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The Source of Islamic Intolerance

Jimmy Bitton

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By and large, Western political analysts steer clear of criticizing Islam when seeking to explain Muslim hatred toward Israel for fear of appearing to deviate from the social etiquette of tolerance. Tolerance is regarded as the best way to protect the liberty of all members of society irrespective of political or religious opinions. But in order to defend our liberty we must never deceive ourselves into accepting the maxim of unconditional tolerance.

Occasionally, we must be intolerant of intolerance. By censuring the Islam of either precept or practice we run the risk of being labelled Islamiphobic, however, the real danger comes from turning a blind eye to the hatred encouraged by the doctrinaire approach to religion so widespread in the Muslim world. It is not the absence of a plan that has hindered progress toward peace, as is evident in the cries for Israel's destruction prior to the occupation.

Take for example the 1964 essay written by Abd al-Rahman al-Bazzaz who was professor of law at the University of Baghdad and a former Prime Minister of Iraq, "The existence of Israel is a flagrant challenge to our philosophy of life and the ideals for which we live, and a total barrier against the values and aims to which we aspire in the world." The world needs to recognize that even if Israel were to make painful political concessions for the sake of peace, the Muslim campaign to destroy it would continue.

As alluded to on October 16, 2003 in Dr. Mahathir Mohammad's notoriously antisemitic address at the Tenth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, "For well over a half century we have fought over Palestine. What have we achieved? Nothing. If we had paused to think, we could have devised a plan, a strategy that can win us final victory." Is a final and lasting peace settlement what the good doctor had in mind with his reference to a "final victory?" What about the sentiments of the Muslim leaders who gave his speech a standing ovation? Was it the drumbeats of peace that echoed on that day? I think not. From where does this loathing derive?

The answer to this question may be found by investigating two Islamic principles: Dar al-Islam and infidels.

From an Islamic perspective, the world is divided into two camps: dar al-Harab - lands not yet under Islamic rule; and dar al-Isalm - lands where Islamic shari'a law exists. Once under Islamic rule, land remains a part of dar al-Islam until Judgement Day.

Thus, since Palestine was once under Muslim control (634-1099 C.E.), it can never be relinquished.

The second confrontational Islamic teaching is the classification of people as either Muslim or infidel. The latter is further divided into "tolerated" (which includes Jews and Christians who are recognized by the Prophet Muhammad as recipients of a Divinely revealed scripture), and "not tolerated" (polytheists). Jews and Christians are granted protection and tolerated under the widely misinterpreted dhimma treaty. The theological justification for the creation of this legal status stems from a hadith (tradition relating to the Prophet Muhammad), when in 628 C.E., the Jewish tribe of Khaybar surrendered to Muhammad and his army under a dhimma treaty. The infidel principle has existed since the time of Muhammad and has by and large determined Muslim-non-Muslim relations ever since. In the words of Amos Funkenstein, "[From a Muslim perspective] the world has to be politically 'secure' so that no Muslim is dominated by 'infidels.'

Infidels, even if they are tolerated [Jews and Christians], are not to occupy positions of leadership in the dar el-Islam [dar al-Islam]." Muslims have an inherent interest of maintaining their socio-religious supremacy by denying non-Muslims equality. In the words of the Algeria's first president, "Ce que nous voulons, nous autres Arabes, c'est Ítre. Or, nous ne pourrons Ítre que si l'autre n'est pas (What we want, as Arabs, is to be. However we can only be, if the other is not)."

In view of these radical Islamic teachings, it should be no surprise that the Declaration of the State of Israel sent shockwaves all through the Muslim world. With Palestine reverted to the Jews, a "vanquished people" had thrown off the yoke of Islam and declared statehood on land considered by Muslims to be an eternal part of dar al Islam.

As a result, Muslims were confronted with a theological dilemma to either revise exegetically inspired notions of Muslim supremacy, or to engage in a campaign against Jews in "occupied" Palestine, aimed at reuniting it (a "final victory") with the rest of dar al-Islam. Unfortunately, the response of mainstream Islam to the creation of a non-Muslim state in Palestine has not been reform; instead, Muslims--spearheaded by Arabs, have engaged in a carefully calculated campaign against the Jewish state in an effort to put Muslims back in their "proper place" of advantage.

Only when there is major reform of these fundamental Islamic doctrines can peace be achieved. There are those such as Egyptian born Tarek Heggy and other likeminded Muslims who struggle for such reform, though, the real onus lies not on them, but on Muslim clerics who would have the task of maintaining the integrity of the Qur'an while reconciling it with modern notions of egalitarianism. More often than not, radical exegetes attack moderates whom they accuse of diluting Islam with secular ideas. Until the mainstream Muslim world is ready to accept equal treatment and rights of all human beings, we should not expect to see an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the meantime, Islamic intolerance should not be tolerated.

Jimmy Bitton is a teacher of Jewish history in Toronto and a graduate student at York University. Submitted by author.

Posted: 8/6/04



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