You read something immensely disturbing concerning the Muslim world—say, that some Muslims seek to legalize sex-slavery or destroy Egypt's Pyramids or approve of sodomy-suicide-missions or crucify infidels. Your mind—exclaiming "tell me this is a joke!"—finds it difficult to accept such news. Then, somewhere from the bowels of the Internet, relief arrives.
The much welcomed word "Hoax!" appears, reconfirming your worldview. All is well again.
But is it? Are such accounts mere hoaxes? Or is this just another strategy by those who apologize for Islam's insanities—a strategy that relies exclusively on the fact that the Western mindset cannot fathom such news, anyway, and thus is all too willing to accept the hoax charge without a second thought?
Recall the news that Salafi parliamentarians in Egypt were pushing for a law legalizing necrophilia. This information first appeared in Egypt's most circulated newspaper, Al Ahram, followed by Al Arabiya. The news went viral, prompting Western dismay. But then a cutesy Christian Science Monitor article titled "Egypt 'necrophilia law'? Hooey, utter hooey" tried to return us to the status quo. Its author, one Dan Murphy, admonished the many websites that disseminated the necrophilia story: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet, kids. At least until there's like, you know, some proof."
And his "proof" that it was a hoax? Nothing. He even confirmed that "there was a Moroccan cleric a few years back who apparently did issue a religious ruling saying that husbands remained married to their wives in the first six hours after death and, so, well, you know [i.e., he permitted necrophilia]. But that guy is far, far out on the nutty fringe."
Aside from Murphy's immature tone—"so, well, you know" what?—one fails to see how characterizing a cleric as a "nut" means that his religious ruling is a "hoax"—that it never existed? Likewise, when it comes to fatwas, it matters not which nation they hail from, so that Egyptians can easily uphold the fatwa of a Moroccan, or vice-versa, because in Islam there is no "national" distinction, only the umma.
And yet, no matter how shallow or lacking in evidence, these hoax charges resonate well, simply because the mainstream Western mentality instinctively rejects, in this case, the idea of codifying necrophilia.
Much of this is exacerbated by the fact that most Westerners, including reporters, cannot independently verify such stories, as they usually originate in Middle Eastern languages. Which leads to my familiarity with this matter: I get most of my news directly from the Arabic media—knowing that it is better to get my information directly "from the horse's mouth" than to get it from the limited and filtered Western media.
Accordingly, I am often first to expose stories that go unreported in the West—for instance, the fact that the U.S. embassy in Cairo was being threatened days before the Muhammad movie became a convenient excuse to riot and destroy (the original reason was to coerce the U.S. to free the Blind Sheikh and others).
However, those who prefer to keep such stories suppressed have learned to cry "hoax"—taking advantage of the fact that most Americans cannot read Arabic or verify these accounts for themselves.
Thus, when I documented the indisputable fact that several Islamists were calling for the destruction of Egypt's Pyramids, the New York Times and Huffington Post cried "hoax"; when I shed light on an obscure "sodomy fatwa" which helped explain the role of intention in Islam (or niyya), Muslims and others cried hoax, including by lying and distorting; and when I reported on how Muslim Brotherhood supporters crucified their opponents, the National Post and others cried hoax.
And yet, none of these naysayers offered any meaningful evidence (click above links for my full responses). Instead, they banked on the fact that it is simply too hard to believe these stories in the first place.
So what should the objective Western reader do—who is stuck in the middle, does not read Arabic, and cannot independently verify anything—when confronted with absurd news emanating from the Islamic world?
Along with evaluating the evidence as best they can, I suggest they learn to connect-the-dots. The fact is, there is no end of bizarre anecdotes emanating from the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia's highest Islamic authority until he died in 1999, Sheikh Bin Baz—hardly someone to be dismissed as being "far, far out on the nutty fringe"—insisted that the earth was flat and that all scientific evidence otherwise is a Western conspiracy.
In 2007, Egypt's second highest Islamic authority, Sheikh Ali Gomaa—the same "moderate" Grand Mufti who deems all Christians "infidels"—decreed that drinking the urine of Muhammad was a great blessing. Likewise, a few weeks ago in Egypt it was revealed that there is now a clinic "healing" people by giving them camel urine to drink—because Muhammad once advised it.
Then there are the notorious breastfeeding fatwas: Several Islamic clerics—including Dr. Izzat Atiya, of Egypt's Al Azhar University—advised Muslim female workers to "breastfeed" their male co-workers in order to be in each other's company (more "moderate" clerics say it is not necessary for the man to drink the milk directly from the teat but may use a cup).
The list goes on and on: Several Muslims, including prominent ones, are calling for the reinstitution of sex-slavery, whereby "infidel" women can be bought and sold in markets. One female Kuwaiti politician even recommends that Russian women seized during the Chechnya jihad be sold as sex-slaves on Muslim markets.
Other prominent clerics insist that Islam allows men to get "married" to baby girls still in the cradle, having sex with them once these children are "capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men."
How does one explain these absurd and vile teachings—teachings advocated, not from radicals nor clerics "far, far out on the nutty fringe"—but often from its highest authorities? Simple: Islamic jurisprudence, which is responsible for defining what is right and wrong in Islam, is fundamentally based on the words of a 7th century Arab whom Muslims venerate as a prophet. And this man said and did many things that defy modern day sensibilities.
Indeed, he said and did many things that defied the sensibilities of his contemporaries—such as stripping naked and lying with a dead woman to the surprise of her gravediggers (which, incidentally, is cited by the necrophilia fatwas). And it was the prophet who first ordered a woman to "breastfeed" a man in order to be in his company. Though she expressed shock at the very idea, she went through with it anyway.
Here, then, is the rule of thumb: When it comes to determining whether a story from the Muslim world is a hoax or not, first determine whether it is it Islamic or not—whether it has doctrinal or historic support; whether it has some backing in the Quran and/or the hadith.
As it happens, destroying pyramids and pre-Islamic antiquities is very Islamic with a long paper trail; engaging in forbidden acts like sodomy or suicide or lying in order to empower Islam is legitimate according to the Islamic notion of niyya (or intention); crucifying the opponents of Islam is prescribed in the Quran—just as is sex-slavery and pedophilia; drinking urine—whether camels' or Muhammad's—is lauded in the hadith.
In short, the true test of whether an Islam-related story is a hoax or not, is not whether it accords with our sensibilities, but whether it accords with Islam's teachings, many of which are strange if not downright bizarre by Western standards.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.