Frontpage Interview's guest today is Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. He has sparked controversy within the Islamic community by arguing, as a Muslim himself, that the Koran says Israel belongs to the Jews.
FP: Prof. Mohammed, welcome back to Frontpage Interview. It is a pleasure to be in your company again.
Mohammed: The pleasure is mine Jamie. Thanks for having me back, despite the fact that I am often seen as a cantankerous discussant!
FP: Now why would anyone get that idea?
You recently stated that many Muslim groups in the U.S. exist only to talk about a peaceful Islam, but in fact do nothing about it. And you used the Hajj* as an example of this, stating that you had a clash of views with one major advocacy group. What happened?
Mohammed: For me, any talk about reform and peace must come from a true examination of Islamic teachings, and changing what is historically incorrect. By this, I do not mean that core Qur'anic teachings should in any way be twisted to mean what they do not mean. Rather I am referring to the retelling of stories in such a way that they do not represent the pristine Qur'anic version. Let us take for example, the issue of the Hajj. CAIR recently published in its electronic newsletter (Jan 21), in giving information about the Hajj, that:
"When Muslims marked the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, yesterday, the central figure in their religious celebrations was the Prophet Abraham, not the Prophet Muhammad as one might suppose. That fact offers an excellent opportunity for Muslims, Christians and Jews to recognize their shared religious heritage and to promote a common future as people of faith. Each year, Muslims in American and around the world conclude the Hajj with a holiday called Eid ul-Adha (eedal-ODD-ha), or "Festival of the Sacrifice." Eid ul-Adha not only signifies the end of the pilgrimage, which this year included an estimated 10,000 American Muslims among 2 million to 3 million faithful, it also commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command. (Muslims believe it was Ishmael that God asked to be sacrificed.)"
I took exception...as a Muslim and an academic research--to the parenthetical statement, and wrote to two officials of CAIR that all Muslims do not so believe, and that the earliest interpretations showed that Muslims initially followed the Bible story. And that the later Muslims created a revisionist history to show it was Ishmael. I, in fact, did an academic paper on this subject a long while ago. After a long discussion, in which I was basically told it was not an important matter--among other things, one official let me know that he was going to have no more discussion on the subject, and the other one just stopped responding--in fact, he was so brainwashed that he did not even know that the Qur'an does not say that Ishmael was the sacrificial son.
FP: Are you saying that early Muslims actually literally lied by twisting the evidence? They replaced Isaac with Ishmael knowing that this was a falsehood?
Mohammed: Why pussyfoot? You took the words right out of my mouth.
FP: So when Islam says that the Hajj is to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael, informed Muslims actually know this is not true?
Mohammed: That is more difficult. You know that when you tell a lie long enough, it becomes accepted as truth...For most contemporary Muslims, they accept the story blindly. In truth, I must say that the CAIR people did not seem to know that there was a problem, but there they were, purporting to be representatives of Islam, daring to make public statements about what Muslims think. And when confronted, they were too arrogant to retract their statement. As one of them said:
"As I keep repeating, for CAIR, this issue is trivial and it has decided to follow the view of the majority of trusted scholars, while not disrespecting or objecting to those who hold the other view. Believe me, in the process of our work, we do that all the time."
So for him the issue was not about facts, but about a majority opinion that could be foisted off to misrepresent a monolith view.
FP: When CAIR advised you to not pursue this matter, what do you think their motives were? Why do they prefer historical amnesia and denial on this topic?
Mohammed: As they put it, they do not want division within the Muslim community. They said that as an advocacy organization, they had to choose what represents the acceptable opinion among the majority of scholars and Muslims. So here we have CAIR, representing a religion that has the presentation of proof as a tenet in its holy book telling me that what is acceptable to the majority must take precedence to truth. Or that the voice of the minority must not be heard. No wonder democracy has such a problem being accepted into their interpretation of Islam although they may trumpet about Islam and democracy. I do not think their motives were sinister, but I see a big problem with their approach: it means that if the majority of Muslims think the Jews and Christians are misguided and evil, then they must advocate that. It is similar to their position on the woman's headcovering--which they present as "the Islamic position."
They prefer historical amnesia, I think, because whatever makes the Muslims look good (and non-Muslims look bad) is taken as sacred.As I was told when I said that there cannot be two positions of truth on the matter, "...in many cases it matters not which one is right."
FP: What is the disposition of Jewish rabbis to you?
Mohammed: There is no one answer to this. There are many Jewish rabbis who oppose what I do, and for good reason. They feel that my exposing certain cancers within the contemporary Islamic community could cause rancor and thwart the apparent bridge-building that seems to be in progress. On the other hand, there are many rabbis who like that the exposure should come from an observant Muslim, in the hope that it will goad the Muslims to reexamine their traditions. The information that Jewish rabbis oppose me on the Isaac/Ishmael theme came from CAIR's statement on the matter. But the fact of the matter is that I had several discussions with some Jewish rabbis regarding this issue (of who is the Zabeeh--meaning, in Arabic, the sacrificial son) and they had no problem with it.Like me, they agreed that both religions have so many clear-cut areas of commonality that we do not need to split hairs on this issue; an issue that will certainly not be resolved with a consensus. Actually one of the rabbis made an interesting and wise comment. He said that those from the Muslim community who will try to push this issue will end up undermining the effort of bridging the gap between the two communities because they will be perceived by Muslims as trying to impose one version of history on the Muslim community to please outsiders (even if it is not true). You see Jamie, I am not about bridging gaps between communities if I had to use a false screen to do so. If I felt that Ishmael was involved in the Aqedah (A Hebrew term, meaning "the binding"--in reference to the binding of Isaac in preparation for the sacrifice), I would have certainly have said so. But for me to overlook a lie, to create a false harmony, is madness. If rabbis did indeed say that which was attributed to them by CAIR, then I would say they are breaking Jewish practice (and Islamic and Christian) Are we not supposed to say what is true? Why should any God be pleased with m e when I am outwardly nice to a Jew and a Christian, shake his hand etc, when deep down inside, I am thinking "here is a liar who wants me to believe it is Isaac when I know it is Ishmael. Let me be nice to bridge a gap, but I know he is a liar." I can do without that sort of hypocrisy, thank you. FP: You mentioned the opposition of some Jewish rabbis, is what you said above their only reason for opposing you? Mohammed: Well, there are many rabbis who are willing to allow the obfuscation of certain facts in order to promote artificial harmony. And there are those who genuinely feel that since many Muslims are not extremist, I should phrase my rhetoric more gently. My problem with them is simple: I feel that Muslims who choose to live in free societies must act as if they are in free societies and not seek to subjugate those societies to their often retrogressive and uneducated views of gender interaction, dress codes etc. FP: So what is your conclusion on this matter with CAIR then? Are you really surprised about these things when it comes to CAIR? This organization, after all, grew out of the Hamas-created Islamic Association for Palestine. Several of its officials (i.e. Randall "Ismail" Royer) have been arrested for conspiring in terrorism. We can't really expect integrity and truth from CAIR can we? Mohammed: Looking at the way your question is phrased, I respond that no, I should not be surprised. I had hoped that CAIR would have truly sought to work for a reform within Islam, and do so through the presentation of truth. I sought to aid this by letting them know that any talk of harmonious interaction with Jews, Christians and others can only be genuine when we Muslims are genuine. And this means questioning, probing, admitting that we have misrepresented history, sometimes blatantly seeking to revise the past. So, painfully, I must say that since integrity and truth are inextricably interwoven, and as shown in this, that CAIR is not willing to admit the truth, then, integrity cannot be expected from them. FP: Prof. Mohammed, our time is up. Thank you for joining us today. I'm sure it won't be too long before we talk again. Mohammed: I hope so...the more I surf the internet, the more I see "Islamic" sites that seek to mask the problems within contemporary Islam, and lay the blame on outsiders. Thank again for having me. *Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam which involves a pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Dhu al-Qadah. It is expected of a Muslim at least once in a lifetime.