Dr. Zuhdi Jasser and his designer Islam
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser and his designer Islam
By Louis Palme
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser’s new book, “A Battle for the Soul of Islam” is an impassioned plea by a patriotic American Muslim for Muslims to separate the religious expression of Islam from the political expression championed by the Islamists, namely the Salifists, the Wahhabis, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Jasser is clearly a “moderate Muslim,” and his American-Islamic Forum for Democracy organization has been outspoken in its opposition to Islamic jihad, religious intolerance, and the draconian aspects of Sharia Law. He is one of only two prominent American Muslim leaders who have signed the “Freedom Pledge” which renounces persecution of former Muslims. He calls Imam Siraj Wahhaj a traitor and accuses Congressman Keith Ellison of making a drive-by attack on him, calling him an “Uncle Tom” of sorts and then leaving the room before Jasser could respond. According to Dr. Jasser, “Islamists will insist that there is only ‘one Islam.’ The reality is that my Islam may not be their Islam.” Unfortunately, Dr. Jasser and his designer version of a personal Islam has only a very small following, and he struggles to gain ideological traction in any part of the Muslim community, here or abroad. In 2004, AIFD organized an interfaith event in Phoenix called “Standing with Muslims Against Terrorism.” Not one imam from the eleven local mosques chose to participate. (pg. 11)
At the heart of Dr. Jasser’s lonely position is his rejection of political Islam and the tribal mentality that prevents many Muslims from thinking for themselves. Dr. Jasser’s rejection of some portions of Islam began with his early childhood experience of growing up in a mostly Christian small town in Wisconsin, and it was further compounded by his own father’s somewhat distorted translation of the Quran. Dr. Jasser’s autobiographical book will be a sign of hope for those who yearn for world peace and harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims, but the proof of his philosophy will be when he gains greater support among the Muslim community.
(Note: In June of this year, Andrew Stunich published a review of this same book under the title, “Zuhdi Jasser’s Book is Well-Intentioned but Fraudulent,” but it was obvious from Stunich’s comments that he had never actually read Dr. Jasser’s book. The author of this article has not only read Dr. Jasser’s book but has also studied the Quran translated by his father.
Dr. Jasser’s Christian-influenced upbringing
Dr. Jasser was born in Ohio, but grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, (population 56,000 in 1970) where his father was a physician. There were only five Muslim families there, so basically, Zuhdi absorbed Christian values through his contacts at school. He believed in freedom of religion, and he saw his Jewish and Christian classmates as brothers and sisters of the same religious roots. He says his father’s tyrannical treatment of his mother caused him great anguish (p. 66), and he rejected the notions that God could ever condone wife beating or decree that women are inferior to men.
Zuhdi did not encounter any Islamists until he went away to college, and he was repulsed by them. He said the imam in the Milwaukee mosque he attended was not a spiritual leader, but rather a political leader – always harping on the international political situation for Muslims. (Pg. 56)
Dr. Jasser chose a wife who could be an equal partner with him, who eventually earned a PhD in Pharmacology, and they married on St. Valentine’s Day. They married for love, a very “Christian” concept. (Pg. 99)
Dr. Jasser’s Unflinching Loyalty to the U.S. and its Constitution
Dr. Jasser could be called the antithesis of mass-murder, “soldier of Allah” Dr. Nidal Hassan. While both benefitted from the military medical scholarship program, Dr. Jasser put his loyalty to the U.S. above his religious beliefs. He once publicly dressed down the militant Islamist imam Siraj Wahhaj for his treasonous call to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia Law, and he quit the ISNA in protest. (pg. 86) Regarding Nidal Hasan, Jasser writes,
“Dr. Hasan’s murderous spree was the direct result of an Islamist ideology obsessed with Israel, obsessed with global victimology and conspiracy theories that increasingly blame America and Israel for all the problems in the Middle East. . . My family and I could have never guessed that the poison of Middle Eastern tribalism, corruption, and Islamism would follow us here to America. Dr. Hasan gave away his soul to the militant version of a theo-political ideology (Islamism) that created an irreparable chasm between his oath to this nation and his faith, which became consumed by the supremacist world vision of a violent strain of political Islam – Wahhabism. . . If I may set aside my Hippocratic oath for just a few seconds, let me be the first to sign up to be one of those who carry out the ultimate punishment for this man. . . . There would be no greater symbol of how wrong Dr. Hasan was in his “theology,” that he could not go to war against Muslims, than for him to find himself dead at the hands of a loyal, patriotic American Muslim enacting the will of the American military court.” (pg. 159)
Dr. Jasser’s Contemporary Quran
Dr. Jasser’s father spent ten years translating the Quran into “an interpretive translation from classical Arabic into contemporary English.” The project was published in 2008. After living nearly forty years in the United States, Dr. Mohamed K. Jasser, could not stomach some of the clear commands in the Quran. Here are just a few examples of his reinterpretations, with Dawood’s translation shown for comparison:
Wife beating (Surah 4:24):
Dawood ‘. . . send them to beds apart and beat them.”
Jasser: “. . punish them by refusing to have relations with them, and some you may have to get going on their way.”
Beheadding Captives (Surah 47.3)
Dawood: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.”
Jasser: “As you face the unbelievers in war, there is going to be killing, but once you prevail over them, secure the prisoners by tying them down until the war ends.”
Taking of hostages and booty (Surah 8:70):
Dawood: “A prophet may not take captives until he has fought and triumphed in his land. . . Enjoy therefore the good and lawful things which you have gained in war, and fear God.”
Jasser: “Prophet, say to the prisoners under your control that if God finds goodness in your hearts He shall compensate you for what was taken away from you in war, and he will forgive you.”
Suicide for doubters (Surah 22:15):
Dawood: “If anyone thinks that God will not give victory to His apostle in this world and in the world to come, let him tie a rope to the ceiling of his house and hang himself. Then let him see if his device has done away with that which has enraged him.”
Jasser: “Those who are angry and have enough hatred in their hearts, if they believe that God may neglect supporting him (the prophet) in this and the life to come, should reason why should that happen and then stop and see if that is enough to mollify their anger and hatred.”
Allah brands the nose of those who doubt the Quran (Surah 68:15-16):
Dawood: “[When someone says,] ‘They are but fables of the ancients,’ on the nose We will brand him!”
Jasser: “[The deniers] call them old fables, when our verses are recited to them. On the last day they shall have the facial characteristic of a nose that looks like a trunk.”
Islamic supremacy (Surah 2:192):
Dawood: “Fight them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion [Islam] reigns supreme.”
Jasser: “Fight them to prevent rioting and establish God’s religion.”
Anyone who has read several translations of those passages or who has any understanding of the original Arabic knows that the Mohamed Jasser’s “contemporary” version of the Quran represents considerable toning down of intent of the original Arabic texts. So it is no surprise that Dr. Jasser concludes, “Islam advocates peace and condones war only as a last resort, as a defensive measure against annihilation.” (pg. 254, emphasis in the original)
Dr. Jasser repeats many of the familiar excuses for why people sometimes misunderstand the Quran:
- Verses are taken out of context (pg. 243) Fact: Muhammad’s biographies recorded that he fought in twenty-seven battles in 10 years and personally oversaw the beheading 600-900 Jews in the market square of Medina. The context of the Quran, written during that time, was indeed filled with aggression and terror.
- Allah’s message was allegorical and needs to be reinterpreted based on the current times (pg. 243) Fact: Muhammad said, “ . . . whereas every other Prophet was sent only to his people, I have been sent to all mankind.” (Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 7, No. 331) When people in Muhammad’s time asked for a different Quran, he was told to say, “It is not for me to change it.” (Surah 10:15) There was no suggestion that the Quran be rewritten for every new era or community.
- Wahhabists and Salafists sponsor translations that have an anti-Christian and anti-Jewish agenda (pg. 245) Fact: One of the first translations of the Quran into English was accomplished by George Sale in 1734, ten years before Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab formed their religious/political alliance. That translation clearly identified the undesirable paths in Al Fatihah (Surah 1) of the Quran as belonging to the Jews and the Christians. Also, the command in Surah 5:51 not to take Jews nor Christians as friends was as clear in 1734 as it is in the widely sold translation by Dawood, an Iraqi Jew who had no connection with the Wahhabis. Dr. Jasser states that “friends” should really be read as “sponsors,” as in the case of a “godparent.” (pg. 261)
- Arabic is one of the most complex and rich languages of the world (pg. 245) Fact: While Classic Arabic is indeed difficult to master, it doesn’t make the list by the British Foreign Office of the ten most difficult languages: 1. Basque, 2. Hungarian, 3. Chinese, 4. Polish, 5. Japanese, 6. Russian, 7. German, 8. Korean, 9. English, and 10. Swahili.
- Every Arabic Quran in the world is the same text, and it is believed to be God’s authentic, unalterable word. (pg. 241) Fact: In Mohammad Atta’s final instructions to his eighteen fellow 9//11/01 suicide terrorists, which were written Arabic, he quoted twenty-four verses from the Quran and four reliable hadith. Regardless of how Dr. Jasser’s English Quran might be translated, there is still a big problem with the Arabic Quran.
Dr. Jasser’s Misunderstanding of “Reformation.”
Dr. Jasser rests his highest hopes for saving the “soul of Islam” on an internal reformation of Islam to eliminate the plague of political Islam. He writes:
The only real treatment that has any hope for humanity against the plague of political Islam is a complete reformation of the mind-set within the Muslim consciousness that forever separates mosque from state and frees Muslims to identify from our soul with America. . . Muslim reformists and leaders need to publicly affirm the death of the Islamic state and the need to end the Islamist drive to install Sharia Law in government. . . The Quran must not be used as a constitution for government. . . .Our laws as Muslims must be based in reason alone. (Pg. 160-161)
In the view of Dr. Jasser and many liberals as well, religious reformation means taking the offensive parts of a religion out and replacing them with more acceptable interpretations. But the original Christian reformation sparked by Martin Luther in 1517 was an effort to go back to the original texts of the Bible and strip away all of the innovations that had been imposed by the Roman Church, most notorious of which was selling indulgences – get out of Hell free certificates – used to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. If there were anything like a “reformation” of Islam, it would strip away all of the 21st Century English (and other language) whitewashes of the harsh, original Arabic texts of the Quran. It would also affirm that the original concept of the Caliph was a religious/political leader serving as Muhammad’s successor. Here is the reliable Bukhari hadith confirming that:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “The Israelis used to be ruled and guided by prophets: Whenever a prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no prophet after me, but there will be caliphs who will increase in number.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What do you order us (to do)?” He said, “Obey the one who will be given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfill their (i.e. the caliphs) rights, for Allah will ask them about (any shortcoming) in ruling those Allah has put under their guardianship.” (Bukhari, Book 56, Number 661)
Key Components of Dr. Jasser’s Designer Islam
After quoting Thomas Jefferson’s description of liberal democracy in the United States, Dr. Jasser lays out his vision to save the soul of Islam (pgs. 272-282) :
Just as we have seen how Islamist values conflict with basic principles of Americanism, that is to say, liberty and democracy, to move past the Islamist mind-set into a new day where such narrowness and bigotry are consigned to the junk pile of history will require Muslims to adhere to a very specific set of reformist principles:
(Author: These are short-forms of those principles.)
1. Exercise freedom of speech and independent thinking.
2. Embrace American values wholeheartedly.
3. Advance a narrative voiced by liberty-minded Muslims into the domestic and global Muslim consciousness.
4. Engage in politics to expose the threat Islamism poses to our faith and to our country and to show the life-affirming side of Islam that the public rarely sees.
5. Embrace pluralism (acceptance of differences) rather than tolerance (a supremacist endurance of something inferior). “It is up to each individual to define who that God is for him- or her-self.”
Dr. Jasser has no illusions about the enormity of the task ahead for Ameican Muslims nor about the urgency of addressing it:
Muslims must decide among ourselves that . . . without a fundamental overhaul of the Islamist mindset, no real progress will be made and we will be chasing radical Islamists for generations to come. . . For a faith group that constitutes less than 2 percent of the population to produce over 80 percent of the terror arrests points to a major problem in my book. . . It is still up to us as American Muslims to speak out against the problem of radicalization among the faithful, to point out that this is a problem that hurts everyone, including Muslims. It is a Muslim problem that needs a Muslim solution. (pgs. 187-188)
As a non-Muslim observer, I wish Dr. Jasser success with his initiative. Other religions in the past included ideological elements that ran counter to American values, and those religions healed themselves over time. It is not inconceivable that this could accomplished with Islam. However, it will require much greater support among the leaders of the Muslim community, which in Dr. Jasser’s case, has been slow in rallying around his “soul-saving” concepts.
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