This article was published
in the Norwegian daily
By Jens Tomas Anfindsen, editor, HonestThinking
Mark A. Gabriel is the controversial author of the book Islam and Terrorism, the book of which Islam-scholar Kari Vogt forbade chatting on the web-pages of the University of Oslo, but which was debated in all of Norway’s major newspapers; the book which has been distributed to all of Norway’s parliamentarians, but which only Progress Party-leader Carl I. Hagen admits to having read; the 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 Islam and the Jews is the story about how the Egyptian ex-Muslim Mark Gabriel changed attitude from being a vehement Jew-hater, to feeling friendship and sympathy towards the Jewish people. According to Mr. Gabriel himself, this change of heart came about by Jesus Christ performing a miracle within him so that hatred yielded place for 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 of Islamic history at the Al Azhar University in Cairo. The scheme to which Mr. Gabriel presents us is roughly the following.
The Koran consists of a series of revelations which
the angel Gabriel supposedly granted the Prophet Mohammed. These revelations
came progressively over a period from A.D. 610 and until Mohammed’s death in
632. In an early phase, while Mohammed lived in
With regard to the latter, Mr. Gabriel
dedicates a separate chapter to a purely historical account of how Mohammed and
his armed forces performed several genocidal slaughters of Jewish tribes in
An important feature of Gabriel’s exposition concerns a widely acknowledge principle of Islamic theology called nasikh. Basically put, the principle of nasikh entails that whenever two pieces revelatory text contradict each other, the later revelations carry juristic overweight. So later verses will sometimes annul or cancel prior ones. With regard to the Koran’s revelations about the Jews, Gabriel explains that the early, accommodating verses are annulled by later verses in which Allah ventilates heavy curses on the entire Jewish people. The Koran’s last word on the matter is that Jews are eternal enemies of Islam, and that they must be violently fought and subjugated. Gabriel further explains how an influential hadith by al-Bukhari adds to this picture, relaying that judgment day will not come before the Muslims exterminate the Jews entirely!
It appears that Mr. Gabriel knows well what he is writing about. Anyone trained in textual interpretation will recognize an expert at work, here. The crucial question concerning his book is whether it can be said to present the reader with a true picture of Islam. Evaluating this requires a complex assessment.
According to Mr. Gabriel, Islam imposes on all Muslims to wage war against the Jews. But we all know that not all Muslims support that idea. However, Mr. Gabriel himself is the first to point out that only a minority of the Muslims understand and practice Islam in this radical manner. Gabriel explains this by recourse to a threefold socio-religious distinction. The majority of Muslims he describes as some kind of “cultural Muslims”, lacking any particularly deep understanding of Islam. These hold on to the more humanitarian and sympathetic aspects of their religion, but remain ignorant of or suppress its aggressive elements. Secondly there is also a large group of Muslims which in fact have insight into the Jihad-theology of Islam, but who nevertheless refrain from practicing their beliefs fully, simply because acting them out would require too much sacrifice. Finally we have a numerically small but in no way insignificant group of enthusiastic fundamentalists who have real insight into the theological foundation of Islam, 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. Radical Islamism is the true Islam, so says Mr. Gabriel. Here is where we confront the most daring thesis of the book, and at the same time, a vulnerable point. For what is “the True Islam”, who defines “the True Islam” and is there only one correct interpretation of this religion, one might object. In the assumption that there exists some one absolute Islam, might not Mr. Gabriel have committed an oversimplification?
I think not. What Mr. Gabriel says about the nature of Islam is not intended as a sociological description of its manifold manifestations; Mr. Gabriel takes on a theologian’s perspective and aims at a normative description of Islam’s teachings. Further, it should be kept in mind that Mr. Gabriel comes from and deals with Sunni-Islam. The Sunnis represent only one fraction within Islam, but after all, they constitute about 85% of the world’s Muslims. Finally, Mr. Gabriel has written a popular science book, targeting a wide segment of a public market which could not be presumed to have much prior knowledge of Islam. The fact that the book might be said to gloss over certain (academically celebrated) nuances and distinctions in no way justifies its rejection. A rational evaluation of the book’s basic thesis should rest upon an assessment of whether it corresponds to a dominant interpretation of Sunni-Muslim theology with respect to Jews. And in that respect, Mr. Gabriel has presented his case with powerful precision.
Given the loudly explicit way in which anti-Jewish theology permeates the modern Islamist movement, Islam and the Jews is not only interesting, but also highly currant. The book is way too convincing and way too challenging to be silenced or ignored, irrespective of the fact that Mr. Gabriel is an “on-fire” convert to Christianity or that his book presents a horrific picture of Islam’s prime sources. The scholarly content of Islam and the Jews concerns claims over matters of fact and can be discussed, rejected or vindicated as such. The evaluation of the undersigned says that potential critics face a difficult mission(*).
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* In the spring of 2006, Islam-scholar Oddbjørn Leirvik (