By Khaled Abou El Fadl
Every epoch of human history has suffered its share of jahl and jahiliyya. Jahl means ignorance, heedlessness, the lack of awareness, and even idiocy or foolishness, but with the clear connotation of the perverse, pernicious, the dark, foreboding, and inauspicious. In Islamic eschatology, it is common to refer to a people plagued by ignorance, injustice, cruelty, and hatred as a people living in a state of jahiliyya. Ingratitude, selfishness, and arrogance are all thought to be characteristics of jahiliyya as well as the prevalence of vice and inequity in any society. Jahiliyya, however, has been as entrenched in human history as the social ailments of bigotry, racism, hatred, and oppression.
But therein is the enduring and unyielding role of Islam—Islam is submission and surrender only to God. And it is resistance and rebellion against the personal jahiliyya of the iniquitous and uprooted soul, and against social conditions and structures that compel the sufferance of ignorance and hatred and that ultimately deny human beings the fair chance to come out to the light. The theology of Islam resists the state of jahiliyya by calling upon human beings to wage a relentless jihad in pursuit of enlightenment and against the oppressiveness of ignorance and against the social and political deformities and illnesses that spread in the absence of justice. The jihad against jahiliyya is a constant struggle to bring balance and peace to one’s own soul, and to pursue balance and peace for one’s society and for humanity. In other words, it is a jihad to bring justice within and without—for oneself and for all of humanity. This jihad is a never-ending effort at self-enlightenment as well as the pursuit of enlightenment at the communitarian and social level. In Islamic theology, a Muslim is in a state of constant resistance to the state of jahl and the disease of jahiliyya—in a sense, in struggling to submit to the Almighty, a Muslim struggles for liberation from and against falling captive to godlessness. Godness is not just a conviction or belief; it is a practice and state of being. And this state, which is quintessentially interconnected with beauty—with the attributes of divinity such as love, mercy, justice, tranquility, humility, and peace—is in direct antipathy to jahiliyya, which in turn is associated with the ailments suffered in a state of godlessness such as hate, cruelty, inequity, arrogance, anxiety, and fear.
As noted above, every time and age suffers from its share of jahiliyya but what is distinctive about the moral failures of our age is not their nature or kind. Indeed, the moral failures of our age remain disparagingly similar to past ages. But what is different about our age is that while the moral failures remain the same, more than any other time in the past, these same failures—these jahiliyyas are more inexcusable and less and less understandable. Human beings continue to suffer from ignorance but our ability to teach, learn, and communicate is better than in any previous age. We continue to suffer from hate, bigotry, and racism but our knowledge of human sociology, anthropology and history—our collective experiences as human beings make these failures less understandable, leave alone excusable, than in any other time in history. We continue to wage war and slaughter each other, but at the same time, our ability to kill and cause destruction is more lethal and dangerous than any other time in history. But our co-dependence on each other as human beings, and our increasingly interlinked world, in addition to the unprecedented dangers posed by our weapons make our constant resort to war and violence incoherent and incomprehensible, and definitely, less forgivable than in any other time in history.
In this age, the problem is not our technical abilities or our know-how—the problem is in our will, our sense of purpose, in our normative values, and indeed, in our very comprehension of humanness. Paradoxically, while our collective sense of the humane—our understanding of rights, denial, and suffering—has improved, and while our technical ability to protect rights or remove suffering has also been augmented, our ability to get beyond our isolation and limitations as individuals and to reach for the transcendental and perennial in what is human has deteriorated. In the modern age, our rational sense of the humane has increased but our spiritual grasp of the human has deteriorated. Perhaps this is why so many philosophers have described the modern age as the age of anxiety, restlessness, uprootedness, or groundlessness. Indeed the predicament of the modern age has been that while our intellectual capacities have sprung forth by leaps and bounds, our spiritual abilities, to say the least, have not. Our ability to access information about each other and to collect and organize data about our world has given us a greater sense of control and has raised our expectations as human beings but all of this has done little to raise our sense of consciousness. We can see more of our world and further into the universe than any other time in history, our failure to decipher and perceive the truth of reality, leave alone beauty, has only grown more intense and also inexcusable.
In Islamic thought, we tend to see religion and religiosity as fundamentally antithetical to jahiliyya and all the ugliness that it represents. There is no doubt that throughout human history religion has been a powerful instigator of change—in fact, religion has possessed the power of truly transformative moments in history. Not too many forces in history have had the power of religion to inspire, motivate, and inform. Moreover, many social theorists have recognized the positive, and in my view, necessary role that religion ought to play in remedying many of the ailments suffered in modernity. However, for any true believer—a believer who does not go through the affectations of belief but a person who has felt anchored, inspired, and empowered by belief—for the believer who because of his/her religious conviction was able to reach out for godliness, for the perennial, transcendental, sublime, and beautiful—for that kind of believer, there is no alternative to fending off the jahiliyya of modernity, or of any age for that matter, without the empowerment and the enlightenment of faith. It is precisely for the believer whose engagement with the Divine has translated into nothing but a sense of beauty, peace, balance, and mercy that a particular kind of jahiliyya is more offensive than all others.
This jahiliyya of which I speak is the jahiliyya that is instigated and perpetuated in the name of religion itself. It is when religion is usurped and turned into an instrument of hatred, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, suffering, and ugliness. As a believer, this deeply offends me because more than ever before I feel that humanity needs the love, mercy, and light of God. To use religion to perpetuate a state of godlessness is to say the least offensive. But as a Muslim, the perpetuation of jahiliyya in the name of Islam is more than offensive; it is an abomination—it is a complete breakdown in the logic and rationale of existence. As a Muslim, I think of this abomination as a fundamental and inherent contradiction in terms. The two cannot co-exist because the illuminations of God cannot co-exist with the darkness of jahiliyya. But I must admit that in the same way that I find the jahiliyya of those who hate in the name of Islam simply grotesque, I also find the very widespread and sadly trendy jahiliyya of Islam-hating, Islamophobia, and prejudice against Muslims to be no less disturbing.
By my training and education, I am accustomed to dealing with those who hate in Islam’s name by challenging their convictions and arguments with theological and jurisprudential refutations. And for many years, I focused all my teaching and writing on challenging and deconstructing the beliefs and claims of Muslim bigots. However, Islam-hating or Islamophobia poses its own set of exceptional challenges—not only am I not trained to deal with the irrational rage of Islam-haters, in this day and age, Islamophobia leaves one with an intractable sense of despair and hopelessness.
Islam-hating enjoys a long and firmly established pedigree. Unfortunately, Islam-hating is a practice rich with tradition. Starting with the early Muslim challenge to the dominance and hegemony of the Persian and Byzantium superpowers around fourteen-hundred years ago, Islam has become the object of highly motivated socio-cultural processes that were hate-filled and hate-promoting. In response to the spread of Islam, an elaborate institutional practice was born in Christian societies, which was supported by a tradition of theological and ideological dogma and ignited by a web of political and social anxieties. The function performed by this institutional practice was, at least initially, defensive and reactive—it sought to contain the threat of Islam not only by promoting cultures plagued by a sense of siege but even more, by a sense of revulsion and outrage at the Muslim heathen. The same processes that constructed the archetypal Muslim who induced fear also nurtured a mythology of a culture at the brink of suffering God’s wrath and damnation because of the Muslim heathen. Leading up to the beginning of the Western Crusades, narratives of piety and anti-heresy re-enforced without adequate private and public performances of outrage and disgust at the infidel (Muslim) society risked incurring God’s vengeance, wrath, and even damnation. Some contemporary historians have argued that the very idea of the West—the very notion of the abode of Christendom, which was historically wedded to the institutions of Catholicism—as a unit defined by a coherent identity, cultural unity, and a basic set of shared political interests developed in direct response to the rise of the Islamic civilization. Feeling challenged, threatened, and also defeated, the West, with its reactively formed identity, perhaps had no choice but to develop narratives of fear and self-preservation directed against Muslims and Islam. In these narratives of fear, anxiety and obsession—narratives that stereotyped, exaggerated, and demonized the Muslim as a symbolic construct, Islam is cast into the role of the eminent and everlasting threat, and the Muslim does not just embody the image of the enemy but is made into the proverbial bogeyman—the infidel whose very existence, leave alone the infidel’s successes and victories, is a horrific blasphemy and outrage against God, King, and Church. In Feudalistic Europe, at a time when political dissent, blasphemy, and heresy were hardly differentiated, Islam was seen as an atrocity against God and majesty, the cause of Divine wrath and damnation.
It took the West, led by the Catholic Church, about four centuries of incitement and sacred rage to build-up the frenzy of intolerance and hate that would fire-up and sustain six-centuries of waves of Western invasions of Muslim lands known as collectively as the Crusades. Contrary to popular belief, the Crusades did not just target the holy land and Jerusalem, but included Andalusia, and eventually Granada, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and even the Eastern Orthodox Church of Constantinople. Eventually, the repeated invasions of the Crusaders were defeated, but not before leaving a trail of fear and hate that eventually culminated in the Ottoman invasions of Eastern Europe. However, hardly had the Ottoman invasions been repulsed and defeated, incidentally without much help from Western Europe, when a new chapter of religious bigotry and hatred had been perpetuated through the pseudo-religious culture of Western Colonialism and its brain-child movement, Orientalism.
As the de-colonization movement surged and nations gained the right to national liberation and self-determination, humanity seemed to be on the verge of unprecedented advancements in finally becoming united over core values, among them tolerance as a necessary and compelling moral and ethical virtue. Of course, I am not claiming that when nations and governments were busily adopting, ratifying, or affirming the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many international human rights treaties—among other things, banning racial discrimination, religious bigotry, and gender inequality—that these governments actually meant to implement what they pledged themselves to do. The reality, especially from a Muslim point of view, is that the rise of the contemporary regime of human rights and humanitarian institutions and laws is replete with unresolved and perhaps irresolvable contradictions and paradoxical tensions. For Muslims emerging from the hypocritically enlightened and pathologically self-righteous but invariably exploitative and bloody dungeons of Colonialism onto a new age radiating with the glitter of principles such as the right to self-determination, national liberation, non-intervention, and the prohibition against the use of force, the world must have looked very promising but also confusing. The confusion was the byproduct of the Cold War and the hypocrisies elicited by the logic of political realism and the doctrine of real-politik; and the confusion and bitterness grew with the reality of aggressive hegemony of contemporary imperialism. But from the very inception of the age of rights, or what I call the age of promises, the confusion started with the destruction of Palestine, the dispossession of Palestinians, and the re-occupation of Jerusalem by the Crusader reminiscent historical movement of “pilgrims from the West.” All of this had to cast doubt upon the credibility and integrity of contemporary ethical universalisms and their inclusiveness towards Muslims. For instance, Muslims could not fail to notice the tension and irony in the fact that 1948, the year that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed, was also the year the Palestinians lost their homeland and the Israelis gained theirs. Nevertheless, regardless of the challenges and contradictions that confronted Muslims in the modern age, there is no question that as human beings moved through the 20th century and advanced towards the 21st, there were tangible successes in that, on principle, finally there was collective recognition of the wrongfulness and immorality of racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, and religious and cultural intolerance, among other vices. Also even if just in principle, a collective recognition and admission was reached that all human beings are, at a minimum, entitled to life, security, and dignity. In other words, in the post-colonial era, and especially by the end of the Cold War, it looked like after centuries of creating and suffering so much man-made misery, at least there were concrete and tangible achievements—finally, human beings have learned something worthwhile.
This is exactly why religious bigotry is so distressing—it is an indication that after all, perhaps we have learned nothing. It is distressing to think that despite the horrendous history of senseless slaughter and persecution, humans do not develop higher states of conscientiousness or more reflective and balanced senses of being but only grow ever more sophisticated in obfuscating the difference between reality and dreams. The currently trendy phenomenon of Islamophobia and the lucrative business of Islam-slamming ominously condemn us to recycling history through the irrational processes of reciprocated hate. But it is much more than the fear of repeating history that is at stake here.
Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more different still. Muslims are no longer the representatives of a dominant civilization and are not co-participants in defining the norms of our lived world. No part of the Muslim world could be considered coherent units of integrated economic and political power as in the cases of Europe, Russia, China, or India, and Muslims leverage very limited actual power in their lived world. But according to the dogma of the modern world, wars of aggression and foreign occupation are no longer permitted, and unlike pre-modern barbarisms, people and individuals need not rely on their ability to leverage power because all human beings and all nations have rights. Indeed the very idea of rights—the raison d’être of humanitarian protections and immunities is founded on the notion of protecting the weakest elements of society—whether nationally or internationally, rights exist to protect those who are members of target groups or those who are members of groups that are in weak and insular positions, and therefore, unable to protect themselves. Today, the whole paradigm of world order and international law is founded on the notion that instead of the protection of force, the weak should be able to rely on the protection of principle or, alternatively, on principled protection. In other words, today’s world is different than any other age because today there is authoritative legality in the world order and in principle, there is rule of law.
I am not so naïve as to believe that the United Nations is truly a parliament of democratic governance or that the Security Council implements international law impartially and fairly or to think that most international legal obligations are applied fairly and impartially. But the gap between the reality and the ideal is what makes the contemporary condition so precarious for Muslims. There is not a single permanent member of the Security Council that is Muslim, and in this age, Muslims play a largely marginal role in governing or influencing global issues. In fact, the fate and well-being of most Muslim countries in the modern world depends on the good faith and fair-mindedness of the non-Muslim world powers towards Muslims—the opposite is not true.
Considering the distribution and structure of power in the modern age, much of the role of Muslims in today’s world and much of what is done to and with Muslim nations is contingent on two critical presumptive premises: 1) The major powers that run the world today are no longer motivated by religious bias or rancor. Policy pursued by these world powers does not seek to promote or harm one set of religious beliefs over others, and does not favor or disfavor a people or nation because they belong to one religious tradition or another. Put differently, the dominant powers of the world do not govern in the name of Western Christendom, and their economic and political powers are not used to leverage the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian civilization, for instance, against others. 2) The decisions and policies of the dominant operative powers in today’s world are based on rational choices and shared interests and not on historical, racial, religious bias or any other type of prejudice.
Among other things, these two presumptive premises fundamentally mean that religious wars have ended and that we live in a rationally driven world. Without the fulfillment of these two premises, the reality becomes that Muslims live in a world that they do not control, and more so, in a world in which they do not have much power, and they also live in a world in which they are very likely to become the targets, and considering their limited power, even victims of bigoted policies. Now, I think that it is rather obvious that these two premises are not perfectly fulfilled and indeed, can never be perfectly fulfilled. World powers that have near hegemonic influence on today’s world are not immune to the numerous subjectivities that normally affect decision making. What is important, however, is not if these two premises are fulfilled but the extent to which they are fulfilled at any given time. For example, the rule of law and world order in the modern age is premised on the assumption of the illegitimacy and wrongfulness of racially biased policies but no one would seriously suggest that racism wittingly or unwittingly does not affect the subjectivities of policy makers. This, however, is one of the reasons that Islamophobia and Islam-hating is emblematic of the foundational failures of the modern age—policies that target or profile Muslims as a group, or that speak of the dangers of a Muslim cultural invasion of Europe, or that legitimate the denouncement and deprecation of the Islamic faith, very much like the institution and logic of Apartheid, undermine the fundamental structure of legitimacy in the modern age. In this regard, there are many reasons to be very concerned.
Policies that are founded on the presumed inherent dangers of Islamic theology or law; or policy makers who effectively legitimate religious bigotry by seeking the “expert” counsel of professional Islam-haters do nothing less than undermine the very logic that provides structure and authoritativeness to order of this age. I emphasize that the problem is not the existence of discrete and surreptitious religious bigotry—the problem is the fact that this religious bigotry is rationalized, and legitimated; it is cleansed of all sense of shame or fault and then stated as a normative value: the truth that needs to be uncovered. Here, the evidence on the ground, so-to-speak, is shocking, deeply troubling and overwhelming. For example, since 2002, thousands of books published in the United States and Europe spewed sheer hateful venom against Islamic theology, law, and history. More troubling is the fact that many of these pseudo-intellectualized displays of bigotry became massive bestsellers in Western countries. The writers of these hate-filled tracts were endowed with star status in the West as they consistently appeared as authoritative voices on everything Muslim in the media and were integrated into positions of authority by being given various institutional roles either as advisors to governments, members of government, or references for specialized agencies within government. Part of the very widespread phenomenon of religious bigotry was the opportunistic and parasitical celebration and promotion of so-called native informants—people who fit the Muslim ethnic and cultural profile, claimed either that they are Muslim or used to be Muslim, and above all were willing to perform the dramatic role of the archetypal Muslim who gazes in the mirror only to discover his/her hideous ugliness (contrasted of course to the beauty of the non-Muslim other), and then overcome by tragic destiny, he/she plunges in cathartic self-flagellation (or more precisely, Islam flagellation), which comes to the entirely predictable realization that all the ugliness in the mirror after all is Islam’s fault. Of course, for the bigoted, but paying, reader’s ecstatic enjoyment, the native-informant climactically confesses Islam’s sins and bombastically declares, lest it be damned, Islam and of course Muslims too, must repent! The classic and also the most indulgently obnoxious examples of this pornographically-oriented exploitation of non-religiosity, or perhaps anti-religiosity, are the money-raking books of Hirshi Ali and Irshad Manji.
What fuels the Islam-hating industry in the West is that many sincerely believe that they are reacting rationally to a cultural, political, and militaristic threat. But it is important to remember that every social movement that has demonized a feared and hated other has constructed its hate-narrative as an unpleasant but necessary defensive response to a perceived threat—whether real or imagined. The very nature of bigotry and prejudice is that they are paranoid reconstructions of reality—they grossly exaggerate a kernel of truth into an enormous lie. So, for instance, bigots do not imagine that Muslim terrorists exist but they imagine that terrorism is the prevailing reality of Islam.
What is especially troubling about Islam-hating is that it is a powerful indication that the West, which led the world into modernity, has been unable to overcome its own historically rooted religious prejudices and bigotry. Islam-hating and Islamophobia are among the few remaining sanitized and legitimate social pathologies in the West not because bigotry against Islam and Muslims is practiced or tolerated, but because it is affirmatively honored and even glorified as part of the analytical discipline of national security and interest.
In some regards, Islam-hating and Islamophobia is fairly unremarkable because like all prejudices, it is rationalized from a defensive posture and it thrives in a fertile ground of misinformation and ignorance. But what is remarkable about this particular form of prejudice and bigotry is that despite its deep roots in history—although it was exploited in the past to rationalize and incite numerous acts of aggression and violence and although it continues to do so today, there is remarkable resistance in the West to acknowledging its existence or to coming to terms with the crimes committed because of it, leave alone to attempt to atone for its consequences. A person who openly advocates racism, for instance, or anti-Semitism will be seen as a pariah and an outlier to mainstream society. No mainstream publisher or media outlet will broadcast speech that is openly racist or anti-Semitic not because these social ills do not exist. They do exist! But there are social processes that shame, ostracize and hold accountable those who blatantly indulge these pathologies. The same is not true for those Islam or Muslim-haters. For example, intellectuals and policy makers are admirably frank about studying, admitting, and atoning for the Western legacy of anti-Semitism. Studies that document and analyze the pathology of anti-Semitism have emerged into a sophisticated critical discipline, and no serious intellectual would question whether anti-Semitism has been a recurring form of prejudice and bigotry in Western history. Logically, however, if one admits that anti-Semitism is a widespread social pathology that must be resisted and not encouraged, it would seem to follow that substantially the same position should be adopted in regards to anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. Put simply, one can hardly imagine any place or time in Europe where Jews were persecuted while Muslims were tolerated. Without exception, any time Jews were the target of persecution in Western history, this persecution included the archetypal representative of Islam of the time—whether that archetype was the Turk, Arab, Saracen, Morisco, or the Mohammedan. Moreover, as is well illustrated by the complex and problematic notion of a Judeo-Christian culture or civilization, the history of Jews in the West was a complex one—it ebbed and flowed and went back and forth between begrudging tolerance to outright persecution to eventual efforts at reconciliation and, at times, to atonement as in the Western guilt-ridden support for the Zionist movement. But the history of Muslims in the West has consistently ranged from slaughter to begrudging tolerance to extermination and eventually to total and unequivocal hegemony and domination. My point is that if examined from a historical logic, the reluctance, dead-silence, and quiet avoidance that confronts the Muslim victims of religious persecution in the West and that confronts researchers in the pathology of Islamophobia and Islam-hating is itself a shocking manifestation of the pathology. What is rather symptomatic of the deeply engrained prejudice is the continuous effort to justify Muslim suffering as an unfortunate but necessary cost for security, or to understate and minimize the existence of actual concrete and harmful results to the existence of such a prejudice. An example of this is the insistence on the part of some that the use of torture against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere is not linked to deeply rooted prejudices as to the ego, pride, sexuality, religiosity, and body of a Muslim man or woman. Another common tactic that is actually symptomatic of the deep entrenchment of the problem is to admit that anti-Muslim prejudice exists but to minimize it as a passing condition instead of a pathology with a stubbornly persistent history, or to dilute its particularity and distinctiveness by dismissively equating it to other prejudices and biases minorities suffered, and that in due time, defeated. The relatively muted response of the intelligentsia in the West at the widespread occurrence of civil rights violations against Muslims in the West, and also in reaction to the documented humanitarian violations and war crimes inflicted upon Muslims in several countries and contexts in the name of the war on terror is again a strong indication of the de-sensitization and suppressed consciousness of the West towards the presence and wrongfulness of anti-Muslim prejudices. Sadly, the West has managed to confront many of the demons of its history, but its fear of Muslims and hate of Islam is one demon that has proven too powerful to confront.
The one thing that the so-called war on terror has shown is the fragility of the Western ego, which as already explained, was inordinately shaped by its antithesis to Islam. After the terrorist attack of 2001 on the USA, it is truly remarkable how quickly so many intellectuals and policy makers were willing to abandon the arduous human labor that took human beings through two world wars, and that painfully created the structure of legitimacy for the world in the 21st century, only to revert back to the dichotomous paradigms of the good versus evil, the forces of light against the forces of darkness, the knights of Christendom versus infidel barbarians, the clash of civilizations, and ultimately, the satanic religion that is out to haunt the world with demonic forces. The fragility of the Western ego leaves one wondering: if murderous terrorist attacks can generate such a powerfully effective and lucrative hate culture in the enlightened West what could centuries of colonization, occupation, and brutalization produce in the Muslim world?
This, however, seems to me to be the wrong kind of question or at least, it seems to be a dangerous question. As the Qur’an consistently teaches, one injustice cannot justify another—in the same way that no amount of terrorism committed by people who affiliate themselves with the Islamic faith may possibly justify religious prejudice and bigotry, no amount of persecution or oppression may excuse or justify the harming or terrorizing of civilians in order to protest an injustice. I believe that the most rudimentary and basic moral order would recognize that if injustice is reciprocated by further injustice, we do not somehow miraculously end up with a just situation or with justice achieved. But this itself points to a quintessential affinity between all acts of terrorism—no matter the trappings, the ugliness remains the same. Whether terrorism is committed by a particular group holding a person hostage in order to win certain concessions, or by an army holding a population hostage in order to force submission to its will, the moral quality of the act is the same. This, of course, is in moral theory alone; reality is very different. In legal theory, for instance, the rich and the poor are treated according to the same standards of justice—although an ideal, it is seldom fulfilled. Nevertheless, the ideal must remain the normative yardstick and the failures of reality must never be treated as normatively correct.
This is precisely why I find Islamophobia and Islam-hating so unsettling—it is not a concession to reality while upholding the ideal; it is a corruption of reality while deforming the ideal. Islam-hating is extreme in its ugliness because it stands everything on its head; it twists and distorts the space that Muslims are pushed into occupying in the modern age. If it is allowed to persist then the whole Muslim experience since Colonialism becomes nothing but a deceptive fantasy. This prejudice does not only mean the failure of the ideals upon which modernity was built; and a regression to the exploitatively religious wars of the Crusades and counter-crusades, but worst of all, it means that religion will be denied the role of the medicinal healer to the jahiliyya suffered in this age.
Among its endlessly circular and incoherently inconsistent long list of wrongs, Islamophobia rationalizes the continued victimization of disempowered people by dreaming-up conspiracy theories in which the offenders pretend to be the victims. It claims that because Muslims are plagued by paranoid conspiracy theories, Muslims have a weak grasp of reality, but simultaneously, Islamophobes imagine every Muslim with a pulse to be a co-conspirator in a massive plot for world domination. Islamophobes smugly declare that Muslims do not have cultural commitments to human rights and self-servingly, announce that any commitment to human rights by a Muslim culture is not authentic, and therefore, insincere. By the same logic, Shari’a is denounced as fundamentally inconsistent with human rights, but at the same time, any jurisprudential doctrine consistent with human rights cannot be an authentic part of Shari’a. This circular logic goes on and on: Islamophobia perpetuates violence and many abuses against Muslims by claiming that Muslims are not really victims because Muslims are inherently violent; it re-affirms its lies by accusing every challenge to its hate-filled view of Muslims to be a lie. It justifies the disproportionate and indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims as moral and just while contently claiming that Muslims lack a just war tradition. Islamophobes preach hate against Islam because by definition Islam only teaches hate. Islamophobes will gloat about how they belong to cultures that cherish the idea of liberty but as a matter of course, will denounce any Muslim movement that claims the right to self-determination or that demands the right to live free of foreign occupation. Islamophobes will accuse of Muslims of despotism and of being incapable of practicing democracy but at the same time, they will seek to exclude Islamic parties from participation in democratic governance. Similarly, Islamophobes will vigilantly support the right of Christian parties or Christian organizations to be actively engaged in the political field and will defend Jewish religious parties calling for the application of Jewish law as a necessary part of the exercise of democracy. Meanwhile, they transform a bogeyman labeled political Islam into the embodied reincarnation of fascist ideology. Islamophobes pretend to honor the right to freedom of belief but spew nothing but venom at those who believe in Islam as their spiritual and moral system of guidance. Sadly, however, as is the case with most prejudices and biases, the problem is not the absence of reasoning or the paucity of accurate information. Most prejudices and biases persist because of the lack of moral will—the will to adopt conscientious and ethical positions towards others, especially those who because of habit or interest we have a reason to hate.
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For those who have the moral will, the book I introduce here will prove to be an invaluable reference source on the Islamic faith. For those who do not wish to be participants in the perpetuation of religious bigotry and hate, this book will provide an accurate, thoughtful, and reliable introduction to Muslim beliefs and practices. I wish we lived in a world in which this book would become a standard reference source for students of religion who are interested in an accurate introduction to the religion of Islam. The best thing I can say about this book is that it is the product of a labor of love that lasted for more than a decade. The authors do not offer a personalized view of their own religiosity; they explain in a very straightforward and accessible fashion what mainstream Muslims believe in and especially, what the Qur’an itself teaches. Non-Muslims will understand why well over a billion people call themselves Muslim and also how Islam inspires Muslims to deal with and improve upon the world in which they live. Indeed this book manages to translate the Muslim vision or the way that Islam heals the ailments of humanity in the current age and every age. Readers who wish to learn the theological and moral dogma of Islam will find this book indispensable. But this book is not just an informative tool for the fair-minded and interested reader. This book is an educational tool for both Muslims and non-Muslims—it is an authoritatively reliable text to teach young Muslims, or even Muslims who never had the time to study the Qur’an, or the fundamentals of their religion. The book is written with the kind of balance and fair-mindedness that makes it equally valuable for Muslim and non-Muslim students of Islam. The least I can say about this text is that it was written by two ethically conscientious and principled Muslims in order to share their religion with every ethically conscientious and principled reader in the world. They must be heard.
Dr. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic law
UCLA SCHOOL OF LAW