Having set out the basics of Islam (more thoroughly and clearly than I have seen done elsewhere), Durie moves on to the main part of the book, an examination of what Islam means for non-Muslims. Part of how Islam defines itself is against other faiths and their followers: particularly Christians and Christianity and Jews and Judaism. People are graded according to their submission to Islam. In Durie's words:
Islamic legal terminology makes reference to four different religious categories:So Muslims are committed to the idea that the perfect Qur’an is being truthful when it makes a claim that is not true, since Judaism claims no such thing about Ezra.
1. First and foremost there are genuine Muslims.
2. Then there is another category called hypocrites, who are renegade Muslims.
3. Idolators were the dominant category among Arabs before Muhammad appeared. The word for ‘idolator’ is mushrik, which literally means ‘associater’. These are people who commit shirk ‘association’ (from which the word mushrik is derived), which means saying that anyone or anything is like Allah.
4. The ‘People of the Book’ are a subcategory of mushrik. This category includes Christians and Jews. They must be considered mushrik, because the Quran names both Christians and Jews as being guilty of shirk ‘association’ for claiming that Allah has a son:The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the Son of Allah’;
the Christians say ‘The Messiah is the Son of Allah.’(Q9:30) (Pp44-5).
Islam is regarded as the original and eternally true revelation. One that was given to Jews and Christians as well, but they distorted it and have strayed from the path. Muhammad was Allah’s gift to Christians and Jews to correct their misunderstandings. Hence, according to the Qur’an, genuine Jews and Christians will become Muslims (Q3:199). While both Jews and Christians are treated negatively in the Qur’an, the Jews fare worse. Either way, Durie writes:
Condemnation is manifested in key theological claims, and incorporated into the daily prayers of every observant Muslim (p.45)As Islamic commentary makes quite clear (Pp46-7).
Durie summarises the Qur’anic theology of non-Muslims in a series of propositions:
1. Christian and Jews who cling to their errors and fail to submit to Islam will go to hell (Q98:6).
2. Muslims are superior to other people and have the role of instructing them (Q3:110).
3. Islam’s destiny is to rule over all other religions (Q48:28).
4. To achieve this ascendancy, Muslims have to fight against Jews and Christians until they are defeated and humbled (Q9:29).
5. In the end-times, Christianity and Judaism will be destroyed (hadith).
6. There are also a range of (highly negative) theological claims about Jews (Pp47-9).
What this means for the attitudes and behaviour of individual Muslims will vary widely yet treatment of non-Muslims keeps returning to these Islamic foundations. In particular, Shar’ia requires an Islamized society: the consensus of Muslim scholars for centuries (p.49).
This flows from the nature of Muhammad as exemplar:
The simple theological explanation is that in his person Muhammad combined religious, political, juridical and military authority for the early Islamic community, and since Muhammad’s example is the best example, making no distinction between religion and politics has become normative for all Muslims (p.50).Hence orthodox Islam has always taught that Shar’ia should be the basis of the state: something most Muslims still believe:
From this perspective, Islam is not just a religion, but a total way of life for a nation (p.50)Which means that Islam does not conform to the standard Western notion of a religion, given that the religions Westerners have most experience with (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism) do not make such claims. Islam needs to be seen in its own terms, not as we might complacently project onto it.
Of course, the mullahocracy of Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Sudan and Saudi Arabia—the most emphatic modern examples of trying to make Shar’ia the basis of society—are hardly model societies. Yet there is a strong strain of contemporary Islamic thought which argues that Islam—and specifically Shar’ia rule—will solve the problems of modernity. The salafi claim that what is needed is to get back to the original forms of Islam, rejecting “human accretions” in the traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence, Durie is deeply sceptical of as a practical project, arguing it will either fail or create more of the same “human accretions” (Pp50-51).
One of the profound differences between Christianity and Islam is that the Gospels are a “public truth”, able to be read in an afternoon. The exemplary life of Muhammad, by contrast, is much more scattered in sources and usually requires literacy in classical Arabic. Which means that Muslims are highly dependant on religious scholars for basic details of their religion. Durie points out that there is a tendency to sanitize aspects of Muhammad’s life in the derivative sources. Often, Muslims themselves are ignorant of details and react with shock and denial when they are publicised: this without direct spreading of disinformation, such as highly selective presentations of Muhammad’s relations with non-believers (Pp52ff).
Durie spends considerable effort detailing how Islam has (to use my term) an instrumental morality. That is, advancing submission to Allah is the overriding goal, so actions that facilitate that—including deception—are lawful. Durie makes it clear that deceptive behaviour towards non-Muslims is a recurring pattern and sanctioned by Islam (Pp56ff). As he points out, such a “utilitarian” ethic about truth-telling and lying is ethically damaging in its consequences (Pp8-9). A concern for truth not only connects one to how reality is, it creates a basis for common criteria of judgement. If truth as a norm is systematically sacrificed to some “higher goal”, there is no arbiter but power.
When Aristotelianism defeated its opponents in Latin Christendom and Judaism, the principle that truth is a criteria not properly sacrificed to the precepts of religion was also established. This has all sorts of consequences, not least of which is that the world can be investigated in its own terms: a necessary notion for science. But in Islam, Aristotelianism was defeated: so Islam acknowledges no basis for judgement outside itself—a reflection of both its whole-of-life nature and submission as its fundamental mode. This makes Islam’s interaction with others profoundly problematic since, even though Muslims may in practice (or even in belief), acknowledge such bases for judgement, it is always, in strict Islamic terms, an act of “bad faith” to do so.
The logic of belief versus that of believers
Durie wrestles with the distinction between Islam as a religion and what particular Muslims believes. Islam is a whole-of-life religion with a complex set of sources, hence the prolific nature of fatwa and the popularity of Islamic information websites. There are also Islamic teachings that are problematic in modern Western societies or otherwise awkward or embarrassing. Given the overriding need to present a positive image of Islam to promote submission to Allah, patterns of selective dissemination, or even active dissembling, develop aided by historical myths (such as the “golden age of Al-Andalus) and justified by the doctrine of lawful deception: processes that also affect Muslims leading to complex and uncertain patterns of belief and denial (Pp70ff).
Durie uses the case of female “circumcision” (i.e. female genital mutilation) and debates within Islam over it to examine the complex patterns involved. The Shafi’i school holds female genital mutilation to be obligatory, the other schools merely permitted: i.e. meritorious but not required. Durie notes the four responses typical of such debate: canonical support, canonical reform, simple denial, appeal to external criteria. These complexities mean that non-Muslims need to pay careful attention if they are to understand rather than being either credulously positive (“of course female genital mutilation has nothing to do with Islam”) or negative (“all Muslims support it”). Openness and careful attention to the truth is what Durie holds to be required (Pp74-7).
Having spent four chapters setting up the analytical structure, Durie then spends the next four chapters on the issue of Islam’s attitude and schema to non-Muslims. Starting, as one must, with the canonical example of Muhammad, whose interaction with non-believers Durie categorises as beginning and ending with rejection: the rejection Muhammad received and the rejection he ended up imposing on others (p.81). Durie notes the scholarly debate over the historical Muhammad but passes over it since his concern is with the theological construct of Islam: that is, the canonical teachings about the Prophet’s life which are the basis for Islamic doctrine and belief, not whether they are accurate renditions of the original events (p.82).
Durie takes the reader quickly through Muhammad’s family history, which had various painful elements (being orphaned, becoming a dependant poor relation, suffering hostility from more wealthier family members, having all his sons die young). At the age of 40, Muhammad began to have visions from the angel Jibril (Gabriel) that caused him great distress, but his older (and wealthy) wife Khadijah comforted him while her Christian cousin Waraqa declared him a prophet. Khadijah, followed by his young cousin Ali (who had been raised in Muhammad household) became his first converts.
After three years of secrecy, Muhammad began to preach openly. His tribe listened until he began to disparage their gods. Still, his preaching spread: mainly among the poor and dispossessed. At this stage, Muslims were a despised minority with only a few powerful defenders. Various travails followed which Muhammad turned into marks of authenticity, including the notion that God had chosen (in order) his people (the Arabs), his tribe (the Quraysh), his clan (the Banu Hashim) and him (p.88).
Deprived of protectors within the tribal system, Muhammad sought them elsewhere, eventually finding them when people from Medina asked him to lead their community, promising to accept his message of monotheism. Muhammad only accepted when they agreed a year later to fight on his behalf (Pp89-90). Durie points out that, even during the “peaceful” 10 years in Mecca, Muhammad used virulent rhetoric against those who rejected his message and foreshadowed his later “turn to the sword” (Pp91ff). This makes his holding out for military pledges more consistent. It is at this point the Islamic rhetoric about winners and losers begins to emerge (Pp95-6). As well as what Durie calls the ‘fitna worldview’ where Muslims are to fight until there is no persecution or slander (fitna) of Islam: it is at this point the theology of jihad is established with the aim of making submission to God, and so Islam and the Muslim community, universally dominant and so ultimately successful (Pp96ff).
From his Medinan power base, Muhammad waged war to establish submission to Allah, with verses extending the ambit of jihad until Muhammad eventually confronted all pagan Arabs with the choice of submission or the sword. In doing so, he abandoned various customary limitations on war (Pp100-1), becoming the first ruler to unite Arabia. Muhammad had former enemies killed when captured—particularly those who had mocked him personally or had left Islam—and mocked the bodies of those slain in battle against him (Pp101ff).
Durie points out the breadth of the doctrine of fitna such that anyone who opposes, criticises or contradicts Islam can be deemed guilty of fitna and so be targets of jihad (p.103). Muhammad also claimed the warrant of Allah to break a treaty he signed with Mecca, a city he proceeded to conquer on the grounds that they had breached the treaty (Pp103ff). The instrumental morality of Islam, where submission to Allah is the goal that justifies any action that advances it, is clearly in evidence.
The Medinan suras include description of non-believers as those who would seduce Muslims from their faith hence the injunction of enmity to unbelievers (Q60), thereby breaking the treaty they had signed with Mecca. Later, Muhammad attacked and conquered Mecca on the grounds they had broken the treaty: this established the canonical view that non-Muslims are inherently pact-breakers but Muslims can break any treaty if it advances Islam (Pp104-5).
The Meccan suras contain few references to Jews, mainly presenting Muhammad’s message as a blessing to them given he held himself to be completing their line of prophets. The original arrangement in Medina was one of mutual protection between Jews and Muslims. The Medinan rabbis are reported by the Qur’an to have pestered Muhammad with questions, who produced new revelations (i.e. Qur’anic verses) in response: one of his standard claims being they were deceivers who had distorted (or even falsified) the original message. One of the original biographers of Muhammad treats this questioning as fitna, an attempt to undermine Islam (Pp106-7).
Muhammad’s response to this questioning rejection was increasingly hostile. The Qur’anic verses against Jews become more and more severe and abusive of the Jews as deceiving, non-believers losers who had forsaken true guidance. Islam was both the first and final religion, Muhammad’s coming had not only abrogated Judaism, his message was what had always the true religion of Allah, the religion of Abraham. As Durie points out, Muhammad’s self-validation against Jewish questioning was total (Pp107ff).
Muhammad besieged the Jewish Qaynuqa for rejecting Islam, who surrendered unconditionally. A Muslim who was friendly with them interceded for them: a Quranic verse against being friends with Jews followed shortly thereafter (p.110).
There followed targeted assassinations against various Medinan Jews, then an injunction to kill Jews who fell into the hands of Muslims:
A profound shift had taken place in Muhammad’s understanding. Non-Muslims had rights to their property and lives only if they supported and honoured Islam and Muslims. Anything else was fitna, and a pretext for fighting (p.111).Muhammad declared that the Earth belonged to Allah and his Apostle (and, by subsequent extension, to the people of Allah and his Prophet), it was by accepting Islam that you could be safe. The caliph ‘Umar, for example, was reported to have declared the conquered lands of Syria and Palestine as property that God had restored to the Muslims (p.111).
Muhammad then turned on the remaining Jewish tribes in turn. The Banu Nadir were attacked and driven out of Medina, their property being confiscated. The Qurayza were besieged and, after they surrendered unconditionally, the men were beheaded (600-900 according to varying accounts, except a few who converted) and their women and children distributed to the Muslims. Muhammad then attacked the Jews of Khaybar, who were given a choice of convert or die. After their defeat, they were provided with a third choice: conditional surrender thereby becoming the first dhimmis. Since Jews and Christians were both “people of the Book”, this treatment of Jews became the model for treating Christians also (Pp112-3).
Durie argues that the theology of fitna has created an enduring pattern of Muslims insisting on their greater victimhood (Pp113-4). Since criticising or rejecting Islam is worse than killing unbelievers, this is a game Muslims can always win: the point is the pattern of continually playing it.
Durie analyses Muhammad’s career as one of him responding to rejection by imposing even greater rejection on others. This theology of rejection (and of dominance) became the basis of the Islamic theology towards unbelievers: one that insisted on imposing on non-believers silence (no criticism of Islam), guilt (for rejecting the Prophet and his message) and gratitude (for being exposed to the message of, and able to live under, the rule of the people of Allah) (Pp114-6). All of this:
… can be grounded in the evolution of Muhammad’s own responses to rejection, and his violent and ideologically comprehensive imposition of failure and rejection upon all who refused to confess, ‘I believe there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet’ (p.116).
This review will be concluded in my next post.