Friday, March 26, 2010

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: Uncompromising 'Islamist' Views?

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf
(Image from Memri)

We've previously met this son of a Hamas leader, Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf, under a different spelling, "Musab Yousef," where we first learned that he had become a Christian, apparently an evangelical, and moved to California for safety since as an apostate from Islam, he faces assassination by Islamists, who wish to apply the death penalty required by shariah.

In an interview with BBC Arabic that was aired on March 12, 2010, Yousuf expresses some rather harsh views on Islam, and I quote from the transcript:
"[T]he God of Islam suffers from a split personality. All the Muslims who follow the God of Islam interpret Islam as they like, but this does not negate the terroristic and murderous character of Islam, which incites people, through the Koran, to kill people and blow themselves up."
Yousuf is clearly speaking rather carelessly about what the Qur'an literally says, for that book says nothing specifically about blowing oneself up. He has some hermeneutic space for backing up if necessary since the English term used here is the somewhat imprecise "incite." I'd be curious to know what he says in Arabic. At any rate, Yousuf is challenged by his interviewer to state where the Qur'an says this, so he cites chapter and verse:
"Go to Surat Al-Tawba, verses 5 and 29."
Let's take a look, and I quote from Pickthal:
5. 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.

29. Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
I can see pretty clearly a rationale here for the jihad of war with the aim of spreading Islam, but I can't quite see any justification for terrorism or suicide bombing. Yousuf would need to make a stronger case. There follows an exchange between the interviewer and Yousuf:
Interviewer: "But don't you agree that Islam recognizes other religions, exalts Jesus, recognizes Judaism, and so on? Do you or do you not accept this?"

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: "There are several unreliable views of several Islamic thinkers, but their authority does not supersede that of the God of Islam, who said: 'Slay the People of the Book wherever you find them.'"

Interviewer: "How can you say that? Did the Koran call to slay the People of the Book?"

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: "He said: 'Slay the polytheists wherever you find them.' Read the surah."

Interviewer: "But the People of the Book are not polytheists, are they?"
This is the question, of course. Strictly speaking, the Qur'an does at times accuse the Christians of polytheism, though it appears to misconstrue the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Mother (Mary). But the text does not explicitly call for the killing of People of the Book as polytheists. Indeed, it offers them protection if they submit to Islamic rule and accept third-class 'citizenship' (Muslim women being second-class 'citizens').

If Yousuf were speaking specifically about radical Islamists, he would be largely correct in characterizing their Islam as calling for the death of Christians and Jews as polytheists, and we see this Islamist influence in many parts of the world where Muslims outnumber Christians, but Yousuf too quickly imputes a radical Islamist view to the Qur'anic text. He needs to offer a more complex hermeneutic of the Qur'an and to acknowledge not only that are there "several . . . views of several Islamic thinkers" but that his own reading is one of these several views -- and acknowledge that he needs to provide convincing evidence that his is the reliable view.

Yousuf also does not make an entirely positive impression due to his excessive defensiveness and his overly combative demeanor, though I'm judging this based on watching him in the original Arabic on video, so I might be misinterpreting his tone and body language since I don't know the language or culture (and can thus only follow the subtitles).

Watch and listen for yourself . . .

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At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious on your take regarding verse 5, the first of the two you quote. The general Muslim explanation to the claim that this is an incitement to kill polytheists is that the verse is taken out of context. Namely, that the context of the verses around it and the historical context of the chapter indicate that the polytheists that are to be fought are those who broke a treaty made with the Muslims previously (often also that they are only to be killed in battle). Do you think he's taking the verses out of context?

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- Raiyan

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Raiyan, there is surely a context since the sacred months are mentioned, which I think refers to the pre-Islamic sacred months, so this verse looks to be referring to a particular time.

That said, part of what hermeneutics does is take scripture and interpret it for one's own time, and since interpretation is an art not a science, then there will be a range of views. I'm too ignorant to judge on this point.

Jeffery Hodges

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