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December 09, 2007



Indeed, it is a Chanukah victory! Great news.


I read your review. I had also heard of the book from other sources. Most of the reviews have been very good, including some by history professors with whom I am friendly. I note one review who noted that Kuentzel's understanding of Islam, as it was prior to the Islamic revival of the Islamists, is subject to serious doubt.

I must say, on reading your review, that I too question his understanding of the pre-contemporary Islam as well. One might inquire, in all seriousness, the ways that the Islamists really follow a different path than the view which would have been understood in the Middle Ages. I note in particular your statement which reads: "As for the concept of 'jihad', this had previously been an internal 'fight': now it was externalized as 'holy war'."

Well, Goldhizer notes Jihad as war in his writings from the early 1900's. I might add, his article in the Jewish Encyclopedia reads, on this topic, as follows:

[QUOTE]In addition to the religious duties imposed upon each individual professing Islam, the collective duty of the "jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") is imposed on the community, as represented by the commander of the faithful. Mohammed claimed for his religion that it was to be the common property of all mankind, just as he himself, who at first appeared as a prophet of the Arabs, ended by proclaiming himself the prophet of a universal religion, the messenger of God to all humanity, or, as tradition has it, "ila al-aḥmar wal-aswad" (to the red and the black). For this reason unbelief must be fought with the force of weapons, in order that "God's word may be raised to the highest place." Through the refusal to accept Islam, idolaters have forfeited their lives. Those "who possess Scriptures" ("ahl al-kitab"), in which category are included Jews, Christians, Magians, and Sabians, may be tolerated on their paying tribute ("jizyah") and recognizing the political supremacy of Islam (sura ix. 29). The state law of Islam has accordingly divided the world into two categories: the territory of Islam ("dar al-Islam") and the territory of war. ("dar al-ḥarb"), i.e., territory against which it is the duty of the commander of the faithful ("amir al-mu'minin") to lead the community in the jihad.[END OF QUOTE]

Bernard Lewis, no light weight either, explains the traditional Islamic theological point in issue (from his stellar book, 'The Muslim Discovery of Europe'):

[QUOTE]In the Muslim world view the basic division of mankind is into the House of Islam (Dār al-Islām) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). The one consists of all those countries where the law of Islam prevails, that is to say, broadly, the Muslim Empire; the latter is the rest of the world. Just as there is only one God in heaven, so there can be only one sovereign and one law on earth. Ideally, the House of Islam is conceived as a single community, governed by a single state, headed by a single sovereign. This state must tolerate and protect those unbelievers who are brought by conquest under its rule, provided, of course, that they are not polytheists but followers of one of the permitted religions. The logic of Islamic law, however, does not recognized the permanent existence of any other polity outside Islam. In time, in the Muslim view, all mankind will accept Islam or submit to Islamic rule. In the meantime, it is a religious duty of Muslims to struggle until this end is accomplished.

The name given by the Muslim jurists to this struggle is jihād, an Arabic word meaning effort or striving. One who performs this duty is called mujāhid. The word occurs several times in the Qur'ān in the sense of making war against the unbelievers. In the early centuries of Islamic expansion, this was its normal meaning. Between the House of Islam and the House of War there was, according to the sharī‘a, the Holy Law as formulated by the classical jurists, a state of war religiously and legally obligatory, which could end only with the conversion or subjugation of all mankind. A treaty of peace between the Muslim state and a non-Muslim state was thus in theory juridically impossible. The war, which would end only with the universal triumph of Islam, could not be terminated; it could only be interrupted for reasons of necessity or of expediency by a truce. Such a truce, according to the jurists, could only be provisional. It should not exceed ten years and could, at any time, be repudiated unilaterally by the Muslims who, however, were obliged by Muslim law to give the other side due notice before resuming hostilities.[END OF QUOTE]

Neither Goldhizer (who died in 1921) nor Lewis, who was writing about the Islamic world in both the various Arab and Ottoman Empires, makes things up.

I should also note that Professor Patricia Crone, in her book 'God's Rule - Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought,' discusses private Jihad at length. Such was, notwithstanding the fact that it was an irritant to political leaders, a staple of those first six hundred years of Islam. Such people would move to the frontiers of the empires and raid into territories ruled by those perceived to be infidel. I should add that in Bat Ye'or's book, 'The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam,' razzias - what we would today call terrorism - are discussed at length, most particularly with reference to raids out of Andalusia into Christian ruled territories. So, I do not buy what is stated in your review that Jihad activity - or even private Jihad activity - is a modern phenomena.

And, I might note the cult of the Hashassins. Lewis' stellar book on the topic notes that they were, in effect, engaged in suicide missions. Again, that is exactly the sort of phenomena we see today.

I think a far better interpretation of such things is a revival of early traditions. As for the rest of what is written, my reading supports the views about Nazi connections with Arabs, most particularly via the Mufti of Jerusalem. And, that opposition to Israel was always driven by religious people, I think such is shown and no doubt Kuentzel has added substantial and important detail and analysis. In this regard, I note a quote from the book 'No God But God, Egypt and the Triumph of Islam,' by Geneive Abdo (Oxford University Press 2000). The book, written by a writer from the apologist school of thought, includes this gem on pages 64-65:

[QUOTE] The Grand Sheikh's battle with his conservative critics boiled over in December 1997, when Tantawi hosted an unprecedented meeting at al-Azhar with chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, leader of Israel's Ashkenazi Jews. Held just before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and amid growing outrage in the Arab world toward Israeli intransigence in the stalled Oslo peace process, Tantawi's meeting was nothing short of explosive. Ordinary Egyptians had never accepted the Camp David peace accords, or for that matter any attempt to normalize relations with Israel. Must Muslims saw the invitation of the chief rabbi into the very citadel of Sunni Islam as a complete betrayal of the fifty-year effort against the Jewish state.

Egypt's most respected Islamic thinker, Seleeem al-Awa, spoke for many when he bitterly denounced the visit on the front page of the Islamist daily al-Shaab and wrote a letter of protest to the Research Academy. "I did not believe my eyes when I read that the Grand Sheikh met the Zionist rabbi in Cairo.... It is as if the Zionists want to declare before the whole world that they have achieved normalization with the symbol of Sunni Islam and the entire Islamic world, and with the Sheikh of al-Azhar himself."

"Why did you headquarters become the site of normalization with the Zionists? How are we going to welcome Ramadan with the biggest spiritual defeat of the modern age?" al-Awa asked.

Tantawi was filled with consternation. He had never expected that such a meeting would outrage the Muslim world. Shaken and tense, he defended himself in a long interview with a Qatari satellite television channel that was broadcast in Egypt and across the Middle East. The interviewer asked Tantawi why he had decided to meet the rabbi, when his predecessor, Gad al-Haq, had refused.

"I followed in the footsteps of our Prophet, peace be upon him. He met Jews and had a dialogue with them.... Was I supposed to refuse to meet him, so he'll go to his country and say the Sheikh of al-Azhar was unable to meet me?"

"What is you answer to Dr. Seleem al-Awa who said this meeting is more dangerous than any form of normalization?" the interviewer asked.

"This is the logic of cowards and pacifists," Tantawi replied. "Can Dr. al-Awa deny that the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr met with the Jews? And after that, they say 'normalization.' What normalization?"

Tantawi's response did little to pacify his critics with al-Azhar. In fact, the controversy handed the traditionalists the evidence they needed to challenge his suitability to hold Sunni Islam's highest position. "What we read about the meeting between the Sheikh of al-Azhar and the Israeli rabbi shocked us all," commented Yahya Ismail, the general-secretary of the Azhar's Scholars' Front. "We must abide by fatwas issued by senior scholars since 1936, which are official fatwas that forbid dealing with the occupying Jews with any weapon other than jihad (holy struggle) until they evacuate from our lands."[END OF QUOTE]

That, to me, says it all. So far as Kuentzel's analysis, I look forward to reading it. But, I think we have to ask ourselves about the day after tomorrow, when interest in private Jihad fades. Will that be temporary or will it be the end of the war? If history is a guide, it will be a temporary lull, I'm afraid. I hope I am wrong.

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