In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
I became muslim in 1990 at the age of 27. I was born to a Lutheran Christian family in the American Mid-West, which was not terribly religious. However, I was sent to religion classes on Sunday mornings when I was old enough to enter grade school. I recall being very enthusiastic upon receiving my own Bible, and looking forward to gaining knowledge through religion. However, I was not satisfied with either the words of my King James Bible or the instruction given the teachers at my “sunday school.” The idea of Jesus Christ as God, Son of God, or part of the Holy Trinity seemed a ridiculous idea to me, especially on those occasions when I was allowed to be seated with the adults during Church services. The singing of songs and the statue of a dying god hanging on the wall; it all seemed a pathetic farce to me.
Furthermore, I found that questions and doubts about the religion were readily dismissed without any reason: one was simply expected to believe what one was told and not to question or ask for reasons for the “facts” one was told. I also encountered parents trying to tell their children about Christianity and telling us to “let Jesus into our hearts.” To me, the content of this metaphor amounted to a request to succumb to simple brainwashing. Sunday classes amounted to the reciting of stories about the life of Jesus, some of which, like the story of Jesus’ encounter with the money changers in front of the synagogue, I liked very much, but most of which I found irrelevant. After a year of two of this unsatisfying indoctrination, I refused to go to Church any longer. I became progressively more agnostic. I had a friend who was the son of a Methodist Christian minister, and though I had small conversations with the boy’s father when invited to dine with the family, nothing in my feelings about Christianity changed.
As I became increasingly educated in science, I decided that I wished to become a scientist. The more I learned about science and the history of encounters between the Church and pursuers of truth such as Galileo, the more antagonistic became my relationship with Christianity. The theological conflict Christianity has engendered between reason and Christian faith drove me further and further away from Christianity throughout my period as a high school student and closer to materialist agnosticism.
In college, I began to meet Muslims and became interested in the culture of the Middle East. I became very interested in Islamic art, which piqued my interest in Islam itself. However, being a triple major in difficult academic subjects, I felt I had little extra time to study religion. Upon entering graduate school I bought a translation of the Qur’an and began reading it on the bus to and from my office. I found it very interesting, but was distracted by its detailed rules regarding legal and other practical matters, and furthermore had no one to ask about things made unclear in translation. Then I began dating a Catholic Christian girl about whom I became very serious. However, I refused to accept the Christian view of Christ no matter how many ways I considered it and despite the strength of faith, honesty, and morality my friend exhibited. Eventually, we parted ways, but the girl’s conservatism and strength of morality left a strong impression on me. I reconsidered the virtues of faith in God, untainted by the idea of associating of others with Him.
Soon thereafter I had a chance to meet new Muslim friends and to read the Qur’an again, now with these friends available to answer my questions about it. This time it really sunk in, and I couldn’t read enough; until now, I make time to read the Qur’an every day. The Qur’an in some way addressed every single one of the doubts I’d ever had about religion. Before this time, my opinion about religion had become that it was a essentially a construction formed from old myths for the purposes of advocating a particular view of morality, that it was used to benefit those in power in society. I believed that most religious people, however well intentioned, actually used religion as an excuse for their own failures and weaknesses and as a way of avoiding difficult questions about their own mortality and place in the physical universe. In short, I saw religion as a means of rationalizing that which human beings find difficult to face. I believed that this is what drew people to religion — faith was the quid pro quo for escaping moral accountability and personal insignificance. The Qur’an faced my supposition that religion is just mythologizing and storytelling and denied it directly; it made me face anew my reasons for abandoning religion. The Arabic Qur’an as an unaltered record of God’s words removes the possibility of Islamic religion being simply stories passed down from generation to generation or century to century progressively altered in content and language, and the strict personal moral accountability it required left no room for rationalizing immoral conduct: Islam was no escape mechanism for the irrational or the morally weak.
The Qur’an asked me to contemplate God’s creation and ask myself honestly “Is not this a great achievement?” I began to take seriously the idea that the universe might in fact be created. If this amazing universe were created, would not God be Great, as muslims say? In a religion which makes no room for hypocrisy and makes each human being fully accountable down to the smallest unit of good deeds and the smallest unit of bad deeds, true justice is possible. Indeed only in such a moral scheme is true justice possible. At the same time, Islam explicitly rejected all the clear errors of religion against which I had good arguments, such as deifying a man and/or associating others with the God. And it went further: it provided its own arguments against the errors of other religions and against uncalled-for doubt. I had been shown the straight path of God and had no excuse: I was obligated as an honest and rational human being to become a Muslim.
In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
It’s interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together – how Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about it, I can’t help saying “Subhannallah”, and thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born into Islam and been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don’t really appreciate this blessing.
Insha’Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for da’wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read, insha’Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.
I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small own (San Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 when I last checked) was a mostly white, upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area – just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbours, played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed trees in my front yard.
My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we didn’t know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet – a kind of “direction book” -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do next (if we didn’t fall asleep first!). I was baptized in this church, and received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don’t remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.
I lived on a dead-end street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian Church. When I was about 10, the people of this church invited me to participate in their children’s Christmas play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only about 30 older people (past their 50’s), but they were nice and never made me feel out of place. There were about three younger couples with children younger than me.
I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade, I started baby-sitting the younger kids during the service. By ninth grade, I was helping the minister’s wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: my friends, myself, and a young couple with kids, but we liked it that way. The big Presbyterian Church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. Nevertheless, our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend’s abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they’re Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people’s sins; why are we guilty of Adam’s original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn’t give us good answers either; they only told us to “have faith”.
The people at church told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.’ It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The rule was that you had to sit alone – anywhere on the camp’s 200 beautiful acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek, and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs – listened to the water, the birds’ songs, the crickets’ chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned home, this feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of Jesus’ role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church teachings behind.
I believed (and still do) in the teaching “Love your neighbour as yourself”, fully giving to others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it wasn’t much), I sent the first $25 to a program called “Foster Parents Plan” (they’ve changed the name now). This charity hooked up needy children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn’t work. He had 2 younger brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 – he was excited because his sister had got engaged. I thought, “She’s the same age as me, and she’s getting engaged!” It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.
Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students at my school in English. In a group called “Students for Social Responsibility,” I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all had at that time was of a nuclear war).
I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I had penpals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called `Children of War’ – a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house – the group’s chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn’t talk much (their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.
All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these interests with me.
At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others – a girl from California (who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn’t know anyone else at school, so I tried to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a group of international students to practice English).
I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious. We got together every week to listen to “personal testimonies”, sing songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their heads, with their eyes closed) and singing “hallelujah.” I had _never_ seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian Church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God, and I didn’t feel comfortable returning.
I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel – a small, round building nestled in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues – nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and closer to God there than at any church I had ever been to.
During this time, I was also meeting with a group of international students as part of the Conversation Group program. We had five people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an Italian man and a Palestinian man. We met twice a week over lunch, to practice English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our studies, our childhood, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the Palestinian man (Faris) talk about his life, his family, his faith, etc., it struck a nerve in me. I remembered Sherif, Fatima and Maysoon, the only other Muslims I had ever known. Previously, I had seen their beliefs and way of life as foreign, something that was alien to my culture. I never bothered to learn about their faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.
During my second term of school, the conversation group disbanded and the international students transferred to other schools. The discussions we had had, however, stayed at the front of my thoughts. The following term, I registered for a class in the religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. None of us are punished for Adam’s original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful and Loving God forgave him. God doesn’t require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn’t God, he was a prophet, like all of the other prophets, who all taught the same message: Believe in the One true God; worship and submit to Him alone; and live a righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn’t confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to rest my faith.
That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of the library and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had been searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions, Buddhism in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how Islam would affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian, with my family, etc. I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out Islamic centers in my area, but the closest one was in San Francisco, and I never got to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn’t fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in particular, when we were all watching a public television program about the Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for “snow”, because snow is such a big part of their life. Later that night, we were talking about how different languages have many words for things that are important to them. My father commented about all the different words Americans use for “money” (money, dough, bread, etc.). I commented, “You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God – I guess that’s what is important to them.”
At the end of the summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the mosque in south-west Portland. I asked for the name of a woman I could talk to, and they gave me the number of a Muslim American sister. That week, I visited her at home. After talking for a while, she realized that I was already a believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help guide me in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For example, how to pray. I had read it in books, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it just from books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but I knew I wasn’t doing it right. The sister invited me that night to an aqiqa (dinner after the birth of a new baby). She picked me up that night and we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there, and they were very friendly to me that night. I said my shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how to pray. They talked to me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night feeling like I had just started a new life.
I was still living in a campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take two buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women lived). I quickly lost touch with the women I met, and was left to pursue my faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to the mosque, but was confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I’d show up to borrow some books from the library, and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I decided to go to my first Jumah (Friday) prayer, and I couldn’t go in for the same reason. Later, I was told that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that I couldn’t go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to have faith and learn on my own.
Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had been contemplating the issue of hijab, but was too scared to take that step. I had already begun to dress more modestly, and usually wore a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited the sister, she told me “all you have to do is move that scarf from your shoulders to your head, and you’ll be Islamically dressed.”). At first, I didn’t feel ready to wear hijab, because I didn’t feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the reason for it, agreed with it, and admired the women who did wear it, they looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it, people would ask me many questions, and I didn’t feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up and went to class in hijab. Alhamdillah, I haven’t taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong, and proud to be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody’s questions.
However, I also felt isolated and lonely during that first Ramadan. No one from the Muslim community even called me. I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get special meals (the dining hall wasn’t open during the hours I could eat). The school agreed to give me my meals in bag lunches. So every night as sundown approached, I’d walk across the street to the kitchen, go in the back to the huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for fitoor (sunset breakfast meal), one for suhoor (pre-dawn meal)). I’d bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit, cookies, and either a tuna or egg salad sandwich. The same thing, for both meals, for the whole month. I was lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.
When I embraced Islam, I told my family. They were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision, and knew that I was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my activities and my deep faith, even if they didn’t share it. They were not as open-minded, however, when I started to wear hijab. They worried that I was cutting myself off from society, that I would be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals, and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical. They didn’t mind if I had a different faith, but they didn’t like it to affect my life in an outward way.
They were more upset when I decided to get married. During this time, I had been back in touch with Faris, the Muslim Palestinian brother of my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in Islam. He was still in the Portland area, attending the community college. We started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother’s house, etc. We were married the following summer (after my sophomore year, a year after my shahaada). My family freaked out. They weren’t quite yet over my hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something else at them. They argued that I was too young, and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of school, become a young mother, and destroy my life. They liked my husband, but didn’t trust him at first (they were thinking “green card scam”). My family and I fought over this for several months, and I feared that our relationship would never be repaired.
That was 3 years ago, and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University. We live in a very strong and close-knit Muslim community. I graduated magna cum laude, with a degree in child development. I have had several jobs, from secretary to pre-school teacher, with no problems about my hijab. I’m active in the community, and still do volunteer work. My husband, insha’Allah, also finished his Electrical Engineering degree. We visit my family a couple of times a year. I met Faris’ parents for the first time this summer, and we get along great. I’m slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list of languages I speak.
My family has seen all of this, and has recognized that I didn’t destroy my life. They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments, and can see that I am truly happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to Alhamdulillah.
Looking back on all of this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today. I truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in a pattern – a path to Islam.
Alhamdillillahi rabi al’amin.
Your sister in faith, C. Huda Dodge “Say: Allah’s guidance is the only guidance, and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds…”
By the solar calendar, July 1999 represents the nine hundredth anniversary of the Crusader sack of Jerusalem. The event has been passed over in near-silence by the West, but for Muslims it vividly recalls a pain that will never be forgotten. To commemorate this most appalling event in the history of Islam, we publish on this site several evocative illustrations by the French engraver Gustave Dore, published in 1877 to great critical acclaim.
The Crusading armies which had flocked to Pope Urban’s call for a holy war against Islam had assembled on the seventh of June beneath the city walls. The swords of these wild, zealous men already ‘knew the taste of Saracen blood’, as a friar wrote. Many of the Crusaders had eaten Turkish children on their long and violent march through Anatolia. All were fired with the love of the Church, and of the Holy Spirit which drove the minds of the bishops who urged them on.
Jerusalem was well-defended, and copiously stocked with food and water. Its commandant, Iftikhar al-Dawla, had ensured that the city walls were in good repair, and had succeeded in blocking or poisoning the wells beyond, forcing the Christian armies to rely on a water supply several miles distant. A Muslim army had already set out from Egypt to relieve the city. Weighing up these factors, the Crusaders, under Godefroy, realised that a long siege was out of the question. Their only chance of success lay in launching an immediate, all-out assault.
This view was strengthened by a miraculous vision received by a priest, Peter Desiderius, who was instructed by a heavenly voice to lead the Christian hosts in a barefoot pilgrimage around the city walls, all the time repenting of their sins and calling upon Jesus to forgive them and grant them victory. The pilgrimage ended at the Mount of Olives, where the Crusaders listened to sermons from Peter the Hermit and other venerable members of the accompanying clergy. The sermons fired the Christians with excitement and an overpowering longing for the fight
During the night of the 13th July, the Christians pushed three great siege-towers towards the walls. The Muslims fought back with Greek fire and stones from catapults, and casualties were heavy on each side. By midday on the 14th, one siege tower under Godefroy himself reached the wall, and a bridge was thrown across to the battlements. A great press of Christians forced its way across, and a detachment was sent to open the nearest city gate, the Gate of the Column. Bursting through the gate, thousands of Crusaders poured into the streets of the city, singing hymns, with the Muslim population fleeing before them to the Aqsa Mosque, where they hoped to make a final stand.
Al-Aqsa was packed with fearful refugees; there was little standing-room even on its roof. Crusading knights under Tancred broke into the Dome of the Rock, and desecrated it, slaughtering all they found there. Then the Christian masses surrounded al-Aqsa itself, clamouring for the death of the Muslims inside. The Muslims had had no time to fortify the mosque, and within hours the flag of Tancred flew from the roof of the bloodied building, the third holiest of Islam.
In the narrow city streets the confusion on the hot July day was absolute. Men, women and children ran screaming from the triumphant Crusader swordsmen. Some hid in their homes, only to be found and put to death. The garrison commander, Iftikhar al-Dawla, who was surrounded in the Tower of David, the last redoubt of the defence, surrendered on condition that he and those soldiers who survived with him be allowed to depart safely.
Iftikhar and his men were the only Muslims to survive. Historians calculate that ninety thousand Muslims, and also the entire Jewish population of the city, were immolated by the joyful Crusader army. The city which had been captured peacefully by the Caliph Umar four centuries before, and which had been home to people of all religions, now swam deep in blood. Priests and friars later wrote exultantly of the scene, which they called a ‘marvellous judgement of God’. Muslim and Jewish blood, they noted happily, had ‘flowed up to the knees’ of the Crusaders’ horses.
With every Muslim life extinguished, the Crusading priests and knights processed solemnly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they sang hymns of thanksgiving. On receiving the joyful news, the bells of all Christendom pealed for hours.
Jerusalem became a Christian city and remained so until 1187, when Salah al-Din recovered it for Islam. His tolerance and magnanimity towards its people of all faiths became legendary, and recalled the generous spirit of the early days of Islam, and of Umar himself. But the memory of the Crusaders’ bloodlust has not been forgotten by the Muslim people of Jerusalem, or of the Islamic world. The militant intolerance of pre-modern Christianity towards the presence of unbelievers, which survived unchallenged until the Enlightenment, and which resulted in massacres no less apocalyptic in the Americas, Africa, Siberia, and every other place where Christian armies penetrated, is symbolised for Muslims by the bloodbath in one of the holiest cities of Islam, a crime which is without parallel in the history of religion.
No other event has done more to influence relations between Christianity and Islam, and to colour the mutual perception of these two faiths.
May Allah grant rest and light to the martyrs of al-Quds al-Sharif in all ages, forgive them their shortcomings, and secure for them the Intercession of the beloved Prophet, upon him be peace, on the last day.
In the Name of God, Merciful, Compassionate. Blessed are all the Prophets of God and all their true and righteous followers. Blessed is the last and the seal of all Prophets and all Prophecy: Muhammad. Blessed are his kin, companions, and followers. Peace upon those who follow righteousness and divine guidance.
The Pontiff of the Catholic Church of Christianity, Benedict XVI, delivered a lecture titled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections” at the University of Regensburg (September 12th, 2006).
The Pontiff’s lecture gave rise to a deep and painful rupture in Catholic – Muslim relations on many fronts: diplomatic, political, and, most intensely, popular. The superficial media coverage of the lecture, and the intensity of popular reactions to that coverage, have largely prevented clear-headed considerations and critiques of its contents. This paper strives to conduct a thorough study of the lecture.
It is hoped that a balanced and fair consideration of the lecture can prepare for an urgently needed theological and philosophical dialogue between Muslim and Catholic scholars, including the Catholic Pontiff himself. Such a dialogue is urgently needed in order to repair the damage in Catholic – Muslim relations, and to heal fresh wounds that have compounded the pains of an already tarnished and pained world.
Benedict’s paper is a complex work that has to be engaged at various levels and from various angles: theological, philosophical, and political. It is hoped that this paper will at least start a process of further Muslim reflections on it and discussion of it.
In order not to risk distorting, through paraphrasing, the meaning of Benedict XVI’s Lecture, I shall quote heavily from the official Vatican translation posted on the Vatican Website and copyrighted by Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
In order to make one’s presuppositions and tools clear from the outset, it is important to point out that the author of this paper is a devout Sunni Muslim theologian of the Ash’arite school, Maliki in jurisprudential tendency, and Shadhili/Rif’ai in spiritual leanings. The author is deeply committed to the possibility of fruitful philosophical discussions on the basis of our common humanity, and to the possibility of nourishing inter-religious dialogue on the basis of our common belief in the One True God. These commitments translated into several years of philosophical and inter-religious study and practice.
It is important to appreciate that Benedict XVI is speaking, at least to some extent, as a former Professor who is coming back to his beloved University to speak, once again, as a Professor. Of course, the discourse of a person, and its reception, depends a great deal under which aspect he happens to make the discourse. Different discourses are associated with different normative standards and are to be judged according to the standards appropriate to them.
It is one thing to consider the lecture as that of Joseph Ratzinger qua Benedict XVI, Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and World-Leader of all Catholics. It is another to consider the lecture as that of Joseph Ratzinger qua German Professor of Theology. The nostalgic tone of the opening passages of the lecture, and the reference to earlier lectures of the 1950’s, make it clear that Ratzinger is, to some extent, speaking, once again, as German Theology Professor. However, Ratzinger having been ‘created anew’ as Pope Benedict XVI, and noting the ecclesiastical garb in which he gave the lecture, it is only natural that, despite the charming nostalgia, receivers of the lecture can not simply suspend the ecclesiastical role of Ratzinger.
It is inevitable, therefore, that the lecture is received as that of a Roman Catholic Pope, and not just that of a University Professor. The Vatican clearly assumes this by posting the lecture as that of the “Holy Father” and as part of an “Apostolic Journey”.
As the Roman Philosopher Cicero and the British Philosopher Bradley both point out, one’s duties depend a great deal upon one’s position or station. It is important to note that as Professor Ratzinger was speaking in his former University, Pope Benedict XVI was very much present to his listeners.
In a cruel world full of wars and strife, much of which is between Christians and Muslims (under whichever flag or tag they happen to fight), it is extremely important that religious leaders of all religions speak and act responsibly. The gravity of responsibility is in direct correlation with the importance of the religious office from which one speaks. There are all sorts of university professors who say all sorts of unpleasant things about Islam and Muslims. They are often simply, and rightly, ignored. The lecture of Professor Ratzinger was very much that of Pope Benedict XVI. This is why it can not be ignored and must be engaged at all possible levels.
It is also important for Muslims, in the spirit of fairness dear to Islam, to appreciate and support whatever positive aspects are there in the lecture. One such aspect is the very important discourse, which is unfortunately relegated to the end of Benedict XVI’s Lecture, on the importance of deepening and widening the notion of Western Reason so as to include and accommodate the contribution that revelatory religiosity can make. The anti-Positivist critique of common Western University understandings of Reason can be readily appreciated and accepted by many Muslims. Of course, such a critique is not original in that it follows from the anti-Positivist developments of the Philosophy of Science since at least Karl Popper and his students wrote their important works. Nevertheless, the use of such anti-Positivist discourse for making way for revelatory discourse is fruitful for all.
Had Benedict XVI started with his last passages and developed them further, and had he appreciated the historical commitment of Islam, throughout the ages, to reasonableness and proper discussion, we would have had an uplifting discourse conducive to co-living and peaceful Christian-Muslim co-resistance to the pretensions of irreverent scientistic Reason. Islam can actually be Christianity’s best ally against the arrogant pretensions of scientistic positivism, and for a deeper and more spiritual Reason. Alas, that is not what Benedict XVI actually did. Let us look at how he actually did start and then follow the Lecture section by section, quoting important sections as we go along.
Benedict XVI begins his lecture, nicely enough, with reminiscences on his time at the University of Bonn in 1959 where “We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties.”
It is clear that Benedict XVI is very much disposed towards, and cherishes, historical, philosophical, philological, and theological discussions. It is important that he is engaged at all these levels. From the contents of the lecture, it is very clear that Benedict XVI can do with more meaningful discussion with serious Muslim scholars.
There is no doubt that he is very much interested in Islam and that he takes it very seriously. However, the study materials and sessions he engages with seem to be of a very particular and narrow type. Being a Catholic scholar who respects specialization, Benedict XVI seems to heavily rely on the works of Catholic Orientalists some of whom are not particularly sympathetic to Islam.
Late last year, Benedict XVI devoted the annual retreat that he usually has with his former doctoral students to the study of the Concept of God in Islam. Very little is known about the contents of this retreat, but glimpses of what it must have been like can be gathered from two, sometimes conflicting, reports that were later provided by two of the key participants. The topic and content of the retreat is of direct relevance to Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture. It would be most helpful for understanding Benedict XVI’s true position regarding Islam if the contents of this important ‘private’ Seminar were to be made fully public.
It would have also been helpful to Benedict XVI to hear Muslim theologians themselves on what they thought and taught about God. Instead, Benedict XVI invited his students to listen to, and discuss with, two Catholic Scholars specialized in Islamics and Christian-Muslim relations. Both scholars: the German Jesuit Christian Troll and the Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir are renowned Catholic experts in Islamic studies. However, both tend to be deeply suspicious of what may be called ‘traditional Islam’. Troll is fundamentally convinced that Islam must be reformed and is an expert on, and an active supporter of non-traditionalist ‘reformers’. Samir is less charitable to Islam, be it traditional or ‘reformed’, and is often quite hostile. Together with some other close advisors of Benedict XVI, like the American Jesuit Joseph Fessio, Samir has been clearly taking an Islamophobic approach that may explain the direction of the Lecture of Benedict XVI.
It is noteworthy that some of Benedict’s closest advisors on Islam have recently been hostile types who believe that Islam, at least as it stands, is inherently violent and who are filled with fear of its expansion. Several Catholic or secular advisors who know better than to instill Islamophobia into the Pontiff’s heart have generally been marginalized, retired or ignored. Some, like the deeply respected Bishop Michael Fitzgerald have been moved to other, respectable, but less central positions. The subsuming of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue under the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the continued deterioration of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, have all combined to create a situation where Benedict XVI is increasingly being advised on Islam by the least sympathetic Catholic scholars of it.
It is important that Muslim scholars strive to intellectually and theologically engage Benedict XVI, and not through the filters of some Islamo-phobic Catholic Orientalists. It is important for the Catholic Pontiff to select his advisors more widely, and to be weary of narrow and prejudiced views, even if they happen to be held by so called ‘experts’ of Islamic Studies. He should also be careful of trusting the purely ethnic claims to expertise of some Arab Catholic scholars. It is well known that some members of minorities within a larger culture are sometimes the least expert on its full richness. Some members of minorities are often obsessed with feelings of persecution and fears of destruction. There are some Arab Catholic Islamics specialists who have very dubious views on Islam and Muslims, and whose Islamo-phobic views are trusted because they happen to be Arabs.
On the other hand, there are Arab Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who do have a very deep understanding and appreciation of Islam and Muslims and who can provide the Pontiff with very good advice. Respected and fair figures such as Bishop Michel Sabah and Metropolitan Georege Khoder can offer Benedict XVI a deep understanding of Islam and Muslims. There are also several non-Arab Catholic Orientalists who can be of great help to Benedict XVI on Islamic matters. These scholars include Maurice Bourmans, Michel Lagarde, Etienne Renault, and Thomas Michel.
In times of war and strife we humans tend to trust the views of those who tend to make us fear the perceived enemy and who help us mobilize our energies against it. It does not at all help Benedict XVI, or our tarnished world for the people he trusts on matters Islamic to openly say things like:
“Benedict is aiming at more essential points: theology is not what counts, at least not in this stage of history; what counts is the fact that Islam is the religion that is developing more and is becoming more and more a danger for the West and the world. The danger is not in Islam in general, but in a certain vision of Islam that does never openly renounces violence and generates terrorism, fanaticism.”
Or, worse still:
“The West is once again under siege. Doubly so because in addition to terrorist attacks there is a new form of conquest: immigration coupled with high fertility. Let us hope that, following the Holy Father’s courageous example in these troubled times, there can be a dialogue whose subject is the truth claims of Christianity and Islam.”
Such views are very dangerous and will only lead to more war and strife. They are the exact counter-part and mirror-image of the views of pseudo-Islamic terrorists.
Christians and Muslims must be on the alert for such Manichean and polarizing views, and must strive to live in daily deep and fair discernment so as to improve the painful situation in which we all live.
It is essential, therefore, that Muslims and reasonable-non-Muslim serious-and-fair scholars engage the Pontiff in scholarly and intellectual discussion of the kind he praises at the beginning of his Lecture.
“Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas – something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned – the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times makes it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason – this reality became a lived experience.”
Benedict XVI clearly appreciates the experience of ‘universitas’ through the periodic encounter with the other. He sees clearly that specialization can lead to a dangerous narrowing that closes horizons of true communication. It is important to point out that just as there is a ‘universitas’ based on our common humanity and reasonableness, there is a monotheistic universitas based on our common belief in the One True God. It is important that Christians and Muslims, despite (and because of) their dedicated devotions to their own religions, work together in mutual-respect and dialogue for the sake of the One True God. Such a dialogue must become a lived experience that leads us closer to world peace.
Benedict XVI then points out the importance of research and discussions about the reasonableness of faith, and that in such research and discussions, even radical skepticism has to be considered and engaged. “That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.
Recognition of the importance of such research and discussion is the very foundation of the extensive and deep field of Islamic Studies called ‘Ilm al-Kalam’, or Muslim systematic theology. As a matter of fact, many Kalam manuals open with extensive considerations of the position of the skeptics by way of establishing the validity of seeking out reasons in support of religious faith. All great scholars of Kalam recognized the fact that discussions, argumentations, and disputations with others can only be conducted on the basis of a shared human reasonableness that forms a kind of ‘universitas scientiarum’.
The manuals of Kalam are full of extensive reasoned discussions with Skeptics, Atheists, Naturalists, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, Aristotelians, Platonists, and a host of other religions and philosophies.
It is most unfortunate that Benedict’s appreciation of discussions based on ‘universitas scientiarum’ do not seem to extend to Islam and Muslims. Despite the fact that many Muslim scholars and institutions responded positively to the Catholic Church’s newfound openness to dialogue with them (as expressed in the documents of Vatican II), and worked very hard in many dialogue settings, Benedict XVI seems to think (from later parts of his lecture) that such reasonable discussion is only possible within a European/Christian/Hellenistic setting. This is both historically and actually untrue and unfair.
After his fairly benign Lecture opening, Benedict XVI suddenly conjures up a most troubling legacy:
“I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara – by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.”
It is not clear how Paleologus’ dialogue “reminded” Benedict XVI of “all this”. I would have liked to believe that Benedict XVI was reminded of the value of reasoned discussion, based on common humanity, by the fact that a Christian and a Muslim were having a reasoned discussion even in the midst of a siege. Alas, I think a more likely reading is that Benedict XVI was reminded of the presumed intimate relationship between Christian faith and reason by the fact that a Christian, faced with a violent Islam, still focused on the equation of his faith with reasonableness.
Benedict XVI very much starting with a ‘siege’ setting resurrects a scene from the siege of Constantinople, with all its associated symbolism:
“It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between – as they were called – three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point – itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole – which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.”
It is strange that Benedict XVI selected an admittedly “marginal” point from an obscure medieval dialogue, written at a particularly abnormal and tense moment in history, to find a “starting-point” for his reflections on “faith and reason”. One could imagine an infinitely large number of possible, more direct and sensible, starting-points.
Many an alternative starting-point could have helped Benedict XVI make his main points about faith and reason without using a disfigured straw-man Islam. The connection between the medieval dialogue and the main point of the lecture is so strained and distant; invoking the dialogue unnecessarily damages Christian-Muslim relations. This is at a time when we truly need the healing of these relations.
Then, of all the sections of the Emperor’s book, the Pontiff chooses to focus on the one concerning Holy War or Jihad: “In the seventh conversation (d???e??? – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.”
It is also interesting that Benedict, invoking the authority of anonymous “experts”, summarily dismisses the clear and still normative Qur’anic ruling ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ by claiming that it was only upheld by Muhammad (peace be upon him) in times of weakness!
Instead of cherishing this ruling, and challenging Muslims today to live-up to it, the Pontiff dismisses an important Islamic resource for reasonableness and peace by seeing it as a fake Islamic stance that was only ever held because of temporary weakness! This is most unfortunate. The no-compulsion verse has never been revoked and has always been binding.
At no point in history did Muslim jurists legally authorize the forced conversions of people of other religions. This vital verse was foundational for the tolerance that Muslims did concretely demonstrate towards Christians and Jews living in their midst. It is very dangerous for the Pontiff to dismiss a Qur’anic verse that actually formed, and still forms, a juridical and historical guarantee of safety to Christians and Jews living amongst Muslims.
Furthermore, the disheartening claim by Benedict XVI that Muhammad (peace be upon him) whimsically changed Islam’s principles and juridical teachings, depending on his weakness or strength, is simply an echo of prejudiced unfair views that have surfaced again and again in Christian and Western polemics against Islam. Wiser and fairer advice could have saved Benedict XVI from adopting such prejudices.
The image of an opportunist Prophet, which Benedict XVI invokes in passing, is deeply painful and offensive to Muslims. How would Benedict XVI feel if Muslims pointed out that the Catholic Church only became tolerant of Muslims and Jews after it lost its power in Europe, and that this tolerance was really granted by Secular states and not by the Church, but opportunistically claimed by it. Such a point is likely to give pain and offence. Imagine, then, the pain and offense we Muslims feel as Benedict XVI claims that our beloved Prophet is an opportunist who teaches one thing when he is weak, only to reverse it when he gets stronger.
Benedict XVI goes further:
“Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, …”
Again, Benedict XVI strangely dismisses, in passing, yet another Islamic resource for tolerance towards Christians and Jews. Islam has always distinguished between ‘the People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews), and mere Pagans. The People of the Book living in Muslim communities were always granted the right to worship in peace largely based on this important distinction. It is very important to note that some of the hateful discourses of recent pseudo-Islamic terrorists have worked very hard to dilute the distinction between Christianity and Paganism (by calling Christians ‘Cross-Worshipers’) precisely in order to remove the juridical protection granted to Christianity and Judaism under Muslim Jurisprudence. Benedict XVI seems to imply that such distinctions are minor and only obscure Islam’s purported intolerance.
Benedicts XVI then goes on to quote one of the most disturbing passages in the Emperor’s discourse:
“… he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
This hateful and hurtful passage is what the media picked up the most, and what most of the popular Muslim reactions have reacted to.
Tragically, Benedict XVI, having invoked this piece of hate-literature back from its historical dormancy, fails to distance himself from the opinion of its original author. He does use such languages as ‘brusqueness’, ‘leaves us astounded’ and ‘expresses himself forcefully’. However, none of these expressions constitutes a negative judgment or rejection of the opinion of the original author. As a matter of fact, they may even be read as indicative of a subtle support of a supposed bravery that may be a bit reckless.
When someone gratuitously invokes a very obscure text that expresses hatful things one has a moral obligation to explain why he goes out of his way to invoked it, and a further obligation to respond to it, and to dismiss the hate expressed in it. Otherwise, it is very reasonable to assume that the person invoking the hurtful text does mean it, and does share the views expressed in it.
To claim that no hurtful intent was present, and that Muslims simply did not understand the text, agonizingly adds insult to injury. This is why the quasi-apology of Benedict XVI was not considered adequate by many Muslims. All the Vatican’s statements to date, including the address of Benedict XVI express regret for the fact that Muslims supposedly misunderstood the Pontiff’s Lecture and have reacted badly to it.
Such an approach simply accuses Muslims of lack of understanding and over-reaction. This approach, instead of meekly and humbly admitting the hurt one has caused, blames the ones being hurt for taking the insult the wrong way! Many devout Catholics have, unfortunately, seen Muslim rejections of the quasi-apology and Muslim’s emotional reactions to the words about their Prophet (peace be upon him) as indicative of Benedict XVI’s correct and heroic stance.
Benedict goes on:
“The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (s?`? ????) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”
Interestingly, if one consults a reliable classical Qur’anic exegesis book (tafsir) for an exegesis of the verse ‘There is no compulsion in religion’, one would find explanations that are very similar to the Emperor’s point about the heart or soul being the abode of faith. All Muslim theological treatises have a section on faith (Iman). There is unanimity amongst all Muslim theologians that faith resides in the abode of the heart or soul and that no physical compulsion can ever affect it.
It is interesting to note that Benedict XVI was for many years the ‘Prefect of the Faith’ of the Catholic Church. The Prefect of the Faith is the distant modern version of the Inquisition. The Inquisition seldom respected the sanctity of the human heart in matters of faith. Tragically, for Muslims and Jews, especially in Spain, the Church used a dizzying battery of physical torture techniques to get Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity. The Inquisition never heeded such advice as that of the Emperor: “To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death”. We could all learn from this advice.
It is Qur’anically normative for Muslims to call to the path of God through wisdom, wholesome advice, and proper discussion. There is no sanction in Islam for torturing people into conversion. Indonesia and Malaysia have more Muslims than all Arab countries combined. No Muslim army ever entered these lands. How did Islam spread there?
Nevertheless, it will be dishonest or naïve to claim that no Muslim army ever conquered any land. However, creating a domain where God can be freely worshiped does not entail converting the inhabitants of that domain by force of the ‘sword’. Muslim conquests seldom translated into forced conversions. The evidence is clear: Muslim dominated lands still have Christian minorities. How many Muslims or Jews were left in Spain after the Catholic Ferdinand and Isabella re-conquered it?
Interestingly, Muslims, as immigrants, were only ever able to re-enter Europe under the multi-cultural policies of secular Europe. If the Catholic Church had its way would that have been possible? Benedict XVI himself is famous for rejecting Turkey’s plea to become part of Europe for lack of the right religious and cultural credentials.
In some past Vatican statements Muslims were sometimes called upon to forget the past (when it comes to the Inquisition or the Crusades). In Islam, acknowledgment and regret are necessary pre-conditions of true repentance and forgiveness. Benedict XVI, by self-righteously invoking the hurtful accusations of a long-dead Emperor, is, astonishingly, oblivious to the use of torture, cruelty, and violence in the history of the Catholic Church, not only against Muslims, but against Jews, and even fellow Christians.
The violence inflicted, or supported, by the Catholic Church extended all the way to modern times through the support of European colonial conquests of the rest of the world. Missionaries, especially Jesuits, went hand-in-hand with colonialists into the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In my native Libya Italian fascists armies and death squads used to be blessed by the local Catholic authorities in the Cathedral’s square before they went to hunt Libyan resistance fighters. This was happening as late as the 1930’s. The Ethiopian soldiers the fascists force-marched in the front of the Italian armies bore big red crosses on their chests just as the knights of Saint John did when they slaughtered Tripoli’s inhabitants back in the 1500’s.
The image of a non-violent hellenistically ‘reasonable’ Christianity contrasted to a violent un-reasonable Islam is foundational for the Lecture of Benedict XVI. This self-image is amazingly self-righteous and is oblivious to many painful historical facts. It is very important for our world that we all begin to see the poles that are in our own eyes, rather than focus on the specks in the eyes of our brethren.
Benedict XVI further says:
“The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”
Benedict XVI’s ‘decisive statement’: ‘Not to act in accordance to reason is contrary to God’s nature’. This statement is very complex, and is open to many interpretations and discussions. What is amazing is the swiftness and ease with which it is used to make up what amounts to, a deeply disturbing, false contrast between a peace-loving-reasonable Christianity and a violent-loving-unreasonable Islam!
The reason for the swiftness and ease is the fact that such a contrast is a famous one taken from what we maybe called ‘contrast tables’ that are often simplistically invoked in some missionary and polemical discourses. The idea of such tables is to put Christianity at the top of one column and Islam at the top of the other. One then goes on to fill the table with such polarities as: Love/Law, Peace/Violence, Freeing/Enslaving, Women-liberating/Women-oppressing and so on.
Such tables are reminiscent and are related to the tables the Athenians, the Romans, and even the German Idealists (who do have an influence on the Bavarian Pontiff) often developed to contrast the ‘Civilized’ with the ‘Barbarian’, the ‘European’ with the ‘non-European’.
Unfortunately, for their proponents such tables never work. They are grossly over simplified and create contrasts at a great cost to truth and fairness. In Islam, just as in Christianity, it is not human calculative reason that is salvific, but rather the free underserved grace (rahma) of God. One of the many graces that God gifts to human beings is the gift of reason.
Reason as a gift from God can never be above God. That is the whole point of Ibn Hazm; a point that was paraphrased in such a mutilated way by Benedict XVI’s learned sources. Ibn Hazm, like the Asha’rite theologians with whom he often contended, did insist upon God’s absolute freedom to act. However, Ibn Hazm did recognize, like most other Muslim theologians that God freely chooses, in His compassion towards His creatures, to self-consistently act reasonably so that we can use our reason to align ourselves with His guidance and directive.
Ibn Hazm, like most other Muslim theologians did hold that God is not externally-bound by anything, including reason. However, at no point does Ibn Hazm claim that God does not freely self-commit Himself and honors such commitments Such divine free-self-committing is Qur’anically propounded “kataba rabukum ala nafsihi al-Rahma” (Your Lord has committed Himself to compassion). Reason need not be above God, and externally normative to Him. It can be a grace of God that is normative because of God’s own free commitment to acting consistently with it.
A person who believes the last proposition need not be an irrational or un-reasonable human-being, with an irrational or whimsical God! The contrast between Christianity and Islam on this basis is not only unfair, but also quite questionable.
Granted that the Pontiff is striving to convince a secular university that theology has a place in that reason-based setting. However, this should not go so far as to make God subject to an externally-binding reason. Most major Christian theologians, even the reason-loving Aquinas never put reason above God.
When Muslim theologians make a similar move, they should not be accused of irrationality or un-reasonableness. Such misunderstanding is the direct result of simplistic contrast tables of which scholars like Theodore Khoury are apparently fond.
Benedict XVI should not trust his views on Muslim theology to scholars like Khoury or Samir Khalil Samir. Their views of Islam and Muslims are often most unfair. He may not want to consult with Muslims, and may not even trust them to know their own doctrines; but he should, at least, consult some serious scholars who are not necessarily from an Arab Christian minority or a very narrow Catholic Orientalist group.
Benedict goes on:
“At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?”
Benedict XVI’s way of phrasing this issue is again open to many interpretations and engagements. This is not the place for unpacking a very loaded question. Suffice it to say that talk of the ‘nature’ of God is itself problematic.
Talk of reasonableness and unreasonableness is also quite problematic. What is this reason we are talking about? Is it a human faculty of understanding? If so, what kind of understanding? Is it cognitive? Is it emotive? Is it spiritual? Or is reason, rather, some sort of an ontologically primary agent or emanation, as the Neo-Platonists often taught? What sort of reason and reasonableness are we talking about?
Such questions need further and deeper reflections. However, interestingly, the ambiguity and vagueness of the word ‘reason’ allow for the amazing leap of unifying the Greek and the Christian by appealing to the very Hellenistic Prologue to the Gospel of John.
As Benedict XVI puts it:
“I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the ?????”. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, s?`? ????, with logos. Logos means both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”
Here we come close to getting a definition of what Benedict XVI means by reason: “a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication”. This is indeed close to what John speaks of. However, is this the same reason as the reason of the Greek Philosophers? I think not. Reason for most Greek philosophers was more associated with pure contemplation or theoria, than with creative activity or poesis. Furthermore, for most Greek philosophers it was being as such or to on that was truly ‘self-communicating’. Reason for most of them was a human capacity to receive this self-communicating being.
Therefore, the great unifying vision of Benedict, which brings together the Greek with the Christian, turns out to be a move made possible through the ambiguities of such rich and loaded words as ‘logos’ or ‘reason’. Of course such moves have often been practiced in the past within the theological, exegetical and spiritual traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Of course, a great deal of medieval discourse depends precisely on this kind of ambiguity-fueled leaping. However, it is quite strange that this medieval leaping tactic is being used to bridge the gap between the cool rationalistic reason of the German University, and the logos of the Catholic Church!
Benedict XVI, then makes an astoundingly Hegelian statement:
“John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis.”
Benedict XVI claims that John spoke the ‘final word’ on the biblical concept of God. He also makes the Hegelian claim that biblical faith took a “toilsome” and “torturous” path to culminate in this Johannine synthesis.
I will leave it to Christian theologians of various denominations and schools to comment on such a claim. In light of the cumulative findings of historical-critical researches into the Bible, it is very strange that it is still possible to make such critically debatable statements about a biblical faith that is supposedly making a long journey to culminate in a Greco-Christian synthesis.
I am sure Jewish scholars will also find difficulties with the implicit claim that Torah threads of faith are “toilsome” and “tortuous”, and that John was needed to make it all culminate into true and final biblical faith. While Hegelian synthesis and culmination sounds wonderfully exciting to the one with the culmination results, it is sure to bother all who are being culminated!
Then, yet again, the argumentation leaps into Hegelian speculation, but this time introducing a dangerously ‘European’ claim to Christianity:
“In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (cf. Acts 16:6-10) – this vision can be interpreted as a “distillation” of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.”
The Asia versus Macedonia contrast is used to justify the strange claim that there is an “intrinsic necessity” of rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.
Thus in Europe and not in Asia, and with European reason and not with Asiatic Reason Christianity comes to unite with “Greek inquiry”. This Hegelian talk suffers from the same Euro-centric tendency of much of Germanic idealist philosophy.
This tendency is very dangerous indeed for it demotes versions of Christianity that manifest themselves in non-Greek and non-European milieus (for Example South American, African, and Asian theologies).
It also makes a claim to Reason in general, and to Greek reason, in particular, and appropriates it to make it purely Christian. Thus the historical facts of even clear, let alone partial, Jewish-Hellenistic syntheses (as in Philo of Alexandria), and Muslim-Hellenistic syntheses (as in Al-Farabi, Ikhwan al-Safa, Ibn Sina) are simply denied as impossible. Only the Christian is united with the Greek in a Johannine Hegelian European culmination.
Muslims, like Christians and Jews, before and after them, worked out many profound philosophical and theological systems the aim of which was the harmonization of the claims of human reasoning and the truths of divine revelation. The philosophers just mentioned were not alone. Theologians of the Mu’tazili, Asha’ri, Maturidi, Ithna Ashri, Isma’ili, Ibadi and even Hanbali schools all strived to articulate their faith in as reasonable a manner as possible. Even introductory texts of Islamic Philosophy and Theology make this clear. The intricate dialectical and logical works of the great Abdul Jabbar, Asha’ri, Baqillani, Jwaini, Ghazali, Razi, Maturidi, Nasfi, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Sabain, amongst others, are testaments to the keen Muslim interest in reason and reasonableness when it comes to articulating matters of faith. Even the most conservative of Hanbalites, Ibn Taimmiyah, wrote important works on non-Aristotelian logics and has anti-Aristotelian arguments akin to those of Sextus Empiricus!
Benedict XVI, in the closing section of a long passage, that would fit very nicely as a preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion or Philosophy of History, goes on to claim:
“A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act “with logos” is contrary to God’s nature.”
The Septuagint is, thus, accorded a primacy that I am sure will sound strange to many Christian ears. The synthesis of biblical faith and Greek reason is simply accorded ultimate value as the culmination of a process through which all other ways of religiosity are relegated to things subsumed and superseded.
Yet Benedict XVI, being a scholar of medieval theology knows that he can not deny certain facts:
“In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.”
This passage, while serving its author’s ultimate goal of undermining the theologies mentioned in it, does at least show that Benedict XVI is somewhat aware that other possible theologies do exist, and that Muslim theologians were not alone in caring about the affirmation of God’s sovereignty against human pretensions to govern Him with human criteria.
Unfortunately, he goes on to totally undermine such theologies as not being the true ‘faith of the Church’. It is also very interesting that, in a follow-on passage, Benedict XVI, for a moment, does affirm a love that transcends knowledge, but then re-interprets that affirmation by claiming it is logos that loves. Thus he synthesizes logos and reason. It turns out to be reason that actually loves.
Then, in clear and unambiguous terms, we see the actual foundational claim of Benedict XVI, and the ultimate reason for his troubles with Islam:
“This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history – it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”
He clearly claims that Europe is the only place where Christianity and Reason culminated in a great synthesis that is European civilization. Thus Europe is Christian-Greek and rational, and Christianity is European-Greek and rational. If Europe-Christianity is to be kept pure, all non-European elements and non-Christian elements must be kept out. This is why Islam and Muslims have no place in this great Hegelian synthesis! This alarming set of neo-colonial ideas supports the thesis of the Barbarous (non-Greek) and non-European nature of Islam. Islam, according to this kind of thinking, is ‘Asiatic’ ‘non-rational’ and ‘violent’. It has no place in ‘Greek’, ‘rational’ and ‘reasonable’ Europe.
Now that Benedict XVI has reached his thesis of the synthesis of the Greek and the Christian into a single logos, he proceeds to undermine all attempts to deny this synthesis. He goes on to criticize three phases of what he calls ‘dehellenization’:
“The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity – a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.”
It is better for Muslims to leave it to Christian theologians to comment on the extent of the fairness and accuracy of Benedict XVI assessment of the Christian tradition. However, to this Muslim, it does seem astonishing that Benedict XVI seems to sweep all of the Reformers’ efforts as a dehellenization that undermines the true synthesis earlier celebrated by him. I will also leave it to Protestant theologians to reply to Benedict XVI’s sweeping claims.
Benedict XVI then blames the theologian von Harnack for the second dehellenization. I will, again, leave it to von Harnack scholars to reply to the claims made by Benedict XVI. It does strike me as strange, however, to find von Harnack accused of dehellenization. Following Karl Barth, I believe that von Harnack was Hellenizing rather than the opposite. He may evem be seen as reducing theology to a kind of Aristotelian phronesis.
Benedict XVI’s the third, and last, type of dehelleniztion, is worthy of more attention.
“Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieu. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”
Yet again, we are faced with a Euro-centric and Greco-centric arrogant approbation of Christianity. I will leave it to Latin American, African and Asian Christian theologians to address this strange appropriation.
For a Church that is now quite international, the Pontiff is really going out of his way to alienate all who are not into Greek-European culture. He is basically claiming that such Greek and European elements are fundamental to the Christian faith itself. I find the whole claim dangerously arrogant. It is not only Islam and Muslim who are threatened by it. I truly believe that this lecture should alarm Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
This alarm is extenuated by the fact that the alarming position is not that of just a Professor or a theologian, but of a Roman Catholic Pontiff who leads millions of human beings. It is, therefore, urgent and vital that Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Secular scholars engage the Pontiff and challenge his views not only on Islam, but also on what it means to be a reasonable human being, and what it means to be a European.
As for Islam and its Prophet (peace be upon him), centuries of cruel and vicious attacks against them, both verbal and physical, have only made them stronger. The sun shall still shine no matter what dark clouds strive to do.
Let us pray for a better world, a peaceful world, a respectful world. Let us engage in a dialogue that is based on mutual-respect, and is elevated above mere polemics. The One God has created us all, and willed for us to be so different, let us learn more about each other, and let us, together, construct a better world, for God’s sake.
1. Published under the title: “Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections”, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican, 2006.http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html. All quotations are from the Lecture unless otherwise indicated.
2. Cicero, Marcus Tullius: De Officiis.Translated by Walter Miller. Loeb Editions. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1913. See also: Bradley, Francis Herbert. “My Station and Its Duties” in Ethical Studies. Oxford University Press, Oxford,1988.
3. I refer here to the post-Positivist Philosophy of Science of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and others. For the many meanings of Reason and Rationality and the possibility of deeper understandings of them see also Whose Justice? Which Rationality? by Alasdair MacIntyre. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1988.
4. On this important Seminar, see:
“When Civilizations Meet: How Joseph Ratzinger Sees Islam” by by Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. www.chiesa, Roma, September 25, 2006. Orignally published by Asia News.http://www.chiesa.espressonline.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=53826&eng=y “Islam and Democracy, a Secret Meeting at Castel Gandolfo: The synopsis of a weekend of study on Islam with the pope and his former theology students”by Sandro Magister. www.chiesa, Roma, September 25, 2006. http://www.chiesa.espressonline.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=45084&eng=y
5. For confirmation of this account, see the excellent “Benedict XVI and Islam: the first year” by Abdal Hakim Murad. First appeared in Q News. http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/AHM-Benedict.htm
6. When Civilizations Meet: How Joseph Ratzinger Sees Islam It was written for and published by “Asia News.” by Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. www.chiesa, Roma, September 25, 2006.http://www.chiesa.espressonline.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=53826&eng=y
7. “Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI’s Address at the University of Regensburg” by Joseph Fessio, S.J.. Ignatius Insight. September 18, 2006http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/jfessio_reflections_sept06.asp
Aref Ali Nayed* ©2006
*The Author, Aref Ali Nayed, studied Engineering (B.Sc.(Eng.)), Philosophy of Science (M.A.), and Hermeneutics (Ph.D.) at the University of Iowa and the University of Guelph. He also studied, as a special student, at the University of Toronto and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He is a Former Professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Rome), and the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization (Malaysia). He is currently an Advisor to the Cambridge Interfaith Program at the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge, and runs a family business as the Managing Director of Agathon Systems Ltd. (IBM, Nortel and NCR Partner for Libya).
“If you would trust in God as is His right to be trusted He would give you your provision as He gives it to the birds, they leave their roosts hungry and return satiated”, said the final universal Messenger, Muhammad. Similarly the author of the Gospel of Mathew has his closest brother, Jesus saying to the crowds around him, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” A little later he addressed them as, “O you of little faith?”
The word faith originally meant something akin to placing one’s trust in someone as when we say we have ‘faith’ in a friend or in an ideal. As Karen Armstrong said, “Faith was not an intellectual position but a virtue: it was the careful cultivation, by means of rituals and myths of religion, of the conviction that despite all the dispiriting evidence to the contrary, life had some ultimate meaning and value”.
It is the disease of the modern age that this understanding of faith being something inherently holistic that renders the heavenly dispensations perplexing to the children of modernity. The Quran states, “It is not piety that you turn your faces to the east or west, but piety is a person who believes in God… These words are quite significant in their Arabic original, unfortunately their fecundity being lost in the English translations. For clearly they indicate that their must be an engendered personification of an abstraction, an idea of ‘piety’, or bir, and that the locus of this accident is man. Bir, piety as the great Quranic exegete as-Suyuti said: “is the doing of good, in all its manifest realities”. Reflexively the author of Acts has Peter saying when asked to describe Jesus as, “…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him”. This is of the prophetic legacy and largesse.
The Prophet Muhammad said once, “Mankind are the dependents, or family of God, and the most beloved of them to God are those who are the most excellent to His dependents”. It is in loving our brothers that true anchoring faith is manifested, for he said, “Not one of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”. Great Muslim scholars of prophetic tradition such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and Sharafuddin an_Nawawi have said that the words ‘his brother’, or akheehee, mean any person irrespective of faith. Similarly, the author of the Gospel of Luke has written concerning Jesus: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” He replied, “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Of course this the parable of the Good Samaritan, someone outside the orthodox Jewish tradition, yet a man manifesting the doing of good which characterizes the people of God. Seeing beyond ourselves, to others is quintessential to true heavenly religion, something inherently antithetical to modernity.
Individualism uniquely characterizes modernity; in the language of classical Islamic spirituality it is called annaaniyya. It impedes us from being able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and Muhammad. As Huston Smith rightly says when speaking of it: Modernity induces us to believe that there is no right higher than the right to choose what one believes, wants, needs or must posses. This gives us ‘the culture of narcissism’. Yet, heavenly dispensations seek from us the setting aside of our ‘annaniyya’, our ‘I-ness’. This is the prophetic norm, demanding of us emulation.
Emulation is cardinal in the divine economy. The author of the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus saying: A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. Muhammad in speaking of ritual prayer said to his companions: “Pray as you have seen me pray”. And God in speaking to the community of Muhammad says: If you love Me, then follow me and God will love you. For God situates between the sons and daughters of Adam prophets, that their faith is known in their setting aside themselves in preference to the prophet if their community. Again the author of the Gospel of Mathew has Jesus say: Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take hsi cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it. Muhammad said: Not one of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his parent, child and all mankind!
When Moses asks God as to whom will he say has sent him to Pharaoh, the 2nd Century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint has God saying ‘ego eimi ho On’, or ‘I am that which is’. Similarly God through the Quran in speaking to Moses says at the burning bush, “Indeed it is I, your Lord, remove your sandals, for you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa, I have chosen you, so listen carefully to what is revealed, ‘Indeed I, I am God, there is no deity save for Me, worship Me and establish ritual prayer for My remembrance.” For Moses is to be sent to a man who transgresses, ‘God to Pharaoh for indeed he has transgressed’, but when Moses confronts him Pharaoh’s response is to address his own people and say , “I am your lord most high”. It is this pharonic self description of the divine prerogative of true ‘I-ness’ that was his down fall and the bane of modern man.
Willaim Shaddon of Columbia University’s College of Physicians when reflecting back on his career remarked: “Continued observation in clinical practices leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that deeper and more fundamental than sexuality, deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even than the desire for possessions, there is a still more generalized and universal craving in the human makeup. It is craving for the knowledge of the right direction—for orientation”.
Muhammad and Jesus both came into the world, as the prophets before them, to keep God-centeredness the Reality which supersedes all other realities. That the axis about which individuals, communities and ultimately civilizations pivot themselves upon is the vertical heavenly axis, not the horizontal ‘forward’ that is of modernity as Archibald MacLeith said, “a world ends when its metaphor dies, and modernity’s metaphor—endless progress through science-powered technology—is dead”. Both Jesus and Muhammad had their ascensions, for the Christians, Jesus’ return is an expectation; for the Muslims, Muhammad’s return brought them heavenly provision that restores mankind, that first and foremost engendered in ritual prayer. The standing towards theqibla, the physical act direction of ‘turning’ one’s face towards the Kaaba, itself an earthy reflection of a paradisial, heavenly structure, the Bait l’M’amur, is about finding orientation. So when man can not immediately ascend to heaven, God facilitates by manifesting something of it in the here and now of his earthly existence. Thus, in the upwardness of these ascensions points the prophetic compass; an indication, or ayat, for the people of God.
In 1882 Nietzsche in his The Gay Science declared that God was dead. He told the parable of a madman running one morning into the marketplace crying out ‘I seek god!’ When the amused bystanders asked if he imagined that God had emigrated or taken a holiday, the madman glared. “Where has God gone?” he demanded. “We have killed him—you and I! We are all his murderers!” Nietzsche’s madman believed that the death of God had torn humanity from its roots, thrown the earth off course, and cast it adrift in a pathless universe. Everything that had once given human beings a sense of ultimate direction had vanished. “Is there still an above and below?” he had asked. “Do we not stray, as though through an infinite nothingness?” Without the compass of prophetic inheritance, the whole dynamic of our future-oriented, forward thinking, progressive culture renders us unable to orient ourselves. Perhaps it was the bitter fruit of this that William Shaddon had observed in the years of his clinical practice. The paths laid out by Jesus and Muhammad become impossible to discern, and we become as the jurists of Islamic sacred law in describing a drunken man as being one who can not discriminate between up from down.
Without God as the center, the heart of a man does not, however, remain a void, but is filled with something else, namely himself, as Karl Marx a ‘prophet’ of the new age said: “Humanism is the denial of God and the total affirmation of man.” The author of Luke has Jesus in the Parable of the Sower saying: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop.” Muhammad five centuries later affirms his brothers teaching by saying, “Indeed God has vessels among the people of the Earth, the vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His wholesomely righteous servants, the most beloved to Him are those which are most clear and gentle.” He also said, “Is there not a morsel of flesh in the body that if it is healthy the whole body is healthy and if it is corrupted the whole body is corrupted? Is it not the heart?” We must ask ourselves, what does modern man know of the heart as spoken of by Yeshua and Muhammad, for it has become peripheral and the mind has taken center stage. As the Quran teaches it is not the eyes of the head that are blind but the eye of the heart, it is the eyes of the head that are from the gateways to the intellects understanding of reality, again horizontal, but it is the heart that receives what it does from the divine from the heavenly, or vertical.
Jesus in speaking of the heart spoke of persevering and thus ‘produce a good crop’. God uses similar language in the Quran when He affirms, “Indeed the believers are successful!”, again the English misses the strength of the original Arabic. The word ‘falaah’, translated as success, linguistically means to cultivate the land and produce an abundant crop, the word ‘fallaah’ meaning farmer and husbandman of the soil. Speaking of the soul God says, “Indeed acquiring abundance is for the one who purifies it, and laid to waste is the one who debases it!” Acquiring of this ‘abundance’ is in knowinghow this is done not that it is to be done. The alchemists of old searched for a tincture that would turn all metals into gold, it seems modern man with all his material based advancements fails to have the skill to undertake this let alone knowledge of the alchemy of the heart.
Muhammad said: “Every heavenly dispensation [deen] has a unique character trait, the character trait of Islam is modesty, or haya”. Haya is a derivative of the word hayya, which means to live. Every prophetic message is about life-givingness, the author of the Gospel of John has Jesus saying: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. This biblical verse indicates a universal, life-givingness at the same time it particularizes the unique character trait of Jesus’ call as being centered on love; the universal is confirmed by the Quran: “O you who believe, respond to the call of God and the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.” Muhammad one day while speaking to his companions said: “Show God modesty as is His right to be shown modesty”. In the Arabic he said, “istahyuu” an intensive of the verb ‘hayy’, it’s primary lexical meaning to ‘give life’ or ‘cause to live’. The prophetic demand than implies that there is a divine desire through the agency of the Muhammad for mankind to have life.
The Muhammadan differentiating characteristic though is mercy. “We have not sent you except as a mercy to all creation”. A divine prophetic utterance, hadith qudsi, where God speaks through the Muhammad, not by revelation but inspiration has God saying: “I am God, I am the All-Merciful (Rahman), I created the womb (rahim) and derived it from My name.” It is in the wombing quality of prophetic religion that life is ensured. All that Muhammad brought from his Lord to mankind is about the means of making sacred life in this world, for it is merely a place of reflection of the reality of life which occurs in the Garden. The act of revelation or ‘re- velum’ is a pealing back of the layers to expose the Truth.
Modern man in his secular, homo-centric existence has lost the scent of Paradise. Before Anas ibn Nadhir was martyred he said to Sa’d ibn Muadh, “How wonderful the scent of paradise, O Sa’d, I find it coming from the other side of Uhud!” That was the reality of men and women who sat at the blessed foot of a prophet; such is the loss of children of modernity. For us to recapture that reality will only possible by holding on the rope of God: revelation and prophetic precedent as handed to us by the chain of prophetic inheritors, for the Muslims the Saints and Scholars of the Islamic Sacred tradition. God has not left us bereft of guidance, and as Sayyid Hossein Nasr said: “In accordance with the real nature of things it is the human that must conform to the Divine and not the Divine to the human”.
“O mankind! Verily, there has come to you the Messenger with the truth from your Lord. So believe in him, it is better for you. But if you disbelieve, then certainly to God belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. God is all-knowing, all-wise.” [Nisa: 170]
by Shaykh Naeem Abdul Wali (Gary Edwards),
Al Kawthar Institute, USA ©2005
Attention deficit disorder seems to flourish under conditions of late modernity. The past becomes itself more quickly. Memories, individual as well as collective, tend to be recycled and consulted only by the old. For everyone else, there are only current affairs, reaching back a few months at most. Orwell, of course, predicted this, in his dystopic prophecy that may have been only premature; but today it seems to be cemented by postmodernism (Deleuze), and also by physicists, who are now proclaiming an almost Ash‘arite scepticism about claims for the real duration of particles.
This is a condition that has an ancestry in the stirrings of the modernity which it represents. Hume anticipated it in his stunning insistence on the non-continuity of the human self: we are ‘nothing but a collection of perceptions which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement;’ or so he thought. Modern fiction may still explore or reaffirm identities (Peter Carey) and thus define human dignity as the honourable disposition of at least some aspects of an accumulated heritage. But this is giving way to the atomistic, playful, postmodern storytelling of, say, Elliot Perlman, which defines dignity – where it does so at all – in terms of freedomfrom all stories, even while lamenting the superficial tenor of the result. It is against the backdrop of this culture that the scientists, now far beyond Ataturk’s ‘Science is the Truest Guide in Life’, raise the stakes with their occasionalism, and, for the neurologists, the increasing denial of the autonomy of the human will – a new predestinarianism that makes us always the consequence of genes and the present, not the remembered past.
Our public conversations, then, seem to be the children of a marriage of convenience between two principles, neither of them religious or even particularly humanistic. The elitist mystical trope of the moment being all that is, significantly misappropriated by some New Age discourses, has become the condition of us all, albeit with the absence of God. Journalism thus becomes the privileged discourse to whose canons the public intellectual must conform, if he or she is to become a credible guide. More striking still is the observed fact that amidst our current crisis of wisdom it also seems to provide the language in which the public discussion of faith is carried on. Thus Catholicism becomes the humiliated cardinal of Boston, not St Augustine. Its morality is taken to be that which visibly clashes with the caprice of characters in Home and Away, not a severe but ultimately liberating cultivation of the virtues rooted in centuries of experience and example. Judaism, in its turn, becomes the latest land-grab of a settler rabbi, not a millennial enterprise of faith and promise. Of course, our new occasionalism does invoke the past. But it does so with reference either to scriptures, stripped of their normative exegetical armature, or to those events which remain in the consciousness of a citizenry raised on enlightenment battles with obscurantism. So again, we recall Galileo, not Eckhart; we recall the interesting hatreds of the Inquisition, not the charity of St Vincent de Paul. Otherwise, our culture is religiously amnesiac. Winston Churchill, near the end of his life, began to read the Bible. ‘This book is very well-written,’ he said. ‘Why was it not brought to my attention before?’
It is in this frankly primitive condition that we seek to discuss religious acts which, against all the predictions of our grandparents, claim to interrupt the progress of history towards a world in which there will be no continuity at all. To our perplexity, history, despite Fukuyama, does not seem to have ended. Humans do not always act for the economic or erotic now; Tamino still seeks his Sarastro. A residue of real human diversity persists. For the human soul is not yet, as Coleridge wrote,
From taint of personality.
This failed ultimacy, this sense that we, the Papageni, have to dust down the armour of an earlier generation of moral absolutes, when history was still running, when the victory of the corporations and of Hollywood was not yet assured, accounts for the maladroit condition of the world’s current argument about terrorism. The most active in seizing the moment, as they elbow impatiently past the fin de siéclemulticulturalists and postmodernists, are the oddly-named American neoconservatives, who invoke Leo Strauss and roll up their sleeves to defend Washington against Oriental warriors who would defy the dialectics of history and seek to postpone the apotheosis of Anglo-Saxon consumer society, which they see as the climax of a billion years of evolution. But despite such ideologised adversions to the longue durée, secularism seems to have little to offer that is not short-termist and reactive, and determined to reduce the globe to a set of variations on itself.
Traditionalists, who should be more helpful, seem paralysed. Much of the fury and hurt that currently abounds in the Christian and the Muslim worlds reveals a sense that the timetable which God has approved for history has been perverted. Christendom is not a virgin in this respect; in fact, it was first, with scholastic and Byzantine broadsides against Christian sin as invitation to Saracenic chastisement (Bernard, Gregory Palamas). Then it was the turn of Islam, when, from the seventeenth century on the illusion of the Muslims as materially and militarily God’s chosen people was dealt a series of shocking blows. Now it is, once again, the turn of Christendom (if the term be still allowed), which is currently wondering why history has not yet experienced closure, why a former rival should still be showing signs of life, either as the result of a misdiagnosis, or as a zombie-like revenant bearing only a superficial resemblance to his medieval seriousness. Certainly, the American president and his frequently evangelical team see themselves in these terms. Architects of a society which, Disney-like, appropriates the past only to emphasise the glory of the present, these zealots appeal to a prophecy-religion in which the Book of Revelation is the key to history. For them, too, the promised closure is imminent, and its frustration by the Other an outrage.
President Reagan, while less captivated by end-time visions than his successors, could offer these thoughts to Jewish lobbyists:
You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of these prophecies lately, but, believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.
The protagonists of the current conflict, then, are unusual in their confidence that history has not ended, although millennialism seems to hover in the background on both sides, helped along by the frequently Palestinian scenery. The triumph of the West, or the resurgence of an Islam interpreted by bestselling Pentecostal authors as a chastisement and a demonic challenge, signals the end of a growing worry about the religious meaninglessness of late modernity. Tragically, however, neither protagonist seems validly linked to the remnants of established religion, or shows any sign of awareness of how to connect with history. Fundamentalist disjuncture is placing us in a kind of metahistorical parenthesis, an end-time excitement in which, as for St Paul, old rules are irrelevant, and Christ and Antichrist are the only significant gladiators on the stage. Fundamentalists, as well as mystics, can insist that the moment is all that is real.
In such a world of pseudo-religious reaction against the postmodern erosion of identity, it follows that if you are not ‘with us,’ you are with the devil. Or, when this has to be reformulated for the benefit of the blue-collar godless, you are a ‘cheese-eating surrender monkey’. Where religion exists to supply an identity, the world is Augustinian, if not quite Manichean. The West’s ancient trope of itself as a free space, perhaps a white space, holding out against Persian or Semitic intruders, is being coupled powerfully, but hardly for the first time, with Pauline and patristic understandings of the New Israel as unique vessel of truth and salvation, threatened in the discharge of its redemptive project by the Oriental, Semitic, Ishmaelitic other. In the West, at least, the religious resources for this dualism are abundant and easily abused. Take Daniel Goldhagen, for instance, who in his most recent book suggests that the xenophobia of the Christian Bible is qualitatively greater than that of any other scripture. New Bibles, he urges, must be printed with many corrections to what he describes as this founding text of a lethal Western self-centredness. Semites of several kinds would be well-advised to beware a culture raised on such a foundation.
It is remarkable that both sides, in constructing themselves against a wicked, fundamentalist rival, mobilise the ancient trope of antisemitism. The Self needs its dark Other, preferably nearby or within. That Other has standard features: in the case of Christian antisemitism it is that it stands for Letter rather than Spirit, for blind obedience rather than freedom, for an discreet but intense transnational solidarity in place of Fatherland and Church. It is sexually aberrant (hence the Nazi polemic against Freud). It hides its women (who should, instead, join the SS, or practice nacktkultur). It imposes archaic and unscientific taboos: diet, purity, circumcision. Such are the categories in which an almost dualistic West historically defines its relationship to its nearest and most irritating Other.
Antisemitism is, in Richard Harries’ words, a ‘light sleeper’. But part of its strength is that it is not asleep at all; and never has been. As Christendom seeks its identity, the Dark Other today is now more usually Ishmael. Torched mosques, terrified asylum-seekers, bullied schoolchildren, and, we may not unreasonably add, a journalistic discourse of the type that is now being labelled ‘Islamophobic’, are less new than they seem. They represent a vicarious antisemitism. ‘Islamic law is immutable’ is a chorus in the new Horst Wessel song. ‘Circumcision is barbaric.’ ‘Their divorce laws are medieval and anti-woman.’ ‘They keep to themselves and don’t integrate.’ Such is the battle-cry of the resurgent Western right: Pim Fortuin, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jorg Haider, Filip de Winter. It has become startlingly popular, though always volatile at the polls. Thus is the old antisemitic metabolism of Europe and its American progeny being reinvigorated by the encounter with Ishmael. Again, history has started up again, and again our amnesiac culture ignores the vast cogwheels, deep beneath the surface, which move it.
On the other side, now, crossing the Mediterranean, or the Timor Sea, we generally find not a bloc of sincere fundamentalist regimes, but an archipelago of dictatorships, Oriental despots after the letter, which are in almost every case answerable not to their own electorates – for they recognise none – but to a distant desk in the State Department. These are the neo-mamluks, ex-soldiers and condottieri of a system that penalises ethics. Ranged against them we observe the puritans, iconoclasts with El Greco eyes, whose claim it is to detest the modernity of the regimes. Such puritans, led by the memory of Sayyid Qutb, have no illusions about the nature of secular rule. They see clearly that the regimes are more modern than those of the West, because more frank in their conviction that science plus commerce does not equal ethics. Where the Western journalistic eye sees retardation, the Islamist sees modernity. Hitler and Stalin were more modern than Churchill and Roosevelt, more scientific, more programmatic, more distant from the past. The future is theirs, and it is neither Christ’s millennial reign nor the triumph of small-town America. It is Alphaville.
The Islamist, then, is not the caricature of the envious, uncomprehending Third Worlder. Typically he has spent much of his life in the West, and is capable of offering an empirical analysis, or at least a diagnosis. Sayyid Qutb, in his writing on what he calls ‘the deformed birth of the American man,’ sees Americans as advanced infants; advanced because of their technology, but puerile in their ignorance of earlier stages of human development. There is something of Teilhard de Chardin in his account, which inverts Tocqueville to identify an American idiot-savant mania for possession. Technology made America possible, and ultimately, America need claim nothing else. Linked to Christian fundamentalism, it is an enemy of every other story; and unlike the East, it will not remain in its place. It must send out General Custer to subdue all remnants of earlier phases of human consciousness rooted in nature, spirituality or art. Its client regimes are therefore its natural, not opportunistic, adjuncts in its programme to subdue the world. They are not a transitional phase, they are the end-game.
Antisemitism forms part of this vision too, certainly. But since, as Goldhagen confirms, this is an essentially Christian phenomenon, to be healed by correcting the views of the Evangelists, in an Islamic context which lacks a letter-spirit dichotomy it seems a hazier resource for identity construction. Qutb was influenced by the Vichy theorist Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), through his odd, vitalist tract L’Homme, cet inconnu, which remains an ultimate, though unacknowledged, source text for much modern Islamism. No medieval Muslim thinker of any note wrote a book against Judaism, although homilies against Christianity were quite common. If medieval Islam had a dark Other, it was more likely to be Zoroastrianism than Judaism, which, in Samuel Goitein’s phrase by which he summed up his magisterial work A Mediterranean Society, enjoyed a close and ‘symbiotic’ relationship with Islam. But today’s Qutbian Islamist purges midrashic material from Koranic commentary, and studies the Tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and, even, Mein Kampf. Nothing can be discovered, it seems, in the Islamic libraries, so that this importation into an ostensively nativist and xenophobic milieu becomes inescapable – the fundamentalist’s familiar appeal to necessity.
As he surveys the wreckage of Istanbul synagogues and Masonic lodges, the journalist, as ibn al-waqt, is oblivious to the happier past of Semitic conviviality in the Ottoman Sephardic lands. And perhaps he is right, perhaps, under our conditions, the past is another religion. But the paradox has become so burning, and so murderous, that we cannot let it pass unremarked. The Islamic world, instructed to host Israel, was historically the least inhospitable site for the diaspora. The currently almost ubiquitous myth of a desperate sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael is nonsensical to historians.
Here, at the dark heart of Islam’s extremist fringe, we find what may be the beginnings of a solution. No nativist reaction can long survive proof of its own exogenous nature. And no less than its Christian analogues, Islamic ghuluww, at least in its currently terroristic forms, betrays a European etiology. It borrows its spiritual, as well as its material, armament from Western modernity. This, we may guess, marks it out for anachronism in a context where intransigence is xenophobic.
This is an unpopular diagnosis; but one which is gaining ground. It cannot be without significance that outside observers, when not blinded by a xenophobic need to view terrorism as Islamically authentic, have sometimes intuited this well. Here, for instance, is the verdict of John Gray, in his book Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern:
No cliche is more stupefying than that which describes Al-Qaida as a throwback to medieval times. It is a by-product of globalisation. Its most distinctive feature – projecting a privatised form of organised violence worldwide – was impossible in the past. Equally, the belief that a new world can be hastened by spectacular acts of destruction is nowhere found in medieval times. Al-Qaida’s closest precursors are the revolutionary anarchists of late nineteenth-century Europe.
And Slavoj Zizek, a still more significant observer, is convinced that what we are witnessing is not ‘Jihad versus MacWorld’ – the standard leftist formulation – but rather MacWorld versus MacJihad.
This implies that if ghuluww has a future, it will be because modernity has a future, not because it has roots in Islamic tradition. That tradition, indeed, it rules out of order, as it dismisses the juridical, theological and mystical intricacies of medieval Islam as so much dead wood. The solution, then, which the world is seeking, and which it is the primary responsibility of the Islamic world, not the West to provide, must be a counter-reformation, driven by our best and most cosmopolitan heritage of spirit and law.
A point of departure, here, and a useful retort to essentialist reductions of Islam to Islamism, is the fact that orthodoxy still flies the flag in almost all seminaries. The reformers are, at least institutionally, in the Rhonnda chapels, not the cathedrals. Perhaps the most striking fact about regulation Sunni Islam over the past fifty years has been its insistence that religion’s general response to modernity must not take the form of an armed struggle. There have been local exceptions to this rule, as in the reactive wars against Serbian irredentism in Bosnia, and Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan. But a doctrine of generic jihad against the West has been conspicuous by its absence.
It is not immediately clear how we gloss this. In the nineteenth century Sunni Islam frequently elected to resist European colonial rule by force, giving rise to the figure of the Mad Mullah who formed part of the imperial imagination, in the fiction of John Buchan, or Tolstoy’sHajji Murad. In the twentieth century, however, the traditional pragmatism of Sunnism seemed to generate an ulema ethos that was certainly not quietist, but had nothing in common with Qutbian Islamism either. Hence the Deobandi movement in India, and its Tablighi offshoot, supported the Congress party, and generally opposed Partition. Arab religious leaders sometimes resorted to force, as with the Naqshbandi shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam in mandate Palestine; but the independence movements were overwhelmingly directed by secular modernists. The ancient universities, al-Qarawiyyin, al-Zaytuna, al-Azhar and the rest, regarded the modern period as a mandate for doctrinal retrenchment and the piecemeal ijtihad-based reassessment of aspects of Islamic law. In other words, mainstream Islam’s response to the startling novelty of a modernity that was forced on its societies at the point of an imperial or postcolonial bayonet was self-scrutinising and cautious, not militant.
Traditional wisdom and the texts, of course, were the reason for this. Sunnism, as inscribed by the great Seljuk theorists, had put its trust in prudence, pragmatism, and a strategy of negotiation with the sultan. So in British India, the Hanafi consensus decided that the Raj formed part of dar al-islam. In Russia, Shihab al-Din Marjani took the same view with regard the empire of the Tsars. But for Qutb, all this was paradigmatic of the error of classical Sunni thought. Islam was to be prophetic, and hence a liberation theology, challenging structures as well as souls, not by preaching and praying alone, but by agitation and revolution. Given his education and sitz im leben in the golden age of anti-colonialism, probably nothing could have extricated Qutb from his critique of what he saw as Sunni indifferentism, rooted, he suspected, in Ash‘ari deontology and a presumed Sufi fatalism. The prophetic is not meant to be accommodating; it fails, or it succeeds triumphantly. The normative political thinkers, Mawardi, Nizam al-Mulk, Ghazali, Katib Çelebi, and their modern advocates, had to be jettisoned. Technological empires had made the world anew, and, if it was to cope with an increasingly bizarre and offensive Other, Islamic thought had to be reformed in the direction of an increasingly unconditional insurrectionism.
Qutb’s resurrection of Ibn Taymiya, via Rashid Rida, became paradigmatic. In the fourteenth century this angry Damascene had attacked ulema who acquiesced in the rule of the nominally Muslim Mongols. Loyalty could be to a righteous imam alone. Rida and others had taken pains to dissociate this from the Kharijite slogan ‘No rule other than God’s’, for an unpleasant odour hung about the name of Kharijism. Butde facto, the hard wing of Hanbalite Islam seemed vulnerable to a Kharijite reading. Prototypical al-Qaida supporters wrote to condemn the Syrian neo-Hanbali scholar Nasir al-Din al-Albani, when he released a series of taped sermons entitled Min Manhaj al-Khawarij, ‘From the Method of the Kharijites’, in the early 1990s. Often the word used by less radical puritans in Saudi Arabia for those engaged in terrorism is, precisely, ‘Kharijite’.
What everyone agrees, however, is that al-Qaida is far, far removed from medieval Sunnism. For some, it is Kharijite; for others, an illicit Westernisation of Islam. As Carl Brown puts it, ‘it cannot be stressed too often just how much Qutb’s hardline interpretation departs from the main current of Islamic political thought throughout the centuries.’ For Brown, Qutbism is kharijism redux; but we would add, with Gray, that it is a Westernised kharijism. Like all identity movements, it ends with only a very arguable kind of authenticity.
The convergence between a malfunctioning Hanbalism and modern revolutionary vanguardism may owe its strength not to a shared potential for an instantiated xenophobia, although this will attract many party cadres; instead, I suspect, it relates to deeper structures of relationality with the world and its worldliness. The new Islamic zealotry is angry with the Islamic past, as Ibn Taymiya was. For Ibn Taymiya, the ulema had not adequately polarised light and dark. In the case of the mystics, they had disastrously confused them. There is something of the Augustine in Ibn Taymiya: a concrete understanding of a God who is radically apart from creation, or, in patristic terms, alienated from it, and a consequently high view of scripture that challenges Ash‘arite and Maturidi confidences in the direct intelligibility of God in the world, and revives essentially dualistic readings of the Fall narrative. It may be that Ibn Taymiya’s roots in Harran, scene of neo-Gnostic and astral speculations, parallel Augustine’s Manichean background. But there is certainly a furious, single-minded zeal in both men that expresses itself in a deep pessimism about the human mind and conscience, and hence the worth of intellectuals, poets, logicians, and mystics. In such a cosmology, which deploys the absolute polarity abhorred by Deleuze’s Pli (his love of nomadic arts, with their ‘blocs of sensations’ is Islamically suggestive) gentilizing becomes first, not second nature.
Seljuk accommodationism, by contrast, had been driven by an ultimately Ghazalian moralism that feared the spiritual entailments of this crypto-dualism. Nizam al-Mulk, paradigm of high Sunni realpolitik, does not enforce a norm, but enforces the toleration of many norms. He finds that like all scripture, the Koran is super-replete, overflowing with meaning, and no exegete may taste all its flavours; this destabilising miracle may express itself in schism, historically the less favoured Islamic option, or in adab al-ikhtilaf, the forced courtesy of the scholar-jurist well aware of the ultimately unfixable quality of much of holy writ. The Sunni achievement, which was a moral as well as a pragmatic achievement, was to incorporate a wide spectrum of theological and juristic dispute into the universe of allowable internal difference. For zealotry, as Ghazali puts it, is a hijab, a veil. It is a form of, in the Rabbis’ language, loving the Torah more than God. A besetting odium theologicum which can only be healed through self-scrutiny and a due humility before the often baffling intricacy of God’s word and world.
It was on the basis of this hospitable caution that non-Qutbian Sunnism engaged with modernity. Reading the fatwas of great twentieth-century jurists such as Yusuf al-Dajawi, Abd al-Halim Mahmud, and Subhi Mahmassani, one is reminded of the Arabic proverb cited on motorway signs in Saudi Arabia: fi’l-ta’anni as-salama – there is safety in reducing speed. Far from committing a pacifist betrayal, the normative Sunni institutions were behaving in an entirely classical way. Sunni piety appears as conciliatory, cautious, and disciplined, seeking to identify the positive as well as the negative features of the new global culture. Thus it is not the orthodox, but the merchants of identity religion, the Sunna Contra Gentiles, who insist on totalitarian and exclusionary readings of the Law and the state.
If this is our curious situation, if al-Qaida is indeed a product and mirror not of the Sunni story, but of the worst of the Enlightenment’s possibilities, if it is, as it were, the Frankenstein of Frankistan (as Zionism is a golem), how effective can be America’s currently chosen antidote? This takes the form of killing, imprisoning and torturing the leadership, and many of the rank and file, using the methods which have been reported by British and other detainees released from Guantanamo Bay, and by Red Cross officials disturbed by news from Bagram air base in Kabul. Again, our occasionalism has allowed us to forget the history of revolutionary movements, which suggests that such measures are self-defeating, sowing the dragon’s teeth of martyrdom, and announcing to the world the depth of the torturer’s fear. A civilisation confident of victory would not resort to such desperate means. For after violence and internment, there is no last resort. Both moral advantage and deterrent threat have already been used up.
Traditional Sunnis intuit that al-Qaida is a Western invention, but one which cannot be defeated in a battleground where the logic is Western. This was one of the messages that emerged from the 2003 summit meeting of eight hundred Muslim scholars at Putrajaya.Al-Qaida is inauthentic: it rejects the classical canons of Islamic law and theology, and issues fatwas that are neither formally nor in their habit of mind deducible from medieval exegesis. But it is not enough for the entire leadership of the religion to denounce al-Qaida, as it did at Putrajaya, and then to hope and pray that the same strange logic of modernity that bred this insurgency can spirit it away again. The West inseminates, but does not so easily abort. Faced with this, the Sunni leadership needs to be more alert to its responsibilities. Even the radical Westernisation of Islamic piety remains the responsibility of Muslim ulema, not, ultimately, of the Western matrix that inspired it. And it has to be said that the Sunni leadership has not done enough. Denunciations alone will not dent the puritan’s armour, and may strengthen it; this the Counter-Reformation learned by experience.
The war against neo-Kharijite ideology can only be won by Sunni normalcy. Washington’s rhetoric of ‘religion-building’ disguises either a Texan missionary instinct or the triumphant relativism of the secular academy. Franklin Graham and the Ashcroft Inquisition will fail, as Christianity always does against Semitic monotheism, while liberalism, at once its rival and its hypocritical bedfellow, cannot be relied on to supply ethics under conditions of stress. For the Occidental energy all too often responds to such conditions either by apathy (remember the wartime Parisian intelligentsia), or by suspending the ethical teleologically, the classic revolutionary gambit since the days of the Paris commune, if not the English civil war.
The zealots of both sides insist that the validating of ‘soft targets’ is a representative Islamic act. How might they respond to evidence that it is, in fact, a representative secular-Western one? The evidence, as it turns out, is compelling, being a matter of historical record. Despite its claims in times of obese complacency to abhor the killing of the innocent, the secular West reverts with indecent haste to Cicero’s maxim,Silent enim leges inter arma – laws are silent during war. And it is in this Occidental culture, and not in mainline Islam, that we should seek the matrix of radical Islamism. Let us survey the record.
W.G. Sebald has been a recent and helpful contributor here. He writes lyrically of the vengeance visited by the RAF on Germany’s cities in the early 1940s, focussing on the thirty thousand who died in Operation Gomorrah (!) against the city of Hamburg. The object of such campaigns was military only in a very indirect way, for Churchill’s purpose in what he called ‘terror bombing’ (where it was not straightforward vengefulness) was to sap the morale of Germany’s civilian population. As Sebald shows, Parliament restructured the whole British economy to support the area bombing campaign, for one reason alone: it was the only way in which Britain could successfully strike back.
In 1930, the British population had generally shared the view of one politician that to bomb civilians was ‘revolting and un-English.’ But with its back against the wall, the population changed its mind with impressive speed. In 1942, Bomber Command’s Directive No. 22 identified the ‘morale of the enemy civil population’ as the chief target. By the end of the war, a million tons of high explosive had rained down on German cities, and half a million civilians were dead. By that time a majority of Britons explicitly supported the bombing of civilian targets. As the MP for Norwich put it: ‘I am all for the bombing of working-class areas of German cities. I am Cromwellian – I believe in “slaying in the name of the Lord”,’ while after Operation Gomorrah, a popular headline crowed that ‘Hamburg has been Hamburgered.’ A third of the war economy was directed to serve this onslaught, with the development of new weapons of mass destruction, such as incendiary bombs, designed specifically to maximise devastation to private homes. Yet after Dresden, which the postwar official history hailed as the ‘crowning achievement’ of the bombing campaign, Churchill was forced to reconsider:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise, we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land.
This was no sort of repentance. To his last breath Churchill defended the terror campaign which he had instigated and which underpinned so much of his popularity. Mass destruction from the air of a target whose details were often obscured by clouds or the absence of moonlight, was not, for this icon of English defiance, a moral problem.
A largely secular person of the stamp of our wartime Prime Minister was clearly following a fairly standard Enlightenment philosophy which had replaced the wars of kings with the wars of peoples. Clausewitz, the chief architect of post-medieval military thought, was certain that ‘war is an act of force which theoretically can have no limits,’ a view that the most influential military theorists of the twentieth century extended to the use of airpower to terrorize civilians (Liddell Hart, Douhet, Harris). One might have hoped that this illustration of the moral calibre of secularity was found appalling by the Christian conscience of the day. But the stance taken by the leaders of British Christianity was already deeply influenced by modernism. The Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, followed by his brother bishop of York, consistently refused to join the anti-terror minority within the Anglican church. As a historian records, ‘only a handful of the clergy objected outright to area bombing;’ George Bell, the outspoken Bishop of Chichester, was a lonely exception in upholding earlier ideals of a just war which had regarded women and children as sacrosanct.
After the war, the victors reset the moral template to its rhetorical default position, and their earlier fatwas in favour of terror bombing were relegated to an outer, uncomfortable edge of the national memory. Once again, England and America (which had carried on its own targeting of civilians in Japan) reverted to the traditional notion of civilian immunity, with its pre-Enlightenment roots. So five years later, the British press felt able to excoriate Menachem Begin as a terrorist, simply because, as he puts it in his memoirs: ‘our enemies called us terrorists […] but we used physical force only because we were faced by physical force.’ And today, who can claim that Al-Qaida’s logic is different? The 777 has become the poor man’s nuclear weapon, his own Manhattan Project. Again, he has turned traitor to the East by embracing the utilitarian military ethic of his supposed adversary. He, even more than the regimes, shows the cost of Westernisation.
In this light, how may we take the pulse of the West’s denunciation of ‘Muslim terror’? Let us recall Adorno’s First Law of sexual ethics: always mistrust the accuser.
The targeting of civilians is more Western than otherwise; contemplating the Ground Zero of a hundred German cities, this can hardly be denied. Yet it will be claimed that suicidal terrorism is something new, and definitively un-Western. Here, we are told by xenophobes on both sides, the Islamic suicide squads, the Black Widows, the death-dealing pilots, are an indigenously Islamic product. And yet here again, when we detach ourselves from the emotive chauvinism of the Islamists and their Judeo-Christian misinterpreters, we soon find that the roots of such practices in the Islamic imagination are as recent as they are shallow. The genealogy of suicide bombing clearly stretches back from Palestine, through Shi‘a guerillas in southern Lebanon, to the Hindu-nativist zealots of the Tamil Tigers, and to the holy warriors of Shinto Japan, who initiated the tradition of donning a bandanna and making a final testament on camera before climbing into the instrument of destruction. The kamikaze was literally the ‘Wind of Heaven’, a term evocative of the divine intervention which destroyed the Mongol fleet as it crossed the Yellow Sea.
Hindu and Buddhist tributaries of Middle-Eastern suicide bombing are conspicuous, and it is significant that the Islamists, driven as ever by nativist passion, recoil from them in fits of denial. (How happily, in the sermons, hunud rhymes with yahud!) Yet some scenic images may be instructive for those who take the philosophy of isnad seriously. After describing the Christian martyr Peregrinus, who set fire to himself in public, Sir James Frazier records:
Buddhist monks in China sometimes seek to attain Nirvana by the same method, the flame of their religious zeal being fanned by a belief that the merit of their death redounds to the good of the whole community, while the praises which are showered upon them in their lives, and the prospect of the honours and worship which await them after death, serve as additional incentives to suicide.
But it was in South India that holy suicide seems to have been most endemic:
In Malabar and the neighbouring regions, many sacrifice themselves to the idols. When they are sick or involved in misfortune, they vow themselves to the idol in case they are delivered. Then, when they have recovered, they fatten themselves for one or two years; and when another festival comes around, they cover themselves with flowers, crown themselves with white garlands, and go singing and playing before the idol, when it is carried through the land. There, after they have shown off a good deal, they take a sword with two handles, like those used in currying leather, put it to the back of their necks, and cutting strongly with both hands sever their heads from their bodies before the idol.
The atmaghataka, the suicidal Hindu, was a familiar sight of the premodern Indian landscape, where ‘religious suicides were highly recommended and in most cases glorified.’ Suicide often functioned as the culmination of a pilgrimage: ‘the enormous Tirtha literature (literature on pilgrimage) curiously enough describes in detail suicide by intending persons at different places of pilgrimage and the varying importance and virtues attached to them.’ Ibn Battuta and al-Biruni, among other Muslim visitors, had been particularly shocked by Hindu customs of sacred suicide, particularly bride-burning and self-drowning. Altogether, in such a culture the development of suicidal methods as part of war is hardly surprising; they are deeply rooted in local non-monotheistic values.
Today’s Tamil extremists extend this tradition in significant ways. Each Tamil Tiger wears a cyanide capsule around his neck, to be swallowed in case of capture. The explosive belt, used to assassinate hated politicians as well as Sinhalese marines and ordinary civilians, predates its Arab borrowing: the first Tamil suicide-martyrs in modern times appear in the 1970s. The Tiger’s Hindu roots thus nourish the current Palestinian practice; as one observer notes: ‘the Black Tigers, as the suicide cadres are known, have been emulated by the likes of Hamas.’
But there is also a strong Western precedent, in pagan antiquity, in early Judaism, and in Christianity.
Suicide had been a respectable option for many ancients. Achilles chooses battle against the Trojans, knowing that the gods have promised that this will lead to his death. Ajax takes his own life, in the confidence that this will not affect his honour. Chrysippus, Zeno, and Socrates all opt for suicide rather than execution or dishonour. Marcus Aurelius praises it to the skies. It was only the neo-Platonists and late Platonists (who not coincidentally became the most congenial Hellenes for Islam) who systematically opposed it.
The Biblical text nowhere condemns suicide. (Judas is condemned for betrayal, not for taking his own life; although Augustine will claim otherwise.) On the contrary, it offers several examples of individuals who chose death. Saul (the koranic Talut) falls on his own sword rather than be humiliated in Philistine captivity (I Samuel 31). Jonah (Yunus) asks the frightened mariners to cast him into the sea (Jonah 1.12), and begs ‘Take my life from me,’ (4.3) for ‘it is better for me to die than to live’ (4.8-9). Job (Ayyub) prays: ‘O that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire; that it would please God to crush me’ (Job 6:8-13), and even ‘I loath my life’ (7:15). Later, during the Maccabean revolts, the hero Razis falls on his sword to avoid falling into the hands of the wicked (2 Maccabees 14:42, 45-6). A notion of vicarious atonement has developed, so that the militant’s suicide which enrages the enemy brings a blessing to the people (4 Maccabees 17:21-2). 
The early rabbis typically accept self-immolation in situations of military desperation, to avoid humiliation and to impress the enemy. The deaths of Saul and Samson were regarded as exemplary. And in ‘the Jewish Middle Ages, enthusiasm for martyrdom (at least in Ashkenaz – northern Europe) became so great that it proved a positive danger to Jewish existence.’ Religious voices raised in support of 20th century Zionism could link this tradition to their own militancy. Hence Avram Kook, the first Ashkenazy Chief Rabbi of mandate Palestine (in Walter Wurzburger’s words)
permitted individuals to volunteer for suicide missions when carried out in the interest of the collective Jewish community. In other words, an act that would be illicit if performed to help individuals, would be legitimate if intended for the benefit of the community.
In the nascent Christian movement, Jesus came to be presented as a suicide, albeit one who knew that he would be resurrected. Some historians are convinced that Jesus, having armed his band with swords (Luke 22:36), formed part of the larger Zealot movement against Roman oppression, while others adhere to the orthodox view that his deliberate death was to be a cosmic sacrifice for human sin; but in either case, the dominant voice in the New Testament presents him as going to Jerusalem in the awareness that this would bring about his certain death (see Mark 10:32-4). Hence the insistent courting of martyrdom by many early Christians praised by Tertullian (here in the words of a modern scholar):
In 185 the proconsul of Asia, Arrius Antoninus, was approached by a group of Christians demanding to be executed. The proconsul obliged some of them and then sent the rest away, saying that if they wanted to kill themselves there was plenty of rope available or cliffs they could jump off.
And for Chrysostom, blasting the infidels, the Christians were better than the ancients, since Socrates had had little choice, while Christians volunteered for martyrdom. In fact, most orthodox Christian martyrs appear to have been volunteers, many of them appearing from nowhere to clamour for the death penalty, or emerging from the crowds to join the flames consuming one of their brethren. It was only with Augustine that this self-immolating behaviour came to an end, as involuntary martyrdom was established as the only acceptable Christian norm in the West.
Orthodoxy, however, remained closer to the primitive tradition. As Frazier records (of sixteenth to nineteenth-century Russia): ‘whole communities hailed with enthusiasm the gospel of death, and hastened to put its precepts into practice.’ Although at first the volunteers were dropped into doorless rooms in which they starved to death ‘for Christ’, fire became the most popular method.
Priests, monks, and laymen scoured the villages and hamlets preaching salvation by the flames, some of them decked in the spoils of their victims; for the motives of the preachers were often of the basest sort. They did not spare even the children, but seduced them by promises of the gay clothes, the apples, the nuts, the honey they would enjoy in heaven. […] Men, women and children rushed into the flames. Sometimes hundreds, and even thousands, thus perished together.
Combining the practice of suicidal martyrdom-seeking with the pursuit of warfare, resulted, for Europeans as well as for Tamils, in what would today be called suicidal warfare. This had the advantage of generating tremendous publicity for the cause in worlds such as the Indic and the Greco-Roman which, like today’s, had a penchant for the bizarre. And for this, the most spectacular precedent was in the Bible. Brian Wicker, a modern Catholic interpreter, remarks that ‘to us, Samson just appears like a cross between Beowulf and Batman,’ while Bernhard Anderson in his book The Living World of the Old Testament, neutralises the Samson story by viewing him as the object of divine punishment. Yet he is presented by the narrator of Judges 13 to 16 as an unambiguous hero, and traditionally the churches regarded his self-destruction and his massacre of three thousand Philistine men, women, and children, as a valid act of martyrdom. Augustine and Aquinas both pose the question: why is self-murder not here a sin, and answer: because God had commanded him, and the normal ethical rule was thus suspended.
This suicide-warrior rises to the top of Western literature in Samson Agonistes. Milton is here smarting from the horror and shame of the Restoration. Once again, England is under the idolatrous law of king and bishops, a kind of jahiliyya, and Cromwell’s city of glass has been shattered. His poem, then, is autobiographical: Samson is a true hero, humiliated, blinded by an unjust king, kept captive in the world of the dark Other. Like the refugee-camp inmate he is
To daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong,
Within doors, or without, still as a fool,
In power of others, never in my own.
His duty, confronted by a hypocritical War on Terror, is to take effective revenge by any means necessary. His father, recognising this grim necessity, makes the usual statement of fathers of suicide bombers everywhere:
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail,
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair.
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
The theme continues, through Handel, to reach Saint-Saens. In the latter’s opera Samson and Delilah the Samson legend, far from falling by the wayside of progress and fraternité, seems the perfect icon for France’s contemporary humiliation before Prussian technology. The guns of Krupp have frustrated France’s destiny in her mission civilatrice, and the chosen people must be avenged. The story seems perfectly modern: there is the theme of the tragic power of sex – Delilah becomes a second Carmen – and we witness the inevitability of total destruction in a grand, cast-iron Götterdammerung. Ernst Jünger, Stalingrad, and the suicidal B-52 captain in Doctor Strangeloveare not far behind.
But perhaps the most recent, and also the most fascinating, mobilisation of the Samson ‘ideal’ in Western literature is the novel Samson by the Zionist ideologue Vladimir Jabotinsky. ‘Homeland, whatever the price!’ is the captured Israelite’s slogan. Like the Islamist, the Zionist hero stresses the impossibility of conviviality:
The second thing I have learned in the last few days is the wisdom of having boundary–stones […] Neighbours can agree so long as each remains home, but trouble comes as soon as they begin to pay each other visits. The gods have made men different and commanded them to respect the ditch in the fields. It is a sin for men to mix what the Gods have separated.
Like a good Islamist, the Zionist Samson combines this xenophobia with a passion to acquire the Other’s technology. When asked if he had a message for his own people, he cries:
They must get iron. They must give everything they have for iron – their silver and wheat, oil and wine and flocks, even their wives and daughters. All for iron! There is nothing in the world more valuable than iron. Will you tell them that?
Like the Islamist, too, Jabotinsky’s suicide-hero is envious of the unbeliever’s skills at organisation:
One day, he was present at a festival at the temple of Gaza. Outside in the square a multitude of young men and girls were gathered for the festive dances […] A beardless priest led the dances. He stood on the topmost step of the temple, holding an ivory baton in his hand. When the music began the vast concourse stood immobile […] The beardless priest turned pale and seemed to submerge his eyes in those of the dancers, which were fixed responsively on his. He grew paler and paler; all the repressed fervor of the crowd seemed to concentrate within his breast till it threatened to choke him. Samson felt the blood stream to his heart; he himself would have choked if the suspense had lasted a few moments longer. Suddenly, with a rapid, almost inconspicuous movement, the priest raised his baton, and all the white figures in the square sank down on the left knee and threw the right arm towards heaven – a single movement, a single, abrupt, murmurous harmony. The tens of thousands of onlookers gave utterance to a moaning sigh. Samson staggered; there was blood on his lips, so tightly had he pressed them together […] Samson left the place profoundly thoughtful. He could not have given words to his thought, but he had a feeling that here, in this spectacle of thousands obeying a single will, he had caught a glimpse of the great secret of politically minded peoples.
Lest this be thought an aberrant, marginal use of the suicide-hero, let us recall the words of another Zionist thinker, Stephen Rosenfeld: ‘All our generation was brought up on that book.’
Samson provides an important Biblical archetype for the national hero who is a semi-outcast among his own people, but who saves them nonetheless. In the dying months of Nazi Germany, selbstopfereinsatz missions were flown by Luftwaffe pilots against Soviet bridgeheads on the Oder. In 1950, Cecil B. DeMille used Jabotinsky’s novel as the basis for his film Samson and Delilah. And a still more recent example is the film Armageddon, in which a group of socially marginalised Americans sacrifice their lives by detonating their spacecraft inside a comet that is on a collision course with Earth. In doing so they are defying tradition and even lawful orders, but they earn thereby the eternal gratitude of their people. As Robert Jewett and John Lawrence have shown, this image of the American hero as the ordinary man impatient of traditional authority who risks or destroys himself to save the world (John Brown, Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Captain America, Superman, Spiderman, and Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek), is the great monomyth of today’s West.In some Eastern parts, the popularity of magically vanishing Bin Laden figures, who emerge from undistinguished lives to break conventional laws in order to save the world, offers another suggestion of how deeply Westernised Arab culture has become.
Let no-one claim, then, that suicide bombing is alien to the West. It is a recurrent possibility of Europe’s heritage. What needs emphasizing, against the snapshot thinking of the journalists, is the absence of a parallel strand in Islamic thinking. For Islam, suicide is always forbidden; some regard it as worse than murder. Many Biblical stories are retold by Islam, but the idea of suicidal militancy is entirely absent from the scriptures. Saul’s suicide is not present in the Koran, nor do we find it in Tabari’s great Annals (which wish simply to record that he died in battle). The Koranic Jonah does not ask to be pitched overboard, and Job does not pray for death. Similarly, the suicidalistishhad of Samson is absent from the Koran and Hadith, no doubt in line with their insistence on the absolute wickedness of suicide. The same Islamic idealism that cannot accept David’s seduction of Bathsheba, or Lot’s incest, has here airbrushed out Samson’s killing of the innocent and his self-destruction.
Again, the point is clear: the scriptural and antique sensibilities which provided some cultural space for suicidal warfare in Western civilisation appear to have very thin foundations in Islam. Flying into a skyscraper to save the world is closer to the line which links Samson to Captain America, with a detour through the Book of Revelation, than to any Muslim conception of futuwwa.
Here are Buruma and Margalit, in their important study of Westernised anti-Westernism:
Bin Laden’s use of the word ‘insane’ is more akin to the Nazis’ constant use of fanatisch. Human sacrifice is not an established Muslim tradition. Holy war always was justified in defence of the Islamic state, and believers who died in battle were promised heavenly delights, but glorification of death for its own sake was not part of this, especially in the Sunni tradition. […] And the idea that freelance terrorists would enter paradise as martyrs by murdering unarmed civilians is a modern invention, one that would have horrified Muslims in the past. Islam is not a death cult.
Let us now move on to consider other hints of the Western roots of radical Islamism. One symptom may be detected in a shared fondness for conspiracy theories. The messianic importance of the hidden deliverer is emphasised by the machinations of the forces of darkness which are ranged against him. The mu’amara, or Plot, is everywhere, as Robert Fisk, that dauntless lamentor of Mid-East fantasies, regularly observes. A sadly typical example is given by Abdelwahab Meddeb:
When I was at Abu Dhabi in May 2001, a number of my interlocutors, of various Arab communities (Lebanese, Syrian, Sudanese, etc.), confirmed the warning, spread by the local newspapers, to the public of the countries of the Near East not to buy the very inexpensive belts with the label Made in Thailand. These belts, the people told me, were actually Israeli products in disguise and carried a kind of flea that propagated an incurable disease: one more Zionist trick to weaken Arab bodies, if not eliminate them. These interlocutors, otherwise reasonable and likable, gave credit to information as fantastic as that. Those are the fantasies in which the symptoms of the sickness of Islam can be seen, the receptive compost in which the crime of September 11 could be welcomed joyfully.
Again, this is historically unusual for Muslims. Healthy communities far from Western influence find it incredible. The current prevalence of a kind of Islamic McCarthyism, often hysterical in its attempts to reduce a complex and enraging modernity to a monomaniac opposition, is simply another indication of how far the Islamists have travelled from the tradition. Religion makes us more attentive to reality, while secularity, bereft of real disciplines of self-knowledge and self-disdain, permits a dream-self. ‘They think that every shout is against themselves,’ says the Koran of the hypocrites (63:4), while praising the believers for their clearsighted faith that only God is simple, and it is only He that should be feared. The correct mindset is specified in scripture:
Those to whom the people said: ‘The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them!’ But it increased them in faith, and they said: ‘Allah is enough for us, an excellent Guardian is he!’
So they returned with grace and favour from Allah, and no harm touched them. They followed the good-pleasure of Allah, and Allah is of great bounty.
It is only the devil who would make [men] fear his allies. Fear them not; fear Me, if you are believers. (3:173-5)
The context is the aftermath of Uhud, when waverers warned of the strength of the combined enemies around Medina. Paranoia thus becomes the marker of imperfect faith and undue respect for the asbab. But despair is kufr: Islam’s Samson could never say:
Hopeless are all my evils, all remediless;
This one prayer yet remains, might I be heard,
No long petition, speedy death,
The close of all my miseries, and the balm.
Moreover, it requires an apparently unbearable humility for the Islamist conspiracy theorist to recognise that until very recently Muslims have seldom been perceived by the United States as a noteworthy enemy. For most of its history, America has opposed and feared and stereotyped Englishmen, Rebels, Red Indians, Spaniards, Huns, Reds or Gooks. The current preoccupation with Muslims is shallow in the US memory, if we discount the brief and long-forgotten enthusiasms of the Decatur episode.
Again, as with the conspiracy theories which urgently needed to see 9/11 as the work of Mossad, and the utilitarian justification of the vanguard’s suspension of the ethical, the radical Islamists are an expression of the very Westernising alienation they profess to defy. In a sense, the West hates them because they are more modern than itself, and thus remind it of the unbearable risks it has taken by following the road of Enlightenment. It is as Meddeb reminds us: ‘Who are those who died while spreading death in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania? […] They are the sons of our times, the pure products of the Americanisation of the world.’
Self-immolation in Gaza to bring down the unbelieving temple. This is tragedy in Wagnerian mode. It is suicide, selbstmord, not really prefatory to redemption, but to publicity and therapy. It was Nietzsche, not any Islamic sage, who wrote: ‘The thought of suicide is a great source of comfort: with it a calm passage is to be made across many a bad night.’ After being ‘eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,’ Samson experiences ‘calm of mind, all passion spent’ – the English idiom begins with Milton’s ending, linking, as do some readings of the Samson legend, eros and thanatos, desire and death.
But it is Nietzsche who introduces the modern superhero. If ‘the splendrous blond beast, avidly rampant for plunder and victory’ cannot take the revenge which heals his heart, he will end his unworthy existence in a magnificent, Hitlerian funeral pyre. Samson thus becomes ananticipation of modernity.
Religion, if it has the right to exist at all, must consider this a spurious healing. Neither vainglory nor despair can have a place in the metabolism of a religion based on the idea of God’s unique mastery of history, the polar opposite of dualistic paganism, or of the romantic Enlightenment dream which found its tragic moods congenial. The scriptures denounce hamiyya, the feverish identity-politics of the pagan Arabs; the post-orthodox Islamist admits it to his heart. ‘Roots of Muslim Rage’ is the title of Bernard Lewis’ most notorious piece on Islamism. His pathology of the roots is far astray; but the rage is undeniable. How are we to understand such rage in the heart of a religion built on submission to the Divine will, hulwihi wa-murrihi, the bitter and the sweet of it? Which insisted that ‘it is not the wrestler who is strong; it is the man who masters himself when angry’? Why did the Blessed Prophet pray for ‘a certainty by which You render slight in our eyes the calamities of this world’?
The roots are, as it turns out, instrumental reason, natural causality, and the enthroning of Aristotle over Plato, or Newton over St Denys. Without the certainty of an omnipotent God (and is not Islam here better at restraining passion than all other faiths?) the experience of adversity leaves us prey to wild emotion. It was this same jahili craving for revenge that led Churchill astray, as one historian suggests: ‘In this superheated and bloody time emotion may have masqueraded as political thinking in a rationalizing Prime Minister’s mind.’
Religion is never more tested than when our emotions are ablaze. At such a time, the timeless grandeur of the Law and its ethics stand at our mercy. ‘Let the qadi not judge when he is angry,’ as it is said. But here is the reality of Gaza:
‘Hamas operations are not directed and have never been directed against children,’ says Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanaab. ‘It is directed at military targets.’ When pushed, however, he goes further. ‘To be frank with you, there are a lot of the moralities which got broken in this war,’ he says. ‘They are letting the Israelis kill Palestinians and they want the Palestinians to be moderate, to be moral. We cannot control the game because it has no rules, it has no limits.’
Revenge, rage, the teleological suspension of the ethical. It is Churchillian, but also aromatic with a not-yet-dispersed Marxism. Here, for instance, is Mawdudi, a tributary of the Hamas vision:
‘Muslim’ is the name of the international revolutionary party which Islam organizes to implement its revolutionary program and Jihad is that revolutionary struggle which the Islamic party carries out to achieve its objectives.
As Abdullah Schleifer goes on to remark:
Mawdoodi took as his enduring model a progression of dynamic relationships – the movement, the party, revolutionary struggle, the revolution – defined by one of the major desacralizing forces in contemporary times, in pursuit of a concept of state that draws its substance from non-Islamic sources, and all with that same innocence of the modern Muslim importing his ‘value-free’ technology.
The antinomian quality of this furious insurrectionist method confirms Gray’s suggestion that Islamism is simply another modern weapon against religion. For theists, the ethical can never be suspended; on the contrary, it is needed most when most under strain. Yet the militant transgressions of radicals form only part of a much wider picture of covert but deep surrender to Enlightenment thought.
Islamism, that soi-disant hammer of the Franks, is ironically modern in very many ways. It is modern in its eagerness for science and its hatred of ‘superstition.’ It is modern in its rejection of all higher spirituality (Qutb recommends, instead, ‘al-fana’ fi’l-‘aqida’). It is modern in its rejection of the principle of tradition, and, despite itself, cannot but impose the insecurities of Western-trained minds (and are they not all engineers and doctors?) on scripture. Intertextuality and the community of sages are barred. The theopolitics of classical Islam, where both scholarship and the state are invigorated by mutual tension (the Men of the Pen and the Men of the Sword), is replaced by the finally Western model of the ideological totalitarian state, with a self-appointed clerisy (albeit composed of technocrats) requiring absolute control over policy and the Shari‘a. The modular diversities of pre-modern Muslim societies, where villages, tribes, and millat minorities regulated themselves, give way to the Islamist appropriation of the machinery of centralised post-colonial etatism. Social subsets which flourished for centuries under, say, Ottomanism, already eroded by centralising colonial regimes, are finally liquidated by a vision that is purely Western, albeit camouflaged by loud religious language. As Maryam Jameelah puts it, in a courageous article in which she publicly announces her disillusionment with the Islamist model:
The tragic paradox of the life and thought of Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdoodi was his subconscious acceptance of the very same Western ideas he dedicated his entire life to struggling against.
In such a system, those who should be serving God end up obeying the men of the state who are His all too fallible interpreters. They worship in fear of the police, not in fear of God. Dissidence becomes a simultaneous treason and blasphemy. The failure of this totalitarian model of the ‘Islamic State’, this ‘carceral Islamism’ which makes a Muslim land a prison rather than a landscape of options and regional variety, is today everywhere apparent, and is a sign, perhaps, that God will not allow victory to such a perversion. For the Muslims will not long be allowed to bow before any other than God.
Is this attack on tradition a modernity with a future? Zealotry itself is not normally refuted, it has to subside. Often that subsidence is enabled by schism: Cromwell could not be replicated because of the powerfully fissiparous quality of Dissent. Calvin’s Geneva hardly outlived him. Hutterites, Levellers, Anabaptists, and the other fragments of the Protestant detonation could perpetuate themselves, but their energy source seemed to have a half-life. Islamic extremism, what has historically been called ghuluww, excess, and has occasionally, though not often, troubled the religion’s equilibrium, usually knows a similar deflation through internal factionalism and the disappointment which seeps into all annunciatory movements when the world does not either improve or come to an end. In the case of Muslim puritanism, we see, currently, infighting, as in Algeria, and on the streets of Riyadh. Apathy may not be long postponed.
This seems likely, to the extent that Islamism is the product of indigenous decay, a second Reformation. But will its porosity to Enlightenment thought prolong or accelerate this decay? (How ironic that Islam’s Reformation should come after its Enlightenment!) Here predictions about Islamism may not be so different from predictions about a certain kind of exhibitionist postmodernism. Take Foucault, for instance. On his death, he had been praised by Le Monde as ‘the most important event of thought in our century.’ He was an iconic Western iconoclast, but more honest about the consequences of modernity than most liberal seekers after virtue. He had been strongly pro-Khomeini, and had also praised the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. Like many Islamists, he was a lapsed Marxist, concerned with making a statement, with angering the middle-class West, with disruption. A second Bakunin, he was concerned not with advancing a detailed and realistic agenda, but with a passionate desire to shock. And like his hero Nietzsche, he died of a venereal disease, his immensely careless sexual habits indicating the powerful allure of suicide for the sake of making a statement. We need to ask: is this too close for comfort to radical Islamism, with its penchant for épater les blancs by whatever means? For how long can the West portray the Islamists as its own polar opposite? Will it be harder to forget the zealots than to forget Foucault?
This is less hopeful: Foucault has not been forgotten. The ambient vacuum which permitted a philosophy of the absurd in France and in the Middle East shows no signs of abatement. Capitalist shortsightedness wedded to postmodern philosophy may offer the only real life-support system that the Muslim reformation can hope for. Thus the defeat of the Muslim aberration may depend on nothing less than the defeat of the current global system, and its replacement with an order grounded in the ethical brilliance of the monotheisms. This diagnosis places us far beyond both Qutb’s chauvinism and the narcissism of the neocons. The same classical Islamic strength through cosmopolitanism that helped our ancient order to endure as a non-totalitarian expression of certainty must be remobilised to affirm the Other’s heart, in order to reconnect the global system with religious reality. That is, a successful ‘war on terror’ cannot be detached from a humanly consensual war on environmental loss, on unfair trade, on identity feminism, and on genetic manipulation. If it is so detached, it will be lost.
Blake portrays the spirit of the industrial age as Urizen, blind ignorance, fettered in laws of causality unveiled by Newton, and sunk in feral emotionalism. Religion is indispensable to the nurturing of a true humanism because it fights this, and insists that humanity has a telos, and that the soul is therefore sacrosanct.
To succeed, then we must be able to realise that self-judgement, that greatest and most irreplaceable gift of the Abrahamic religions, is more than an evolutionary confidence trick. Consider Jürgen Habermas’ latest book, which reflects on human nature as challenged by genetic science. Postmodernism seems to problematise self-judgement; and its associated ethical practice seems to reduce Aristotle’s greatness of soul, which he, against later monotheist reaction, considered a virtue, to superbia, greatest of the seven deadly sins. But Habermas reminds us that confronted by genetic science, we are required, after a long hiatus, to judge ourselves. For science seeks our permission to rebuild our bodies to reduce the suffering of future generations; yet in the process it must ask us to define what we presently are. Liberal ethics, which resist both such definitions, and any exercise in using human beings for our own purposes, however idealistic, are thereby interrogated. Habermas is quite clear that the West’s conception of virtue is a Christian ghost, rooted in a Kantianism that has been the basis of liberal notions of individual autonomy. Yet he seems convinced that this ghost still lives, and can be maintained perpetually, and may even serve as the stable basis of ever more ambitious projects for universal codes of human rights, in the arena of bioethics, as elsewhere. This will include, presumably, the war on Carrelian Islamism.
John Gray, iconoclastically again, is unsure that this is as coherent as it is helpful. Gray, whose understanding of Al-Qaida as an Enlightenment project we noted earlier, would rather we revisited Schopenhauer’s deconstruction of Kant. Frightened ethicists have deceived themselves that there is no Christianity in this Christian ghost. Yet true Kantianism would reject the categoric imperative as a false projection upon the Noumenon. Our desperate desire to find a new moral anchorage after the sinking of Christian scholasticism blinds us to what is for Gray the unanswerable insight that without God, we are beyond good and evil. Schopenhauer saw, as Gray put it, ‘that the enlightenment was only a secular version of Christianity’s central mistake.’ There is no soul, only the individual will, and we have no reason to suppose that we are any more free in our decision-making than the animals from which religion taught us that we were so categorically distinct. Our consciousness is just one more part of the world. Heidegger turns out to be worse: he insists that he excludes Christian paradigms, but internalises them implicitly in his consideration of the human plight, suffering, guilt, and the paradox of being. And while Schopenhauer maintained a pure and private pessimism, Heidegger sought to intuit Being in his tribe. ‘The Führer himself and alone,’ he exclaimed, ‘is the present and future German reality and its law.’ Hitler’s xenophobia allowed the philosopher to repair his wounds, and reconnect with Being. Qutbian fundamentalism is not far away.
It is impossible to exaggerate the debt Giddens’ ‘runaway world’ owes to Christianity, for showing so much vitality even after Nietzsche proclaimed the death of its God. But for the Gospels, the Western empire would not have benefited from Kant’s conjuring trick, or Rawls’ benign adversion to ‘good people’. Yet the fact of its precariousness remains; and the risk of a tribal resolution is enormous. Science harnessed to Geist dragged up Hitler; and something similar has beset Islam. Solidarity, mythologically voiced, technologically imposed, is to be the cure for our desperate alienation. Remember the words of the Furies in Aeschylus:
For many ills one attitude is the cure
When it agrees on what to hate.
The danger, then, is that liberalism will prove too weak to prevent one form of Enlightenment chauvinism – carceral Islamism – from triggering a sudden revival of another such form – Hitlerian essentialism. The prosperity of the far-right across the liberal West shows how far this march has already come. Postmodernity is methodologically incapable of resisting this; and monotheism must step into the breach. A monotheism, however, which bears all the arms it has acquired and sharpened during its travels: its intellectual appropriation of Athens, its hospitality to the autochthonously non-Semitic, its insistence on diversity, all enabled and preserved by the centrality of spiritual purgation. The civil war within Enlightenment modernity that Gray identifies as the essence of the ‘war on terror’ is suicidal. Only aressourcement in the anchored past can deliver us.
 Cited in Joh n Gray, Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals (London, 2002), 75.
 Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (London, 1992); Daniel Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will (Bradford, 2002).
 Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
 For the neocons see now Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (Cambridge, 2004).
 Cited in Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence, Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism (Grand Rapids and Cambridge, 2003), 131.
 Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (London: 2002), 369-70; e.g. ‘The Catholic Church and other Christian churches […] could include in every Christian Bible a detailed, corrective account alongside the text about its many antisemitic passages, and a clear disclaimer explaining that even though these passages were once presented as fact, they are actually false or dubious and have been the source of much unjust injury. They could include essays on the various failings of the Christian Bible, and a detailed running commentary on each page that would correct the texts’ erroneous and libellous assertions.’
 Cf. Julia Lipton, ‘Othello Circumcised: Shakespeare and the Pauline Discourse of Nations’, Representations 57 (1997), 78: ‘Christian typologists also used Esau, Pharoah and Herod to couple the Jew and the Muslim as carnal children of Abraham facing each other across the world-historical break effected by the Incarnation.’
 See Fukuyama: ‘A country that makes human rights a significant element of its foreign policy tends toward ineffectual moralizing at best, and unconstrained violence in pursuit of moral aims at worst.’ Harper’s Magazine, August 2001, p. 36.
 Salah Abd al-Fattah al-Khalidi, Amrika min al-dakhil bi-minzar Sayyid Qutb (Beirut, 2002).
 Roxanne L. Euben, Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism (Princeton, 1999), 52; citing Qutb’s Khasa’is al-Tasawwur al-Islami; Youssef Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism (London 1990), 142-9. As Choueiri concludes: ‘What Qutb fails to inform his vanguard, however, is that the code of conduct he subsequently elaborated in his ‘commentary’ on the Koran matches that of Carrel much more than Muhammad’s own Traditions.’ The result is not an indigenous form of governance, but ‘a Third World version of Fascism.’
 Samuel Goitein, Jews and Arabs (New York, 1955), 130: ‘Never has Judaism encountered such a close and fructuous symbiosis as that with the medieval civilization of Arab Islam’.
 Many Muslims who have rejected the new radicalism in favour of authenticity will sympathise with the experience of Franky Schaeffer, who in the 1970s was an extreme Calvinist advocate of totalitarian government. In the 1980s, shocked by the reality of fundamentalist leaders, he joined the Greek Orthodox Church, denouncing the Protestant radicals as ‘a hybrid composed of fragments of ancient Christian faith and thoroughly modern, anti-traditional, materialist and often utopian ideas.’ Cited in Steve Bruce, Fundamentalism (Cambridge, 2000), 122.
 John Gray, Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (London, 2003), 1-2.
 Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London and New York: Verso, 2002), 146.
 See for instance Richard Martin, ‘The Religious Foundations of War, Peace and Statecraft in Islam’, in John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson (eds), Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. (New York, Westport and London, 1991.)
 Naqd Kalam al-Shaykh al-Albani fi Sharitihi Min Manhaj al-Khawarij. N.d., n.p.
 L. Carl Brown, Religion and State: the Muslim approach to politics (New York, 2000), 156-7. It needs to be added that Qutb’s aberration is typical of those who carry out radical ijtihad without the needful qualifications in shari‘a sciences. For instance, he develops his absolutist rejection of any conversation with the West in his Ma‘alim fi’l-tariq (Cairo, 1980), 145, on the basis of out-of-context Koranic verses (2:109, 2:120, and 3:100), which warn only of the dangers of cooperating with some of the ahl al-kitab. To try and force the issue, he then produces a hadith from Abu Ya‘la, ‘Do not ask the People of the Book about anything …’ (Abu Ya‘la, Musnad [Damascus and Beirut, 1985/1405], IV, 102), apparently unaware that this hadith is weak; see ‘Abduh ‘Ali Kushak, al-Maqsad al-A‘la fi taqrib ahadith al-Hafiz Abi Ya‘la (Beirut, 1422/2001), I, 83. In any case, who is more absurd than the radical who rejects all Western influence, and then writes books with titles like Khasa’is al-Tasawwur al-Islami (‘Special Qualities of the Islamic Conception’)? Qutb’s whole manner of expression would be unimaginable without modernity.
 Abdelwahab Meddeb, Islam and its discontents (London, 2003), 48-52. Qutb’s waning interest in literature is one symptom of this.
 Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Disciplining the Soul, tr. T. Winter (Cambridge, 1995), 86.
 ‘Asian Muslims in particular have come to reify the shari‘a as much as any Orientalist, converting the law into a symbol of ethnic identification.’ Lawrence Rosen, The Justice of Islam: Comparative perspectives on Islamic law and society (Oxford, 2000), 186.
 W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (London, 2004), 17.
 Stephen A. Garrett, Ethics and airpower in World War II: the British bombing of German cities (New York and Basingstoke, 1993), 28.
 Garrett, 90; Harvey Tress, British strategic bombing through 1940: politics, attitudes, and the formation of a lasting pattern (Lewiston, 1988), 304.
 Garrett, 90.
 Garrett, 103.
 Tress, 335.
 Cited in Garrett, 20.
 Cited in Garrett, 132.
 Garrett, 96.
 General Curtis LeMay, who planned the Tokyo attacks which killed perhaps a hundred thousand civilians, remarked that they were ‘scorched and boiled and baked to death.’ (John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War [New York, 1986], 50.)
 Menahem Begin, The Revolt (revised edition, London 1979), 59-60.
 A substantial literature now exists seeking to identify suicide bombing as a paradigmatically Muslim act. See, for instance, Shaul Shay, The Shahids: Islam and Suicide Attacks (Transaction, 2003); also Christoph Reuter, My Life is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing (Princeton, 2004). This forms part of a larger determination to show the radicals as authentic expressions of Islamic tradition (see, for instance, the works of Emmanuel Sivan). The level of Islamic knowledge present in this literature is usually poor; see for instance Reuter’s belief (p.22) that the Mu‘tazilites were founded by Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd! Reuter is a Stern journalist, whose patronage by Princeton University Press shows the fragility of the standards of American academic institutions in times of international crisis.
 Sir James Frazier, The Golden Bough. Part III: The Dying God (London, 1913), 42. For a more recent study see Jacques Gernet, ‘Les suicides par le feu chez les bouddhiques chinoises de Ve au Xe siecle’, Mélanges publiés par l’Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises I (1960), 527-558. For Buddhist suicide in India see W. Rahula, ‘Self-Cremation in Mahayana Buddhism’ in his Zen and the Taming of the Bull (London, 1978), 111-6. Rahula amplifies (p.113): ‘Usually a self-cremation was done in public, but there were some monks who burnt themselves secretly. One monk burnt himself in a cauldron of oil. Some made a modest offering to a stupa by cutting off a finger or a hand, wrapping it with cloth drenched in oil, and setting fire to it.’ The practice is traced back to the time of the Buddha himself; as F. Woodward records: ‘The Buddha approved of the suicide of bhikkus; but in these cases they were Arahants, and we are to suppose that such beings who have mastered self, can do what they please as regards the life and death of their carcases’ (‘The Ethics of Suicide in Greek, Latin and Buddhist Literature’, Buddhist Annual of Ceylon , p.8).
 Ibid, 54. See also the ritual described on page 47, in which the king of Calicut ‘had to cut his throat in public at the end of a twelve years’ reign.’
 Upendra Thakur, The History of Suicide in India: An Introduction (Delhi, 1963), xv-xvi.
 Ibid., 9. See also the section on ‘Religious Suicide’, on pp.77-111.
 Rihlat Ibn Battuta (Beirut, 1379/1960), 411-3, focussing on the practice of bride-burning, but referring also to Hindu self-drowning rituals. See also Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, Tahqiq ma li’l-Hind (Hyderabad, 1377/1958), p.480: ‘Those among them who kill themselves do so during eclipses; or they may hire a man to drown them in the Ganges. Such people hold them underwater until they die.’ For more on this practice see Thakur, 112.
 Edgar O’Ballance, The Cyanide War: Tamil Insurrection in Sri Lanka 1973-88 (London, 1989), p.13, for the first Tamil suicide martyrs in the 1970s. Other Tamil Tiger terrorist habits include beheading (p.10), taking Western hostages (p.40), and drug-dealing to fund operations (p.120).
 For the religious puritanism of the Tamil Tigers (no extramarital relations, no alcohol, etc.), see Dagmar Hellmann-Rajayanagar, The Tamil Tigers: armed struggle for identity (Stuttgart, 1994), 37. Sometimes considered to be Marxist, the Tamil Tigers are primarily inspired by national and religious tradition (ibid., p. 56).
 Amantha Perera, ‘Suicide bombers feared and revered,’ Asia Times, July 17, 2003. For more on Islamist borrowings from Tamil suicide warfare see Amy Waldman, ‘Masters of Suicide Bombing: Tamil Guerillas of Sri Lanka’ (New York Times, 14 January 2003).
 Cf. Plotinus, against the Stoics: ‘if each man’s rank in the other world depends on his state when he goes out, one must not take out the soul as long as there is any possibility of progress’ (Ennead I.9; cf. also the Elias fragment of Plotinus found after this section in Armstrong’s Loeb translation). This is similar to the Islamic virtue of praying for a long life in the service of God. (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 23.)
 ‘Within Israelite society, as early as the period of the united monarchy, voluntary death, given the proper circumstances, was understood as honorable and even routine.’ (Arthur J. Droge and James D. Tabor, Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in antiquity [San Francisco, 1992], 56.)
 See J.W. van Henten, The Maccabean martyrs as saviours of the Jewish people: a study of 2 and 4 Maccabees (Leiden and New York, 1997).
 Droge and Tabor, 87, 100. See also Sidney Hoenig, ‘The Sicarii in Masada – Glory or Infamy?’ Tradition 11 (1970), 5-30; Sidney Goldstein, Suicide in Rabbinic Literature (Hoboken, 1989), 41-2.
 Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, 1999), 171. It is not insignificant that ‘during the Moslem period, mass suicides among Jews do not seem to have occurred’ (Goldstein, 49).
 The former Ashkenazy Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Goren, allowed suicide as an alternative to prisoner-of-war status, following the examples of Saul and Masada (Goldstein, 49).
 Walter S. Wurzburger, Ethics of Responsibility: Pluralistic Approaches to Covenantal Ethics (Philadelphia, 1994), 92. For more, see Goldstein’s chapter entitled ‘Suicide as an Act of Martyrdom’, pp.41-50.
 ‘In strictly historical terms it is unlikely that Jesus of Nazareth ever expected to give his life as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Rather, his intention was to bring about the restoration of Israel and to usher in the kingdom of God.’ (Droge and Tabor, 115.) Islam would probably be more impressed by the Lucan Jesus, who apparently never intended to die.
 Droge and Tabor, 136.
 Droge and Tabor, 134-9, 152-5; 167-83. Voluntary martyrdom continued in some places, such as early Muslim Cordova, where 48 Christians were beheaded between 850 and 859: ‘the majority of the victims deliberately invoked capital punishment by publicly blaspheming Muhammad and disparaging Islam.’ They were eulogised by the Church. (K. B. Wolf, Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain [Cambridge, 1988], 1.)
 Frazier, 45.
 Glen Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge, 1995), 66-7.
 Brian Wicker, ‘Samson Terroristes: A Theological Reflection on Suicidal Terrorism’, New Blackfriars, vol. 84 no.983 (January 2003), 45. I am indebted to Wicker for much of the information in the next two paragraphs.
 Bernhard Anderson, The Living World of the Old Testament (London, 1958), 111.
 Droge and Tabor, 186.
 John Milton, Poetical Works (Edinburgh, 1853), II, 76.
 Milton, 125.
 Vladimir Jabotinsky, Prelude to Delilah (New York, 1945), 131. This is a translation of the original, published as Samson in 1926.
 Jabotinsky, 330.
 Jabotinsky, 200.
 Stephen Rosenfeld, ‘Straight to the Heart of Menachem Begin’, Present Tense (Summer 1980), 7.
 Antony Beevor, Berlin 1945, the downfall. (London, 2002), 238. Focke-Wulf fighter-bombers packed with explosives would deliberately ram Soviet bridges and command centres.
 Jewett and Lawrence, 35-9.
 ‘Abdallah ibn Qutayba, ‘Uyun al-akhbar (Cairo, 1348/1930), iii, 217.
 Tabari, History, Volume III: The Children of Israel, translated by William M. Brinner (Albany, 1991), 139.
 I. Buruma and A. Margalit, Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism (London, 2004), 68-9.
 Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (London, 1990), 78, 79, 85, 139, 166, 175, 178, 302, 320, 374, 408, 523, 530, 567, 603.
 Meddeb, 115.
 Milton, 93.
 Meddeb, 9.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, tr. Helen Zimmern (London, 1907, repr.1967), 98.
 Milton, 126.
 Bernard Lewis, ‘Roots of Muslim Rage,’ The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990
 Bukhari and Muslim from Abu Hurayra.
 Tirmidhi and al-Hakim (1, 528), from Ibn ‘Umar.
 Tress, 289.
 Cited by S. Abdullah Schleifer, ‘Jihad: Sacred Struggle in Islam IV,’ The Islamic Quarterly 28/ii (1984), 98.
 Schleifer, 100.
 William E. Shepard, Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism: A Translation and Critical Annotation of Social Justice in Islam (Leiden, 1996), p.xxxiii. Here we have, again, the phenomenon of ‘loving the Torah more than God’.
 Maryam Jameelah, ‘An Appraisal of Some Aspects of the Life and Thought of Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi’, Islamic Quarterly xxxi (1407-1987), 116-130, p.130.
 Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (London: 2003).
 Gray, Straw Dogs, 41.
 See Gray, Straw Dogs, 102-3: ‘The egalitarian beliefs on which Rawls’s theory is founded are like the sexual mores that were once believed to be the core of morality. The most local and changeable of things, they are revered as the very essence of morality. As conventional opinion moves on, the current egalitarian consensus will be followed by a new orthodoxy, equally certain that it embodies unchanging moral truth.’
 The Eumenides 996-7.
(Text of a lecture given to a group of Christians in Oxford, 1996)
A number of difficulties will beset any presentation of Muslim understandings of the Trinity. Not the least of these is the fact that these Muslim understandings have been almost as diverse and as numerous as those obtaining among Christian scholars themselves. It is true that medieval Islam knew much more about Christian doctrine than the doctors of the Church did about Islam, for the obvious reason that Muslim societies contained literate minorities with whom one could debate, something which was normally not the case in Christendom. Muslim-Christian dialogue, a novelty in the West, has a long history in the Middle East, going back at least as far as the polite debates between St John of Damascus and the Muslim scholars of seventh-century Syria. And yet reading our theologians one usually concludes that most of them never quite ‘got’ the point about the Trinity. Their analysis can usually be faulted on grounds not of unsophistication, but of insufficient familiarity with the complexities of Scholastic or Eastern trinitarian thinking. Often they merely tilt at windmills.
There were, I think, two reasons for this. Firstly, the doctrine of Trinity was the most notorious point at issue between Christianity and Islam, and hence was freighted with fierce passions. For the pre-modern Muslim mind, Christian invaders, crusaders, inquisitors and the rest were primarily obsessed with forcing the doctrine of Trinity on their hapless Muslim enemies. It is recalled even today among Muslims in Russia that when Ivan the Terrible captured Kazan, capital of the Volga Muslims, he told its people that they could escape the sword by ‘praising with us the Most Blessed Trinity for generation unto generation.’ Even today in Bosnia, Serb irregulars use the three-fingered Trinity salute as a gesture of defiance against their Muslim enemies. And so on. Much Muslim theologising about the Trinity has hence been set in a bitterly polemical context of fear and often outright hatred: the Trinity as the very symbol of the unknown but violent other lurking on the barbarous northern shores of the Mediterranean, scene of every kind of demonic wickedness and cruelty.
To this distortion one has to add, I think, some problems posed by the doctrine of the Trinity itself. Islam, while it has produced great thinkers, has nonetheless put fewer of its epistemological eggs in the theological basket than has Christianity. Reading Muslim presentations of the Trinity one cannot help but detect a sense of impatience. One of the virtues of the Semitic type of consciousness is the conviction that ultimate reality must be ultimately simple, and that the Nicene talk of a deity with three persons, one of whom has two natures, but who are all somehow reducible to authentic unity, quite apart from being rationally dubious, seems intuitively wrong. God, the final ground of all being, surely does not need to be so complicated.
These two obstacles to a correct understanding of the Trinity do to some extent persist even today. But a new obstacle has in the past century or so presented itself inasmuch as the old Western Christian consensus on what the Trinity meant, which was always a fragile consensus, no longer seems to obtain among many serious Christian scholars. Surveying the astonishing bulk and vigour of Christian theological output, Muslims can find it difficult to know precisely how most Christians understand the Trinity. It is also our experience that Christians are usually keener to debate other topics; and we tend to conclude that this is because they themselves are uncomfortable with aspects of their Trinitarian theology.
What I will try to do, then, is to set out my own understanding, as a Muslim, of the Trinitarian doctrine. I would start by making the obvious point that I recognise that a lot is at stake here for historic Christian orthodoxy. The fundamental doctrine of Trinity makes no sense unless the doctrines of incarnation and atonement are also accepted. St Anselm, in his Cur Deus Homo, showed that the concept of atonement demanded that Christ had to be God, since only an infinite sacrifice could atone for the limitless evil of humanity, which was, in Augustine’s words, a massa damnata – a damned mass because of Adam’s original sin. Jesus of Nazareth was hence God incarnate walking on earth, distinct from God the Father dwelling in heaven and hearing our prayers. It thus became necessary to think of God as at least two in one, who were at least for a while existing in heaven and on earth, as distinct entities. In early Christianity, the Logos which was the Christ-spirit believed to be active as a divine presence in human life, in time became hypostatized as a third person, and so the Trinity was born. No doubt this process was shaped by the triadic beliefs which hovered in the Near Eastern air of the time, many of which included the belief in a divine atonement figure.
Now, looking at the evidence for this process, I have to confess I am not a Biblical scholar, armed with the dazzling array of philological qualifications deployed by so many others. But it does seem to me that a consensus has been emerging among serious historians, pre-eminent among whom are figures such as Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford, that Jesus of Nazareth himself never believed, or taught, that he was the second person of a divine trinity. We know that he was intensely conscious of God as a divine and loving Father, and that he dedicated his ministry to proclaiming the imminence of God’s kingdom, and to explaining how human creatures could transform themselves in preparation for that momentous time. He believed himself to be the Messiah, and the ‘son of man’ foretold by the prophets. We know from the study of first-century Judaism, recently made accessible by the Qumran discoveries, that neither of these terms would have been understood as implying divinity: they merely denoted purified servants of God.
The term ‘son of God’, frequently invoked in patristic and medieval thinking to prop up the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity, was in fact similarly unpersuasive: in the Old Testament and in wider Near Eastern usage it can be applied to kings, pharoahs, miracle workers and others. Yet when St Paul carried his version of the Christian message beyond Jewish boundaries into the wider gentile world, this image of Christ’s sonship was interpreted not metaphorically, but metaphysically. The resultant tale of controversies, anathemas and political interventions is complex; but what is clear is that the Hellenized Christ, who in one nature was of one substance with God, and in another nature was of one substance with humanity, bore no significant resemblance to the ascetic prophet who had walked the roads of Galilee some three centuries before.
From the Muslim viewpoint, this desemiticising of Jesus was a catastrophe. Three centuries after Nicea, the Quran stated:
‘The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers the like of whom had passed away before him . . . O people of the Book – stress not in your religion other than the truth, and follow not the vain desires of a people who went astray before you.’ (Surat al-Ma’ida, 75)
‘O people of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion, nor utter anything concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of God, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and do not say ‘Three’. Desist, it will be better for you. God is only One God. . . . The Messiah would never have scorned to be a slave of God.’ (Surat al-Nisa, 171-2)
The Qur’anic term for ‘exaggeration’ used here, ghuluww, became a standard term in Muslim heresiography for any tendency, Muslim or otherwise, which attributed divinity to a revered and charismatic figure. We are told that during the life of the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali, a few of his devoted followers from Iraq, where Hellenistic and pagan cultures formed the background of many converts, described him as God, or the vehicle of a Divine incarnation – hulul. The claim of course irritated Ali profoundly, and he banished those who made it from his sight; but even today marginal Islamic sectaries like the Kizilbash of Turkey, or the Alawites of the Syrian mountains, maintain an esoteric cosmology which asserts that God became incarnate in Ali, and then in the succession of Imams who descended from him.
Mainstream Islam, however, despite its rapid spread over non-Semitic populations, never succumbed to this temptation. The best-known of all devotional poems about the Blessed Prophet Muhammad: the famous Mantle Ode of al-Busairi, defines the frontier of acceptable veneration:
‘Renounce what the Christians claim concerning their prophet,
Then praise him as you will, and with all your heart.
For although he was of human nature,
He was the best of humanity without exception.’
A few years previously, the twelfth-century theologian Al-Ghazali had summed up the dangers of ghuluww when he wrote that the Christians had been so dazzled by the divine light reflected in the mirror like heart of Jesus, that they mistook the mirror for the light itself, and worshipped it. But what was happening to Jesus was not categorically distinct from what happened, and may continue to happen, to any purified human soul that has attained the rank of sainthood. The presence of divine light in Jesus’ heart does not logically entail a doctrine of Jesus’ primordial existence as a hypostasis in a divine trinity.
There are other implications of Trinitarian doctrine which concern Muslims. Perhaps one should briefly mention our worries about the doctrine of Atonement, which implies that God is only capable of really forgiving us when Jesus has borne our just punishment by dying on the cross. John Hick has remarked that ‘a forgiveness that has to be bought by full payment of the moral debt is not in fact forgiveness at all.’ More coherent, surely, is the teaching of Jesus himself in the parable of the prodigal son, who is fully forgiven by his father despite the absence of a blood sacrifice to appease his sense of justice. The Lord’s Prayer, that superb petition for forgiveness, nowhere implies the need for atonement or redemption.
Jesus’ own doctrine of God’s forgiveness as recorded in the Gospels is in fact entirely intelligible in terms of Old Testament and Islamic conceptions. ‘God can forgive all sins’, says the Quran. And in a well-known hadith of the Prophet we are told:
On the Day of Judgement, a herald angel shall cry out [God’s word] from beneath the Throne, saying: ‘O nation of Muhammad! All that was due to me from you I forgive you now, and only the rights which you owed one another remain. Thus forgive one another, and enter Heaven through My Mercy.’
And in a famous incident:
It is related that a boy was standing under the sun on a hot summer’s day. He was seen by a woman concealed among the people, who made her way forwards vigorously until she took up the child and clutched him to her breast. Then she turned her back to the valley to keep the heat away from him, saying, ‘My son! My son!’ At this the people wept, and were distracted from everything that they were doing. Then the Messenger of God, upon whom be peace, came up. They told him of what had happened, when he was delighted to see their their compassion. Then he gave them glad news, saying: ‘Marvel you at this woman’s compassion for her son?’ and they said that they did. And he declared, ‘Truly, the Exalted God shall be even more compassionate towards you than is this woman towards her son.’ At this, the Muslims went their ways in the greatest rapture and joy.
This same hadith presents an interesting feature of Muslim assumptions about the divine forgiveness: its apparently ‘maternal’ aspect. The term for the Compassionate and Loving God used in these reports, al-Rahman, was said by the Prophet himself to derive from rahim, meaning a womb. Some recent Muslim reflection has seen in this, more or less rightly I think, a reminder that God has attributes which may metaphorically be associated with a ‘feminine, maternal’ character, as well as the more ‘masculine’ predicates such as strength and implacable justice. This point is just beginning to be picked up by our theologians. There is not time to explore the matter fully, but there is a definite and interesting convergence between the Christology of feminist theologians such as Rosemary Reuther, and that of Muslims.
In a recent work, the Jordanian theologian Hasan al-Saqqaf reaffirms the orthodox belief that God transcends gender, and cannot be spoken of as male or female, although His attributes manifest either male or female properties, with neither appearing to be preponderant. This gender-neutral understanding of the Godhead has figured largely in Karen Armstrong’s various appreciations of Islam, and is beginning to be realised by other feminist thinkers as well. For instance, Maura O’Neill in a recent book observes that ‘Muslims do not use a masculine God as either a conscious or unconscious tool in the construction of gender roles.’
One of Reuther’s own main objections to the Trinity, apart from its historically and Biblically sketchy foundations, is its emphatic attribution of masculine gender to God. She may or may not be exaggerating when she blames this attribution for the indignities suffered by Christian women down the ages. But she is surely being reasonable when she suggests that the male-dominated Trinity is marginalising to women, as it suggests that it was man who was made in the image of God, with woman as a revised and less theomorphic model of himself.
Partly under her influence, American Protestant liturgy has increasingly tried to de-masculinise the Trinity. Inclusive language lectionaries now refer to God as ‘Father and Mother’. The word for Christ’s relationship to God is now not ‘son’ but ‘child’. And so on, often to the point of absurdity or straightforward doctrinal mutilation.
Here in Britain, the feminist bull was grasped by the horns when the BCC Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today issued its report in 1989. The Commission’s response here was as follows:
‘The word Father is to be construed apophatically, that is, by means of a determined ‘thinking away’ of the inappropriate – and in this context that means masculine – connotations of the term. What will remain will be an orientation to personhood, to being in relation involving origination in a personal sense, not maleness.’
Now, one has to say that this is unsatisfactory. The concept of fatherhood, stripped of everything which has male associations, is not fatherhood at all. It is not even parenthood, since parenthood has only two modalities. The Commissioners are simply engaging in the latest exegetical manoeuvres required by the impossible Trinitarian doctrine, which are, as John Biddle, the father of Unitarianism put it, ‘fitter for conjurers than for Christians.’
The final point that occurs to me is that the Trinity, mapped out in awesome detail in the several volumes devoted to it by Aquinas, attempts to presume too much about the inner nature of God. I mentioned earlier that Islam has historically been more sceptical of philosophical theology as a path to God than has Christianity, and in fact the divine unity has been affirmed by Muslims on the basis of two supra-rational sources: the revelation of the Quran, and the unitive experience of the mystics and the saints. That God is ultimately One, and indivisible, is the conclusion of all higher mysticism, and Islam, as a religion of the divine unity par excellence, has linked faith with mystical experience very closely. An eighteenth century Bosnian mystic, Hasan Kaimi, expressed this in a poem which even today is chanted and loved by the people of Sarajevo:
O seeker of truth, it is your heart’s eye you must open.
Know the Divine Unity today, through the path of love for Him.
If you object: ‘I am waiting for my mind to grasp His nature’,
Know the Divine Unity today, through the path of love for Him.Should you wish to behold the visage of God,
Surrender to Him, and invoke His names,
When your soul is clear a light of true joy shall shine.
Know the Divine Unity today, through the path of love for Him.
In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Born in 1954 in the farm country of the northwestern United States, I was raised in a religious family as a Roman Catholic. The Church provided a spiritual world that was unquestionable in my childhood, if anything more real than the physical world around me, but as I grew older, and especially after I entered a Catholic university and read more, my relation to the religion became increasingly called into question, in belief and practice.
One reason was the frequent changes in Catholic liturgy and ritual that occurred in the wake of the Second Vatican Council of 1963, suggesting to laymen that the Church had no firm standards. To one another, the clergy spoke about flexibility and liturgical relevance, but to ordinary Catholics they seemed to be groping in the dark. God does not change, nor the needs of the human soul, and there was no new revelation from heaven. Yet we rang in the changes, week after week, year after year; adding, subtracting, changing the language from Latin to English, finally bringing in guitars and folk music. Priests explained and explained as laymen shook their heads. The search for relevance left large numbers convinced that there had not been much in the first place.
A second reason was a number of doctrinal difficulties, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, which no one in the history of the world, neither priest nor layman, had been able to explain in a convincing way, and which resolved itself, to the common mind at least, in a sort of godhead-by-committee, shared between God the Father, who ruled the world from heaven; His son Jesus Christ, who saved humanity on earth; and the Holy Ghost, who was pictured as a white dove and appeared to have a considerably minor role. I remember wanting to make special friends with just one of them so he could handle my business with the others, and to this end, would sometimes pray earnestly to this one and sometimes to that; but the other two were always stubbornly there. I finally decided that God the Father must be in charge of the other two, and this put the most formidable obstacle in the way of my Catholicism, the divinity of Christ. Moreover, reflection made it plain that the nature of man contradicted the nature of God in every particular, the limitary and finite on the one hand, the absolute and infinite on the other. That Jesus was God was something I cannot remember having ever really believed, in childhood or later.
Another point of incredulity was the trading of the Church in stocks and bonds in the hereafter it called indulgences. Do such and such and so-and-so many years will be remitted from your sentence in purgatory that had seemed so false to Martin Luther at the outset of the Reformation.
I also remember a desire for a sacred scripture, something on the order of a book that could furnish guidance. A Bible was given to me one Christmas, a handsome edition, but on attempting to read it, I found it so rambling and devoid of a coherent thread that it was difficult to think of a way to base one’s life upon it. Only later did I learn how Christians solve the difficulty in practice, Protestants by creating sectarian theologies, each emphasizing the texts of their sect and downplaying the rest; Catholics by downplaying it all, except the snippets mentioned in their liturgy. Something seemed lacking in a sacred book that could not be read as an integral whole.
Moreover, when I went to the university, I found that the authenticity of the book, especially the New Testament, had come into considerable doubt as a result of modern hermeneutical studies by Christians themselves. In a course on contemporary theology, I read the Norman Perrin translation of The Problem of the Historical Jesus by Joachim Jeremias, one of the principal New Testament scholars of this century. A textual critic who was a master of the original languages and had spent long years with the texts, he had finally agreed with the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann that without a doubt it is true to say that the dream of ever writing a biography of Jesus is over, meaning that the life of Christ as he actually lived it could not be reconstructed from the New Testament with any degree of confidence. If this were accepted from a friend of Christianity and one of its foremost textual experts, I reasoned, what was left for its enemies to say? And what then remained of the Bible except to acknowledge that it was a record of truths mixed with fictions, conjectures projected onto Christ by later followers, themselves at odds with each other as to who the master had been and what he had taught. And if theologians like Jeremias could reassure themselves that somewhere under the layers of later accretions to the New Testament there was something called the historical Jesus and his message, how could the ordinary person hope to find it, or know it, should it be found?
I studied philosophy at the university and it taught me to ask two things of whoever claimed to have the truth: What do you mean, and how do you know? When I asked these questions of my own religious tradition, I found no answers, and realized that Christianity had slipped from my hands. I then embarked on a search that is perhaps not unfamiliar to many young people in the West, a quest for meaning in a meaningless world.
I began where I had lost my previous belief, with the philosophers, yet wanting to believe, seeking not philosophy, but rather a philosophy.
I read the essays of the great pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer, which taught about the phenomenon of the ages of life, and that money, fame, physical strength, and intelligence all passed from one with the passage of years, but only moral excellence remained. I took this lesson to heart and remembered it in after years. His essays also drew attention to the fact that a person was wont to repudiate in later years what he fervently espouses in the heat of youth. With a prescient wish to find the Divine, I decided to imbue myself with the most cogent arguments of atheism that I could find, that perhaps I might find a way out of them later. So I read the Walter Kaufmann translations of the works of the immoralist Friedrich Nietzsche. The many-faceted genius dissected the moral judgments and beliefs of mankind with brilliant philological and psychological arguments that ended in accusing human language itself, and the language of nineteenth-century science in particular, of being so inherently determined and mediated by concepts inherited from the language of morality that in their present form they could never hope to uncover reality. Aside from their immunological value against total skepticism, Nietzsche’s works explained why the West was post-Christian, and accurately predicted the unprecedented savagery of the twentieth century, debunking the myth that science could function as a moral replacement for the now dead religion.
At a personal level, his tirades against Christianity, particularly in The Genealogy of Morals, gave me the benefit of distilling the beliefs of the monotheistic tradition into a small number of analyzable forms. He separated unessential concepts (such as the bizarre spectacle of an omnipotent deitys suicide on the cross) from essential ones, which I now, though without believing in them, apprehended to be but three alone: that God existed; that He created man in the world and defined the conduct expected of him in it; and that He would judge man accordingly in the hereafter and send him to eternal reward or punishment.
It was during this time that I read an early translation of the Qur’an which I grudgingly admired, between agnostic reservations, for the purity with which it presented these fundamental concepts. Even if false, I thought, there could not be a more essential expression of religion. As a literary work, the translation, perhaps it was Sales, was uninspired and openly hostile to its subject matter, whereas I knew the Arabic original was widely acknowledged for its beauty and eloquence among the religious books of mankind. I felt a desire to learn Arabic to read the original.
On a vacation home from school, I was walking upon a dirt road between some fields of wheat, and it happened that the sun went down. By some inspiration, I realized that it was a time of worship, a time to bow and pray to the one God. But it was not something one could rely on oneself to provide the details of, but rather a passing fancy, or perhaps the beginning of an awareness that atheism was an inauthentic way of being.
I carried something of this disquiet with me when I transferred to the University of Chicago, where I studied the epistemology of ethical theory how moral judgments were reached reading and searching among the books of the philosophers for something to shed light on the question of meaninglessness, which was both a personal concern and one of the central philosophical problems of our age.
According to some, scientific observation could only yield description statements of the form X is Y, for example, The object is red, Its weight is two kilos, Its height is ten centimeters, and so on, in each of which the functional was a scientifically verifiable is, whereas in moral judgments the functional element was an ought, a description statement which no amount of scientific observation could measure or verify. It appeared that ought was logically meaningless, and with it all morality whatsoever, a position that reminded me of those described by Lucian in his advice that whoever sees a moral philosopher coming down the road should flee from him as from a mad dog. For such a person, expediency ruled, and nothing checked his behavior but convention.
As Chicago was a more expensive school, and I had to raise tuition money, I found summer work on the West Coast with a seining boat fishing in Alaska. The sea proved a school in its own right, one I was to return to for a space of eight seasons, for the money. I met many people on boats, and saw something of the power and greatness of the wind, water, storms, and rain; and the smallness of man. These things lay before us like an immense book, but my fellow fishermen and I could only discern the letters of it that were within our context: to catch as many fish as possible within the specified time to sell to the tenders. Few knew how to read the book as a whole. Sometimes, in a blow, the waves rose like great hills, and the captain would hold the wheel with white knuckles, our bow one minute plunging gigantically down into a valley of green water, the next moment reaching the bottom of the trough and soaring upwards towards the sky before topping the next crest and starting down again.
Early in my career as a deck hand, I had read the Hazel Barnes translation of Jean Paul Sartres “Being and Nothingness”, in which he argued that phenomena only arose for consciousness in the existential context of human projects, a theme that recalled Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, where nature was produced by man, meaning, for example, that when the mystic sees a stand of trees, his consciousness hypostatizes an entirely different phenomenal object than a poet does, for example, or a capitalist. To the mystic, it is a manifestation; to the poet, a forest; to the capitalist, lumber. According to such a perspective, a mountain only appears as tall in the context of the project of climbing it, and so on, according to the instrumental relations involved in various human interests. But the great natural events of the sea surrounding us seemed to defy, with their stubborn, irreducible facticity, our uncomprehending attempts to come to terms with them. Suddenly, we were just there, shaken by the forces around us without making sense of them, wondering if we would make it through. Some, it was true, would ask Gods help at such moments, but when we returned safely to shore, we behaved like men who knew little of Him, as if those moments had been a lapse into insanity, embarrassing to think of at happier times. It was one of the lessons of the sea that in fact, such events not only existed but perhaps even preponderated in our life. Man was small and weak, the forces around him were large, and he did not control them.
Sometimes a boat would sink and men would die. I remember a fisherman from another boat who was working near us one opening, doing the same job as I did, piling web. He smiled across the water as he pulled the net from the hydraulic block overhead, stacking it neatly on the stern to ready it for the next set. Some weeks later, his boat overturned while fishing in a storm, and he got caught in the web and drowned. I saw him only once again, in a dream, beckoning to me from the stern of his boat.
The tremendousness of the scenes we lived in, the storms, the towering sheer cliffs rising vertically out of the water for hundreds of feet, the cold and rain and fatigue, the occasional injuries and deaths of workers these made little impression on most of us. Fishermen were, after all, supposed to be tough. On one boat, the family that worked it was said to lose an occasional crew member while running at sea at the end of the season, invariably the sole non-family member who worked with them, his loss saving them the wages they would have otherwise had to pay him.
The captain of another was a twenty-seven-year-old who delivered millions of dollars worth of crab each year in the Bering Sea. When I first heard of him, we were in Kodiak, his boat at the city dock they had tied up to after a lengthy run some days before. The captain was presently indisposed in his bunk in the stateroom, where he had been vomiting up blood from having eaten a glass uptown the previous night to prove how tough he was.
He was in somewhat better condition when I later saw him in the Bering Sea at the end of a long winter king crab season. He worked in his wheelhouse up top, surrounded by radios that could pull in a signal from just about anywhere, computers, Loran, sonar, depth-finders, radar. His panels of lights and switches were set below the 180-degree sweep of shatterproof windows that overlooked the sea and the men on deck below, to whom he communicated by loudspeaker. They often worked round the clock, pulling their gear up from the icy water under watchful batteries of enormous electric lights attached to the masts that turned the perpetual night of the winter months into day. The captain had a reputation as a screamer, and had once locked his crew out on deck in the rain for eleven hours because one of them had gone inside to have a cup of coffee without permission. Few crewmen lasted longer than a season with him, though they made nearly twice the yearly income of, say, a lawyer or an advertising executive, and in only six months. Fortunes were made in the Bering Sea in those years, before overfishing wiped out the crab.
At present, he was at anchor, and was amiable enough when we tied up to him and he came aboard to sit and talk with our own captain. They spoke at length, at times gazing thoughtfully out at the sea through the door or windows, at times looking at each other sharply when something animated them, as the topic of what his competitors thought of him. “They wonder why I have a few bucks”, he said. “Well I slept in my own home one night last year.”
He later had his crew throw off the lines and pick the anchor, his eyes flickering warily over the water from the windows of the house as he pulled away with a blast of smoke from the stack. His watchfulness, his walrus-like physique, his endless voyages after game and markets, reminded me of other predatory hunter-animals of the sea. Such people, good at making money but heedless of any ultimate end or purpose, made an impression on me, and I increasingly began to wonder if men didn’t need principles to guide them and tell them why they were there. Without such principles, nothing seemed to distinguish us above our prey except being more thorough, and technologically capable of preying longer, on a vaster scale, and with greater devastation than the animals we hunted.
These considerations were in my mind the second year I studied at Chicago, where I became aware through studies of philosophical moral systems that philosophy had not been successful in the past at significantly influencing peoples morals and preventing injustice, and I came to realize that there was little hope for it to do so in the future. I found that comparing human cultural systems and societies in their historical succession and multiplicity had led many intellectuals to moral relativism, since no moral value could be discovered which on its own merits was transculturally valid, a reflection leading to nihilism, the perspective that sees human civilizations as plants that grow out of the earth, springing from their various seeds and soils, thriving for a time, and then dying away.
Some heralded this as intellectual liberation, among them Emile Durkheim in his “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”, or Sigmund Freud in his “Totem and Taboo”, which discussed mankind as if it were a patient and diagnosed its religious traditions as a form of a collective neurosis that we could now hope to cure, by applying to them a thoroughgoing scientific atheism, a sort of salvation through pure science.
On this subject, I bought the Jeremy Shapiro translation of “Knowledge and Human Interests” by Jurgen Habermas, who argued that there was no such thing as pure science that could be depended upon to forge boldly ahead in a steady improvement of itself and the world. He called such a misunderstanding scientism, not science. Science in the real world, he said, was not free of values, still less of interests. The kinds of research that obtain funding, for example, were a function of what their society deemed meaningful, expedient, profitable, or important. Habermas had been of a generation of German academics who, during the thirties and forties, knew what was happening in their country, but insisted they were simply engaged in intellectual production, that they were living in the realm of scholarship, and need not concern themselves with whatever the state might choose to do with their research. The horrible question mark that was attached to German intellectuals when the Nazi atrocities became public after the war made Habermas think deeply about the ideology of pure science. If anything was obvious, it was that the nineteenth-century optimism of thinkers like Freud and Durkheim was no longer tenable.
I began to re-assess the intellectual life around me. Like Schopenhauer, I felt that higher education must produce higher human beings. But at the university, I found lab people talking to each other about forging research data to secure funding for the coming year; luminaries who wouldn’t permit tape recorders at their lectures for fear that competitors in the same field would go one step further with their research and beat them to publication; professors vying with each other in the length of their courses syllabuses. The moral qualities I was accustomed to associate with ordinary, unregenerate humanity seemed as frequently met with in sophisticated academics as they had been in fishermen. If one could laugh at fishermen who, after getting a boatload of fish in a big catch, would cruise back and forth in front of the others to let them see how laden down in the water they were, ostensibly looking for more fish; what could one say about the Ph.D.’s who behaved the same way about their books and articles? I felt that their knowledge had not developed their persons, that the secret of higher man did not lie in their sophistication.
I wondered if I hadn’t gone down the road of philosophy as far as one could go. While it had debunked my Christianity and provided some genuine insights, it had not yet answered the big questions. Moreover, I felt that this was somehow connected I didn’t know whether as cause or effect to the fact that our intellectual tradition no longer seemed to seriously comprehend itself. What were any of us, whether philosophers, fishermen, garbagemen, or kings, except bit players in a drama we did not understand, diligently playing out our roles until our replacements were sent, and we gave our last performance? But could one legitimately hope for more than this? I read “Kojves Introduction to the Reading of Hegel”, in which he explained that for Hegel, philosophy did not culminate in the system, but rather in the Wise Man, someone able to answer any possible question on the ethical implications of human actions. This made me consider our own plight in the twentieth century, which could no longer answer a single ethical question.
It was thus as if this century’s unparalleled mastery of concrete things had somehow ended by making us things. I contrasted this with Hegel’s concept of the concrete in his “Phenomenology of Mind”. An example of the abstract, in his terms, was the limitary physical reality of the book now held in your hands, while the concrete was its interconnection with the larger realities it presupposed, the modes of production that determined the kind of ink and paper in it, the aesthetic standards that dictated its color and design, the systems of marketing and distribution that had carried it to the reader, the historical circumstances that had brought about the readers literacy and taste; the cultural events that had mediated its style and usage; in short, the bigger picture in which it was articulated and had its being. For Hegel, the movement of philosophical investigation always led from the abstract to the concrete, to the more real. He was therefore able to say that philosophy necessarily led to theology, whose object was the ultimately real, the Deity. This seemed to me to point up an irreducible lack in our century. I began to wonder if, by materializing our culture and our past, we had not somehow abstracted ourselves from our wider humanity, from our true nature in relation to a higher reality.
At this juncture, I read a number of works on Islam, among them the books of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who believed that many of the problems of western man, especially those of the environment, were from his having left the divine wisdom of revealed religion, which taught him his true place as a creature of God in the natural world and to understand and respect it. Without it, he burned up and consumed nature with ever more effective technological styles of commercial exploitation that ruined his world from without while leaving him increasingly empty within, because he did not know why he existed or to what end he should act.
I reflected that this might be true as far as it went, but it begged the question as to the truth of revealed religion. Everything on the face of the earth, all moral and religious systems, were on the same plane, unless one could gain certainty that one of them was from a higher source, the sole guarantee of the objectivity, the whole force, of moral law. Otherwise, one man’s opinion was as good as another’s, and we remained in an undifferentiated sea of conflicting individual interests, in which no valid objection could be raised to the strong eating the weak.
I read other books on Islam, and came across some passages translated by W. Montgomery Watt from “That Which Delivers from Error” by the theologian and mystic Ghazali, who, after a mid-life crises of questioning and doubt, realized that beyond the light of prophetic revelation there is no other light on the face of the earth from which illumination may be received, the very point to which my philosophical inquiries had led. Here was, in Hegel’s terms, the Wise Man, in the person of a divinely inspired messenger who alone had the authority to answer questions of good and evil.
I also read A.J. Arberrys translation “The Qur’an Interpreted”, and I recalled my early wish for a sacred book. Even in translation, the superiority of the Muslim scripture over the Bible was evident in every line, as if the reality of divine revelation, dimly heard of all my life, had now been placed before my eyes. In its exalted style, its power, its inexorable finality, its uncanny way of anticipating the arguments of the atheistic heart in advance and answering them; it was a clear exposition of God as God and man as man, the revelation of the awe-inspiring Divine Unity being the identical revelation of social and economic justice among men.
I began to learn Arabic at Chicago, and after studying the grammar for a year with a fair degree of success, decided to take a leave of absence to try to advance in the language in a year of private study in Cairo. Too, a desire for new horizons drew me, and after a third season of fishing, I went to the Middle East.
In Egypt, I found something I believe brings many to Islam, namely, the mark of pure monotheism upon its followers, which struck me as more profound than anything I had previously encountered. I met many Muslims in Egypt, good and bad, but all influenced by the teachings of their Book to a greater extent than I had ever seen elsewhere. It has been some fifteen years since then, and I cannot remember them all, or even most of them, but perhaps the ones I can recall will serve to illustrate the impressions made.
One was a man on the side of the Nile near the Miqyas Gardens, where I used to walk. I came upon him praying on a piece of cardboard, facing across the water. I started to pass in front of him, but suddenly checked myself and walked around behind, not wanting to disturb him. As I watched a moment before going my way, I beheld a man absorbed in his relation to God, oblivious to my presence, much less my opinions about him or his religion. To my mind, there was something magnificently detached about this, altogether strange for someone coming from the West, where praying in public was virtually the only thing that remained obscene.
Another was a young boy from secondary school who greeted me near Khan al-Khalili, and because I spoke some Arabic and he spoke some English and wanted to tell me about Islam, he walked with me several miles across town to Giza, explaining as much as he could. When we parted, I think he said a prayer that I might become Muslim.
Another was a Yemeni friend living in Cairo who brought me a copy of the Qur’an at my request to help me learn Arabic. I did not have a table beside the chair where I used to sit and read in my hotel room, and it was my custom to stack the books on the floor. When I set the Qur’an by the others there, he silently stooped and picked it up, out of respect for it. This impressed me because I knew he was not religious, but here was the effect of Islam upon him.
Another was a woman I met while walking beside a bicycle on an unpaved road on the opposite side of the Nile from Luxor. I was dusty, and somewhat shabbily clothed, and she was an old woman dressed in black from head to toe who walked up, and without a word or glance at me, pressed a coin into my hand so suddenly that in my surprise I dropped it. By the time I picked it up, she had hurried away. Because she thought I was poor, even if obviously non-Muslim, she gave me some money without any expectation for it except what was between her and her God. This act made me think a lot about Islam, because nothing seemed to have motivated her but that.
Many other things passed through my mind during the months I stayed in Egypt to learn Arabic. I found myself thinking that a man must have some sort of religion, and I was more impressed by the effect of Islam on the lives of Muslims, a certain nobility of purpose and largesse of soul, than I had ever been by any other religions or even atheisms effect on its followers. The Muslims seemed to have more than we did.
Christianity had its good points to be sure, but they seemed mixed with confusions, and I found myself more and more inclined to look to Islam for their fullest and most perfect expression. The first question we had memorized from our early catechism had been Why were you created? to which the correct answer was To know, love, and serve God. When I reflected on those around me, I realized that Islam seemed to furnish the most comprehensive and understandable way to practice this on a daily basis.
As for the inglorious political fortunes of the Muslims today, I did not feel these to be a reproach against Islam, or to relegate it to an inferior position in a natural order of world ideologies, but rather saw them as a low phase in a larger cycle of history. Foreign hegemony over Muslim lands had been witnessed before in the thorough going destruction of Islamic civilization in the thirteenth century by the Mongol horde, who razed cities and built pyramids of human heads from the steppes of Central Asia to the Muslim heartlands, after which the fullness of destiny brought forth the Ottoman Empire to raise the Word of Allah and make it a vibrant political reality that endured for centuries. It was now, I reflected, merely the turn of contemporary Muslims to strive for a new historic crystallization of Islam, something one might well aspire to share in.
When a friend in Cairo one day asked me, Why don’t you become a Muslim?, I found that Allah had created within me a desire to belong to this religion, which so enriches its followers, from the simplest hearts to the most magisterial intellects. It is not through an act of the mind or will that anyone becomes a Muslim, but rather through the mercy of Allah, and this, in the final analysis, was what brought me to Islam in Cairo in 1977.
Is it not time that the hearts of those who believe should be humbled to the Remembrance of God and the Truth which He has sent down, and that they should not be as those to whom the Book was given aforetime, and the term seemed over long to them, so that their hearts have become hard, and many of them are ungodly? Know that God revives the earth after it was dead. We have indeed made clear for you the signs, that haply you will understand. (Qur’an 57:16-17)
Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, writing as Professor H. M. Léon, M.A., D.C.L., F.S.P., etc. (1916)
In the Numismatical department of the British Museum there is preserved a curious and interesting gold coin, over twelve hundred and thirty years old, on which is inscribed in unmistakable Arabic characters the declaration that ‘There is no Deity but Allah, The One, Without Equal, and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah,’ and the further declaration, engraved around the margin of the coin, ‘Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, Who sent him (Muhammad) with the doctrine and the true faith to prevail over every other religion.’
This coin was engraved, struck and issued by Offa, King of Mercia, or ‘Middle England’ (an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, which extended on both sides of the River Trent from the North Sea to Wales), from 757 to 796. The name, originally restricted to the district around Tamworth and Lichfield and the Upper Trent valley, refers to a ‘march,’ a moorland, or frontier, which had to be defended against hostile neighbours; in this case such ‘alien enemies’ being the Welsh, the ‘Ancient Britons,’ who for centuries contended with the Anglo-Saxon invaders for supremacy in that region.
A number of smaller states were gradually incorporated with Mercia, the first settlements being probably made during the second half of the sixth century of the Christian era. The kingdom was, however, of but little importance until the accession of Penda in 626 (C.D.), who rapidly, by his vigorous policy and equitable rule, attained a supremacy over the other kingdoms, particularly after his victory at Hatfield (or Heathfield) over Edin, the powerful Deiran king, in 633. In 655, however, Penda was defeated and slain at Winwaed by Oswin, king of Northumbria,  and for the time being Mercian supremacy was terminated. Wulfhere, the nephew of Penda (659-675), pushed back the Northumbrians, and extended the boundary of the kingdom southward to the Thames. Wulfhere was the first monarch of this kingdom to renounce paganism and embrace Christianity. One of his successors, Ethelbald (716-757), further spread the boundaries of Mercia, by making large encroachments upon the territories of adjoining states. But the mightiest kings of Mercia were Offa (757-796) and Cenwulf (806-819). After the death of the latter monarch the kingdom rapidly declined, and in 828 it was merged in the realm of Egbert, king of Wessex.
King Offa, in whose reign the interesting coin we have under consideration was struck, succeeded to the throne of Mercia in 757, he being the ninth monarch of that kingdom in succession from Wybba, the father of Penda (to whom allusion has previously been made). He found the kingdom much weakened, and probably the early years of his reign were occupied by him in restoring rule and order within his territory. In 771 he began a career of conquest: he defeated the army of the King of Kent in 775, and fought successfully against the West Saxons (779) and the Welsh. As a protection against these lattter marauders he constructed a great earthwork which extended along the whole border between England and Wales, from the north coast of Flintshire, on the estuary of the Dee, through Denbigh, Montgomery, Salop, Radnor and Hereford, into Gloucestershire, where its southern termination is near the mouth of the Wye. Portions of this rampart still stand to a considerable height, though much of it has been almost obliterated by the ravages of time, the elements, and human beings. A vast amount of labour must have been expended to construct this work. Nearly parallel with it, some two miles to the eastern or English side, is an inferior rampart termed Watt’s Dyke, which was also constructed by Offa and completed about 765 (C.D.). It is conjectured that the space between the two dykes may have been a species of neutral zone for trading purposes.
Offa had cordial relations with the Roman See. Two Legates, George and Theophylact, visited Mercia, and were received by the king at a court held at Lichfield in the year 786. The report which these ecclesiastics made to Pope Adrian I, attributed to 787, is printed in Birch’s Cart. Sax., No. 250. In this document there is direct reference to the vow made by King Offa to Pope Adrian I, through the Legates to send 365 mancuses to the ‘Apostle of God’ (i.e. the Pope), ‘as many as there are days in the year, as alms for the poor, and for the manufacture of lights for the church.’
This donation by Offa appears to have been the origin of what has ever since been known as ‘Peter’s Pence,’ and won from the Pope the grant of a Mercian archbishopric.
The importance of this grant by Offa will be hereafter seen, when we come to more particularly discuss the origin of the interesting coin we have now under consideration.
The coinage of the kingdom of Mercia appears to have been the most important of all the coin-striking kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The earliest Mercian coins are those which belong to the sceat class. These were usually of silver,  and weighed from eight to twenty grains.
These early Mercian sceattae bear the names of Penda and Ethelred. The coins of the former are of purely Roman types, but those of the latter show a mixture of Roman and native design, thus pointing to a somewhat later date. The inscriptions on Penda’s coins are in Roman and Runic characters, but those of Ethelred are in Runes (the ancient alphabet of the heathen Northmen) only.  The name of the king in each instance is given on the ‘reverse’ side of the coin.
From the death of Ethelred (704) to the reign of Offa (757-796), a period of over half a century, there are no numismatic records of Mercia.
Offa did not strike any sceattae, and his coins mainly consist of the ‘penny’ class. They were of silver and weighed from eighteen to twenty grains. It is believed that Offa was the first monarch to introduce the ‘penny’ into England. The form of this coin, but not the type, was derived from thedenier of Charlemagne. 
Offa’s coins of the ‘Penny series’ are remarkable for their artistic excellence both in execution and design, and in this respect far surpass the issues of many succeeding rulers. The types are not only numerous but varied. They can be classified into two series: those bearing the bust of the king, and those in which the bust is absent. The bust, when present, is original in character, and exhibits undoubted attempts at portraiture. The designs on the reverse of the coins are decidedly ornamental, and comprise for the most part elaborately formed crosses or floral patterns. The busts upon the coins are well formed, and the head bears a life-like expression, the hair being usually arranged in close curls or plaits, but in some of the specimens it is loose and flowing. The inscriptions are generally in Roman characters, but here and there traces of Runes survive. There are no indications of mint-names, but we may conclude that the principal Mercian mint was in London. The coins themselves, however, prove that after the defeat of the King of Kent and his army in 775, at Otford (about three miles north of Sevenoaks and eight-and-a-half miles north-north-west of Tunbridge, Kent), when Kent became a fief of Mercia, Offa made use of the Canterbury mint. 
The remarkable gold coin of Offa bearing the Arabic inscription has furnished much food for reflection amongst the students of numismatics, and it is generally conceded that it is one of the rarest and most remarkable coins in the world.
Many treatises and papers have been written upon the coin and its origin, and numerous theories propounded with regard to the same.
So far back as November 25, 1841, a paper by Monsieur Adrian de Longperier, of Paris, was read before the Numismatic Society of London  upon this very coin. Mr. J. Y. Akerman, in a paper read before the same society on March 24, 1842, and printed in the Numismatic Chronicle, vol. v. pp. 122-124, also considers the raison d’être of this coin being struck. It is referred to by Mr. Herbert A. Grueber, F.S.A., in his Handbook of theCoins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum (published 1899).  The coin is fully described in Kenyon’s Gold Coins of England, 1884, pp.11, 12, and is illustrated in the frontispiece to that work, Fig. 13. It was made the subject of an exhaustive and extremely interesting article by Mr. P.W.P. Carlyon-Britton, F.S.A., President of the British Numismatic Society,  and as recently as 1914 was the subject of an excellent paper by Mr. J. Allan, M.A. (British Museum Staff, Coin Department). 
The theories put forward by the above learned gentlemen, all of them well versed in numismatical lore, and by some other individuals, whose names are not so well known to fame, may be classified under the following heads:-
(1) That Offa had become a convert to Islam, and took this means of declaring his acceptance of that Faith by stamping the Kalima, or Islamic Confession of Faith, upon his coins.
(2) That, without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, possibly merely regarding them as so much ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck off, merely adding, in order to identify himself with the same, the words ‘Offa Rex’ stamped also thereupon.
(3) That, as many pilgrims proceeded from England to the ‘Holy Land’ of Palestine, then under the dominion of the Muslims, this coin was struck, bearing this Arabic inscription in order that it might be the more readily accepted by the Muslims, and thus facilitate the journey of the pilgrims are assist them in trading (which may of them did) in those lands.
(4) That the piece was not a coin intended for general circulation, but was struck specially as a mancus and as one of the quota of 365 gold pieces which Offa had vowed to pay annually to the Pope of Rome.
Undoubtedly something can be said in support of each of these theories, but in these matters one must carefully consider all the circumstances of the time and weigh the pros and cons upon the subject. The first theory, namely that Offa had accepted Islam, appears to me to be absolutely untenable. At that time Islam was naught more to the Western world than the absolutely living embodiment of ‘Anti-Christ.’ Its tenets were not only not understood, but were wickedly misrepresented, and it was this wilful misrepresentation of ‘The Faith Most Excellent,’ and the colossal ignorance and superstition of the mob, that made the series of crusades possible. Even to-day, twelve centuries after the passing away of Offa, the most profound ignorance exists among the masses as to Islamic doctrines and ethics. Is it then at all probable that Offa, who had petitioned the Pope to grant him an Archbishop for his kingdom, and had voluntarily vowed to pay 365 golden pieces each year to that pontiff (and we know from authentic documents and records that up to his death such tribute was regularly paid by Offa), and had received with open arms and the greatest honour the legates from Rome, should become a Muslim? At that period in the world’s history for Offa to have done so would have meant for him, not merely the loss of his throne, but probably his life also.
Most of his other coins are stamped with a cross and bear his bust! That is not very Islamic.
True that the cross may have been placed upon the coins, and deeply indented therein, so as to enable the same to have been the more easily divided into halves or quarters; but the cross is there, and we cannot conceive any ‘True-Believer’ placing such an emblem upon any coin issued by him.
Furthermore, after the conquest of Kent by Offa in 775, and the adding of that territory to his kingdom, we find the Archbishops of Canterbury acknowledging Offa (and subsequently his successor Coenwulf) as their overlord. This is amply proved by one of the coins struck by the Archbishops of Canterbury (who possessed the right of minting money) at that period.
Jaenberht (766-790) is the first Archbishop of Canterbury of whom coins are known. During his episcopate Offa conquered Kent, and as Jaenberht’s coins were struck under his supremacy, they always bear that ruler’s name on the reverse. The obverse types are a star, a cross potent or pommée, or the name of the archbishop in three lines only. The reverse is always the same with one exception, namely, with Offa’s name at the end of a cruciform object.
The next archbishop was Aethelheard (793-805); he was elected to that office in 791, but did not receive the pallium until 793. During this interval he appears to have struck coins with the title of Pontifex instead of Archiepiscopus. His early coins bear the name of Offa; but those struck after 796 that of Coenwulf. Those with the name of Offa have for obverse and reverse types:- a star, a cross, the Christian monogram, etc. 
Is it likely that these archbishops, whose territory had been conquered by Offa, who had set up a rival archbishop to them in his own dominions, would have put the name of Offa on their coins if he had accepted Islam? Rather would we not have seen them denouncing him as ‘an infidel,’ and rousing the populace in revolt against him and his rule?
The first theory therefore appears to be absolutely untenable.
Let us now consider the theory that without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, and possibly regarding them as pure ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck, adding the words ‘Offa Rex’ to the original superscription.
Mons. Adrian de Longperier inclines to this view. He says:-
‘However strange this piece may appear, it is yet susceptible of explanation. The faults of orthography to be traced in the legend, which is reversed in its position with the words OFFA REX, show that it is a copy of a Mussulman dinar, by a workman unacquainted with the Arabic language, and indeed ignorant of the fact of these characters belonging to any language whatsoever. Examples of a similar description of coin were put in circulation by the French bishops of Agde and Montpellier in the thirteenth century. In the present case, we cannot see an intentional adoption of a foreign language, as on the coins of Russia, Spain, Sicily, Georgia, and even Germany. On the moneys of Vassili Dimitrivitch, of Dmitri Imamvicht, on that of the Norman princes William and Roger, and the Mozarbic dinar of Alfonsus, we find Arabic legends appropriated to the very princes by whose commands they were struck. One silver piece of Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, bears on the reverse the name of the Khalif Moktader Billah-ben-Muhammad; but this is merely the result of an association between those princes.’ 
In support of the views of Mons. A. de Longperier, it is worth noticing that in later times there were issued by Christian princes coins having inscriptions partly in Roman and partly in Arabic characters, and some were issued by Crusaders with entirely Arabic inscriptions.
In Mr Carlyon-Britton’s paper upon this coin  he quotes five specimens of this description of coin, namely:-
(1) A gold coin of Alfonzo VIII, of Castile (1158-1214, Christian date), the Arabic inscription on the obverse side whereof reads thus: El Imam al- bay’ata el mesiahyata el Baba ALF. Bismiel ab Walibu wa errooh el kaddûs Allahoo wahido mam aman wa’ tamada yekdon salminan. The translation whereof if: ‘The pontiff of the church of the Messiah, the Pope. ALF. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’
The reverse side of the coin bears an inscription in Arabic of which the following is a translation: ‘Prince of the Catholics (Amir el Katolikin), Alfonso, son of Sancho. May God help and protect him.’ Around the margin of the coin we find this legend also in Arabic characters: ‘This dinar was struck in the city of Toledo, 1235 of (the era of) Assafar.’
The era of Assafar dates from 30 B.C., that being the date of the submission of Spain to the Romans, consequently the coin in question dates from the year 1197 of the Christian era.
The other coins exhibited by Mr Carlyon-Britton are:
(2) Silver ‘staurat’ drachma struck at St. Jean d’Acre about 1251 under Louis IX (1251-1259).
(3) Gold besant struck by Crusaders at St. Jean d’Acre in 1251.
(4) Early imitation by Crusaders of dinars of El Amir (Fatimite Khaliph from 1101 to 1130 C.D. = 494 to 524 Hegira), and attributed to the regency of Bohemund I of Antioch under Tancred.
(5) Imitation of a dinar of about the time of Hisham II (Hegira 400-403), independent Amawu Caliph in Spain. Found in Spain.
Of the above five coins, three of them (1 to 3) contain Christian inscriptions written in Arabic language and character; the latter two (4 and 5) are written in corrupted Arabic. No.4 has a small Maltese cross in the centre of the reverse side.
The third suggestion, namely that the coin was coined by Offa for the use of such of his subjects as made the pilgrimage to the ‘Holy Land,’ does not seem very probable. The number of such pilgrims, of necessity, would be limited to a comparative few, and the monarchs of those days, even if they were as pious as King Offa is stated to have been, were not distinguished for any particular solicitude for the comfort of their subjects. The majority of these rulers would rather grind out from their subjects the uttermost farthing they could extort, rather than go to the expense and trouble of providing special coins for their use while on a pilgrimage.
There remains, therefore, but the fourth proposition to consider, and here we find ourselves on much surer ground. We have already seen that Offa had made a vow that he would pay 365 gold pieces every year to the Pope, and that probably, in consideration of the faithful fulfilment of that vow, the occupant of the pontifical throne had bestowed an Archbishop upon Mercia. The exact date of Offa’s vow we do not know, but it may fairly be presumed that he made it to the two papal legates, George and Theophylact, who visited him in 786.
The date upon Offa’s coin now becomes extremely important.
The coin bears the date Hegira 157, equivalent to 774 of the Christian era. This date does not, however, prove that Offa’s coin was struck in that year (twelve years prior to the visit of the legates); but as the piece is manifestly a copy of an Arabic dinar of that year (Hegira 157), made by a person who did not understand Arabic (otherwise, why did he place the words OFFA REX in an inverted position to the Arabic characters), all that the date, 157 Hegira, demonstrates is that Offa’s coin was struck in, or, what is more probable, subsequently to the year 774 of the Christian era.
What appears to us to be the most probable origin of this coin is that when Offa made his vow, the question arose as to what was to be the size and weight of each of the 365 ‘gold pieces.’ In reply to such a query on the part of the king, who would naturally desire to know the exact extent of his liability, what would be more natural for one of the legates to hand Offa a coin, and say, ‘365 gold pieces like this’?
Arabic coins were well known at Rome. Countless pilgrims from the Holy Land passed through the Eternal City on their return from Palestine, many of whom laid offerings at the foot of the papal throne. It is fair to presume that amongst such offerings so made, that Arabic gold coins, then in free circulation in Syria, would be included, and high ecclesiastics, such as the legates, would easily become possessed of the same, and might preserve them as curiosities; or it may have been that, seeing that the Arab dinar was of a known weight and quality of gold, one of those coins was especially brought to England to fix thereby the standard and quality of ‘the gold pieces’ to be paid as tribute by Offa.
If such was the case, and Offa so received a sample coin, the Mercian king, according to the almost slavish superstitions of that period, would naturally desire to scrupulously perform his vow to the very letter, and to accomplish this object he would have the sample coin faithfully imitated and struck in his own mint, and stamped in addition with his own name and title, ‘OFFA REX,’ in order that no question could thereafter arise as to the exact fulfilment of the vow in regard to the species of coin promised, or as to the identity of the sender of the contribution. That Offa did keep his promise is certain, for in the papal letter sent in 798 by Pope Leo III to Offa’s successor, King Coenwulf, requesting that monarch to continue the donation, it is distinctly so stated.  It may, therefore, be reasonably presumed that Offa’s coin was struck about 787, and was one of the 365 gold pieces sent to Rome in pursuance of his vow.
It is significant to know that this particular coin – so far as we know, the only one now extant – was purchased by a certain Duke de Blacas, an enthusiastic numismatist, in Rome, about a century ago.
No similar coin has been found in England. All this goes to show that the coin was not struck to be put into circulation in England, but was coined for a special purpose, such probably being the payment by Offa of the promised tribute to Rome.
If such be the case, then what bitter irony, unconsciously, accompanied the gift! One of the claims of the Head of the Catholic Christian is that he is the ‘Apostle of God,’ and the ‘Vice-regent of Christ upon the earth.’ Yet, here to his teeth his faithful servitor, Offa, sends as a tribute 365 golden coins, on each of which is plainly stated: There is but One Allah, the Only God, the True, and Muhammad is His Prophet!
Well might Cowper write the lines:
‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’!
 This was the period when England was divided into what was termed the Heptarchy, or seven kingdoms. These were: Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. So far as is known, only the first five kingdoms named above struck coins.
 The origin of the Runic writing has been a matter of prolonged controversy. The runes were formerly supposed to have originated out of the Phoenician or the Latin letters, but it is now generally agreed that they must have been derived, about the sixth century B.C., from an early form of the Greek alphabet which was employed by the Milesian traders and colonists of Olbia and other towns on the northern shores of the Black Sea. The Runic alphabet (the oldest of which contained 24 runes, divided into 3 families, each of 8 runes) is called the Futhorc, from the first six letters thereof, f, u, th, o, r, c. The old Norse word run originally meant ‘secret’ or magical. The oldest extant Runic records probably date from the first century of the Christian era, the latest from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century; the greater number are older than the eleventh century, when, after the conversion of the Scandinavians to Christianity, the Futhorc was superseded by the Latin alphabet.
 The letters £ s. d., which are used as abbreviations for pounds, shillings, and pence, owe their origin to certain Latin words used to denote coins. Thus £ signifies libra, a pound sterling; s signifies solidus. The Romans divided their coinage thus: one libra equaled 20 solidi, each solidus being equal to 12denarii (the denarius thus being, as the modern English penny is to-day, the 240th part of the libra or pound); d signifies denarius, a penny, a word derived from the Latin deni, ten each, from decem, ten. The denarius was the principal silver coin of ancient Rome. The earliest money of Rome was of bronze, and the standard was the as. In 269 B.C. the as was fixed by law at a low valuation, and a silver coin was introduced, with the denarius = to 10 asses, and thequinarius = to 5 asses. The penny (Anglo-Saxon, penig; German, Pfenning, Pfennig) probably derives its name from the Middle Latin word panna, itself derived from the Latina, patina, a shallow bowl. After the sceattae the penny is the most ancient of the English coins, and was the only one current among the Anglo-Saxons. It is first mentioned in the laws of Ina, King of the West Saxons, about the close of the seventh century of the Christian era. It was at that time a silver coin, and weighed about 22.5 troy grains. Halfpence and farthings were not coined in England until the reign of Edward I., but the practice previously prevailed of so deeply indenting the penny with a cross mark that the coin could be easily broken into two or four parts as was required. In 1672 an authorized copper coinage was established in England and halfpence and farthings were struck in copper. The penny was not introduced until 1797, and at the same period the coinage of two-penny pieces was begun; but these latter being found unsuitable were withdrawn. The penny of the present bronze coinage is of only half the value of the old copper coin.
 In Anglo-Saxon times mints for the coinage of money existed at London, Canterbury, and Malmesbury, and coins are extant bearing the names Dorovernis (Canterbury), Londuni(London), and Mealldenus (Malmesbury), showing the place where they were struck.
Lecture by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Effendi.
On Sunday evening last His Honour the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles (Abdullah Quilliam Effendi) delivered a lecture at the Liverpool Mosque, his subject being ‘The Jews Under Christian Rule.’ Brother J. Bokhari Jeffery presided, and there was a large attendance.
The Sheikh in the course of his lecture said:- During the Muslim occupation of Spain the Jew shared every advantage with the Mussulman, but when the Christian arms had become victorious and the Moors had retired across the Straits of Gibraltar, the Jew found he had changed masters, and certainly not to his advantage. To avoid persecution many Jews nominally professed Christianity, albeit they remained Jews at heart, and in secret clung to their ancient faith. To search out and punish these pseudo-Christians that most dreadful engine of torture and oppression, the Inquisition, was devised. The horrors of that dreadful tribunal are almost beyond human language to portray, and no human fancy could imagine more terrible persecution and instruments of torture than those devised and used by the Christian monks under Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor.
At first the situation of the Jews who had not apostatised was preferable to that of those who had professed Christianity, but the flame of fanaticism, diligently fanned by the priests, suddenly burst into a furious blaze, and in the year 1492 a decree was passed that all Jews must leave Spain. Queen Isabella was completely under priestly influence, and readily assented to the scheme, but Ferdinand, her husband, through motive of policy rather than humanity, long hesitated to put the decree in force. When at last, the dread edict had gone forth, Arbanel, a Jew of the highest position and worth, a man regarded almost as a second Daniel for his authority among his own race, and the respect he had gained from the oppressors of his nation, managed, like Esther of old, to penetrate into the presence of the sovereigns, and cast himself at their feet before the royal throne. With all the eloquence he could command, he implored that his people might not be driven forth from the land they had so long occupied, and offered a bribe of 300,000 ducats, that the decree might be recalled. Ferdinand appeared to be relenting, when suddenly into the royal presence strode the gloomy form of Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor, clothed in his monkish robe, and wearing a crucifix. Giving a contemptuous glance at the Jew, and a haughty look at the abashed rulers, he held aloft the crucifix, with its figure of Christ attached thereto. ‘Judas Iscariot,’ he said, in tones of biting sarcasm, ‘sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, but the price has gone up, and I see you are ready to sell him for 300,000. Here he is; take him and sell him.’ The appeal to religious bigotry was successful, the Jew’s offer was refused, and the stern edict against the children of Israel remained.
The story of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is one of the most touching episodes in the history of a race. The Hebrews, under Muslim rule, had come to love Spain as a second Canaan, and even after enduring years of persecution under their Christian rulers, they still loved its soil and were loath to leave it. They visited the graves where the corpses of their ancestors were mouldering in the dust, and with tears and lamentations bade them a long farewell. Sometimes they removed the tombstones, and carried them with them in their wanderings, so that the hand of the Gentile should not put them to a base use after their departure.
Along every highway which led to the coast proceeded a melancholy procession of Jewish people, with downcast eyes and heavy hearts, bearing with them such portion of their worldly wealth as they were able to carry away. Bands of Christian robbers lurked along the roads to attack them and deprive them of such gold or other valuables as they possessed, and many who had been among the richest in the land reached the seaports little better than penniless wanderers. No Christian nation would receive them, and alone among the nations of the world the Ottoman Turk welcomed them and gave them shelter and protection.
In Portugal also the Jews reaped their full measure of woe. Not only was the order given for the expulsion of the Jews, but, to add to their bitterness, their children were taken from them to be baptised and brought up as Christians, until at last the Hebrew mothers in despair cast their babes into rivers and wells, and then slew themselves.
The stories of massacres of the Jews in both Spain and Portugal seem almost incredible, but are, alas, too true. The Israelite historian Graetz, in his great work of eleven volumes, ‘Geschichte des Judenthums,’ thus portrays the sufferings of his race: ‘Spain was full of the corruption of dungeons and the crackling pyres of innocent Jews. A lamentation went through the beautiful land which might pierce bone and marrow; but the sovereigns held back the arm of the pitiful.’
‘Let the Christian, if he dare, attempt to justify such conduct,’ exclaimed the Sheikh in his peroration. ‘The garments of the Christian are red with the blood of the martyred Jew, but, praise be to God, the robes of the Muslim are spotless as the new fallen snow in this particular.’