Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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The following is the text from Earl Abbe's presentation on July 25, 2004.



Welcome.  This is to be a discussion on Islam and Jihad.  I will start off talking for a while and then open up for general discussion.  Please be patient with me.  This is a complicated subject and there is a lot of material to introduce.  Hopefully we will all still be civil enough at the end to share refreshments together.

Let me start with some Caveats:  I am not a “Reverend” as the Shopper ad mistakenly states.  I am not an expert on Islam.  My pronunciation of Arabic and all languages including English is flawed at best.  My opinions are based primarily on reading.  But I have taken five trips to the Middle East and worked 21 years at the CIA, with five in the Near East and South Asia Division.  (Given the CIA’s Middle Eastern intelligence failures, you may well count that last bit against me.)

There is much confusion about Islam.  We get conflicting reports about what it stands for.  The most horrible things are done in its name but Islam is presented as a religion of peace and compassion.   We hear that a no-holds-barred Jihad or holy war with the West is being called for but Jihad is also described as the spiritual conquest of the will.  We hear that there is -- or will soon be -- a Clash of Civilizations in which all Muslims will unite to destroy the “Great Satan” and its minions.

Is there a Clash of Civilizations?  I think the answer is “yes”, but it is not between the West and Islam.  It is within Islam itself.  Or at least it is confined there for now, unless we make it otherwise.

To try to make sense of this I am going to start at the beginning.


Mohammed ibn Abdallah ibn abd al-Muttalib was born in the year 570 in the city of Mecca in southwestern Arabia, to a recently widowed woman of good family.  Mecca was a stop on the caravan trade routes and a site of pilgrimage.  It was the location of the Ka’bah, a stone temple built by Adam and reconstructed by Abraham and which contained many idols and the black stone that fell from heaven.  Mohammed’s mother died when he was six and he was raised by other members of his family.  His younger years were marked by comparatively few miracles and he learned the family trade, which was trade.  At 25 he married a wealthy woman 15 years his senior.  They prospered, had six children – four of whom survived – and indications are that they were happy.

Mohammed was respected and trusted.  At 35 he oversaw the restoration of the black stone in the wall of the Ka’bah.  He was to pick which of the four first families of Mecca was to have the honor of putting the stone back in place.  Mohammed had the stone placed on a cloak, called for one man from each of the clans to take up a corner and together lift the stone into position.  This clever bit of politics staved off a potential crisis among the competing clans.

At the age of 40, while he was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca, the angel Gabriel came to him with a message that he did not understand.  Mohammed ran home scared out of his wits.  His wife wrapped him in a blanket and a relative of hers – a Christian – assured Mohammed that he had received a divine revelation.  Mohammed continued to receive these angelic messages for two years before sharing them outside the household.

Mohammed had become a prophet, the last, final prophet in a long chain that includes Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  Mohammed must have been persuasive and the times ripe for receiving prophecy because he gathered a considerable following.  Unfortunately, a prophet is without honor in his own country.  And his anti-idol stance inspired the enmity of most of those in Mecca, especially within Mohammed’s own clan.

Ten years after the first revelation, Mohammed’s beloved wife and his uncle died.  Mohammed grieved for a year.  Shortly thereafter Gabriel came to him with a fabulous winged beast and flew him to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he met and prayed with Abraham, Moses and Jesus and arose into the heavens.

Things soured further in Mecca after Mohammed told of his experience.  It was necessary to get out of town.  The village of Yathrib (later named Medina), which had a considerable Jewish community, offered the Moslems sanctuary and indeed the governance of the town.  Mohammed had become a ruler.

Things did not settle down with Mecca however.  Conflicts escalated into a series of battles in which Mohammed discovered that he was a good military leader and ultimately lead to the conquest of Mecca.  In victory Mohammed displayed great mercy.  Of course many of those he was fighting were family, including one son-in-law who was captured on the battlefield.

This is the foundation of Islam.  The words of God told by Gabriel to Mohammed, told by Mohammed to scribes who wrote them down, forming the Qur’an or “Recitation” and  Mohammed’s biography and commentary which make up the Sunna or “Example”, a second and very important Moslem holy work.

There are a couple other things I would like to say about Mohammed before we move on.  He led an un-ostentatious life and never assumed the trappings of royalty.  He did not found a dynasty.  Although the fourth Imman (counting Mohammed as first) was Mohammed’s saintly but politically inept nephew Ali, Mohammed had no role in choosing his successors.

Mohammed liked women.  Although he remained single for several years after his first wife’s death he ultimately married another ten and had one concubine in addition.  His tenth wife was Jewish and did not convert to Islam.  His defense of her decision is recorded in the Sunna.  Although Islam does not give women equal rights with men, it gives them rights, something that had not been done previously in Mohammed’s time and place.

And what are some of the key points of the Qur’an and Sunna?

Idols are bad.  There is only one god, a spirit, merciful and omnipotent, and to Him everyone owes worship and obedience.  The best way to do this is outlined.  There are outward forms and rituals to follow but it is the person’s internal thoughts and beliefs that are most important. Since belief is so important there must be no forced conversions.  Jews and Christians – the People of the Book as he called them –have already received the prophecy of Abraham and Moses or of Abraham, Moses and Jesus and are to be respected.  Moslems are to fight unbelievers -- not the People of the Book -- and yet must still honor treaties with the unbelievers.

All of God’s messages to Man seem to contain mixed or conflicting passages and the Qur’an is no exception.  There are passages that say don’t make friends with Jews and Christians but one has to very selectively “cherry pick” in the Qur’an to make the People of the Book the enemy.  There is even a passage in the Qur’an in which God gives the Holy Land to the Jews and implies that they will be there until the end of the world. (Qur'an 17:104)

And the Moslems did interpret the passages in the Qur’an in different ways, producing three major sects -- Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi – and four different schools of Islamic law.

It is interesting to note that the ideal of Moslems, Jews and Christians living together amiably with rights and privileges – perhaps not as equals, but with significant rights and privileges for all nonetheless – truly did exist for two extended periods in Moslem history.  These were in the Caliphate of Spain from 711 to 1492 and in the Ottoman Empire for the 600 years before 1925.

But what about Jihad?

Commitment to God, to submit to God’s will means that one must subdue or war with his own passions.  This is a holy war and is what I will call the Metaphorical Jihad.  No one uses the word this way now.  (If anyone tells you that this is what Jihad means, they are just blowing smoke, as in smoke screen.)

Believers or Muslims need to support and help one another.  An unprovoked outside attack on one group or country of Moslems is an attack on all, and all must defend those attacked.  This mutual defense provision is mandated and is a holy war that I will name the First Jihad.  We will get to the Second Jihad and what it has become later.

The wars of expansion that occurred after Mohammed’s death resulted in the occupation of much of the world.   Most of these wars did not qualify as Jihad.

Now I would like to shift to another century and another man named Mohammed.


In 1703, Mohammed Ibn Adb al-Wahab, the founder of Wahabism was born the son of a judge, in a little village in Najd in central Arabia.  Little is known of his upbringing but he did travel widely as a young man.  His experiences convinced him that Muslims had strayed far from Islamic principles.  He thought that the Ottoman Empire had failed to conquer Christian Europe and been decisively defeated at the 1683 Battle of Vienna because of its failure to be truly Islamic.  He saw his era as the beginning of the Last Times.  In his mid to late thirties he preached a return to what he saw as the Islamic principles, and inspired some of his relatives to follow him, but was denounced by his father and his brother, who even wrote a book in opposition to al-Wahab and Wahabism.

Al-Wahab wrote his own book, The Book of Monotheism that outlines his teachings.  His three principles are:  Ritual is superior to intentions or belief.  No reverence of the dead is allowed.  And no prayers may be made to prophets or saints or anyone other than God.  The last two principles are directly contrary to a rich Moslem tradition of reverence of Mohammed and the other prophets, the early leaders of the faithful and the many Islamic saints recognized in over 1400 years of history.

The Book of Monotheism also declares any Moslem who does not follow its strictures to be an idolater and his life and property unprotected by the law.  The book provides inquisitorial procedures for determining these failures.  And speaking of the law, all four major traditional Islamic legal systems are rejected.  Al-Wahab does claim to be following the Hanabi jurisprudence but this is hardly accurate.  The law is as al-Wahab defines it.

Praying for the Prophet Mohammed, visiting his tomb in Medina, inscribing his name in mosques, celebrating his birthday were all condemned by al-Wahab.  The Sunna or life and commentary of Mohammed and many other traditional Islamic works should be ignored or even burned.  The Qur’an alone is sufficient for humanity’s needs.

Al-Wahab and the Wahabis to this day are extremely selective as which verses of the Qur’an are to be followed and how they are to be interpreted. (But, of course, such selectivity is a characteristic in common with most fundamentalists.)

For all of this and for advocating the overthrow of the Ottomans, a religious edict or fatwa was issued calling for his arrest.  Al-Wahab took refuge in another district ruled by a local bandit and rebel – yet another Mohammed – Mohammed ibn Saud.  The two saw mutual opportunities in a partnership.  The Saudi family to rule and the Wahabi family to become the religious leaders and to provide the justification for raiding their Moslem neighbors.  Faith and statecraft working together as ongoing family businesses.

In a generation or two the coalition succeeded in conquering Mecca and Medina for the first time and sacked the Shrine of the Prophet, destroyed other shrines, obliterated cemeteries, and established the prototype for the modern Islamic totalitarian state.

Jihad was declared and was fought, not against the British who were nibbling away at the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, but against the other Moslems.  The British, who had no interest in the largely desolate interior were content with this division of the spoils.  This was the first of a series of Jihads declared against unbelievers (who are all non-Wahabis) but which were fought against Moslems, often with the implicit or formal assistance of the West.  This is what I will name the Second Jihad.

Over the years the Saudi-Wahabi fortunes fluctuated (in details I will not describe here), and hit a low point at the end of the 19th century when they were forced to seek protection in the British-controlled state of Kuwait. From there they rebounded and Ibn Saud, descendent of Mohammed ibn Saud re-conquered Mecca in 1924, and established – for the third time – the Wahabi vision of Islamic order, which was soon to be named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Things were not all well in the new kingdom.  The Wahabi faithful, not understanding political realities, had never been comfortable with the cozy relations with the British or other governmental accommodations.

Incidents occurred.  In 1926 a group of Egyptian pilgrims approached Mecca with musical accompaniment, a long-standing tradition.  The Wahabis strongly disapprove of music and a group of religious thugs or Ikhwan opened fire on the Egyptians, who fired back.  Many were killed on both sides.  The Muslim world was outraged by the attack on the pilgrims.  The Ikhwan were outraged by the failure of Ibn Saud to punish the Egyptians.  Civil war erupted in 1929 and was crushed.  Ibn Saud created a secret police to counterbalance the Ikhwan.


If the world’s largest known, most exploitable oil deposits had not been discovered in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, Wahabism would largely be of concern only to the residents of Arabia and the pilgrims to Arabian holy sites.

After the discovery of oil the Saudi government alliance with the West shifted from Great Britain to the American oil companies.

This produced a flood of petrodollars that now funds the ostentatious, non-Islamic and definitely non-Wahabi lifestyle of the Saudi royal family of which there are now an estimated 4000 princes supported by the state.  The blatant corruption in the royal family and its “do as I say, not as I do” stance has further angered the Wahabi clerics and alienated the people.  In part to buy off criticisms, the royals make huge contributions to Islamic charities.  (More about the charities later.)

However, there is no overt dissent in the Kingdom.  We hear of dissident reporters in Iran being thrown into jail from time to time.  You never hear of that in Saudi Arabia, because no dissident reporting is allowed to exist at all.

Other tensions exist in Saudi Arabia also.  There is still resentment of the fanatical Wahabi sect that has suppressed all other forms of Islam in Arabia and continues to be bizarre and oppressive.  I will offer two examples of this repression, one trivial and one horrific.  The trivial one is the recent fatwa against giving flowers to the sick in hospitals.  The other is the case of the night-time boarding school fire in which the informal religious police forced young girls fleeing the fire back into the building to die, because they were not properly covered.  Even the government had to denounce this action.

Petrodollars given to Islamic charities have been used to build thousands of mosques and medresas or religious schools and to provide other social services around the world including in the U.S.  All the preachers and teachers for these mosques and schools receive Wahabi training and the brand of Islam they preach and teach and spread is Wahabism.

The war against the Soviets in Afghanistan provided an outlet for many disaffected young Saudi men who there acquired experience in the holy war against the unbelievers and then were left at loose ends as to where to apply their new skills.

The never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides an external focus of hatred on Israel and its unquestioning ally and supporter, the United States.  It is interesting to note that while financial aid is given to the Palestinians and their struggle, the Kingdom has never volunteered to accept Palestinian refugees.

While presenting a benign face to the West -- participating in interfaith conferences, and so forth -- the sermons in the Saudi mosques and the Saudi government sanctioned Arabic media are constantly spewing forth the most inflammatory rhetoric, even reviving the ancient lies that the Jews sacrifice Arab children on high holy days and that the old fraud The Dialogs of the Elders of Zion is the Jewish plan for ruling the world.  Of course, reviling the Jews is approved and safe and healthy.  Openly preaching against the corruption of the Saudi royal family and government is not.

Over the years an evolution has occurred.  The Wahabi fight has traditionally been with the Shi’a, the Sufis and the non-Wahabi Sunnis, a profitable source of loot.  But, as they have progressed from a bunch of rural bandits with a religious excuse to prey upon their neighbors to a country, they have begun to believe their own rhetoric.  Perhaps inspired by the need to direct attention outward and away from internal corruption, the focus has moved from the non-Wahabi Moslems to those of other religious faiths, in particular the Jews but to all others too.

The Wahabi imams have issued fatwas supporting suicide bombing and terrorist acts.  The traditional Islam of Mohammed teaches that suicides go to hell and that in conflict innocents and noncombatants must be protected.  Recent Wahabi fatwas declare that suicide bombers are martyrs for Islam and will immediately go to heaven to receive their reward of a house and 72 virgins.  There is a fatwa that declares that any innocents or noncombatants killed in the fight for Islam are themselves martyrs for Islam and will go directly to heaven, so the bombers need not have any concern about creating collateral damage.

Under the guise of Islamic charity, money is collected and distributed for terrorism.  These connections have been documented by investigations in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Some excellent proof of the connections between Saudi charities and terrorism came out of Bosnia and Kosovo where by their outlandish activities the Wahabi missionaries supposedly there to help rebuild inspired the local authorities to raid the Wahabi facilities and discovered the evidence.


All of this says nothing about Iran.  That country’s government is a home-grown Shi’ite version of Islamic fundamentalism that supports Hamas terror, tells the most bald faced lies, and may soon be a nuclear power.  The problem of Iran is well worth discussion but my talk has gone on far too long as it is.  Iran will just have to wait for another time.


So concluding then, the question frequently asked is “Why do they hate us?”  It really should be “Why do the Wahabis hate us?”  I used to subscribe to the “Great Satan” theory, especially the part about our treatment of women.  But we could change in all our supposedly Satanic aspects – We could cover and suppress our women, throw out the booze, change our political and economic systems, shutdown Israel, move every last American soldier out of the Middle East, and the Wahabis would still hate us.  Because they hate everyone, including the majority of Moslems, everyone who is not a Wahabi.

There are two Sides of Islam:  Two Founders, Two Movements, Two World Views, Two Jihads to contend with – as well as a general Two-Facedness or duplicity in most of what is said.

This would seem to call for two approaches:

The pluralistic, tolerant Mohammedans should be cultivated and supported.  We can help them and they can help us.  We are all citizens of the world together unless we drive them away.

Israel has been our long-term ally and should remain so.  But the matter of Palestine must be resolved.  We can love Israel but tough love is called for here.  The U.S. must exert pressure on Israel and the Palestinians and their neighbors to bring about a stable and economically viable Palestine.

The metastasized, evolved Second Jihad of the Wahabis will not be satisfied until all the world becomes Wahabi Sunnis.  This does not appear to be an viable option.  The Wahabis must be resisted wherever possible.  The flow of Saudi oil money is powering this thing and should be reduced.  Buying and using less oil would be an excellent start.  Vigorous, stay-the-course military action as appropriate too.

The internal overthrow of the Saudi regime, when the Second Jihad comes home to clean house, is a very real possibility but I have no idea what the U.S. should do in that situation.

But as one last final word, we must not forget the other Jihad, the First Jihad, the Jihad of the Prophet Mohammed, where Moslems unite to defend their brethren when Moslems are persecuted or a Moslem country is attacked. This would seem to call for not invading Moslem countries without genuine, verifiable cause and to call for observing the “niceties” of “civilized” warfare if we must attack and occupy.  There is perhaps a lesson to be learned here.

What do you think?


REFERENCE:  Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam/Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism, New York, Anchor Books, 2003.


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