Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist
The following is the text from Earl Abbe's presentation on July 25, 2004.
AND JIHAD ***
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
ARABIA & THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROBLEM
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
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
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
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?
Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam/Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in
Terrorism, New York, Anchor Books, 2003.