Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Two Faces of Feisal Rauf

Journalist and author Fareed Zakaria has made some grave accusations against those who oppose the building of the Islamic center near Ground Zero, and has predicated his own approval of the project on the moderateness of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Zakaria wrote that Abdul Rauf “has said one or two things about American foreign policy that strike me as overly critical — but it’s stuff you could read on The Huffington Post any day.”

Yes, indeed — you are likely to read similar “stuff” on the Huffington Post, since Rauf has written there. But how can that possibly constitute a convincing defense of Rauf? Many Huffington Post writers are anti-American, and believe that the U.S. had 9/11 “coming to it.” They still have not learned that 9/11 had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy.

Rauf evidently has not learned that lesson either. On Sept. 30, 2001, 60 Minutes host Ed Bradley asked him if he thought the U.S. deserved the 9/11 attacks. Rauf replied, “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. . . . We have been an accessory to a lot of — of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it — in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.”

It is worth noting Rauf’s words carefully. The atrocity is characterized in the passive: “a crime that happened.” This allows Rauf to avoid stating that it was Islamists who committed it. In his book What’s Right with Islam, Rauf even objects to the term “Islamism” — one that was actually concocted to avoid indicting Islam directly — since, he argues, it falsely implies that Islam is the source of the militancy.

The United States is accused of being an “accessory,” of somehow having “created” Osama bin Laden. According to Rauf on page one of What’s Right with Islam, because many Muslims around the world support Osama bin Laden, the United States is doing something wrong.

And incidentally, what Rauf wrote in the Huffington Post, soon after the rigged Iranian elections of June 12, 2009, is evidence that he is an admirer of the tyrannical theocracy in that country. After endorsing the “official results,” Rauf praised the 1979 revolution: “The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was in part to depose the shah, who had come to power in 1953 after a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddeq. And in part it was an opportunity to craft an Islamic state with a legitimate ruler according to Shia political theory. . . . After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The Council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.”

Then Rauf claims that the elections in Iran were a slow-but-sure step towards democracy: “[Obama’s] administration understands that what is going on now in Iran is an attempt by the Iranian people to live up to their own ideals. Just as American democracy developed over many years, the United States recognizes that this election is part of the process of an evolving democracy in Iran.” I wonder what Iranians in exile, or those risking their lives to protest that hideous regime, think about Rauf’s complacency about what is happening in Iran.

Here is Rauf’s advice to the president: “He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution — to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.”

Rauf praises the tyrants in Iran and is apparently ready to accept their money for the Islamic center at Ground Zero, but he fails to explain the term vilayet-i-faqih to American audiences. The term, literally “the guardianship of the jurist,” was developed by Ayatollah Khomeini in a series of lectures in 1969, and became the guiding principle of the government of Iran after he came to power in 1979. The concept is but an extension and slight modification of the Shia idea of walī, in which Ali and the imams succeeding him were considered guardians of the community, acting on behalf of God himself. Under this concept, the people of Iran are the wards of the ayatollahs, and the people of Iran owe the guardians absolute obedience in accordance with Sura IV verse 59 (”O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you . . .”). Secondly, the exclusive right of interpretation of Islamic law belongs to religious scholars. Thus there is nothing democratic about it — its totalitarian character should be evident. Rauf’s endorsement of this principle makes him the unequivocal defender of totalitarian Khomeinism.


Rauf says one thing to Western audiences and another to Muslim audiences. He is quite capable of writing reassuring things, as in the New York Daily News earlier this year: “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America’s Muslim population into the mainstream society.”

But when presented with actual opportunities to “interweave America’s Muslim population into the mainstream society,” Rauf and most of his fellow Muslims decline. Nearly ten years ago, I was the guest of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) of Rome. PISAI is dedicated to interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. But as the director at the time said to me, “There is no real dialogue, since Muslims never reciprocate the goodwill gestures made by the Christians. The result is we sit down together, and the Christians say what a wonderful religion Islam is, and the Muslims say what a wonderful religion Islam is.” Rauf was invited to give a sermon in a church and did so, but he never reciprocated by inviting a Christian to give a sermon in a mosque. This, for Rauf and his ilk, would be unthinkable.

Like Tariq Ramadan, also touted by the unvigilant and ill-informed as a great moderate Muslim, Rauf is a master of double talk and prevarication. When asked if he considered Hamas a terrorist organization, as it is labeled by the State Department, Rauf ducked, weaved, and sidestepped: “Look, I’m not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. There was an attempt in the ’90s to have the U.N. define what terrorism is and say who was a terrorist. There was no ability to get agreement on that.” The interviewer persisted. Rauf, clearly flustered, replied, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

This unwillingness to criticize Hamas is hardly surprising, given his views on Israel. In a letter published on Nov. 27, 1977, in the New York Times, he wrote, “In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”

While he indulges in ecumenical blather in front of Western audiences, Rauf reveals his true intentions and philosophy in Muslim newspapers, magazines, and websites. He spells out in unequivocal terms his desire to establish sharia in the West, to reestablish the Islamic caliphate, and to do away with the separation of religion and state.

For instance, in an article for the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad entitled “Sharing the Essence of Our Beliefs,” Rauf wrote, “People asked me right after the 9/11 attacks as to why do movements with political agendas carry [Islamic] religious names? Why call it ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ or ‘Hezbollah (Party of Allah)’ or ‘Hamas’ or ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’? I answer them this — that the trend towards Islamic law and justice begins in religious movements, because secularism has failed to deliver what the Muslim wants, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . . The only law that the Muslim needs exists already in the Koran and the Hadith.” A state based on the Koran and Hadith could only be called a theocracy.

In an interview he gave in 2007 to the website HadieIslam, Rauf said, “So the question in our era throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians is [whether] an Islamic state can be established in more than just in a single form or mold, [whether] it can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of sharia that are required to govern. It is known that there are sets of standards that are accepted by [Muslim] scholars to organize the relationships between government and the governed. . . . And we also suggest to the governors and political institutions to consult [Muslim] religious institutions and [Muslim] personalities in the field as to assure their decision making to reflect the spirit of sharia.”

In the Washington Post, Rauf commented on a 2008 lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, about sharia and British law. The archbishop hinted that the application of sharia in certain circumstances seemed unavoidable if we want to achieve cohesion and take seriously people’s religions. Rauf writes, “The addition of Sharia law to ‘the law of the land’, in this case British law, complements, rather than undermines, existing legal frameworks. The Archbishop was right. It is time for Britain to integrate aspects of Islamic Law.” Rauf immediately follows this suggestion with a reassuring proviso: “Sharia law is unequivocally clear that Muslims who live as minorities in non-Muslim majority communities are required to abide by the law of the land. That doesn’t prevent British Muslims from practicing aspects of Sharia that don’t conflict with British law . . .”

However, there is a coda to that sentence: “. . . or from seeking changes in British law.” Here we have the real intentions of Rauf: abide by Western laws for now but seek to change them until they reflect sharia. Neither the Archibishop of Canterbury nor Rauf ever spell out how all this was going to work in practice: Are they asking for parallel courts? How exactly would sharia “complement” British law? Would sharia courts be voluntary? Would Muslim apostates be executed? Adulterers stoned to death? Would non-Muslims be judged by Islamic laws?

The 64 sharia courts that already operate in Britain severely undermine the rights of women, as has been thoroughly documented in an important study by the group One Law For All.

Part Two

The problems with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s book What’s Right with Islam begin with the title. As Andrew McCarthy noted on National Review Online, the book, whose full title is now What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, was previously called What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America; before that, it was published in Malaysia as A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America post-9/11. In one edition published by HarperCollins, the copyright page told us that the “edition was made possible through a joint effort of The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the office of Interfaith and Community Alliance of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Funding for this project was provided by IIIT.” The HarperCollins edition no longer contains this telling information, and with reason. McCarthy reveals that both ISNA and IIIT have promoted Hamas, and were demonstrated “by the Justice Department [to be] unindicted co-conspirators in a crucial terrorism-financing case involving the channeling of tens of millions of dollars to Hamas through an outfit called the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. For the last 15 years, Hamas has been a designated terrorist organization under U.S. law.”

Dawa is the invitation, addressed to men by God and the prophets, to believe in the true religion, Islam. The term can mean propaganda, but more specifically, it refers to Islamic missionary work, which is not limited to efforts to convert individuals but includes efforts to convert entire societies and establish Islamic states. Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, predicts that Islam will “conquer America” and “conquer Europe” through Dawa.

In the book’s chatty and ostentatiously friendly preface, Rauf tells us that he is an American and a Muslim, and proud to be both. Then comes this sentence: “September 11, a day that will live in infamy for having provoked the United States into a war, confused and frightened many non-Muslim Americans about Islam.” Note that in this description of why 9/11 will “live in infamy,” there is not a word about Islamic terrorists killing 2,976 people. We saw earlier how Rauf characterized 9/11 as “a crime that happened”; now it is a provocation.

It is not unusual for Rauf to dismiss or ignore the victims of 9/11. During a lecture he gave in Australia in 2005, Rauf said, “We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was secretary of state and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it.”

In his preface and introduction, Rauf presents a picture of Islam that is historically almost totally false, and doctrinally so watered down as to be hardly recognizable as Islam. Like President Obama in his Cairo speech — not surprising, since Rauf claims the speech was drawn from his writings — Rauf pegs the number of Muslims in the United States at between 5 and 7 million. This is a common Muslim tactic: to overstate their numbers, like the frog in the fable who puffed himself up. The real number, according to the Pew Research Center, is something like 2.5 million. That is less than 1 percent of the population.

Many devout Muslims are aware of the abysmal lack of scientific achievements of the Islamic world in the last thousand years — but they commonly have recourse to the ingenious notion that the Koran anticipated all the Western scientific discoveries of the last thousand years; thus one can find electricity, quantum mechanics, relativity, and embryology in it. Rauf does something similar with the Islamic world’s lack of American values, claiming that “America is substantively an ‘Islamic’ country, by which I mean a country whose systems remarkably embody the principles that Islamic law requires of a government.” For gullible multiculturalists and Western liberals, the thought that the U.S. Constitution is sharia compliant is most reassuring — “Ah! There is no real clash of civilizations after all. Rauf is a true moderate who wants to get along.” And for an Islamic triumphalist, it is a way to infiltrate Western institutions and eventually destroy them from within.

And of course, Rauf’s claim is complete nonsense. Sharia is totally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Women are inferior under Islamic law — their testimony in a court of law is worth half that of a man; their movement is strictly restricted; they cannot marry non-Muslims. Non-Muslims living in Muslim countries also have inferior status under Islamic law; they may not testify against a Muslim. In Saudi Arabia, following a tradition of Muhammad, who said that “two religions cannot exist in the country of Arabia,” non-Muslims are forbidden to practice their religion, build houses of worship, possess religious texts, etc. Non-believers or atheists in Muslim countries do not have “the right to life”; all the major law schools, whether Sunni or Shia, agree that they are to be killed. (Muslim doctors of law generally divide sins into great sins and little sins. Of the 17 great sins, unbelief is the greatest, more heinous than murder, theft, adultery, etc.) Slavery is recognized as legitimate in the Koran. Muslim men are allowed to cohabit with any of their female slaves, and they are allowed to take possession even of married female slaves. One does not have the right to change one’s religion if one is born into a Muslim family; here is how the great commentator Baydawi sees the matter: “Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever you find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard.” And here are the punishments in store for transgressors against the Holy Law: amputation, flogging, crucifixion, and stoning to death.

In short, Islam and the United States Constitution represent totally different political theories. Under the latter, sovereignty lies with the will of the people; under the former, it lies with God. The U.S. Constitution emphasizes the rights of the individual, which no mythical or mystical collective goal or will can justifiably deny, whereas collectivity has a special sanctity attached to it under Islam.

Muslim countries and scholars have long recognized this incompatibility, and have accordingly issued their own human-rights schemes, such as the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1990 by 45 foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights of 1981, whose Islamic character is evident from the start (there are frequent quotes from the Koran and Hadith, and in the formulation of rights there are frequent references to Islamic concepts and principles).

Rauf is also misleading, and much of the time untruthful, when discussing suicide. The Koran is rather ambiguous; some Muslim scholars have taken Sura verses 27 through 31 to be a prohibition against suicide. But Hamas spokesmen, for example, do not use the term “suicide bomber,” but martyr (shahid), since those who blow themselves up fighting Israel and the U.S. die in the noblest of all causes, jihad — which is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Koran and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined for the purpose of advancing Islam. While suicide is forbidden, martyrdom is everywhere praised, welcomed, and urged. Here are some quotes from the respected Hadith collection of Imam Muslim: “By the Being in Whose Hand is my life, I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way”; “The Prophet said, ‘Nobody who enters Paradise will ever like to return to this world even if he were offered everything, except the martyr who will desire to return to this world and be killed ten times for the sake of the great honour that has been bestowed upon him.’”


The tactic of using two different discourses — one for a Western audience and quite a different one exclusively for a Muslim audience — is apparent when one examines and contrasts Rauf’s earlier book, Islam, A Sacred Law: What Every Muslim Should Know about Shariah, published in 2000, with What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, published in 2004.

In his earlier book, explaining sharia to a Muslim audience, Rauf unequivocally defines jihad as “fighting a just war” and as “the effort applied in waging a war,” and a mujahid as “a warrior, or fighter” — in other words, jihad is used in a military sense, and only in a military sense. Yet in the later work, Rauf introduces the doctrinally suspect notions of “greater and lesser jihad,” which, as Prof. Reuven Firestone explains in his study Jihad, is nowhere to be found in the canonical collections of Hadith. Also in the later book, Rauf defines jihad as essentially “defensive,” but he knows perfectly well that Muslims include in their definition of a “defensive” war one waged against those who oppose the struggle to spread Islam.

Rauf also tries to enroll the Christian notion of a “just war” into his apologetics, likening it to jihad. But Ibn Khaldun explained the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad thus: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the [obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. . . . The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. . . . Islam is under obligation to gain power over nations.”

While, in his later work, Rauf gushes about “our common Abrahamic faith,” and about the U.S. Constitution’s being “Sharia compliant,” in the earlier work, he states (rather than argues) that Islam and sharia are far superior to Judaism and Christianity, and also to any man-made laws such as those in the U.S. Constitution. He accuses both Judaism and Christianity of having “eviscerated the spiritual dimension from Sacred Law.” Islam is, says Rauf, repeating Sura 3 verse 110, “the best religion on earth.”

Rauf also makes a clear distinction between the principles guiding a Muslim judge and those guiding a Western one: “The Muslim judge explicitly((SPACE))’reports to God.’ The judge who sits in a Western court is only explicitly responsible to the Constitution, the interpretations of a civil law and its rules.” Hence by its very nature, Islam cannot abide by a separation of religion and state, and is diametrically opposed to the political principles enshrined in the Constitution. Rauf, as a Muslim steeped in Islamic theology, cannot possibly relegate religion entirely to the personal; he must forever strive to introduce sharia as a guiding political principle in the public sphere, and eventually replace all man-made laws with God-given ones. In this sense, for Rauf, there cannot be a “moderate Muslim,” since all true Muslims by definition must demand to live under God-given laws, embodied in sharia. Rauf himself notes the totalitarian nature of Islam: “The Shari’ah thus covers every field of law — public and private, national and international — together with enormous amounts of material that Westerners would not regard as law at all, because the basis of the Shari’ah is the worship of, and obedience to, God through good works and moral behavior.”

In Islam: A Sacred Law, Rauf gives a positive account of Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of a particularly virulent form of Islam. For Rauf, Abd al-Wahhab is a reformer, a rationalist, and a “rejuvenator of the Hanbali school” who simply wanted to “return to the religious spirit of the forefathers who, for the basic principles of their religion, referred to the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet, and who fought against the blind imitation that ‘had killed among the Islamic people serious thought and the spirit of independence and had extinguished the flame of activity.’ He was a bitter antagonist of those who held to the excuse ‘we found our fathers so doing’ without subjecting such a heritage to the dictates of reason. Commentaries, texts, opinions and whims containing any of these elements were repudiated.”

But in What’s Right with Islam, Rauf changes his tune. He brands Abd al- Wahhab a racist and someone who denigrates reason, and talks of the “excesses” of Wahhabism. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Islam was scrutinized as never before, and many blamed the attacks on the Twin Towers, and more generally the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, on Wahhabism. Rauf could no longer get away with any whitewashing of Abd al-Wahhab, and he adjusted his discourse accordingly: “From Abd al-Wahhab’s point of view, most of the Muslim intellectuals — like Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who was a ‘Westerner’ from al-Andalus (Spain) — were foreign, not only geographically but also intellectually and psychologically. Abd al-Wahhab wanted to adhere to the tradition of his pious predecessors, not to traditions of ‘foreigners’ beyond the Arabian peninsula. We might colloquially say that Abd al-Wahhab yearned for an Arab Islam, not a Turkish, Persian, or Indian Islam, for wasn’t the Qur’an after all an Arabic Qur’an?”

Rauf concludes that “Wahhabism resulted in a selective interpretation of Islam that tried to filter out most of what it viewed as introduced by foreign elements, especially philosophical rationalism, spirituality, and foreign cultural elements.” In the earlier book, Abd al-Wahhab is described as subjecting the Islamic heritage to the dictates of reason, and in the later work as filtering out philosophical rationalism.


A Western liberal could easily pull reassuring “moderate Muslim” material from Rauf’s What’s Right with Islam, but this material does not harmonize well with his distasteful comments about September 11, his support for Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy, his reluctance to call Hamas a terrorist organization, and so on.

When in the Islamic world, or in front of an Islamic audience, Rauf is eager to prove his Muslim credentials and pride in Islam — to present himself as a serious Muslim scholar with a firm grasp of Islamic theology, the Koran, Hadith, and sharia. This is necessary to drum up financial support for his real-estate venture in Lower Manhattan. To then argue that the United States Constitution is sharia compliant is a brilliant tactic that allows him to have it both ways — the Western liberals breathe a sigh of relief, while the Islamic triumphalists see a way to infiltrate the United States.

Rauf and his fellow Islamists, having learned from similar ploys at the United Nations by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, then hope to implement elements of sharia in the West. No need for alarm, Rauf reassures Westerners, “we are not trying to replace universal standards, we’re complementing them.” Simultaneously, he advises Muslims to obey Western laws — for now. Rauf is preying upon the unthinking, pathological niceness of the Western multiculturalist.

Rauf is a Muslim, and his major premises are Islamic, and therefore his conclusions by inexorable logic must also be Islamic: “It is He Who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to make it superior over all religions even though the idolaters hate it.”

By Ibn Warraq
National Review Online

Ibn Warraq is an independent scholar and the author of five books on Islam and Koranic criticism - Why I Am Not a Muslim(1995); The Origins of the Koran(1998); What the Koran Really Says(2002); Virgins? What Virgins? And Other Essays(2010); and the forthcoming Which Koran? This is part two of a two-part series.

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