Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Understanding Qur'an is key to understanding Geert Wilder's Movie

Accusations against Islam as a violent and extreme religion and the misuse of verses of Qur’an to substantiate such allegations are less believable than before. Not because it’s no longer shocking to hear these extreme, emotion charged views, but because such views don’t stand to reason when we consider that Muslims are presently the victims and not the perpetrators of the illegal occupations, torture, murder of civilians, wars and fascism that is so prevalent.

When Steven Emerson, father of the 20th and 21st century’s most extreme and effective Islam bashing, aired his first shockumentary claiming that Muslims were being guided by the Qur’an to take over the world, it might have sounded plausible to non-Muslims, since the world knew very little about Islam, except that it is the world’s fastest growing religion. Even of those who may have believed that Islam was presenting a real challenge to the other major world religions, few perhaps imagined that a take over could mean anything more than being out numbered by converts. It was not until the Oklahoma City bombing, a bombing that was not carried out by Muslims, and Emerson’s biased reporting on that incident, that the public was asked to seriously consider the possibility that Muslims were up to something far more sinister and frightening than mere proselytizing. Whereas the public was slow to accept the idea that Muslims and Islam as a religion might present a threat to US security, our political leadership bought into Emerson’s story hook, line and sinker. Together with many of the leaders of the US religious community, they formed what can only be called a conspiracy to marginalize Islam, and to chill the Constitutional rights of Muslims.

This conspiracy took shape as a media campaign that was followed up by some of our country’s most aggressive and creative prosecutions and law enforcement activity since the days of J. Edgar Hoover and his war against anti-Vietnam war activists, and Black Nationalists. Never in our country’s history has such an assault against a religion, its adherents and the tenets of a faith been carried out so openly and unapologetically. The attacks on 9/11 seemed to confirm every negative and untrue thing that Emerson had said about Islam and Muslims, and even worse, the attacks became justification for the fears that led to the Oklahoma City media backlash, and also for a newly mounted and even more aggressive media campaign fueled by even greater anger, fear, hatred and suspicion following 9/11.

Emerson’s attacks on Muslims and Islam are relevant to the Gert Wilder phenomenon only because Wilder has picked up in Europe where Emerson left off in the US. If history is a teacher, its lesson in respect to people like Emerson and Wilder is that they are supported by cadres of extremists who can and will say and do anything to demonize, vilify and eliminate Islam and Muslims, including perhaps false flag operations. Whereas Muslims and Islam are the obvious targets of these men, their real objectives might be much more troubling. In the US we have seen that Emerson’s initial rhetoric was like prophecy. Prior to Oklahoma City he had` called for allowing secret evidence into US courts, he had also called for warrant less and roving wiretaps. On more than one occasion, Emerson and other Israeli pro-Likud party activists had suggested that the US Constitution made the US vulnerable to terrorism, and hindered the so-called war on terrorism. On more than one occasion they had also suggested that the US should join Israel in what was already being touted in Israel, as a war on terrorism between the Palestinians and the Israelis. As it turns out, much of the more aggressive legal and law enforcement persecution of Muslims both before, and after 9/11, was carried out against Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists residing in the US, who were vocal in their opposition to the illegal occupation of Palestine.

In hind sight it is clear that Islam and Muslims were only two of three, and possibly four targets of Emerson and his partisans. Along with aiming to eliminate Islam and Muslims, they also seemingly had planned to trash the US Constitution, and to bring the entire US citizenry under their influence through intimidation, and deprivation of rights. This is perhaps where any similarity between Emerson’s and Gert’s campaigns end.

What is unique about Wilmert’s shockumentary is that he aims exclusively at Islam as a religion, while suggesting that all Muslims are strictly obedient to every teaching within the Qur’an. This not only conveys a childish overly simplistic view of religion and the amount of influence that religion has on the average person, it also infers that Wilmert does not know very much, nor does he understand anything about the Qur’an. All of this might also imply that Wilmert is sincere in his fear of Islam and Muslims, and that this fear is the result of his misunderstanding the Qur’an and the meaning of the verses he finds so frightening. Unlike Emerson, who seldom if ever sought to refer to any religious text to substantiate his false claims, Wilmert relies exclusively on the Qur’an and his misunderstandings to justify his fears, and also his hysterical warning. This makes it pretty easy to see that whereas the vilification of Islam and Muslims was merely a means to an end that had more to do with power and politics for Emerson, Wilmert’s target, on the other hand is Islam. His attacks are motivated by his fears, and to him, they are quite real, and based upon what he believes he has discovered within the Qur’an.

Understanding the Qur’an

The Qur’an is a miracle, and that is not an overstatement. It has various levels of meaning that range from the most literal, to the most esoteric. Either figuratively, or literally it provides guidance, sometimes only in principle, on any issue one can imagine. It speaks to each reader individually, and speaks to the world collectively, and it spoke to the prophet Muhammad (sa) intimately. The Qur’an is a conversation between God and the prophet Muhammad to be shared by the prophet, with the world. Its verses not only have meaning, they also have purpose.

When we look at the verses that have frightened and incited Wilmert, it’s easy to understand his fears, and also to dispel them. First it is important to establish the fact that the Qur’an, even though it is relevant throughout time, it has a historical context. In respect to Wilmert’s misunderstanding of the verses, this is only relevant because he has selected verses of the Qur’an that were revealed mostly during times of war. Verse 8:60, which calls upon the prophet Muhammad, who is serving as Commander in Chief of the Muslim armies, to prepare the armies for war, which is perfectly reasonable when understood within this verse’s historic context. The same verse is absolutely terrifying if one believes that every Muslim who picks up the Qur’an and reads this verse is being commanded by God to prepare to go to war against non-Muslims, and to do things that will terrify them, which is obviously what Wilmert believes. It is pure gamesmanship and deceit that has led Wilmert to focus purely on this verse, when the verse that follows it, 8:61, says “but if they (the enemy) incline towards peace, do thou also incline towards peace.” Wilmert’s decision to ignore this verse suggests that he does understand well enough to know that verse 8:61 explains that verse 8:60 is calling the prophet to a defensive military posture, and not an aggressive posture. The same is true for 8:39.

As for the description of hell found in 4:39, there are similar descriptions in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 32: the prophet Moses said, “ For a fire of hell is kindled in my anger and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains…they will be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction…” Those who study and who understand scriptural literature understand that these stark descriptions serve as deterrents from sin, and also convey the idea that hell will not only destroy the wicked, it will punish them.

Another clue that Wilmert is clueless when it comes to the Qur’an is his use of verse 4:89 to detract from Islam, when in fact 4:89 was revealed to the prophet in respect to fellow Muslim fighters who had betrayed their brethren on the battlefield. By any military standard Muslim and non-Muslim, this act would be punishable by death. Ironically, the verse gave the prophet Muhammad (sa) the option to either sentence them to capital punishment for causing the deaths of other Muslim fighters by their betrayal, or to set them free and disassociate them from the armies, and also the Muslim community. As an example of how important it is to know something about the history of Qur’anic events and verses before drawing any conclusions, those traitors who were the subject of this verse were actually freed and allowed to make restitution, which was to “flee in the way of God” meaning to change their path and direction in life from disobedience to obedience to God and the prophet.

Verse 47:4 is another Qur’anic verse that transmits a command from God to the prophet Muhammad in his role as Commander in Chief of the Muslim armies. The verse doesn’t say anything extraordinary, considering that it is being revealed to a military commander during wartime. In this verse God commands the prophet Muhammad to resist acts of generosity or kindness to the enemy until the war has ended, and to understand that obedience to God in such times, tests the character of a leader, and passing such tests leads to God’s rewards, in this life and the next.

The role of the prophet Muhammad is a role that is unique in respect to the monotheist prophets. The prophet Muhammad served as a spiritual guide and leader, a preacher and teacher, and also as a legislator, judge and military commander. In the Qur’an, God speaks to his prophet and guides and commands him. He explains things to him, and also admonishes him, praises him, and cautions him. In other verses, God tells the prophet what to say to the believers, and also the non-believers, and why.

Wilmert, like many people, even some Muslims, believes that every word spoken in the Qur’an is a command to be carried out by every Muslim, which is not true. This is why it is important for Muslims to understand the hidden danger in handing out the Qur’an like comic books to children. The hadith prohibit this, yet many Muslims do it because they see Evangelicals and others competing for numbers of adherents. God never suggested to Muslims that out strength or piety would result from great numbers. Rather his prophets taught us that our strength and power would come from great faith.

Only those who are knowledgeable about Qur’an should teach Qur’an, and there should never be a Qur’an without a teacher in my view. In this way we prevent misunderstandings that can lead to very serious consequences when people act out of fear, due to their lack of knowledge and understanding. Teachers also help Muslims to understand who we are in the scheme of things, and what commands and guidance relate to us by way of duty and obligation. Just as we` are not all obliged to be teachers of Qur’an and hadith, or tafsir, or fiqh, we are not all called to war, or to command armies. It is also important for non-Muslims to feel welcomed to visit the mosques, and also free to call, and to ask questions, express concerns, etc., and we need Muslims in the mosque who are able to answer questions appropriately and honestly.

I pray that God will guide Gert Wilmert to peace and satisfaction with Islam and his Muslim neighbors, and guide him to use his talents of persuasion to unify people towards good ends like defeating our common enemies such as disease, poverty, oppression, and tyranny and fascism. I pray that God will heal the hearts of Muslims everywhere and give us peace and satisfaction with our faith and with God, so that we might learn to trust God more, and to put our faith in Him always.

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