There is, however, one point of entry into the Islamic armor that sounds as pious and as Islamic as these things go. It may even be effective. The Koran unequivocally states that it is written in clear Arabic language. ‘Well’, one is bound to ask, ‘Why, if this is true, do we need Koran commentaries that run into thousands of pages?
This question is awkward already, but we have to pose an even more embarrassing one concerning the authority of the ancient founding fathers of the Sharia: the four giants al-Shafi’i, Abu Haniifa, Malik and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, all close to 800 AD; all, except Malik, geographically connected to Iraq: ‘Why do we need these four Sharia scholars to inform us which acts Islam forbids and prescribes?’. ‘If the Koran is clear, why do we need these luminaries? What did they know more than the prophet Muhammad? What did they know that is not in the clear verses of the Koran?’
These questions do not necessarily make the average Muslim laymen angry. Nevertheless, they will enrage Muslim Sharia scholars. Since these men play the role the clergy plays in Christianity, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are no doubt a spiritual force, but some of their youthful supporters do not care much about the distinction between soul and body, and do not hesitate to take all necessary steps to enforce compliance with the wishes of these clergymen.
Muslim laymen, as a rule, assent to whatever the professional Muslims teach and preach. The power that this guild of Islamic Sharia experts exercises over its flock is amazing and has no equal in history. It is based on social pressure. It operates in the simplest way imaginable: carrying out the prescripts of one’s religion creates prestige amongst coreligionists. This is the case in all religious systems. Hence, in the case of Islam, Muslims will admire anyone who acts in the Islamic way. Who defines how that way runs? It is the Islamic clergy that exercises the final authority on which behavior constitutes Islamic behavior.
This would not matter to us if Islam did not boast to be able and willing to destroy the West. In order to defend the West against Islam it is this chain of granting prestige and authority that has to be attacked, and this attack had better take place at its weakest point: the basis of the authority of the clergy. This clerical authority is based on the Sharia. However, the authority of the Sharia implies that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was more or less a simpleton, and that the Koran is a vague and simplistic piece of pious prose that lacks the information man needs to be saved from the fires of Hell — only the clergy knows how man can be saved, and this by virtue of its knowledge of the Sharia, not by virtue of its knowledge of the Koran.
The elevated position of the Sharia in the world of Islam, we might argue, can only be understood as a belittlement of the Koran and Muhammad. Once we can make our Muslim and our dhimmi opponents see this, we may have influenced them. The question we should ask as soon as an appeal to a Sharia law book is being made is: ‘What do the Muslim scribes and scholars, all of them human, none of them a prophet, know more than Muhammad and His companions knew?’
Allow one example of how Sharia and clergy operate. In 2006/2007, a Dutch comedian got into trouble with an Islamic activist about the Theo van Gogh assassination. The comedian, on his own initiative, then consulted a local Amsterdam Imam and the board of his mosque, asking them directly whether they wanted to kill him. The Imam only looked stern, and did not say anything, acting as if he did not understand Dutch — which perhaps he did not. However, a smiling board member assured the comedian that they had no plans to kill him, because ‘for such things we have the radicals’. This perfectly illustrates the situation. The majority is silent, the Imam limits himself to looking dignified, his direct supporters bring the bad news, and the elite soldiers, true commandos, true mujahidin, do the dirty work.
Governments hesitate to resist these commandos; those under attack usually have to defend themselves. It is best to fight back indirectly, and try to influence Muslims into realizing that over the centuries an ever-widening gap has opened up between what they sincerely and sometimes naively see as Islam and the accumulated prescripts and restrictions the clergy wants to see applied. We should ask Muslim laymen again and again what the human writers of the Sharia handbooks know more than the archangel Gabriel when he revealed the Koran to Muhammad?
The Koran brings bad news to someone who does not want to submit to Islam, but as explicit as the Sharia it is not. We may, moreover, freely criticize recently annotated and revised Sharia handbooks, nothing in our laws and customs forbids us to do so. However, criticizing an ancient holy text can easily be portrayed as uncivilized. The many contemporary Sharia handbooks are, to the contrary, fair game. Their authors are only human, men like you and me. But the writers of these Sharia books certainly claim to know more than all the prophets and archangels combined.
Here the friends of Islam will cleverly try to undermine our trustworthiness. When we appeal to an ancient classic Sharia handbook, and point to its bloodthirsty and explicit contents, they will say: ‘Oh, well, this is an old book, not relevant any longer, no normal average Muslim knows of this book’. When we quote modern contemporary sources of a similar nature, they will say: ‘Well, this is a recent innovation that has no meaning for the general picture of Islam’. If we quote both old and new sources, they will say that we bore them by repeating multiple irrelevancies. A strong stomach is an absolute requisite for anyone who joins such debates.
One of our problems with Islam is the Western understanding of freedom of religion. Most Westerners do not realize this, but religions are dissimilar. Every act that can be imagined is either prohibited or made obligatory by at least one of the hundreds of religions our planet is graced with. Hence, freedom of religion, if it means that every religion can have its way, is not possible. When my professor in my first year at the University explained this, I did not believe him, and asked whether something as innocent as drinking tap water could be the subject of a religious prohibition. He answered that he did not know of an example but at the same time he assured me that if I started looking I would find one. And right he was: Hinduism has a caste that may only drink water pulled up from a well by a clay jug; they regard drinking tap water as haraam.
In Europe and America, however, the extant religions are comparatively similar, and usually somehow connected to the Bible. Hence Europeans and Americans tend to believe that there is no harm in letting a religion have its way since ‘deep down all religions are the same’. This is a misunderstanding. There is nothing that is common to all religions.
Freedom of religion, if it means that any form of religion can have its way, is a recipe for civil war. What our wise forefathers meant when they advocated freedom of religion should be reformulated. What they meant can only have been freedom of opinion and freedom of worship. Since they were unfamiliar with religions that were essentially different, and since they tired from going to war about beliefs and forms of worship, and since they were unfamiliar with the full specter of global religious variety, they formulated their convictions, however right they were, in a way that today is confusing and creates serious problems for freedom, science, justice, health and politics.
Not all is well, but many if not most Muslims are too humane to be willing to execute all commands the Sharia imposes. Let us help them by pointing out that that the Koran may well be the word of God — this, after all, is untestable, but that the Sharia is the work of men, even according to the teachings of Islam. To remain free from Sharia law, we may eventually have to fight, but then, freedom is not for free.
Video of the speech:
Dr. Hans Jansen is a Dutch scholar of Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. He was a witness for the defence in the Geert Wilders process two years ago.
For Dr. Jansen’s CV, please see www.arabistjansen.nl/.
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