Wafa Sultan: Critique of Islam or Islamism?
Although I generally reserve the term "Islamism" as a label for the radical Islam that currently seeks to impose sharia by violence, Wafa Sultan doesn't seem to make this distinction.
Recall her words in response to the question, posed by her Al-Jazeera host, concerning who first introduced the concept of a "clash of civilizations":
"The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: 'I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.' When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to start this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels."Sultan would seem to be putting Muhammad himself into the category of Muslims that I would call Islamist.
Thus, I question the summary of Sultan's message by John M. Broder, "For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats," The New York Times (March 11, 2006; photo by J. Emilio Flores):
In the interview ... Dr. Sultan bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14 centuries.I will need to find out more about Sultan's views to know for certain what she thinks of Muhammad's teachings and whether or not she thinks that Muslims have distorted them, but Broder's summary leaves one puzzled about how the distortion could have set in so early. Fourteen centuries takes us back to ... about 606 A.D. Muhammad's revelations are thought to have begun in 610 A.D., so the distortion would seem to have set in very early.
I read Sultan as claiming that Muhammad himself taught what Broder has referred to as "distorted ... teachings." One of Sultan's statements provided by Broder would appear to support my reading of her meaning:
"I am questioning every single teaching of our holy book."At their face value, Sultan's words question the Qur'an itself, not distorted interpretations of it. On this point, I'll just have to wait for further clarifications.
Or read her book.
Yes, she has a book, or will have soon. Broder informs us that Sultan is currently writing a book with the working title of The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster.
For those who wonder how she came to such a harsh view of Islam, Broder supplies the crucial information:
Dr. Sultan grew up in a large traditional Muslim family in Banias, Syria, a small city on the Mediterranean about a two-hour drive north of Beirut. Her father was a grain trader and a devout Muslim, and she followed the faith's strictures into adulthood.This act of extreme cruelty alienated Sultan from her religion and has brought her to the point of seeing Islam as permeated by violence.
But, she said, her life changed in 1979 when she was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor as she watched, she said.
"They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!' " she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god."
I suspect that Sultan is not alone.