Monday, June 18, 2007

Having my facts put straight...

9/11 Attacks: Not by Islamists?
(Image from Wikipedia)

A man claiming to be Muslim and going by the name "Masoom Najiyah" (which comes up nada on Google) recently posted some comments to an old blog entry, "Speaking of Muhammad's Image..." (February 6, 2006).

Masoom was concerned that I had gotten some misinformation and wanted to put my facts straight:
FYI Muslims ARENT BEHIND 9/11 all the facts pointing to president bush. you want a Muslim to argue with you got one! ill put all your facts straight! cause at the moment your dont have a clue!
One fact that he informed me of?
Islam mean peace.
On that point, I happened to have a clue, so I replied:
I am sure that there is a lot that I don't know, and I am always willing to learn. I do know, however, that the word "Islam" does not mean "peace." It literally means "submission."
Masoom elaborated:
Islam does mean peace - through submission of Allah.
Well . . . that's what I was afraid of. Without submission to Allah -- in Masoom's view -- Islam does not mean peace. For the non-Muslim, then, "Islam" -- or, more problematically, the very religion Islam -- means submission.

According to the early Muslim writer ibn Ishaq, writing in Sirat Rasoul Allah, Muhammad ordered the poets Abu 'Afak and Asmā bint Marwān killed for writing poetry urging the Arabs of Medina not to submit to the rising power of Islam but to fight instead. Reportedly, both were assassinated -- Asmā bint Marwān being murdered by night as she lay in her bed nursing one of her infants.

Is this story true? I suppose that one might question it and argue that early Islamic leaders invented some hadith about Muhammad's action toward poets in order to justify their suppression of dissent.

Masoom, however, accepts the story:
the story you read was true Prophet (pbuh) did have her killed
And defends Muhammad's putative assassination order:
she blamed Islam and hated the followers. like i said before vilonce can only be used to defend Islam.
At that point, I didn't have any great desire to continue our 'discussion', for I wouldn't want to be accused by Masoom of blaming Islam or hating its followers, so I posted no reply and thus had to forego Masoom's factual evidence that Mohamed Atta and his companions were not really (radical) Muslims or that Osama bin Laden was lying when he claimed that 9/11 was the work of his organization Al-Qaeda. I assume, anyway, that this is what Masoom meant by stating that "Muslims ARENT BEHIND 9/11."

But Masoom needs to convince other Muslims first, and he could begin by persuading Gamal al-Banna, the 'moderate' brother of Hassan al-Banna, that Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, for Gamal al-Banna had this to say about the attacks:
"A group of young people from the Gulf countries and Egypt [looked a American oppression of Muslims.] ... These [Muslim] youths thought of a way to teach the U.S. a lesson, in an extraordinary and unprecedented manner. Their thought guided them to a plan that the greatest American film producers would never have dreamed of: using American planes. [They would] first be trained to fly them, and then would set a plan to take over some of them and change their direction, so that they could destroy the symbol of the Americans' prosperity and false pride -- the World Trade Center. Thus this dreadful and splendid event occurred. [The event was] dreadful because within half an hour, and with a dramatic sight whose violence surpassed all imagination, the World Trade towers, that were the source of pride and fame in the U.S., were destroyed, and over 3,000 people were killed... [It was also] a splendid [event], because the ones who planned it, with all its daring and its destructive power... knew that they would be the first to die, and that within seconds after the plane crashed into the towers, their bodies would be smoke... yet they did not hesitate, and were truly 'extremely courageous.' This event marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new era. Before this era, the powerful and wealthy countries enslaved the East, plundered its wealth, killed its people, conquered its land, and transferred everything precious and valuable there to themselves, until they attained the accumulated wealth without which they would not be able to achieve such a rise in standard of living. This accumulation [of wealth by the West], which went on for two or three centuries, impoverished the East to the same extent as it enriched the West.... These countries -- [whether] the old imperialist European nations or the new global imperialist leader, the U.S. -- never feared a settling of accounts; nor did a leader of European nations or the new global imperialist leader the U.S. fear a settling of accounts, or punishment, and they refused even to apologize. But the September events opened new horizons - a new way of settling old accounts. We acknowledge that this way will harm innocents. But when are innocents taken into account when engaging in battle? ... Finally, I would like to say that a new and unfamiliar means of obtaining justice or rights was revealed by the events of September 11, and by the Palestinian incidents of martyrdom [i.e. suicide bombing]. This method will in the future certainly find its way to American and European society, as long as this society's policy is barbaric capitalism and the enslavement of the peoples. It is only a matter of time before those who carry out acts such as those of September 2001 or the Palestinians' martyrdom will come from European society itself, and not from 'Islamic fascism,' as Mr. Bush calls it. This will give no rest to the U.S. and its allies, because it is difficult to fight it... any effort they invest in fighting terrorism will be in favor of the terrorism." (Original Arabic source cited in Memri, "Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 334," March 16, 2007, footnote 25)
I suppose that Masoom would say that Gamal al-Banna is mistaken, but I'll just stop here.

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At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right, Jeffery, regarding the etymology of the word in question. 'islam is a form derived from the root s-l-m; the root does have the meaning of "to make/have peace," but the inflected form means "submission," and the implied relationship to the root is correct. This is a good example of how one should always remember that words are not defined by their etymologies.

In my opinion, the urge to gloss "'islam" as meaning "peace" has historically been quite a positive religious development; unfortunately, the etymology of the word is nowadays being used to gloss over some very unfortunate tendencies within the religion.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Even if glossed as "peace," the word 'peace' might be defined in ways that we wouldn't like, such as Masoom's remark that "Islam" means "peace through submission to Allah," which has political implications since Islam doesn't distinguish the realm of politics from the realm of religion (and perhaps implies that peace will not be extended except in response to submission).

By the way, thanks for visiting again. I'll try to link to your new website soon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This ado about the proper meaning and translation of the word 'Islam' has quite a history, but it's not what one would have guessed, probably.

To shoot down the usual suspects: This is not something that classical or Arab grammarians or theologians came up with, then or now. Nor was it a more contemporary attempt to paint Islam in a pacific light, for either some self-reformatory, or a cynical p.c.-shrouded nefariuous purpose (depending if you lean more toward believing Brother Tarik or Robert Spencer).

Actually, the question arose first in a long-winded philological dispute between the two heavyweights Theodor Nöldeke and Mark Lidzbarski around 1910. It made quite some waves until the question was more or less settled (in Nöldekes favour, that is, on the "submission" side) by Ringgren Helmer in 1949.

The dispute was not theological (after all, Muslim theologians had always uniformly claimed the same thing Nöldeke did). But it wasn't grammatical either. If you accept that 'islam' is the verbal noun of 'aslama' (an infinitive verb), which is in turn the 4th verb form (of 12 total) of the root s-l-m, there is little abiguity in classical Arabic grammar rules: If s-l-m depicts the concept X, the the 4th form means "entering/achieving for oneself the condition of X", and the verbal noun means "being in the state of having entered/achived X". Since s-l-m revolves around completeness, wholeness and tranquility, "peace" would indeed be a totally fair translation, and there would indeed be none of the defaitist baggage that "submission", with its connotations of "giving up/in" carries.

Their beef was if classic Arab grammar rules were applicable in this case, or if s-l-m was actually a loanword and 'islam' should mean what it did in the the language it was inherited from: In Aramaic, and in its use in the Koran, 'aslama' clearly doesn't follow the Arabic grammatic pattern, as the Muslim theologians (and Noeldecke) were quick to point out: It usually appears in the context of the question of Abrahams surrender/submission to Yahve, or in the context of sieges or sacking cities. Proper "Peace", in the koranic context, is always salaam, salm or silm, never islam.

In a nutshell: Either the Muslim theologians are right about "Islam" meaning submission, or they are right about the Koran being in pure Arabic. So far, they claim both. At least Lidzbarski and Nöldeke saw the inconsistency and tried to sort things out. Masoom's "peace through submission to Allah" is actually a very fitting, because very loaded compromise.

The same sort of foul compromise btw. you can find in the reasoning of people who both champion Bin Ladin for 9/11, and claim that actually the CIA and/or the jews did it.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, for the grammar lesson and the clever insight into the ability of some individuals to entertain two contradictory thoughts at the same time -- whether about grammar or about 9/11.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The designated head of a new Arabic language public secondary school in Brooklyn, Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser had this to say about the 9/11 attacks:

Arabs or Muslims, Ms. Almontaser says, are innocent of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: "I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims." Instead, she blames September 11 on Washington's foreign policies, saying they "can have been triggered by the way the USA breaks its promises with countries across the world, especially in the Middle East, and the fact that it has not been a fair mediator."

The new school is generating enormous controversy in New York City. The NY has extensive coverage. Reading some of the stories reminded me of ideas contained in your Berman-on-Ramadan posts.

At 3:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, a lot of the ideas floating around among Islamist sympathizers are similar and -- as Erdal noted -- are contradictory:

...the 9/11 attackers were neither Arab nor Muslim, the attacks were the fault of the U.S. for its foreign policy, the attackers were heroes and even martyrs, more attacks will be coming from the holy warriors of Al-Qaeda...

You won't find these contradictions all in one sentence, of course, but they emerge from these groups and their sympathizers.

Jeffery Hodges

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