By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 17, 2007
The reporters who accompanied President Bush last week on his visit to Albania were amazed at the tumultuous show of affection that greeted the president at every stop in that formerly Stalinist nation. This should remind us that a country can be, at one and the same time, both predominantly Muslim and unreservedly pro-American! Good news, that. Yet further good news comes to us from the results of a poll recently conducted by the highly respected Pew Research Center, according to which survey more than 70 percent of America's Muslims proclaim themselves to be happy with their situation here. That is a dramatically higher level of contentment than what prevails as the norm in Europe. But this same poll offers grounds for concern. One in four of America's Muslims who are under the age of thirty went on record as considering suicide bombing "in defense of Islam" as sometimes justifiable. With the number of Muslims now living in the United States estimated at 2.35 million, if one in four of those under thirty actually holds to that view, the slogan "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" takes on a heightened relevance.
The Qur'an itself condemns the act of suicide under the pain of damnation when self-destruction is sought for its own sake. But the code of morality for the Muslim warrior is ambiguous on this point. In addition to urging Muslims "to strike the infidels wherever you find them" (Quran 9:5) the Qur'an confers a martyr's status on the warrior "who slays and is slain" (Qur'an 9:11), a definition of martyrdom that is ftmdamentally at odds with the Christian concept. The Christian martyr bears witness to Christ through PASSIVE SUBMISSION to torture and death in imitation of our Crucified Lord, Who prayed for His tormentors and did NOT strike back. The Christian martyr is the one who is slain but does not slay.
Construable as an endorsement of the suicide bomber is an episode recorded by Ibn Ishaq, one of Muhammed's canonical biographers, who tells the story of a Muslim warrior, a certain 'Auf bin Harith, who asked Muhammed: "O Apostle of God, what makes the Lord laugh with joy at his servant?" Muhammed's answer. "When he [the servant] plunges into the midst of the enemy without a coat of mail!" Ibn Ishaq concludes his report by noting that 'Auf bin Harith then cast off his coat of mail and plunged into the fiercest thick of the battle, fighting until he was slain. Given the paradigmatic force of Muhammed's example, an episode such as this could be cited for approval in principle of the suicide bomber today, who, instead of throwing away a coat of mail to heighten the probability of death, straps on a vest packed with high-yield explosives to solicit the certain prospect of death, a death warmly welcomed because in so being slain he will slay others as well. Thus as "one who both slays and is slain," the suicide bomber becomes an Islamic martyr.
There is of course the problem that, as is especially the case in Iraq today, the suicide bomber is often a Sunni Muslim slaying Shiite Muslims or, albeit less often, a suicide bomber from the Shiah who is slaying Sunni Muslims-in either event a Muslim slaying Muslims, all in the name of Allah. The dilemma however, can be resolved by citing such guidance from Muhammed as is attested by the Muslim biographer and jurist Bukhari: "Whoever changed his Islamic religion," so said the Prophet, "kill him!" (Thus Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 88, Number 6922). For many of the Sunni tradition the Shiite Muslims are apostates who "have changed" their Islamic religion and thus deserve to die. Contrariwise many Shiite Muslims perceive the Sunni as apostates who are thus legitimate targets for death.
As the obsessive urge to die in battle in the putative service of Allah is spreading like wildfire across the Islamic world, with precious little censure from Islamic religious scholars, we in the West are faced with a new kind of danger and a new kind of war that we certainly didn't want but that we can no longer avoid. Since in any war it is helpful to know what prompts and what limits your enemy's actions, may I share with you an article from "The Week in Review" section of The New York Times for this past Sunday, June 10th. It offers a sobering picture of the new kind of enemy that confronts us today.
* * * * *The Guidebookfor Taking a Life
By: Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet
* * * * *We were in a small house in Zarqa, Jordan, trying to interview two heavily bearded Islamic militants about their distribution of recruitment videos when one of us asked one too many questions.
"He's American?" one of the militants growled. "Let's kidnap and kill him." The room fell silent. But before anyone could act on this impulse, the rules of jihadi etiquette kicked in. You can't just slaughter a visitor, militants are taught by sympathetic Islamic scholars. You need permission from whoever arranges the meeting. And in this case, the arranger who helped us to meet this pair declined to sign off.
"He's my guest," Marwan Shehadeh. a Jordanian researcher, told the bearded men.
With Islamist violence brewing in various parts of the world, the set of rules that seek to guide and justify this jihadi etiquette is not written down, and for good reason. It varies as much in interpretation and practice as extremist groups vary in their goals. But the rules have some general themes that underlie actions ranging from the recent rash of suicide bombings in Algeria and Somalia to the surge in beheadings and bombings by separatist Muslims in Thailand.
Some of these have deep roots in the Middle East, where, for example, the Egyptian Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has argued it is fine to kill Israeli citizens because their compulsory military service means they are not truly civilians.
The war in Iraq is reshaping the etiquette, too. Suicide bombers from radical Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups have long been called martyrs, a locution that avoids the Koran's ban on killing oneself in favor of the honor it accords death in battle against infidels. Now some Sunni militants are urging the killing of Shiites, alleging that they are not true Muslims. If there seems to be no published playbook, there are informal rules, and these were gathered by interviewing militants and their leaders, Islamic clerics and scholars in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and England, along with government intelligence officials in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
Islamic militants who embrace violence may account for a minuscule fraction of Muslims in the world, but they lay claim to the breadth of Islamic teachings in their efforts to justify their actions. 'No jihadi will do any action until he is certain this action is morally acceptable," says Dr. Mohammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident who runs a leading jihad Internet Forum, Tajdeed.net, in London, where he now lives.
Here are six of the more striking jihadi tenets:
Rule No. 1: You can kill bystanders without feeling a lot of guilt.
The Koran, as transtated by the University of Southern California Muslim Student Association's Compendium of Muslim Texts, generally prohibits the slaying of innocents, as in Verse 33 in Chapter 17(lsra', The Night Journey, Children of Israel): "Nor take life, which Allah has made sacred, except for just cause."
But the Koran also orders Muslims to resist oppression, as verses 190 and 191 of Chapter 2 (The Cow) instruct: "Fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter...."
In the typical car bombing, some Islamists say, God will identify those who deserve to die-for example, anyone helping the enemy-and send them to hell. The other victims will go to paradise. "The innocent who is hurt, he won't suffer." Dr. Massari says. "He becomes a martyr himslef"'
There is one gray area. If you are a Muslim who has sinned, getting killed by a suicide bomber will clean some of your slate for Judgement Day, but precisely where God draws the line between those who go heaven or hell is not spelled out.
Rule No. 2: You can kill children, too, without needing to feel distress.
True, Islamic texts say it is unlawful to kill children, women, the old and the infirm [unless they attack you]. In the Sahih Bukhari, a respected collection of sermons and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, verse 4:52:57 refers to Ghaza Abdullah: "During some of the Ghazawat of the Prophet a woman was found killed. Allah's Apostle disapproved the killing of women and children."
But militant Islamists including extremists in Jordan who embrace Al Qaeda's ideology teach recruits that children receive special consideration in death. They are not held accountable for any sins until puberty, and if they are killed in a jihad operation they will go straight to heaven. There, they will instantly age to their late 20's and enjoy the same access to virgins and other benefits as martyrs receive .."
Rule No. 3: Sometimes, you can single out civilians for killing; bankers are an example.
In principle, nonfighters cannot be targeted in a militant operation, Islamist scholars say. But the list of exceptions is long and growing.
Civilians can be killed in retribution for an enemy attack on Muslim civilians, argue some scholars like the Saudi cleric Abdullah bin Nasser al-Rashid, whose writings and those of other prominent Islamic scholars have been analyzed by the Combating Terrorism Center, a research group at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Shakir at-Abssi, whose Qaeda-minded group, Fatah Al Islam, has been fighting Lebanese soldiers since May 20, says some government officials are fair game. He was sentenced to death in Jordan for helping to organize the slaying of the American diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002, and said in an interview with The New York Times that while he did not specifically choose Mr. Foley to be killed, "Any person that comes to our region with a military, security or political aim, then he is a legitimate target."
Others like Atilia Ahmet, a 42 year old Briton of Cypriot descent who is awaiting trial in England on terrorism charges, take a broader view. "It would be legitimate to attack banks because they charge interest, and this is in violation of Islamic Law," Mr. Ahmet said last year.
Rule No. 4: You cannot kill in the country where you reside unless you were born there.
Militants living in a country that respects the rights of Muslims have something like a peace contract with the country, says Omar Bakri, a radical sheik who moved from London to Lebanon two years ago under pressure from British authorities. Militants who go to Iraq get a pass as expeditionary warriors. And the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks did not violate this rule since the hijackers came from outside the United States, Afr.Bakri said.
"When I heard about the London bombings, I prayed that no bombers from Britain were involved, he said ....... As it turned out, in... the July 7, 2005, attack..... three of the four men who set off the bombs had been born in Britain; the fourth moved there from Jamaica as an infant.
Mr. Bakri says he does not condone violence against innocent people anywhere. But some of the several hundred young men who studied Islam with him say they have no such qualms.
"We have a voting system here in Britain so anyone who is voting for Tony Blair is not a civilian and therefore would be a legitimate target," says Khalid Kelly, an Irish-born Islamic convert who says he studied with Mr. Bakri in London.
Rule No. 5: You can lie or hide your religion if you do this for Jihad.
Muslims are instructed by the Koran to be true to their religion. "Therefore stand firm (in the straight Path) as thou art commanded, thou and those who with thee turn (unto Allah), and transgress not (from the Path), for He seeth well all that you do," says verse 112 of Chapter 11 (Hud). Lying is allowed only when it is deemed a necessity, for example when being tortured, or when an innocuous deception serves a good purpose, scholars say.
But some militants appear to shirk this rule to blend in with non-Muslim surroundings or to deflect suspicion, says Maj. Gen. Achaf Rifi, the general director of Lebanon's internal security force who oversaw a surveillance last year of a Lebanese man suspected of plotting to blowup the PATH train under the Hudson River.
"We thought the story couldn't be true, especially when we followed this young man." General Rifi said. "He was going out, drinking, chasing girls, drove a red MG." But he says the man, who is now awaiting trial in Lebanon, confessed, and Mr. Rifi recalled that the Sept 11 hijacker who came from Lebanon frequented discos in Beirut....
Rule No. 6. You may need to ask your parents for their consent.
Militant Islamists interpret the Koran and the separate teachings of Muhammad that are known as the Sunna as laying out five criteria to be met by people wanting to be jihadis. They must be Muslim, at least 15 and mature, of sound mind, debt free and have parental permission.
The parental rule is currently waived inside Iraq, where Islamists say it is every Muslim's duty to fight the Americans, Dr. Massari says. It is optional for residents of nearby countries, like Jordan.
In Zarqa, Jordan, the 24-year-old Abu Ibrahim says he is waiting for another chance to be a Jihadi after Syrian officials caught him in the fall heading to Iraq. He is taking the parental rule one step further, he said. His family is arranging for him to marry, and he feels obligated to disclose his jihad plans to any potential bride.
"I will inforrn my future wife of course about plans, and I hope that, God willing, she might join me, " he said.