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04.01.2012 _____________________

I’m a news junkie.

I open my days with BBC and Al Jazeera English and close with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I get frequent updates from the New York Times, Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor.

My bookmarks include Andrew Sullivan, The Guardian, Washington Post, Harretz, Jerusalem Post and Counterpunch.

When I feel a need to follow Sun Tzu’s injunction, “Know your enemy” I watch Fox News and read The Washington Times, New York Post, Pamela Geller, Jihad Watch and random letters to the editor.

I read. I try to process what is happening. I’ve stopped worrying about whether a terrorist is secular or religious, Muslim, Christian or Jewish. When terrorists act in their inhumanity they are mere criminals and have nothing to do with any religion that I know anything about.

They are criminals and have nothing to do with me.

A recent Portsmouth Herald letter to the editor caught my attention. The author wondered why our leaders (President Obama and Hillary Clinton were mentioned) have not decried the words of a Saudi cleric calling for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula.

Maybe because it isn’t true.

Or maybe it is. I don’t know. The outcry seems to be inspired by a March 14, post on Jihad Watch. I searched the Internet and couldn’t find any authoritative source. And no stories predating Jihad Watch.

Show me the proof.

As quoted, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, Mufti and chairman of the Supreme Council of Ulama in Saudi Arabia, allegedly said it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the region.” If he truly said that, and that is what he meant, it must be condemned. And will be.

“There shall be no compulsion in religion,” Qur’an, 2:256.

For me, the most authoritative source, which contradicts this absurd assertion, lies in the words of the Prophet Muhammad himself on behalf of the Monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai, written in 628.

“This is the document which Muhammad, son of Abdullah, God’s Prophet, Warner and Bearer of glad-tidings, has caused to be written so that there should remain no excuse for those coming after. I have caused this document to be written for Christians of the East and the West, for those who live near, and for those of distant lands, for the Christians living at present and for those who will come after, for those Christians who are known to us and for those as well whom we do not know.”

It covers all aspects of human rights, including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their properties, exemption from military service, and the right of protection in war.”

It includes, “None of their churches and other places of worship will be desolated, destroyed or demolished. No material of their churches will be used for building mosques or houses for the Muslims. Any Muslim so doing will be regarded recalcitrant to God and His Prophet.”

Nearly a decade later, after Jerusalem surrendered to Muslim forces in 637, Bishop Sophronius gave a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the victorious Caliph Omar. When it was time for the noon prayer, Omar took his prayer rug and prayed outside in the courtyard, fearing if he prayed inside the church it might become a place of worship for Muslims.

This is the Islam I embrace.

Islam is an easy target these days. Muslim fanatics use ignorance and Islam to justify their power and criminality. Anti-Islam fanatics use their bigotry and ignorance to create a fear of the Other, and, not coincidentally, attempt to disenfranchise President Obama and his administration.

What rankles the most, however, is when writers, trying to pretend an authority over matters in which they have nothing but ignorance, appropriate the ideas and words of others.

Living out of fear and ignorance, a virtual world has evolved in which neither truth nor honesty prevails.

On March 25, a letter-writer offered, “As reported in The Telegraph, Imam (French President) Sarkozy said of the Toulouse jihadist: “The Muslim faith has nothing to do with the insane act of this man,” and continued, “Muhammad Merah claimed affiliation with al-Qaida and may have trained with the Taliban. He claimed to be a mujahid, which is a warrior of jihad, which is an Islamic theological and legal concept.”

On March 22, Robert Spencer posted on Jihad Watch, a leading Web site of anti-Islam rhetoric, “Imam Sarkozy on Toulouse jihadist: “The Muslim faith has nothing to do with the insane acts of this man” and continued, “Muhammad Merah’s murders had everything to do with Islam: he claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda and may have trained with the Taliban …; He claimed to be a mujahid, which is a warrior of jihad, which is an Islamic theological and legal concept.”

Earlier, on Feb. 18, 2009, Jihad Watch published, “Qaradawi has stated that there is to be no dialogue with Israel except “through the sword”. He has also called for the takeover of Rome, Europe and the United States.”

Five days later, in a letter to the editor, “Qaradawi has stated that there is to be no dialogue with Israel except through the sword. He has also called for the takeover of Rome, Europe and the United States.”

There are other examples but that is not really the point. We all make mistakes. The point is, it is easy to embrace, believe and disseminate untruths, without question, when we really want something to be true.

If an idea, a people, a religion is seen as foreign or threatening we are willing to believe anything about them — and to pass those untruths along.

Oh, by the way, the same Shaikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a prominent Islamic scholar and no stranger to controversy, issued a fatwa in 2008 permitting churches in Arabia, relying on “tafsir,” exegetical writing, that dated back to the 10th century.

“O YOU who have attained to faith! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a [slanderous] tale, use your discernment, lest you hurt people unwittingly and afterwards be filled with remorse for what you have done.” (Qur’an 49:6)

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.

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