No sooner has Joe Biden reminded us that Islam is a peaceful religion than a Washington, D.C.-area imam comes along to spoil the love fest. Dr. Sulayman Ali Hassan preached a sermon recently at the Shahe Najaf Islamic Center in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, in which he makes it clear that jihad is an obligation on all Muslims and that it has a violent component. Maybe Old Joe, being one of the world’s foremost Islamic clerics, can drop by the Shahe Najaf Islamic Center sometime soon and explain to the good Dr. Hassan how he is misunderstanding Islam. Until then, we can only hope that none of Dr. Hassan’s hearers decide that Islam is being attacked in a way that calls for a violent response.
Hassan, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), is a Shi’ite who was born in the United States but spent ten years studying to be a Muslim cleric at a seminary in Qom, Iran, a center of Shi’ite learning. In his sermon, he declared that “Islam has emphasized that we should all be mujahid.” A mujahid is a warrior of jihad, or a jihadi.
This doesn’t mean that Hassan was telling everyone to go out and commit an act of terrorist violence, but he did leave the door open to violent action in defense of Islam: “When the time calls for one type of sacrifice, we should be ready for that type of sacrifice. If Islam is under attack, then we should make sure that all of us are preparing and readying ourselves to be able to defend Islam in the way that it is being attacked. If there is a physical attack, then we should all be ready with martial training and self-defense training so that we can stand up for our rights and our dignity. If it is an intellectual attack, then all of us should be armed with the weapons of intellect and reasoning.”
This is all in accord with standard Islamic theology. There are various types of jihad, including the jihad of the pen, that is, taking up intellectual arguments to defend Islam against detractors. That may be what Hassan had in mind when he called upon Muslims to “be armed with the weapons of intellect and reasoning.” And his call for his hearers to be ready to defend Islam from physical attack is in accord with classic Islamic law, which states that jihad is an obligation upon the Islamic community as a whole, such that some are excused from it if others are undertaking this obligation, but if a Muslim land is attacked, the defense of that land becomes an individual duty incumbent upon every Muslim.
Hassan certainly sees this defensive jihad in this way, as he adds: “May Allah allow all of us to enter Paradise through the gates of Jihad….Jihad can be through funding and Jihad can be through struggling in person. Both of them are needed and both of them are important.” Making it all the clearer that he is talking about violence, he says: “Somebody who is al-ghazi, who is doing Jihad, in particular on the battlefield – you should consider their sacrifice and their struggle to be something that is important to you and pray for them and try to make their life easier, by helping their family, by helping those dependents of theirs, who may not have their father, their husband, or their person present for them. According to the hadith, Jihad is one of those things that brings a special grace of Allah, a mercy of Allah, and a fulfillment of prayers. This hadith is particular to those, who are in a military battle for defense of Islam, but that principle applies in general to all forms of Jihad. May Allah make us among the mujahideen for the sake of Allah, with our possessions, and with ourselves.”
Everything Hassan said in this sermon is in accord with mainstream Islamic theology. The problem is that it is the same argument that Islamic jihad groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, make in order to justify their own violent actions. The Taliban for years rallied Afghans to its cause by claiming that the American presence there constituted an attack upon a Muslim land, making jihad an individual obligation upon every Muslim. Maybe Hassan would have an explanation of how his teaching is different from that of the jihad groups and be able to provide solid reassurance that his words won’t inspire any jihad terrorists. But one thing is certain: No one will ask him for any explanation.
The implications of having imams teaching this on American soil have not been explored; our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are dogmatically committed to the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace, and have abdicated their responsibility to understand the motives and goals of those who would destroy us. So all we can do is hope that Hassan’s hearers’ minds were wandering and that they were more preoccupied with what was for lunch than with what he was saying. It’s a weak reed, but in this absurd age, it’s all we’ve got.