by John Andrew Morrow (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 4, Ramadan, 1438)
“Where are the Moderate Muslims?” is a 4:57 minute video that has been watched by millions of people (https://www.prageru.com/courses/political-science/where-are-moderate-muslims). It is spreading like a deadly virus and that is exactly what it is: a politically transmitted disease. The video, which was produced by Prager University, immediately poses a problem of credibility. To commence with, Prager is not a university. It is merely a YouTube channel and a website. It is the mouthpiece of Dennis Prager, a conservative radio host, Republican, and Zionist who excoriated Keith Ellison for taking his oath of office on the Qur’an.
Prager “University” is not in the business of education. It is in the business of propaganda, much of which could be labeled hate propaganda despite its professional production qualities. How anyone could consider Prager “University” a credible source is beyond comprehension. The fact that the video has drawn the attention of so many viewers is cause for concern. It highlights a lack of critical thinking capacity.
Although the video is polished, the same cannot be said of the speaker: Hussein Aboubakr. To all appearances, the man in question has no terminal degree and lacks scholarly credentials. He is a pro-Israel speaker, a Zionist troll, and an agent of Israel. He was featured in the video to provide “local color,” to give him “credibility” as a dark-skinned Arab with an accent who denounces Islam and Muslims. He is a member of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. The man is either a Jew posing as a Muslim or a former Muslim. As much as he pretends to be “liberal” and promote “reform,” the man is a hate-monger: nothing less. He specializes in antagonizing Muslims and inciting Islamophobia. He even wrote a piece about the “Holy (Anti-Semitic) Month of Ramadan.” Unlike other scholars who distinguish between the moderate Muslim majority and the extremist minority composed of Takfiri-Wahhabis, Hussein Aboubakr puts all Muslims in the same basket. Gross generalizations of this kind have no place in legitimate scholarly or political discourse. Demonizing entire populations is the work of demagogues, dictators, mass murderers, and genocidalists.
Aboubakr, who looks and sounds the part of the stereotypical immigrant taxi driver, claims to have grown up in a middle-class family. Although his family supposedly consisted of “moderate” Muslims, they were committed to the caliphate and believed that Muslims lost a place of prominence in the world when they stopped fighting, killing, and converting the infidels. If what he claims is true, and it is not merely an act to set the stage, then he was not from a mainstream Muslim family. He was from a Salafi-Jihadi family. He was from an Ikhwani or Muslim Brotherhood family. He was from an Islamist and Arab nationalist family. Although he can speak for himself and his potentially fictitious experience, he cannot speak for a billion and a half other Muslims who certainly do not share his views.
To give credibility to his claim that there are no moderate Muslims, Aboubakr relies on “data.” Polls, however, can be designed to obtain desired outcomes. They ask questions in a way that will elicit a specific response. Even when the polls are properly conducted, people can spin them. That seems to be the case here. If people want a sense on what Muslims think, they can consult Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by Dr. John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. The research conducted by Gallup and Pew is routinely used to highlight the moderation of most Muslims. Statistics show that less than 0.001% of Muslims are terrorists and that only 7% of Muslims support Islamism or Jihadism. That is not to say that they are terrorists; however, they do indeed support Islamist opposition movements.
Considering that Muslims have lived under brutal monarchs and military dictators since the end of colonialism, and that their rulers are notorious for violating fundamental civil and human rights, it is understandable that some of them would express solidarity with those who seek to overthrow oppressors. Most Muslims, however, recognize that the cure is worse than the disease and that however bad some of their leaders may be, the Islamist terrorists who fight them can only take them from purgatory to hell.
Understanding full well that viewers and listeners need to be provided with key terms or slogans that will linger with them, Aboubakr invokes the threat of Shari‘ah, a term that has been maligned and demonized over the past few decades. When Islamophobes speak of Shari‘ah, they think about stoning people to death, lashing people, beheading them, and burning them alive. However, shari‘ah (in the literal sense) simply means law. So, yes, most Muslims believe in obeying the law. When Muslims say that they follow the Shari‘ah, they mean that they pray, fast, pay charity, and perform the pilgrimage. It means that they are practicing Muslims. A Muslim who believes in the Shari‘ah is like a Jew who follows the Halakhah and a Catholic who follows the Canon Law. In other words, when Muslims are asked about the Shari‘ah, they have one thing in mind; however, when non-Muslims think of the Shari‘ah, they have an entirely different idea in mind.
Although virtually all Muslim-majority countries have inherited the legal systems of their Western European colonizers, and that only Saudi Arabia and Iran claim to implement Islamic law, the former in a barbaric 7th century style, and the latter according to a modernized model that differs little from most countries in most matters, Aboubakr invokes so-called Shari‘ah punishments in order to appeal to anger and outrage. He fails to mention that the Shari‘ah law was codified over 1,000 years ago. This is like citing medieval European law and blaming it on Christianity. These legal codes were the product of their period. If the legal system in the Christian world had the opportunity to evolve, the same cannot be said of the legal system in much of the Muslim world, the natural evolution of which was stunted as a result of colonialism and imperialism. Although Shari‘ah has become stagnant in much of the Sunni world, the process of ijtihad or interpretation of the law provides an avenue through which it could potentially be applied to changing times and circumstances.
As anyone who has studied comparative religion will acknowledge, some ancient Islamic punishments are comparable to ancient Jewish punishments. In many cases, Muslim law is far more moderate. Unlike Jews, Muslims are not commanded to kill their children if they disobey their parents (Deuteronomy, 21:18–21). Unlike the Bible, the Qur’an does not command Muslims to slaughter infants and nursing children (1 Samuel, 15:3). It does not praise the dashing of babies against rocks (Psalms, 137:8–9) or ripping open the stomachs of pregnant women (Hosea, 13:16; 2 Kings, 15:16). Compared to medieval Christian law, which was devoid of justice or reason, Islamic law was extremely sophisticated and civilized. Muslims had a highly developed legal system while the Anglo Saxons were tossing accused witches into ponds: innocent if she drowns but guilty if she floats, in which case she would be burned alive.
Although the corporal punishments formed part of the code of law, they were rarely implemented. They acted as a deterrent. They were relics of nomadic Bedouin times when justice needed to be swift and when other modes of punishment, such as incarceration, were non-existent. When Muslims became sedentary, their judges were urged to err on the side of mercy. They were encouraged to avoid administering corporal punishments by ambiguities. For example, a list of conditions needs to be fulfilled to amputate a person’s hand for theft. The guilty party needed to be an adult. The adult needed to be sane. The stolen object had to be of a certain value. For example, it could not be an apple. The crime had to be premeditated. The thief could not be poor or needy. Although a man or woman who committed adultery could, theoretically face the death penalty, the burden of proof was virtually impossible to meet as it required four eyewitnesses to the repeated act of penetration. With the exception of Takfiri-Wahhabis, these types of corporal punishments are not implemented in Muslim-majority nations.
Islamophobes also ignore the fact that there is no single Shari‘ah or legal code in Islam. There are over half a dozen major schools of law in Islam. They have different punishments for different crimes. Some schools of thought avoided corporal punishments. They replaced them with fines and prison terms. Although it is not permissible to make what is illegal legal or vice versa, it is permissible to apply different punishments to different crimes. What is more, certain schools of jurisprudence, like the Maliki one, believed that Muslims could adopt pre-existing legal systems so long as they did not contradict basic moral principles. As for Muslims in non-Muslim lands, their obligation was not to impose the Shari‘ah on non-Muslims: it was to obey the law of the land.
Aboubakr claims that the Shari‘ah calls for the death penalty for adultery and apostasy when both these issues are disputed by Muslim jurists. Although some traditions speak of stoning, they are related to Jewish women who demanded that they be punished according to the laws of the Torah. As for the Qur’an, it mentions 100 lashes for fornication/adultery (24:2). While it is true that many Muslims believe adulterers should be stoned to death according to Islamic Law, most Jewish people would also admit that Jewish Law calls for the same punishment (Deuteronomy, 22:22). Although it is true that some Muslim jurists ruled that homosexual relations merited the death penalty, the same can be said of the Bible. As we read in Leviticus, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (20:13). Aboubakr cannot be anti-Muslim without also being anti-Christian and anti-Jewish.
As for leaving Islam, some scholars equate apostasy with desertion and treachery. If people left the Muslim community, and waged war alongside the enemies of Islam, then, and only then would they merit the death penalty. Historically, this is the same punishment that most nations have had in place for treason, desertion, and espionage. What is more, the Shari‘ah states that the punishment for apostasy only applies to adults who were born and raised Muslim, who were men, who were sane, and who refused to repent. Converts and women were generally excluded. Women, in particular, were only punished if they rejected Islam on three different occasions and then so, only by imprisonment. Many religions, including Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Catholicism, have condemned apostates to death. Other religious groups resort to shunning. Finally, not all Muslim scholars believe in putting to death people who leave the Islamic faith. After all, the Qur’an states, “There is no coercion in matters of conviction” (2:256).
Laws are used to promote what a society values and to discourage what it detests. If the Shari‘ah provides severe punishments for fornication, adultery, and sexual assault, it is because Islam places tremendous value on chastity and sexual purity. If the Shari‘ah provides severe punishments for insulting God and the Prophet (pbuh), it is because it has a strong sense of the sacred. The real issue is not the crime but rather the punishment. The issue is the death penalty. Many Muslims, like many Americans, believe in the death penalty for serious crimes such as homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, sexual assault, drug-trafficking, pimping, and the sexual exploitation of children. For most of history, the most efficient method of putting a person to death was by beheading or by hanging. The Western world has been hanging and beheading people for thousands of years. When they developed bullets, some countries started to use the firing squad. Some countries use lethal injection or electrocution. Countries with the highest number of executions include the US, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Either you are for the death penalty or you are against it; 62% of Americans support the death penalty. Does that make them extremists?
In an act of academic dishonesty, Aboubakr selectively cites and misrepresents the findings of the Pew Forum. He focuses on a few issues in a few countries while ignoring the dozens of other countries that were surveyed. He stresses that large numbers of Egyptians and Jordanians believe in the death penalty for leaving Islam; however, he conveniently hides the fact that most Lebanese, Iraqis, and Tunisians oppose this view and that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in southeastern Europe, Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia are also opposed to executing people for rejecting Islam.
For anyone interested in an honest assessment of the findings in question, he can refer to the interpretation of the data provided by the Pew Forum itself: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/.
The inarticulate Hussein Aboubakr continues his campaign of misinformation by asserting that Muslims are extremists because they oppose “gay rights.” If that is the case, most religious Christians and religious Jews are extremists as well. 61% of Americans support gay rights as do 77% of secular Jewish Americans. Does that mean that 39% of Americans and 23% of secular Jews are extremists? If 54% of all American Christians support gay marriage, does that mean that the 46% that do not are extremists? To top it all off, he claims that Muslims responded to the 9/11 attacks “with joy” when, in reality, they were widely condemned, even by Islamists. For Aboubakr, however, most Muslims are extremists, even young, educated, westernized Muslim women who do not wear hijab and who, unlike himself, speak perfect English. Rather than target the real culprits, the Takfiri-Wahhabis and those who sponsor them, Aboubakr wants non-Muslims to fear all Muslims.
The enemy has breached the gate. All Muslims, regardless of how westernized they appear and how moderate they may pretend to be, are extremists on the inside. This is a recipe for Islamophobic violence. This is the same sort of language that was employed by the propagandists of the Third Reich. It did not end well for the Jews. However, it did not end well for the propagandists either.
Most Muslims are not extremists. In fact, it is outrageous that Muslims are expected to prove they are moderates and loyal to the Western countries in which they live. If anything, non-Muslims need to prove that they are not extremists. They are by word and by action. Are Muslims risking a nuclear war with North Korea and China? No. Are Muslims risking a nuclear war with Russia? No. According to Statistica, 28,328 people died as a result of terrorism between 2006 and 2015. The so-called American Christians in the US armed forces have killed over 20 million people, 90% of them civilians, in 37 nations, since World War II. Belgian Christians under Leopold II committed one of the worst genocides in history, torturing, mutilating, and murdering more than 10 million human beings over the course of 20 years, leaving Congo virtually devoid of native inhabitants. Christians are therefore in no moral position to accuse Muslims of being “extreme.”
Islam does not need to further reject terrorism. Islam rejects terrorism inherently. Islam does not speak for itself: Muslims speak for Islam. And Muslims have been denouncing terrorism incessantly. The corporate-controlled media simply refuses to cover it. Although a few independent and alternative media outlets cover Muslim voices, they are small; hence, our voices get lost in the chorus. The statistics, however, speak for themselves. As the Pew Research Center has shown, Muslim views of ISIS are overwhelmingly negative. The huge majority of Muslims reject extremism and terrorism. If the Western world is so concerned about “radical Islam,” why is it in bed with the Saudis and the Qataris? They have been funding “Islamic terrorism” to the tune of billions of dollars for decades.
Although some Westerners are open to listening to the Muslim side of the story, most Trumpians, Republicans and Tea-Baggers have already concluded that “Islam is of the Devil.” The very fact that the video in question is circulating in the millions does not bode well for what was once a great nation. Even if someone succeeded in convincing major Western leaders that most Muslims are moderates, they remain surrounded by very influential people who are not exactly favorable to the idea of portraying Muslims in a positive light. Most presidents and prime ministers serve the interests of the global elites, not those of the citizens they are supposed to represent, not those of their countries, and most certainly not those of humanity.
The problem is not the person who pretends to have power. The problem is the System. Like Medusa’s head, it has snakes for hair. Even if one succeeded in cutting the head of a serpent, there are a thousand more that will remain to turn the passive masses to stone.
Finally, it is important to realize that the small percentage of people who support ISIS and other terrorist groups are all partisans of the Takfiri-Wahhabi ideology. In other words, they have been indoctrinated into the pseudo-Islam that is spread around the world by certain sectors. Consequently, if the center of Takfiri-Salafism is isolated and its influence blocked, the financial and ideological support that creates terrorists and terrorist sympathizers will disappear.
Let us learn a lesson from Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh used to tell his combatants that they had to move like fish in water. Clearly, for Ho Chi Minh, water represented the people, the huge mass of people. The US failed to win the trust of the people of North Vietnam. In short, they failed to deprive the fish of its water. It is for this reason that Ho Chi Minh won. It was not communism that won since communism is a negation of itself. This is evidenced by Vietnam after the triumph of Ho. This is evidenced by the disappearance of the former USSR.
Should we not learn lessons from a historical conflict that resulted in the loss of so many American lives? We must deprive the terrorist shark of its water. To achieve this goal, we must shut down the institutions of fake-Islam of the Takfiris. We must shut down the websites and social media sites that are financed by the Takfiris. We must shut down the terrorist training camps in various parts of the world. If we do not drain the swamp of takfiri terrorists, however small they may be numerically when compared to the world population of Muslims, they will continue to cause immense damage, engaging in all sorts of horrific atrocities, destroying entire groups of people and nations while devastating the environment. Basta ya basta. Enough is enough. The moderate true Muslims must revolt against the immoderate fake Muslims. Then, and only then, will truth stand in contrast to falsehood.
Let us “cast truth against falsehood so that it breaks its head and vanishes” (21:18). Then, and only then, will we, Muslims, no longer be subjected to the indignity of being asked, “Where are the Moderate Muslims?”