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The uprisings of the last two years in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria broke out spontaneously without a prior ideological compass that might have helped the people of the region see the way ahead once the governments of those countries had been overthrown. This ideological void led to the creation of a political void after the collapse of those regimes, and the principal beneficiaries of this new development have been the Islamists as well as ex-members of the deposed regimes. Now we see the Islamists enjoying substantial political clout in Tunisia and Egypt and a remarkable degree of influence on post-Qaddafi politics in Libya. The question that now poses itself is: Given this new reality, can the world henceforth coexist peacefully and productively with the Islamists?

Historical evidence seems to indicate that when one bases one’s political governance on an ideology that derives its vision and legitimacy from the concept of infallibility, the consequences are most dire. Any student of the Old Testament knows what happened when the Israelites mixed Judaism with politics during the days of Moses, Joshua, and David for instance. And in spite of Jesus’s famous saying, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s”, the Christians later combined their religion with politics, thereby leading to the worst periods of Christian history as exemplified by the Dark Ages, the Catholic Inquisition, the burning of women seen as witches, the decimation of Native Peoples in places like South America, and the European wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Furthermore, and notwithstanding the subsequent secularization of their continent, the Europeans found themselves forced to deal with more horrors brought about this time by secular ideologies-Nazism and Communism- that were also predicated upon the principle of infallibility. It does therefore seem certain beyond any reasonable doubt that, given the chance, political Islam will most likely bring about disaster for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But there is another very important reason why political Islam may be more dangerous than many people assume.

There exist three major political categories (with various sub-categories) of Muslims: the Islamists, namely people who want Islam to govern their countries and beyond whenever and wherever possible; the secularists, i.e. those who desire strict separation between state and religion; and a third group that tries to reconcile Islamism with secularism. For the purpose of this article, I shall refer to members of this last category as “the syncretists”. The position of the secularists is very clear and is fundamentally different from those of the Islamists and the syncretists. However, many heated debates have raged between these last two as to the “real” interpretation of Islam in general and of the Quran in particular; these debates cover many topics in Islam. Let’s take one important example of those, to wit Islam’s position on non-Muslims, so we may understand more clearly what is at stake here.

The syncretists seek to project an ostensibly humane Islamic face by citing Quranic verses that seem to support their position. Thus, they argue that Muslims are enjoined to be tolerant towards non-Muslims as evidenced in verses such as Verse 2:62, which states that Jews, Christians, and Sabians need not fear or grieve over their fate in the hereafter; Verse 2:256, which emphasizes that there is no compulsion in religion; and Verse 109:6, which tells people to stick to their own religion and to let others stick to theirs. Such verses, so the syncretists claim, prove that tolerance, religious freedom, and pluralism are an integral part of Islam. The Islamists counter that position with other verses from the Quran that appear to state the opposite like Verse 3:85, which says that if someone believes in a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the hereafter he shall be among the losers; Verse 9:29, which incites Muslims to fight the Jews and Christians until they pay the jizya, or poll tax, with willing submission; and Verse 98:6, which makes the point that the fate of all those who do not believe in Islam is eternal hell and that they are the worst of all creatures. So, who is right?

Unfortunately for the friends of freedom, the Islamists are spot-on: First of all, it is important to note that the verses that the syncretists have pointed out originate mainly from Muhammad’s Meccan and very early Medinan periods; they were later abrogated, i.e. nullified and replaced, by other verses as cited above by the Islamists. This process of abrogation was made explicit in Verse 2:106, which states that Allah may replace a verse by a similar or even better one. A famous example of this is Verse 4:43, which tells Muslims not to pray while intoxicated, but it does not forbid the consumption of alcohol otherwise. Later, this verse was abrogated by Verse 5:90, which commands Muslims to avoid alcoholic drinks altogether. Likewise, those Quranic verses expressing religious tolerance towards non-Muslims were later abrogated by other verses ordaining the opposite. The actual abrogation of those verses is confirmed by well-known books of tafsir (Quranic interpretation) written by Muslim authorities on this subject such as Ibn Katheer, At-Tabari, and Al-Qurtubi. Basing their conclusions on the Quran and Muhammad’s example, these interpreters generally agree that, in a Muslim state, no tolerance is to be accorded to non-Muslims except if they are Jews or Christians, on condition that they pay the jizya; however, they are ambivalent about the fate of the Sabians and the Magians. As for the Polytheists and other non-Muslims, the general consensus among the said interpreters is that they either convert to Islam or they are put to the sword.

The Quranic volte-face from a position of counselling tolerance to that of encouraging intolerance towards non-Muslims was paralleled on the ground: In Mecca, Muhammad had largely been a peaceful preacher, inviting people to worship the one God, help the poor, respect religious diversity, and be ethically good. In Medina, he soon transformed himself into a warrior, raided other communities, plundered their wealth, enslaved their men, permitted acts of forced copulation with their women, and fought the Jews of Medina and of Khaybar. Most tragically, those confrontations included the systematic beheading of all the males of the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraytha provided that they had developed pubic hair, which must have covered all children twelve years of age and older as well as some other children who would have been only eleven or even ten years old.

The interesting thing is that thus far, there has been no credible evidence whatsoever of Islamists considering any of the above-mentioned intolerant verses to be wrong, nor has there been any evidence showing criticisms by the Islamists of anything Muhammad had done in the conduct of his military campaigns as mentioned above. The Islamists’ reluctance to critique the Quran and Muhammad has been aggravated by their tendency to decontextualize the Quran, that is to say, they vigorously hold that the letter of the Quran is relevant and applicable to all parts of the world regardless of the epoch since, they assert, the Quran is independent of time and space. Consequently, if we combine those various important factors, namely (a) the abrogation of tolerant verses in the Quran by intolerant ones, (b) the transformation of Muhammad’s pacifism in Mecca into militarism in Medina, (c) the Islamists’ unequivocal justification of both (a) and (b) above as well as their categorical refusal to condemn the one or the other, (d) the Islamists’ decontextualization of the Quran, and (e) the current possession by the Islamists of significant political power in a number of Middle Eastern countries, the inevitable conclusion we may draw from all of this is that we are now facing a situation that is fraught with very lethal dangers indeed.

Taking a firm political and military stand against Islamism is essential, but not sufficient. Ideas can be defeated only by other ideas. This explains why the Islamists are extremely hostile to freedom of thought and expression. The Dracula of Islamic obscurantism abhors the light of Reason.

About the Author

Husam Dughman’s family was both educated and liberal.  They heroically stood up to the Qaddafi regime and endured the dire consequences. This gave him a first-hand experience of what dictatorship, bigotry, and intolerance are about, and what kind of price has to be paid in order to stand up to them.  Coupled with his experience of religious intolerance, Mr. Dughman resolved to fight against zealotry, hate, and extremism, come hell or high water. Thus, the idea for Tête-à-tête with Muhammad began to germinate in his mind.

Husam Dughman was born in Libya and educated in Libya and the U.K. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury, where he won several awards for academic excellence and graduated with a First Class with Honours. In 1993, Mr. Dughman returned to Libya and was successful in securing a position as a university professor of Political Science. Due to political reasons, he left his university position in 1997 and subsequently worked in legal translation. He immigrated to Canada in 2002, where he has been helping new immigrants with their settlement.