On the origins of Islamic terrorism, the dangerous loophole within Sunni Islam that enables it (hadith-primacism), and the powerful new Sunni Criterionist position, already adopted by millions of educated Muslims, that uses the Quran to cripple extremist ideologies.
The Western Origins of the Islamic Terrorism Germ
The United States invented modern Islamic terrorism in 1979 as part of its efforts to fight the Soviet Union’s influence in Central Asia, that all-important part of the world, control of which is necessary for any would-be world hegemon.
The groundwork had been laid by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that started out as a welfare and education society but grew too powerful for its own good. Its major political work was their helping in the war against an army of Jews eager to repeat the Hebrew Bible’s conquest of Canaan by systematically killing Palestinian men, women and infants1 in a poetic reenactment of the Book of Joshua.
From the perspective of Quranic law, the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement in the war against these terrorists was justifiable, as the Brotherhood wasn’t acting independently, unlike today’s Islamic terrorists. It was helping in a conflict that involved existing sovereign states (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, members of the Arab League). The Muslim Brotherhood’s war was exactly the opposite of conflicts launched by modern Islamic terrorists, it was an anti-terrorist force in the conflict, helping governments fight terrorists that were carrying out bombings and massacres, intent on terrorizing all Palestinians into leaving the territories that these Jews had decided belonged to them as God’s Chosen People.
The Brotherhood’s power grew to the point that it developed its own intelligence and covert operations arm, known as al-Jihaaz al-Sirri (The Covert Apparatus), which was involved in assassinations and bombings, such as the assassination of Ahmed El-Khazindar Bey, President of Egypt’s Court of Appeal, and Mahmoud El Nokrashy Pasha, Prime Minister of Egypt, both in 1948. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, condemned both of these assassinations, but he had practically lost control over his organization, since powerful factions within it wanted violence, and they had the power to bypass al-Banna’s wishes.
The Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, well-known among Egypt’s intelligentsia and student of the famous Egyptian journalist Abbās Mahmūd al-Aqqād, reverted to Islam after a life of secularism and adopted the Brotherhood, while also, perhaps without realizing its true consequences, building the intellectual foundations necessary for the Brotherhood’s violent arm to carry out its insurgencies. If Sayyid Qutb’s highly partisan biographer is to be trusted2, his house was used as a meeting place for Gamal Abdel Nasser and his friends as they planned the 1952 July 23 Revolution in Egypt against the British occupation.
Once president of Egypt, Nasser wanted Qutb on his side, offering him high government positions, which Qutb always refused.3 Once he despaired of Qutb joining him, he started persecuting him and his associates, imprisoning him for a decade. Nasser ordered Qutb’s hanging on 24th of August, 1966, after a show trial. These events turned Qutb into the perfect martyr, a secular convert to Islam, a literary critic, a warrior for social justice, and a revolutionary who was stabbed in the back by Western-friendly seculars that he had supported into power.
The Brotherhood distanced itself from Qutb, going back to its early position of advocating peaceful activism (at least openly), but extremists around the world wishing for a resurgence of Islam continued to follow him as their primary source for both knowledge and for inspiration.4
By the 1970’s, the time was ripe for any would-be terrorist to launch his own holy war against whoever he disliked. The CIA jumped right into the action, training, arming and encouraging these terrorists as tools for protecting US interests abroad and fighting its major enemy, the Soviet Union. Operation Cyclone, conceived by the Jewish US foreign policy strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed and financed jihadi warriors in Afghanistan to use them as a buffer against Soviet influence from 1979 until after 1992, to the tune of $630 million per year in 1987.
What judgment to render on all this is a matter of perspective. Asked in 1998 if he had any regrets about having helped instigate Soviet intervention in Afghanistan5, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in many respects the god-father of Operation Cyclone, reacted with astonishment. “Regret what?” he replied. “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?”
The interviewer pressed the point. Hadn’t subsequent rise of radical Islamism tranished that victory? Not in Brzezinski’s view. “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”6
This brilliant program to manufacture Islamic jihadists to fight America’s enemies resulted in the creation of Operation Gladio B, the United States program to train al-Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates, exposed by the FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds.
In her interview, Edmonds insisted that after its initial exposé, the Times’ investigation had gone beyond such previous revelations, and was preparing to disclose her most startling accusations. Among these, Edmonds described how the CIA and the Pentagon had been running a series of covert operations supporting Islamist militant networks linked to Osama bin Laden right up to 9/11, in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
While it is widely recognised that the CIA sponsored bin Laden’s networks in Afghanistan during the Cold War, U.S. government officials deny any such ties existed. Others claim these ties were real, but were severed after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
But according to Edmonds, this narrative is false. “Not just bin Laden, but several senior ‘bin Ladens’ were transported by U.S. intelligence back and forth to the region in the late 1990s through to 2001”, she told this author, “including Ayman al-Zawahiri” – Osama bin Laden’s right-hand-man who has taken over as al-Qaeda’s top leader.
“In the late 1990s, all the way up to 9/11, al-Zawahiri and other mujahideen operatives were meeting regularly with senior U.S. officials in the U.S. embassy in Baku to plan the Pentagon’s Balkan operations with the mujahideen,” said Edmonds. “We had support for these operations from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but the U.S. oversaw and directed them. They were being run from a secret section of the Pentagon with its own office”.
Edmonds clarified, “the FBI counterintelligence investigation which was tracking these targets, along with their links to U.S. officials, was known as ‘Gladio B’, and was kickstarted in 1997. It so happens that Major Douglas Dickerson” – the husband of her FBI co-worker Melek whom she accused of espionage – “specifically directed the Pentagon’s ‘Gladio’ operations in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan at this time.”
In testimony under oath, Edmonds has previously confirmed that Major Doug Dickerson worked for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under the weapons procurement logistics division on Turkey and Central Asia, and with the Office of Special Plans (OSP) overseeing policy in Central Asia.
Edmonds said that the Pentagon operations with Islamists were an “extension” of an original ‘Gladio’ programme uncovered in the 1970s in Italy, part of an EU-wide NATO covert operation that began as early as the 1940s. As Swiss historian Dr. Daniele Ganser records in his seminal book, NATO’s Secret Armies, an official Italian parliamentary inquiry confirmed that British MI6 and the CIA had established a network of secret “stay-behind” paramilitary armies, staffed by fascist and Nazi collaborators. The covert armies carried out terrorist attacks throughout Western Europe, officially blamed on Communists in what Italian military intelligence called the ‘strategy of tension’.
“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game” explained Gladio operative Vincenzo Vinciguerra during his trial in 1984. “The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people… to turn to the State to ask for greater security.”
While the reality of Gladio’s existence in Europe is a matter of historical record, Edmonds contended the same strategy was adopted by the Pentagon in the 1990s in a new theatre of operations, namely, Asia. “Instead of using neo-Nazis, they used mujahideen working under various bin Ladens, as well as al-Zawahiri”, she said.7
The US tradition of spreading the American ideals of peace and liberty in the Middle East by funding and training Islamic terrorist groups continues to ISIS, also known as ISIL and Daesh.
James Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Emerging Threats at NATO – now that’s a lovely title – recently gave a talk at a private club in London on the Islamic State/Daesh. Shea, as many will remember, made his name as NATO’s spokesman during the NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999.
After his talk Shea engaged in a debate with a source I very much treasure. The source later gave me the lowdown.
According to Saudi intelligence, Daesh was invented by the US government – in Camp Bacca, near the Kuwait border, as many will remember — to essentially finish off the Shiite-majority Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.
It didn’t happen this way, of course. Then, years later, in the summer of 2014, Daesh routed the Iraqi Army on its way to conquer Mosul. The Iraqi Army fled. Daesh operatives then annexed ultra-modern weapons that took US instructors from six to twelve months to train the Iraqis in and…surprise! Daesh incorporated the weapons in their arsenals in 24 hours.
In the end, Shea frankly admitted to the source that Gen David Petraeus, conductor of the much-lauded 2007 surge, had trained these Sunnis now part of Daesh in Anbar province in Iraq.
Saudi intelligence still maintains that these Iraqi Sunnis were not US-trained – as Shea confirmed – because the Shiites in power in Baghdad didn’t allow it. Not true. The fact is the Daesh core – most of them former commanders and soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s army — is indeed a US-trained militia.
True to form, at the end of the debate, Shea went on to blame Russia for absolutely everything that’s happening today – including Daesh terror.8
The Cognitive-Psychological Stress of Terrorism on the Muslim Mind
Terrorism is an extremely stressful phenomenon for Muslims. It uses Islamic rhetoric to justify acts that disgust and horrify most Muslims. For Muslims, the problem with terrorism, and the reason they still haven’t figured out what to do about it, is that it is something entirely new. We Muslims are like the American Indians who were exposed for the first to time to European germs they had never faced before when Columbus discovered the Americas. Most of these native Americans had no defenses against these germs, and so they succumbed to them by the millions. Our societies, too, have no defenses against terrorism-supporting extremist ideologies because terrorism was never a threat before.
Terrorism, this new European-incubated germ (if we think of Americans as Europeans, for their European genes and culture), forces two choices on the average Muslim just trying to get on with their life. The first choice is to renew their allegiance to Islam, to convince themselves that these terrorists aren’t acting according to the true version of Islam. This argument feels weak, but they don’t know anything better, so they try not to think about it too much and instead direct their hatred at terrorist groups such as ISIS, to absolve themselves of the guilt they feel. Some of the kindest and most admirable people they know are fellow devout Muslims, so while they cannot consciously tell what the fundamental difference is between Muslim terrorists and peaceful, devout Muslims, they know in their hearts that the difference exists.
The second choice is to entirely abandon Islam as something evil, outdated and barbaric. Every major terrorist attack renews the pressure on Muslims to take this choice, and many do. And from their newfound post-Islam position, they attack Islam as the embodiment of all that is evil in this world.
We are caught between a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that claims to be the only true version of Islam, and that provides the fuel that drives these terrorists into doing what they do, and a secularism that entirely abandons Islam. Evey new terrorist attack creates intense cognitive dissonance where we have to continually repeat to ourselves that this is not true Islam, hoping to preserve our faith until we can forget about the massacre and go on with our lives.
Terrorism is nothing but an intense genetic-cultural evolutionary pressure9. We are faced with two ways forward:
- We remain in our present state of weakness, continuing to provide fertile ground for the FBI and the CIA to recruit terrorists among us and use them for their own purposes, becoming nothing but dehumanized tools of war among empires. More and more of us would feel pressured to abandon Islam, and in this way Islam fails and becomes extinct, as our children, deciding to be more enlightened than us, abandon Islam in favor of a secularism that feels much more sensible and civilized.
- We evolve into a new type of Muslim population whose very foundations reject and cripple the terrorist ideology that has been so perfected by the peaceful and freedom-loving geniuses at the CIA.
If we are to evolve, this evolution has to happen at the level of our intellectuals, scholars and preachers, who are the midwives responsible for birthing Islam into the 21st century.
Hadith-Primacism: The Scholarly Pandora’s Box that Enables Terrorist Ideologies
The Islamic scholarly tradition is divided into two major turfs; the scholars of fiqh (jurisprudence, i.e. Islamic law), and the scholars of hadith (narrations relating to the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and his tradition). The scholars of fiqh, among whom are such giants of Islamic scholarship as Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Khateeb al-Baghdadi, Fakhradeen al-Rarzi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim support a rationalistic approach toward hadith, believing that even if a hadith narration’s chain of narrators is entirely trustworthy, if the narration’s content is not supported by the wider context of the Quran and hadith, then that narration is subject to doubt and skepticism, and that it cannot be used to derive any laws or principles.10
Their policy toward singular but authentic hadith narrations is summarized by the scholar al-Shashi as follows:
شرط العمل بخبر الواحد ألا يكون مخالفا للكتاب والسنة المشهورة.
The condition for applying a singular hadith narration is that it should not go against Scripture [the Quran] and the well-known Sunnah [traditions of the Prophet.]
The rationalistic approach toward hadith is taken further by Abu Hanifah, who writes:
ونبي الله لا يخالف كتاب الله، ومخالف كتاب الله لا يكون نبي الله، فرد كل رجل يحدِّث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بخلاف القرآن ليس ردًّا على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ولا تكذيبا له، ولكن ردّ على مَن يحدث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بالباطل، والتهمة دخلت عليه وليست على نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم. (أبو حنيفة، رسالة العالم والمتعلم)
The Prophet of God does not defy the Book of God, and whoever defies the Book of God cannot be a Prophet of God. Refuting any man who mentions a narration of the Prophet peace be upon him which goes against the Quran is not a refutation of the Prophet peace be upon him, and is not an act of calling him [the Prophet] a liar, rather, it is a refutation of someone who speaks falsehood regarding the Prophet peace be upon him, and the accusation [of speaking falsehood] is against that man and not the Prophet peace be upon him.11
The Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Jawzi advocates this principle when handling hadith:
فكل حديث رأيته يخالف العقول وأن يناقض الأصول، فاعلم أنه موضوع فلا تتكلف اعتباره.
Any hadith that you can recognize as going against reason or contradicting principles, then know that it is a fabrication, therefore do not consider yourself compelled to act by it.
The rationalistic approach toward hadith is supported by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself, in an authentic narration included by Ibn `Asakir in his Tareekh Dimashq (History of Damascus). The narrators of this narration all have many narrations in Sahih al-Bukhari, meaning that they satisfy the highest standards of hadith authentication:
إنها تكون بعدي رواة يروون عني الحديث، فاعرضوا حديثهم على القرآن، فما وافق القرآن فخذوا به، وما لم يوافق القرآن فلا تأخذوا به.
There will be after me narrators of hadith. Expose their narrations to the Quran; any of them that agree with the Quran, then follow those, and those that do not agree with it, then do not follow them.
Scholars of hadith, on the other hand, reject this rationalistic approach toward hadith in favor of their processes of authentication, which entirely focuses on the form of hadith and ignores its content. As long as the chains of narration satisfy their criteria, they accept the hadith as authentic, even if it goes against the Quran and common sense. As an example, the hadith scholar al-Nasaa’i considers this narration authentic, in which the Prophet says:
لا يدخل الجنة ولد زنا
One who is born to adultery does not enter Paradise.12
Ibn al-Jawzi, who as mentioned belongs to the fiqh group, rejects this narration, despite the authenticity of its chain of narration, using the following verse of the Quran:
وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى
No one carries the burden of the sin of another person.13
The modern hadith scholar Ibn Baaz (of whom I think highly when it comes to most things) uses authentic hadith narrations to prove that the earth isn’t round. There are many hadith-primacist scholars in Saudi Arabia who use authentic narrations to prohibit women from driving cars or using the Internet without a man’s presence.
There is an intellectual battle raging between rationalism on the one hand, and hadith-primacism on the other (giving primacy to hadith at the Quran’s expense), with hadith-primacist scholars often entirely ignoring the Quran and reason if they can find authentic narrations to back up their claims. As an example, hadith scholars continue to consider as authentic narrations from Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abdullah ibn Umar in which they mention the Prophet saying that a dead person can be punished for the weeping of their relatives on them, even though there is an authentic narration by Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, in which she refutes what Umar and Abdullah say using verses of the Quran, and saying that Umar has misremembered.
Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyyah reject an authentic narration of the Prophet (mentioned in Sahih Muslim) in which he describes the stages of the creation of the earth as seven days, saying that since the Quran says the earth was created in six days, this hadith must be false regardless of its authenticity. To hadith-primacist scholars this doesn’t matter; the narrators are trustworthy, so it must be true, even if it clearly contradicts the Quran.
Hadith-primacist scholars make up a loud minority among the scholarly tradition which viciously attacks anyone who dares to use rationalism and Quran-derived principles to justify skepticism toward particular narrations, since to them, once a narration has been given the stamp of authenticity, any questioning of it mounts to heresy.
By giving preference to hadith in their thinking and ignoring Quranic principles, hadith-primacist scholars create Islam’s Achilles’ heel; on the one hand, extremists can make up any interpretation of Islam they desire as long as they can find authentic narrations to support their views, and on the other, the rest of the population is prohibited from countering the views of these extremists using the Quran, because…all of the narrations these extremists use are perfectly authentic, and any attack on them amounts to an attack on the hadith-primacist scholars, the loud minority that is only too happy to assassinate the character of anyone who incurs their wrath.
It does little good that 500 scholars sign some declaration against terrorism, their feeble arguments can be trivially defeated by the seemingly bullet-proof reasonings of militant extremists, who are just as well-versed in the scholarly tradition. Our scholars continue trying to build anti-terrorism castles in the sand, incapable of withstanding the simplest attacks of extremists.
Once the hadith-primacist view is adopted and goes unchallenged, it becomes futile to mention verses like 5:32 that mention the infinite worth of human life, because there is always that one extremist who comes along and says “This verse is overruled by that [Quranic verse or hadith narration], so no, the infinite worth of human life only applies to Muslims, and even then, to a tiny minority of Muslims.” And if you mention a verse like 2:62 that promises paradise to pious Christians living today, they will always say “Nope, this is abrogated by 5:17, which says Christians are infidels.”
Hadith-primacism enables extremists to enforce almost any and all preconceived prejudices they may have on Islamic belief and practice, opening the way for terrorist bombings and massacres. All that an extremist needs to support terrorism is a few well-chosen hadith narrations that corrupt the Quran in a way that presents a view of the world as a battlefield between good and evil, and which presents all of humanity as infidels that can be destroyed at will if they get in the way of extending God’s rule.
The “Criterion” is one of the names that the Quran uses for itself14. The entire 25th chapter is known as al-Furqaan, “the Criterion”, and its first verse shows that this name refers to the whole Quran:
Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion upon His servant, to be a warning to humanity.
Our scholars can never win the ideological war against terrorism as long as hadith-primacism goes unchallenged. Until our scholars develop sufficient courage to admit that the Quran is superior to hadith, and to admit that the Quran is the criterion by which we can judge all other texts, the loophole would remain wide open for extremist thinkers to encourage youth to carry out terrorist atrocities.
Stoning: Over 1000 Years of Rejecting the Quran
The hadith-primacist view is so dominant that to this day only a handful of scholars can be found who give precedence to the Quran’s principles on sexual crimes over hadith. One such scholar is the great Egyptian Islamic scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra (d. 1974), who in a 1972 conference rejected the punishment of stoning, saying that he had kept has view secret for 20 years in fear of the backlash he would receive if he made it public.
The Quran’s overall philosophy is that when faced with two evils, one must choose the lesser evil. No one, except a sadist, enjoys hurting others, even if it is justified. For the crime of adultery (people cheating on their spouses), the Quran prescribes a punishment that will be explained. But first it is important to understand why punishment is necessary.
Islam’s view is that adultery is a matter of men’s, women’s and children’s rights. Islam wants to make adultery unthinkable within a devout Muslim society. By removing people’s freedom to cheat on their spouses, Islam creates a better freedom. It creates a society that is free from the stress and damage of flirtation, cheating and seduction. Husbands and wives can go about their days confident in the knowledge that their families are stable and that there are no threats to their family lives, either from lecherous men or seductive women.
From a men’s rights perspective, being harsh on adultery means that men can be sure children born to their wives are their own. They are also freed from the intense stress and turmoil of having to deal with a wife who is talking to other men behind their backs.
From a women’s rights perspective, it means that women can be sure there are no other women, anywhere, at all, eager to take their husbands away from them, and thus they can be confident that their social status and the father of their children is not threatened by other women.
From a children’s rights perspective, it means children are spared the turmoil and damage caused by either of their parents cheating on the other, and the possible divorce and broken family life that would come from it.
Punishing adultery harshly is the lesser evil that prevents the greater evils mentioned above. Islam doesn’t shy away from dealing with such matters, the way modern Christians do. Letting adultery go unchecked doesn’t mean it will not do damage. It just means the problem will continue to grow until more and more families break apart and birth rates go below replacement rates (i.e. the society starts to shrink in the long term) as people shy away from marriage and family life due to the cynical attitude promoted by rampant infidelity and sex outside of marriage.
Before we talk about the punishment, note that Islam places stringent requirements on proving adultery. Four witnesses to the act of copulation are necessary, it is not sufficient to find a man and woman naked in a room together. Only someone who shows the most flagrant contempt for society’s rules by carrying out adultery (or other sexual acts) in the view of many witnesses will be subject to this law, and even then, only if the witnesses are forthcoming and the case goes to court.
Also note that Islamic law is not something that is forced upon people, it is something that people democratically choose as their own law. Non-Muslims wouldn’t be subject to it, though in a multi-religious society, Muslim-majority cities and states would have the right to banish non-Muslims who commit mortal sins like adultery, as otherwise there would be a loophole allowing non-Muslims to run brothels in Muslim cities, the way the Jews did all over Christian Europe in the 19th century.15
For the crime of adultery, the Quran prescribes a hundred lashes:
The adulteress and the adulterer—whip each one of them a hundred lashes, and let no pity towards them overcome you regarding God’s Law, if you believe in God and the Last Day. And let a group of believers witness their punishment. [Quran 24:2]
While flogging someone for a crime would seem uncouth and barbaric to the modern Western reader (who also can’t bear to watch a cow slaughtered, yet eats beef), Muslims voluntarily choose it as an acceptable punishment in certain cases because it is far more efficient than imprisoning people. Prisoners require food and care, which is a great waste on society, and a crime against the children and elderly who far more deserve that food and care. Instead of spending $50,000 caring for an imprisoned adulterer for a year, they are administered 15 minutes of public shaming and then let go, and if the money exists that was to be used for the care of prisoners, it would go toward helping the poor and the needy instead, who far more deserve it.16
Note that due to the rarity of adultery in a Muslim society, and the difficulty in proving it, actually floggings would be extremely rare. An entire country might only see a case or two in a decade. These would be ceremonial events, similar to the execution of traitors in the US, where the individuals in a society voluntarily choose to reassert that standards of manner and custom are being preserved. If flagrant adultery goes unpunished, within a decade or two the nature of the society would easily transform into a typical Western one, where people are cynical about marriage and relationships, and where birth rates are always below replacement.
Devout Muslims would never be guilty of adultery. The punishment is for freeloaders who want to enjoy the fruits of Islam (faithful wives and husbands, basic income, peaceful cities and very low crime rates) while flaunting their contempt for its rules. Such people are a threat to an Islamic society’s long-term survival, and they are dealt with as such. The flogging makes a lesson out of such people, teaching that they cannot enjoy the fruits of Islam while working to destroy the very foundations that enabled such fruits to exist in the first place.
If flogging seems unkind, it should, because it is meant to be unkind. It is an evil meant to prevent a greater evil. All that Islam asks of people, if they want to avoid this punishment, is to not have sex outside of marriage in the view of witnesses. And if someone really wants the right to have sex outside of marriage in the view of witnesses, they are free to leave Islam and enjoy this privilege.
To this day, the scholarly tradition has defended the idea of punishing people for leaving Islam, some even recommending the death penalty. This, above all, is a demonstration of the critical need for rationalism within the Islamic tradition, because the Quran says “There is no compulsion in religion,”17, and forcing people to stay Muslim is just as much compulsion as forcing people to become Muslims. Even a child should be able to see this, but thanks to the authoritarian doctrine of hadith-primacism, scarcely a scholar can be found with the spine and intelligence to support the Quran’s principle of religious freedom against apostasy-punishing hadith narrations.
While flogging is what the Quran prescribes for adultery, hadith narrations mention accounts of the Prophet ordering the stoning of adulterers, in accordance with Jewish law18 (at the beginning of his rule in the city of al-Madinah, the Prophet appears to have followed Jewish law if no Quranic law existed that could handle a particular case). So of course, our scholars follow the view of hadith instead of the Quran, considering stoning a valid punishment. Today, even Western-educated converts to Islam can be found who defend stoning.
Verse 4:25 of the Quran says this regarding women born to slavery:
When they are married, if they commit adultery, their punishment shall be half that of free women.
How exactly do you administer half a stoning to someone? Stoning is meant to be a form of execution, how do you half-execute someone? Would the Quran be foolish enough to prescribe a punishment that could never actually be applied in real life? The verse makes perfect since if it referred to the Quranic punishment for adultery, flogging.
As if that wasn’t sufficient evidence against stoning, the Quran goes on to supply this verse:
Those of your women who commit fahishah [“wantonness”, an umbrella term that includes adultery along with other sexual crimes], you must have four witnesses against them, from among you. If they testify, confine them to the homes until death claims them, or God makes a way for them. 19
If the punishment for adultery is execution by stoning, then what could this verse be talking about? How could God make a way for someone He Himself commands to be executed? This reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s novel Pyramids, in which a woman is sentenced to death for refusing to volunteer to be sacrificed.
From the Quranic point of view the point of the verse is clear. It is telling Muslims to be better than Christians, who as late as the 20th century would disown and throw out women who were convicted of adultery, along with their children, to become prostitutes and beggars. The verse requires that the woman’s family, clan, or tribe, instead of disowning her, should continue to care for her as one of their own. As is usual with the Quran’s system of checks and balances, this burden (of caring for an undesirable criminal) comes with added powers. The family is allowed to prevent the woman from going out until they age and die, or until “God makes a way for them”. This second clause provides for various possibilities in dealing with adulterers:
- For adulteresses and unmarried women who have sex outside of marriage, they can be confined to their homes by the family, as the verse suggests, until they show repentance and agree to abide by Islamic society’s rules. There are fatwas (official rulings) by many respected scholars (Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Dr. Nizar Rayyan, Dr. Ali al-Sartawi) that require a husband to keep a cheating wife as his wife if she shows repentance. Once she is found to have truly given up the thought that sex outside of marriage is OK, then she is allowed to re-enter society. By giving the Muslim family the power to prevent such women from going out, the law closes an important loophole that would exist otherwise. If the family didn’t have this power, a woman could practice prostitution while having the legal power to force her family to accommodate her and provide for her. The law requires adulteresses to decisively choose their fates (repent or leave Islam), instead of existing within legal gray zones.
- As mentioned, such people have the option of leaving Islamic society to live as non-Muslims, if they do not believe in repenting and re-entering Islamic society. By renouncing their Islamic duties, they also renounce their Islamic privileges (their families would no longer have any duties toward them), such as guaranteed basic income for women, and the earnings of the wealth and speculation tax (zakat earnings), though they would still have all basic rights and duties that the government’s constitution enforces for all of its citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim.
- If there is an overseas nation that offers to accept all adulterers and adulteresses as refugees, they can be sent to that nation.
- A male who is known to promote adultery (a lecherous person who constantly seeks to seduce women and is convicted of sexual crimes multiple times) or engages in prostitution (such as by running a brothel) can be banished using laws against the spreading of corruption.
The Quran goes on to supply this verse, laying down marriage rules for adulterers:
The adulterer shall marry none but an adulteress or an idolatress; and the adulteress shall marry none but an adulterer or an idolater. That has been prohibited for the believers. 20
If the punishment for adultery is execution by stoning, what could be the point of talking about marriage? While if the punishment is flogging, then the verse makes sense. The Quran is forbidding marrying an adulterer until they have shown clear repentance. And those who haven’t and will not show repentance, those cannot ever be married by Muslims.
The Quran itself contains sufficient evidence to nullify stoning once and for all. But our scholars, blinded by their education, continue to support the barbaric Jewish punishment. Luckily, Muslim rulers, the scholars of fiqh, and the Muslim populace, have often been very sensible regardless of the things written in books of law21, so that the cases of actual stoning in Islamic history are just a handful.22
For sexual crimes, the Quran never prescribes execution. That is a corruption introduced by the hadith-primacist tradition. No, it even ensures the rights of the adulteress, preventing her family from casting her out.
We can be thankful that we already have respected scholars who have taken steps toward restoring the Quran’s status as Islam’s principal authority, such as the Egyptian scholars and Azhar University professors Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 199623) and Yusuf al-Qaradhawi24, widely known and highly respected figures in modern mainstream Islam in the Middle East. One of the important works in this field is al-Ghazali’s revolutionary 1989 book al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah baina Ahlal Fiqhi wa Ahlal Hadeeth (“The Prophetic Tradition Between the People of Jurisprudence and the People of Hadith”), in which he clarifies the division between the scholars of fiqh and scholars of hadith and calls for abandoning hadith-primacism in favor of rationalism.
The Quran: Ender of Terrorist Ideologies
Once we reject hadith-primacism and put Islam’s focus back on the Quran, it becomes practically impossible to justify terrorism on the one hand, and it becomes trivial to defeat extremist intellectuals and their ideologies on the other. The only cases in which violent conflict is justified in the Quran are in matters of statecraft, when a Muslim government had to deal with threats around it. In the Quran, there is not a single justification for groups of Muslims taking the law into their own hands and carrying out terrorist attacks.
In fact, the Quran advocates the exact opposite. It tells Muslims to follow the example of the prophets,
Those are the ones to whom We gave the Scripture and authority and prophethood. But if the disbelievers deny it, then We have entrusted it to a people who are not therein disbelievers. Those are the ones whom God has guided, so from their guidance take an example. Say, “I ask of you for this message no payment. It is not but a reminder for the worlds.”25
The major predecessor of Prophet Muhammad in the Quran is Prophet Moses (whose name is mentioned over 130 times, versus 5 mentions of Muhammad’s name). Moses, this rightly guided prophet that Muslims are encouraged to follow, had about 600,000 Israelites under his guidance in Egypt26. Did he encourage this army to launch a war against the Pharaoh, this killer of infants and enemy of God?
No, instead, he asked them to be patient in their suffering, without raising a hand against their oppressors:
127. The chiefs of Pharaoh’s people said, “Will you let Moses and his people cause trouble in the land, and forsake you and your gods?” He said, “We will kill their sons, and spare their women. We have absolute power over them.”
128. Moses said to his people, “Seek help in God, and be patient. The earth belongs to God. He gives it in inheritance to whomever He wills of His servants, and the future belongs to the righteous.”
129. They said, “We were persecuted before you came to us, and after you came to us.” He said, “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy, and make you successors in the land; then He will see how you behave.”
130. And We afflicted the people of Pharaoh with barren years, and with shortage of crops, that they may take heed.
131. When something good came their way, they said, “This is ours.” And when something bad happened to them, they ascribed the evil omen to Moses and those with him. In fact, their omen is with God, but most of them do not know.
132. And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us, to bewitch us with, we will not believe in you.”
133. So We let loose upon them the flood, and the locusts, and the lice, and the frogs, and blood—all explicit signs—but they were too arrogant. They were a sinful people.
134. Whenever a plague befell them, they would say, “O Moses, pray to your Lord for us, according to the covenant He made with you. If you lift the plague from us, we will believe in you, and let the Children of Israel go with you.”
135. But when We lifted the plague from them, for a term they were to fulfill, they broke their promise.
136. So We took vengeance on them, and drowned them in the sea—because they rejected Our signs, and paid no heed to them.
137. And We made the oppressed people inherit the eastern and western parts of the land, which We had blessed. Thus the fair promise of your Lord to the Children of Israel was fulfilled, because of their endurance. And We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people had built, and what they had harvested.27
In the Abraham chapter of the Quran, Moses tells a story of previous prophets in his effort to encourage the Children of Israel to be patient:
11. Their messengers said to them, “We are only humans like you, but God favors whomever He wills from among His servants. We cannot possibly show you any proof, except by leave of God. In God let the faithful put their trust.”
12. “And why should we not trust in God, when He has guided us in our ways? We will persevere in the face of your persecution. And upon God the reliant should rely.” 28
The Quran encourages the Prophet to be patient in the face of the persecution he used to receive (for 13 years, in fact, even as his following continued to grow), and to follow the examples of the prophets before him, instead of becoming a terrorist and using his army of followers to violently take over his small city:
So be patient, as the messengers with resolve were patient, and do not be hasty regarding them. On the Day when they witness what they are promised, it will seem as if they had lasted only for an hour of a day. A proclamation: Will any be destroyed except the sinful people?29
The entire Quran is a call for peaceful resistance against oppressors. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to read the Quran 50 times in the original Arabic, like I’ve done, and then explain to me tell me how it is otherwise.
The Quran, among many other things, also acts a military manual for Muslims, since war requires law, and the Quran is the primary source for Islamic law. Casual readers of the Quran will be shocked at the numerous descriptions of violence it contains, not realizing that the Quran has to act like a military manual, and that every modern military has a similar manual containing descriptions of cases where killing can be done legally, and cases where it cannot be done.
Christians critics of Islam ignore the far more violent Old Testament, whose God approves of stoning30, killing innocent children for their father’s sins31 burning people alive, and killing hundreds of thousands of women and infants alongside men to make room for Israel32
When the Old Testament’s violence is mentioned by Muslims, the usual reply is that all Abrahamic religions are equally violent and horrible, so we should abandon them all. But the Quran has nothing to do with the evil and genocide in the Old Testament. An example of a “violent” verse of the Quran is this:
You will find others who want security from you, and security from their own people. But whenever they are tempted into civil discord, they plunge into it. So if they do not withdraw from you, nor offer you peace, nor restrain their hands, seize them and execute them wherever you find them. Against these, We have given you clear authorization. 33
This verse legalizes using deadly force against tribes who occasionally attacked the Prophet’s state when they saw an opportunity for gain, but who publicly declared allegiance to the Prophet to protect themselves from punishment34. A law was needed to deal with these people, and this verse provides that law. These people are publicly given a choice: Withdraw, offer peace, and restrain yourselves from violence, or continue doing what you do. If they agree to the verse’s offer, then they will be left alone, but if they break their word one more time like they’ve done countless times in the past, the law legalizes a decisive attack on them to end the menace once and for all.
A favorite passage of the Quran for Islam’s detractors is the following, from its second chapter:
190. And fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression; God does not love the aggressors.
191. And kill them wherever you overtake them, and expel them from where they had expelled you. Oppression is more serious than murder. But do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they fight you there. If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers.
192. But if they cease, then God is Forgiving and Merciful.
193. And fight them until there is no oppression, and worship becomes devoted to God alone. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except against the oppressors.
These “violent” verses rule that if a group attacks a Muslim state and conquers a part of it, then the state is allowed to launch a counter attack until the conquerors are entirely defeated and their laws and practices banished. They rule that, for example, if a conqueror takes up a part of Malaysia, and establishes a new constitution and official religion there, then, during the same conflict, once Muslims retake the land, they are required to restore Malaysia’s constitution and religious practices there (while respecting the right of individuals to choose their own religion, as ruled by 2:256). If the Muslim peasantry had been forcefully converted to another religion, they would be asked to embrace Islam again, and perhaps they will be offered gifts and support in return for converting back to Islam. Those who personally prefer the new religion will be left alone.
A fair-minded reader will see that these verses are actually placing limitations on violence instead of promoting it, by requiring that only aggressors be fought, and that if aggressors cease and offer peace in good faith, Muslims should accept their offer. Naturally, an enemy could abuse this law by offering peace when the war gets too hard for them, only to start it again once they are ready for another go. Other verses deal with such cases.
The Quran, taken as a whole, contains far more calls for patience, peace and co-existence than for violence, so that when it legalizes violence, it is always done as a matter of last resort, when all other avenues have been explored.
The United States government, compared to the type of government advocated by the Quran, is frankly Stone Age barbaric. In violation of the Quran’s laws, it arms, finances and trains terrorist groups that carry out wholesale slaughter throughout the world. It props up evil dictatorships throughout the world when it fits its interests. It finances bloody coup d’états against peaceful governments when it wants, like it did in Iran in 1953, Iraq in 1963, Ghana in 1966, Greece in 1967, the Dominican Republic in 1971, Fiji in 1987, Albania in 1991, Afghanistan in 2001 (the Afghan government asked for proof of Osama’s complicity in 9/11 before handing him over), Iraq in 2003, and Ukraine in 2014.36
America’s Christians will naturally absolve themselves of their government’s sins, since to them, atrocities that are far enough removed are not atrocities. They may even complain about what their government is doing abroad, just as they continue voting for the same congressmen and women who enabled and continue to enable their government’s worldwide campaign of terror. Who cares if their local congressman supports murdering millions to further the US government’s worldwide power grab, he is a nice Christian man from Kentucky!
And then certain Christian evangelicals have the audacity to talk about how the Quran is violent. Teach us about the way of Christ, of turning the other cheek, just as your chosen congress continues to support bombing our countries, financing murderous terrorists and assassinating the best of our leaders. Help us out of our barbaric ways with your civilized bombs!
And say, “The truth has come, and falsehood has withered away; for falsehood is bound to wither away.” —The Quran, 17:81
If today’s Muslim intellectual leaders are not brave enough to clean up Islam and reject the practice of discarding the Quran in favor of hadith, then their versions of Islam will not survive the terrorism germ. Their followers will either abandon Islam or move on to better versions of it.
From a Darwinian genetic-cultural perspective, it is guaranteed that Islam will adapt in such a way that makes terrorism nearly impossible, the question is not whether the adaptation will happen, the question is who will be brave enough to enable this adaptation, who will dare to go out of their comfort zones, put their careers on the line, and go against the millennium-old bureaucracy to rebuild Islam with the Quran at its foundation?
This evolutionary process has already progressed a great deal among the educated Muslim classes, who, supported by a few brave scholars, will eventually bring down hadith-primacism The good thing is that no one owns Islam. Time is the ultimate judge of truth and falsehood.
In an ecological system, germs and predators carry the important function of ensuring the fitness of species by killing off weak specimens and ensuring that species remain in a permanent state of renewal. The germ of terrorism, and the predation of the CIA and other evil Western organizations on Muslim populations, while causing great evil, also cause the creative destruction of Islam’s weaknesses, forcing our scholars to re-evaluate their practices and purify Islam from the rust it has accumulated over the centuries, so that a version of Islam can emerge that is fresh, relevant, more civilized than Judaism and Christianity, and capable of surviving the foreseeable future.
17. He sends down water from the sky, and riverbeds flow according to their capacity. The current carries swelling froth. And from what they heat in fire of ornaments or utensils comes a similar froth. Thus God exemplifies truth and falsehood. As for the froth, it is swept away, but what benefits the people remains in the ground. Thus God presents the analogies.
18. For those who respond to their Lord is the best. But as for those who do not respond to Him, even if they possessed everything on earth, and twice as much, they could not redeem themselves with it. Those will have the worst reckoning; and their home is Hell—a miserable destination.
19. Is he who knows that what was revealed to your from your Lord is the truth, like him who is blind? Only those who reason will remember.
20. Those who fulfill the promise to God, and do not violate the agreement.
21. And those who join what God has commanded to be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread the dire reckoning.
22. And those who patiently seek the presence of their Lord, and pray regularly, and spend from Our provisions to them, secretly and openly, and repel evil with good. These will have the Ultimate Home.
23. Everlasting Gardens, which they will enter, along with the righteous among their parents, and their spouses, and their descendants. And the angels will enter upon them from every gate.
24. “Peace be upon you, because you endured patiently. How excellent is the Final Home.”37