My dear friend and colleague Hillel Stavis had the morbidly fascinating experience of witnessing this pseudo-academic fraud peddle his paltry wares March 5, 2008 at Harvard's Divinity School, during a lecture entitled, non-sequitur, "Conceptualizing Islamic Theology: Sharia and Human Rights Doctrine"
Here are Hillel Stavis' cogent first hand observations, in his own words:
Of all the evasions, obfuscations and diversions uttered by UCLA's Professor of Law Khaled Abou el Fadl yesterday [ i.e., March 5, 2008] at the Harvard Divinity School, none was more revealing than his opening declaration that Sharia Law's compatibility or incompatibility with human rights was wholly "vacuous" and "irrelevant". None of the 60 or so, mostly Muslim attendees, seemed to have had a problem with this statement. The audience reaction, from both Mr. Fadl's academic colleagues (among whom was Harvard's Roy Mottahedeh, Gurney Professor of History, a specialist in Persian history) and students was more disturbing than the actual presentation.
Professor Mottahedeh lamented the fact that Muslims have spent too much time trying to reconcile Shari'ah with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, urging the world to supplement it with the Muslim version. Of course, the former is truly universal, the latter particularistic.
And so, a Harvard tenured professor would essentially replace one with the other in a kind of perfecting process.
Nearly 5-years ago now, I warned that El Fadl's much ballyhooed reputation as a reformer was completely unjustified. Specifically, I noted his pattern of uniformed or deliberately deceitful presentation:
Recently El Fadl elucidated his "construction" of the tolerant tradition in Islam as part of an essay collection. He focused this presentation, appropriately, on two of the most obvious challenges to any such construction, i.e. jihad, and the poll tax (jizya) levied on non-Muslims under Islamic rule. El Fadl's arguments regarding both jihad and the jizya in this essay merit close scrutiny, as these institutions are integrated into the corpus of the Shari'a, or sacred Islamic law. I believe his omissions of evidence in this essay, combined with an excessive reliance on sacralized, whitewashed historiography, refutes the prevailing notion that El Fadl is engaged in a sincere effort to instill fundamental change in Islam.
El Fadl states categorically: "..Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause...Holy war (al-harb al-muqaddasah) is not an expression used by the Qur'anic text or Muslim theologians. In Islamic theology war is never holy; it is either justified or not..." This contention cannot be supported on either theological-juridical, or historical grounds, and in fact contradicts the conclusion of an earlier essay by El Fadl.
El Fadl's discussion of jihad is rendered meaningless by a blatant historical negationism of both Muslim and non-Muslim sources. In his analysis of the poll tax (jizya), he relies exclusively upon the sacralized early Muslim historiography of this institution. El Fadl thus attempts to uphold the "virtuous" aspects of the jizya, omitting any reference to the consistent, intentionally humiliating character of its application…El Fadl's presentation excludes discussion of how the jizya was viewed by classical Muslim jurists. There was in fact a basic consensus among the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence regarding the intimate relationship between the institutions of jihad against the infidels, and jizya. El Fadl ignores these extensive writings, and instead asserts whimsically, "…there are various indicators that the poll tax is not a theologically mandated practice, but a functional solution that was adopted in response to a specific set of historical circumstances. Only an ahistorical reading of the text could conclude that it is an essential element in a divinely sanctioned program of subordinating the non-believer."
Another important aspect of the jizya that El Fadl ignores is the widely upheld, although not unanimous view of the classical schools of Islamic jurisprudence about the "humiliating" imposition and procurement of this tax. Here is a discussion of the ceremonial for collection of the jizya by the 13th century Shafi'i jurist an-Nawawi: "…The infidel who wishes to pay his poll tax must be treated with disdain by the collector: the collector remains seated and the infidel remains standing in front of him, his head bowed and his back bent. The infidel personally must place the money on the scales, while the collector holds him by the beard, and strikes him on both cheeks…"
El Fadl also fails to discuss how the "contract of the jizyah", or "dhimma" encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim "dhimmi" peoples. Collectively, these "obligations" formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims- Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists- subjugated by jihad. Some of the more prominent features of the system of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; the restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches and synagogues; the inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to overall taxation, and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; the obligation for Jews and Christians to wear special clothes; and their overall humiliation and abasement.
And I concluded with this relevant assessment:
It should be abundantly clear that Professor El Fadl's disingenuous revisionism hardly qualifies as a sincere effort to promote a meaningful Islamic "Reformation". Intended or not, his whitewashed, "ahistorical" presentation is dangerous, and serves to justify alarming contemporary Muslim assessments of dhimmitude, and its appropriate application, even today! For example, Palestinian Authority (PA) Undersecretary for Awqaf [Religious Endowment], Sheik Yussef Salamah, representing the PA at a May 1999 "Inter-Cultural Conference," in Tehran, praised the 7th century system of Ahl Al-Dhimma (i.e, the system of dhimmitude), as the proper paradigm for relations between present day Muslims and Christians 58. Palestinian Authority employee, Sheik Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Madhi later reiterated these sentiments with regard to Jews during a Friday sermon broadcasted live on June 6, 2001 on PA TV, from the Sheik ‘Ijlin Mosque in Gaza:"We welcome, as we did in the past, any Jew who wants to live in this land as a dhimmi, just as the Jews have lived in our countries, as dhimmis, and have earned appreciation, and some of them have even reached the positions of counselor or minister here and there. We welcome the Jews to live as dhimmis, but the rule in this land and in all the Muslim countries must be the rule of Allah."
One needs simply to contrast El Fadl's meager revisionist approach with the unequivocal statements of a Muslim academic such as Professor Bassam Tibi. Professor Tibi possesses the insight and courage to acknowledge that a meaningfully reformed Islam must embrace the pluralistic spirit of the Western Enlightenment:
"..In the context of religious tolerance-and I write this as a Muslim- there can be no place in Europe for Shari'a …Shari'a is at odds with the secular identity of Europe and is diametrically opposed to secular European constitutions formulated by the people… I hold out for the superiority of common sense over religious faith (i.e., absolute religious precepts); individual human rights (i.e., not collective human rights); secular democracy based on the separation of religion from politics; a universally accepted pluralism; and a mutually accepted secular tolerance. The acceptance of these values is the foundation of a civil society.."
Professor Tibi's comments underscore basic truths that apologists for the Shari'a such as El Fadl refuse to acknowledge. For example, the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam maintains that the Shari'a has primacy over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and includes the specific proclamation that God has made the umma (Islamic community) the best nation, whose role is to "guide" humanity. This statement captures the indelible influence of jihad ideology on the Shari'a, rendering sacred and permanent the notion of inequality between the community of Allah, and the infidels. Thus we can see clearly the differences between the Shari'a-inspired Cairo Declaration, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which does not refer to any religion or to the superiority of any group over another, while stressing the absolute equality of all human beings. Indeed a Senegalese jurist (and Muslim), Adama Dieng, (then serving as secretary-general to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists), courageously declared in 1992 that the Cairo Declaration introduced an intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women.
Subsequently, Daniel Pipes elaborated on El Fadl's so-called "anti-Wahhabism," which is negated by his continued apologetics for jihad terrorism, and open espousal of the implementation of Sharia in non-Muslim societies, as a leading pseudo-academic, cultural jihadist. Pipes highlighted, for example the fact that Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917-96), an important 20th century Egyptian cleric, remains one of Abou El Fadl's chief intellectual influences. However, as I have noted, the "anti-Wahhabi" al-Ghazali, then an official of Al Azhar University, supported the July 1994 vigilante murder of secular Egyptian writer Farag Foda. Testifying on behalf of Farag Foda's murderer, al-Ghazali stated, unabashedly, "A secularist represents a danger to society and the nation that must be eliminated. It is the duty of the government to kill him."
Over fifty years ago (i.e., circa 1955), Gustave von Grunebaum (d. 1972), a major scholar of Islam, well prepared to make sound judgments on matters related to Islamic societies, issued this prescient warning based upon actually studying the writings of the Muslim ideologues of his day, including El Fadl's ideological inspiration, Muhammad al-Ghazali. [Gustave von Grunebaum, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1955, Vol. 14, p. 202, (Book Review of Muhammad Al-Ghazzali's, Our Beginning in Wisdom, 1953, translated by Ismail R. al-Faruqi)]:
The political constellation of the moment which is likely to continue for some not inconsiderable length of time has induced us to envisage ourselves in a world of an "either…or." We concern ourselves with the compatibility or otherwise of Islam with communism and regardless of the conclusion in which we acquiesce, we are apt to overlook the fact that the Muslim circles most emphatically opposed to communism are at the same time potentially if not actually the most formidable stronghold of hostility to the West. Ghazzali's tirade against American Democracy (pp. 60-62) with its warning "against the spreading American ways," with its condemnation of "the domestic as well as foreign policy of America" as "actually a systematic violation of every virtue humanity has ever known" should make us aware that the Muslim "extremists" will be with the West not because of any recognized affinity but merely out of momentary political considerations. Ultimately, the self-conscious world of Islam would wish to consolidate into a power center strong enough to set itself up by the side of the Russian and the Western blocks, strong enough to determine for itself what its primary political concerns should be, and strong enough perhaps to be no longer compelled to westernize for the sake of survival. The hot-headed half-truths of Ghazzali must not delude us into considering absurd the aspiration of those who feel that for its revival Islam needs less rather than more gifts of the West.
At present, more than fifty years later, the distressingly stupid leaders of our universities remain oblivious to (or if ever aware, hostile to) von Grunebaum's profound insights, allowing post-Edward Saidian pseudo-scholars like El Fadl and Mottahedeh, to blissfully pursue their university-supported efforts aimed at "peacefully" subverting the US to Islamic Law.
Let me state bluntly, and humorlessly, I have lost all patience with such fraudulent "presentations," and their utterly ridiculous academic patina—they are pernicious.
Mr El Fadl, and his equally deficient Harvard host Roy Mottahedeh want nothing less than for our liberal democracy to willfully impose upon itself the Ur-Fascistic totalitarianism of Sharia. Only the most empty-headed buffoons, their minds melted away by ceaselessly and uncritically imbibing the cultural relativism that prevails in our "academy," and "public discourse," would even begin to entertain El Fadl's premise. And yet there he was, at Harvard, no less, espousing such hideous ideas along with the dangerously ludicrous Mr. Mottahedeh, who endorsed them.
Hillel Stavis sent me this apposite closing observation shortly after hearing El Fadl's lecture, and the equally inane commentary of his host, Mottahedeh:
Harvard seems to have heard Mr. Mottahedeh's message recently when it accorded exclusionary rights to Muslims by banning men from one of its gyms at designated hours to accommodate Muslim women. Given the professor's desired trajectory of Islamic "ethics", we might even see the ultimate penalty for apostasy applied to those foolhardy students who decide to change their religion while at Harvard.