Dialogue With a Sincere American Muslim

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

Recently a sincere American Muslim, Imad, took exception to my statement on our Synagogue’s Facebook page, that Dr. Jasser stated he wished to “modernize” the Hadith, the religious system by which Muslims determine how to fulfill the will of Allah and Mohammed found in the Koran to be more in tune with the concepts of modernity,

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser is a medical doctor specializing in internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona, a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy where he served as staff internist in the Office of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress. In 2003, with a group of American Muslims Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) based in Phoenix, Arizona. His organization supports Israel, and decrys the actions of Muslim Zealots like ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah.

I believe this dialogue is quite fascinating and brings clarity to some of the issues we face with the Muslim community.

Imad wrote: “Dear Philip, I'm waiting to hear from you ?”

ME: I already suggested you read my piece on moderate Islam and asked for your comments. Dr.Jasser was on Hannity last evening again advocating for a modernization of the Hadith. My article which I hope you read, discussed the beliefs of a sect of Islam, which claims to be accepting of all Faiths etc. - Ahamadiyah.

“In 1917, an Ahmadi scholar, Muhammad Ali (1875-1951), who later would become the leader of the Lahori subgroup, published his translation. He constantly updated his work and had published four revisions by his death in 1951. Contemporary reviewers praised Muhammad Ali both for his excellent English and explanatory notes. Importantly, the Muhammad Ali translation became the version adopted by the Nation of Islam, both under the stewardship of Elijah Muhammad and current leader Louis Farrakhan.

“Assessing English Translations of the Qur’an” by Khaleel Mohammed, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, pp. 58-71)

Yet when reviewing the English translation of the Koran and commentaries upon it written by one of their long time leaders, Mulana Muhammed Ali, Esq., the opposite is apparent. Please define for me what the concept of dar al Islam means and the status of a dhimi. Simply, can dhimis have a state in dar al Islam?

Imad wrote: “Well, about Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, I respect his Ijtihad, proud to’ve one like him. 1/ Modernisation : What I find extremely unhelpful is the demand of Muslims to condemn their scripture, their religion. We don’t go around demanding of Christians to condemn the bible. We don't go around demanding of Jews to condemn the Torah simply because there is something there, if taken out of context, it doesn’t fit with my tastes and preferences in 2014. This’s my answer and to change it? No way.”

ME: I never ask anyone to condemn or change parts of their faith or their Holy texts. All I asked you was for clarification of the meanings of two concepts of Muslim belief – the meaning of dar al Islam and dhimi. As Judaism is not a universal faith as Islam and Christianity are, both claiming the sole truth of God, of Allah, we respect those Faiths in as much as they embrace the Noachide laws. We do not seek or desire any Muslim or Christian to renounce his/her Faith and adopt Judaism. The translation of the Koran with commentary I referred to was written in the early 20th century in England by an attorney, a devout Muslim, albeit his denomination is reviled by other Muslims. Understanding the concept of dar al Islam and the role of the dhimi in that sacred area of the world to Muslims, brings clarity to the issues regarding the State of Israel, the Jewish State, the Dhimi State, in the view of traditional Muslim belief.

Imad wrote: “Islam one but interpretations multiple: there are currents of the literality (Al-harfiya in arabic), and the currents of traditional religious, and reformist currents, currents of Sufism in addition the currents of rationality. This is actually a pluralistic must deal with it in a positive way. Each stream or current has a bit of legitimacy and thus must be employed in the dialogue between all currents.”

ME: Understood. This means that ISIS is as well presenting an interpretation of Islam that should be respected. It is not, as others have claimed, a perversion of Islam. They have their religious authorities who guide them in their faith. Their demand of Christians, for example, to convert, pay the Jizyah, Dhimi tax or die, has been made to Jews and Christians by Muslims of varied approaches to Islam for centuries. Am I correct? Dr. Jasser’s campaign is an internal Muslim issue – trying to win over the hearts of Muslims to his approach to your religion. Am I correct? He is not claiming ISIS has perverted Islam, just that its interpretation is not how he sees his religion. Am I correct? Within this context one can understand why Muslims, American moderate Muslims, will not refer to ISIS as terrorists per say, but choose to condemn some of their actions as within an ISIS religious view, which is as legitimate as yours, they are living a faithful life dedicated to the Uma and the establishment of the “right knowledge,” Islam as the accepted, even if force is required, religion of all humanity. Am I correct? As an American, I accept their right to believe as they choose, however incompatible with the values of our society in the United States. Unfortunately their goal and the methods they use to achieve it brings them into conflict with Western society in general and American principles of equality and freedom of conscience in particular which will inevitably lead to conflict.

Imad wrote: “ISIS or ISIL = Terrorist, They try distortion Islam but no way. They would like to extinguish the light of ALLAH with their mouths and their dirty acts, and ALLAH refuses anything except to perfect HIS light...”

ME: Of course you were referring to these Suras, passages in the Koran:

9:30 And the Jews say Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say The Messiah is the son of Allah. These are the words of their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before. Allah – curse be on them! How they are turned away!

9:32 They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouth, and Allah will not allow nothing save the perfection of his light, though the disbelievers are adverse.

I think we have had a good conversation. May God, Allah, Bless you. I await your explanation of dar al Islam, dar al hudna and dhimi.

Imad wrote: “I’m sure that you don’t know Islamic religion the right knowledge, in Allah we're totally different from Christians! You need an in-depth study of Islam.”

ME: I never said I was an authority on Islam. I asked you as a believing Muslim to define some basic concepts of your religion which obviously have a tremendous impact upon today’s world, not only in the Middle East but across the globe. I find it difficult to understand why you cannot provide these answers for me as one who believes in and practices this great religion which has given so much to our world. And yes I do know that Islam is different from Christianity. As Judaism and unlike Christianity for example, Islam has a clear and unambiguous understanding of Monotheism. You refer to Islam as the “right knowledge.” Am I to assume then that other religions, particularly Christianity and Judaism, Islam’s sister Abrahamic Faiths, are then NOT the “right knowledge” in you view? I understand your sincerity as a fellow American in a society that respects each individual’s right to believe as he wishes. Perhaps we should continue this conversation after you receive and share the definitions of dar al Islam, dhimi and dar al hudna. Why not share my questions with Dr. Jasser?

Imad wrote: “Please dear Philip don’t judge a religion You don’t know her right knowledge”

Imad wrote: “by the way I knew a lots of Jews whose living in Saudi Arabia.”

ME: from Wikipedia:

There is virtually no Jewish activity in Saudi Arabia in the beginning of the 21st century. Jewish (as well as Christian and other non-Muslim) religious services are prohibited from being held on Saudi Arabian soil. When American military personnel were stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, permission for small Christian worship services was eventually granted, but Jewish services were only permitted on U.S. warships. Census data does not identify any Jews as residing within Saudi Arabian territory.

Persons with an Israeli government stamp in their passport or who are openly Jewish are generally not permitted into the Kingdom. In the 1970s, foreigners wishing to work in the kingdom had to sign an affidavit stating that they were not Jewish and official government forms granting foreigners permission to enter or exit the country, do ask for religious affiliation.

During the first Gulf War, American servicemen and women who were Jewish were allowed into the kingdom, but religious services had to be held discreetly on base and – according to an unsubstantiated story reported by one person who wrote she had heard it from another – alternative “Protestant B” dog tags were created, in the event that a Jewish serviceman or woman was taken prisoner in Iraq.

Imad wrote: “Stay just here don’t go far away? All that what you're saying about Islam is coming from media and propaganda to distort Islam. It’s not coming from an in-depth study of religion. Why you then not meditate on the Quran as you’re Rabb? It’ll be good!”

ME: How do you know I haven't studied the Koran? Respectfully, now you're being ridiculous. I quoted the Suras you referenced, didn’t I? I await the definitions you are seeking from your religious authorities. Thanks!

The Koran regarding our Bible – the Tanach

2:75 Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know this.

2:79 Woe! Then to those who write the Book with their hands then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take it for a small price. So woe! To them for what their hands write. Woe! To them for what they earn.

Imad wrote: “Do you believe what is written on Wikipedia ?!! – it’s like when Arabs believe that no Jews died in 9/11”

ME: It is not my Bible. However, I think it fair to say that it can report fact, in this instance what our American Christian and Jewish troops faced in Saudi Arabia. The story of the dog tags is not new in our armed forces. In WW II Jewish soldiers were told to remove their dog tags when caught behind Axis lines because of the virulent anti-Semitism of the Nazis. If caught with those tags they were not placed in military confinement, but sent to the concentration camps for extermination. As an aside you are aware that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a Nazi and spent WW II as a guest of Hitler in Germany?

Imad wrote: “Dear Rabbi, I’m Jewish by roots Muslim by religion”

ME: Before you accepted Islam did you, as you suggested to me, do an in depth study of Judaism all the more as you claim to have Jewish roots? Remember, Judaism is the root of both Islam and Christianity. As you may know, your Prophet at one time even observed the Jewish Passover. Good luck in life. I think we have finished this discussion. Appreciate your sharing the definitions you are seeking when you receive them and please tell me the source. Thanks!

Imad wrote: “I mean my roots parents of my parents etc, I was born Muslim. between you and me if there's no one here I LOVE MORE THEN ANY ONE JUDAISM EVEN IF I DONT KNOW IT WELL

ME: That makes no sense what so ever. Read the Koran, even just the few Suras we quoted. How can you love a falsehood a deliberate perversion of God’s Word? Don’t you believe that your Prophet came to finally bring the clarity required to truly understand Allah’s Will which both Christianity and Judaism deliberately distorted?

Imad wrote: “I don't have any malice or hatred to any religion or person, If really we need to live in peace. We need a real coexistence we need to accept each other, we don’t need a dogmatic mind.”

ME: Then explain to me the Suras you and I quoted. What is your sense of the belief of Islam stated clearly in the Koran? Do you have any sources in the Hadith that can explain if the Jews and Christians are deliberate distorters of Allah’s Word, and have false beliefs, how a Muslim can respect them as equal fellow human beings? I don’t understand.

I know this is a difficult question and you may not be able to answer it. Don’t write back now. Think about it and find help to provide answers from, the Hadith and other Islamic works. I took the time to respond because you are a sincere and good person. You know that Rabbi means teacher as in the Aramaic Rabbah. I can teach you one thing I have always lived by – seek the truth with an open mind and a faithful heart. Truth will never be found in an atmosphere which accepts hatred of others simply because of their heritage, race, or personal beliefs. It is the actions of others that make them good people or not.

Imad wrote: “Thank you so very much Dear Rabbi.”