Non-Muslims are barred from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina — not merely barred from building synagogues or churches, but barred, period, because their infidel feet are deemed unfit to touch the ground. This is not an al-Qaeda principle. Nor is it an “Islamist” principle. It is Islam, pure and simple.
“Truly the pagans are unclean,” instructs the Koran’s Sura 9:28, “so let them not . . . approach the Sacred Mosque.” This injunction — and there are plenty of similar ones in Islam’s scriptures — is enforced vigorously not by jihadist terrorists but by the Saudi government. And it is enforced not because of some eccentric sense of Saudi nationalism. The only law of Saudi Arabia is sharia, the law of Islam.
As Sunni scholarly commentary in the version of the Koran officially produced by the Saudi government explains, only Muslims are sufficiently “strict in cleanliness, as well as in purity of mind and heart, so that their word can be relied upon.” Thus, only they may enter the holy cities. Authoritative Shiite teaching is even more bracing. As Iraq’s “moderate” Ayatollah Ali Sistani — probably the world’s most influential Shiite cleric — has explained, the touching of non-Muslims is discouraged, because they are considered to be in the same “unclean” category as “urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors, and the sweat of an animal who persistently eats [unclean things].”
These teachings are worth bearing in mind as we listen to the staunch defenses of religious liberty that have suddenly become so fashionable among proponents of the Cordoba Initiative, a planned $100 million Islamic center and mosque to be built on the hallowed ground where remains of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed by Muslim terrorists on 9/11 continue to be found. The most prominent proponent of the project, President Obama, was in high fashion Friday night, as one would expect at a White House gala in observance of Ramadan. “This is America,” he intoned, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
The president’s commitment is to a vacant abstraction, not to actual liberty. If his resolve to defend religious freedom were truly unshakable, the last thing he would endorse is the construction of a gigantic monument to intolerance in a place where bigots devastated a city they have repeatedly targeted because of the pluralism and freedom it symbolizes. You can’t aspire to religious freedom by turning a blind eye to the reality of sharia.
Saudi Arabia, the country from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers hailed, abides no pluralism or religious freedom. Sure, the Saudis will tell you they allow Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims to visit their country, which is awfully big of them. Still, the regime prohibits these infidels from polluting the kingdom with their Bibles, crucifixes, and Stars of David.
Mosque proponents like the Manhattan Institute’s Josh Barro scoff at discomfiting comparisons between religious liberty in the United States and in Saudi Arabia. For them, the prospect of a mosque at Ground Zero is our “opportunity to show how we are better than Saudis.” That misses the point in two ways. First, we don’t need to show that we are better than the Saudis. We permit thousands of Muslim houses of worship in our nation, Muslims are celebrated in our public life, and our military has done more to protect and defend Muslims — including in Saudi Arabia — than any fighting force in history. Every objective person already knows that, and anybody who purports to need convincing will never be convinced.
Second and more significant, the comparison of what is permitted in Manhattan and what is permitted in Mecca is not about the Saudis: It is about Islam. Saudi Arabia does not have any law but sharia. Non-Muslims are discriminated against in the kingdom, not because that’s how the Saudis want it. They are discriminated against because that is how the Koran says it must be.
Sura 9:29, the verse of the Koran that immediately follows the commandment to exclude non-Muslims from holy sites, instructs: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the people of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
The jizya is a poll-tax imposed on dhimmis. Those are non-Muslims permitted to live in Islamic territories. The concept is that all the world will eventually be under the thumb of sharia authorities, with dhimmis tolerated so long as they accept their subordinate legal and social status (“and feel themselves subdued”). The alternative for dhimmis is war or death.
Nevertheless, Muslims understand that this global mission cannot be completed in a day. In an Islamic country like Saudi Arabia, where they are in a position to impose sharia in full, that is exactly what they do. In other places, the degree of imposition depends on relative Islamic strength, and it increases as that strength increases. Thus, the standard Muslim position on “Palestine,” where Islamic strength is growing but not yet dominant: Muslims are to be permitted to live freely within the Jewish state, but all Jews must be purged from Palestinian territories. Again, that’s not an al-Qaeda position; it’s the mainstream Islamic view. To the extent there is a mainstream dissenting view, it is that the Jewish state should be annihilated immediately — not that the two sides should live in reciprocally tolerant harmony.
In the United States, there is no threat to religious liberty . . . except where there are high concentrations of Muslims. Not high concentrations of al-Qaeda sympathizers — high concentrations of Muslims. As Muslims have flocked to Dearborn, Mich., for example, Henry Ford’s hometown has become infamous for its support of Hezbollah. Recently, four Christian missionaries were arrested by Dearborn police for the crime of handing out copies of St. John’s gospel on a public street outside an Arab festival. The police called it disturbing the peace. But the peace was disturbed only due to the foreboding sense that Muslims might take riotous offense, because sharia forbids the preaching of religions other than Islam.
In Minneapolis, where thousands of Somalis have settled, taxpayers are being forced to support sharia-compliant mortgages and at least one Islamic charter school. Meantime, taxi drivers refuse to ferry passengers suspected of carrying alcohol, and a student in need of a dog’s assistance for medical reasons was driven from school due to threats from Muslim students against him and the animal — because sharia regards canines as unclean.
This aggression is a deliberate strategy, called “voluntary apartheid.” The idea, as explained by influential Sunni cleric Yusuf Qaradawi (the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide), counsels that Muslims in the West must push political leaders to indulge what he claims is their “right to live according to our faith — ideologically, legislatively, and ethically.” It is what imam Feisal Rauf means when he urges America to become more sharia-friendly by allowing “religious communities more leeway to judge among themselves, according to their laws.”
This is not the promotion of religious liberty. In America, President Obama observed, religious liberty welcomes “people of all faiths.” Contemporary Islam, by contrast, is counseling supremacism. It rips at our seams, demanding that Americans accept parallel Islamic societies, because Muslims must reject the mores of non-Islamic societies.
This same thinking undergirds Islam’s rejection of freedom of conscience, including the Koran’s prescription, in Sura 4:89, of the death penalty for those who renounce their Islamic faith (“They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all like alike. Do not befriend them. . . . If they desert you seize them and put them to death wherever you find them.”) Again, this is not an al-Qaeda doctrine. As the scholar Ibn Warraq observes, it is the interpretation shared by all classical schools of Muslim jurisprudence.
Moreover, the same theory that considers every Muslim to be a Muslim forever — whether he wants to be one or not — analogously holds that if a given inch of land has ever been under Islamic domain, it is Islam’s property in perpetuity. There is a reason Islamic maps of Palestine do not reflect the existence of Israel and that Spain is called al-Andalus.
There are Muslims who want to change this, Muslims who want to evolve their faith into the light of ecumenical tolerance, Muslims who crave true religious liberty and reject sharia’s repression. These reformist Muslims face a daunting challenge, however. The power and money in the Islamic community is in the grip of the supremacists who pressure Muslims to resist assimilating in America.
It is a challenge that the president — if he actually had an “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom — could help the reformers try to surmount. No one credibly questions the legal right of Muslim landowners to use their property in any lawful fashion. Legality is an irrelevant issue, even if the back-tracking Obama now wants to pretend it is the only one he was really talking about on Friday night. The question here is propriety.
This president, uniquely, could have framed that question in the right way. He could have called on Muslims who claim to be moderate to reject Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda explicitly, by name and without equivocation. He could have called for them to support freedom of conscience, to support the right of Muslims to leave the faith. He could have called for Muslims to reject the second-class citizenship to which sharia condemns women and non-Muslims. He could have demanded that they accept the right of homosexuals to live without fear of persecution. He could have called for a declaration that sharia is a matter of private contemplation that has no place in the formation of public policy.
If the Ground Zero mosque were understood as standing for those values, it would be a monument worth having: A testament to the rise of a uniquely American Islam that stands foursquare against the hate-filled ideology we’re fighting, an Islam for which Americans would be proud to fight. But that’s not in the cards for a president whose idea of a symbolic gesture is a bow to the Saudi king and an open door to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The president may not have noticed, but the commitment of the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood to religious intolerance is utterly unshakable.
– Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.