The following section of President Obama's 2010 Iftar speech for Muslim guests at the White House caught my attention, "Let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam - it’s a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders - they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion - and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."
There's nothing unusual about the President's statement that Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. As I noted here, Muslims have been doing that for a long time. What I question, however, is his assertion that al Qaeda's cause is not Islam, its leaders are not religious, and that it is a gross distortion of Islam.
We in the West seem to have a peculiar but fatal ability to believe that we understand people better than they understand themselves. We listen to them, but don't really hear them. We allow them to explain their beliefs and motivation, and then conclude they must not really believe what they say they believe, or that can't really be their motivation.
Who are we to say that Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam, and that its leaders are not motivated by the belief system of its Prophet? Even more important, why are we all so desperate - from the President on down - to believe that?
I doubt if the President has carefully read The Al Qaeda Reader, edited and translated by Raymond Ibrahim, or Al Qaeda In Its Own Words, edited by Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli. These aren't the books his Muslim aides and advisors suggest he keep on his nightstand. Ibrahim notes in his foreword that the writings of Al Qaeda second-in-command Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri "are grounded in Islam's roots of jurisprudence; in fact, of the many thousands of words translated here from his three treatises, well more than half are direct quotations from the Koran, the sunna of Muhammad, and the consensus and conclusions of the ulema." Ibrahim also quotes Osama bin Ladin reminding his followers that "our Prophet...did not remain more than three months in Medina without leading or sending a raiding party into the lands of the infidels to beat down their strongholds and seize their possessions, their lives, and their women."
In his translation of Dr. al-Zawahiri's text "The Basis of Loyalty and Separation in Islam", Kepel notes that al-Zawahiri explains at great length from both the Koran, the life of Muhammad, and the exegesis of Muslim scholars why Muslims should not collaborate with non-Muslims, why they should not befriend them, why they should not place them in positions of authority, and why they should not respect them and their laws. As I noted here, Muslims Shaykhs recently used these same texts to argue that Muslims should not admire non-Muslim members of World Cup soccer teams, or even watch the matches.
But we don't want to face it. We don't want to believe that those whom we dismiss as "terrorists" are the ones who have dedicated their lives to following their Prophet in the most minute details of his life and commands. We don't want to acknowledge that thousands of Jews in Medina, who had lived in peace and prosperity for hundreds of years before Muhammad arrived from Mecca in 622 AD, were all dead or exiled within just a few years simply for refusing to accept him as the Prophet he claimed to be, and that all the Christian and Jewish tribes of Arabia experienced the same fate a few short years later.
What would happen if we all were just a little less fearful and a little more honest? What if non-Muslims in positions of influence, such as America's president, had the integrity to challenge Muslims with the actions from the life of their Prophet and the texts of the Quran and the Hadith that are incompatible with peace and freedom in the 21st century? What would happen if Muslims had the courage to respond, "Yes, it is true that is what Muhammad did, and that is what the Quran says, but we don't do or believe that anymore." After all, that is how Jews respond when told that the Torah called for the stoning of adulterers, and Christians respond when reminded that Paul said it was a shame for a man to have long hair or for a woman to cut her hair.
Echoing the words of Martin Luther King Jr., I also "have a dream". It's for the day when Muslims, Jews, and Christians will stand together and say, "Yeah, that was some weird stuff going on back in the day, some strange things for Moses / Paul / Muhammad to do and say. Must of had something to do with their own hangups, maybe something in the water, or the culture of the time. But thank God, we don't do that anymore."