Less than six months (6/4/09) after first taking office, President Obama delivered a speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University. Entitled “A New Beginning,” it was his opening effort to launch a grandiose vision bringing peace to the world and an age of harmony between the USA and the Muslim world.
I recently reread Mr. Obama’s speech, and was impressed by some of the difficult subjects he addressed. On the subject of Israel and Palestine, he acknowledged that the Palestinians must embrace Israel’s right to exist and must renounce violence, even as Israel must agree to a Palestinian state and the cessation of expanded settlements. On democracy, he encouraged Muslim nations to move in that direction. Bringing up women’s rights, he hinted that Muslim countries would be better off utilizing all their potential.
One of Mr. Obama’s statements concerning Islam resonated strongly in my mind and heart: “…partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.” However, despite his assertions, much of the President’s speech showed either an abhorrent lack of understanding of the true nature of Islam, or a willful concealment of its core beliefs.
Eight times, he spoke of Islam’s penchant for tolerance and/or concern for the dignity of all human beings. Crowning these statements was the bromide, “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.” Tell that to the 200 million plus (a conservative estimate) who have died over the last 1400 years under the violent expansion and rule of Islam. Or to the conquered peoples allowed to live as third class citizens known as dhimmis, heavily discriminated against under Shari’a law. Or to the countless former Muslims killed for becoming apostates and leaving Islam. Or to the millions upon millions of Muslims forbidden to ask searching questions about their religion. Or to Muslim author Salman Rushdie, who became the target of a Khomeini death fatwa in 1989 upon the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses in 1988. Or to the kafirs who speak what some Muslims consider to be blasphemy and receive multitudes of death threats from “faithful” Muslims. Or to the murdered French Charlie Hebdo employees whose satire “offended” Islamic sensitivities.
Yet Mr. Obama continues to think he understands Islam better than others. Apparently, his declarations on Islam’s proud tradition of tolerance haven’t reached the top religious authorities of Saudi Arabia. On the official website “The General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta’,” which exists under the aegis of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one can find numerous fatwas dealing with non-Muslims (otherwise known as kafirs). One of them, entitled “Duty to Hate Jews, Mushrikun (idolaters) and Other Infidels,” was written by grand mufti (highest religious position in the Saudi government), Ibn Baz, who passed away in 1999. The fatwa is still in force.
Among other things, it decrees on the basis of Qur’anic texts such as “Do not take as your friends the Jews and Christians” (5:51) and “Thou wilt not find folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving those who oppose Allah and His messenger, even though they be their fathers or their sons or their brethren or their clan” (58:2; see also 3:118, 4:144 and 60:4) that Muslims are not only not to love non-Muslims but to actually hate them until they surrender and become Muslims. Thus, Ibn Baz declares,
Such verses are many and offer clear proofs concerning the obligation to despise infidels from the Jews, Christians, and all other non-Muslims, as well as the obligation to oppose them until they believe in Allah alone.
Somehow that doesn’t sound very tolerant. How many in the USA would such obligatory hatred encompass? Well, there are roughly 3 million Muslims in this country, and about 320 million total population. Hence according to the official religious doctrine of Saudi Arabia, Muslims are required to despise 317 million Americans (Jews, Christians and all other non-Muslims). So much for Islam’s proud tradition of tolerance…. Fortunately, most Muslim Americans don’t know of this obligation, or conveniently ignore it.
But of course, Ibn Baz and the Saudi Muslim religious hierarchy could be totally wrong about Islam. Sure, Arabia is the cradle of Islam. Sure, their native language is Arabic, the language of the Qur’an and core Islam. Sure, they are steeped in 1400 years of Islamic life and tradition. Sure, their scholars are schooled for decades in Quranic and Hadith memorization and the intricacies of Shari’a jurisprudence. But they could be wrong. And Mr. Obama could be right.
Which seems more likely to you?