Russia and Islam
I asked Ed Jajko (EJ) if he wished to comment on the references to Sunnah in my (RH) postings about three issues of the monthly English language Pantalogue, which is published by a Russian research.group in Denver. What Ed tells us disturbs me since for years I have been forwarding my copies to the Serials Department of Green Library. I hope they have not been throwing them away. Ed would do a favor if he contacted that department. He says: I am invited to say something about the Sunnah only, but these two postings are so curious that they beg for comment. I am unfamiliar with Pantalogue and unable to identify it. The Stanford on-line catalog does not list it, under any spelling I can think of, nor am I able to find it in the far more comprehensive RLIN bibliographic database, so I am not sure if the journal is in Russian or English. What is said above suggests translation into Russian, then into English. The title of one Arabic book cited above is, I believe, mistranslated, and the significance of its author is overlooked. There is an interesting internal contradiction that I will start with: The first author cited is "Sheik Abdalkadir as Sufi al Murabit," which is instantly recognizable as a nom de plume or de religion. His personal name could indeed be Abd al-Qadir, the Slave of the Determiner of Fate; but "as Sufi" means "The Sufi" and "al Murabit," the source of Almoravide, means literally one who ties or links himself (to something or someone) and came to be used in North Africa for the warrior devotees of Islam who belonged to fortified convents (ribat, literally a hitching-place). Mr. Murabit, Sufi that he calls himself, nevertheless rather curiously seems to be denouncing "Sufyist error," but presumably that might mean whatever Sufism that he does not agree with. Digging a little into the World Wide Web, one can find a great deal about Mr. Murabit. He is originally a Scottish actor named Ian Dallas. One tendentious web site that has its claws in for him is http://murabitun.cyberummah.org/. A more neutral academic read on Mr. Murabit by Dr. Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia can be found halfway down the page at http://www.uga.edu/islam/sufismorders.html.
"The Tirmzy" is the Sunan of al-Tirmidhi, one of the classic or canonical compilations of hadith, oral traditions traced back to the Prophet, his companions, and even to God, that form the Sunnah. Sunnah means "path" or "way" and is the major source of Islamic law and life-guidance for Sunni Islam, the majority part of Islam that believes that the Muslim community is to be headed by an elected successor or vicar -- "khalifah," caliph. The Shiites believe that the Muslim community must be ruled by a direct descendant of the Prophet (although the line of descent is traced back to his cousin and son-in-law Ali). Dedicated Muslim scholars began compiling collections of traditions a hundred or so years after the death of the Prophet, traveling throughout the conquered lands to find oral traditions and developing a science of hadith to determine their relative reliability.
"Huria" is a corruption of a word that in the original Arabic means "virgin" only by extension. The usual English form is "houri." The term found in the Qur'an is "hur al-'ayn," which does not lend itself to easy translation into English. "Hur" is the plural of an adjective meaning "pure white" and in this juxtaposition, "al-'ayn" means "of the eye." One round-about way to translate or explain the term is "with eyes [i.e. sclera] of intense whiteness [and pupils of intense blackness]." Some Muslim exegetes have pushed this to mean "virgin" or "virginal." (A couple of years ago, a European scholar opined, based on a comparison with Aramaic, that the phrase in the Qur'an means "raisins," not exactly my idea of paradise.) In any event, it was fairly clear from the beginning that the Muslim warriors for the faith, who were beginning to die in battle, were being offered an eternity of bliss that was in sharp contrast to the hot, dry, bitter life they knew in the desert. The women of the community complained: their men were being promised an eternal oasis where they could lie on couches and be tended to by willing and ever-renewed virgins. What was in it for them? They were told that they would be those virgins. Everyone was happy. An interesting modern and politically correct reading of the "hur al-'ayn" may be found at Living Islam/Islamic Tradition
http://www.abc.se/~m9783/fiqhi/fiqha_e18.html, Concerning The Hur al-`Ayn (Houris).
"Salaf" is not "hostility to any act contradicting the Koran or the Sunna." "Salaf" is "ancestors," "forebears," "forefathers." Muslims refer to "al-salaf al-salih," the pious or virtuous generations that preceded the corruption of God's way and messages begun by the Jews and continued by the Christians. The summary of the contents of Pantalogue refers to quotations from "Mohammad abd al-Salam Faradj, Debt Buried in Oblivion." I think this is a mistranslation of al-Faridah al-gha'ibah, by Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Faraj. I can find no title by Faraj that can even remotely be translated as Debt Buried in Oblivion. al-Faridah al-gha'ibah is "the vanished or missing duty." Faraj was the intellectual godfather of the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat. As for apostasy, it has always been a capital offense in Islamic law. "The attempt to reduce jihad to spiritual struggle is rejected. Jihad will always mean war. Islam strives to dominate the world and to convert all to its religion."
I wish that these extreme views were better known and could be broadcast every time some paid apologist from a wealthy Middle Eastern embassy goes on TV to say how peaceful Islam is. There is great internal struggle in the religion, and has been for the past 1400 years, and the world suffers for it. Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Faraj rejects "reducing" Islam to spiritual struggle and says that jihad, struggle, always means war. This, despite the fact that most Muslim apologists will say that there are two forms of jihad, and that the greater of them is "jihad al-nafs," the personal struggle, the struggle against oneself. The last sentence quoted expresses the extremist view well: Islam strives to dominate the world and to convert all. The reason for this is simple: Islam is "Din Allah," God's religion, the religion that God has mandated for all mankind, like it or not. I belong to a Church that used to maintain as a central tenet of its beliefs -- and many in it still hold to this -- that salvation was possible only through the Roman Catholic Church, that the Church was the sole repository of the truth. The summary of statements by Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Faraj is a sober reminder that the West -- the other side might say "The Crusaders and Jews" -- that is now largely relativist is confronted by a force, a good deal of which is inimical, that is firm in the knowledge that God is on its side and that its cause is God's. But even if all in the US were to convert in some massive auto da fe, I am convinced that that would not make any difference. Bin Laden and his ilk would still kill us.
The "Afghans" that Bin Laden organized, or helped to organize, is perhaps a Russian abbreviation. They are usually known as the "Afghan Arabs," Arab and other foreign Muslims who volunteered or were recruited to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Lacking access to Pantalogue, I don't know what Mr. Klyuchnikov says about Bin Laden's work. The man who started the work was 'Abd Allah 'Azzam, a Palestinian who set up the "Office of Services" in Peshawar and recruited and trained the foreign fighters for the anti-Soviet war. Bin Laden came in as a financier and organizer. This was at a time when all these people were more or less on our side. 'Azzam was assassinated in 1989 and Bin Laden became head of the operation. Various "Afghan Arabs" dispersed to other areas, either to fight, as in former Yugoslavia, or to wait for instructions or opportunities. The "Office of Services," as I understand it, became al-Qa'idah, "The Base."
RH:The theme is the Muslim plan to unite the world under Islam and to restore the Caliphate. These people are living in a dream world. EJ: This may be a Muslim hope or dream, but it is the serious plan of a minority within Islam, part of it powerful. Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Liberation Party, recently banned in Germany, seeks the restoration of the caliphate but presumably by peaceful means. This party has branches in Europe and the US. If there are branches in the Muslim world, they keep quiet. The Muhajirun, headed by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, split from Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Muhajirun seek restoration of the caliphate but do not seem fussy about the means. Bin Laden and his followers mourn the end of the caliphate after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and seek to have the caliphate restored, with the world under the rule of God's vicar and Christians, Jews, and pagans suitably disposed with. Another Endloesung.
RH: All this gives us an insight into the Arab mindset. The whiteness of huris refers to their skin. No wonder that Nazism had an appeal for many Arabs.
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October 8, 2004