by Rahhalah Haqq (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1416)
Subverting Islam: The Role of Orientalist Centres by Dr Ahmad Ghorab, (Minerva Press, London, 1995).
Dr Ahmad Ghorab is to be commended for his fine book, Subverting Islam: The Role of Orientalist Centres. His courage and forthright honesty is an inspiration for concerned Muslims in search of the truth. He has succeeded in identifying an important front in the current Euro-American crusade against the Islamic movement: the formation of an anti-Muslim network of institutions and scholars marching under the banner of `Islamic Studies'.
In his insider expose' of `Islamic Studies,' Dr Ghorab demonstrates how the new school of thought derives legitimacy by employing compliant Muslim scholars and professors, such as Ja'afar Sheikh Idris, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Abdullah and Akbar Ahmed, to name just a few. Christian missionaries and professors, such as Bishop Kenneth Cragg, Rev. Montgomery Watt and John Esposito, are, as Dr Ghorab shows, always close at hand to guide verious `Islamic Studies' programmes . Dr Ghorab also exposes the Saudi role in funding such programmes, both in the Muslim world and in various European and American academic institutions.
Dr Ghorab provides a detailed discussion of the Oxford Centre for `Islamic Studies,' and also mentions other institutions with similar programmes, such as the Hartford Seminary, College of the Holy Cross, or Princeton University. By naming people and places subverting Islam, Dr Ghorab has done a great service for the Islamic movement. Muslims who are considering attending these institutions or consulting with these scholars should first study Dr Ghorab's book carefully. Many additional books can, and should, be written about the numerous `Islamic Studies' programmes proliferating in western academic institutions. This is especially urgent, since some Muslim-run schools, such as the Institute of Islamic Thought in Malaysia, hire their faculties almost exclusively from western universities.
Columbia University in New York City, fits Dr Ghorab's description of a centre for subverting Islam. While there is no department of Islamic Studies per se, Islam is the focus of various components within the Departments of Middle East Languages and Cultures (MELAC), Religion, Music, and, Anthropology, as well as the Middle East Institute. Though staffed primarily by Jews and Christians, there are also a few Muslim professors on hand for good measure. While the student body is one-third Jewish, some Muslim students take their degrees from Columbia, a few in MELAC. However, MELAC is especially popular with new or weak Muslims who hope to increase their faith or learn more about their religion and history by taking a few courses in the Department.
MELAC houses primarily language programmes, offering courses on Islam as they relate to the study of classic texts. The faculty includes Maan Madina, Hamid Dabashi, George Saliba, and Jeanette Wakin. A product of the American University in Beirut, Madina is an Arab secular-nationalist and uses his Arabic language courses to promote the works of Taha Husayn, Ali Abdul Raziq, and Michel Aflaq (The latter founded the Ba'ath party and was a mentor of Saddam. Madina is an avid collector of Islamic art, and occasionally offers courses in affiliation with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. To him, Islam is a vestige of the Arab past, to be revised by western scholars or curated in museums.
Waken offers courses on Islamic texts. Although teaching at Columbia for many years, she apparently has no Ph.D; her academic legitimacy comes from being a student of Joseph Schacht, the notorious orientalist who sought to discredit the shari'ah on the grounds that it was time-bound and irrevelant to modern society. Wakin ascribes to this belief, as well as to Schacht's other `great contribution' to Islamic Studies, his insistence that the hadith are all fabricated and therefore unrliable as sources! Wakin's courses, also disguised as language study, are carefully focused attacks on the foundation of Islamic civilization.
Many of the students who study languages at Columbia do so either to train for the Israeli Mossad or the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). American students with mediocre grades, but who desire such careers, get scholarships to continue studying in places like the American University in Cairo or Robert College in Turkey. MELAC students also include Muslims training to serve American officialdom; one Jordanian-American Muslim student admitted he was mastering Arabic so he could pass a US State department examination. Politically motivated language study disguised as `cultural' studies gives this department its legitimacy, and guarantees a continuous line of funding.
MELAC offers more than language courses. Saliba deals with Islamic sciences, ascribing to Hans Kung's school of thought and assigning books like John Burton's Collection of the Qur'an which attacks the validity of the Qur'an as the word of God. Dabashi is a disgruntled Iranian who harbors animosity toward Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Like other professors, he teaches Islamic literature and philosophy through the prism of western tradition, as noted by Dr Ghorab: 1) denying the validity of revelation; 2) ignoring the reliability of Islamic sources; 3) refusing to promote Islam as anything other than an object of academic study; 4) avoiding any personal commitment to Islam.
At Columbia, political studies of Islam are the task of the Middle East Institute, a part of the University's school of International and Public Affairs, which is a recruiting front for the CIA. The Institute houses orientalist historians like Richard Bulliet, as well as a number of zionists. It has a siege mentality toward the Islamic movement and is obsessed with discrediting Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Its past directors include Linda S Walbridge, an American Baha'i scholar specializing in Muslims of the US, and whose husband, also a scholar of `Islamic Studies,' is currently editing the encyclopedia of Baha'ism.
One expects to find this in departments whose stated goals are to study Islam and the Middle East. However, other departments at Columbia are also staffed with like-minded people. For example, the Division of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Music is headed by Dieter Christensen, who has a long and questionable history of studying the Islamic world, including work in Iran under the despised Shah. He now has a magic carpet to Oman, invited by Sultan Qaboos annually since 1985. Qaboos hires western scholars to advise him on Muslim cultural policy, and Christensen runs the Centre for Traditional Music in Muscat.
In his seminars at Columbia, Christensen - who doesn't know a word of Arabic - presents Islam as a hindrance for academic study, often complaining about `extremist' Omani Muslims who take too many breaks for prayers, or how Ramadhan disrupts his research schedule. At the same time, he gleefully boasts of swilling beer with `modern' Omanis. He also edits the Yearbook for Traditional Music, which zionist and anti-Muslim scholars use to attack Islam and curate Muslim cultures. Christensen probably has links to American, German and Israeli Intelligence agencies, and has a record of advising graduate students whose research in the Muslim workd and elsewhere is linked to missionary activities.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Columbia reflects `Islamic Studies' in practice. During the early 1990s, its president was a Jewish convert to Islam (who has reportedly now changed his mind). A model `moderate' Muslim, he was a student in the Department of Religion, which projects Islam as a violent antithesis to Buddhism, the preferred religion for this department's faculty. During his reign as MSA chief, it seemed that the campus rabbi had more power in the MSA than Muslims. For example, when the regular room for Jum'ah was double-booked one Friday - despite advance requests by the MSA - some Muslims suggested praying on the sidewalk in protest, since this had occurred in the past as well whenever another group needed space. After consulting his rabbi, the MSA chief intervened and arranged for Muslims to pray in the dungeon-like basement of the campus church!
Like most other MSA chapters, the one at Columbia also answers to the Saudis. In 1992 when Saudi ambassador Bandar bin Sultan offered to join hands with a group of zionists to commemorate the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, MSA-central in Indiana quickly called for implementation of this plan on its satellite campuses. When some Muslim students at Columbia suggested inviting Dr T B Irving, a Muslim scholar of Islamic Spain, the Jewish student protested, claiming that he was an `extremist' and an `anti-Semite,' the latter a zionist euphemism for anyone who questions Israeli supremacy. The programme was subsequently cancelled, after the Saudis and the zionists could not secure a `moderate' speaker.
These and other stories need to be heard and often. Dr Ghorab has correctly identified many of the allegiances and dynamics found within `Islamic Studies' programmes. In fact, similar `Islamic Studies' agendas can be found in many different organizations outside academia. Given all this, it seems incumbent upon concerned Muslims who are affiliated with any of these institutions or organizations to take Dr Ghorab's initiative and help expose the programmes in their own areas.
Much work along these lines needs to be done in the US, the base of what Syed Qutb called `American Islam.' In the US, people like Esposito are revered as Islamic scholars by several Muslim organizations. As Dr Ghorab points out, Esposito was invited by the Saudis as far back as 1983, when he suggested establishing an institute for `Islamic Studies' in the US. Since then, Shaykh Esposito has had stints on the advisory boards of American Muslim organizations, most recently the American Muslim Council, sharing the latter distinction with other `Islamic Studies' mainstays, including Hassan Hathout and Ali Mazrui. The ubiquitous Ja'afar Sheikh Idris also appears at AMC functions.
The American Muslim Council (AMC) needs to be investigated for ties to the Saudis and official Islam in places like Egypt, as well as for its connections wiht US government agencies and corporations. Its debut was in June 1990, only two months after board member Hathout attended a Saudi-sponsored conference in Riyadh, according to Dr Ghorab. The first AMC newsletter came out in the fall of 1990, at a time when the Saudis were building Muslim support for the murderous American oil war against Iraq.
One of the stated policy goals of the AMC is to entangle Muslims with American party politics, which is also a US government policy goal recommended by CIA analysts and the RAND Corporation in a special report prepared for the US department of Defence in 1990. Founding AMC member Robert Crane, whose long history of US government service includes an appointment as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates by US president Reagan, is one of the AMC ideologues. He fits Dr Ghorab's description to someone who is seeking to "revise" expediency. The AMC also appears to be playing a role in dividing Muslims between `moderates' and `extremists', fulfilling another agenda item for `Islamic Studies', as is evidenced by public statements on Steve Emerson's zionist `jihad' against Muslims or on the rigged `trial' of Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman and other Muslims in New York.
Dr Ghorab lays the methodological foundation for systematically identifying and exposing `Islamic Studies' programmes in western and Muslim institutions. He has linked them to the ongoing western crusade against the Islamic movement, showing that such programmes operate in the service of taghoot. Concerned Muslims can and should find ways to continue his efforts and help prevent `American Islam' from gaining any further ground.