On Feb. 19th, an opinion piece appeared on the Fox News website with a rather serpentine title: “Iran should return to ancient teachings of Islam, a religion hijacked in 1979 by a dictatorial regime.” It was written by Rev. Johnnie Moore, whose byline includes some rather impressive titles: “commissioner on the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom and the president of The Congress of Christian Leaders.”
Within this piece, Johnnie Moore designates himself “a student of religion,” but sadly his research concerning Islam shows little beyond high school competence. There are some things he gets right — with regard to the excesses and immoralities of the theocratic leadership of modern-day Iran, he rightly enumerates and condemns a number of evils:
“At home, the Iranian regime has imposed a harsh code of conduct on its people that severely restricts personal freedom and dictates what they can wear, what they can say, what they can watch and read in the media, and many aspects of their daily conduct.
Women can be imprisoned refusing to wear the hijab. Gay people can be executed for their sexual orientation. People who belong religious minorities – especially Baha’is, Sufi Muslims and Christians – are relentlessly persecuted and barred from worshiping as they desire.”
Yet almost everything else about Iran and Islam, Rev. Moore gets gravely wrong. He attributes this “harsh code of conduct” on a perversion of Islam concocted by power-hungry ayatollahs, led by the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei who, according to Moore, “…defies the Prophet Muhammad, making a mockery of his claim to be a follower of Islam.” What Johnnie Moore apparently doesn’t know is that the “harsh code of conduct” against which he rails is enshrined in Shari’a law (both Sunni and Shi’ite), a body of legislation culled from the authoritative Qur’an and the (almost as authoritative) traditions about the Arabian prophet’s behaviors and teachings found in the Hadith. It is no perversion of the prophet’s religion, but rather the detailed outworking of Muhammad’s dictates and practices.
To Johnnie Moore’s exhortation that “Iran should return to the ancient teachings of Islam,” the response of the mullahs would be, “That’s exactly what we did in 1979 by expelling the Shah and his Western-styled secular regime and instituting ancient shari’a!” And they have an unassailable point.
Moore attempts his own definition of “ancient Islam” by pointing to a book written allegedly by the fourth Imam of Twelver Shi’ism, ‘Ali ibn Husain ibn ‘Ali, notable as a great-grandson of Muhammad. This book, Risalat al-Huquq (“Treatise on Rights/Duties”), expounds upon all the rights that others (depending on their relationship to us) have over us, and our responsibilities to them. Johnnie looks at one chapter in the book (32: The Right of the Neighbor) and lists its contents (with some significant artistic license in the last point):
1) Protect your neighbor’s interests when he is absent.
2) Show him respect when he is present.
3) Help him when he suffers an injustice.
4) Do not remain on the lookout to detect his faults; and if you happen to know any undesirable thing about him, hide it from others.
5) At the same time, try to dissuade him from improper habits, if there is any chance that he will listen to you.
6) Never leave him alone at any calamity.
7) Forgive him if he has done any wrong.
8) In short, live with him a noble life, based on the highest Islamic ethical code.
The exact passage is more literally translated below:
The right of your neighbour (jar) is that you guard him when he is absent, honour him when he is present, and aid him when he is wronged. You do not pursue anything of his that is shameful; if you know of any evil from him, you conceal it. If you know that he will accept your counsel, you counsel him in that which is between him and you. You do not forsake him in difficulty, you release him from his stumble, you forgive his sin, and you associate with him generously. And there is no strength save in God.
Rev. Moore rightly observes, “We could certainly use more of these enlightened sentiments in our modern world.” But his introduction to this list of exhortations (“Al-Husayn called on Muslims to follow these rules of good conduct in dealing with others:…) is highly misleading, because the “others” to whom such rights are due are always and only fellow Muslims. This is clear within the book by the fact that the author includes chapters on Masters and Slaves as well as one (the final and thus least important chapter) entitled “The Right of the Dhimmi People.” The dhimmis, of course, are the inferior non-Muslim monotheists who are allowed to practice their faith in highly restricted ways, living in humiliation and servility and paying an oppressive tax (jizya) merely for permission to exist among Muslims. Should they break the “covenant” of subservience, they incur the penalty of death by beheading. Here’s how Chapter 51 (on dhimmis) reads:
The right of the people under the protection [of Islam] (dhimma) is that you accept from them what God has accepted from them and you do no wrong to them as long as they fulfil God’s covenant. (emphasis mine)
As a student of religion, Johnnie should know that Islam makes an absolute division between Muslims and non-Muslims in how they are to be treated. But he doesn’t. Instead, he falls into the trap that most Westerners do — assuming that Islam champions the same theological anthropology as Judaism and Christianity. In fact, Johnnie clearly states this faulty assumption in this opinion piece:
“These rules of good conduct reflect a fundamental piece of theology shared by all Abrahamic faiths. Each teaches in its own way that every man, woman and child is made in the very image of God.”
In point of fact, Islam rejects the notion that human beings are created in the image of God, arguing that such a description is a short step from idolatry. Instead, human beings are slaves of Allah and nothing more. Slaves, of course, are property, having no rights of their own but only what their master allots to them. So for Islam in the end, human beings are separated into two categories: obedient slaves, who are accorded blessings and pleasures galore — these are all Muslims; and disobedient slaves, who are promised unending hellfire and torture — these are all non-Muslims. The Qur’an makes this interminably clear. As a result, Muslims are commanded to show kindness to fellow Muslims, but harshness to non-Muslims, as a foretaste of the eternal destiny which Allah has appointed for each group. This reflects the Muslim concept of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ (literally, “loyalty and disavowal”), which requires Muslims to love what Allah loves and to hate what Allah hates.
“You [the Muslim umma/people] are the best nation ever brought forth to men, bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour, and believing in God.” (Qur’an 3:10)
“The disbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans [i.e., all who refuse to become Muslims; the People of the Book are Christians and Jews] will dwell forever in hell; they are the worst of all creatures. (Qur’an 98:6)
“Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve, then they would not believe.” (Qur’an 8:55)
“Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves.” (Qur’an 48:29)
“O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” (Qur’an 5:51; see also 3:28; 5:80; 3:118; 9:23)
When Johnnie Moore writes that
“[‘Ali ibn] Al-Husayn said Muslims should embrace tolerance, coexistence and acceptance of those who are different from them and hold different beliefs. He said Muslims should promote these values of understanding in their societies.”,
he fails to see that the Qur’an itself forbids ‘Ali’s exhortations from applying to any recipient other than Muslims, for unbelievers have no rights to demand from believers.
Rev. Moore further describes true Islam as “a religion marked by benevolence towards one’s neighbor.” One wishes it were possible to poll all the neighbors of Islam throughout history as Muslim armies swept across their lands, demanding conversion, submission or death. Would “benevolence” be the first term to spring to their minds? Or perhaps we might interview some of the many minorities who have fled the Middle East over the centuries to lands that still ensure their freedom of faith and life. If Islam promises such benevolence to the neighbor, why do non-Muslim neighborhoods invariably diminish as Muslims encroach?
In pursuing his efforts to separate Iranian Shi’ite leadership from “true Islam”, Johnnie Moore argues that Iran’s hatred of the West and its freedoms is due to the influence of Marxism on the corrupt mullahs:
“True to Marxism, Iran’s leaders hate the West and the freedoms that Americans and the citizens of other democracies enjoy.”
Had Johnnie done a little historical research on the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and its first decade in power, he would have discovered that after partnering with the Tudeh Party (Iran’s communist organization) in order to oust the Shah, the Shi’ite mullahs under Khomeini’s leadership quickly turned against the “atheistic communist devils” once their consolidated their political power. Over ten thousand Tudeh members were arrested, the Party was declared illegal, and by 1988 many had been executed for treason, sedition or other “horrendous crimes.” History shows that Shi’ite Muslim leadership (and Sunni thinkers also) do not need or wish Marxist support for their denunciations of democracy and its freedoms. Their Islamic worldview sees democracy as idolatry and rebellion against Allah, for it allows human beings to determine their own laws and preferences for how they wish to live rather than submitting to the authoritative and unchanging Shari’a Law of Allah which he has magisterially imposed on all humanity.
Beyond this, America and the West stand as a reminder that the Islamic world is a “weak sister” in comparison. To those weaned on Islamic supremacism (as all Muslims are), the fact that there is no universal caliphate ruling as king of the mountain over all the non-Muslim nations is ceaselessly galling. It calls into question Allah’s sovereignty and Qur’anic promises regarding the ascendancy of the followers of the Arabian prophet. That is why America is the Great Satan, and why mullahs lead the weekly Friday chant, “Death to America.” If Satan is the leader of the rebellion against Allah in the spiritual realm, America is the leader of the rebellion against Allah in this world — because it refuses to bow before Allah and become a Muslim nation.
Moore sees “Iran’s well-documented assassinations and other terrorist activities” as one more sign of the theocracy’s perversion of “true Islam.” But as a student of Islam he must be aware of Muhammad’s assassination orders for the elimination of various enemies: for example, Ka’b al-Ashraf; Abdullah ibn ‘Ubayy; Uqaba ibn Abu Muayt; Abu Rafi; Ibn Sunayna, as well as dozens more executions and attempted assassinations. On top of this, Muhammad embraced the idea (supported in the Qur’an and Hadith) that Allah used terrorism as a tactic and commended it to his followers in warfare against the unbelievers. Muhammad famously declared, “I have been made victorious with terror….” (Bukhari, 4.52.220). If the Iranian regime is trafficking in terror and assassination, it is only following faithfully in the footsteps of Allah and his apostle.
Quoting a spurious missive attributed to Muhammad, Rev. Moore declares:
The prophet himself once wrote a letter to “the Christians in Persia” that said “they shall not be persecuted for their faith or their customs, but shall be allowed to pray as they will in their own places of worship and according to their own rites.” This is the true Islam.
However, Allah himself commands Muslims in the Quran (8:39):
And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.
And according to Muslim 1767, Muhammad is recorded as saying:
I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.
Though he died before accomplishing this, on his deathbed he ordered his commanders to expel all “mushrikeen” (those who have committed idolatry, which according to the Qur’an includes Christians and Jews — see 9:30):
Then he [Muhammad] ordered them to do three things. He said, “Turn the pagans [lit: “al-mushrikeen”] out of the ‘Arabian Peninsula; respect and give gifts to the foreign delegations as you have seen me dealing with them.” (Bukari, 5.59.716)
These Islamic texts and the historical realities of jihad and dhimmi oppression make it clear that “true Islam” is anything but gracious to the practitioners of faiths other than Islam. Would that Moore’s fantasy Islam were real, but sadly it is not.
Finally, Johnnie expresses his vision that “Iranians must continue to proclaim from every corner of their country their support for the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad.” To this I respond, in the words of St. Paul, “May it never be!” Support for the Islam of Muhammad is precisely what has landed Iran, and the entire Muslim world, in the state in which it finds itself.
How Johnnie Moore, presumably a believing Christian, could wish for the Muslim world to return to the mindset of the 7th Century supremacist warlord who demeaned women and dark-skinned Africans, who executed his wrath against those having the temerity to mock him, who allowed his troops to rape and enslave women conquered through battle, who kept a harem of wives and sex slaves and encouraged his followers to do the same, who plundered caravans for booth and tortured captives for information and wealth, who gave and received slaves as gifts, is beyond me.
No doubt he means well, but his naiveté is breathtaking — and dangerous. May the truth about “real Islam” defeat the fantasy world of “students of religion” like Johnnie Moore!