The renowned historian Lamartine, when speaking on Muhammad's greatness said: "If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties but millions of men in one-third of the then-inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls.... his forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayers; his mystic conversations with God; his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was two-fold: the unity of God and the immateriality of God-the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with the words. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire: that is MUHAMMAD. As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask IS THERE ANY MAN GREATER THAN HE?"
Obviously, we cannot hope for a bigot to agree with Lamartine. What we notice, instead, is the resurrection of old hatred. Signs are too many these days to discount the wicked marriage between the church and the state, jointly bent on demonizing Islam under the pretext of combating
al-Qa'eda, 'radical Islam' or the so-called 'Islamism.' It is intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible for a Christian (or a Jew) if he bases his representation of Islam on its worst examples while carefully shielding both Christianity (or Judaism) and the West from comparable critique. As much as Menachem Begin, Rabbi Meir Kahane and Dr. Baruch Goldstein are not moral representatives of Judaism; and U.S. Presidents Truman and Ronald Reagan, and rev. Jones of Jonestown, Guyana and David Koresh of Waco, Texas are not moral representatives of Christianity so is Osama bin Laden when it comes to Islam. As Prof. Ziaudddin Sardar puts it, Osama is a product of the history of American aggression that places no value on Muslim lives. He is motivated by a sense of outrage against all those who caused so much misery and injustice to the Muslim people.
When someone judges Islam and Muslims through the prism of 9/11- event it is travesty and sheer dishonesty on his part. Unfortunately, in these days, such an intellectual dishonesty or debauchery sells, and sells big time, with lucrative book deals, profitable consultancies and frequent TV and radio appearances to all the
'experts' vying to present their 'discoveries' about 'real' Islam.
In recent days, it is, therefore, not surprising to find that many bookstores and public libraries in the West display new books with screaming titles about Islam and Muslims, each purporting to present the
'truth.' Sadly, very few of these books are written by either qualified Muslims or western non-Muslim scholars who possess good knowledge of Islam and its rich history. And then there are scores of hate websites that feed hate literature to demonize Islam and its Prophet
. [This disturbing trend should not, however, obscure the fact that a growing number of scholars are also making an honest and non-prejudicial attempt at understanding Islam. They are generally fair, objective and empathetic in their works. These include Louis
Massignon, H.A.R. Gibb, Henri Corbin, Marshall G.S. Hodgson, William G. Milward, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Annmarie
Schimmel, Ralph Braibanti, John L Esposito, John O Voll, Yvonne Haddad, Karen Armstrong, and many others. Although they remain a minority, they represent a historically significant phenomenon. (In what follows, my remarks would be reserved for these anti-Islamic polemicists.)]
A closer scrutiny into the background of these self-styled experts reveals something, which is very troubling. A majority of them are just pen-pushing, anti-Muslim fanatics - some affiliated with hate groups, some with missionary groups, some have clear political agenda, and some purely to maximize the sale of their books (characterizing Capitalism 101 at its worst) - all working towards demonizing Islam. Very few of them had ever visited any Muslim country, and even if they did so, they could not communicate in the language of the people visited or had studied Islam as part of their academic curriculum. It would be ludicrous to be taken seriously as an expert on Russia, Latin America and China, without knowing the requisite languages, but not for "Islam" where linguistic knowledge is deemed unnecessary! The only recourse to their Islamic knowledge seems to be either the works of Orientalists or readily available translated work on hadith and
fiqh, thanks to the Internet.
A minority among these self-acclaimed experts claims to have studied Islamic history, but their work only proves their lamentable prejudice. They have mastered the art of
'cherry-picking' passages from the Islamic sources - the Quran and hadith - without the framework of
3P's (people, period and place), as if moral imperatives (e.g., rahmah or mercy,
'adl or justice, ihsan or kindness, and ma'ruf or goodness that are the overall moral thrust of the
Quranic message) and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation.
Some of these disingenuous individuals, especially those with political agenda, are basically serving the
'old wine in new glasses': resurrecting or recycling the works of the likes of
Lammens, Caetani and Muir. Truth is not their motivation, but sensationalism is. Every Muslim is portrayed as a
'sleeper terrorist' - a potential Mohammad 'Ata or a John Allen Muhammad. These messengers of hatred preach that Islam - is not a religion of peace, does not promote sound moral values, debases women, and is incompatible with both democratic pluralism and science. These delusional and mendacious writers preach that the world of Islam ought to be confronted now, and defeated both militarily and culturally, before it triumphs over and imposes jizyah upon western non-Muslim citizenry, lowering them to the status of
dzimmis, and takes away all their rights and privileges. In short, they confirm every fear one may have ever had about Islam. These books tell us more about the mental health of their authors than they do about Islam or its people. They are truly the drumbeaters of fascism and perpetual war.
What could be more disquieting than to read in Richard Perle's book (co-authored with
Bush's former special assistant David Frum) "An end to evil: How to win the war on
terror," the remark made about Muslims, "The roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself. There is no middle way for Americans. It is victory or
As was argued by Prof. Edward Said in one of his last essays "Orientalism: 25 years
later," without a well-organized sense that Muslims were not like "us" (westerners) and that they
didn't appreciate "our" (western) values - the very core of traditional Orientalist dogma
- 'there would have been no war.' Just as there were paid professional scholars enlisted by the colonial conquerors to justify their savagery in former colonies against the natives, there are today American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House who use the same clichˇs, the same jargon, the same dehumanizing stereotypes, the same justifications for violence against the Muslim world.
So, what is happening in the western world in post-9/11 era of disingenuous expertise, Islamophobia and neo-imperial arrogance or unilateralism is a very distressing phenomenon: the spread of the worst form of anti-Muslim hate literature that tries to demonize Islam and dehumanize one quarter of humanity who calls themselves Muslims. It is ironic that many of those who cry out foul with books like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (or are paranoid with anti-Semitism) are not losing their sleep over this development. Why should they when they know perfectly well that such demonization legitimizes unilateral, lawless violence against Muslims that otherwise would not have been condoned?
By now there is no dispute that the West has 'discovered' in Islam a viable 'demon' to replace the
'evil' Soviet Empire. The question is: how long will we have to wait before a new
'demon' is found? Or, would we have to wait for the Armageddon to settle the perennial question
- who's the 'real' demon?
Dr. Habib Siddiqui lives in suburban
Philadelphia, PA, and is the author of the book Islamic Wisdom. He can be reached at [email protected]
1 - My God Is Your God by John Kearney, NY Times, Jan. 28, 2004.
2 - For example, see the report about Abu Sufyan's meeting with the Byzantine ruler where they discussed the personality of the Prophet
[Hayyat-e-Tayyaba by Muhammad Abdul Hai]