Those of us who were stirred from our slumber by the events of September 11th have spent the last nine years acquiring the rudiments of a new vocabulary. The struggle against Islamization has made the understanding of certain key Arabic words a necessity.
Just for starters, an essential list would include da’wa, deen, dhimmi, fiqh, ijtihad, ikhwan, imam, jahiliyyah, jihad, jizyah, kitman, mujahideen, mullah, shahid, shirk, tafsir, takfir, taqiyya, ulema, ummah, waqf, and zakat. Some of these terms — dhimmi and shahid, for example — have no concise equivalents in Western languages, and often require several sentences of explanation to make their meaning clear. ICLA is currently working on an “Islamic Lexicon for Dummies” with the goal of providing a handy reference guide for members of the Counterjihad.
These Arabic words and phrases are not, however, the real problem. An Arabic word in the midst of an English-language text sends a message: “This is an unfamiliar concept, and requires research.” The diligent reader then consults an encyclopedia or a search engine to learn more about the alien word.
No, the real problem for Westerners arises from certain ordinary English (or French, German, Russian, Italian, etc.) words and phrases that have clear definitions as commonly understood by all literate people. Those same words and phrases, however, mean something entirely different to Muslims. This is not a case of postmodern semantic relativism, à la Humpty Dumpty — Islamic law is very precise and pedantic, and the sense of these words is considered fixed and unchanging by sharia. Under Islam they simply mean something completely different from what we would expect.
Our understanding is further hindered by the fact that Islamic leaders find it expedient that we infidels misunderstand these key words and phrases. Their common meaning in English renders them innocuous and non-threatening, but a bit of digging will inform the researcher that the intent of such words may be something quite different — and not at all benign.
The lexicon of deliberate misdirection — which is, in fact, known in Arabic as kitman — would be huge. In this essay I will concentrate on a short list of words and phrases whose real meanings may surprise some people, and which are relevant to recent events.
Today’s new words and phrases are justice, innocent, terrorism, killing without right, and mischief.
Back in June, David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote about a Saudi fatwa on terrorism that had been issued and publicized earlier in the spring. This new judicial ruling, which condemned terrorism and its financing, was greeted widely by Western leaders and opinion makers as a breakthrough.
I use Mr. Ignatius’ op-ed as an example not in order to pick on him, but because he is intelligent, reasonable, and well-regarded among mainstream opinion columnists. His take on the fatwa is representative of its reception in the USA, so it is useful to examine what he said in an attempt to understand how such well-informed mainstream writers could get certain facts so completely wrong.
Here’s how he began his piece (all emphasis is mine):
Saudis act aggressively to denounce terrorism
When terrorists in the Middle East attack innocent civilians, observers in the West often ask a pained question: Where’s the outrage in the Muslim world? Why don’t Islamic religious authorities speak out more forcefully against the terrorists and their wealthy financiers?
The first step in understanding “why” would be to realize that devout Muslims, especially scholars of Islamic law, do not mean what we mean by “innocent” and “terrorism”. They use the same English words — eighty percent of Muslims don’t speak Arabic, so either English or French is generally their lingua franca — but they mean something different by them than do George Will or Maureen Dowd.
It remains a potent issue: Terrorism has damaged the Islamic world far more than the West, and too many Muslims have been cowed and silent. But a powerful and so far largely unreported denunciation of terrorism emerged last month from Saudi Arabia’s top religious leadership, known as the Council of Senior Ulema.
We’ll get to the text of the Saudi fatwa a little later. For now, let’s just say that what the Saudi authorities “denounced” — that is, actions which are contrary to Islamic law — are not precisely what Mr. Ignatius and most other Westerners understand them to be.
The Saudi fatwa is a tough condemnation of terror and of the underground network that finances it. It has impressed senior U.S. military commanders and intelligence officers, who were surprised when it came out. One sent me a translation of the fatwa, and Saudi officials provided some helpful background.
That Western “military commanders and intelligence officers” could be impressed by the fatwa is an indication of how woefully compromised our intelligence services are, and how successfully the Muslim Brotherhood has penetrated our national security apparatus. The enemy has surgically excised the lexicon that would describe the threat that faces us, and has replaced it with one that suits his own strategic purposes.
This quiet and unnoticed disinformation operation is possibly the greatest strategic success in the history of information warfare. It has put the Muslim Brotherhood well on the road to victory against us, without the necessity of firing a single shot.
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“There is no gray area here,” said a senior Saudi official. “Once it has come out like this, from the most senior religious body in the kingdom, it’s hard for a lesser religious authority to justify violence.”
Ah, but what does “justify” mean? And how do you define “violence”?
As we will soon see, the Islamic definitions of “justice” and “violence” — especially “permissible violence” — are quite different from our own.
It will be harder, too, for renegade clerics to issue rival fatwas that contradict the Saudi Ulema. The signatories are guardians of the conservative Wahhabi school of Islam, which to observers has sometimes seemed to sympathize with the Muslim extremists…
“Observers” who think that Wahhabist authorities sometimes seem to sympathize with Muslim extremists would be well-advised to observe more closely. Wahhabists always sympathize with “extremists”, because Wahhabists and extremists understand Islamic law to mean exactly the same thing.
Disagreements between the scholars and the mujahideen generally concern the consequences of the latter’s tactics. Actions that would otherwise be permissible (or even mandatory) under Islamic law become forbidden when they are determined to redound to the detriment of Islam. The issue is not whether blowing up a bus full of civilians is wrong per se, but whether the consequences of doing so would tend to cause harm to the Ummah.
Saudi sources say that King Abdullah initiated the process that led to the fatwa, by asking for a ruling on terrorist financing. His push on the issue contrasts with the royal family’s traditional wariness of challenging or offending the clerical establishment, on which its legitimacy rests.
This growing activism partly reflects a recognition that senior members of the House of Saud are themselves prime targets of al-Qaeda. A recent example was the assassination attempt in August against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi counterterrorism chief.
The fact that members of the House of Saud are themselves victims is material to this fatwa, and not just because it is harmful to the self-interest of the royal family. Targeting the ruling family is demonstrably a violation of Islamic law, as will become clear below.
What matters in Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim countries is what its political and religious leaders say to their own people in Arabic. By that measure, there’s a new voice for moderation coming from the Muslim clerical establishment.
In this case, the issue of Arabic vs. English matters less than one might think. It is the meaning of the English words that is significant.
Now let’s take a look at the fatwa itself. Once again, certain words and phrases have been bolded for future attention:
Council of Senior Ulema Fatwa on terror-financing
May 7, 2010
Resolution 239 dated 27 Rabi al-Thani 1431 H [April 12, 2010]
All Praise to Allah, the Lord of the world; and May peace and prayers be upon our Prophet and his family and companions; and thus:
The Council of Senior Ulema [Council of Senior Scholars] in its twentieth extraordinary session help in Riyadh, Saturday 25 Rabi al-Thani 1431 H [10 April 2010], refers to its previous decisions and statements concerning crimes committed by the corrupters on earth by undermining the security and causing grave violations of sanctity in Muslim and other countries, such as the decision of 12 Muharram 1409 H [25 August 1988] and the statements of 22 Jumada al-Thani 1416 H [16 November 1995]; 13 Safar 1417 H [30 June 1996]; 14 Jumada al-Thani 1424 H [12 August 2003].
The Council considers the ruling on the “financing of terrorism” by judging that “terrorism” is a crime aiming at destabilizing security, and constitutes a grave offense against innocent lives as well as against properties whether public or private; such as: blowing up of dwellings, schools, hospitals, factories, bridges; airplanes (including hijacking), oil and pipelines, or any similar acts of destruction or subversion outlawed by the Islamic Shariah [law]. It also regards the financing of such terrorist acts as a form of complicity to these acts that leads only to bring accessory to them, and to bring a conduit for sustaining and spreading of such evil acts.
The Council also looked into textual evidences from the Qur’an, the Sunnah (sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) and the rules of Shariah that “incriminate the financing of terrorism”. Of these evidences are the Sayings of the Almighty: “…and help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment. [Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse 2]. He also Said: And of mankind there is he whose speech may please you, in this worldly life, and he calls Allah to witness as to that which is in his heart, yet he is the most quarrelsome of the opponents. And when he turns away, his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle, and Allah likes not mischief.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 204-205]. He, the Almighty, also said: “And do not do mischief on earth after it has been set in order.” [Surah Al-A’raf, verse 56]
Al-Hafiz ibn Hajar, may Allah have mercy on him, said in Fath al-Bari: “the perpetrator and the one who provides cover for him are equal in sin.”
Furthermore, it is the established rules of Islamic Shariah: for the means is the ruling of ends. Add to this ruling the general Shariah provisions for safeguarding and protecting rights, vows and commitments in Islamic or other countries.
Thus, the Council rules that the financing of terrorism; the inception, help or attempt to commit a terrorist act whatever kind or dimension is forbidden by Islamic Shariah and constitutes a punishable crime thereby; this includes gathering or providing of finance for that end, or providing help or participating in it in any form or manner including financial or non-financial assets, regardless whether these assets are originated from legal or illegal sources.
He who committees such a crime intentionally, commits a forbidden act, and has been in a flagrant violation of Shariah that call for a punishment according to its law.
The Council also affirms that the incrimination of the financing of terrorism does not extend to ways of supporting legitimate charity to help the poor people and alleviate their sufferings, or pay for their treatment and education, hence, this Allah ruling on the money of the rich to be paid to the poor.
The Council by declaring this ruling, call upon all Muslims to adhere to the teaching of their religion and the righteous path of our Prophet, may peace and prayer be upon him, and to refrain of any act that might cause any harm to other people or transgress on them.
We invoke Allah Almighty for the good, the safeguarding, the unity and prosperity of this country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, other Muslim countries, and also to improve the lives of all mankind, and to help spread virtue and justice all over the world, Allah is the guide and director to the righteous path. May peace and prayer be upon our Prophet, his family and companions.
It’s easy to understand why this fatwa induced such euphoria among Western observers, given the apparent meaning of the words and phrases used to describe what was being condemned.
But let’s take a closer look…
What does Islam mean by “justice”?
Islamic justice does not mean what is fair or equitable. It does not seek to determine the truth or falsity of an accusation as its primary goal.
Islamic justice is what accords with sharia, the fixed and unchanging corpus of Islamic law as described in the Koran and the hadith and amplified by the consensus of the scholars more than a millennium ago.
The laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are explicitly grounded in sharia law, and cannot be contrary to it. Not only does the Saudi constitution specifically declare that the laws of the kingdom are founded on sharia as derived from the Koran and the Sunnah, but the fatwa itself refers to the primacy of sharia no fewer than six times.
Therefore, in order to understand what the fatwa proscribes, we must determine the meaning of certain terms as laid down by Islamic law.
Specifically, we need to understand what the fatwa means by “terrorism”. To shed some light on that term, let’s take a look at the definitions of “corrupters on earth”, “mischief”, “innocent”, and “justice”.
In order to illumine these murky areas, I will return, as I often do, to ’Umdat al-salik wa ’uddat al-nasik, a.k.a. The reliance of the traveller and tools of the worshipper, which is commonly referred to as Reliance of the Traveller when cited in English. It was written in the 14th century by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, and is considered the definitive legal text of the Shafi’ite school of Islamic law. The version I use was edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, and all major Islamic institutions consider it to be an authoritative rendition of the original Arabic.
The section on “Justice” (o1.0 through o1.2, pp. 582-584) explains the relevant terms and concepts:
Who Is Subject to Retaliation for Injurious Crimes
(O: Injurious crimes includes not only those committed with injurious weapons, but those inflicted otherwise as well, such as with sorcery (def: x136). Killing without right is, after unbelief, one of the very worst enormities…
and in another hadith,
“The killing of a believer is more heinous in Allah’s sight that doing away with all of this world.”
Allah Most High says:
“… and not to slay the soul that Allah has forbidden, except with right“ (Koran 6:151),
“O you who believe, retaliation is prescribed for you regarding the slain…” (Koran 2:178).)
o1.1 Retaliation is obligatory (A: if the person entitled wishes to take it (dis: o3.8)) against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right…
o1.2 The following are not subject to retaliation:
(1) a child or insane person, under any circumstances…
(2) a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim; [emphasis added]
As you can see, the killing of a non-Muslim by a Muslim is not considered a crime, and therefore requires no retaliation.
So what is the “terrorism” that the Saudi fatwa condemns? Obviously, if the conscientious jihadi makes certain that he kills only non-Muslim adults, he has not strayed in the slightest from the tenets of Islamic law.
The real crime is the “killing of a believer”, if it is done “without right”. So when might the killing of a believer be done “with right”?
To understand the exceptions, we need to refer to the Koran itself:
5:32: On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
5:33: The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter. [emphasis added]
The word “mischief” is crucial in this context. It’s an interesting concept, because it doesn’t mean “what naughty boys get up to when the teacher isn’t looking.” In fact, it is sometimes translated as “corruption”.
In what sense are “mischief” and “corruption” the same thing? Another Koranic verse makes it a bit clearer:
7:56: And make not mischief in the earth after its reformation, and call on Him, fearing and hoping. Surely the mercy of Allah is nigh to the doers of good.
To “make mischief in the earth” after its “reformation” means to disturb or overthrow the political order after an Islamic state has been established. This is the gravest form of sedition, and is punishable by death. Only apostasy is listed as more severe.
Now we can understand the real meaning of the Saudi fatwa. Not only might the actions of the “extremists” be painful or fatal to the princes of the House of Saud, they also threaten the legitimate political order as established under the rule of Islam. This is “mischief”, and it is what the Ulema mean by “terrorism”.
Does this imply that the indiscriminate killing of non-Muslims is not “terrorism”?
The answer to this question is generally “yes”. As the excerpt from Reliance of the Traveller shows, the killing of children, even non-Muslim children, is listed as a crime under Islamic law. However, in recent years there has been a debate among Salafist scholars as to whether other parts of Islamic law provide an exception to this rule, and thus justify the killing of infidel children. The sharia jury is still out on this one.
The killing of adult male infidels, however, is most emphatically permitted by Islamic law. Even so, there are exceptions to this rule, and to understand them we must return to the concept of “mischief”.
As an example, consider Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center on 9-11. Ignoring for the moment the Muslims, women, and children who were killed when the Twin Towers fell, it would seem that what Osama bin Laden did was perfectly acceptable — and even required — under the sections of Islamic law that govern holy war against the infidel.
The consequences of the 9-11 attack arguably included the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the resulting deaths of many thousands of innocent Muslims. This constitutes mischief in the land as sharia understands it, and, for bringing on that mischief, the agents of Al Qaeda may justly be labeled “terrorists”.
If, on the other hand, the fall of the Twin Towers had caused the political collapse of the United States and eventually resulted in the establishment of an Islamic state in America, the 9-11 attacks would not have violated Islamic law in the slightest.
So that’s what the Saudi fatwa means when it condemns “terrorism”.
This is no breakthrough.
There’s no cause for optimism.
Nothing has changed.
The Saudi authorities are just making sure that the extremist factions who target princes of the House of Saud know that they are in fact “killing without right”. They are in severe violation of Islamic law as understood by a consensus of the scholars, and thus deserve to be killed.
As a codicil to the above analysis: what about the proscription on the “financing of terrorism” as described in the fatwa?
Obviously, the only “terrorism” whose financing is prohibited is that which causes “mischief” or “kills without right”. Any other activity is not even defined as “terrorism”, and is therefore unaffected.
The Saudi scholars have given themselves an additional out by exempting “legitimate charity” from their proscription. Legitimate charity under Islam takes the form of the payment of zakat, which is legally required of every Muslim under sharia. Islamic law also requires that zakat be divided equally among eight activities, one of which is the support of jihad.
Since jihad is defined by sharia to be “making war against unbelievers in the name of Allah to establish the rule of Islam”, one-eighth of “legitimate charity” is therefore earmarked for the killing of infidels — that is, you and me.
Once again, there’s no cause for celebration here. “Moderate” Islam has not triumphed. This is business as usual in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Clever fellows, those Ulema.