Archive for April, 2021

News and Analysis 4/29/21

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

On Thursday, the US shielded Israel from crimes of apartheid and thus itself for being complicit in those crimes, even denying that Israeli actions constitute apartheid …

… and even as it minimizes the pogroms in Jerusalem:

Biden’s declaration of Armenian Genocide reflects the United States greater policy towards Turkey and President Erdogan in recent years, demonstrating that the U.S  “no longer considers Turkey a valued ally to be shielded from criticism”:

In a recent television interview, Saudi Crown Prince struck a conciliatory tone for the first time while speaking of Iran, stating “Iran is a neighbouring country, and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran”:

Iran’s president replaced “the head of a government think tank” after a leaked audio surfaced of the foreign minister discussing Iran’s current situation. The recording “exposed bitter internal divisions” with Iran, divisions that may threaten the ongoing Vienna talks:

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is currently meeting with visiting Mossad chief Yossi Cohen for “talks on Iran”:

The move is hailed as “a step in the right direction toward creating a more inclusive police force and helping recruit more Muslim women to become officers”:

News and Analysis 4/27/21

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

“Hamas and Fatah members caught up in series of Israeli arrests since March say they have been warned not to compete in coming elections”:

A U.S. Senator is demanding John Kerry resign for allegedly sharing the “secret”  that “Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times” with an unnamed economist:

Israeli police’s withdrawal and removal of barriers they had placed at Damascus Gate on the first day of Ramadan to prevent Palestinians from gathering after Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque sparked singing, dancing, and the raising of Palestinian flags by the local populace:

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wants Europe to muzzle those who mock the Prophet with the tools they use against those who deny the Holocaust:

Reports indicate that Israeli occupation forces prevented fishermen in Gaza from fishing in the Gaza Sea. “He said the fishermen were forbidden from sailing into the sea until further notice under false excuses”:

The U.S mainstream media plays semantic games to “downplay and hide” the racism and brutality that Palestinians living in Jerusalem and other occupied territories face on a daily basis:

Reports suggest movement to expedite talks to revive the nuclear deal:

The Saudis and Iranians are talking about negotiating:

In what it calls its “most comprehensive report to date”, the Humans Right Watch on Tuesday accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity” and said the U.S. and international community have “turned a blind eye”:

News and Analysis 4/25/21

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

As growing incitement from “far-right settlers advocating for the killing of Arabs” as well as “Palestinian anger over police blocking off access to the Al-Aqsa mosque” resulted in severe clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces …

… the U.N. envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, condemned both Israeli provocations and Gaza’s rocket attacks:

On Sunday, Hamas issued a statement to Palestinians, urging them to continue their resistance and “to form a united front against the aggressions of the Tel Aviv regime”:

An Iranian tanker was attacked off the coast of Syria on Saturday, as reports indicate that  “At least three Syrians were killed, including two members of the crew” …

… Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff for Iran’s armed forces, warned Israel to expect retaliation:

A spokesman for the Turkish president called Biden’s position “irresponsible and unprincipled” for ignoring the fact that “President Erdogan opened Turkey’s national archives & called for a joint historical committee to investigate the events of 1915, to which Armenia never responded”:

US General Scott Miller, the commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, affirmed on Sunday that “an orderly withdrawal of foreign forces and the handing over of military bases and equipment to the Afghan forces”  had begun:

“He led an extraordinary program at Princeton, one that serves as a national model for its expansiveness of programming, breadth of inclusion of all Muslims and non-Muslims, its intellectual depth, its beauty, challenge, support and relevance” — Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel Alison Boden:

Iran, which has had less than half the Covid-19 per capita death rate of the United States, says it will have rolled out 50 million doses of its own vaccine by the end of September:

News and Analysis 4/23/21

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

On Thursday night, far right Israelis marched through the streets of Jerusalem, as cries of “Death to Arabs, death to terrorists” eventually turned into physical violence, wounding more than “105 Palestinians”:

“Djabelkhir said he makes the distinction between history and myth in religious writing, but his detractors contend that ‘everything in the Quran is history, with a capital H'”:

The wife of Osama Mansour, a Palestinian man shot dead “for no apparent reason” at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank,  narrates a chilling account of how Israeli security forces opened fire without reason, wounding her and killing her husband:

An immigrant from Gaza, a lead engineer in developing the NASA helicopter that flew on Mars says it’s harder to go to Gaza than to Mars:

Mark Dankof states that Israel resorts to assassination and sabotage because it wants “an unchecked nuclear monopoly in the Middle East”:

Though Iran raised its uranium enrichment levels in response to Israel’s attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, Iran has promised to reverse these remedial measures “if the US  lifts its illegal sanctions” U.S General Kenneth McKenzie affirmed, “They (Iran) have done nothing irreversible”:

A missile fired from Syria set off air raid sirens at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor after Israel failed to intercept the attack. In retaliation, Israel targeted several sites in Syria:

“Facing a deepening occupation and increasing authoritarianism, young Palestinians see the first national elections in 15 years as an opportunity to overhaul their political system”:

Asad “was probably the first person to articulate the idea of Zionist colonialism”:


News and Analysis 4/21/21

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

“[T]he application of law, its reformulation, its suspension, are all malleable instruments in the Indian colonial epistemic and political arsenal” that “is built to criminalise Kashmiri resistance and normalise their oppression”:

While the United States wishes to reenter the deal, Israeli officials would rather witness Iran crumble under U.S. sanctions and  Israeli covert attacks …

… yet diplomatic efforts in Vienna have progressed negotiations “much farther in the short period of time since the [Israel] attack” o the Natanz facility:

“Three weeks after the police began a pan-Kashmir campaign to seize vehicles with non-local number plates, the Regional Transport Officer (RTO) Kashmir, Akramullah Tak, has now admitted that seizures of such vehicles were not permitted under the law”:

The town of Nof HaGalil remains the “only mixed municipality of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab residents” where “the Ministry of Education has not established a school for the Arabic-speaking community”:

“While most reformist politicians compete over showing loyalty to Khamenei, Faezeh asked him to resign in 2020. In March, when an interviewer asked Faezeh to invite someone to a debate, she requested Khamenei”:

News and Analysis 4/20/21

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

Virologist Shahid Jameel credits the eleventh century Muslim physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) with propagating the “the idea that diseases are spread by microorganisms,” and now Muslim leaders from Mecca to Lucknow are propagating the fact that receiving Covid-19 vaccine during Ramadan does not invalidate the fast:

In Srinagar calls to a helpline jumped from 55 in 2019 to 177 in 2020 and 120 in the past three months alone:

This single mother turned to Islam for “spiritual strength” and looked forward to paying zakat as a rare “voluntary form of solidarity” without coercion.  Instead she became a recipient of zakat after her bosses fired her and family and previous friends abandoned her:

“Amid growing calls in the Democratic party to end Israeli abuses towards the Palestinian populace, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for “restricting military aid from being used in occupied territories”:

Khan wants Western countries to sacrifice freedom of speech regarding the Prophet  (pbuh) on the model of European laws against questioning the Holocaust:

As tensions rose in the aftermath of Israel’s attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility …

reports indicate that the Vienna talks have “moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal” of US return to the treaty by “simultaneous, sequential steps” …

… and “Saudi and Iranian officials held discussions in Iraq in a bid to ease tensions as Washington works to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran and end the Yemen war”:

The first Palestinian election in 15 years may be cancelled or delayed due to Israel preventing Palestinians living in Jerusalem from casting their ballots:

On the second day of Ramadan, Israeli police brutalized Palestinian worshippers returning from the Al-Aqsa mosque:

Israel continues to boast that it has the  “highest per capita COVID vaccination rate in the world” despite the virus running rampant in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and “a severe vaccine shortage in Gaza”:



News and Analysis 4/17/21

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

Despite checkpoints, restrictions, and Israeli police action sabotage to Al-Aqsa mosque loudspeakers, 70,000 Palestinians managed to make it to the first Friday services in Ramadan:

Mansour al-Shahatit’s “deplorable state after being freed … suffering from memory loss as a result of torture and solitary confinement for many years in Israeli jails” reflects the plight of an “estimated 4,500 Palestinians are languishing in jail, many for simply challenging Israel’s occupation”:

As Indian police continue their killings of Kashmiri people, a virtual criminalization of media coverage of police reflects the government’s intention to leave “no space for any dissent or criticism of the government policies and police action on any platform”:

Conservative democrats continue to protect Israeli interests in a clash with Biden’s policies in the Israel-Palestine conflict, seeking to “raise the political cost of addressing Israel-Palestine at all” to permit the “de facto annexation (of Palestine) that has been going on for decades”:

Iran has identified 43 year old Reza Karimi as a suspect in the Natanz attack, stating that “he fled the country hours before the sabotage happened”:

Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemns the GCC’s call “to include its demands in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers” as a move to prevent U.S. return to the agreement that had put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear development:

The Abrahamic Accords, agreements between the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, serve as a thin veil to hide the true geopolitical intentions of each country involved:

News and Analysis 4/15/21

Thursday, April 15th, 2021

The Vienna talks aimed at allowing the US to rejoin the nuclear deal have “fallen into disarray” in the aftermath of an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility:

Europe buys into and the Taliban reject Biden’s plan for a delayed unconditional troop withdrawal:

“Overruling a nearly five-decade judgment, the Kerala High Court … [noted] that the Holy Quran recognises the right to divorce equally for both men and women”:

The United States, in addition to backing Saudia Arabia’s barbaric war in Yemen, is behind the naval and aerial blockade that is causing millions of Yemenis to go hungry:

Instead of protecting the occupied populace as per the fourth Geneva convention, Israel continues to employ extremist ideology intended to terrorize Palestinians and push them to move:

“A medieval debate about God’s relationship to goodness can help explain today’s conflicts over religion and society in the Islamic world”:

Both India and Pakistan claim the region despite the fact that the U.N. has recognized the right of its people to self-determination:

News and Analysis 4/13/21

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Israel’s sabotage of Iran threatens regional peace and U.S. diplomacy:

The killer remains at large as critics say that the Israeli police force has proven itself inept at solving the rise in murder cases against the country’s Arab minority. “While Israeli Arabs constitute only 20 percent out of the general population… numbers reflect that 43 percent of the total number of murders of women in Israel is of Arab women”:

“Ramadan cuisine has no boundaries and brings up a larger issue of inclusivity in Muslim American communities”:

With the approach of Palestinian legislative elections, Israeli forces arrested 24 Palestinians on Monday, reaffirming the notion that Israel fears a landslide victory for the Hamas movement:

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will likely discuss the looming withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan among the global issues as they seek “a political agreement between the Afghan government, which was largely left out of the first deal, and the Taliban that can improve the chances of stability in Afghanistan once US troops leave”:

“Inciting ethno-religious animosity has become a means of survival for parts of Sri Lanka’s political elite”:

As Emmanuel Macron pushes legislation to limit “Islamic-separatism”,  hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment have grown in hyper-polarized France with mosque vandalism and neo-Nazi threats:

“Launched last week, UK Muslim Film seeks to “integrate the Muslim experience into the heart of British culture” through film and television”:

“The Iowa City School Board has already approved the calendars for the next three school years. But the superintendent has said those changes can be amended”:

Manufacturing Counter-mythology

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Manufacturing Counter-mythology

[This is a preprint of a book review scheduled for publication in the Molinari Review in May 2021]

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Darío Fernández-Morera, Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2017, 358 pp., US$29.95. ISBN 161017095-4 (hb).

Myths are important. Actual myths play a fundamental role in a society in shaping its values. While they may be rooted in some historical event, their historical accuracy is of no significance compared to the role they play in giving a means of communicating the fundamental values of that society. As a youth I read books that informed me how Greek mythology played such a role in ancient Greek society. Similarly, a book entitled The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain could have been an exposition on how the enlightenment scholars who use Muslim Spain’s relative tolerance as an object lesson in trying to move Western thought in the direction of pluralism and liberty. It is not.

One might expect a book with this title could be using the word “myth” to mean a set of broadly accepted misconceptions (in the manner of the Washington Post’s series of “Five Myth About [whatever]”). Were that the case, one would hope that the book would make a careful attempt to correct errors in the popular understanding of specific historical events. Alas, Fernández-Morera’s book has a different objective. It is not some popular misunderstanding of history that is the target of his screed, but the work of respected experts.

To understand the author’s objective, one must first know the standard historical understanding of Spain under eight centuries of Muslims rule. There were changes in rulership over the centuries during which the degree of tolerance and coexistence had ups and downs as exhibited by centralized dynasties (Ummayad, Almoravid, Almohads) and local principalities. The mainstream historians view the period from the 8th century liberation of most of Spain from the preceding three and a half centuries of occupation by the Visigoths until the final phase of reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 as one of a relatively tolerant society that, although by no means completely free of discrimination against its non-Muslim minorities, generally respected their right to life, labor, raise their families—certainly in comparison to the way that religious minorities were treated in other parts of Europe at that time. Further, historians note that what they call this “Convivencia” was a time of fruitful interactions among the groups that led to philosophical, scientific, and cultural development that not only contrasted to the “Dark Ages” in some other parts of Western Europe, but provided a positive influence in bringing Western Europe out of the Dark Ages in the later medieval period. The author aims to indict the academic establishment which, he believes, has blithely accepted the propaganda of Muslim apologists, for failing to see the period in question as manifesting what he professes to be an intolerance not only worse than western Europe of the time, but from which the Spanish Inquisition that followed was a relief.

The author is well aware that the counter-myth he seeks to create flies in the face of the academic establishment’s understanding of the era, but, for him, this fact indicts the establishment. Thus, when defending the work of Sylvain Gougenheim against his critics (“an international collective of 56 researchers in history and philosophy” who found his work “amateurish,” “discredited,” and ”scientifically dishonest,” among other things), the author dismisses their criticism as the work of those who could never dare to match the outsider Gouggenheim’s supposed insights because to do so “would endanger the attractiveness of the field of research that provides a living for the Islamic studies experts, and … risk … loss of funding …, ostracism … and difficulty finding university positions” for students and those newly entering the field (p. 7).

To overturn centuries of historical study is not easy, so the author employs a clever methodology. He announces at the outset that his “book’s interpretive stance is Machiavellian, not Panglossian” (p. 3). Specifically, he dismisses any modern understanding of Islam as irrelevant to understanding the realities of medieval Spain. All that matters to him “is that, for the culture of medieval Islam in al-Andalus, the important texts were not so much the Quran as the religious laws as interpreted by the ulama [scholars] of the Maliki legal school that dominated al-Andalus…” (p. 10). He can then deflect any doubt shed on allegations of intolerance on grounds that they are in opposition to Qur’anic commandments with the argument that such doubt is irrelevant to a society in which the jurisprudence of one particular school—and a somewhat authoritarian one at that—has precedence over what all Muslims accept as the “Word of God.” This powerful tool pre-empts using any objection that a purported act is a violation of holy scripture as reason to question the historical accuracy of the claim that the act took place. It also pre-empts accusing rulers who engage in such actions as failing to live up to Islamic ideals. It does more.  It allows the author to doubt the historical accuracy of reports of any good and praiseworthy acts as historically inaccurate on the grounds that they violate the precepts of the Maliki school, and allows him to maintain that, even if true, such reports only exemplify departure from, rather than adherence to, Islamic law. The author says of those who argue otherwise, that their “understanding of the Qur’an may be true, but, to borrow Cervantes’s words, ‘it matters little to our story.’”

This premise poses a challenge for a reviewer such as I who has no special expertise in the Maliki school.  Indeed, I am one of those Muslims whom the author considers irrelevant for insisting that the jurisprudence of the religious scholars can be overruled by the words of the Qur’an.  To remedy this deficiency, I have turned to two experts in Maliki law for assistance in evaluating the author’s understanding of that school. By special arrangement between the Minaret of Freedom Institute and the Tayba Foundation, Shaykh Muhammad Mahmoud ibn Ahmad (Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic Language, Higher Institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies – Mauritania) and Rami Nsour Alidrisi (Executive Director of the Tayba Foundation who has lectured on Maliki law at the Zaytuna Institute ) have provided me with deep background on the Maliki scholarship related to the questions raised in the book. Rami Nsour provided the English translation of the results of Sh. Muhammad research and additional explanatory comments. For simplicity, I shall herein cite their work as “Ahmad and Alidrisi.”

In Chapter 1, the author seeks to depict the initial Muslim conquest of Spain as an example of some Islamic duty to conquer the world, which is how he would have us understand the term “jihad.” He rejects as apologetics any concept of jihad as a spiritual duty, saying that for the Maliki scholars it was only a material duty to spread the religion of Islam and its legal precepts by the sword.

It is certainly true that, after the Prophet’s (peace upon him) death, Islam began a rapid expansion of territory under Muslim rule that coincided with a rising obsession in books of Muslim jurisprudence with struggle (the literal meaning of the Arabic word jihad) in warfare. The pertinent question, however, is not whether Islam permits fighting. The Qur’an gives explicit permission to fighting for a just cause by just means. The question is whether aggression is permitted or whether war is limited to defense (of self or of other oppressed people). The same question is dealt with in the Catholic doctrine of just war theory.

The author finds the standard historical account that the Muslims were invited into Spain by the oppressed people of the country suffering under the Visigoth rulers unpersuasive. In the history books, Julian, governor of Ceuta invited the Muslims into Spain because the tyrannical king Roderic had violated (some say seduced) his daughter. The author does not recount this story at all, only mentioning Julian to dismiss him as an outsider “Christian lord from North Africa.” Further, the local Christians whose aid (together with that of the local Jews) made the Muslims’ rapid conquest of Spain possible, are dismissed as “a competing royal faction [that] sided with the invaders … [f]or personal or other reasons….”

The author wants us to believe that the fact that dhimmis (protected minorities) paid a tax, jizyah, not levied on Muslims somehow shows that religious oppression is the motive for the Muslim entry into Spain. Toward that end, he cites Ibn Rushd (best known in the West as the philosopher Averroes) as an authority to prove that jizyah is “a payment for sparing the lives of Christians and Jews while they remain under the power of Islam” (p. 26). To the contrary, Ahmad and Alidrisi note that Ibn Rushd actually uses jizyah as it has generally been understood by Muslims, as a head tax in lieu of military service. It is ironic that the author detracts from his main claim (that Ibn Rushd uses “jihad” to mean military service) by pretending that jizyah is a penalty for not accepting Islam rather than a substitute for military service. Ibn Rushd points out that women and children and others not eligible for military service are exempt from jizyah.

In Chapter 2, the author sets out to dismiss the remarkable scientific and technological achievements of Muslim Spain. He starts by claiming that the Muslim conquest “interrupted … the full emergence of a new Christian Hispano-Visigothic civilization.” His strongest argument in support of his speculation as to why said emergent civilization would have been successful is that the Visigoth code would subordinate the ruler to the rule of law, and that everyone had a duty to know the law. However, the same was true of the Islamic law. The fact that this limit on tyranny could facilitate a flourishing society is not the same as guaranteeing one would emerge.

His other arguments are less persuasive. He would have us believe that the failure of the Spaniards to adopt the Visigoth’s unitarian religion shows the religious liberty which the Visigoths afforded them. Actually, them Visigoths considered themselves as superior to the occupied peoples and discouraged assimilation. Muslims did not impose Islam on the locals, but welcomed conversions that made the locals equal to them under the law. Nonetheless, the Visigoths did, after more than a century convert to Catholicism. This conversion evidently pleases the author, but it coincided with the deterioration of their treatment of the Jews under their rule, and does not advance the chapter’s aim to demonstrate that the Visigothic conquest was a progressive one whose flourishing was stopped only by the arrival of Islam.

The author boasts of the Roman aqueducts as if they were an innovation of the Visigoths rather than merely the adoption of an old Roman technology. He even denies the role Islam played in the transmission of the works of ancient wisdom to Western Europe by claiming they had not been lost to Europe because they were still extant in Byzantine libraries. Of course, Byzantine libraries were the ultimate source material of the Greek texts on which the Syriac and Arabic translations were based. Indeed, Muslim rulers had commissioned Eastern church Christians to translate these texts into Arabic in the first place. Western Europeans were oblivious to them until they made contact with Muslim civilization centuries later (in large part through the translations of these texts in Latin in Spain!). The author will have none of this, echoing Gougenheim that “with the translations made at the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel, medieval scholars hardly needed translations of Aristotle from Arabic into Latin” (p. 73). Both Gouguenheim and our author conveniently pass over the two-hundred-year gap between the translation movement in Spain and that at Mont St. Michel. The author blames the rise of Islam rather than the split within the Church itself for the lack of “cultural communication” between the eastern and western churches (p. 77). The historical reality is that while St. Thomas may indeed have read Latin translations of Aristotle from other sources, it is Ibn Rushd whom he honored as “The Commenter” on “The Philosopher.”

Chapter 3 is devoted to arguing that the Spanish Muslims were intolerant even of other Muslims (outside the Maliki school) by arguing that Maliki thought dominated daily life and the “ulama in Spain followed only the teaching of Malik and claimed as authorities only the Qur’an and Mallik’s Muwatta” (p. 97). Ahmad and Al-Idrisi reject this, saying, “there were many schools of jurisprudence other than the school of Malik” in Andalusia and providing numerous examples.

The interruption of Maliki influence during the Almohad dynasty gives the author the opportunity to claim that the establishment’s admiration of “Jewish and Christian influence [as] a wonderful example of convivencia and tolerance” at the time is just a reflection “of the nadir of Islamic power in medieval Spain” (p. 97).  In other words, he would have us believe that even if there was tolerance it can’t possibly be due to Islam because the rulers weren’t Malikis. There are many things wrong with this. The author wants to focus on the Malikis not because they best represent Islam, but because he sees them as dominating the society. If the Almohads weren’t Malikis that doesn’t necessarily mean they were less religious. They certainly did not see themselves that way. Rather than argue that the rise and fall of tolerance must prove that Islam is intolerant, a more reasonable conclusion is that people can be more or less tolerant.

To prove Maliki intolerance of fellow Muslims, the author alleges that the widely used juridical manual al-Tafri “prescribed death for unrepentant Mutazili heretics” (pp. 98-99). Ahmad and Al-Idrisi deny this, and, based on Maliki commentaries from that time state that the reason the government fought those dissidents was that “they rebelled against the government and caused civil unrest, and it is not due to the fact that they hold beliefs that are innovations,” offering as further proof the fact that those not charged with rebellion were not killed.

Chapter 4 is devoted to challenging the Umayyids’ reputation for tolerance by arguing that “they elevated religious and political persecution, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequalled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain” (p. 120). Beyond accusing medieval Spanish Muslims of being, well, medieval, he seems to believe that those cowardly historians have wrongly awarded to Torquemada a crown that rightly belongs to the Ummayids. (Tellingly, Torquemada doesn’t even appear in the book’s index. Mentioning the Grand Inquisitor might distract the reader from the alleged villainy of the Muslims. In fact the Spanish Inquisition is indexed only twice: in reference to page 4, where Princeton’s Kwame Appiah’s unfavorable comparison of the Spanish inquisition to the Umayyid policies is sneered at as part of a “culture of forgetting,” and in reference to p. 100 where the author finds it “ironic” that the Spanish Inquisition targeted Muslims and Jews who feigned conversion to Christianity to save their skins when the Maliki school condemns anyone who practices another religion while pretending to be Muslim as “the worst form of apostate.”)

For the author, “such notions as ‘toleration,’ [and] ‘freedom of conscience’ … were essentially foreign to Malikism” (p. 100). Ahmad and Al-Idrisi wonder how such a claim can be reconciled with the general freedom of practice of religion accorded to Christians and Jews, who did not have to leave the country en masse as Jews and Muslims were forced to after the Reconquista. Or with the enormous number of churches left standing. Or the fifteen Andalusian monasteries. Or how the Christians maintained their own tradition’s code of law. While one would be right to doubt the courts were unbiased in all mediation between Muslims and non-Muslims, I doubt one could find after the Reconquista an equivalent to the following report Ahmad and Al-Idrisi cite from Ibn Sahl’s Ahkam Al Kubra: “There was a Christian woman who was married to a Muslim man. She passed away and left two young girls [who were Muslim as their father was Muslim]. The children’s maternal grandmother was a Christian and she claimed custody of the children. The children’s paternal grandmother (who was Muslim) also claimed custody of the children. The jurists decreed that the custody belonged to the maternal grandmother, even with her being Christian.” Al-Idrisi adds, “This rule of the maternal grandmother of Muslim children being granted custody over Muslim relatives is a well-known Maliki ruling that can be found in the section on Custody (Hadanah) in the books of jurisprudence, such as the Mukhtasar of Khalil and other works as well.”

To back up his sweeping anti-historical claim, the author starts with the assertion that Malik’s Risala states, “A freethinker (zindiq) must be put to death and his repentance is rejected” (p.100). The translation of zindiq into freethinker is wrong, contradicted by Malik’s own definition of zindiq in the very next sentence as “one who conceals his unbelief and pretends to follow Islam” (p. 100).” The author’s boasted reliance on “original sources” is actually a reliance on translations of original sources, and the translators are suspect. Ahmad and Al-Idrisi suggest that Malik is using the word to mean “hypocrite” which is certainly supported by Malik’s definition. The author would have been on firmer ground to accuse the Malikis of intolerance against hypocrites. We must all (at least in the 21st century) agree that it is wrong to make hypocrisy a capital crime. And even in the seventh century the Qur’an stated that one who hides his religion not to engage in fraud but to defend himself from persecution should get a pass. Al-Idrisi argues that this debate is tainted by the issue of apostasy. While it is fair to brand Malikis (and other Muslims who hold apostasy to be a capital crime) to be intolerant on that count, it is hypocritical in the classical sense to pretend that the Malikis are any worse than the Spanish Inquisition on this score. So, one point to the author for calling out the Umayyids as less tolerant than his 21st century readers and minus ten points for dropping the context of the time. Further, not all Malikis interpreted Malik’s statement as referring to all hypocrites or apostates. Ahmad and Al-Idrisi note that judge Qadi Isma’il understood Malik to be referring only to the muharib, meaning “one who carries weapons to take things from people.”

For some reason, the author thinks his case is advanced by exaggerating the punishments inflicted on Muslims for violating the Muslim law, even though these laws were not imposed on or enforced against non-Muslims. Thus, he claims on p. 103 that the punishment for wine-drinking on a fourth offense is death. Ahmad and Al-Idrisi say that “there is no scholar in the Maliki school who holds this opinion. In fact, there is no scholar in any of the recognized schools who holds this opinion.” The author seems to have stumbled upon a hadith which is rejected for legal purposes by all except “a few Dhahir scholars.”  Rather than demonstrate intolerance, the appearance of this hadith in the author’s source material would seem to reflect the reluctance (or at least an inability) of the Malikis to suppress rival legal rulings, even from outside the Sunni mainstream.

Some of the accusations against the Muslims have less to do with intolerance than with the fact that they looked down on Christians for their perplexing beliefs (such as the notion of one God in three persons) or their despised practices (like consuming intoxicants). The inclusion of such irrelevancies is clearly meant to play to the complementary biases of his own intended audience (to look down on people who don’t believe in an incarnate God and who refuse to sit down with you for a cold beer). Tolerance is irrelevant to those things about which we are indifferent.

Having said that, however, we must address the allegation of gratuitous disrespect, such as the claim that “[w]hereas Malik did not object to a Muslim’s using water left over by a menstruating woman or by a Muslim in a state of impurity, he forbade using the water left over by a Christian, or using for ablutions anything a Christian had touched, or eating food left over by a Christian” (p. 111). Ahmad and Al-Idrisi respond that “Malik disliked using the leftover water of a Christian is not because he is Christian, but rather because of the likelihood that they use alcohol.” By the same token the water or food of a Muslim who drank alcohol was forbidden, and the food or water of a Christian of whom one was certain had not used alcohol was permitted. The distinction between Christians and Muslims is one of presumption of tainting by prohibited substances and not disrespect of person.

The author would have us believe that the many churches left standing by the Muslims must have actually been torn down on the strength of the precedent of Malik having written in the Utbiyyah regarding the churches of Fustat (in Egypt), “I believe they should be changed and destroyed, not left in that state and there is no good in them.” Ahmad and Al-Idrisi say that this was a narrow opinion regarding a people who were not dhimmis and had no treaty with the Muslims. It was to clarify this point that Ibn Rushd commented, “The people who have treaties are allowed to build new churches in the areas that they included in their treaties and also to repair old churches. This is if they are not within the limits of the Muslim land and Muslims do not live among them, and this is even if they do not put that right as a condition. … Whereas if they are in the limits of the Muslim land, then they do not have the right to build new churches unless they had a treaty with that right.” They quote another scholar who opined dhimmis should not be prevented from building new churches “in their villages that are included in their treaties, because the land is their land, they can sell their land as they see fit and the Muslims cannot take anything from it.” They add that the Ahkam of Ibn Sahl, “one of the most famous legal texts from the Andalusian period … states: ‘They are not to be prevented from the churches in their villages that they included in their treaties after the land was conquered nor are they prevented from building new churches. This is because they included that right in their dhimma treaty which included their right to do what they want with their land. And there is no tax on the churches, as the tax is upon the produce of their land.’”

Ahmad and Al-Idrisi hold that the claim that Muslims were prohibited from mixing with Christians is false. “In regards to the Muslims not mixing with the Christians at all, this is not correct. Rather, the Muslims used to mix with non-Muslims in many aspects of their life such as their marketplaces, trades, and other elements of public life. In fact, their mixing extended to matters of worship and as a proof of this it has been recorded that ‘when the Muslims conquered Andalusia, they followed the examples of [those] who followed the opinion of Umar” of the permissibility of sharing space in churches in land administered by treaty rather than war. That “Muslims shared the worship space of the non-Muslims of Cordova in their grand church. In that shared space, the Muslims built a masjid and in the other portion of the space the church remained” is just one of many such reports.

Yet, on p. 122, the author deems it impossible that Muslims should ever have shared space in a church. Absence of evidence turns out to be ignorance of evidence, since the purchase of St. Vincent’s church he sneers at on p. 121 as an offer the Christians “couldn’t refuse” was, in fact, the result of negotiations between the amir and the Christian leadership of church property that had been shared with Christians for generations, until the number of Muslim attendees began to dwarf the number of Christians. Kenneth Baxter Wolfe, in Christian Martyrs in Spain, writes that negotiations resulted in the “promise of a large cash payment as well as permission to rebuild one of the extramural churches” that had been destroyed during the conquest.

In Chapter 5 the author turns to the favorite target of Islamophobes, the treatment of women. I shall not prolong an overly long book review by going over territory already covered well elsewhere. Instead, I will focus on what is unique to Fernández-Morera’s claims. Here he outdoes himself, claiming that the  Maliki legal text Al-Tafri “stipulates that not only a muhsan woman who fornicated should be stoned, but also married female slaves….” (p. 145). Ahmad and Al-Idrisi find the passage to state the opposite:  that a female slave may not be stoned for fornication, only free women (and men) were subject to such punishment. It is one thing to criticize Malik for holding adultery to be a capital crime under Islamic law, another to accuse him of saying the opposite of what he has said regarding slaves.

A more picayune charge, one all the more annoying since he resorts to misrepresentation on such a petty point, is the author’s complaint that “Following Malik, al-Tafri even forbade women to loosen their hair when cleaning it during ablution…. In fact, Spanish Maliki jurisprudence advised proper Muslim women to keep their hair short….” (p. 149). According to Ahmad and Al-Idrisi, this is not what the author of al-Tafri says. Rather than forbidding women from unbraiding their hair to wash before prayers he is acknowledging their right to simply “wipe over the hair, and she does not need to undo her hair.” They add “This is to make it easier for women, since unbraiding the hair at every washing for the prayer would be a clear difficulty. This is part of the spirit of tolerance and ease that the author of the Myth is calling for.”

The author also takes a unique, albeit somewhat incoherent, approach to dismissing the establishment’s claims of (relative) female freedom and empowerment in Muslim Spain. He doesn’t deny that some women enjoyed certain liberties and educational benefits, but insists that rather than due to some kind of Islamic tolerance, it was because these women were slaves, from marginalized sectors of society, or from privileged families. His argument is that Maliki law required “decent” women be “only used for procreation, being therefore destined to the service of their husbands and relegated to the cares of procreation, upbringing and education [of the children]” (pp. 156-157).  He is here quoting Ibn Rushd, who is actually criticizing the status quo, and who goes on to complain that this attitude towards women stifles their potential as human beings. For the author, however, the fact that it does describe the status quo means that any exceptions are not “decent” women but slaves, sluts, or women of such high privilege that they can afford to flout Maliki law the way hypocritical Muslim rulers flout the laws against drinking and adultery. The passage in question comes from Ibn Rushd’s commentary on Plato’s Republic and, in the words of Charles Butterworth, scholar of medieval political philosophy, exemplifies how he, “like Alfarabi and Avicenna, helps us understand what it means to live a good human life … by taking the best from the learned tradition whether it is Muslim or not.”

Ahmad and Al-Idrisi observe that the author is putting forward his own interpretation of Maliki jurisprudence seen through the “lens of his contempt for Islam” and unimpeded by the intermediation of any Maliki scholar. Thus, when he writes, “According to the Mudawwana, if even part of the hair of the woman comes out from under her veil during prayer, she must restart the prayer” (p. 153), he completely misses the point that the scholars are offering a recommendation that the prayer be repeated, not an obligation—which means that the prayer is not invalid. Worse yet, when the author claims, “In Maliki jurisprudence modesty in the case of a hurra (free Muslim woman) was so important that a man could see his future wife only if she had not yet reached puberty” (p. 157), in a book with 96 pages of endnotes, he gives no citation for this claim. For good reason: This is not the position of the Maliki school. Ahmad and Al-Idrisi write, “It is well-known in the Maliki school that a man may look at the face of a woman that he is proposing to” and they find no basis for the claim of any exception for postpubescent women in the Maliki literature.

Chapter 6 purports to refute the notion of a Jewish golden age in Spain. There is no doubt that Jews, like Christians, suffered some persecution. But the author is not satisfied with that. He wants us to be believe that Jews had it better in Christian lands than in Muslim Spain. Rather than devote space to refuting this absurdity, I shall refer those who are interested in a more credible critique of the status of Jews in Muslim Spain to take a look at Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages by Mark R. Cohen. Of Fernández-Morera’s perspective, suffice it to say that he mistreats the great Maimonides in a manner reminiscent of his mistreatment of the Malik fuquha. He takes a passage in which the great Jewish scholar, in his role as leader of the Jewish community, warns against letting the close proximity to Christians and Muslims provided by the Convivencia become an excuse for violating the Jewish law as evidence that there was no Convivencia: “This fact alone could dispose of the Convivencia. Maimonides explicitly ruled against eating and drinking with non-Jews. Practicing Jews must not … eat crab, lobster, oysters, squid, octopus, pork, or blood products, among other things – prohibitions that made eating with non-Jews religiously risky and therefore inadvisable” (p. 197).

The title of Chapter 7 sums it up: “The Christian Condition: From Dhimmis to Extinction.” His main claim is that any success or prosperity or liberty enjoyed by Christians or Jews in Muslim Spain “occurred in spite of—and in direct opposition to—Islamic injunctions, and it created resentment among the ulama and the Muslim population.” As the chapter title suggests, he claims that establishment scholars have not only ignored the persecution of Christians, but have erased from the books their “extinction.”  So, not content to argue that Spain was not a paradise, he wants it to be remembered as a genocide. This is the counter-myth he seeks to establish.

Islamic Spain was not perfect, nor does it live up to the ideals of 21st century libertarianism. The enlightenment writers who hyped its positive aspects and overlooked its flaws were motivated by the desire to positively influence their own societies that fell short of even the Andalusian reality, let alone their liberal ideals. If you want a balanced view of Andalusian history, it is best not to rely on any single perspective, let alone a single source. More credible works than this are available that cover a spectrum of perspectives from Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World to David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, and including Salma Khadra Jayysi’s The Legacy of Muslim Spain, Roger Collins’s Caliphs and Kings, Olivia Remie Constable (with Damian Zurro)’s Medieval Iberia: readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources, and Mark R. Cohen’s aforementioned Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages.

If, on the other hand, you want a freshly fabricated mythology with the negative objectives of demonizing Islam and replacing romanticized memories of the accomplishments of Muslim Spain with amnesia about the Spanish Inquisition, then this is your book.

I prefer not to speculate why an associate professor at Northwestern University would choose to write such a book, but I go out on no limb to guess that the reason it was published by ISI is that no academic publisher wants to embarrass itself. ISI, on the other hand, already sacrificed the respectability it once had as a conservative institution on the altar of Islamophobia years ago with the publication of such anti-Muslim propaganda as Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind, described by Yale Professor of Islamic Studies Frank Griffel as “war literature.” This book, too, is war literature.

I wish to thank Shaykh Muhammad Mahmoud ibn Ahmad and Rami Nsour Alidrisi for their essential assistance and Prof. Charles Butterworth for his helpful comments on this review.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute