I am not a Muslim nor am I a religious Muslim. I am certainly not a Qur’anic scholar. But I am a religious Jew. As such, I want to respect peoples of faith, including those who are secular fundamentalists. One does not have to agree with one’s neighbors in order to respect them and one does not have to disagree with others in a verbally uncivil or physically violent way. I applaud all efforts to “reform” or re-interpret ancient religions in accordance with our contemporary understanding of human and women’s rights.
I have also been drawn to the Islamic East for almost sixty years and count many Muslims and ex-Muslims as friends and political allies. I have lived in or traveled to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan but now, I can no longer visit most of the countries that once called out to me (except in books).
Today, the Muslim world is “hard,” not “soft,” and is no longer as cosmopolitan or hospitable as it has, in the past, sometimes been to wealthy infidels. While there are some small exceptions, in general, the Jews are gone, the Christians and all other religious groups are persecuted and in flight, the women are veiled and wearing sheets, hate blares from every mosque. Muslims are blowing other Muslims up. Today in Pakistan, at least 136 people have died so far in a bombing that was intended to kill newly returned former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A Saudi-Wahabi and Arabic form of Islam has made vast imperial inroads everywhere, including in the West.
Like others, I have been calling for the moderate or peace-loving Muslims to take back their religion and culture from those who have hijacked it in the name of jihad (Holy War against the infidels).
This Letter, signed by 138 Muslim clerics and addressed to Christian leaders is, alas, not that hoped-for initiative. I have already written two articles about this Letter which focus on the Muslim tradition of suing whomever they view as “stronger” for a temporary or false peace (“a hudna”) until the Muslims are demographically or militarily stronger. I have also focused on Islamic group psychology.
May I suggest that you share the following three points with Christians and Jews (People of the Book) and of course with Muslims whom you may know. These points were made by a Christian student of the Qur’an, “Steve Chambers,” (a pseudonym), who has self-published a book entitled “Jihad On Us All. The Roots and Branches of Islamic Militancy” (and is available through Amazon online). One ex-Muslim and one Christian Qur’anic scholar who do not wish to be named agree with his points.
POINT ONE: The very title of the letter, “A Common Word between Us and You” comes from the Qur’an. Here’s a fuller quote, from 3:63-66:, which says: ‘people of the book, let us come to a common word between us and you that we will worship none except Allah, that we will associate none with him, and that none of us take others for lords besides Allah. ‘if they turn away, say: ‘bear witness that we are Muslims. People of the book [i.e., Christians and Jews], why do you dispute about Abraham when both the Torah and the Gospel were not sent down till after him?’
In other words, the Qur’an – Allah – is saying that the Qur’an’s view of Abraham, including his having been prepared to sacrifice Ishmail rather than Isaac, is correct and the Torah and New Testament are wrong because they were written by human, not through explicit divine revelation. In fact, this verse comes from a later chapter which “abrogates” (nullifies or overturns) earlier more conciliatory chapters and precedes the last chapter or two which call for “offensive jihad” against the “People of the Book.”
TWO: The Letter appears to follow a very ugly and dangerous precedent in Islamic history. Just before Mohammed’s death, he supposedly sent audacious letters to the heads of the three main empires of his day and region – the Persians, Egyptians, and Byzantines. His message: convert or be conquered. All three emperors supposedly laughed him off. Their empires were all conquered by Muslim jihadists.
THREE: The similarities between the religions are not as important as the differences. “Love thy neighbor” does not appear in the Qur’an, except when that neighbor is Muslim. Nor does, “turn the other cheek.” But “submit to Islamic rule or die” does. The Muslim clerics state: “As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”
This is a grotesque bit of taqiyya, (theologically permissible propaganda) not to mention a total misrepresentation of Christian attitudes towards Muslims. After all, in Muslim countries Christians are systematically being driven out, while in Christian countries in the West, Muslims are rapidly increasing.
These clerics most certainly know these facts and also that the Qur’an calls for offensive jihad. They deny it when talking to infidels, but it is clearly part of the Qur’an and Mohammed’s personal history, and former and liberal Muslims readily acknowledge it.
I assume that teams of Christian religious scholars have been studying and may be preparing a Letter in response. Perhaps the points I make in my three articles may be of use to them.