Answering a critic of ‘Shariah: The Threat to America’

On 22 November 2010, Ebrahim Moosa, a South African-born associate professor of Islamic Studies in the Duke University Department of Religion, recorded one of a series of video interviews for the “Office Hours at Duke University” program. Posted to You Tube, the video consists of a set of questions and answers; the questions, some from an interactive online audience, were posed by James Todd, a former software salesman with a B.A. in physics from Duke who currently serves as Senior Writer and Multimedia Producer with the Duke News Staff. The answers came primarily from Professor Moosa with call-in participation by Professor Hina Azam, a Duke University graduate school graduate who is now an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

About two-thirds of the way into the video, interviewer James Todd relayed to Moosa a question that came into the program via email about the Center for Security Policy’s study, Shariah: The Threat to America, released in September 2010 and published in paperback book form a month later. The question-and the Center’s report-obviously struck a nerve with Prof. Moosa, as he launched into a rambling fifteen-minute response that is striking in the main for its studied attempt to avoid tackling any of the report’s specific assertions about Islamic law or the threat it poses to American national security. Instead, Prof. Moosa alternated between vaguely-worded accusations about “miscommunication,” “willful distortion”, and a “flawed foundation”, and thuggish threats about getting “your nose bloodied,” “badly injured,” or landing “up in a lot of trouble.”

Watch a video presentation of this essay below.

While it is not clear from the interview whether Prof. Moosa has actually read Shariah: The Threat to America, a number of his own misstatements about shariah provides us a good opportunity to clarify. It might have been supposed that a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University (with a degree in Islamic and Arabic studies from the Darul Ulum Nadwatul `Ulama, one of India’s foremost Islamic seminaries in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh) would have been better prepared to speak authoritatively about Islamic law, but then again, his available biography doesn’t say exactly what he studied at South Africa’s Cape Town University, where he earned an M.A. and Ph.D.

It is especially interesting to note, however, that the Nadwatul Ulema teaches Shafi’i Fiqh, which is prevalent among Muslims in southern India. As would be known by anyone who has read the CSP Team B II study, its authors relied extensively on primary source Islamic authorities in order to ensure accuracy in its references to Islamic doctrine, history, law, and scriptures. The principal legal resource most often cited by the CSP authors is the ‘Umdat al-Salik or “Reliance of the Traveller, A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”. “Reliance of the Traveller” is not only authenticated by al-Azhar University (the premier seat of Sunni Islamic authority in the world) but also by Islamic legal authorities in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. It is a book of Shafi’i law.

So, when Prof. Moosa announced at the outset of his interview with Mr. Todd that the public should listen to him rather than the CSP authors “Cause I’m an expert and they are not,” it might be thought that his comments would have been based on the established Islamic law he no doubt studied at Darul Ulum Nadwatul. Apparently not, however.

For instance, Prof. Moosa flubbed the very first question put to him by Mr. Todd: “What is shariah law?” This would seem a simple, straightforward question that any scholar of Islam would have no trouble answering. But not so with Prof. Moosa: instead, he claimed that, “Shariah basically means a set of moral values that Muslims have developed over the centuries.” “It’s a set of sensibilities,” and “Shariah changes according to certain times and places,” he added. That is not a reply that would have earned Prof. Moosa a passing mark, much less a degree at the Darul Ulum Nadwatul. Because, in fact, shariah is Islamic law. It is real law. Its essential terms and core purposes were effectively codified by consensus of the scholars of Islam by the 10th century and have remained essentially fixed ever since.

Prof. Moosa might have added that shariah is an all-encompassing Islamic doctrine and system that includes legal, military, political, and social normative dictates by which Muslims everywhere and for all time are commanded to live their lives. Now, the good news surely is that millions of Muslims around the world, including many in the U.S., do not follow the harsher and jihadist directives of shariah and it is indeed applied in varying degrees around the world. Prof. Moosa would have been on more solid ground had he noted that there are not varying “interpretations” of shariah, only varying degrees of application. Ominously, as he might also have noted, in those places where shariah is most completely applied (think Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), one finds the most abominable abuses of human rights anywhere in the world (including amputation, flogging, stoning, and the death penalty for apostasy-which is hardly “irrelevant” if you’re Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who today faces hanging for leaving Islam).

As Prof. Moosa and his call-in colleague, Professor Hina Azam, a Duke University graduate, are both no doubt aware, however, neither such punishments nor anything else in shariah can “abrogate themselves over time,” as Azam claimed (with no correction from Moosa). To become a real Islamic scholar in any of the Sunni or Shi’a schools of jurisprudence, it is required that the candidate understand completely the Islamic doctrine of al-mansukh wa al-nasikh (that which is abrogated and that which abrogates). The Qur’anic verses and applicable Islamic law derived from them were designated and determined long ago with legal specificity; scholars who would be jurists (or even graduates) must memorize the affected texts according to each specific school.

How could the Professors both have gotten this all so wrong? The answer might be found, once again, in shariah. According to Shafi’i fiqh, as stipulated in the ‘Umdat al-Salik, lying is not only sometimes permissible for a Muslim but actually obligatory.

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), section r8.0, “Lying”. Section r8.2, entitled “Permissible Lying,” cites the 11th century Islamic scholar Abu Hamid Ghazali:

“When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible….and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory.” See also the Qur’anic verses 16:106 and 66:2. See also “Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination,” by Ebrahim Moosa (June 2005) in which he argues that Ghazali’s work has lasting relevance today.

Moreover, deliberately misleading infidels holds a special status in Islam and goes by two forms: taqiyyah (deceit or dissimulation) and kitman (lying by omission). Because the defeat and conquest of infidels by jihad is an explicit obligation defined in Islamic law, deceit, dissimulation, and outright lying to infidels in the execution of jihad is also obligatory.

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), o9.0 (pg. 599), “Jihad” says:

“Jihad means to war against non-Muslims…” and is scripturally commanded in a number of Qur’anic verses, including 2:216 “Fighting is prescribed for you,” 4:89, “Slay them wherever you find them,” and 9:36 “Fight the idolators utterly.”

This is the complete opposite of what Prof. Moosa told his listening audience during this interview. In response to a listener’s question, Prof. Moosa said: “…under no circumstances is any Muslim allowed to lie, because lying is a major sin. And you cannot even lie to a non-Muslim. You cannot lie to a non-Muslim. You cannot lie to a Muslim.”

As Prof. Moosa continued with his interview, he seemed to have “forgotten” some of the other core principles of shariah, too. When Mr. Todd posed a question that came in via Facebook about “how shariah can be compatible with our Constitution when in Islam religion and state have been interwoven for fourteen hundred years,” Prof. Moosa smoothly ventured that it was “not necessarily a correct impression that in shariah religion and state have been interwoven.” Realizing there might be some history buffs in the audience, though, he quickly added that “I think that did occur at some moments in Islamic history.” Stammering gamely forward, the professor offered what he must have supposed was a clarification, saying that “Islamic governance has a certain kind of–a dimension of a secular authority.” One can only wonder exactly what he was trying to say, perhaps sympathizing a bit with his predicament; of course, under shariah, no Muslim may criticize Islam or Islamic law without incurring a potential death penalty. And as Muslims know from the Qur’an itself, governance by man-made laws (as in a democracy) is forbidden by order of Allah himself.

See the following Qur’anic verses:

“And so judge between them by what Allah has revealed . . .” [Q 5:49]; or “. . . whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the kaafiroon.” [Q 5:44]; or “. . . whoever does not judge by that which Allah has revealed, such are the zaalimoon (polytheists and wrongdoers)” (Q 5:45).

Given then that shariah is obligatory Islamic law, that it commands the faithful to fight global jihad until all “bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger,” (Sahih Muslim 31:5917) that Muslims are required to lie under some circumstances, and that the Qur’an forbids faithful Muslims from accepting any law but Islamic law, it no longer seems unreasonable for Americans to be concerned that shariah intends to “to overrun this country and substitute the Constitution with the shariah,” a likelihood that Prof. Moosa dismissed as “not very sane conversation.” This becomes all the more true when placed in the context of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the international “vanguard” of the Islamic Movement, whose clearly stated mission for North America says that the Ikhwan (Brotherhood) “must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” [“An Explanatory Memorandum: On the General Strategic Goal for the Group,” by Mohammed Akram, Member of the Board of Directors for the Muslim Brotherhood in North America and a senior Hamas member. Submitted in evidence at the 2007-2008 Holy Land Foundation trial, US v HLF, as Government Exhibit “An Explanatory Memorandum,” May 1991.]

From such documents as the MB “Memorandum” and others captured at various places and times by law enforcement officers, it is now public knowledge that the goal of destroying Western civilization from within is to be achieved by means of a “phased plan,” modeled directly after Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones and the Islamic doctrine of progressive revelation, all of with which Prof. Moosa surely is familiar. The phased plan calls for Muslims to establish and expand their presence in non-Muslim societies, acquire and occupy actual physical space, ensure the local Muslim communities know and follow Islamic doctrine, control the flow of correct information about the plan to non-Muslims, co-opt key leadership, oppose official counterterrorism efforts, and demand the acceptance and eventually, the practice and domination, of shariah. Although there is no suggestion that Prof. Moosa himself is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, some of his public statements, both in the Duke “Office Hours” interview and elsewhere, are in complete alignment with Ikhwan positions.

The establishment of enforced shariah was documented by an April 2007 University of Maryland World Opinion Survey as the stated desire of between 50%-70% of the global Muslim community. Those numbers included American Muslims.

It is useful, in light of Prof. Moosa’s bald assertion that “there is no fear that Islamic law can ever become part of the fundamental law of the United States,” to realize that, not only are there are multiple ways besides the vote that shariah can find its way into our legal system, but that Muslims everywhere can and do help support violent jihad with pre-violent methods such as “charitable” financial contributions, shariah indoctrination in madrassas, mosques, and schools, and public criticism of counterterrorism measures.

It is a matter of record that since joining the Duke faculty in 2001, Prof. Moosa has been outspoken in criticism of the policies his adopted country has taken to deter and fight jihadist terrorism. For instance, writing within months of the attack on 9/11, Moosa said that “[r]ecent history has shown that everyone from yesterday’s Cold War allies and today’s terrorists like Bin Laden, to despots like Saddam Hussein and oppressive regimes the world over can find favor with the U.S. ruling class, under the right circumstances…No principle or vision is sacrosanct in Washington except its own security and self-interest. U.S. “national interests” must be the single most catastrophic ideology of death and misery…” Then, in November 2002, Moosa expanded on his theme: “The world is in mortal threat with the United States being allowed to strut around like a colossus.”

Thus, when Prof. Moosa writes, as he did in a paper commissioned by the Department of Justice and published in January 2010, that “the increased political mobilization of Muslim-Americans” is a positive trend*, or takes critical aim at an objective and scholarly study like the CSP’s “Shariah: The Threat to America,” it might be understandable that such pronouncements would give pause to patriotic Americans who treasure our Constitution. Now, one can still hope that Prof. Moosa actually will dedicate his efforts to updating Islamic law for contemporary situations, which he calls “possibly one of the challenging issues that Muslims around the world face.” As he called for “the reform of Islamic law and the reform of shariah,” he might wish to devote one of his forthcoming “Office Hours at Duke University” interviews to a candid discussion of what, in fact, needs reform within Islam and shariah, and then consider how best to rally Muslims to the task. Until such time, it is not “fear-mongering” to point out that mainstream, orthodox Islamic doctrine, law, and practice are antithetical to the U.S. Constitution and our way of life in a democratic, free, liberal, pluralist, and tolerant society.


* Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans”, by David Schanzer (Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University), Charles Kurzman (Department of Sociology at UNC in Chapel Hill), and Ebrahim Moosa (Department of Religion at Duke). See Part 3, “Conclusions and Recommendations”, beginning on pg. 43.


About Clare M. Lopez

Clare M. Lopez is Vice President for Research & Analysis at the Center for Security Policy.  She previously was a Senior Fellow with the Center as well as with the London Center for Policy Research, member of Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign national security advisory team, Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee, and a career operations officer with the CIA. Read her complete bio here. Follow Lopez on Twitter @ClareMLopez

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