This article was published in the Norwegian daily Vart Land 2005.03.21.
Mark A. Gabriel is the controversial author of the book Islam and Terrorism, a book that now has got a follow-up: Islam and the Jews.
Islam and the Jews is partly a personal story, partly a professional document. These two aspects of the book must be evaluated separately and by different criteria.
On the personal level this book is the story about how the Egyptian and ex-Muslim Mark Gabriel changed attitude from vehemently hating Jews to feeling friendship, affection and sympathy towards the Jewish people. According to Mr. Gabriel himself, this came about by Jesus Christ performing a miracle within him so that hatred yielded to love. This aspect of his book must be taken for precisely what it is: a personal testimony.
On the professional level Islam and the Jews is an introduction to the Koran’s and the Hadiths’s teachings with respect to the status of the Jews, written by a former Imam and professor in Islamic history at the Al Azhar University. The scheme Mr. Gabriel presents to us is roughly as follows.
The Koran consists of a series of revelations that the angel Gabriel supposedly granted the Prophet Mohammed. These revelations came bit by bit over a period from 610 and until Mohammed’s death in 632. In an early phase, while Mohammed lived in Mecca and attempted to recruit the Jews to his newly formed religious party, the angel’s revelations were very positive towards the Jews. But the Jews rejected Mohammed, ridiculed him and treated him as just another quack. Following this, and coincidental with Mohammed’s moving to Medina, his revelations started to change character, becoming increasingly hostile towards the Jews. In a later phase the Koran’s revelations instructs Muslims to fight Jews with the sword.
With regard to the latter, Mr. Gabriel dedicates a separate chapter to a purely historic presentation of how Mohammed and his armies performed several genocidal slaughters of Jewish tribes in Arabia.
On the surface it appears that Mr. Gabriel knows well what he is writing about. Anyone trained in exegesis will here recognize an expert at work. The crucial question about this book is whether it presents the reader with a true picture of Islam. Evaluating this requires a complex assessment.
According to Mr. Gabriel, Islam imposes on all Muslims to fight against the Jews. However, Mr. Gabriel is the first to point out that only a minority of the Muslims understand and practice Islam in that way. Gabriel believes this to be due to a majority of Muslims being a kind of “cultural Muslims” without a particularly deep understanding of their own religion. These hold on to the more comfortable and sympathetic sides of their religion, but remain ignorant of or suppress its aggressive elements. There are, though, a large group of Muslims that in fact have insight into the Jihad-theology of Islam, but who nevertheless refrain from practicing their beliefs fully because that requires too much sacrifice. Finally we have a numerically small, but in no way insignificant group of enthusiastic fundamentalists who have real insight into Islam’s foundation as well as the will to implement its directives. It is within this last group that we find the extremist, the suicide bomber, the terrorist and the jihadist.
According to Mr. Gabriel it is this last mentioned group that practices Islam in a correct way. This is the true Islam, according to Mr. Gabriel. Here is where we confront the most daring thesis of the book, and at the same time, its weak point. For what is “the True Islam”? Who defines “the True Islam” and is there only one correct interpretation of this religion? In the assumption that there exists some one absolute Islam, Mr. Gabriel commits an oversimplification.
This in no way means that the main thesis of the book should be discarded. One should keep in mind that Mr. Gabriel is not out to give a sociological description of Islam’s various manifestations; Mr. Gabriel takes on the theologian’s perspective and aims at a description of Islam’s teachings. Further, it should be kept in mind that Mr. Gabriel comes from and deals with Sunni-Islam. The Sunnis represents only one fraction within Islam, but after all, they constitute about 85% of the world’s Muslims. Finally, it is worth noting that Mr. Gabriel has written a “popular science” book targeting a wide segment of the public market without much prior knowledge of Islam. The fact that the book precludes certain nuances and distinctions does reduce its value as a professional document, but in no way justifies its rejection. A rational evaluation of the book’s basic thesis should rest upon an assessment of whether Mr. Gabriel presents a true account of the dominant interpretation of Sunni-Muslim theology. The opinion of the undersigned is that Mr. Gabriel has presented that case with powerful precision.
The large, professional Islam-Lexicon by Khoury/Hagemann/Heine contains several articles touching on the relationship between Islam and the Jews, all written by Muslim scholars. The information presented there is totally (!) consistent with what is presented by Mr. Gabriel, and the case appears to enjoy full consensus among the Sunni-Muslim law schools. A number of other original sources confirm parts of the same overall picture. Furthermore, as a general observation it can be seen that a kind of anti-Jewish theology permeates the modern Islamist movement. It is this last point that makes Mr. Gabriel’s book not only interesting but also highly currant.
Islam and the Jews is way too convincing and way too challenging to be silenced or ignored, irrespective of the fact that Mr. Gabriel is an “on-fire” new convert to Christianity, or that his book presents a horrible picture of Islam’s prime sources. The scholarly content of the book concerns claims over matters of fact and can be discussed, rejected or vindicated as such. The evaluation of the undersigned says that potential critics will have a difficult mission.
Jens Tomas Anfindsen, editor, HonestThinking.org