. For this purpose, student body and faculty will include both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Study abroad, particularly in the professional schools, and mastery of at least two Muslim languages, is encouraged. The Crescent law school, once activated by the year 2010, will offer degrees in both American law and Islamic jurisprudence and a unique advanced degree in comparative legal systems designed to include both. This latter degree would require intensive study in major Islamic universities of the Muslim world.

Crescent University is egalitarian, enlightened, and co-educational. Women will play crucial roles not only in the student body but in the faculty and in the administration of the university. Crescent restores the Islamic ordinances of gender equity, while respecting, for example, the wisdom of single sex dormitories.

Down-stream projects include a university academic press, convention center, teaching hospital, think-tanks, and an adjacent research complex and business park.

The first of Crescent’s family of associated research associations is the Center for Understanding Islam, which was founded in the Fall of 2001 as a clearing house for both popular and scholarly answers to key current questions about the teachings of Islam. Its website is http://www.cuii.org The C.enter’s purpose is to help Muslims offer a common framework for explaining the wisdom of Islam in the contemporary world. The larger purpose, as given in its publication, Islam: Short Answers to Key Current Questions, March 2002, 23 pages, is “to cooperate with concerned persons of all faiths in developing a global ethic as guidance for addressing all issues of conscience in both domestic and foreign policy.” This Center for Understanding Islam is not a think-tank in the common sense of the term, because it carefully does not address specific policies of any government or even recommend a specific agenda for public policy.

Crescent University and its associated organizations are committed to its twin focus on reason and revelation, science and religion, scholarship and the sublime. Its five operating principles are: 1) erudition and excellence; 2) ecumenism; 3) egalitarianism; 4) environment; and 5) enlightenment. Together these are the keys to success for a modern world-class university.

The best-case scenario for the future of the Holy Land envisages the revival of both spiritual and intellectual jihad, designed to address issues of conscience in both domestic and foreign policy by focusing on causes rather than merely on effects. It focuses on the inner rather than the outer, on the spiritual dynamics of change rather than merely on their result in current events. The “grand strategy of Islam” therefore relies on spiritual and intellectual jihad, the jihad al akbar and the jihad al kabir, rather than on the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad of employing physical force. It focuses on the power of paradigms and ideas in shaping human affairs in the hope and prayer that peace through justice and global unity is a paradigm whose time has come. 
[1] Presented at the Third Annual Conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Panel 5: Fighting Terrorism and Protecting Democracy, April 6-7th, 2002, at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel, Arlington, Virginia. 
[2] Vice-Chairman, Crescent University Foundation, http://www.crescentuniversity.org and C,hairman, Center for Understanding Islam, http://www.cuii.org; personal email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)