Feb. 18, 2011, marked the triumphal return to Cairo of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “spiritual guide,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi, after years of exile. His public reemergence in Egypt was sanctioned by the nation’s provisional military rulers. Qaradawi’s own words, as well as the images and actions that accompanied him during his return, should have shattered the myth that the turmoil leading to President Mubarak’s resignation augured the emergence of a modern, democratic Egyptian society devoted to Western conceptions of individual liberty and equality before the law.
But unlike the Middle East Media Research Institute, and my colleague al-Mutarjim (whose translation follows), mainstream-media outlets failed to report that Qaradawi issued a clarion call for the jihad reconquest of Jerusalem. Likewise, they failed to predict the events of the subsequent ten months, including the open ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates across North Africa and the entire Middle East. Instead, as late as August 2011, Hoover Institution fellow Fouad Ajami was writing in the Wall Street Journal that the uprisings were “the Arabs’ 1989, their supreme moment of historical agency,” and that “for once the ‘Arab Street’ was not gripped by anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, for once it wasn’t looking beyond its geography for alien demons.”
Qaradawi’s pronouncement, made during his Tahrir Square Friday khutbah (sermon), was met with thunderous applause. This is what he said:
A message to our brothers in Palestine: I have hope that Almighty Allah, as I have been pleased with the victory in Egypt, that He will also please me with the conquest of the al-Aqsa Mosque [i.e., Jerusalem], to prepare the way for me to preach in the al-Aqsa Mosque. May Allah prepare the way for us to [preach] in the al-Aqsa Mosque in safety — not in fear, not in haste. May Allah achieve this clear conquest for us. O sons of Palestine, I am confident that you will be victorious.
THE MEDIA VS. REALITY
It’s not that the media didn’t hear this portion of the sermon. The statement Qaradawi made immediately following this rallying cry — about having the Egyptian army open the Rafah border crossing into Gaza to facilitate “delivering aid to our brethren” — was widely reported. The deliberate omission of Qaradawi’s bellicose incitement to recapture Jerusalem reflects a larger, sustained campaign — by both the mainstream media and the academics whom they choose to provide their background information — to characterize Qaradawi’s beliefs as “pluralist, reform Islam.” In fact, Qaradawi advances an obscurantist, albeit mainstream, brand of sharia-based, aggressive jihadism — as well as its corollary: virulent hatred of Jews and other infidels.
John Esposito, who heads the lavishly Saudi-funded Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, is the doyen of American academic apologists for jihadism. Esposito opined in a Fall 2003 Boston Review essay that Qaradawi embodied a “reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism, and human rights.”
Nearly a decade later, Esposito’s assessment of Qaradawi has been regurgitated by both the mainstream media and the new generation of academics these journalists seek out for comment. Witness the New York Times coverage of Qaradawi’s Tahrir Square oration. We are told that the cleric’s speech “struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching,” and that “scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.”
To the Times’s credit, the story also acknowledges that Qaradawi has openly endorsed violence against both Israeli Jews and American troops in Iraq. But it then quotes an “academic Qaradawi expert,” Notre Dame professor Imad Shahin, who defends these views: “You call it violence; I call it resistance.”
Speaking of Professor Shahin, on Qaradawi’s own website, On Islam (formerly IslamOnline), Professor Shahin decried as the “dismantling of Islam” the suggestion that Islam’s sharia-based hadd punishments might be abrogated. These punishments include: lethal stoning for adultery; death for apostasy; the loss of hands and feet for highway robbery; the cutting off of the right hand for theft; 100 lashes for fornication; and 80 lashes for drinking wine. They were defined by the prophet Muhammad in the Koran and the hadith, and compiled by Muhammad Abu Zahra — a prominent member of the Academy of Islamic Research, a professor of Islamic law at Cairo University, and a prolific author. Abu Zahra’s compilation provides the mainstream institutional Islamic context for the views expressed by Shahin and Qaradawi.
An unusually frank Christian Science Monitor report on Qaradawi’s speech by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center captured the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “spiritual guide” to the Egyptian masses:
Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society, he’s in the religious mainstream, he’s not offering something that’s particularly distinctive or radical in the context of Egypt. . . . He’s an Islamist and he’s part of the Brotherhood school of thought, but his appeal goes beyond the Islamist spectrum, and in that sense he’s not just an Islamist figure, he’s an Egyptian figure with a national profile.
Yet even this more honest assessment failed to mention any of the concrete examples of Qaradawi’s odious vision.
During interviews on Feb. 9, 2006, and Sept. 25, 2008, published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English website, IkhwanWeb, Qaradawi elucidated his overarching beliefs and goals. He extolled the “moderate vision” of Muslim Brotherhood founder and paragon Hassan al-Banna. Qaradawi promoted the notion that the Brotherhood should govern Egypt, while expressing his personal desire to be a spiritual guide for the entire Egyptian nation, not merely the Brotherhood. He concluded with a call for “freedom and democracy,” but only as a vehicle for the imposition of sharia — echoing a standard modern-era jihadist formulation, “Islamic State through the will of the people.”
A vast array of readily available fatwas, sermons, and interviews put ugly flesh on the structural bones of Qaradawi’s worldview. For example, he has publicly advocated all of the following:
• that Muslims emulate their prophet, Muhammad, as a model for violent, expansionist jihad, including so-called jihad “martyrdom operations.”
• the re-creation of a formal transnational United Islamic State (Islamic caliphate).
• the eventual jihad genocide of all Jews worldwide. (“This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”)
Also, contextualizing his superficial message of “brotherhood” toward Egypt’s Coptic Christians in the Tahrir Square speech, he issued a fatwa prohibiting Southern Sudanese Muslims from joining the Christian Southern Sudanese majority in voting to peacefully secede from the brutally discriminatory sharia-state government of the Arab Muslim Khartoum regime.
Qaradawi’s triumphant February 18 khutbah to the adoring Muslim throngs was reminiscent of an Islamic revival begun by Egypt’s so-called “al-Manar modernists” — most prominently Jamal al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida — more than a century before he took the stage. These figures directly influenced the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood — in fact, the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, succeded Rida as the publisher of Al-Manar — and their views reveal much about the Brotherhood’s ideology.
Ignaz Goldziher is still regarded as the preeminent Orientalist scholar of Islam — he was a giant among giants in the era prior to cultural relativism — and he is a highly sympathetic, albeit honest, observer of the creed. Goldziher analyzed the doctrines of the al-Manar reformers in his 1920 study on Koranic exegesis, “Schools of Koranic Commentators.”
Afghani, for example, in his “Refutation of the Materialists,” taught the “perfection” of Islam, based upon its supposed adherence to “reason,” as well as the contrasting “imperfection” of all inferior belief systems and even “impure” Islamic practices. Paradoxically, this inherent reasonableness and superiority of Islam — “the only religion by which the happiness of nations can be attained” — must be made plain to the masses in each nation by
a special class whose function would be the education of the rest of the people, and another class whose function would be the training of the people in morals. One class would combat natural ignorance and the need of instruction, the other would combat the natural passions and the need of discipline. These two provisions, the teacher to perform the work of instruction, and the disciplinarian to command that which is good, and to prohibit that which should be avoided, are among the most important provisions of Islam.
[Islam’s] Divine Law (Sharia) regulates in detail the rights and duties of all, both ruler and subjects. . . . It is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims to aid in maintaining the authority of Islam and Islamic rule over all lands that have once been Muslim; and they are not permitted under any circumstances to be peaceable and conciliatory towards any who contend the mastery with them, until they obtain complete authority without sharing it with anyone else. . . . The only cure for these [Muslim] nations is to return to the rules of their religion [Islam] and the practice of its requirements according to what it was in the beginning, in the days of the early Caliphs.
Goldziher’s 1920 analysis of the al-Manar modernists is full of unapologetic insights. Goldziher provided “cultural Wahhabism” as a final characterization of the movement, tying these so-called modernists to the extremist Saudi Wahhabis:
The Egyptian [al-Manar] movement . . . operates under the aspect of theology. It derives its reformative demands from theological considerations free of alien influence. It insists on the redress of abuses, not so much because [the abuses] are hostile to culture, but because they are hostile to Islam, and contrary to the Koran and the authentic tradition. . . . Muhammad Abduh teaches [in his Koranic exegesis] that according to the rules of Islam “the unbelievers must be fought with the same weapons that they use in fighting Islam. This means that in our time we must compete with them in the production of cannons, rifles, sea and air armaments, and other war material. All this makes it incumbent on Muslims to achieve perfection in technical and natural sciences, because this alone will lead to military readiness.” . . . But we cannot — as it has been done recently — call their ideology a conciliatory theology. For such a role they are too radical regarding abuses. A more appropriate definition might be cultural Wahhabism.
Goldziher further observed that Abduh had praised the Najdi (Arabian) Wahhabi iconoclasts as advocates for true Islam in violently confronting bidah (innovation), while he reproved the mid-19th-century Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali for attacking the Wahhabis. Confirming Goldziher’s prescient characterization (from 1920) of the entire al-Manar movement, Abduh’s co-“modernist” pupil and promoter Muhammad Rashid Rida evolved into a full-throated public supporter of the political aspirations of Ibn Saud’s Wahhabism, most clearly manifest in a tract Rida wrote entitled “The Wahhabis and the Hijaz.”
In “The Wahhabis and the Hijaz,” Rida sought to vindicate Wahhabism’s reputation and champion the Saudi-Wahhabi side in the struggle for control of Islam’s holy places in the Hijaz. Rida asserted that a devout, powerful Muslim ruler such as Ibn Saud would be a bulwark against the realization of Britain’s desire to “eradicate” Islam as a political force and, eventually, even as a religious doctrine and belief system. As David Commins observed in his 2006 book, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia:
The notion that ambitious western powers worked hand in hand with duplicitous Arab rulers to advance western interests and to crush Islam would become a pillar of Muslim revivalist discourses. . . . The oldest and most influential such movement is the Muslim Brothers, founded in Egypt in 1928 by a twenty-two-year-old schoolteacher, Hassan al-Banna.
Prof. Johannes J. G. Jansen, a leading contemporary scholar of Islam, reaffirmed Goldziher’s seminal assessment of the “al-Manar modernists,” and also highlighted the direct nexus between Rashid Rida and Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. Rida’s discourse both rationalized and embodied the yearning of the Muslim masses for a return to mainstream, Islamic orthodoxy. Thus Jansen observes that, for example, “public opinion in the modern Muslim world attaches importance to [hadd] punishments. . . . When the Koranic punishments are carried out, and especially when the authorities take care that they are carried out in public, many Muslims see this as a sure sign that Islam finally has its way.”
Jansen concludes his analysis of the al-Manar modernists — their own legacy, and their direct linkage to Hassan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood movement — with this apt, if unromantic appraisal:
In retrospect it is evident that Rida shared these popular feelings about [hadd] punishments. Moreover, he appears to have subscribed to the radical view that condemns modern heads of state in the Arab world as apostates from Islam, and it is difficult today to see why an earlier generation of orientalists [note: but certainly not Goldziher] regarded al-Afghani, Abduh, and Rida as modernizing, westernizing liberals. The desire for the return of the glory of Islam, which these three reformers felt so strongly, and the particular socio-political circumstances in which they lived made them not into liberal modernizers but into the founding fathers of Islamic fundamentalism. In October 1941 the Egyptian government suppressed Al-Manar, which a certain Hassan al-Banna had recently taken over from the heirs of Rashid Rida [d. 1935]. It is with Hassan al-Banna that professional violence became part and parcel of the movement we now call Islamic fundamentalism.
Olivier Carré’s 1983 study of the profound regional impact of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s described what he termed “a striking phenomenon” that pervaded the Arab Muslim Near East:
When one discusses Islam, as one often does, in terms of a social and political ideal, whether out of religious conviction or because it is in the news, a common language, a sort of conceptual koine [a lingua franca] is found in all Eastern Arab countries — in Muslim schoolbooks, in the speech or behavior of people, whether friends or casual acquaintances, or in press reports on various current events. This common language is derived, ultimately, from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of the Nasserist period and also from what I shall call the “new Muslim Brothers” of the 1970s and 1980s.
Carré concluded with this prescient observation, borne out most recently and dramatically by the unfolding events of the so-called “Arab Spring”:
We shall eventually come to speak of a Saudi-inspired and directed neo-Ottomanist utopia, socially based on the middle classes of the Arab East, which is not particularly “new” except by virtue of an acculturation drive. Its militant basis will be Islamic politico-religious groupings of which the new Muslim Brothers is the most significant group.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Three decades after Carré wrote these words, the steady, inexorable advance of this dominant Muslim Brotherhood ideology is clearly evident, most recently in the North African “Arab Spring” coups, followed by popular electoral victories in Tunisia and Morocco. The Muslim Brotherhood is already gaining a large plurality in the first of several rounds of Egyptian elections, which will extend into 2012. Vote tallies released Sunday revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party garnered 36.6 percent of the ballots cast, followed by the hardline Salafist Nour party with 24.4 percent and a third fundamentalist party, the Wasat, at 4.3 percent. In other words, 65 percent of the votes went to Islamic fundamentalist parties. In stark contrast, the liberal Egyptian Bloc garnered only 13.4 percent of the vote.
Contra the witless, agenda-driven pre-election assessments by mainstream media outlets — such as the estimate reported by New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick that the Brotherhood would receive only 10 percent of the vote — Hudson Institute analyst Samuel Tadros accurately forecast a fundamentalist “tsunami.” Tadros described the most salient results of the actual balloting as follows:
In nearly every single district in Egypt with the exception of a few in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood came in first place, followed by the Salafists’ Islamic Alliance. The gap between both groups and the rest of the parties is humongous. . . . The Egyptian Bloc performed relatively well, but that is simply a reflection of Christian votes. There is a clear correlation between the bloc’s numbers and the number of Christians in a district.
The Egyptian voting results are entirely concordant with recent public-opinion polling data, which demonstrate that at least 60 percent of Egyptians have “fundamentalist” — i.e., traditional, mainstream — Islamic views, while just 20 percent are secular in orientation. For example, 84 percent of Egyptians favor killing “apostates” who forsake Islam, and 77 percent agree that thieves should have their hands amputated.
These overall trends have been accompanied by tragic outcomes — as have all earlier “Islamic revival” movements of the early, pre-modern, and modern eras. Egypt’s Copts have faced a pogrom, and their churches have been demolished. Even the silent, vestigial remnants of the dhimmi Jewish communities of North Africa have been attacked; in Tunisia, a temple was firebombed, and in Libya, a lone Jew of Libyan descent returned to help his “Libyan Muslim brothers” of the National Transitional Council, but was forced to flee for his life by Muslim mobs apparently enraged by his expressed desire to restore a synagogue. Lastly, there have been several episodes of rape of women foreign reporters attempting to cover the unfolding events.
The largely ignored anti-Christian violence and persecution wrought by the Islamic resurgence animating Egypt’s “Arab Spring” was brought to the fore during the Republican foreign-policy debate in South Carolina. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich frankly acknowledged and condemned this ugly phenomenon:
Candidly, the degree to which the Arab Spring may become an anti-Christian spring is something which bothers me a great deal. And I would certainly have the State Department intervening on behalf of the Coptic Christians, who are being persecuted under the new system, having their churches burned, having people killed. And I’d be pretty insistent that we are not going to be supportive of a regime which is explicitly hostile to religions other than Islam.
Finally, Egyptian expatriate author and essayist Nonie Darwish was raised a Muslim in Cairo and educated at the American University there. She offers this wistful, sobering perspective on the tragic, ongoing failure of imagination painfully evident almost a year after Qaradawi’s Tahrir Square khutbah in her forthcoming The Devil We Don’t Know: The Dark Side of the Revolutions in the Middle East:
I dreamed and still dream of a real Arab Spring, where the majority of the people will stand behind an enlightened leader at Tahrir Square in a magical moment of truthful courage and say, “We need to change course and to change ourselves. What we suffer from is not imposed on us by Mubarak, but by Islam controlling the state and the legal system, and this must end. It is time for the snake of Sharia to retreat back to Mecca, so that we can liberate beautiful Egypt, Persia, and the rest of the Middle East from this Arabian cultural curse.” If Muslim nations reject such an enlightened leader and continue to seek an Islamic Ummah, then the future of stability and peace in the Islamic world will be grim indeed.
Julien Benda, in his classic 1928 La Trahison des Clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals), decried with prophetic accuracy the way the abandonment of objective truth abetted totalitarian ideologies, which led to the cataclysmic destruction of World War II. The treason of Western intellectuals in our time remains their nearly complete failure to study, understand, or acknowledge the heinous consequences of the living, corollary Islamic institutions of jihad war and hatred of Jews and infidels.
— Andrew Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism and the forthcoming Sharia versus Freedom, the latter with a foreword by Andrew C. McCarthy. This essay was adapted from a lengthy version posted here.