About the speaker
Daniel Brubaker, PhD, is a scholar of Qurʾan manuscripts of the 7th-10th centuries AD, the earliest period of the book’s existence. He defended his doctoral dissertation titled “Intentional Changes in Qurʾan Manuscripts” and was awarded his PhD at Rice University in Houston in 2014. Since then he has continued his work researching corrections in early Qurʾans. To date, Brubaker has analyzed approximately 10,000 early Qurʾan manuscript folios, most in person, in institutions and libraries in Paris, St. Petersburg, Oxford, Cambridge, London, Dublin, Doha, Manama, Kuwait, Tashkent, and elsewhere.
The work with history and antiquities is not a sterile pursuit; although the manuscript research is full of theological and historical implications, the Qurʾan is more than a mere artifact of history. Along with Islam’s other sources of authority such as the hadith, commentaries, biography of Muhammad, etc., the Qurʾan is the cornerstone of a belief system that continues to impact real events in the world today. This is because what people believe affects what they do.
Brubaker believes it is important to understand that not all ideas are equal, and that as Americans we need to think carefully about the heritage we have in our system of limited government that includes checks and balances, the affirmation of certain rights as given by God and therefore un-alienable, the affirmation that all people are created equal, and the embrace of the Bill of Rights including freedom of speech and press and the exercise of religion. How we navigate our encounters as a nation with a system of belief that sees some of these things as illegitimate is a very important question.
Dr. Brubaker’s Qurʾan manuscript research is forthcoming in print in the form of an academic monograph as well as two books designed for a more general audience. Much of it is also becoming available through Qurʾan Gateway, an online digital research tool for academics.
Brubaker is a member of the Islamic Manuscript Association, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, and the International Qurʾanic Studies Association. He is also on the editorial board of the Review of Qurʾanic Research.
For more on the history of Islam, see Robert Spencer’s Westminster talk, The History of Jihad.
Robert R. Reilly:
Our speaker tonight who has just returned from a trip to the Middle East albeit on vacation this time mostly I hope, Dan. Daniel Brubaker is primarily a scholar of Qur’an manuscripts of the 7th to 10th centuries, the earliest period of the book’s existence. He defended his doctoral dissertation titled “Intentional Changes in the Quran Manuscripts” and was awarded his PhD at Rice University in Houston in 2014.
Since then he’s continued his work researching corrections in early Qurans and to date Dr. Brubaker has analyzed approximately 10,000 early Quranic manuscripts or manuscript folios in institutions and libraries throughout Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere, Doha, Kuwait, Tashkent.
Obviously, the work with manuscript research is full of theological and historical implications and I hope someday we can get Dr. Brubaker back to address that subject which is not the one tonight. He believes it’s important to understand that not all ideas are equal. All people are equal but their ideas are not equal. All people are equal but their ideas are not equal.
And that as Americans we need to think carefully about the heritage we have in our system of limited government, affirmation of certain rights is given by God, the embrace of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, press, exercise of religion, how we navigate our encounters as a nation with a system of belief that sees some of these things as illegitimate is the question Dr. Brubaker will address tonight.
I’ll also just point out that his Quranic manuscript research is forthcoming in print in the form of an academic monograph as well as two books designed for [a] more general audience. That would be most of us. Much of it is also becoming available through Quran Gateway, an online research tool for academics.
He’s a member of the Islamic Manuscript Association, the Association for the Study of Middle East in Africa, and the International Chronic Studies Association please join me in welcoming Dr. Brubaker in his address on “How Some Muslim Activists are Using Speech Codes to Subjugate the West and How to Respond.”
Thanks Bob for that kind introduction and for the invitation to be here. It’s great to be back. I’ve been here only a couple times and the last time I was here Claire Lopez was up and it was a wonderful, wonderful presentation so that’s a real honor to be here. I know that this podium sees a lot of really important people so it’s really nice to be up here and I hope it will be of some benefit to you tonight.
Well, I just want to spend a moment to go through a little bit more of background. I know that even though it’s not the topic for tonight, I’ll tell you a little bit of what I’ve done and where I’ve been to fill in a little bit of why it is that I’m interested in this topic that I’ve chosen for the evening.
So I did my research for my PhD at Rice University. I spent eight years there and I’m thankful for the eight-year cutoff because you know I might still be working on it if that were not the case.
So I began at Rice. I learned – I had a couple questions already tonight about how I learned Arabic. I began learning Arabic at in Seattle at a Language Academy and then applied to work at Rice University and learned the rest under David Cook, my adviser, sitting one-on-one with him in his office it was wonderful to do that. And along the way, obviously, I had a lot of basic- block- okay, a lot of basic background in religious studies. It was in the Religious Studies department and also some more focused work in Islam not specifically on the Quran and the Quran manuscripts, so foundations, the classical texts of Islam, the Arabic of course, Islamic culture and history and so forth. So I do have that background although it wasn’t my narrow focus when I decided to drill down.
Along the way, I was shown some pictures of manuscripts by a colleague, Dr. Keith Small – now, Dr. Keith Small – who was still working on his doctorate at the time. And one photograph that he showed me really stood out to me and it was a photograph of a Quran manuscript that had nearly an entire line I think. Actually, there were two photographs. One had a line. One had about a line-and-a-half erased and over written on it. And I thought wow, that is really something else. I didn’t expect to see something like that in an early Quran manuscript.
So to make a long story short, when it came time to choose my actual topic for my dissertation, I contacted Keith back and said, ‘do you think that there would be enough in this to do a doctoral dissertation entirely on corrections in Qur’an manuscripts?’ and he said he thought that there was and I made that decision and sure hoped that there were, [that] it would be enough for me to write a dissertation on. As it turned out, I wound up looking at about 3,000 pages of early Qur’an manuscripts, traveling around and seeing them, many of them in person in the next couple of years and found enough corrections to justify a dissertation. So that was about eight hundred corrections there.
So I found it very interesting. It was sort of touching on what we’re gonna be talking about this evening. It was kind of a striking moment to me when I first had access to look at these manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. I spent the entire day amazed that they had actually put this 1,300, 1,400 year old manuscript in front of me and you know let me flip through it, spend the entire day looking through a very important early Quran manuscript. And then leaving the library that evening and going and getting on the train in Paris and seeing these folks with the, you know, with the fully covered and a couple of young Muslim guys, you know, sitting across from me on the train and realizing number one they have no idea what I’ve been spending my day doing and but number two realizing that the effect of these ideas, you know. It’s not just a sterile pursuit. The effects of these ideas that was in these documents are still being felt in the world today in individual people’s lives and and in the impact that those lives are having on others around them. So, yeah. That’s just by way of a little bit further introduction.
As I mentioned, I just got back from Israel and a trip to Israel and we stopped along the way because Aeroflot tickets were the cheapest ones. We went that way and my wife thought it would be great to go tour Moscow on the way since we had a 12 hour layover so we did that. So in two weeks – the last couple weeks have been ththrough Moscow, Red Square, the Kremlin, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, south to Elat and up to the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights I’ll mention that again in a second. Washington, D.C. and then back over here. And so, it’s been a whirlwind couple weeks.
We’re up in the Golan Heights when we first pulled up there this- So my wife asked me are you taking us to a safe place? You’re not going to take me and the kids to to a place that is dangerous. I said no, Israel’s fine. It’s, you know, it’s not that. What’s in the news is worse than what’s actually there. Well, we pull up into the Golan Heights. As it winds up, we’re staying in a cabin on a kibbutz that’s two-and-a-half miles from the border. As we’re coming up into the area we see the smoke rising. As you know, it’s been in the news lately. The IDF was gathered up there and the Syrians were making incursions you know up into the buffer zone there. So it’s very strange to be introduced- to be shown your room by your when you check into a hotel and have them say to you- well there’s, you know, there’s the bathroom, there’s the kitchen and if the fire- the air-raid alarms go off, get on the floor. But we made it through and my wife was very calm on that.
But again I tell you that also to emphasize that- because ideas have impact. You know we’re just surrounded all over the world and in our daily lives with the fact that these things that we believe have impact not only on us but people around us. Sometimes people have ideas that are notions that are true. Sometimes they have them that are false. Sometimes they have them that they misinterpret. Sometimes they’re very old, stretching back thousands of years. Sometimes they’re just the trend of the day. And we’re dealing well all these things kind of mashed together. And it’s wonderful one of the wonderful things actually about our country that we can have that sort of environment where we can so freely interact with all these different things but they’re not without their their impact in the world for us and for people around us.
So I hope this talking isn’t disappointing to you. I’m gonna- I feel like there are a lot of really sophisticated people in the room who have read a lot of sources and widely in this area so I’m gonna try and give some broad- it’s actually not going to be that difficult to you get because I think most people from even talking to you the at the beginning, these are things that you’ve thought about a lot. And I think that many of us as Americans have thought about a lot in- in recent years as we see what’s going on around us regarding free speech and where it is where these boundaries lie with these things. But the talk is concerned with basic elements of humanity that we as Americans considered to be god-given rights and heritage of all people, all people, not only us but the right to think and speak one’s mind freely… and even if this did cause discomfort to other people.
We, the United States, is a nation that protects Liberty and sometimes we can conflate that with freedom. They’re not exactly the same thing, but liberty as a just and moral precondition for human flourishing and the opportunity to pursue and encounter truth. Okay, so we and we do have that idea of truth, which I’m going to come back to in a second. We’re the only nation in the history of the world as far as I know – and somebody correct me if I’m wrong – to be founded on the principle, the biblical principle by the way, that all people are created equal. And I say the word people there because I believe that is what was intended. Anybody know why I think that’s what was intended by in the Declaration of Independence? All people regardless of race or gender. I’ll be interactive tonight too by the way so I just want you not to fall asleep so…
It was understood to mean humankind.
Right, it was used very often generically in that sense so that was one, certainly one of the possible meanings at the time, which I think is entirely true and it’s reasonable to read it- to read it that way. Anything else? Any other ideas about- you about that? Yeah, okay, and I think you might be – and the comment was that he – it’s questionable whether American Indian or native peoples were considered to be included in that. And I think it may have been the case with some of the people who signed that the Declaration of Independence that they would have felt that way.
The reason that I think that it included [them], that I believe strongly that it included all people is where it came from. So what’s the word that comes right before that, “created- all men are created equal?” Okay, so where’s the first mention that you know what’s that referring back to? Well, it’s clearly referring back to Genesis 1:27, which says, “in the image of God he created them. He graded- created him male and female. He created them.”
So this is the account of creation and when when we encounter that phrase in the Declaration of Independence, I think that that’s what it means, clearly, because that’s the source of the creation account to which they’re referring when they meant ‘all men are created equal and endowed by their creator.’ It might be but I think that’s a pretty solid argument, idea. And we took some time to live up to that, obviously, as a nation. Okay, so as I mentioned it’s very fairly simple what we’re talking about and I’ll jump into it in a second.
You know it’s really important that we that we reconnect with this idea of liberty in our in our country and I think you probably feel that as well, particularly with the young generation. There was a poll recently that you may be aware of that 40% of millennials believe- it’s 18 to 34 is a millennial category there – a Pew Research poll that said 40% of them felt that it was appropriate for government to place limitations on certain types of offensive speech. That’s a huge- that’s a huge cultural shift.
Where is this coming from? Well, it’s coming from a number of different directions but partly, I think is coming from what we’re going to be talking about here. Freedom of speech and the right not to be offended I think and this is what some… the right not to be offended, yeah, they’re two different things. No, I’m not putting them together. I’m putting them on opposite sides here. The right not to be offended, which a lot of young people feel that there is this somehow this right not to be offended and many Muslims actually, not all Muslims by the way so I want to make things look clear tonight to you that there’s a right not to be offended.
But I just want to make the statement that these two are mutually exclusive. You cannot have [both]. You can have one or you can have the other but you cannot have them both at the same time. You have to pick one or the other with freedom of speech. Truth can be existing alongside a lot of untruth or other you know competing ideas but at least it can be out there. In contrast a society that elevates the right not to be offended merely perpetrates a world of comfortable ignorance and feelings of victimhood and I think the former society is the better place to live.
Now, I think we’re all sympathetic to the hurts of insults. I’m very, you know, I get moved with compassion when somebody is hurt and I think most of us feel but I’ve come to realize the necessity of facing truth and possible offense in order to maintain liberty and it’s wonderful benefits because liberty is an end truth- are great benefits and you can miss out- and miss out on them if you start to go down this road of limitation so, alright, so what we’re talking about now is the dynamics of a civilizational struggle, which I think is a civilizational struggle involving patterns and contours in the actions and attitudes of many people who are acting rationally, actually, according to their own preset assumptions about the world, about what’s true and about the way the world works, what is it appropriate and inappropriate and so forth.
At one end of the struggle is the Western liberal tradition that lies at the base of the proposition ‘liberty and justice for all’ and – sorry, let me get my glasses out. I need these at this age I just- just crossed that age where I need these – and at the other end of the struggle is the greatest of what I believe to be at least one of, but possibly the greatest, colonizing civilization in the history of the world, Islam. Both of these traditions are rooted, interestingly, in the proposition of a transcendent personal reality that is God. Both of them are rooted in the proposition of God. The Western liberal tradition derives its worldview and nonnegotiable propositions from the Bible and even though a lot of our culture and society today doesn’t operate with that- with that- on that premise, we still have that as- lying sort of at the root of what we are founding, the idea of unalienable rights and so forth.
So when we say, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by the creator of certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” this is what we’re appealing to, that we are rooting that in the proposition of a transcendent reality beyond the world that exists, a lawgiver. Islam also derives its worldview from the belief that Muhammad was- that God exists, that Islam derives its belief from the proposition that Muhammad was a prophet of God. So that’s- that’s the root of Islamic belief, the core root. You can say now that the Quran and the hadith and all that stuff to you, but the core proposition is that Mohammed is a prophet, that is what- and actually incidentally I didn’t put this in my prepared notes for tonight. But that’s why the antiquated term of Mohammedanism is actually a much more appropriate description of Islam than- than Islam because Islam- Does anybody know – I know some people here know what Islam means.
Submission, yeah. So Muslims and Muslim means submitted. Muslims believe that they are submitted and implied to their submitted- to God. Well anybody who follows God- No, we would you would say that you’re submitted to God. So that’s a sort of a step further, but I think it’s a much more accurate descriptor actually to use although Mohammedanism is actually a mouthful to say so… We have to find a better solution for that at some point. But my argument tonight is that Islam’s efforts to restrict speech, expression, and conscience via hate speech, hate crime legislation, use of the terms ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘incitement to religious hatred’ and these kind of things is not consciously on the part of all Muslims but is consciously on the part of some Muslims and certainly following the example of Muhammad is- is a- it’s an attempt at colonization and conquering a new culture and they- these are logical weapons of conquest. They are logical within the common framework of Muhammad’s life, which I’m going to go into in a second and tell you some of the examples from his life on which all these things rest – and they’re weapons of conquest in the sense that this is the way that Muhammad used them, rhetorically, he didn’t- he didn’t only fight with- with weapons and horses and going into battle but he also [fought] with- with words and with rhetoric and so forth. That was a very key part of what he did and it’s long been something that I’ve been quite interested in actually.
Alright, so we had recently a- who here was aware of the Mohammed cartoon contest? We’ve all- we’ve all seen that in Garland, Texas. Yeah, so a few years back… So we’ve had a number of things… Actually, I want to just take a moment before we continue on and talk about some of the incidents involving free speech in Islam in our cultural sphere of recent years. So one of them was the Mohammed cartoon, draw Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, which resulted in – perhaps predictably – a couple Muslim guys showing up trying to kill everybody who was participating in this contest. It was organized by Pam Geller and Geert Wilders won the contest and a number of other people participated. They had to hire their own security… and the ultimate result was the killing of the guys who had come out to kill all of them. What else? What- What else have we seen regarding free speech? Oh, I’ll repeat this, yeah. Oh I see. Okay, I’ll give all the answers you can like interact in other ways, okay, yes, yeah, yeah.
No, that’s that’s a very good question and it was indeed a question that was in my mind when I began to go down this road. And- and I think it’s actually really helpful to what we’re talking about as well. Patricia Crone, who Bob knows and a few of you know she passed away recently, but was one of the really important scholars in our field was speaking at Rice University and this question came up when I was starting to think about my going down and pursuing this topic. And I was asked in her presence whether it would be safe to do this and I turned to her and she said it’ll be fine.
There’s a certain space within- for academics to do this kind of work and also I think is- I’m asking questions of you know of artifacts and things that are there and not coming to conclusions that are polemical in any sense. Other people can do that if they want to and some people are doing that. But that to say, coming back to our point, it is an example of the diversity within- within Islam too.
A lot of Muslims particularly in the West actually really do see the logic of the freedoms and the liberties that we have, admire them, and are, you know, in some cases really trying – Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who I believe has also spoken here, are trying to reconcile these things with their faith in Islam. So I think we need to give space to folks to- to do- I mean we all need to space- we’re all on our individual journeys here so to give space to people to explore and to think how they how they would do that. But I think we would do that as we have certain expectations within our culture, which I think is the which is the main point tonight.
So I- Geert Wilders… They’ve just recently announced another Draw Muhammad cartoon contest and I want to come back to the logic of why- why they’re doing that here in a minute, but he has been contacted by a lot of Muslim- No, he’s the one again who won the first contest and he actually happens to be a former Muslim himself.
And the interesting thing about – I’ll just read you up a small part of his comment here – he says, “the- the one recurring word…” He gets a lot of contact from Muslims about what he’s doing. “The one recurring word from the Muslims who wrote me but who didn’t threaten my life was respect and that I should respect Islam and not draw Mohammed. How about respect for me as an artist and my rights to express through my art what I think? I’m a former Muslim and the most peaceful comment I’ve gotten from Muslims is that I will burn in hell if I don’t return to Islam. Okay and he says no, no Muslims, not even those in the West have written me to say in essence ‘I may not like Muhammad cartoons but I support your right to draw them’.”
Bosch Fawstin, yes.
You said Geert Wilders…
Oh, I’m sorry I’m reading Bosch Fawstin. Yeah, okay, so we will have to take that- Yeah, I’m talking about Bosch Fawstin, yeah, he’s the cartoonist. Why did I get that mixed up? Okay. So what I just read was from- from Bosch Fawstin. Thank you, Clare. He says, “no Muslims – not even those in the West – have written to just say in essence I may not like Muhammad cartoons but I support your right to draw them. If there’s one issue that separates those who love freedom from everything it’s free speech.” Okay, so it’s interesting because that say that is a core value that we kind of take for granted. And for many Muslims it doesn’t mean that no Muslim has been feeling that they would support him in that but no Muslim has told him that.
So I’m gonna tell you the results of some polls here in a few minutes to you that will underscore some of the diversity but some of the alarming issues about the sentiments that we should pay attention to I think. Okay, so non-Muslim populations the world over right now – that’s maybe many of us, who knows we may have some Muslims in the room – are being trained by Muslims and not consciously or overtly, but I believe being trained and you’ll understand what I mean by this in minute, to behave according to Islam its own definition of what that means, trained to behave. I think that’s the core point of these threats and the blasphemy laws and so forth. First, let’s talk a little bit about the roots of liberty and justice for all we did a bit, okay. So when you’re talking about liberty and justice for all we hold these truths to be self-evident. We’ve already said that. I’ve already mentioned this is a biblical worldview. What does it contain? It contains the idea that truth exists, right? Secondly, it contains the idea that some truths are self-evident to those who look. Third, it’s true that all people are created equal according to that proposition and all people have certain unalienable rights and that these come from God and that the partial list includes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, okay.
And we certainly know that for the first 90 years of our nation’s history we had the pre-existing condition. By the way, it was a pre-existing condition of slavery. It was not something that was created by the founders or endorsed by the founders. It was something that was dealt with by the founders and that they created in this document. They put in the document the seeds that would surely overcome it.
So I think it’s really, really important as we’re in the state of, you know, particularly with the millennials are talked about and other folks in our culture have not really connected with our heritage as a country, that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, that we understand that the abolition of slavery, civil rights, all the things- all the liberties that have come in this country have come, you know, through appeal to- Abraham Lincoln appealed to the Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King did. All these things have come as a result of that. So we don’t say that medicine is bad because a doctor is a quack. We don’t say that you know whatever science is bad because some scientists tamper with the evidence. No you, you chastise those scientists for doing bad things and then you work toward further fulfilling the ideals that you claim to be at the root of your endeavor. We don’t say the FBI is rotten because the handful of people the top, hypothetically speaking, happened to commit felonies using the power of the agency. You don’t blame all the FBI. It would be crazy to put them all into retraining or anything like that, right? You would surely prosecute those folks who did that.
So the same thing you know we- we have worked hard as a country. We’ve endured a lot to secure the freedoms that we have. We fought a costly civil war, which I think is still the most costly war in human lives in our nation’s history. And so we have and certainly, you know, look at the achievements we’ve had as a country. We’ve been to the moon at least according to to most accounts. We’ve been to the moon. We’ve done, you know, prizes, all the advancements in medicine, and everything, so forth. And these are the results of the pursuit of truth. So it’s something that we don’t want to throw out too quickly, okay. So I just want to throw this out there just to keep in your mind. When you’re in contact sports you usually wear some sort of protection or guard over your any areas that are more vulnerable or if you- somebody goes to hit you what do you do you? Kind of cover your weakest places or what they’re going to hit, right? So I’m not going to connect the dots there but think about that as we move forward.
The Soviet Union when they worked in existence and I was just over there as you know as bizarre [as] Red Square is – actually, how many people here have been to Red Square? It’s a lot smaller than I thought. Anybody else had that experience? Yeah, it wasn’t tiny but it was smaller than I thought. But the Soviet Union didn’t- didn’t erect that- the Berlin Wall because the propaganda was true or because the amazing situation in their country was just so self-evident to everybody. They erected it because it was not true and it was not you know if they opened- took down that wall, people weren’t gonna be flocking in, they were gonna be flocking out. So bear that in mind as well. Alright.
So no human being has an inherent right to never be insulted or offended. That’s a proposition I’m making. How could it? How could they? People all take offense at different things. And so I think when you saw the title of a talk tonight you thought this is crazy what’s going around- you know many, many folks here this is crazy what’s going on around us in the world. How can he have the right not to be offended? Yeah, I could be offended by anything, you know? Anybody could- You would have- You would be able to say literally nothing in this world if everybody- every freedom- people were protected from every offense. So I think a lot of folks haven’t taken that to its logical conclusion but we really need to. Okay. So what do you get when you have freedom of speech? You have the possible malignment of truth. You have possible messiness but you have at least the ability to pursue it. Okay.
So in Islam it is true that penalties against speech violations are selectively applied. So I want to read you one of these from the Pakistani Penal Code, which is pretty much in line with with classical Islam and the sources. Section 295 C, which is passed in 1986 so relatively recent, says this – in- in Urdu I presume – and says, “whoever by words either spoken or written or by visible representation or by any imputation innuendo or insinuation directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the holy prophet Muhammad,” and they say ‘peace be upon him’, “shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”
So where does that come from? It comes from Sharia and actually Sharia is a name that is given to something that actually doesn’t really exist in a single whole. It’s a word that’s given to something. Actually, it comes from the same word for one of the two words for street or road, شارع. It’s the path. It’s like the straight path that you’re supposed to walk in, alright? Sharia means a straight path. And so it’s a legal formulation that comes out of the Quran, comes out of the example of Muhammad as a prophet, comes out of the Hadith, which are the collections of the sayings that he said and did, approved of, disapproved of what his followers- approved up or disapproved of what he allowed, you know, done in his presence and so forth.
It comes from the, to a certain extent, the commentaries. It comes from the historical texts and comes from the biography if I didn’t mention that already, his of- his life. So Sharia is this conglomeration of stuff and there are different schools of law in Islam. There are five major ones, four and then a fifth one that’s- and these disagree on some points but they do agree on the major points. And the major points include for example the fact that you are not to malign the Prophet or malign Islam.
So I’m not going to go through all those things tonight but what I am gonna do is I’m gonna go back to the biography of Muhammad and read you a couple of examples from his life that these things all can be traced back to. And- and when you look at people like- folks like Ibn Taymiyyah and others who are tremendously popular in this area, this is what they’re tracing their- basing their example- they’re basing their decisions upon the example of Muhammad himself. So if you are interested in knowing about the actual book, there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of biographies of Muhammad. This is the translation in English of the earliest one that we have. It’s translated by- it was written by Ibn Hisham. It was a recension and a revision of- it was made by- was written by Ibn Ishaq. The revision was made by Ibn Hisham and it’s a couple hundred years after Muhammad’s death but it’s the earliest source we have to his life. Okay.
So how [sic] did Muhammad deal with insults? Actually, a number of years ago I made my own handy list because I went through this with all the different- topical list of the different things and I noticed how- how Muhammad handled criticism. And I’m not gonna read you all of them but a few key ones- a few key ones will be- serve the purpose of understanding this. Okay. So in the earlier time in Muhammad’s life he lived in Mecca, according to the tradition he lived in Mecca and then he had to- He was very weak. He was an orphan. He needed [the] protection of his family and so forth and at one point he had to- after he met the angel and realized and was told by his wife that he was a prophet and started to get more revelations and his community start to grow, he had more power with more people behind him. And so they migrated up to Medina and so the Quran is divided into sections that are Mecca or Medina and the earlier sections tend to be a little bit more peaceful and the later sections, the Medina period of his life, was more violent. And this is just the way the history of his life went and so the Quran reflects that as well.
So there are examples of times in his life when he was patient in the face of criticism and they were all in those earlier Meccan for the most part, in the early Meccan period. People would make insults toward him and the worst he would respond with would be either show forbearance or he would make a veiled threat to them. For example, in this one case while they were discussing with him the Apostle, I came towards them and kissed the black stone.” This is on the Kaaba. “Then he passed them as he walked around the temple. As he passed by they said some injurious things about him. This I could see from his expression. He went on and as he passed them a second time they attacked him similarly. This I could see from his expression. Then he passed the third time and they did the same. He stopped and said, “Will you listen to me o Quraysh? By him who holds my life in his hand I bring you slaughter.” Again, at this time this is all he said, is the threat of threat of slaughter. So that was the first kind of indication of anything violent that I noticed in there. Well, he becomes a little bit more strong later on. A man of Aslum, who had a good memory, told me that Abu Jahl passed by the apostle at al-Safa, insulted him, and behaved most offensively.”
So with this guy Hamza, who is a follower of Muhammad, went over and- to this guy who had insulted Muhammad and started beating him over the head and without reading you the entire quote there, the biography says that “Hamza’s Islam was complete” and he followed the apostle’s commands of the- of what he had done there. There was a situation in which Gabriel himself, the angel, came down and actually killed five people who had insulted Muhammad. That wasn’t him actually acting.
But one of the more well-known ones is that Muhammad was being ridiculed by man and he had two singing girls who compose poetry that were mocking of the Muslim women and Muhammad said to one of the folks who was near him, Abdullah bin al Magrif, the- he said who will rid me Ibn al Ashraf – this is the guy who had made fun of him – and one of the guys said I’ll deal with him for you o apostle of God. I will kill him. He said do so if you can and the guy said well I’m gonna have to- in order to get close to him, I’m gonna have to tell lies. And Muhammad said well, okay, go ahead and tell lies, and so he did. And again to make a long story short, he goes out, assassinates the guy and his two singing girls. And there are a couple of other instances like that.
So without reading you all those I want you to understand that this is the- it’s the insulting of Muhammad and how he dealt with insults that forms the example after which Muslims today, whether they realize it or not, it’s become so much a part of the culture that a lot of- I’ve yet to meet any Muslim person who’s actually read this. Usually people will read a more modern version of the biography. This is a little bit raw. I mean if you read it, it’s hard for anybody to go through it and not think there’s, you know, there’s something pretty violent and in some cases here. So most Muslims will not have interacted with this but they have inherited through the schools of law and so forth the idea that the Muhammad needs to be defended and with violence and his honor needs to be defended with violence.
So what’s going on here? This is the meat of what we’re going to be, well, we’ll be talking about. This is the source where it comes from. Number two you have an issue of a cultural value and that cultural value is honor and shame. And most Muslims have not only Islamic culture but many Eastern cultures deal on a paradigm of reality that operates much more on the difference, this continuum of honor and shame. So when something’s not right with the world, you want to restore the honor of the situation rather than in our case in American culture, [which] tends to operate on this truth versus falsehood continuum.
So truth is the most important thing or at least at one time it was in our culture. But there’s still this idea that truth should is the highest thing to be pursued above all else. And that’s that’s a very foreign concept to many people who- who are inside great- inside Islam. I say many because again I don’t want to generalize everybody. There’s all kinds of different- different people within this. So you’ve got these two. You’ve got the honor/shame and you’ve got the- you’ve got the sources. And there are a couple verses in the Quran too, which the commentators have almost entirely interpret[ed] to mean punishment in this world that should be administered at the hands of Muslims if anyone, not just a Muslim, but if anybody insults Muhammad or insults the Quran.
Okay. There was a survey taken a couple of years ago in 2015 and this is- should be interesting. It was taken within the United States of Muslims who are currently living in the United States. There is a diversity of opinions on some of these things but I want to highlight some of them for you. And then we’ll conclude with a couple a- couple of comments about about these things.
First, I identified that there are Muslims and they were indeed living in the United States and then they asked a serious questions and among the questions were, “if Sharia conflicts with the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which law should be considered supreme? If Sharia conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which law should be considered supreme?” Thankfully 43% of the respondents said the U.S Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be supreme, 33% said Sharia should be supreme if it conflicts, 17% said they didn’t know, and 8% didn’t answer. Another question said, “should Muslims in the U.S. have their own courts or tribunals in America to apply Sharia law or should they be subject to American laws and courts?” 39% of the respondents said American courts only, one law for everybody in- in the country, 36% said they should be free to choose either, and 15% said Sharia Courts only. Now notice that when they said be free to choose either, what is really being said there- what’s really being said there [is] if I don’t like the laws of the United States in any given situation, I should be free to not be bound by them but to be judged by another. So you combine those two together and you have 51% of those respondents who that way.
Another question was, quote, “whether you agree or disagree with the statement I believe that violence against those that insult the Prophet Muhammad, the Quran, or Islamic faith is sometimes acceptable.” 29% totally agreed, some strongly agreed and some somehow agreed, and 61% disagreed that violence is sometimes acceptable in that situation. Next, another question was, “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.” 25% agreed that it could be sometimes justified and 64% disagree. “Do you think the use of violence in the United States is justified in order to make Sharia the law of the land of this country?” 19% said yes, 66% said no, and 11% said they don’t know.
Alright, so there were- there are further questions and some of these were- it would be American citizens and obviously, if you’re an American citizen you have, you know, the- there’s the diversity of opinion and you know this is- the freedom of speech involves the freedom to believe and freedom of conscience to follow these different ways. It ends obviously at the end of another person’s nose. You don’t have the right to lay a hand on another person, which is something that we seem to have lost in our nation as well. But I want to bring this to a conclusion and sadly, I wish I could have covered more- more examples here. Excuse me a moment.
So we actually haven’t talked about the issue of- about the question of Islamophobia and all those things too. So what are these? What are these trying to accomplish – the speech limitations and the speech codes? So we know that they exist here. We know they exist in Islamic culture. What was- what was Muhammad doing with them? Well, think of the effect. What the effect in his life was that people stopped openly questioning him and it gave the impression that he was a true prophet of God and eventually people came into Islam and he was obviously very successful in his conquest, in his expansion and so forth.
So that was the logic of what he was doing. It [was] in his time and so consciously or not, you have what you have happening when you have fear of Islamophobia. What is Islamophobia? It’s a word that none of us wants to be labeled with right? Nobody wants to be labeled with the word Islamophobia or being a- being called an Islamaphobe. And that’s the intention of the word. It’s to label you, to create a label that you in fear will self-censor your speech. You will not say things. You’ll treat with kid gloves one particular subject whereas you may speak quite openly and quite frankly and quite critically of anything else. You’re going to refrain from criticism in one particular area.
So I don’t want to overplay the intentionality of the [religious speech codes]. When I say it’s a tool of conquest, right, I don’t want to overplay the intentionality. I know means- believe that that all or even most Muslims in our country have this intention of doing this, but it is the effect of it and it is the intention of some groups like CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood and others, I believe, to create these terms and to hammer them, hammer them, hammer them home: Islamophobia, hate speech, hate crime legislation.
Why should a crime be any worse if it’s so motivated by one thing versus another? I mean if you kill somebody, it should be wrong to do that regardless of the case. Well, the reason that you have a lot [of] that being used is because it takes the guilt away from the person who’s actually doing the act and it sort of puts it on everybody who may have this sort of feeling in their heart even if they would never commit a crime or whatever. It places the guilt on more broadly across society it also makes it just a generally bad thing to have a feeling in your heart of criticism and being critical of that particular group.
So it’s really nice for when you’re going into conquest to have the resources and the ability and the strength and the troops to be able to go and breach those walls and to get in there and to conquer. If you don’t have those, it’s actually kind of nice if you could get your- somehow persuade to the people that you’re trying to conquer, to dismantle their defenses with their own hands. And so I would just propose for your thought this evening that that is one of the things that’s being done here with this.
And so the question becomes what then should we do in this case? Number one, I would say something that we should not do. We should not treat any people as if they are not human or not fully worthy of all the rights and privileges of- of what we say we believe, which is liberty and the pursuit of happiness, liberty and justice for all and so forth. We should also not- obviously, it’s horrible that I should even have to say it, but we should not prejudge groups of people or, you know, even make assumptions about what somebody might believe because a lot of people are kind of on their way to, you know, they may have different assumptions from what we might think. Okay. But the first thing I propose that we should- that we should do is understand the reason for all of these- for these calls for limitations on speech. The use of the word Islamophobia to me- When somebody uses the term Islamophobia, it’s a sign either of low intelligence or of some ulterior motive that is really not good. So I think you know really to- This is a very informed group of people, but to use language very intentionally, avoid using these kind of terms that are not- are not helpful and that really accomplish, really are actually harmful to free discourse in our country. And- and then work to- to preserve free speech.
You know, people, folks like- like Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders, this time, Bosch Fawstin, Pam Geller, and others who are doing these kind of things. There- I mean I don’t know what’s in their hearts when they’re doing the Draw Muhammad contest and so forth, but understand what it is that they are doing. It’s not really about provoking. It’s that what they’re doing is they’re carving out space for liberty and for free speech in this country. That’s a really important function. They’re doing it to a certain- in- with the great risk to themselves but if you’ve ever been, I just went out- My daughter just went out in our yard in our garden. We have this space where I carve out – down by the stream on our property where we would go – I go down and study and read books all day long and stuff like that but I haven’t been down there in about a year and the stuff- It’s all kind of overgrown. She said ‘I can’t even get in there anymore’ and it’s amazing what can happen. You know it’s the same thing with liberty. If we don’t continually zealously guard the space for free expression and free speech it will be encroached upon and it will disappear.
Alright and then third, when it comes to the president, for example, or elected officials, they need to think before speaking. If the knee-jerk thing – just one thing that came to my mind that happened recently is the limitation on immigration that he put from certain countries. It was a lot of people who even defended him from the accusation of having done a Muslim-ban went out and said it’s not a Muslim-ban, which actually it wasn’t, but I don’t think that was the best way of answering that question, right?
The statute actually is, some of you I’m sure know, the President had plenary authority to make limitations on immigration based on anything that he thought was relevant to the national security of the country. That’s one of the particular powers of the presidency that you [have]. So hypothetically speaking, if he had done a Muslim-ban, which he didn’t, it would have been legal for him to do that.
So- and I don’t think it would’ve been wise for him to do that, but when we answer these things, I think it’s important to speak- speak clearly and raise the question that- I think a more productive way of answering that would have been well it wasn’t a Muslim ban, but since you raised the subject, you know maybe we have these results of these polls here.
If somebody’s wanting to come into this country, how about asking some of these questions? Do you think which- that in a situation where Sharia conflicts with the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, which do you think should take precedence?” Right? If somebody answers that the Sharia should take precedence, you know there’s no right to immigrate to the United States. So why are we in this situation right now where we’re even having to have this conversation about free speech? We have a lot of people in this country. We used to ask these kind of questions about Communism and the other, you know, Islam and communism actually have a similar – again, not all the people – but the- but the- but the political ideology has a similar totalitarian mindset.
So we need to start thinking again in my view about asking these kind of questions and welcoming people who want to to United States and join the melting pot and blend in and who admire and appreciate the value- the values, the principles, the- the moral base of our culture. And saying to other folks no, no thanks. Try again when, you know, when you’re willing to come and be- live as a good neighbor alongside everybody else. I’m going to end there. Thank you very much for being here tonight and I will take questions.
In your survey of the five different schools of Islamic fiqh, have you found that all five schools put an equal score or a different score by the doctrine of naskh abrogation in determining what is real?
Naskh is a – I’m not going to speak out of full knowledge here because I’m not a fiqh expert, actually. Naskh is a fairly well accepted, it is a universally accepted principle but I’m not sure between the schools of law how it plays out and what emphasis, what the particularities of that are. And somebody correct me if I’m wrong. I think naskh is, the doctrine of abrogation is fairly established among the schools of law. You’ve done some reading in that I believe as well, Robert.
Not that specific.
Yeah, just to make clear what the question was there’s a principle, so when they talk about the earlier and later stages of Muhammad’s life, the reason this question is relevant is that you have to know which one of those has authority for law. And the way you decide that, the way that the Muslim jurists have settled how to decide that is that if the Quran disagrees with itself, the Quran can cancel itself out and, by the way, the Quran can cancel out earlier revelations. So if the Quran, for example, disagrees with the Bible or something like that, it would cancel out anything at any point at which it disagrees. In other words, God has the prerogative to cancel earlier revelations. Is that a fair description from what you know as well? So that was the nature of that question.