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ICC Note: Here is a fantastic discussion on Islam (built around the recent forced conversions of the Fox reporters) that includes a famous moderate Turkish Muslim. A lot of it might be too detailed for the average reader but for those who want to go deep it is a great piece. Front Page Magazine does it again.

Symposium: Convert or Die
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine | October 20, 2006

Last month, American al-Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn issued a “convert-to-Islam-or-die message to U.S. President George W. Bush, Daniel Pipes, Michael Scheuer, Steve Emerson and Robert Spencer. This attempt at forced conversion to Islam followed the “conversion” at gunpoint of the two kidnapped Fox News reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

What exactly was the significance of these events?

On the one hand, these attempts at forced conversion were in clear continuity with Islam’s long history of calling people to convert before waging war on them. But how exactly does this tradition and practice in Islam square with the Qur’an’s verse “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)? If Gadahn and the kidnappers of the Fox reporters consider themselves Muslims, what was their rationale for their actions in this context? Also: if forced conversion is anti-Islamic, where were, and are, all the Muslims furiously protesting Gadahn’s threats and the treatment of Centanni and Wiig?

To discuss these issues with us today, we are joined by:

Mustafa Akyol, a Muslim journalist and author from Istanbul, Turkey. He has written extensively in the Turkish and international press, including many American publications, about Islam and the current Muslim world. His writings are available at

David Aikman, a former senior correspondent and foreign correspondent with Time Magazine, an author (see for his books), and currently writer in residence and associate professor of history (History of Islam, Ages of Revolution) at Patrick Henry College in Purcelville, VA. He recently wrote a column for the Houses of Worship section of the Wall Street Journal on religious conversion in the US and overseas.

Robert Spencer, Director of Jihad Watch who, last month, was offered by Al-Qaeda the same ‘invitation to Islam’ that Centanni and Wiig received: convert or face the consequences.

Andrew Bostom, M.D., M.S. (Providence, RI), an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Renal Diseases of Rhode Island Hospital. He has published articles and commentary on Islam in the Washington Times, National Review, Revue Politique, FrontPage, The American Thinker, Investor’s Business Daily, and other print and online publications. He is the author of The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims.

FP: Mustafa Akyol, David Aikman, Robert Spencer and Andrew Bostom, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Mustafa Akyol, let me begin with you. What do you make of the forced conversions of the two Fox journalists and with the Gadahn calls for the conversions of the people he named?

As a Muslim, how do you regard these events?

Akyol: First, greetings to all participants and readers of this symposium. And thanks for having me.

This is an important topic and, as a Muslim, my position is clear: I am absolutely against the concept of forced conversion, which I believe is in opposition to the basic principles of the Qur’an. The verse you mentioned — “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) — is very clear and there are also other ones, such as, “It is the truth from your Lord; so let whoever wishes have faith and whoever wishes be unbeliever.” (18:29) There is nothing in the Qur’an which would justify a forced conversion to Islam. Indeed a purely Qur’anic Muslim view should cherish full religious freedom.

However, the post-Qur’anic Islamic literature is not so friendly to religious freedom. The hadiths and the jurists’ opinions based on them added a lot of extra rules and regulations due to the political needs of the early Islamic empire. The ban on apostasy was such a post-Qur’anic rule that I think we Muslims should abandon right away. People should have the right to leave Islam and choose other religions if they decide to do so.

However, forced conversion is something that goes even beyond the mainstream post-Qur’anic orthodoxy, whether it is Sunni or Shiite. Although pagan Arabs weren’t tolerated and were forced to convert, the Sunni orthodoxy accepted that Christians and Jews (and later, Hindus and Buddhists) had the right to keep their faith by accepting the dhimmi (“protected”) status.

Therefore I think the Palestinian militants who forced those two kidnapped Fox News reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig did something terribly wrong. From a purely Qur’anic point of view, that’s totally unacceptable. Even from a Sunni Orthodoxy view, that’s very hard to justify. It is also stupid: How can you think that you can make someone a sincere Muslim by pointing a gun at him?

Or maybe it was not that stupid. Those militants might have been seeking not a genuine conversion, but a political show. They might have wished to give the message that they are powerful and they can force Westerners to accept what they want, and even transform their identity. In other words, their focus seems not to direct people to what we Muslims believe to be a path to God, but to recruit them into their tribe. This tribal mentality lies beneath much of the assaults against religious freedom in the Muslim world, but it is not what the Qur’an commends.

The al-Qaeda call to American writers like Mr. Spencer seems to be a political show of the same sort. It is in fact a good thing to invite people to Islam from my point of view, but hearing a call to Islam directed to Americans by al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization which has killed thousands of innocent Americans up to now, is like a joke. If they were serious about it, what they should have done was to establish an Islamic cultural center in the Twin Towers — not to blow them up.

FP: Robert Spencer?

Spencer: While I applaud Mustafa Akyol’s endeavor to construct an Islam free from “hadiths and the jurists’ opinions,” unfortunately those traditions and rulings are normative for the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide. Since many of these ahadith are attributed to Muhammad himself and are found in hadith collections generally considered reliable by Muslims (such as Bukhari’s), it is extremely difficult to convince orthodox Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims to dismiss them. For them, the ban on apostasy from Islam is not just a “post-Qur’anic rule,” but a supreme evil, as it was regarded, according to many ahadith, by Muhammad himself.

When he was master of Medina, some livestock herders came to the city and accepted Islam. But they disliked Medina’s climate, so Muhammad gave them some camels and a shepherd; once away from Medina, the herders killed the shepherd, released the camels and renounced Islam. Muhammad had them pursued. When they were caught, he ordered that their hands and feet be amputated (in accord with Qur’an 5:33, which directs that those who cause “corruption in the land” be punished by the amputation of their hands and feet on opposite sides) and their eyes put out with heated iron bars, and that they be left in the desert to die. Their pleas for water, he ordered, must be refused (Bukhari 8.82.794-797; 9.83.37).

The traditions are clear that one of the main reasons that the punishment was so severe was because these men had been Muslims but had “turned renegade.” Muhammad legislated for his community that no Muslim could be put to death except for murder, unlawful sexual intercourse, and apostasy (Bukhari 9.83.17). He said flatly: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57). These words are obviously taken with utmost seriousness around the Islamic world, as we saw in Afghanistan during the Abdul Rahman case – which was by no means an isolated incident. Some Muslim authorities even argue that, aside from the Hadith, the Qur’an itself mandates death for apostates when it says: “if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them” (4:89).

As for forced conversion, it is likewise unfortunately unclear among Muslims that what happened to Centanni and Wiig was, in Akyol’s optimistic words, “from a purely Qur’anic point of view…totally unacceptable” and “from a Sunni Orthodoxy view…very hard to justify.” Islamic law forbids forced conversion, but in Islamic history this law has all too often been honored in the breach. More significantly, Islamic law regarding the presentation of Islam to non-Muslims manifests a quite different understanding of what constitutes freedom from coercion and freedom of conscience from that which prevails among non-Muslims. Muhammad instructed his followers to call people to Islam before waging war against them – the warfare would follow from their refusal to accept Islam or to enter the Islamic social order as inferiors, required to pay a special tax:

Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the tax on non-Muslims specified in Qur’an 9:29]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim 4294)

There is therefore an inescapable threat in this “invitation” to accept Islam. Would one who converted to Islam under the threat of war be considered to have converted under duress? By non-Muslim standards, yes, but not according to the view of this Islamic tradition. From the standpoint of the traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence such a conversion would have resulted from “no compulsion.”

Muhammad reinforced these instructions on many occasions during his prophetic career. Late in his career, he wrote to Heraclius, the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople:

Now then, I invite you to Islam (i.e., surrender to Allah), embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e., your nation). (Bukhari, 4.52.191).

Heraclius did not accept Islam, and soon the Byzantines would know well that the warriors of jihad indeed granted no safety to those who rejected their “invitation.”

Muhammad did not limit his veiled threat only to rulers. Another hadith records that on one occasion he emerged from a mosque and told his men, “Let us go to the Jews.” Upon arriving at a nearby Arabian Jewish community, Muhammad told them: “If you embrace Islam, you will be safe. You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I want to expel you from this land. So, if anyone amongst you owns some property, he is permitted to sell it, otherwise you should know that the Earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle” (Bukhari, 4.53.392). In other words, if you accept Islam, you may keep your land and property, but if not, Muhammad and the Muslims would confiscate it.

Would someone who converted in the face of such a threat be considered to have been forced by Islamic jurists? No – and therein lies the reason why the conversions of Centanni and Wiig could be presented by their captors as uncoerced, in the teeth of the evidence.

This, too, has a foundation in the Qur’an. Sura 9:29 says: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [a special tax levied only on non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” This verse does not force conversion, but it did in Islamic history become the foundation of an elaborate legal system, the dhimma (to which Akyol refers). This system ensured that non-Muslims would “feel themselves subdued” by mandating a series of humiliating and discriminatory regulations that institutionalized second-class status for non-Muslims in Islamic societies. As the schools of Islamic jurisprudence developed, they constructed upon various ahadith and passages of the Qur’an a legal structure for the treatment of non-Muslims.

The features of this remained remarkably consistent across the centuries, and among all the legal schools. Consider the contemporary Saudi Sheikh Marzouq Salem Al-Ghamdi, who several years ago explained in a sermon the terms in which an Islamic society should tolerate the presence of non-Muslims in its midst:

If the infidels live among the Muslims, in accordance with the conditions set out by the Prophet — there is nothing wrong with it provided they pay Jizya to the Islamic treasury. Other conditions are . . . that they do not renovate a church or a monastery, do not rebuild ones that were destroyed, that they feed for three days any Muslim who passes by their homes . . . that they rise when a Muslim wishes to sit, that they do not imitate Muslims in dress and speech, nor ride horses, nor own swords, nor arm themselves with any kind of weapon; that they do not sell wine, do not show the cross, do not ring church bells, do not raise their voices during prayer, that they shave their hair in front so as to make them easily identifiable, do not incite anyone against the Muslims, and do not strike a Muslim….If they violate these conditions, they have no protection.[i][i]

In this the Sheikh is merely repeating the classic terms of Islamic jurisprudence for the treatment of non-Muslims in Islamic societies – and he explicitly links these terms to Muhammad’s example. The second-class status for Christians and Jews, mandated by Qur’an 9:29’s stipulation that they “feel themselves subdued,” was first fully articulated by Muhammad’s lieutenant Umar during his caliphate (634 to 644), in terms strikingly similar to those used by Sheikh Marzouq. The Christians making this pact with Umar pledged:

We made a condition on ourselves that we will neither erect in our areas a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk, nor restore any place of worship that needs restoration nor use any of them for the purpose of enmity against Muslims….We will not . . . prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so. We will respect Muslims, move from the places we sit in if they choose to sit in them. We will not imitate their clothing, caps, turbans, sandals, hairstyles, speech, nicknames and title names, or ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons…. We will not encrypt our stamps in Arabic, or sell liquor. We will have the front of our hair cut, wear our customary clothes wherever we are, wear belts around our waist, refrain from erecting crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets. We will not sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims. . . .

After these and other rules are fully laid out, the agreement concludes: “These are the conditions that we set against ourselves and followers of our religion in return for safety and protection. If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”[ii][ii]

All this does not add up to forced conversion, but many times in Islamic history it has made living as a non-Muslim so burdensome and onerous that conversion to Islam became the only path to a better life. Coerced? Perhaps not. But the line between coercion and free choice is in this case exceedingly fine.

FP: David Aikman?

Aikman: I applaud Mustafa Akyol’s denunciation of the forced conversion of Fox newsmen Centanni and Wiig, but I fear that Mr. Akyol’s humane disgust with conversion at the end of a gun-barrel is largely because he has benefited from having grown up in modernTurkey, which, since its founding in the 20 th. century by Attaturk, has been blessed by a secular state and not an Islamic one. If Mr. Akyol were resident in many other Muslim countries around the world, he would at best be repudiated for the un-shariah approach to the issue he expressed in this forum, at worst threatened with physical harm or death.

Mr. Robert Spencer, a specialist on Islamic attitudes in history towards people of non-Islamic faith, has put the case expertly and eloquently that the overwhelming weight of the Islamic tradition in practice has been to subject conquered non-Muslims to unconscionable humiliations in the way they are permitted to practice their faiths, humiliations that amount to coercion to convert to Islam. I certainly have nothing to add to his historical arguments. I think they are very persuasive.

What I do wish to address is what this new, threatening component in the discourse of Islamic militants means for the whole of the human race. It amounts to a war for a totalitarian control not just of its adversaries all over the world, but of the world as a whole. It aspires to coerce the entire world into conversion to Islam or into the humiliating acceptance of “dhimmi” status. In effect, Al Qaeda and all who support it are waging a war not just on the West, not just on the remains of a Christendom almost fatally weakened by political correctness and notions of moral equivalence, but on global civilization itself. Terrorist strikes and plots by advocates of global jihad have been committed or plotted in a variety of countries that makes little sense from the perspective of their various political positions. From England to Indonesia, from Canada to India, from the US to Spain, there have been terrorist plots and outrages, even though in regard to policies towards the Middle East, many of these states have been at odds with each other. But that has not protected them from the jihadist scourge. The reason is that their governments have all shared the view that in the modern world civilized life requires the free movement of commerce and people, of communications and ideas. All of these nations, indeed, except Indonesia, have been signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations in 1948. Even Indonesia, however, is not an officially Islamic state. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.” By extension that has been accepted by signatory states as implying also the freedom of their citizens to change religious belief without penalty or punishment.

In our modern world even those countries still ruled by one-party political systems such as China or Cuba had paid lip-service to the view that freedom of conscience and religious belief is inviolable. China itself has flatly repudiated that period of its recent history when, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, a nation-wide attempt was made to suppress all manifestations of religious faith. Though China is not fully free by most criteria of political democracy, it is no longer a totalitarian society and has already moved far away from totalitarian state control of all areas of private life. Other countries have problems of pressure on ordinary citizens by adherents of one religion or another not to change religion (India and Sri Lanka, among others) but the overwhelming direction of global civilization is away from religious coercion, not towards it.

It is only in the Islamic world that there is broad sympathy for a point of view that the individual conscience is not a sacred thing at all and does not even belong to the individual, but to the Muslim-controlled community in which the individual is located. This is at odds with the entire direction in which, by overwhelming broad consensus, human civilization as a whole is moving. In effect, Islamic coercion of personal religious conscience is not an example of the “clash of civilizations,” but of a war waged by desperate fanatics upon civilization itself. I will leave it to scholars of the early years of Islam to debate whether this war upon the human conscience was the intention of early Islam or not. But that it is the goal of Al Qaeda and practitioners of Islamofascism around the world, there can be no doubt. Mr. Gadahn, the Californian voice of Al Qaeda, may issue his sneering threats to President Bush, or Dr. Daniel Pipes, or to my forum colleague Mr. Robert Spencer and others. But I predict that, when this new totalitarian challenge to global civilization has been overcome, Mr. Gadahn’s blustering will be recalled as a historical footnote, like the blusterings after the defeat of Japan during World War 2 of “Tokyo Rose”.

Bostom: Mustafa Akyol maintains—citing Koran 2:256— that forced conversion “is in opposition to the basic principles of the Qur’an…There is nothing in the Qur’an which would justify a forced conversion to Islam”. The latter assertion is patently false, and the former is dubious at best, as I will demonstrate. I also object to Mr. Akyol’s invocation of peaceful da’wa (setting up Islamic centers for proselytization) given that there is no reciprocal free marketplace of religious ideas anywhere in the Islamic world, including Turkey. The sad reality is that circa 2006 Islamic proselytization is entirely unidirectional, apparently by design, as Christian missionary activity, for example, is opposed without exception, and often brutally, throughout the Islamic world. But let me make clear—at this critical juncture in history—I cherish Akyol’s unequivocal personal condemnation of forced conversion, despite finding his theological arguments wanting.

Robert Spencer has focused on the hadith and sira, laying out elegantly the coercive elements intrinsic to those foundational Muslim texts which were incorporated permanently into Islamic Law, the Sharia. His illustration of the so-called Pact of Umar, and its modern invocation by Saudi Sheikh Marzouq Salem Al-Ghamdi, provides additional edification. David Aikman highlights a critical and disturbing contemporary phenomenon, noting “…there is broad sympathy for a point of view that the individual conscience is not a sacred thing at all and does not even belong to the individual, but to the Muslim-controlled community in which the individual is located.”. I will expand upon this point in my own reference to the Cairo Declaration of 1990, the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.

Although Mustafa Akyol acknowledges the forced conversion of pagans in Arabia, he ignores its Koranic source(s), in particular the timeless war proclamation (the Koran being the “uncreated word of Allah” for Muslims) on generic pagans (not simply Arabian pagans), Koran 9:5, which offers pagans the stark “choice” of conversion or death: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” . Thus for the idolatrous Hindus (and the same applies to enormous populations of pagans/animists wherever Muslim jihadist armies encountered them in history, including, sadly, contemporary Sudan) for example, enslaved in vast numbers during the waves of jihad conquests that ravaged the Indian subcontinent for well over a half millennium (beginning at the outset of the 8th century C.E.), the guiding principles of Islamic law regarding their fate —derived from Koran 9:5—were unequivocally coercive. Jihad slavery also contributed substantively to the growth of the Muslim population in India. K.S. Lal elucidates both of these points:

The Hindus who naturally resisted Muslim occupation were considered to be rebels. Besides they were idolaters (mushrik) and could not be accorded the status of Kafirs, of the People of the Book – Christians and Jews… Muslim scriptures and treatises advocated jihad against idolaters for whom the law advocated only Islam or death… The fact was that the Muslim regime was giving [them] a choice between Islam and death only. Those who were killed in battle were dead and gone; but their dependents were made slaves. They ceased to be Hindus; they were made Musalmans in course of time if not immediately after captivity…slave taking in India was the most flourishing and successful [Muslim] missionary activity…Every Sultan, as [a] champion of Islam, considered it a political necessity to plant or raise [the] Muslim population all over India for the Islamization of the country and countering native resistance.

The late Rudi Paret was a seminal 20th century scholar of the Koran, and its exegesis. Paret’s considered analysis of Koran 2:256, puts this verse in the overall context of Koranic injunctions regarding pagans, specifically, and further concludes that 2:256 is a statement of resignation, not a prohibition on forced conversion.

After the community which the Prophet had established had extended its power over the whole of Arabia, the pagan Arabs were forcefully compelled to accept Islam stated more accurately, they had to choose either to accept Islam or death in battle against the superior power of the Muslims (cf. surahs 8:12; 47:4). This regulation was later sanctioned in Islamic law. All this stands in open contradiction to the alleged meaning of the Quranic statement, noted above: la ikraha fi d-dini. The idolaters (mushrikun) were clearly compelled to accept Islam – unless they preferred to let themselves be killed. [Note-Koran 9:5];

In view of these circumstances it makes sense to consider another meaning. Perhaps originally the statement la ikraha fi d-dini did not mean that in matters of religion one ought not to use compulsion against another but that one could not use compulsion against another (through the simple proclamation of religious truth).

Lest one think such coercion applies only to “pagans”, Princeton scholar Patricia Crone makes the cogent argument that coercion may apply during any act of jihad resulting in captivity (i.e., jihad as the institution for extension of Islamic suzerainty, including, for our example, the jihad kidnapping of the two Fox reporters). Dr. Crone, in her recent analysis of the origins and development of Islamic political thought, makes an important nexus between the mass captivity and enslavement of non-Muslims during jihad campaigns, and the prominent role of coercion in these major modalities of Islamization. Following a successful jihad, she notes:

Male captives might be killed or enslaved, whatever their religious affiliation. People of the Book were not protected by Islamic law until they had accepted dhimma. Captives might also be given the choice between Islam and death, or they might pronounce the confession of faith of their own accord to avoid execution: jurists ruled that their change of status was to be accepted even though they had only converted out of fear.

An unapologetic view of Islamic history reveals that forced conversions to Islam are not exceptional—they have been the norm, across three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—for over 13 centuries. Orders for conversion were decreed under all the early Islamic dynasties—Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Mamluks. Additional extensive examples of forced conversion were recorded during the jihad campaigns and rule of the Berber Almoravids and Almohads in North Africa and Spain (11th through 13th centuries), under both Seljuk and Ottoman Turkish rule (the latter until its collapse in the 20th century), the Shi’ite Safavid and Qajar dynasties of Persia/Iran, and during the jihad ravages on the Indian subcontinent, beginning with the early 11th century campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni, and recurring under the Delhi Sultanate, and Moghul dynasty until the collapse of Muslim suzerainty in the 18th century following the British conquest of India.

Moreover, during jihad—even the jihad campaigns of the 20th century [i.e., the jihad genocide of the Armenians during World War I, the Moplah jihad in Southern India [1921], the jihad against the Assyrians of Iraq [early 1930s], the jihads against the Chinese of Indonesia and the Christian Ibo of southern Nigeria in the 1960s, and the jihad against the Christians and Animists of the southern Sudan from 1983 to 2001], the dubious concept (see Paret, above) of “no compulsion” (Koran 2:256; which was cited with tragic irony during the Fox reporters “confessional”!), has always been meaningless. A consistent practice was to enslave populations taken from outside the boundaries of the “Dar al Islam”, where Islamic rule (and Law) prevailed. Inevitably fresh non-Muslim slaves, including children (for example, the infamous devshirme system in Ottoman Turkey, which spanned three centuries and enslaved 500,000 to one million Balkan Christian adolescent males, forcibly converting them to Islam), were Islamized within a generation, their ethnic and linguistic origins erased. Two enduring and important mechanisms for this conversion were concubinage and the slave militias—practices still evident in the contemporary jihad waged by the Arab Muslim Khartoum government against the southern Sudanese Christians and Animists. And Julia Duin reported in early 2002 that murderous jihad terror campaigns—including, prominently, forced conversions to Islam—continued to be waged against the Christians of Indonesia’s Moluccan Islands.

My concern, despite Mr. Akyol’s noble personal views, is that the Muslim ulema know what Paret and Crone have explained is true: there was nothing “Un-Islamic” about the forced conversions of Centanni and Wiig. This is how, in the main, Islam spread in the first place: conquest, forced conversion, concubinage, and enslavement, with the slaves ultimately converting to Islam (their only route to manumission)—followed by the conversion of dhimmis, to escape their own grinding oppression, or during paroxysms of violent persecution of the dhimmis, which also included bouts of forced conversion.

Thus, there has been utter silence on the Centanni-Wiig forced conversions from Muslim clerical and religio-political elites—Sunni and Shi’ite—across the Muslim world. No denunciations, and no formal fatwas have been issued invalidating the forced conversions, or making clear in advance that any Muslim who attacks Centanni and Wiig for not behaving as Muslims “post-conversion”, i.e., for “apostasy”, will be condemned and prosecuted, with full religious sanction. Contrast this silence from those clerical elites who were so quick to denounce factitious Koran flushings, banal Danish cartoons of Muhammad, and just this past week, Pope Benedict’s honest, reasoned critique of the living, genocidal institution of jihad war. I ask Mustafa Akyol why has the same Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu, who within hours issued a hair-trigger denunciation of Pope Benedict’s September 12, 2006 Remengsburg lecture, remained mum for weeks now on the forced conversions of Centanni and Wiig, and likely will never publicly denounce their conversions?

The forced conversions of Centanni and Wiig illustrate clearly the basic rejection of freedom of conscience in the Islamic world which derives from Islam’s core texts—Koran, hadith, and sira—is enshrined in Islamic Law, and been applied incessantly throughout the entire history of Islam, into the contemporary era. The pervasiveness of this rejection, even at present, was alluded to by David Aikman, and is perhaps best demonstrated by the Cairo Declaration of 1990. Referring to the Cairo Declaration, the Shari’a-based “Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (UDHRI)”, which subordinates the UN’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Sharia Law, Muslim Senegalese jurist Adama Dieng (while serving as secretary-general to the International Commission of Jurists) declared in 1992 that, the UDHRI,

…gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based; introduces, in the name of the defense of human rights, an intolerable discrimination against both non-Muslims and women; reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms..; [and] confirms the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, that attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.

ALL (now 57)member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)—including Turkey—have signed on to this Sharia-based document. And now even the Cairo Declaration appears to have been deemed inadequate to fulfill the global Shari’a-based needs of the 57 OIC states who are considering the establishment of their own international “world court” in order to “…try and condemn all those nations and individuals who have instigated or committed crimes against the Muslims.”

Ultimately, the forced conversions of Centanni and Wiig represent an ominous continuum (clearly accentuated in our era if only by contrast with Western ideals) of Islam’s denial of, and assault upon, basic freedom of conscience.

Akyol: Thanks for the feedback from Mr. Spencer, Mr. Aikman and Mr. Bostom. Let me respond.

First, Mr. Spencer’s comment about the attacks against Muslims who “turned renegade” is true, but it also points to an important fact: In the early Muslim state, apostasy became regarded as a crime because it was seen as a rebellion against the state. In other words, the real consideration was political and, by time, this turned into a religious rule as well. This is, of course, a deviation we Muslims should rid ourselves today.

Don’t take my word for this, if you will, take a look at what Dr. David Forte, professor of law at Cleveland State University, says on the origin the ban on apostasy in Islam:

“Three institutions have deflected the trajectory of Mohammed’s original message: the law, the empire, and the tribe. Let us take apostasy as an example. The Quran condemns the apostate to damnation but imposes no earthly penalty. The death penalty arose later, in the law. It was the traditions of the Prophet, known as the Sunna, developed and codified later during a drive for the Islamicization of the early Islamic empire, that required putting the apostate to death…

The primary justification for the execution of the apostate is that in the early days of Islam, apostasy and treason were in fact synonymous. War was perennial in Arabia. It never stopped. To reject the leader of another tribe, to give up on a coalition, was in effect to go to war against him. There was no such thing as neutrality. There were truces, but there was never a permanent neutrality. It is reported, for example, that immediately after the death of Mohammed, many tribes apostatized. They said in effect, “The leader whom we were following is gone, so let’s go back to our own leaders.” And they rebelled against Muslim rule. The first caliph, Abu Bakr, ordered such rebels to be killed.

Many scholars argue that the tradition that all apostates had to be killed had its origin during these wars of rebellion and not during Mohammed’s time. In fact, many argue that these traditions in which Mohammed affirmed the killing of apostates were apocryphal, made up later to justify what the empire had been doing.”

We Muslims should get rid of those politically needed but religiously irrelevant rules that still persist in the religious texts of Islam. We should also see that the Koran took the conditions of the 7th century Arabia as a given and established just norms according to those conditions. The dhimma was one of them. Based on the Koran (Sura 9:29), and the needs of the Islamic state, Muslim jurist developed the whole idea of what Bat Yeor calls “dhimmitude.” She and others criticize this pretty harshly but they should see that the dhimma was just and humane according to the political realities of the seventh century. In Christian Europe, religious minorities were not tolerated at all. In Islamic lands, they were tolerated as second-class citizens.
Europe, and the West, of course progressed since then and embraced the principle of equal citizenship. But this is not alien to the Islamic world, too: The dhimma was abolished by the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1859. (This is long before Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was even born.) Ottomans gave equal citizenship rights to all the Jews and Christians on their land. This was debated and found some support among the “ulema”, Islamic scholars of the time. There were many Jewish and Christian parliamentarians in the Ottoman Parliament, which was established by the constitution of 1876, and the Muslim ulema had no problem with that.
Therefore, I don’t think that dhimma is a legitimate institution today. Nor is slavery, which is also mentioned in the Koran. But I don’t think that because I am a radical secularist, but because I am a Muslim who recognizes the impact of historical conditions in the formation of his religion. And my “humane disgust with conversion at the end of a gun-barrel” does not come from the fact I have been living in a secular state — it is, unfortunately, not truly secular by the way; it is dominant on religious practice — but because I stick to the core principles of Islam. Those principles have been against forced conversion all along. Just one example: When the Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Selim thought of converting the Christians in his empire to Islam, the Sheik-ul Islam (the top ulema that looked over state policies) objected and showed the Koranic verse, “there is no compulsion in religion.” The Sultan listened to him. There are of course bad episodes in Islamic history, too, but the general opinion was that forced conversion is unaccepted.
Mr. Bostom has written, “there is no reciprocal free marketplace of religious ideas anywhere in the Islamic world, including Turkey.” That’s unfortunately true but, if we speak about Turkey, there is an interesting fact worth noting. As I have explained, the lack of religious freedom in Turkey is due to the intolerant nationalism of the secular establishment. Turkey’s Muslims themselves have been the victims of the same secular authoritarianism.
Mr. Bostom also quotes the Koranic verse, “slay the idolaters wherever ye find them.” Yet he fails to note that this verse addresses a specific group of pagans, who had made a peace treaty with Muslims and then broke that treaty by attacking them. The whole Sura 9 — the only sura in the Koran which does not start with the phrase, “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful” — is about the war conditions on those pagans who broke the treaty and attacked Muslims in the first place.
Later on, when Islamic jurisprudence developed, these war verses were taken to be the norm and other verses, such as, “Fight in the Way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits” (2:190), which suggest that only defensive wars are allowed, were abandoned by the doctrine of abrogation, which many contemporary Muslims, including myself, reject.
As for the overall assessment of the Koranic chapters on war, I agree with the comment by Dr. Michael Cook, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He says:

“In the Koran, it’s hard to figure out whether the text refers to defensive or offensive warfare. There are certain passages the medieval scholars always cite, saying they show jihad should be offensive. But if you look at the passages carefully, it’s not that obvious. On the basis of the Koran alone you could mount a decent argument for saying offensive jihad is never a duty. In Islamic law, it’s different. From things the prophet said or is said to have said, Islamic law develops the doctrine that it is a duty…”

Thus, on the basis of the Koran, I argue that Islam should bring no “compulsion in religion” and jihad should only be a defensive doctrine; protect yourself if you are attacked. Throughout history not all Muslims have thought acted according to these principles, but this had and still has many different motives behind it. Most “jihad”s in history were actually expansionism for political and economic gains. Yet sometimes people tend to label the most profane acts of violence by nominal Muslims as jihad. I remember, for example, that Mr. Bostom had portrayed the sacking of Thessaloniki in 904 by Muslim pirates as a “jihad campaign,” in his long rebuttal against me published again on FPM and which I have responded to.

Spencer: Mustafa Akyol is correct that “in the early Muslim state, apostasy became regarded as a crime because it was seen as a rebellion against the state.” However, when he asserts that “the real consideration was political and, by time, this turned into a religious rule as well,” he seems to be assuming a distinction between the political and religious spheres that never existed in the Islamic world until it was introduced from the West in relatively modern times. This distinction is still strenuously rejected by most Islamic authorities. Because Sharia, including its political and societal aspects, is considered to be the very law of God, all too many Islamic scholars share the view of Tunisian theorist Mohamed Elhachmi Hamdi: “Islam should be the main frame of reference for the constitution and laws of predominantly Muslim countries.” [iii]

Thus Muslims may be unmoved by Akyol’s argument that the death penalty for apostasy be rejected because it was originally instituted on political, not religious grounds. I share his hope that in the future this may provide peaceful Muslims a pathway to rejecting the death penalty for apostasy, but a great deal of work would first have to be done to secure widespread acceptance among Muslims of a Western-style distinction between the sacred and secular spheres – a distinction that, under pressure from jihadists, is in fact in retreat everywhere in the Islamic world today.

Unfortunately, even Dr. Forte’s assertion that “the Quran condemns the apostate to damnation but imposes no earthly penalty” is not assured. As I pointed out above, some Muslim authorities even argue that, aside from the Hadith, the Qur’an itself mandates death for apostates (4:89). Thus I hope that Muslim reformers like Mr. Akyol will succeed in constructing a firm rejection of Qur’anic literalism on this and every other point where jihadists point to the text of the Qur’an to justify violence and the subjugation of infidels. It is true that “the dhimma was abolished by the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1859,” but this was accomplished mainly due to Western pressure, and cultural hangovers of the dhimma continue to plague non-Muslims throughout the Islamic world. Hence I hope that Western awareness of and pressure against the denial of equality of rights for non-Muslims in Muslim countries continues to increase, and again applaud Mr. Akyol for his rejection of such measures. May his influence continue to grow in the Islamic world.

Aikman: I, too, applaud Mr. Akyol’s humane interpretation of how Islam should be lived out and how it should co-exist with other faiths. Would that his assertion of this right of religious freedom of conscience, his denunciation of dhimma conditions of non-Muslim faiths, his repudiation of slavery, became the norm throughout the Islamic world. Would that there were 100,000 Mustafa Akyols busily active in reforming Islam, from Bradford, England to Bali, Indonesia.

But there aren’t. We are, in fact, left with two dismaying aspects of the global situation in which Muslims on four or five continents are striving either to oppress non-Muslims, or to attain a political situation where they can do so.

The first is that, all of us know fine, upstanding, and honorable Muslim individuals who would no more think of blowing up a bus full of children than we ourselves would. The overwhelming reality, however, is that moderate Muslims like Mr. Akyol seem perpetually drowned out by Islamic mobs all over the world who fasten upon every criticism of their faith in every format – cartoons, to novels, to academic speeches — from every prominent person as license to go on a violent rampage.

Even when they are not rampaging, Muslim protesters can be counted upon to impose their often ugly religious sentiments on practitioners of other faiths whose leading adherents may have said or written things critical of Islam. There was something close to the manner of Hitler’s Brownshirts in the Islamic protesters who barracked with shouted slogans and offensive placards (“May Allah Curse the Pope”) innocent church-going Roman Catholics in London outside Westminster Cathedral because of their anger at the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

If Catholic Protesters in Washington similarly harassed Muslims about to enter the Islamic Center with slogans and placards, would there not be a howl of protest throughout the Islamic world? (And not just howls of protest: probably massive property destruction and bodily injury as well). Where are the millions of moderate Muslims anywhere in the world rising up against these new Brownshirts, demanding an apology for the forced conversion of Centanni and Wiig, joining the chorus for an end to the killings in Darfur, Sudan? Where, in short, is the authentic humane center of the Islamic world?

It doesn’t appear to exist, or if it does, its voice has not been audible and its protests not visible. Of course there are wonderful Turks, Pakistanis, Malaysians – who knows? – perhaps even Muslim Britons who genuinely desire a global discourse among religions where reason and mutual tolerance prevail. But they seem to be either too busy or too disorganized to make their presence heard. Of course, it may also simply be that they are all simply scared. Muslims who criticize in public fellow-religionists of extremist viewpoint face the ever-present danger of becoming the targets of death-threats.

The second dismaying aspect of the whole issue of Islamic coercion of non-Muslim faiths, of dhimmitude, is that the concept of “humane” doesn’t seem to exist today within the closed circle of Islam. “Compassionate” exists. “Merciful” exists. These are two descriptions attributed to Allah in the Koran. But the very concept of “humanity” grew out of a Christianized worldview in which communities, governments, and individuals were thought to have an obligation to be compassionate and merciful as well. Of course, “humanity” quickly became a concept that could stand on its own, without any reference to a religious point of view. Indeed, one may say that “humanity” has risen to an ideal of human conduct that has transcended most secular ideologies. A Cuban Communist and a Texas Republican probably both would agree on what constituted “humanity” when they saw it.

Does the concept of “humanity” have any traction at all today within fervent Islamic communities. Can one imagine Ahmadinejad or Ayman al-Zawahiri using the term?

Probably not. And therein, it seems to me, lies one of the greatest challenges to the possibility that Muslim communities can recognize basic human rights like freedom of conscience and the freedom – Heaven forfend – to be an apostate.

Bostom: The notion that the multiple timeless war proclamations in sura (chapter) 9 of the Koran—once again the “uncreated word of Allah” for Muslims—are somehow circumscribed, or even more fanciful, specific to certain “pagans”, or “Jews”, or “Christians”, is mere apologetic propaganda disproved by the evolution of the jihad as a uniquely Islamic institution in both theory and resultant ugly (but faithfully adherent) historical practice. The classical (and authoritative modern) Koranic commentaries on sura 9 (and other jihad verses in the Koran), and the germane hadith—both requisite to interpreting these verses—in conjunction with the earliest Muslim biographies of Muhammad, clarified these aggressive warlike motifs which the greatest luminaries of Islamic Law formulated (in countless volumes of dry juridical texts) into the living Muslim institution of jihad war. And for more than a millennium pious Muslim historians celebrated the actual conduct of these brutal jihad campaigns—replete with their sanctioned MPED—massacre, pillage, enslavement, and deportation.

The Ottomans were classical jihadists, whatever ahistorical fantasies Mr. Akyol chooses to indulge. Molla Khosrew (d. 1480) was a celebrated writer and Hanafi jurist, who was appointed the Ottoman Shaykh-al-Islam, the leading clerical authority, by Sultan Mehmed II (the 1453 conqueror of Constantinople) in 1469. He wrote authoritative, widely cited legal works, which reiterated these classical views on jihad:

…jihad is a fard al-kifaya, that is, that one must begin the fight against the enemy, even when he [the enemy] may not have taken the initiative to fight, because the Prophet…early on…allowed believers to defend themselves, later, however, he ordered them to take the initiative at certain times of the year, that is, at the end of the haram months, saying, “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them…” (Q9:5).

He finally ordered fighting without limitations, at all times and in all places, saying, “Fight those who do not believe in God, and in the Last Day…”(Q9:29); there are also other [similar] verses on the subject. This shows that it is a fard al-kifaya

The contemporary Turkish scholar of Ottoman history, Halil Inalcik, has emphasized how this conception of jihad—as formulated by Molla Khosrew, and both his predecessors and followers—was a primary motivation for the conquests of the Ottoman Turks

The ideal of gaza, Holy War, was an important factor in the foundation and development of the Ottoman state. Society in the frontier principalities conformed to a particular cultural pattern imbued with the ideal of continuous Holy War and continuous expansion of the Dar ul Islam-the realms of Islam- until they covered the whole world.

Mr. Akyol makes additional ahistorical claims with regard to the ineffectual Tanzimat reforms of the mid-19th century, which (understandably) failed to render non-Muslims “equal” to Muslims, in violation of Shari’a-sanctioned dhimmitude.

A systematic examination of the condition of the Christian rayas was conducted in the 1860s by British consuls stationed throughout the Ottoman Empire, yielding extensive primary source documentary evidence. Britain was then Turkey’s most powerful ally, and it was in her strategic interest to see that oppression of the Christians was eliminated, to prevent direct, aggressive Russian or Austrian intervention. On July 22, 1860, Consul James Zohrab sent a lengthy report from Sarajevo to his ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Henry Bulwer, analyzing the administration of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, again, following the 1856 Tanzimat reforms. Referring to the reform efforts, Zohrab states:

The Hatti-humayoun, I can safely say, practically remains a dead letter…while [this] does not extend to permitting the Christians to be treated as they formerly were treated, is so far unbearable and unjust in that it permits the Mussulmans to despoil them with heavy exactions. False imprisonments (imprisonment under false accusation) are of daily occurence. A Christian has but a small chance of exculpating himself when his opponent is a Mussulman (…) Christian evidence, as a rule, is still refused (…)

Edouard Engelhardt made these observations from his detailed analysis of the Tanzimat period, noting that a quarter century after the Crimean War (1853-56), and the second iteration of Tanzimat reforms, the same problems persisted:

Muslim society has not yet broken with the prejudices which make the conquered peoples subordinate…the raya [dhimmis] remain inferior to the Osmanlis; in fact he is not rehabilitated; the fanaticism of the early days has not relented…[even liberal Muslims rejected]…civil and political equality, that is to say, the assimilation of the conquered with the conquerors.

Throughout the Ottoman Empire, particularly within the Balkans, and later Anatolia itself, attempted emancipation of the dhimmi peoples provoked violent, bloody responses against those “infidels” daring to claim equality with local Muslims. The massacres of the Bulgarians (in 1876), and more extensive massacres of the Armenians (1894-96), culminating in a frank jihad genocide against the Armenians during World War I, epitomize these trends. Enforced abrogation of the laws of dhimmitude required the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. This finally occurred after the Balkan Wars of independence, and during the European Mandate period following World War I.

Despite Mr. Akyol’s protest, jihad piracy is simply a manifestation of the naval razzias characteristic of Islamic imperialism since its emergence in the 7th and 8th centuries. For example, although the Abbasid state (750-1250) “orientalized” the Caliphate, and lacked naval power of any importance, in the west, Muslim forces (i.e., decentralized, “organic formations”), continued the Islamic expansion by maritime warfare. Throughout the 9th and 10th centuries, Berbers and Arabs from Spain and North Africa launched raids along the coastal regions of France, Italy, Sicily, and in the Greek archipelago.

Francisco Gabrieli has described how these naval razzias were concordant with jihad, yet antithetical to the modern rule of law. He also emphasized their capacity for conquest, or, even when “disorganized”, triumphal rapine and destruction:

According to present-day concepts of international relations, such activities amounted to piracy, but they correspond perfectly to jihad, an Islamic religious duty. The conquest of Crete, in the east, and a good portion of the corsair warfare along the Provencal and Italian coasts, in the West, are among the most conspicuous instances of such “private initiative” which contributed to Arab domination in the Mediterranean.

…In the second half of the ninth century, a large number of Saracen (Muslim) raids occurred throughout Southern and Central Italy, but we do not get the impression of their ever having been part of a plan or organized conquest, as Musa’s, Tariq’s, and Asad’s campaigns had been in Spain and Sicily. Their only object seems to have been destruction and looting which was also the object of the armed groups faced by Charles on the Balat ash-Shuhada near Poitiers.

…The no less classical themes of Arabic war poetry, the hamasah sanctified by jihad, ring out in the recollections and boasts of Ibn Hamdis, the Sicilian Abu Firas, who exalts the military successes of Islam on Calabrian soil, the landing of Muslim troops at Reggio and their exploits against the patricians whom they cut to pieces or put to flight.

A proto-typical Muslim naval razzia occurred in 846 when a fleet of Arab jihadists arrived at the mouth of the Tiber, made their way to Rome (p. 421), sacked the city, and carried away from the basilica of St. Peter all of the gold and silver it contained. But perhaps the largest and most infamous of the naval jihad campaigns during this period was the sack and pillage of Thessaloniki in 904. During July, 904, under the command of the Muslim convert Leo of Tripoli, more than ten thousand Cretan Arabs, Syrians, and North Africans briefly sieged, and then captured Thessaloniki, slaughtering and enslaving its inhabitants (some 22,000 slaves were taken), and causing great physical destruction to the city. John Cameniates provided an eyewitness account of these events, recorded in his chronicle. Cameniates, his elderly father, and his brother, taken prisoner while they tried to escape by the ramparts, were spared their lives because they promised their captors a large amount of money. They were marched as prisoners through the city, and thus witnessed the terrible carnage of their fellow townspeople.

Halil Inalcik has placed the 14th century Aegean sea naval razzias of the Turkish maritime emirates in the context of jihad, citing, for example, the chapter of the Dusturname of Enveri concerning the actions of the emirate of Aydin. Elizabeth Zachariadou describes the consternation of contemporary 14th century Latin and Byzantine chroniclers observing the “spectacle” of Turkish emirs, “…who were proud only because they were able to lead their ferocious soldiers” in such predatory attacks. These raids—designed to pillage property and abduct captives for sale in slave markets—although merely ignoble piracy or brigandage from the perspective of the Christian chroniclers, nevertheless, as Zachariadou notes, were,

…for the Muslim Turks, a Holy War (Jihad), a praiseworthy and legitimate occupation, leading directly to Paradise.

Gregory Palamus, a Metropolitan of Thessalonica during the 14th century, wrote this commentary while living as a captive amongst the Turks in 1354, confirming (albeit with astonishment) that indeed the Turks attributed their victories over the Byzantines to their (the Muslims) love of God:

For these impious people, hated by God and infamous, boast of having got the better of the Romans by their love of God…they live by the bow, the sword and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil…and not only do they commit these crimes, but even—what an aberration—they believe that God approves of them. This is what I think of them, now that I know precisely about their way of life.

More than 550 years later, and a continent (and oceans) away, C. Snouck Hurgronje reported (in 1906) that similar acts of jihad piracy were still being performed against non-Muslims (both indigenous populations, and Western traders) by the Muslim Acehnese of the Indonesian archipelago:

From Mohammedanism (which for centuries she [i.e., Aceh] is reputed to have accepted) she really only learnt a large number of dogmas relating to hatred of the infidel without any of their mitigating concomitants; so the Acehnese made a regular business of piracy and man-hunting at the expense of the neighboring non-Mohammedan countries and islands, and considered that they were justified in any act of treachery or violence to European (and latterly to American) traders who came in search of pepper, the staple product of the country. Complaints of robbery and murder on board ships trading in Acehnese parts thus grew to be chronic.

Finally, the Barbary jihad piracy which confronted America soon after our nation was established (i.e., between 1786-1815), was an enduring, formidable enterprise. During the 16th and 17th centuries, as many Europeans were captured, sold, and enslaved by the Barbary corsairs as were West Africans made captive and shipped for plantation labor in the Americas by European slave traders. Robert Davis’ methodical enumeration indicates that between one, and one and one-quarter million white European Christians were enslaved by the Barbary Muslims from 1530 through 1780.

Akyol: Thanks to Mr. Spencer and Mr. Aikman for their good wishes. Yet I have to note that the views I express here are not too heterodox in modern Islamic thought. At least in Turkey, where I live, the synthesis between the Islamic faith and modern values such as individual liberty and democracy are widely accepted and supported by many Muslim intellectuals. In the Arab world, too, there was a “liberal age” — as the great historian of the Middle East, Albert Hourani, called it — in which the same synthesis was making progress. However it died out due to several influences. One of them was the introduction of an intolerant, authoritarian and anti-religious version of secularism to the Muslim world, which only strengthened its mirror image, i.e. the Islamist alternative. That type of secularism was mainly a French export, whereas Muslim societies had virtually no experience with the American way of secularism, which am I in favor of.

Anyway, that’s another story. As for the Qur’an and apostasy, I disagree with the view that verse 4:89 outlaws apostasy and that’s not a universal view among authorities, as Mr. Spencer also accepts.

Mr. Spencer also points out that the religious and the political have been traditionally infused in the Islamic civilization. That observation is correct, but I just say that it does not have to be that way. At the heart of this infusion lies the fact that Prophet Muhammad was not just a religious guide but also a political leader. But modern Muslim intellectuals emphasize the distinction between the two, and argue that while his religious contribution is eternally valid, his political career is “historical,” i.e. limited to his milieu. Even in Prophet Muhammad’s time, there are cases in which Muslims asked him whether his judgments were based on a revelation from God or his personal assessment. If the latter was the case, Muslims could object to what the Prophet said. I believe that here lies a justification for the separation of politics and religion in Islam. It is true that it has not been the dominant view, but it is possible.

Mr. Aikman notes, “the very concept of “humanity” grew out of a Christianized worldview in which communities, governments, and individuals were thought to have an obligation to be compassionate and merciful as well,” whereas, according to him, it is only Allah who is compassionate and merciful in Islam. I disagree. The Koranic verse 24:22 reads:

“Those of you possessing affluence and ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to their relatives and the very poor and those who have made left their homes in the way of Allah. They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

The verse implies that powerful Muslims should take care of others as God does with people. There are many other verses calling Muslims for good morals. Actually they are defined as “those who give (charity) in times of both ease and hardship, those who control their rage and pardon other people; Allah loves the good-doers.” (3:134)

Those Muslims who can’t “control their rage” at all are doing this not because of the Koran, but despite the Koran.

Mr. Bostom, on the other, by his customary method of episode-mining, tries to convince us how bloody the history of the Islamic civilization is and why this was mainly due to the teachings of Islam. I disagree.

First, of course, the history of virtually all civilizations, including the West, is bloody. I don’t need to give detailed accounts of how Crusaders, Conquistadors or modern colonialists massacred natives of all kinds. Islamic civilization has its own history of wars, conquests and massacres to be sure. It is also true that many times Islamic rulers tried to justify their expansionism by referring to the doctrine of jihad. But in most cases, their true motives were deriving from mundane politics and economy.

Just take case of Ottomans, which Mr. Bostom makes great deal of. It is true that the Ottomans conquered many Christian lands and nations. However, they conquered many Muslim lands and nations as well! Actually they started as one among the many Muslim emirates in Anatolia and expanded eastward by taking on all the others one by one. Later on they occupied and annexed the whole Muslim Arabic Middle East and Muslim North Africa. This was not jihad; this was mere empire-building.

And that was very normal at the time. It was an age of empires and the Christian ones were doing exactly the same thing: Launching wars on each other or on Muslims simply to maximize their power.

If we wish to judge these empires, we should not do that by using modern criteria, as Mr. Bostom habitually does, but by using a comparative method. And in that sense, the Ottomans score pretty well in terms of the way they behaved the peoples they have conquered. Forced conversion was almost never the case. According Selim Deringil, a secular Turkish historian:

The Ottoman attitude to conversion is nowhere near as clear as that of the Spanish and Portuguese in South America, or the Russians in their expansion southwards into the Don-Volga region. The “saving of souls” was not an integral part of Ottoman Imperial policy, as it was in the Christian empires. The very basis of the Spanish reconquista was to expel Islam from the Iberian peninsula, and there was to be no formal Spanish equivalent of dhimmi (non-Muslim subject) status for the conquered Muslims.

[In Russia] The official conversion policy was also very brutal, particularly after the appointment of Archbishop Luka Konasevic in 1738: “Methods of extreme brutality were brought to bear: massive destruction of mosques, the kidnapping of Muslim children baptised by force and shut up in schools for converts, even the forced baptism of adults … the death penalty for Muslim missionaries.”…

… The Ottoman Empire never had a “Propaganda Fide,” or an “Agency for Convert Affairs,” nor did it have any press which was used by the Propaganda Fide to such good effect. It is only late in the Hamidian period (1876–1909) and the subsequent Young Turk period that this picture begins to change.

(Selim Deringil, “There Is No Compulsion in Religion”: On Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire: 1839–18561,” Comparative Studies in Society and History (2000), 42: 547-575 Cambridge University Press)

The reason for the change that Deringil points out was the rising nationalism in the crumbling empire, which lead to the tragedy of Armenians, other minorities, and Muslims themselves.

Mr. Bostom also calls Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire, which made Christians and Jews full citizens, “ineffectual.” Arguably, they were not. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 established a limited monarchy all of whose subjects were considered “Osmanli (Ottoman), whatever religion or creed they hold.” The constitution further affirmed that “all Osmanli are equal before the law . . . without distinction as to religion.”

It is true that these principles were not fully applied in practiced, but the reason was not only bigotry among Muslims as Mr. Bostom would have us believe, but also the non-Muslim subjects of the empire themselves. According to American historian Roderic H. Davison, it is possible to argue that,

… The program of equality between Christian and Muslim in the empire remained largely unrealized not because of bad faith on the part of leading Ottoman statesmen but because many of the Christians wanted it to fail. The demand in Crete was basically for autonomy or union with Greece, not for equality. Other Greeks in the empire wanted the same thing…Serbs wanted not equality but union with the autonomous principality of Serbia. Serbia and Rumania, still within the empire, wanted no sort of equality but national independence…

The ecclesiastical hierarchies that ruled the Christian millet’s also opposed equality. Osmanlilik [Ottomanhod] would both decrease their authority and lighten their purses. This was especially true of the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, which had the most extensive prerogatives and by far the largest flock. When the Hatt-i Sherif [Tanzimat Edict] was solemnly read in 1839 and then put back into its red satin pouch it is reported that the Greek Orthodox patriarch, who was present among the notables, said, “Inshallah-God grant that it not be taken out of this bag again.” In short, the doctrine of equality faced formidable opposition from Christians of the empire who were leaders in the churches and the nationalist movements…

Davidson also notes,

… Both in 1839 and 1856 the sultan proclaimed that his Christian subjects should be equally privileged to serve in the armed forces along with the Muslims, instead of paying an exemption tax as they had previously done. It soon became obvious that the Christians would rather continue to pay than serve, despite the step toward equality which military service might mean.

(Roderic H. Davison, Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian-Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century, American Historical Review, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Jul., 1954), pp. 844-864)

In other words, the effort by the Ottoman Empire — a state based on Islamic principles — to fully abolish the dhimma was resisted to by Christian leaders because they saw the old system more advantageous for their interests. And this means that history is much more complex and puzzling then the Manichean picture drawn by Mr. Bostom about Islam — in which dhimma-seeking jihadist Muslims always suppress and kill helpless non-Muslims.

What matters to me most about these events is the fact that the Ottoman Empire — an Islamic state which many Muslims around the world still praise and admire — gave full citizenship rights to Jews and Christians and accepted the right of apostasy. As early as May 1844, an official Ottoman edict read, “No subject of the Sublime [Ottoman] State shall be forced by anyone to convert to Islam against their wishes.” (Deringil, ibid.)

Unfortunately in some parts of the Muslim world today, especially in Saudi Arabia, the attitude in these matters are much worse. Any religion other than Islam is not simply allowed to exist. As a Muslim serious about his faith, I wholeheartedly denounce such forms of religious tyranny. Islam should be an invitation, not an imposition. If it is imposed, it ceases to be genuine religion at all.

Spencer: The lingering question in the disagreement here between Dr. Bostom and Mr. Akyol is whether when the Ottoman Empire, in Mr. Akyol’s words, “gave full citizenship rights to Jews and Christians and accepted the right of apostasy,” it was doing so as an Islamic state and based on Islamic principles, or whether it was doing so as an exercise in realpolitik in the face of its own growing weakness and Western pressure. There seems to be little doubt that the Wahhabis of Arabia, beginning even a bit earlier than the period of the reforms in question, began to revolt against Ottoman rule on the basis of the contention that the Ottomans had betrayed their Islamic principles and their role of leadership of the Islamic world.
Whether or not they were correct in this view is an extremely important question, but it is likewise important to note that ultimately the revolt itself indicates that the perception that the Ottomans had betrayed Islam was widespread. It was only compounded by the Tanzimat reforms, whatever their provenance and effectiveness.
Within the imperial court at this time there were a few enlightened statesmen who supported the opening of the Ottoman Empire to Western ideas. With the death of the Western-influenced Grand Vezir Ali Pasha in 1871, however, the Sultan Abdul Aziz was free to pursue a course of reaction, including a reassertion of Islamic principles as over against the Tanzimat reforms and Western influences in general. This only emphasized the precariousness of the reforms in the first place, and shows why, as Mr. Akyol has pointed out, many Christians preferred outright independence to the uncertain halfway house of life in the empire even after the reforms. The Sultan Abdul Hamid II subsequently also pursued a course of Islamic retrenchment which contributed to a great rise in tensions between the Christians of the Empire and their Muslim rulers, culminating ultimately in the exile of the Greeks from Anatolia and, most horrific of all, the Armenian genocide. The Chief Dragoman of the British Embassy at the time of the 1890s massacres reported that their perpetrators “are guided in their general action by the prescriptions of the Sheri [Sharia] law. That law prescribes that if the ‘rayah’ [dhimmi] Christian attempts, by having recourse to foreign powers, to overstep the privileges allowed to them by their Mussulman masters, and free themselves from their bondage, their lives and property are to be forfeited, and are at the mercy of the Mussulmans” (Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide, Oxford, 1995, p. 147).
Overall, attempts within the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire to abolish the dhimma generally resulted from Western influences (both within and outside the Sublime Porte) and political calculation, not the elaboration of Islamic principles. Many Muslim citizens of the Empire knew this and despised the Porte for it; in several notable incidents, some engaged in savage reassertions of the death penalty for apostasy, and even engaged in forced conversion. A few of these incidents occurred after the Ottoman proscription of forced conversion of 1844, which Mr. Akyol notes. In 1846, Athanasios, a monk and former Muslim, was recognized as an ex-Muslim and murdered for his apostasy. In 1866, a Christian from Crete named George Devoles was captured during a Cretan revolt from Ottoman rule given the choice of conversion to Islam or death; when he refused to convert, he was beheaded. To be sure, these were isolated incidents, not actions of state – but they were the actions of Muslim mobs who were well aware that apostasy from Islam was a capital offense, and that the choice of Islam or death was as old as the prophet Muhammad’s directions to offer non-Muslims conversion, the dhimma, or warfare (cf. Sahih Muslim 4294).
The point of all this is only to note that, while I continue to wish Mr. Akyol all success in his reform endeavors, I am afraid that he is likely to face stiff opposition from Muslims who will consider his rejection of punishment for apostasy and of the triple choice of conversion, subjugation, or war as a capitulation to Western ideas and a rejection of Islam. I note this not out of some crabbed glass-half-empty spirit, but because it is important for Westerners, locked as we are in a struggle against global jihadists that is likely to drag on for decades, to have a realistic view of the prospects of the moderate Muslim endeavor in general. The principles that led to the Gadahn convert-or-die videotape, as well as to the forced conversions of Centanni and Wiig, are deeply embedded within Islam, and will not be cast off lightly or easily by Muslims, any more than the Tanzimat reforms were lightly or easily accepted within the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

I agree with Mr. Akyol that “Islam should be an invitation, not an imposition.” To make this a reality will require a reshaping and reinvention of Islam on a massive international scale. Accordingly, Western policymakers would be foolish in the extreme to proceed as if this Islam were already a viable reality, or to count on its appearance any time soon. But that doesn’t mean that courageous Muslim individuals shouldn’t undertake the effort, and for that I again salute Mr. Akyol.

Aikman: Mr. Akyol responds to the issue of the concept of “humanity” within the Islamic tradition by citing sura 24:22 (in Dawood’s translation: “Let not the rich and honorable among you swear to withhold their gifts from their kindred, the destitute and those who have fled their homes in the cause of God. Rather let them pardon and forgive. Do you not wish God to forgive you? God is forgiving and merciful.” Islam, like all the major faiths, instructs its followers to be forgiving and forbearing. But I maintain my point that at only rare moments historically and at no point in the contemporary world has Islam appealed to values outside of those contained in its own revelation. Islam does not appeal to logic or reason to validate its message. Nor does it appeal to humanity. That is the crux of my point.

It is obvious to any common-sense observer of history and of humanity in general that within Islam there have been noble and humane individuals. The law of averages alone would suggest that this is the case, but there are, of course, instances within Islamic history of great magnanimity being demonstrated. (The conqueror of the Crusaders, Saladdin, 1137-1193 seems to have had a widespread reputation as a man of decency and great humanity). Yet the Koran itself doesn’t advocate chivalry towards adversaries in any way at all. In striking contrast both to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, the Koran has very little to say about treating enemies with mercy and decency. In fact, just the opposite is the standard. For example, there is sura 47:4 (“When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.”)

My point is that in spite of a glorious period of Islamic philosophy in medieval times, Islamic thought has remained frozen in much of the Muslim world in obscurantism and barbarism for the last few hundred years. (The Taliban in Afghanistan are notorious examples of this). The prevailing view among orthodox Sunni Muslims once the golden age of Islamic philosophy came to an end around the end of the 13th. century was that revelation (i.e. Koranic) always trumped reason. (This is also the point Pope Benedict XVI tried to make about Islam at Regensburg). But revelation – that is, a strictly literalist reading of examples of Mohammed’s usually aggressive behavior towards adversaries – also trumped what many have discerned as certain universal principles running through most religions and belief-systems. C.S. Lewis, an orthodox Protestant, referred to it in his book The Abolition of Man by the Chinese word Dao, which, in the Chinese Bible, happens to be the same character used to translate the Greek word logos (the “word” in John’s Gospel 1:1). At the risk of oversimplifying Lewis and others, the point is that all major thought systems, including Christianity, seem to have come to a consensus on “humane” behavior that doesn’t need to be authenticated by any particular faith’s revelation claims. “Humanity,” in most of the world today, seems to be a self-evident moral concept. Perhaps this concept did exist at some point in Islamic philosophy. But it certainly seems to be extremely difficult to discern now, or you would not have Muslims all over the world complaining that much of the world seems to regard so many recent Muslim actions as repugnant. Could an Islamic version of Mother Teresa ever exist? One wonders.

Bostom: I will ignore Mr. Akyol’s continued jihad denial–consistent with modern Turkish policy which indoctrinates both the Turkish public and “intelligentsia” to deny the jihad genocide of the Armenians, and is akin to Holocaust denial–confining my responses to his non-sequitur tu quoque arguments about “Christian intolerance” (the forum is on forced conversion to Islam, as sanctioned by Islam in theory and practice), and the reasons for the failure of the Tanzimat reforms.

Speros Vryonis, Jr. has demonstrated convincingly for the period between the 11th and 15th centuries, the existence of cryto-Christianity and neomartyrs were not uncommon phenomena in the Christian territories of Asia Minor conquered by the waves of Seljuk and Ottoman jihad. He cites, for example, a pastoral letter from 1338 addressed to the residents of Nicaea indicating widespread, forcible conversion by the Turks:

And they [Turks] having captured and enslaved many of our own and violently forced them and dragging them along alas! So that they took up their evil and godlessness.

The phenomenon of forcible conversion, including coercive en masse conversions, persisted throughout the 16th century, as discussed by Constantelos in his analysis of neomartyrdom in the Ottoman Empire:

…mass forced conversions were recorded during the caliphates of Selim I (1512-1520),…Selim II (1566-1574), and Murat III (1574-1595). On the occasion of some anniversary, such as the capture of a city, or a national holiday, many rayahs were forced to apostacize. On the day of the circumcision of Mohammed III great numbers of Christians (Albanians, Greeks, Slavs) were forced to convert to Islam.

Reviewing the martyrology of Christians victimized by the Ottomans from the conquest of Constantinople (1453), through the final phases of the Greek War of Independence (1828), Constantelos indicates:

…the Ottoman Turks condemned to death eleven Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly one hundred bishops, and several thousand priests, deacons, and minks. It is impossible to say with certainty how many men of the cloth were forced to apostasize.

However, the more mundane cases illustrated by Constantelos are of equal significance in revealing the plight of Christians under Ottoman rule, through at least 1867:

Some were accused of insulting the Muslim faith or of throwing something against the wall of a mosque. Others were accused of sexual advances toward a Turk; still others of making a public confession such as “I will become a Turk” without meaning it.

Constantelos concludes:

The story of the neomartyrs indicates that there was no liberty of conscience in the Ottoman Empire and that religious persecution was never absent from the state. Justice was subject to the passions of judges as well as of the crowds, and it was applied with a double standard, lenient for Muslims and harsh for Christians and others. The view that the Ottoman Turks pursued a policy of religious toleration in order to promote a fusion of the Turks with the conquered populations is not sustained by the facts.

Sir Henry Layard, the British archeologist, writer, and diplomat (including postings in Turkey), described this abhorrent spectacle which he witnessed in the heart of Istanbul, during the autumn of 1843, four years after the first failed iteration of the Tanzimat reforms:

An Armenian who had embraced Islamism [i.e., common 19th century usage for Islam] had returned to his former faith. For his apostasy he was condemned to death according to the Mohammedan law. His execution took place, accompanied by details of studied insult and indignity directed against Christianity and Europeans in general. The corpse was exposed in one of the most public and frequented places in Stamboul, and the head, which had been severed from the body, was placed upon it, covered by a European hat. [from, Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Baylonia, London, 1887, pp. 454-55.]

And finally, even the very same modern Ottomanist Roderick Davison (in the very same “Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian-Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century” American Historical Review, 1954, Vol. 59, pp. 848, 855, 859, 864), whom Mr. Akyol quoted approvingly, concedes, that the Tanzimat reforms failed, and offers an explanation that hinges upon on Islamic beliefs intrinsic to the system of dhimmitude:

No genuine equality was ever attained…there remained among the Turks an intense Muslim feeling which could sometimes burst into an open fanaticism…More important than the possibility of fanatic outbursts, however, was the innate attitude of superiority which the Muslim Turk possessed. Islam was for him the true religion. Christianity was only a partial revelation of the truth, which Muhammad finally revealed in full; therefore Christians were not equal to Muslims in possession of truth. Islam was not only a way of worship, it was a way of life as well. It prescribed man’s relations to man, as well as to God, and was the basis for society, for law, and for government. Christians were therefore inevitably considered second-class citizens in the light of religious revelation—as well as by reason of the plain fact that they had been conquered by the Ottomans. This whole Muslim outlook was often summed up in the common term gavur (or kafir), which means ‘unbeliever’ or ‘infidel’, with emotional and quite uncomplimentary overtones. To associate closely or on terms of equality with the gavur was dubious at best . ‘Familiar association with heathens and infidels is forbidden to the people of Islam,’ said Asim, an early nineteenth-century historian, ‘and friendly and intimate intercourse between two parties that are one to another as darkness and light is far from desirable’…The mere idea of equality, especially the anti-defamation clause of 1856, offended the Turks’ inherent sense of the rightness of things. ‘Now we can’t call a gavur a gavur’, it was said, sometimes bitterly, sometimes in matter-of-fact explanation that under the new dispensation the plain truth could no longer be spoken openly. Could reforms be acceptable which forbade calling a spade a spade?…The Turkish mind, conditioned by centuries of Muslim and Ottoman dominance, was not yet ready to accept any absolute equality…Ottoman equality was not attained in the Tanzimat period [i.e., mid to late 19th century, 1839-1876], nor yet after the Young Turk revolution of 1908…

FP: Mustafa Akyol, David Aikman, Robert Spencer and Andrew Bostom, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.


[i] Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), “Friday Sermons in Saudi Mosques: Review and Analysis,” MEMRI Special Report No. 10, September 26, 2002. This undated sermon appeared on the Saudi website shortly before the MEMRI translation was made.

[ii] Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, 407.

[iii] Mohamed Elhachmi Hamdi, “Islam and Liberal Democracy: The Limits Of The Western Model,” Journal of Democracy 7.2 (1996), pp. 81-85.