Years ago Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote a poem which included these lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
This is not the standard view of a mosque in the United States. Most Americans — not just progressives, but average well-meaning citizens of all political persuasions — assume that a mosque is just like a church or a synagogue. Yes, it has different architecture and decorations, and its congregation uses different scriptures. But surely it must be like other place of worship — a gathering place where the faithful pray, enjoy fellowship with one another, and then depart refreshed, ready to do good deeds in the larger world.
Regular readers of this blog know better, but the average American has imprinted the feel-good multicultural ideal about Muslims and their mosques, and the ten years since 9-11 have not shaken it. Thanks to the journeywork of George W. Bush, reinforced by the appeasement of Barack Hussein Obama, Islam is understood to be a positive, tolerant, peaceful spiritual discipline, and contains only a tiny minority of extremists who behave otherwise — and theirs is not the “true Islam”, anyway.
In order to counteract such deeply-entrenched error, rigorous empirical investigation is necessary. If a researcher is not to be labeled a “bigot” or a “hater”, he must present well-attested facts based on careful research.
What if there were a fact-based study demonstrating that the mosques of America are not generally tolerant of other religions?
What if the data from mosques showed a correlation between shari’a-compliance with the promotion of violence towards non-Muslims?
And suppose the results were so thoroughly documented that they could be reproduced by other sociologists and anthropologists?
This is exactly what Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi have done. In a paper entitled “Shari‘a and Violence in American Mosques”, which will be published next week in the summer issue of Middle East Quarterly, the two scholars have laid out a detailed summary of a four-year sociological study of the incidence of violent jihadist ideology in American mosques. The data demonstrate an unmistakable correlation between jihad-promoting ideology and the visible adherence to shari’a law by the leaders and congregations of those mosques (portions of the same study are available at theMapping Sharia website).
As the authors ask in the introduction to their paper:
To what extent are American Muslims, native-born as well as naturalized, being radicalized by Islamists? And what steps can those who are sworn to the protection of American citizenry take that will uncover and disrupt the plots of those willing to take up arms against others for the sake of jihad?
What makes their study so devastating is that its results do not depend on anyone’s opinions or impressions. Instead of interviewing mosque attendees or distributing questionnaires, the researchers collated data gathered by outside observers, who recorded visible behaviors and practices at a random sample of American mosques. For mosques that conducted their services in languages other than English, observers who were fluent in the languages used — such as Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu — were assigned to conduct the surveys in those mosques.
The project began by picking out certain well-known signs of adherence to strict shari’a, as recorded in legal treatises on Islamic law that are universally accepted as valid by mainstream Muslims all over the world. This allowed visitors to the mosques to pick out how closely shari’a-compliance correlated with the presence of jihad-promoting materials and teachings, and with the support of recognized terrorist organizations.
The authors begin by referring to previous studies conducted by other scholars in the same field:
To date, almost all of the professional and academic work in this field has been anecdotal surveys or case studies tracing backward through the personal profiles of terrorists and the socioeconomic and political environments from which they came.
One study by Quintan Wiktorowicz, assistant professor of international studies at Rhodes College and now on the staff of the National Security Council, noted that modern jihadists legitimize their violent activities by relying on the same textual works as their nonviolent Salafist counterparts. However, the approach taken to these texts by the violent jihadist may be distinguished from that of the nonviolent Salafist insofar as the jihadist uses the principles advanced by both classical and modern Islamic scholars and ideologues and adapts them to modern situations in a way that provides a broader sanction for the permissible use of violence.
Further, in 2007, Paul Gill concluded that terrorist organizations seek societal support by creating a “culture of martyrdom” and that one theme common to suicide bombers was the support they received from a community that esteemed the concept of martyrdom. Thus, a complex dynamic is at work between a terrorist organization, society, and individuals with the interplay between these three dimensions enabling radicalization and terrorist attacks.
Particular relevance is provided by a 2004 study “which found that 97 percent of jihadists studied had become increasingly devoted to forms of Salafist Islam highly adherent to Shari’a (Islamic law) while on their path to radicalization, despite many coming from less rigorous devotional levels during their youths. This increase in devotion to Salafist Islam was measured by outwardly observable behaviors such as wearing traditional Arabic, Pakistani, or Afghan clothing or growing a beard…”
Potential recruits who are swept up in this movement may find their inspiration and encouragement in a place with ready access to classic and modern literature that is positive toward jihad and violence, where highly Shari’a-adherent behavior is practiced, and where a society exists that in some form promotes a culture of martyrdom or at least engages in activities that are supportive of violent jihad. The mosque can be such a place.
That the mosque is a societal apparatus that might serve as a support mechanism for violent jihad may seem self-evident, but for it to be a useful means for measuring radicalization requires empirical evidence. A 2007 study by the New York city police department noted that, in the context of the mosque, high levels of Shari’a adherence, termed “Salafi ideology” by the authors of the report, may relate to support for violent jihad.
This observation provides the rationale for their investigatory methods:
Thus, there is a need for the study and corroboration of a relationship between high levels of Shari’a adherence as a form of religious devotion and coalitional commitment, Islamic literature that shows violence in a positive light, and institutional support for violent jihad. By way of filling this lacuna, the authors of this article undertook a survey specifically designed to determine empirically whether a correlation exists between observable measures of religious devotion linked to Shari’a adherence in American mosques and the presence of violence-positive materials at those mosques. The survey also sought to ascertain whether a correlation exists between the presence of violence-positive materials at a mosque and the promotion of jihadism by the mosque’s leadership through recommending the study of these materials or other manifest behaviors.
Using criteria laid down in the standard treatises of Islamic law,
Surveyors were asked to observe and record selected behaviors deemed to be Shari’a-adherent. These behaviors were selected precisely because they constitute observable and measurable practices of an orthodox form of Islam as opposed to internalized, non-observable articles of faith. Such visible modes of conduct are considered by traditionalists to have been either exhibited or commanded by Muhammad as recorded in the Sunna and later discussed and preserved in canonical Shari’a literature. The selected behaviors are among the most broadly accepted by legal practitioners of Islam and are not those practiced only by a rigid subgroup within Islam — Salafists, for example.
Among the behaviors observed at the mosques and scored as Shari’a-adherent were: (a) women wearing the hijab (head covering) or niqab (full-length shift covering the entire female form except for the eyes); (b) gender segregation during mosque prayers; and (c) enforcement of straight prayer lines. Behaviors that were not scored as Shari’a-adherent included: (a) women wearing just a modern hijab, a scarf-like covering that does not cover all of the hair, or no covering; (b) men and women praying together in the same room; and (c) no enforcement by the imam, lay leader, or worshipers of straight prayer lines.
A detailed explanation for the legal significance of the above practices is provided, using Reliance of the Traveller and Fiqh as-Sunna, among other standard treatises on shari’a.
In a similar fashion, Shari’a requires that the genders be separated during prayers. While both Reliance of the Traveller and Fiqh as-Sunna express a preference that women should pray at home rather than the mosque, they agree that if women do pray in the mosque, they should pray in lines separate from the men. Additionally, authoritative Shari’a literature agrees that the men’s prayer lines should be straight, that men should be close together within those lines, and that the imam should enforce prayer line alignment.
The observers used textual materials provided by the mosque to determine to what extent the ideology of violent jihad was promoted:
The mosques surveyed contained a variety of texts, ranging from contemporary printed pamphlets and handouts to classic texts of the Islamic canon… The texts selected were all written to serve as normative and instructive tracts and are not scriptural. This is important because a believer is free to understand scripture literally, figuratively, or merely poetically when it does not have a normative or legal gloss provided by Islamic jurisprudence.
The moderate-rated literature was authored by respected Shari’a religious and/or legal authorities; while expressing positive attitudes toward violence, it was predominantly concerned with the more mundane aspects of religious worship and ritual. The severe material, by contrast, largely consists of relatively recent texts written by ideologues , rather than Shari’a scholars, such as Abul Ala Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. These, as well as materials published and disseminated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, are primarily, if not exclusively, aimed at using Islam to advance a violent political agenda.
These materials differ from other severe- and moderate-rated materials because they are not Islamic legal texts per se but rather are polemical works seeking to advance a politicized Islam through violence, if necessary. Nor are these authors recognized Shari’a scholars.
The same cannot be said for some classical works that are also supportive of violence in the name of Islam. Works by several respected jurists and scholars from the four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence, dating from the eighth to fourteenth centuries, are all in agreement that violent jihad against non- Muslims is a religious obligation. Such behavior is normative, legally-sanctioned violence not confined to modern writers with a political axe to grind. Nor does its presence in classical Muslim works make it a relic of some medieval past. While Umdat as-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler) may have been compiled in the fourteenth century, al-Azhar University, perhaps the preeminent center of Sunni learning in the world, stated in its 1991 certification of the English translation that the book “conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” While addressing a host of theological matters and detailed instructions as to how Muslims should order their daily routine to demonstrate piety and commitment to Islam, this certified, authoritative text spends eleven pages expounding on the applicability of jihad as violence directed against non-Muslims…
The results of the survey contain no surprises for readers of this blog, but they may be somewhat startling to media and academic people who have become accustomed to the “religion of peace” and “tiny minority of extremists” memes which dominate American public discourse about Islam:
The survey’s findings, explored in depth below, were that 51 percent of mosques had texts that either advocated the use of violence in the pursuit of a Shari’a-based political order or advocated violent jihad as a duty that should be of paramount importance to a Muslim; 30 percent had only texts that were moderately supportive of violence like the Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Fiqh as-Sunna; 19 percent had no violent texts at all.
The study found a statistically significant association between the severity of violence-positive texts on mosque premises and Shari’a-adherent behaviors.
Specifically: if mosques segregated women, or required strict prayer lines for men, or if their leaders wore traditional beards, they were more likely to have violence-promoting material on the premises.
The “tiny minority of extremists” thesis is rebutted by the attendance at these various sorts of mosques. Not only were jihad-promoting mosques in the majority, but they were also more popular, and had the highest rate of attendance:
Mosques that contained written materials in the severe category were the best attended, followed by those with only moderate-rated materials, trailed in turn by those lacking such texts. Mosques with severe materials had a mean attendance of 118 worshipers while mosques containing only moderate materials had a mean attendance of 60 worshipers; mosques that contained no violence-positive literature had a mean attendance of 15 worshipers.
The authors also note that “The adoption or rejection of Western dress by male worshipers was yet another telling indicator of the presence of violence-positive materials.”
The imams at these jihadist mosques are not passive purveyors of violent Salafist materials; they actively promote them:
Perhaps more troubling than the correlation between jihadist literature and Shari’a-adherent behaviors within a mosque was the role played by imams in recommending that worshipers study material that promote violence. The more manifestly Shari’a-adherent a mosque, the more likely its imam was to recommend the study of violence-positive texts.
And even in moderate-seeming mosques, imams generally promoted materials that advocated violence:
But while the presence of certain Shari’a-adherent behaviors correlated almost one-to-one with the promotion of the violence-positive texts, the absence of these attributes should not be construed as a sign of true moderation. In mosques that did not practice strict prayer line alignment, a striking 72 percent of imams nonetheless recommended violence-positive materials. Similarly, 78 percent of imams who did not wear a traditional beard were proponents of these texts.
The same mosques urged financial support for terrorist organizations:
For example, mosques containing violence-positive materials were substantially more likely to include materials promoting financial support of terror than mosques that did not contain such texts. A disturbing 98 percent of mosques with severe texts included materials promoting financial support of terror. Those with only moderate-rated materials on site were not markedly different, with 97 percent providing such materials. These results stand in stark contrast to the mosques with no violence-positive materials on their premises where only 5 percent provided materials urging financial support of terror.
There were exceptions to the above trends, however:
Finally, three patterns of behavior indicating promotion of violent jihad did not strongly correlate to the presence of violence-positive literature. Despite the presence of severe texts in such mosques, only a small number actually encouraged joining a terrorist organization, openly collected monies for such organizations, or distributed memorabilia featuring jihadists or terrorist organizations. Although very few mosques engaged openly in these activities, a correlation between these activities and the presence and severity of violence-positive literature was shown to exist.
The authors wrap up their study with some general conclusions:
The conclusions to be drawn from this survey are dismal at best, offering empirical support for previous anecdotal studies on the connection between highly Shari’a-adherent mosques and political violence in the name of Islam. The mosques where there were greater indicators of Shari’a adherence were more likely to contain materials that conveyed a positive attitude toward employing violent jihad against the West and non-Muslims. The fact that spiritual sanctioners who help individuals become progressively more radicalized are connected to highly Shari’a-adherent mosques is another cause for deep concern. In almost every instance, the imams at the mosques where violence-positive materials were available recommended that worshipers study texts that promoted violence.
And they leave the reader with a reminder that the results do not represent the behavior or opinions of all American Muslims, but only those who attend mosques. In other words, those observant Muslims who take their religion seriously:
The results of this survey do not indicate the percentage of American Muslims that actually attend mosques with any regularity, nor does it reveal what relative percentage of American Muslims demonstrate Shari’a-adherent or non-adherent behaviors. Moreover, although this study shows that imams at Shari’a-adherent mosques recommend studying violence-positive materials and utilize their mosques for support of violent jihad, it does not capture the individual attendees’ attitudes toward religiously sanctioned violence. However, it is at least reasonable to conclude that worshipers at such mosques are more sympathetic to the message of the literature present at those mosques and to what is being preached there.
To put it bluntly: observant American Muslims are measurably well-inclined towards the ideology of violent jihad and its financial support.
Unfortunately, the results of the current survey strongly suggest that Islam — as it is generally practiced in mosques across the United States — continues to manifest a resistance to the kind of tolerant religious and legal framework that would allow its followers to make a sincere affirmation of liberal citizenship. This survey provides empirical support for the view that mosques across America, as institutional and social settings for mosque-going Muslims, are at least resistant to social cooperation with non-Muslims. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of mosques surveyed promoted literature supportive of violent jihad and a significant number invited speakers known to have promoted violent jihad and other behaviors that are inconsistent with a reasonable construct of liberal citizenship.
This survey suggests that, first and foremost, Muslim community leaders must take a more active role in educating their own faith community about the dangers associated with providing a safe haven for violent literature and its promotion — whether that safe haven is the mosque or the social club. These results also suggest that researchers and counter-terrorist specialists should pay closer attention to the use and exploitation of classic Islamic legal doctrine and jurisprudence for recruiting and generating a commitment to violence against the perceived enemies of Islam.
The mosques are indeed the barracks for American Muslims.
When this paper escapes from the obscure cloisters of Counterjihad literature into the MSM, it is certain to be denounced as “biased”, “hateful”, “bigoted”, and “Islamophobic”.
But it cannot be refuted.
No one can argue a case against it on the merits, and anyone who is serious about scholarly studies can replicate its findings.
If it works its way into Congressional hearings or onto the talking-head TV shows, it may well have a significant impact.
Let’s hear it for Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi.
For the complete report, pick up a copy of the Summer 2011 Middle East Quarterly, or visit Mapping Sharia.