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Revisiting Islam

Revisiting Islam

Author: NS Rajaram
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 6, 2008

It's a monumental study that throws light on the scriptural basis of intolerance and its manifestations in history

The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History
Author: Andrew Bostom
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Price: $39.95

Islam, we are constantly told, is a religion of peace and brotherhood. According to this view, terrorists taking innocent lives in its name are either ignorant of the true teachings of Islam or are driven to violence as a last resort because of injustices suffered at the hands of the victims -- Hindus, Jews and Christians. This claim of scriptural innocence and the historical reality are examined in detail in the monumental work, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, by Andrew Bostom, the compiler of the equally monumental The Legacy of Jihad.

But first we must ask: Can we accept teachings and conduct in the name of religion that would be unacceptable on humanistic grounds? Quranic passages -- "When the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God (Allah) wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them with every kind of ambush..."; and, "Gather against them all your armies and your horses so you may strike terror in the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies..." -- need to be reinterpreted.

The scope of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism is broader than what the title suggests. It is better seen as a study of the theology and practice of intolerance than as a study limited to the persecution of Jews under Islamic rule. Unlike Hindus who encountered the full fury of Islam five centuries after its founding, Jews have had to deal with it right from the start in countries stretching from Spain to Iran. We thus have not only the authentic scripture of Islam but also abundant historical records by Jews, Christians and Muslims. These are presented in a systematic manner, allowing us to get a vivid picture of the treatment of non-Muslims.

These records make it clear that there is no middle ground in Islam, of a spirit of live and let live. In the words of the philosopher KD Prithipaul of the University of Alberta (conveyed to this reviewer), Muslims can live only "as an oppressive majority or a turbulent minority". Even the Indian Sufi Shayk-Ahmad Sirhindi wrote: "Whenever a Jew is killed it is for the benefit of Islam." This was long before the creation of Israel.

In spite of this vast and unambiguous record spanning over a thousand years, there is no shortage of 'liberal' intellectuals who extol the tolerance shown by Islam. Economist Amartya Sen wrote that when the "Jewish philosopher Maimonides was forced to emigrate from an intolerant Europe in the 12th century, he found a tolerant refuge in the Arab (Muslim) world". The truth is that the 'intolerant' Europe Maimonides had to flee happened to be Spain then under Berber Muslim rule, which, according to Foujad Ajami, "made the life of Spanish Jews... utter hell".

The depth of hatred for Jews that permeates the Islamic scriptures is truly staggering, but Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) noted also a parallel tendency for denial: "Never did a nation molest, degrade, debate and hate us as much as they (Muslims)... Although we were dishonoured by them beyond human endurance,... we have acquiesced, both old and young, to inure ourselves to humiliation." This could well have been written about Hindus, especially their modern prophets of 'secularism.'

As part of this denial, Jews themselves joined hands with some apologist scholars to create the myth of a 'Golden Age' of Spain under Islamic rule. Jane Gerber explodes this myth: "The aristocratic bearing of a select class of courtiers and poets, however, should not blind us to the reality that this tightly knit circle of leaders was neither the whole of the Jewish history nor of Spanish Jewish society." This applies equally to the myth of India's 'Golden Age' under the Mughals with its 'synthetic culture' propagated by secularist historians.

Academic whitewashers of the Islamic record like Amartya Sen have now been joined by a brand of 'moderate' Muslims who claim that the extreme Wahaabi brand of Islam in force in countries like Saudi Arabia is a deviation from the true teachings. A prime example of these is Ed Husain, a reformed British radical Muslim and author of The Islamist. These 'moderates' are lionised by the establishment, especially in Britain. The same establishment, on the other hand, shuns serious critics like Ibn Warraq and the late Anwar Shaikh who raise
uncomfortable questions.

A curious thing about these so-called moderates is that they live in open non-Islamic societies like the UK, the US and India where they enjoy the protection of democratic Governments. Their message of moderation is for public consumption and never taken to those who really need it -- the fundamentalists who rule Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their ilk. In effect, they are little more than apologists.

The message to these 'moderates' is -- lip service is not enough. They must take a forthright stand and play an active role in reforming the Islam. All other religions -- Hinduism included -- have reformed themselves and continue to do so.

In summary, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism leaves little doubt that intolerance and violence are not a recent phenomenon due to Israel or Ayodhya or anything else, but only the latest phase in a theology and history that goes back 1,400 years. It is an indispensable source for every serious student of religion, especially of Islam and its history.

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