[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
I should have known better. I should have seen that criticizing the arguments of Mr. Burak Bekdil, my column neighbor, could come back to me as an ad hominem attack. It happened before, it happened again. This time, I just got more of it: My true “jihadist” face has been revealed, as my delusional belief in Jewish conspiracies. What does a man want more?I am talking about the piece that Mr. Bekdil published last Wednesday. To his credit, he actually refrained from calling me a “jihadist.” He rather referred to an article on the “Jihad Watch” website that does so, simply out of my condemnation of the lethal Israeli raid on the Free Gaza flotilla. (In return, I had a rejoinder titled, “I support justice, not jihad.”)
Enter ‘Jihad Watch’
But what is this “Jihad Watch,” Mr. Bekdil’s new source? He defined it as “a prominent blog that aims to bring to public attention the role of jihad theology and ideology.” But Karen Armstrong, one the world’s greatest writers on comparative religion, thinks that its creator “writes in hatred, deliberately manipulating evidence to support his thesis.” You might also find it interesting that this “prominent blog” has just given U.S. President Barack Obama a satirical “dhimmi award,” implying that he has become a submitter to Muslim supremacy. (By not bombing Iran yet, perhaps.) On the other hand, the site openly supports Geert Wilders, the unabashedly anti-Islamic politician in the Netherlands.
Well, with friends like these, I doubt Mr. Bekdil will get too far in getting fair sense of Islam.
The other issue – my supposed delusional belief in Jewish conspiracies – came from the discussion on the origin of stoning. Mr. Bekdil had written that it was commanded in the Quran. I explained that stoning was not in the Quran, but in the Torah, and came into Islam from Judaism. (Of course, Jews have not been practicing this for centuries, and I did not claim that they were.)
How this amounts to “blaming the Jews” is really beyond me. It is actually easy to see how the brutal practice made its way from the Torah to Islam. A hadith tells that in Medina (then a Muslim-Jewish city), Jews brought an adulterer and adulteress among them to Mohammed (then the head of state), asking for his verdict. He inquired what the Jewish scripture said about this, and when it turned that stoning was the rule, then the prophet of Islam, reportedly, ordered the execution.
For the classical scholars of Islam, this incident made stoning a part of the “sunna” (tradition) of the prophet. For more reformist Muslims, including me, it was just an ad hoc adoption of temporal realities. The early Muslim community indeed adopted many customs from various pre-existing cultures, including Judaism, and not always with negative results. (I am fine, for example, with my circumcision.) There is even an Islamic field of study about this matter called “Israiliyat,” which can help Mr. Bekdil to get a little more nuanced than the if-you-say-stoning-came-from-Judaism-then-you-are-an-antisemite sort of logic.
Unfortunately for Mr. Bekdil, the same complexities are also valid for Quranic exegesis. He quoted a few negative Quranic verses about Jews and Christians and inferred from them a negative Islamic stance. A trained Islamic scholar, however, would look at the contexts of each verse, see which actions of Jews and Christians in question were referred to, and also compare them with other relevant verses of the Quran.
This particular verse, for example, puts the oft-quoted “do not take the Jews and Christians as your friends” commandment into perspective: “God merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you in religion, and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion,” (60:9).
However, the two seemingly opposite groups – the Islamists who hate non-Muslims, and the anti-Islamists who hate Islam – always cherry-pick the verses which they can use to show the Quran as a belligerent book. And when you show these people that there are better ways of interpretation, you get heat from both sides. The Islamists accuse you for “trying to soften Islam” to serve the infidels. The anti-Islamists, on the other hand, accuse you for “trying to whitewash Islam” to fool the infidels.
Get me the authority!
Although I sometimes detect the latter tendency in Mr. Bekdil’s writing, I also think the problem comes from his honest desire to find quick and simple answers to his queries about Islam. That’s probably why he was asking me, “Who is the ultimate authority to decide which verses can be re-interpreted and which ones cannot?”
Well, the answer is that there is no such ultimate authority in Islam. There has never been any. This is not Catholicism.
However, there has been at least a political authority since the prophet, which could have evolved in the modern times into something like what Mr. Bekdil is asking for: the Caliphate. But guess who destroyed it.
So, the world of Islam is really complicated, Mr. Bekdil – and even your anti-Islamist friends have a hand in that.