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Muslim Placenames, “Seeds of Divisiveness” in the Qur’an, and the American Constitution
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Finally, there is the argument, from toponyms, of a Muslim presence in America before there was a United States. Here John Hamed, Jr. descends into the absurd: “Islam was here even before there was a U.S.A. There are more than 500 places in the U.S. today with clearly Islamic names: Mecca, Indiana; Medina in New York, Ohio and Texas; Toledo, Ohio; Mahomet, Illinois; Islamorada, Florida; etc.”
Note that Hamed does not give any dates for when these place names were first used. All of them appear to belong to the post-colonial period. Apparently Hamed is also unaware that there is a long tradition in this country of appropriating place names from the Bible, history books, gazetteers from all over the globe. We have many Old Testament “Zions” and “Canaans” and “Jerichos” and “Lebanons,” and many towns called “Paris,” “London,” “Berlin,” “Moscow,” “Amsterdam,” “Madrid,” ‘Rome,” Milan,” “Venice,” “Naples,” or “Holland,” “Denmark,” “Sweden,” names chosen because the town’s founding fathers liked their sound, or because someone came from there, or in some cases they wanted to signify another kind of link, as with devout Christians who might choose to give their settlement a Biblical place name. There’s a China, Texas, which has nothing to do with China, and two Calcuttas, one in Ohio and another in Indiana, but no one from India was among their founders. It’s hardly surprising that some settlers chose to name their town “Mecca.” The very word has entered the language as a “center” for something, as, “Silicon Valley is a Mecca for entrepreneurs” or “Nashville is a Mecca for country-and-western singers.” It could have sounded significant to the people who first settled there. A “Muslim presence” does not enter into it. “Medina,” like “Calcutta,” has been chosen as a town name for its exotic sound. You can be confident that the people who named “Medina, Ohio” or six other “Medinas” were not thinking of Muhammad or of Islam; we can be certain that none of those who founded and named “Medina” were Muslims, for had they been, Muslim writers would have made much of it.
As for the place name “Toledo,” it comes from the Roman “Toletum,” and though for centuries Muslims ruled the city, “Toledo” is not, as John Hamed thinks it is, a Muslim name. And “Islamorada,” which Hamed cites as a Muslim name because of the appearance in it of “Islam,” comes from the Spanish “Isla morada” or “purple isle.” Should you wish to see where John Hamed, Jr. obtained his list of “500 U.S. towns that have Muslim names,” many of which are not Muslim at all (including all the Indian tribes whose names are bizarrely claimed to be Arabic, and thus offered as some kind of crazed proof that Islam has been in America practically forever) simply go here. Read the “evidence.” You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Back to John Hamed, Jr.:
One has to ask what is the value of writing such unlearnéd and negative material, filled with hatred and bigotry. Christianity forbids hate. Muslims are not an enemy; hate is. It is ironic that he [the writer of the letter to which Hamed takes exception] writes at a time when hundreds were killed and maimed by Stephen Paddock, a Christian man in Las Vegas, causing the worst case of domestic terrorism in our history. Alas, it is not called terrorism, just because it’s not committed by a Muslim.
John Hamed, Jr. claims that “Christianity forbids hate.” That’s not quite true, but it is certainly true that “love” takes pride of place in Christian teachings. But why didn’t he add that “Islam forbids hate”? He didn’t, because he couldn’t, because the Qur’anic cup runneth over with hate, and he knows it. And were he to deny it, the paper would be deluged with Qur’anic quotes proving quite the opposite. So he quickly moves to the example of Stephen Paddock, whom he describes as “a Christian man” guilty of “domestic terrorism.” But Stephen Paddock was not a “Christian” at all; according to his brother, he was an atheist. Some suggest that his antipathy to religion may explain why he targeted a Christian country music event. But even if we were to assume that Paddock had been a believing Christian, his killing could not have been prompted by any Christian text or teaching, for no such violent Christian texts, commanding killing of innocents, exist. Muslim terrorists, on the other hand, when they attack Unbelievers, are doing so according to what the Qur’an and Hadith command — that is, to kill Unbelievers because they are Unbelievers..
We would be remiss if we did not also take exception to the decision of the editorial board of the New Castle News to publish the letter. Of course, it is everyone’s right to express one’s opinion, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
This is a given. But it is also the right of a privately owned paper to choose the material in publishes, especially in a time when we are trying to unite the country, not fracture it. This is not the first time the paper has published disparaging letters about Islam and Muslims, but enough is enough. Imagine if the paper were to publish disparaging letters about Jews or Judaism. We think it would never happen. Why Muslims, then?
Why, indeed? Could it have something to do with 9/11? Or the nearly 32,000 terrorist attacks by Muslims around the world since 9/11? Might it have something to do with Muslim terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Orlando, Chattanooga? Or other attacks in London, Manchester, Paris, Nice, Toulouse, Madrid, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Malmo, Helsinki, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beslan? Or in Mumbai, Delhi, Beijing? Might these be reasons enough why the New Castle News printed a letter that does not baselessly “disparage” Islam, as John Hamed says, but merely describes, in unflattering but truthful terms, the commandments in the Qur’an and the observable behavior of some Muslims?
We depend on the propriety of the editorial board to chose material that advances the benefits and comity of its readers, not sowing the seeds of divisiveness and inter-religious warfare.
The press has one obligation: to tell the truth. It is under no obligation to act as an apologist for Islam or for any other faith or cause. It certainly should not be deliberately censoring any negative material about Islam because this displeases some Muslims, who complain that this sows “the seeds of divisiveness and inter-religious warfare.” The “public relations officer” for the local Muslim Society appears not to understand, even as he claims to respect, the freedom of speech, which of course must include the freedom to criticize. And the “seeds of divisiveness” and “inter-religious warfare” which John Hamed, Jr. complains were being sown in a single letter that was critical of Islam, are in fact re-sown among 1.5 billion Muslims, who in their daily prayers curse the Kuffar, that is, Jews and Christians, seventeen times a day.
Robert Spencer explains:
In the course of praying the requisite five prayers a day, an observant Muslim will recite the Fatihah, the first surah of the Qur’an and the most common prayer in Islam, seventeen times. The final two verses of the Fatihah ask Allah: “Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.” The traditional Islamic understanding of this is that the “straight path” is Islam — cf. Islamic apologist John Esposito’s book Islam: The Straight Path. The path of those who have earned Allah’s anger are the Jews, and those who have gone astray are the Christians.
This is not my [Spencer’s] interpretation; it comes from the classic Islamic commentaries on the Qur’an. The renowned Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
Ibn Kathir’s understanding of this passage is not a lone “extremist” interpretation. In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
But that “divisiveness” that every practicing Muslim engages in by saying those five daily prayers, and cursing Jews and Christians, is only one small part of the hostility toward Unbelievers that Islam inculcates. There are at least 109 verses that command Muslims to engage in Jihad warfare against the Infidels; they are unambiguous in their meaning.
Here are a representative handful:
2:191-193: “And kill them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is worse than slaughter. But do not fight them by the holy mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, kill them — such is the recompense of unbelievers, but if they give over, surely Allah is all-forgiving, all-compassionate. Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s; then if they give over, there shall be no hatred except for evildoers.”
4:89: “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore do not take friends and protectors from them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and kill them wherever you find them; do not take any of them as friend or helper.”
5:33: “This is the recompense of those who fight against Allah and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement.”
8:12: “When thy Lord was revealing to the angels, ‘I am with you; so confirm the believers. I shall cast terror into the unbelievers’ hearts; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!”
8:39: “Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely; then if they give over, surely Allah sees the things they do.”
8:60: “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to strike terror thereby into the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; Allah knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of Allah shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”
9:5: “Then, when the sacred months are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”
9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and do not practice the religion of truth, even if they are of the People of the Book — until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”
9:111: “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon Allah in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfils his covenant truer than Allah? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him; that is the mighty triumph.”
Would it be wrong — would it be “divisive”? — if the newspaper were to publish those verses just above? Should a newspaper be in the business of protecting Islam, or any other faith? What of Muhammad’s reported words — “I have been made victorious through terror”? Would that be useful for non-Muslims to learn about, as they try to comprehend Muslim terrorism, or is it deemed by John Hamed, Jr. as too incendiary, tending to “divide people” rather than to “bring them together,” which he apparently believes is what reporting is all about? By that logic, none of the thousands of terror attacks by Muslims should be reported, for they only increase “divisiveness.”
Shouldn’t we want to help readers understand the nature of Islam? And wouldn’t the best and fairest way be to quote from Islamic texts? Are we not to learn what is in the Qur’an, because of the negative effect that might have on how Islam and Muslims are perceived? Should protecting Islam from prying eyes be the goal of the newspaper? Where, in all this, do we place the truth? Should we be satisfied with what John Hamed, Jr. provides, when he tells us he has counted up the appearances of the words “mercy,” “love,’ and “peace” in the Qur’an, without explaining to whom — Allah, and fellow Muslims — those words are meant to be applied?
We look forward for more reasoned and civic minds to prevail. We hope that “We the People” means that we are all on this land to “make a more perfect union” in peace and humility to one another and to The One God of all.
This letter is a naked attempt to suppress speech about Islam in a newspaper, written by the “public relations” officer of the local Islam Society, who would prefer that nothing linking the teachings of Islam to violence or terrorism be printed. He misrepresents the contents of the Qur’an, choosing not to recognize that the “mercy,” “peace,” and “love” he finds mentioned in it are directed only at Believers, and he avoids altogether the many verses commanding Jihad warfare, and the sowing of terror in the hearts of the Unbelievers (see 3:151, 8:12, 8:60), and the insistence that Muslims must not take Jews and Christians as friends, “for they are friends only with each other.” John Hamed, Jr. misrepresents and backdates the Muslim presence in the New World, first to Columbus’s voyages (with his claim of “two Muslim captains, the Pinzons,” on the Nina and Pinta, and of “an Arab navigator” on the Santa Maria), and then, even more preposterously, backdates Muslims in the New World all the way back to 700 and 800 A.D., basing this on the fraudulent claims of the semi-demented Barry Fell, a zoologist who, out of his field and out of his depth, “found evidence” of inscriptions in the New World by a dozen Old World peoples, including, apparently, Arabs. And in addition to Fell, there is Youssef Mroueh, and others who claim that Muslim Chinese arrived in 1178 (a date favored by Erdogan), and that Muslim Africans, speaking Mandinka, arrived from Mali in 1312. In addition, there are the reports of the Chinese Admiral Zheng He, born a Muslim, who supposedly landed in the New World circa 1420, though he never claimed to have done so.
Hamed even manages to bring in, as his final appeal to “comity,” the preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Of course, the Constitution is a sober political document, and the “more perfect union” it aims for is a political union formed by the states, that had been imperfectly joined under the Articles of Confederation. It has nothing to say about getting groups to get along by suppressing information that could cause “divisiveness.” It does not end, as Hamed no doubt wishes it would, in a call for limits on free speech where they would cause offense to any group.
Since he has brought up the Constitution, perhaps we should remind John Hamed, Jr. that in many important respect the Constitution is antithetical to Muslims. The American government owes its legitimacy to how well it reflects the will of the people, however imperfectly expressed through elections. For Muslims, a government is legitimate if the ruler is a good Muslim, even if he is a despot; democracy is not necessary. Furthermore, under our Constitution, freedom of religion for all is guaranteed in the First Amendment. In Muslim states, Islam and Muslims are privileged, and non-Muslims are made to understand and feel their inferior status. Our Constitution prevents that. Nor does the Constitution recognize the right to punish “blasphemy” as happens in Muslim states. We are guaranteed the freedom of speech, including the freedom to mock any and all faiths. That, in the view of John Hamed, Jr., is one more freedom we ought to choose not to exercise. Many readers of the New Castle News will, one hopes, beg to differ.
First published in Jihad Watch.