Monday, May 31, 2010

Kicking Jesus in the Ass - and Drawing Muhammad

It's been out a few years, but yesterday was the first time I heard Hayes Carll's song, "She Left Me for Jesus". The lyrics go like this:

We've been dating since high school, we never once left this town.
We used to go out on the weekends and we'd drink till we drowned.
But now she's acting funny, and I don't understand.
I think that she's found her some other man.

She left me for Jesus, and that just ain't fair,
She says that he's perfect, how could I compare?
She says I should find him, and I'll know peace at last,
If I ever find Jesus, I'm kicking his ass.

She showed me a picture, all I could do was stare,
At that freak in his sandals, with his long pretty hair,
They must think that I'm stupid, or I don't have a clue,
I bet he's a Commie, or even worse yet a Jew.

She's given up whiskey, and taken up wine,
While she prays for his troubles, she forgot about mine.
I'm gonna get even, I can't handle the shame.
Why, the last time we made love, she even called out his name.

It could have been Carlos, or even Billy Ortez,
But if I ever find Jesus,
He's gonna wish he was dead. Amen.

I'm a Christian. How did I feel when I heard someone singing about kicking Jesus in the ass? To be honest, a little uncomfortable. It sounded disrespectful to someone for whom I hold great respect. If I were a singer, that tune probably wouldn't be on my play list.

But how I felt is irrelevant, of concern to no one but myself. The important thing is how did I react, what did I do? Other than posting this article, nothing at all. I didn't send death threats to the singer, nor organize boycotts of his concerts. I didn't even issue veiled warnings that some of my less moderate coreligionists might be unable to control their rage and harm him. He's an artist, after all, and has my full support to write and sing about Jesus anyway he wants. If I take his lyrics seriously, I can even commiserate with the jilted guy whose girlfriend found religion and left him behind.

Most readers of this blog are well aware of Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons a few years ago, and the more recent "Draw Muhammad Day". This response to a cartoon of Muhammad meeting with a psychiatrist was typical. Who knows how many thousands of people have published articles or  given speeches around the world about how offended they were by these drawings? The common theme in them all is that it is unfair and impermissible to treat in this way the Prophet who is so beloved by his followers.

I don't think Muslims are being honest with themselves or with us. I think the real reason they act as they do is not their love for Muhammad, but their need to protect him. As I have noted here, the life of Muhammd raises many questions for anyone seriously considering whether or not he was a Prophet of God. To this day, Muslims continue to avoid those questions and choose instead to express their hurt and outrage at those who reach and express conclusions about Muhammad that are not the conclusions they would want them to reach.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nomad - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I wonder if Ayaan Hirsi Ali's well-known atheist friends, including writers Christopher Hitchings, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, were surprised when she suggested in a chapter entitled "Seeking God but Finding Allah" of her new book Nomad that Christians should engage in active dawa to convert Muslims to Christianity just as Muslims do to convert Christians to Islam. If they weren't, others certainly were. Susanne Pari, who identifies with Ayaan as a woman who was born Muslim but chose atheism over Islam, writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that Ayaan, "Veers off the track of reason by advocating the revitalization of Christian conversion as a solution. This is not only strange but goes against all that Hirsi Ali has come to believe in. It's the kind of idea one has in the middle of the night that seems genius, but in the light of morning is too embarrassing to tell anyone about". Susanne adds that, "This is not a novel solution. It is an ancient one that has failed, time and again, to produce peace."

I'm not as quick as Susanne to jump to conclusions. Before simply dismissing Ayaan's proposal whole hog out of hand, I'd suggest looking a little more closely at exactly what she said, why she might have said it, and how it could be implemented.

First of all the why, which is always the most interesting. It is possible that Ayaan was saying the following, "I'm an atheist, as any rational and clear-thinking human being should be. But I realize that most people don't have the intellectual capability or spiritual honesty to reach the truth of God's non-existence as I have. To these beings of lesser mental capacity, I suggest that if they have to have a god they choose the god of the Christians, since he is at least a little kinder and gentler than the god of the Muslims."

But that doesn't ring true to me. It doesn't register with the humility I sense in Ayaan's writings, nor does it make sense morally. I can't imagine myself urging Sadhus in India to convert Muslims to Hinduism, or Bhiksu monks in Thailand to convert Muslims to Buddhism. There must be another reason.

Here is my theory. I don't think ex-Muslims make good atheists. The true religion of atheism requires one to believe that time, calculated in billions of years, plus an extraordinary amount of chance, equals all that exists. Mathematically, that formula is: time + chance + nothing = everything. I don't think it comes naturally for Muslims, who from birth are taught God's greatness and power, to adopt the hard-core atheism that seems to come easily for Western born sceptics and intellectuals.

I'd even go a step further. It seems strange for me to see Ayaan Hirsi Ali at atheist conferences, presented as the newest poster child of some of the West's famous nonbelievers. I don't think she is at ease there. It comes across as exploitation, similar to the Republicans' parading Paula Jones around the country after she settled her sexual harassment case with President Bill Clinton.

Wafa Sultan is another ex-Muslim writer who is often described as now an atheist. I listened carefully to her on three ninety-minute interviews on the Arabic TV program Daring Question with host Rashid. She said she does not follow any organized religion, but stopped far short of declaring herself an atheist. Like Ayaan, she acknowledged that if she did choose a deity it would be the God of Christianity.

I don't think Ayaan and Wafa have parked themselves in the camp of atheism. I would suggest instead that they, similar to many of us, are on a spiritual journey that has not yet ended, and where they are now is not necessarily where they will be ten years from now. They have given up the God created by Muhammad ("I am a Prophet of God, and if you don't believe me Allah will be very angry at you"), but are unwilling to exchange him for a God of apples, trees, and snakes in the Garden of Eden.

Next, what exactly did Ayaan say? I don't think she was suggesting Sunnis become Baptists and Sufis become Pentecostals. The church, in my opinion, has placed far too much emphasis in insisting that membership requires believing certain things rather than  being a particular type of person. Jesus, on the other hand, required a certain type of action. He told people to treat others as they would like to be treated, and the wealthy to give their money to the poor. People were to forgive their enemies, and do good to those who mistreated them. My guess is that Ayaan realizes the Golden Rule is non-existent in Islam but the central core of Christianity, and that people will have to leave Muhammad behind if they want to experience this new kind of life.

Now the how; that's the hard question, but Aayan at least partially provides the answer. She wants Christians to simply become involved with Muslims. She suggests this on an organizational level, but I would add it also needs to be on an individual basis. Once before a trip to Lebanon, I was warned not to engage people in conversation about religion and politics, because the scars of the recent Civil War were still too fresh and hatreds ran too deep. To my surprise, I found out that people there - Muslims as well as Maronites - wanted to talk about what they believed. I don't think the situation is different in the West.

I heard an interesting story the other day. A Jewish man began visiting the church I now attend. He was not necessarily interested in the Christian message, but something kept him coming back. Perhaps the same things attracted him as did me, and about which I wrote here. One day he came forward to participate in the Holy Communion service. The pastor, who was telling the story, said, "I looked up, and there he was. What was I supposed to do? I knew he wasn't a Christian, but I wasn't going to turn him away so I offered him the bread and wine."

Later that man said that as he ate the bread and drank the wine, he knew that Jesus had died for him, and he was now a Christian. My response to the story was that if anyone had tried to argue the man into belief in Jesus, it would have been impossible. You can't talk someone into believing something they don't believe. But when you invite people to participate in what you believe, mysterious things can happen. I think that might have been a little of what Ayaan Hirsi Ali was talking about.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Memories of Muhammad by Omid Safi - a Study in Contrast

An interesting experience is to read two books simultaneously about the same subject written by authors with widely-differing viewpoints. That is what I am doing now with Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Memories of Muhammad by Omid Safi.

I recently spent a year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I know this is 100% subjective, but I would often look at Saudi men and visualize individuals whose minds were locked shut like a steel trap. When I would look at Saudi women, even though I could only see their eyes behind their black veils and abayas, I would see people of tremendous untapped potential. Although I know none of them personally and am acquainted with them only from their writings, I have the same impression of Omid Safi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Omid begins his book by discussing the "problem" people have with Muhammad. Have you ever had the experience of feeling uncomfortable around someone, but when you try to talk to them about it they turn the conversation around to make you feel guilty for your feelings of unease? There is nothing about them, in their opinion, that could justify the way you feel so the problem must be with you! Omid is a master of that. The discomfort we feel about Muhammad, and in particular how he treated women and non-Muslims and how his followers treat women and non-Muslims today, is our problem.

Omid informs us, "With the exception of the most bigoted, most Christians today, including the Catholic and Protestant authorities, have rightly come to see that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God." I guess I am one of those most bigoted; here I present my case that we do indeed worship two different deities. He describes bookstore titles such as "the truth about Muhammad" that are "marred by a host in inaccuracies, prejudicies, and flat-out lies", but does not take the time to elaborate any of them. I assume he is talking about Robert Spencer's biography by that name, and I look forward to Omid's careful refutation of its contents.

Omid mocks critics of Muhammad for coming up with nothing new in 1000 years. "One thousand years ago, the polemics were about violence, sex, and heresy. Today the polemics are still primarily about violence, sex, and heresy. One cannot help but wonder at how unoriginal these polemics have been over the course of the last thousand years. If the subject matter was not so offensive, perhaps one could joke that in one thousand years they could have come up with a new polemic!" Perhaps the reply is simply that Muslims have not come up with satisfactory answers during those 1000 years.

My former Islamics professor at Temple University, the late Isma'il al-Faruqi, used to say that people who rejected the message of Islam and its Prophet were "either malicious or ignorant". Raised and educated in Palestine, Dr. al-Faruqi did not have the smooth eloquence of America's defenders of Islam in the 21st century. They have newer terms such as "Islamophobes" and "polemicists" to describe people who do not think Muhammad is a Prophet of God, who believe his followers are his victims, and who are prepared to say why.

Omid informs us, "If there is one verse of the Qur'an that has shaped the historical grace-filled understanding of the Prophet, it is the verse in which God addresses Muhammad: We sent you as a mercy to all the universes (Qur'an 21:107)." Ironically, that is the verse that helped me realize the difference between the meaning of mercy in the Quran and in the Bible. In related Quranic verses, Allah defined his mercy. Muhammad was to invite people to Islam and warn them against associating anything with Allah (this was a specific warning to the Christians not to believe that Jesus was God). If they did not accept the invitation, Muhammad was to pronounce a declaration of war. Within a few short years, the Jewish and Christian communities that had lived in Arabia for hundreds of years experienced the "mercy" of Muhammad. Without exception they were slaughtered or exiled, never to return.

What I find interesting about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in comparison, is my impression that she is on a spiritual journey that has not yet ended. Her mission is not to dismiss critics of "truths" she has chosen to believe and needs to defend. She describes herself as a nonbeliever in God, and yet she is not the kind of "hard atheist" so common in the West.

In a chapter of her book called "Seeking God but Finding Allah", Ayaan writes, "If Muslims can be helped to reexamine the bedrock ideas of Islam, they may then admit that the Prophet Muhammad's example is fallible, that not everything in the Quran is perfect or true, and that this doctrine can be adjusted so that the mental pain that comes of trying to apply it in the modern world is diminished. I have a theory that most Muslims are in search of a redemptive God. They believe that there is a higher power and that this higher power is the provider of morality, giving them a compass to help them distinguish between good and bad. Many Muslims are seeking a God or a concept of God that in my view meets the description of the Christian God. Instead they are finding Allah."

As I read Ayaan's carefully reasoned arguments, and compare them with Omid's silly statement that only "the most bigoted" non-Muslim would conclude Muslims and Christians and Jews do not happily worship the same God, I realize they have taken two completely different approaches to Islam. Hers, which is simply but boldly leaving Muhammad behind, has resulted in exile, death threats, and security protection. His, which is defending Muhammad and describing detractors as Islamophobes, has secured a professorship at the University of North Carolina. It's not difficult to determine which of the two is a hero to me.

Omid Safi - Memories of Muhammad

To prove a theory, scientists observe natural phenomena or conduct controlled experiments. If the results confirm the theory, it passes from being merely a theory to a scientific principle.

In the world of belief and ideas, the process is the same. If you have a theory about what a particular group of people believes, listen to them carefully and read their writings. If what you learn confirms your theory, you can conclude it is correct. It might not be as easy to prove as natural science, but it is no less true.

My theory is that Muslims have a wishful, fanciful, idealistic view of the person they want their Prophet to be. The conviction that Muhammad was a wonderful and perfect man is inculcated into their minds and hearts before they take their first steps or utter their first sentences. Many of them spend the rest of their lives defending him from harm. They are emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually incapable of  honestly examining aspects of his life and teachings, as portrayed in their own texts or exemplified in the lives of their coreligionists, that go against their childhood impressions of who he was. Their identify is wrapped up in him, and they cannot imagine life without him. I have recently noted that they even reinterpret the Sira, Hadith, and Quran to fit in with their view of who Muhammad was.

One way to confirm or deny this theory is to carefully read books about Muhammad written by educated, Western Muslims. The best way to do this is with the book in one hand and Islam's original texts in the other. That's the only way to really determine whether the author is being faithful to his or her own history, or is trying to manipulate that history to deceive the reader.

If the thought of personally studying early Islamic texts and history seems too daunting or time-consuming, just read very thoughtfully. Early in her book The Muslim Next Door, Sumbul Ali-Karamali writes, "I was always taught that I would go straight to hell for gambling, along with drinking alcohol, engaging in unlawful sex, and committing homicide." She then describes how as an adult she avoids alcohol to the extent of refusing to cook with vanilla extract. Note that her cooking practices are not based upon rational, clear thought, but on what she learned as a child about the God of Islam. He would send her to hell for drinking a glass of wine, and now her children eat French toast without vanilla.

Ms. Ali-Karamali is not the only American Muslim who looks at the Prophet with rose-tinted glasses. In No god but God, Reza Aslan describes Muhammad's practice of robbing trade caravans as follows, "Just to make sure the Quraysh got Muhammad's message challenging Mecca's religious and economic hegemony over the Peninsula, he sent his followers out into the desert to take part in the time-honored Arab tradition of caravan raiding. In pre-Islamic Arabia, caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from the wealth of larger ones. It was in no way considered stealing (italics mine), and as long as no violence occurred and no blood was shed, there was no need for retribution. The raiding party would quickly descend on a caravan - usually at its rear - and carry off whatever they could get their hands on before being discovered. These periodic raids were certainly a nuisance for the caravan leaders, but in general they were considered part of the innate hazards of transporting large amounts of goods through a vast and unprotected desert."

So robbing caravans carrying the foodstuffs entire Arab tribes depended upon for survival was just a matter of boys will be boys, like university students on spring break in Daytona? Tell that to Amr bin al-Hadrami. He was leading a trade caravan carrying dry raisins, leather, and other goods when Muhammad's marauders decided to attack. Historian Ibn Ishaq records that the Muslims determined to kill as many caravan personnel as possible before making off with the booty. Amr was killed with an arrow, the others were taken prisoner and later released for ransom, and Muhammad was given one-fifth of all the stolen merchandise.

The truth is that most of the people who migrated with Muhammad from Mecca to Medina were poor ex-slaves with no skills or trade. They joined illiterate Arab tribespeople in Medina who had migrated north from Yemen a few generations before and both worked for and stole from the Jewish majority who had lived in Medina for six centuries and were excellent farmers and tradesmen. The Muslims quickly put themselves in opposition to the Jews, and rather than meeting their economic needs by forming their own trade caravans found it easier to plunder the caravans of others.

In Footsteps of the Prophet, Tariq Ramadan continues the tradition of manipulating material from Muhammad's biography to bolster his own image of the Prophet that he learned as a child in Switzerland. I have discussed here Tariq's claim that Abu Bakr set the Muslim slave Bilal free in Mecca "as an example of the Prophet's emphasis on human rights". In reality, all Abu Bakr did was trade Bilal for a younger, stronger, black non-Muslim slave. The clear message communicated was not one of human rights, but that Abu Bakr was himself a slaveholder and Muslims have more value than non-Muslims.

The most recent book I read along this line is Omid Safi's Memories of Muhammad. It's difficult to do a usual review of the book, since it is merely more of the same style and methodology. In the early pages, Omid shows an "iconic image of the Prophet from the author's personal collection" that he describes as follows, "It is a lovely depiction of a kind, gently, yet resolute Prophet, holding on to the Qur'an and looking straight at the viewer with deep and penetrating eyes. He is depicted as a handsome man, with deep Persian eyes and eyebrows, and wearing a green turban."

This is the image of Muhammad that Omid holds in his heart, and this is the person he portrays. He describes Muhammad's "marriage" to Safiyya (also spelled Sofiya) as follows, "Safiyya was of a Jewish background. Her husband had been killed during the Battle of Khaybar, and she herself was reported to have been of a deeply pious nature. Muhammad offered her a choice of remaining Jewish and going back to her own people or becoming Muslim and marrying him. Her answer was: "I choose God and his Messenger."

I would find this description of Muhammad's relationship with Sofiya shocking were it not so normal coming from Muslim writers. Sofiya was of the Al Nadir tribe in Medina, one of the city's three leading Jewish tribes. Her father and other relatives had used the Hebrew Scriptures to refute Muhammad's claim that he was a Prophet sent to them from God. His response was to create verses condemning them that found their way into the Quran and in particular surat al-Baqarah. Quran 2: 101,102 is one example among many accusing these Jews of deliberately following Satan rather than submitting to Muhammad. Soon afterwards Muhammad claimed (God told him, of course) that the Al Nadir were plotting to kill him, and he led his army to attack them. They were farmers, not soldiers, and his attack consisted of cutting down the palm trees that provided their sustenance and establishing a blockade against them until they agreed to his terms of exile from the city. He stole their property and goods, allowing them to leave with only what they could carry on their camels. Some of them went to Syria, but the 16 year old Sofiya and her family took refuge in the nearby agricultural town of Khaybar.

Less than a year later Muhammad conquered Mecca with 10,000 soldiers and immediately turned his attention towards Khaybar. Sofiya's father and brother were beheaded, and her husband Kinana was tortured to death by Muhammad for refusing to reveal the source of hidden treasure (yes, Arab historians use the word "torture" to describe Muhammad and his soldiers branding Kinana's chest with hot iron before cutting off his head and yes, Muhammad was personally involved in the event). As the supreme brutal act of a conqueror proclaiming supremacy over his victims, Muhammad raped the wife and daughter of his Jewish enemies. Someone else had already claimed her, in accordance with law established by Muhammad for female prisoners of war, but recognizing the significance of personally having the daughter of the ruling family Muhammad exchanged two women to ravish Sofiya himself. One of his warriors even stood guard outside Muhammad's bedroom the entire night,  for fear that she might attempt revenge on the 60 year old man who had killed her entire family and was now forcing himself upon her.

Omid Safi would have us believe this young girl willingly gave herself to Muhammad and wanted to marry him. Would any sane woman choose to sleep with the man three times her age who had just beheaded her father, brother, and husband? What were her options? The protection he offered her as a member of his household (even though she lived with Aisha's constant scorn and jealousy as a beautiful Jewess) was better than being sold as a slave for horses and weapons as Muhammad had done with other Jewish women in Medina.

Omid Safi teaches at the University of North Carolina. I don't expect him to change his views about Muhammad; he has too much invested. As Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan, and others have discovered, defending Muhammad is a lucrative gig in America. There are always books to be written and talks to be given reassuring nervous Christians and Jews in their churches and synagogues they have nothing to fear from Islam.

What I do find interesting is that UNC is also the academic home of Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical Christian who as a result of his questioning and scholarship has concluded the Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is not the Son of God, and Christianity is not true. I don't know if UNC has academically prostituted itself, as have other well-known universities and professors, to Middle East Shaykhs, Emirs, and Ayatollas in exchange for money (often millions of dollars) to teach a brand of Islam the sponsor would approve (anyone who has lived in Saudi Arabia, as I have, realizes the supreme importance of pleasing your sponsor if you want to keep your job). But it is an expression of 21st century academic irony in America that UNC is unable or unwilling to hire an ex-Muslim to teach in the Islamic Department who as a result of his or her study reached the same conclusion about Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam that Dr. Ehrman did about the faith of his youth. There are such people available, but hiring them involves risks major universities are unwilling to take. It's much safer to give students the "scholarship" of believers such as Dr. Omid Safi.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Education of Muslim Girls along the Grand Trunk Road

Philip Reeves at NPR is doing a series on the Grand Trunk Road, the majestic highway that links cities in India and Pakistan. As I listened to his description of the brightly painted trucks that traverse the highway, it took me back to the fall of 1969 when I took that same road for the first time from Delhi to Calcutta. It was barely a two-lane highway at that time and traveling it took a certain amount of skill. You would barrel down the center of the highway, with a bus or truck coming directly at you from the opposite direction. At the very last second you would lean to the left (they drive on the left side of the highway, thanks to the British Empire) with the passenger wheel on the shoulder of the road. The vehicle approaching you would do the same, and you would fly pass each other with inches to spare before again taking your positions in the middle of the highway to continue down the road.

What really caught my attention, however, was not Philip's description of the Grand Trunk Road, but the Pardada Pardadi School for Girls. Sam Singh is an American citizen from India who took his life savings from working at Dupont to return to his country and open the school in northern India for 1200 girls from families who live below the poverty level. Along with their studies, they learn a practical trade they can use to support themselves (inexpensive sanitary napkins for women are one of their many products). The girls receive the equivalent of twenty cents for each day they are in school, and the lump sum is given them if they complete the 10th grade.

People like Sam Singh are heroes to me. In one sense it's not that unusual to find people like him; thousands of American citizens at this very moment scattered around the world have similarly invested their lives in the betterment of others. I have been informed that Sam is a secularist, but his actions exemplify what Jesus told his followers to do. When a wealthy young man asked him how to gain the Kingdom of God, Jesus' simple reply was, "Give your money to the poor." The desire of God's children has always been to hear God tell them at the end of the road, "Well done, and welcome home."  I hope those are the words Sam Singh will someday hear.

But something else attracted my interest. Singh says the only group with which his school has not been successful is Muslim families. Less than ten percent of Muslim girls remain in the school beyond the onset of puberty. Only one Muslim girl has graduated in the ten years of the school's history. When the reporter asked her why she was the only graduate she replied, "With Muslims there is a lot of emphasis on keeping a girl at home behind the curtain, and not allowing her to go outside."

We all know that many young Muslim women in Europe and America attend universities to obtain advanced degrees. But here's my question. If Muhammad was really a Prophet of God and if Islam is true, why is it that Muslim girls who receive higher education are often whose who live in the infidel West and are influenced by its culture and values? Why did Muhammad himself place no priority on the education of his own wives as well as the wives, sisters, and daughters of his followers?

When Muhammad's great-grandfather Abu Hashim had a son to a wife from Medina, he stipulated that son (who was Muhammad's grandfather Abdel Mutalib) should spend his childhood in Medina to learn religion from the Jewish rabbis there. As a result of the education he received from these rabbis, Abdel Mutalib was an educated, literate man. Muhammad could have given his nine-year-old child bride, Aysha, the same opportunity in Medina. Instead he kept her and his other wives behind locked doors and beheaded and expelled the Jewish community who were the only educated people in the entire city.

I noticed something interesting today while re-reading the charter established by Muhammad soon after his migration to Medina from Mecca. He was the new sheriff in town with new rules. One sentence stuck out to me, the only sentence in the entire document that mentions women, "A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family."

The message could not be more clear. The woman has no value, few rights and choices, and no protection unless her family chooses to give them to her. She lives under the control of her family, and specifically its male members. Is it any wonder that 1400 years later Sam Singh cannot find Muslim girls whose families value them enough to allow them to graduate from the Pardada Pardadi School for Girls?

Preparing for a Half Marathon

It's amazing what a simple invitation can do. All it took in my case was an invitation from my daughter to join her in running a half-marathon later this summer. Within a week I had joined Weight Watchers, was back in the gym, and on a training schedule. I lost more weight the past week than I did the entire year (actually a misnomer, since I had actually gained weight throughout the year). Yeah for invitations!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Times Square Bomber and Muhammad

American law enforcement and administration officials breathed a deep sigh of relief when Faisal Shahzad's home-made bomb did not explode in Times Square last week. These are the same people who were equally relieved that the Christmas Eve Detroit bomber was unable to ignite the explosives he had packed inside his underwear. Some even gloat that the difference between these failed attempts and the unqualified success of 9/11 means that al Qaeda  has been seriously degraded as a power-player in the world of international terrorism. "Nineteen individuals enacted a coordinated and complicated operation in 2001," they say. "But nine years later, thanks to our counter-terrorism efforts, isolated bunglers are not able to succeed in even single acts of terrorism." These officials would do well to understand two important concepts of militant Jihad, both taken from the example of the Prophet that his followers seek to emulate. These concepts are encapsulated in the Arabic words "qadr" and "sabr".

Qadr is often translated as fate or destiny, but means much more than that. For a Muslim every single thing that happens, both good and bad, is an expression of the will of God. I have discussed this idea in more detail here. Jihadists around the world do not share the view that Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were failures. Jihadist websites will extol them as Mujahids, heroes, brave examples to be followed, and models of righteousness and courage. The reason their operations did not succeed is the same reason rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon often fail to reach their desired targets, and IED's in Iraq and Afghanistan do not always detonate. It was simply not God's will for it to happen at this particular time, and God always knows best.

Closely linked to this is patience, which is the Arabic word "sabr". It includes the meaning of the English proverb, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." For Jihadists, sabr is an important concept taken directly from the life and example of Muhammad. Soon after he migrated from Mecca to Medina, he began sending out bands of marauders to rob the trade caravans returning from Syria to Mecca. His first attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful; the thieves arrived after the caravan had left. The second raid against another caravan was also a failure, and following ones were as well. It was only after seven attempts against seven different targets that Muhammad's warriors finally succeeded in robbing a caravan carrying raisins and other foodstuffs and killing the driver. Of particular significance is that this raid took place during "the holy months" when intra-tribal conflicts were traditionally set aside (comment: just as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's raid against America was planned during the Holy Season), and Muhammad's raiders shaved their heads to give the impression they were pilgrims (comment: just as Faisal Shahzad blended in with his American university degrees and citizenship to give the impression he was just another American). Caravan leader Amr bin al-Hadrami was murdered during that raid, and it is difficult to believe the terror he felt as Muhammad's Jihadists swooped down upon him with drawn swords while shouting Allahu Akbar was any different than the terror both the Detroit and Times Square bombers wished to inflict upon their intended victims.

Rather than simply breathing sighs of relief every time a bomb does not go off, administration and law enforcement officers would do well to understand the Jihadist motivation behind the actions of both Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. There are undoubtedly many more similarly-motivated people waiting in the wings to take their place, and we can't afford to just keep hoping the bombs won't go off.