Anti-Semitism and Messianic Doublestandards

Some interesting doublestandards are on display in an overwrought diatribe about the US government’s alleged association with Islamic fundamentalists on Daniel Pipes’ CampusWatch from July 2004.
In it, an anonymous "professor of Islamic studies at a leading U.S. university" blasts the U.S. Institute of Peace for associating itself with two American Muslims leaders that he deems, with the flimsiest of proof, extremists.
Like many neocon attacks on the Muslim community since 9/11, this plays fast and loose with the facts in order to tar Muslims with the label of anti-Semitism.

There are many problems with this shallow, sensationalistic piece (which I find it hard to believe was penned by a scholar of Islamic studies, so simplistic are its arguments about Islamic theology), but I will content myself with highlighting a few of its more glaring flaws.

[A note in the interests of full disclosure: I have been actively involved in the past with the organization under discussion here (I served on its Board of Directors). ]

This article is one of seemingly endless stream of smears on Muslim organizations (strictly speaking, CSID isn’t a Muslim organization–it’ s actually an interfaith organization, which I consider to be its greatest strength–but this important distinction is evidently lost on this writer as he furiously paints a picture of Islamic conspiracies lurking around every corner).

The article follows below, indented, with my comments added.

Since I do not personally know the individuals under discussion, I cannot judge their beliefs or intentions (though I am highly sceptical of this character’s fevered theories).  Thus, my focus here is on some issues raised by the manner these charges are made.

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The U.S. Government and CSID

by Abd al Haqq

Campus Watch.org

July 20, 2004

Should U.S. government bodies confer credibility upon militant Islamic figures, particularly when the country is under assault from militant Islamic groups? Simply to pose the question is to answer it. It is the very last thing that these bodies should be doing.

Yet that is precisely what the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) did on March 19, 2004, when it co-hosted a workshop with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) on the subject of ijtihad in Islam.

One main goal of this workshop was to discuss the role that American Muslim leaders and organizations can play in promoting a more tolerant and moderate interpretation of Islam. That’s an excellent goal – but then what were Muzammil Siddiqi and al-Sayyid al-Qazwini doing there?

On the face of it, both men boast excellent credentials.  Siddiqi has a Harvard Ph.D, and Qazwini graduated from one of Shiite Islam’s most famous seminaries in Qom, Iran. The trouble is that both scholars are extremists who promote hatred. Here are some specifics.

Siddiqi delivered a Friday Sermon on December 20, 2002, in which he stated that "Muslims believe that Jesus shall come back to earth before the end of time and shall restore peace and order, struggle against the Anti-Christ or demonic forces and bring victory for truth and righteousness. The true followers of Jesus will prevail over those who deny him." On August 9, 2003, IslamOnLine.net quoted a fatwa from him in which he reiterated this view of the return of Jesus.

This is hardly unique to Muslims, as many Christian demoninations hold comparable beliefs, as the following excerpt from an interesting article on Jerry Falwell shows:

But he’s [i.e., Falwell] not the only one. Countless millions of Americans are reading a series of novels called “Left Behind.” These novels are topping bestseller lists all over the country and they’re being made into movies. They chronicle apocalyptic times, and the setting is the 21st century, complete with war planes and TV correspondents.

However, the plot is ripped from the pages of the Bible, so it all winds up here in Israel where, according to the Book of Revelations, the final battle in the history of the future will be fought on an ancient battlefield in northern Israel called Armageddon. It will follow seven years of tribulation during which the earth will be shaken by such disasters that previous human history will seem like a day in the country. The blood will rise as high as a horse’s bridle at Armageddon, before Christ triumphs to begin his 1,000-year rule.

And the Jews? Well, two-thirds of them will have been wiped out by now. But the survivors will accept Jesus at last.

“The Jews die or convert. As a Jew, I can’t feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario,” says Gershom Gorenberg, who knows that scenario well.

Gorenberg is the author of the “End of Days,” a book about those Christian evangelicals who choose to read the Bible literally. “They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us.”

“If you listen to the drama they’re describing, essentially it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act.”

So Muslims aren’t the only ones with end-of-days prophecies involving a titanic war between the "believers" and the "infidels".  I do not see the world in such terms, but I must wonder why it seems to become objectionable only when Muslims do.
Also, like Christians and Jews, Muslims vary widely in their interpretation of such prophecies.  Not all Muslims take these beliefs literally, and some even question whether the traditions are even legitimate in the first place, since they are not found in the Quran but rather in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
A little known fact is that not only is Jesus revered in Islam as a divinely guided prophet, but that Muslims also believe in his return, his second coming.   Many Muslims believe him to be alive and waiting to return and bring about a new era of peace and justice (though as a prophet and a follower of Muhammad, not as God).

Back to "Abd al Haq"’s article on CSID…

This outlook has two main implications. The Anti-Christ is a medieval Christian concept that at the end of time Jesus will fight against a Jewish Anti-Christ, wreaking terrible havoc on this false messiah and his army of Jews. Islam imported the concept; and yet, Mahmud Shaltut, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar in 1942 issued a fatwa in Al-Manar journal, clearly stating that the concept of a returning Jesus is not mentioned in the Qur’an, and that proper Islamic creed cannot be built on this idea.

I am quite familiar with the fatwa in question, as I myself have cited it at times, but the author displays either great ignorance or intellectual dishonesty here.
First of all, it is but a single fatwah, albeit from a very prominent scholar, so the idea implied here–that this fatwah invalidates all traditional beliefs–is highly problematic, as in Islam no single scholar has the authority to determine these beliefs, which are based on scholarly consensus and personal conviction.
More importantly, the other implication, that the fatwa refutes belief in the Last Days, the Second Coming, etc, is incorrect. 

Shaltut’s fatwa addresses a much more esoteric and narrow question, whether a Muslim is required to believe that Jesus is still alive.  Many Muslims believe, based on a verse of the Quran that is open to several interpretations, that he was raised to the heavens like Elijah in the Old Testament and has been there ever since; a less common interpretation  is that his "elevation" was spiritual rather than physical and that he subsequently died a natural death long ago (there is even a tomb in Kashmir that is believed by some to be his final resting place).  Shaltut merely pointed out that there is ample evidence in the Quran to allow a Muslim to believe that Jesus Christ died a natural death, as well.  He did not reject traditional beliefs.

In the "authentic" Muslim Hadith, the Anti-Christ is deemed to be Jewish. Jesus comes back to defeat him near Lod, in modern day Israel, and march on in triumph to Jerusalem, with an army of Muslims. In the final battle between Jews and Muslims, a terrible slaughter will be wreaked upon the Jews, who are so accursed that even the stones will be yelling out to the Muslims, "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him."

A soundbyte like this may sell newspapers, but it completely misinforms people looking to understand the issues.
A hadith is not scripture and is, thus, open to questioning.    So the implication that these statements–or, more importantly, the author’s interpretation of them–is binding on all Muslims is patently untrue.

As even this rather disingenuous author had to quickly acknowledge in passing ("Islam imported the concept."), Islam shares these ideas with Christian tradition.  It is easy to find similiar statements in the writings of many revered Christian thinkers, including Martin Luther and the Church Fathers (in fact, while Muslim-Jewish relations have not always been perfect, Islam has never viewed Jews as "Jesus killers" and treated them accordingly) .  Indeed, comparable beliefs about Jews being killed in huge numbers during the Apocalypse are widespread among millions of Evangelical Christians in America. 
Are evangelical Christians anti-Semites for interpreting the Book of Revelations in this manner?  It is anti-Semitic for them to believe that two thirds of world Jewry will be killed by the forces of God in a new Holocaust during the Apocalypse?
 

How can someone who advocates this retrogressive and sanguinary concept of the end of days, repudiated decades ago, be a genuine champion of modern day tolerance? This sounds like a Hitler-like Final Solution.

Now Muslims with traditional End-of-Days beliefs are Nazis bent on sending Jews to concentration camps.  That’s quite a leap. 

This is simply the height of prejudice and irresponsible rhetoric.  It reminds me of the odious Blood Libel that plagued Jews in Europe for centuries in how it spins a vicious, dehumanizing conspiracy theory out of normal religious beliefs.

This sort of behavior is not an isolated event. For example, the Islamic Center of Orange County, where Siddiqi is director, held a program on March 29, 2004, in conjunction with Elderhostel at which Hussam Ayloush, director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, harangued knowledge-seeking senior citizens about the United States being a lackey of Israel. Away from high-profile Washington venues, this is the true Siddiqi.

A rather vague accusation. 
It’s interesting how freely the contributors to CampusWatch call Muslims they don’t agree with extremists or lackeys of Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. 

Qazwini is a follower of Shirazi Shiism whose "infallible" ayatollah, Al Sayyid Muhammad al Hussayni Al Shirazi, repeatedly relies on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to accuse the Jews of controlling the United Nations, spreading aids, corrupting trade, and marketing drugs and pornography to innocent Arab youth. He is also a prominent board member of the American Muslim Council (AMC), a radical Islamic group with strong ties to charities funding Al-Qaeda.

Qazwini’s mosque, the Islamic Center of America, has enthusiastically hosted Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, where Qazwini was seen to cheer when Farrakhan denounced Jews as "forces of evil." Delivering a lecture in at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Qazwini was reported by the Boston Globe to have "expressed envy…and hostility towards Jews." In a profile in Rolling Stone, he complained of Jewish influence in the media and of seeing too "many pictures of Israelis mourning their dead."

Siddiqi and Qazwini were not the only evidence of a serious error of judgment on the part of the USIP in organizing this conference. Daniel Pipes, a USIP board member, has also criticized the joint project of the CSID and USIP, focusing on the activities of Kamran Bokhari. Bokhari was formerly a spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, perhaps the most extreme of Islamist organizations operating in the Western hemisphere. He remains even now a fellow in good standing at the CSID.

This last observation verges on being a non sequiteur.  First of all, USIP flatly rejected Pipes’ charges as being "without merit".  Second, in the many years since Bokhari was connected to a US student chapter of Al-Muhajiroun–which at this time did not advocate violence and was thus, for all practical purposes a different organization–his views have evolved dramatically and is now a well known moderate Muslim and critic of extremism.

Something is wrong somewhere. When our nation is being fed a line of "tolerance" by an association that has as its speakers those who, within their mosque walls, lionize acts of mass-murder and demonize the Jews and Israel, somebody is not doing his homework.

Something is indeed wrong.  Anti-Semitism is wrong–as is all prejudice, including Islamophobia–but so is the promiscuous use of this potent label through misleading insinuations for political purposes, which is what I believe is happening here.

Government bodies must take responsibility in this most important domain, fully screening prospective invitees to conferences, instead of slavishly making the same mistakes other parts of government have done in the past, then claiming that pattern of error as a defense against corrective action.

"Abd al Haqq" is the pseudonym of a professor of Islamic studies at a leading U.S. university

Somehow I doubt the author of this undergraduate diatribe is an expert in much of anything, much less Islamic studies.  If he or she indeed works in Islamic studies, I hope they’ve kept their day job, as this sure isn’t tenure track output.

The world desperately needs interfaith dialogue today.  Selectively attacking one of the world’s great religions with kneejerk political correctness and utterly misleading slogans won’t improve the situation much. 

Unless you consider heightened conflict  and misunderstanding between Muslims and Jews "improvement", which I suspect a significant segment of the Islam-bashing industry does, alas.  For them, strife and prejudice is good for business.


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