The Koran: A New Mein Kampf?

Last week in New York Oriana Fallaci said that “the Koran is the Mein Kampf of this movement. The Koran demands the annihilation or subjugation of the other, and wants to substitute totalitarianism for democracy….You will find that all the evil that the sons of Allah commit against themselves and against others is in it."

This statement has caused considerable controversy. Some maintained: “There are moderate Moslems…Tarring the whole religion is counterproductive…If there are no moderate muslims, as Fallaci says, then we are doomed.” But of course, Fallaci did not say that there were no moderate Muslims; she said that there was no moderate Islam. As Ibn Warraq has said, "There may be moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate." There are peaceful Muslims who have no intention of working by violent or subversive means to impose Sharia on the West. This does not mitigate the fact that some high-profile moderates, such as Cleveland Imam Fawaz Damra, who signed the recent Fiqh Council of North America’s fatwa against terrorism, turned out to be deceivers. Still, to say that the Koran is the Mein Kampf of the jihad movement is not to deny the reality that many, if not most, people who identify themselves as Muslims are primarily interested in living ordinary lives.

How could the Koran could be the Mein Kampf — that is, the inspiration and guidebook, the motivating force — of the jihad movement, and yet there could be peaceful Muslims? In the first place, because jihadists themselves routinely invoke it as the justification for their acts of violence, and as a means to recruit other Muslims into their movement. Any cursory glance at the statements of jihadists shows them to be filled with Koran quotes and appeals to other Muslims that they represent "pure Islam."

Nor are these jihadists misrepresenting what the Koran says. They take the book’s many martial verses at face value. Over 100 Koranic verses exhort believers to wage jihad against unbelievers. “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly” (Koran 47:4). This is emphasized repeatedly. Jews and Christians are among those to be fought: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Koran 9:29).

There is no doubt that Muhammad meant such verses literally. Nonetheless, the fact that warfare against unbelievers is not a twisting of Islam, but the Islamic mainstream, and is repeatedly affirmed in the Koran, Hadith, example of Muhammad, and rulings of every school of Islamic jurisprudence, still does not make every Muslim a terrorist.

Why? Because the Koran is in difficult, classical Arabic, and must be read and recited during Muslim prayers in that language only. A surprisingly large number of Muslims  have scant acquaintance with what it actually says. This is common to a degree that may surprise non-Muslims.

So is the Koran the Mein Kampf of the totalitarian, supremacist movement of Islamic jihad? If we take seriously the words of the book itself and how they are used by jihadists, then it clearly is their inspiration. Are we to ignore the jihadists’ many clear statements on this because they offend contemporary sensibilities? The challenge for peaceful Muslims today is to confront, not to deny, this obvious fact, and to formulate strategies for a large-scale rejection of literalism in the Islamic community in America and worldwide, so that Muslims can coexist peacefully as equals with non-Muslims without the continuing recrudescence of this supremacist impulse.

Can it be done? The odds against it are prohibitive. But we do not do genuine Muslim reformers any favor whatsoever by denying that there is any work they need do with the Koran and Islamic tradition, or by pretending that the source of the problem is other than what it is.