A Proud Tradition of Tolerance?

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. Funny-jihad-extremists-cartoonOr 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?

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5 Responses to A Proud Tradition of Tolerance?

  1. Jim Bower says:

    Extraordinarily enlightening! As usual your scholarly mind makes sense in our difficult world! Thanks for sharing! Please send me another pledge package. In our household chaos we have misplaced your original request! We love you and your family and wish to support!


    • mateenelass says:

      Thanks so much, Jim, for your encouraging words and for your desire to support our new ministry! I’ll send you a “pledge package when I get back to CO (right now I’m in CA at our ECO national conference)!


  2. Freeman McCall says:

    Hi Mateen, I am worried that the present climate in the United States will lead to persecuting Muslims the way we did the Japanese during World War 2, or even the way the Christians in Germany treated Jews at that time. How can we as Christians fulfill the command to love our neighbor in a time when mosques are being threatened and Muslm girls are being bullied for wearing a head scarf?
    God bless you in your new ministry.
    Freeman McCall


    • mateenelass says:

      Hi, Freeman! So good to hear from you. I certainly agree with you that American society needs to monitor itself to prevent the rise of persecution against American Muslims. The good news, however, is that the notion of growing anti-Muslim persecution is a myth at present. According to FBI hate crime statistics, from 2001-11, and again in 2014 (latest statistics), average annual hate crimes committed against Muslims were 6 per 100,000 Muslims. In 2014, that translated to a total of reported hate crimes against Muslims of 188. Of course, we would wish that the total was 0, but keep in mind that the total hate crimes for 2014 committed against Jews numbered 635. Another way to say this is that of all religiously motivated hate crimes for 2014, those against Muslims constituted 16.3%; those against Jews 58.2%. Both these numbers pale, however, compared to hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community (1,160) or against the black population (1,956).

      I’m aware that the present tensions raised by radical Islam and the subsequent fears of many Americans form a recipe ripe for persecution of innocent Muslims, but I’m also encouraged by the fact that after 9/11 the rate of anti-Muslim hate crimes did not increase but remained steady and relatively low. There is always room for improvement, and the mood/actions of the American people must be monitored to prevent the kind of parallels you point to from WW2, but the alarmist claims that Muslims are facing inordinate persecution here in the USA is not supported by the best statistics to which we have access.

      Lastly, as you well know, the Church has very limited impact on our post-Christian American society. We cannot legislate love among non-Christian Americans, but we certainly can and must teach and model the love which Jesus commanded his followers to embody, especially toward those depicted as the enemy. That is a major part of my vision for the training of church groups in outreach to Muslims!


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