Soliman al—Buthe (or al—Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.
1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter (in blue).
2. Months later in that same year, Mr. al—Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues (in green). He sought the advice of Saudi scholars, as well.
3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions (in black). Sometimes I embed this portion in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.
Open Letter to Congress (continued):
Claims that Saudi charities either deliberately or inadvertently fund al—Qaeda ignore the fundamental tenet of charitable giving in Islam. 'Zakat,' or charity, is one of the five pillars of Islam; it requires the giving of 2� percent one's assets that have been held for one year to be to a narrow class of needy persons. Due to its importance to the faith, Muslims and Muslim leaders strictly enforce where their charitable donations go.
Rather than work with Saudi and other Muslim charities to ensure transparency, accountability, and best practices, the United States has imposed counter—productive measures on Saudis beyond that which even their own citizens would tolerate. These measures include ending collection boxes for the needy, consolidating all charities and charity bank accounts into a single agency, the implementing rules that encourage if not require legitimate charities to consider going underground. Furthermore, the common United States practice of freezing charities' and charitable officials' bank accounts based upon secret evidence only serves to reinforce the image of ending faith—based giving rather than truly rooting out the evils of terror finance.
JA (2005): Dore Gold in his book Hatred's Kingdom proposes this sequence of events that to an outsider makes sense (pp. 197—203):
1. On October 21—22, 2000 Crown Prince Abdullah addressed an Arab summit, in which he proposed the following for the children of Palestinian martyrs:
I would like also to announce that the people of Saudi Arabia, headed by the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, shall undertake to sponsor and support one thousand Palestinian families of the martyred and wounded in the Al—Aqsa Intifada.
Is this the beginning of the al—Quds fund?
SaB (2005): Mr. Dore Gold intentionally misleads his readers in that he claims Saudi Arabia 'sponsors' the families.He implies that the Kingdom agrees with and supports the suicide bombers themselves; this is not the case.Saudi Arabia and most other countries know that, under Israel's illegal use of 'collective punishment,' the Israeli war machine will devastate the entire family in retaliation for a bomber's actions.To Israel, it is not enough that the family loses a son or daughter; the Israeli government instantly and without recourse or trial assumes the entire family to be responsible and proceeds to raze their house within hours.Thus if twelve members of a family are living under one roof, all will become homeless.When the home is destroyed, the family has nothing.Saudi Arabia sees its obligation under Islam to take care of the innocent poor and needy; the family having just lost a home without insurance to back them up becomes needy.Saudi Arabia thus properly steps in to help in such cases.
We truly believe that, no matter the cause, we support the needy and poor.
JA (2006): First, we have some confusion. The link to the excerpted words of Crown Prince Abdullah shows that they are not translated by Dore Gold, but by an Arab website that seeks to introduce non—Muslims to Islam.
Second, you write that Israel will 'devastate the entire family' (your emphasis). In reply, thousands of Palestinian Muslims live within Israel, but their homes are not devastated. Generally, they do not commit acts of terrorism. They live in a free and prosperous nation, so they can become free and prosperous. Also, Israel put up a fence to respond to the Intifada, and the acts of terrorism dropped dramatically. Israel therefore did not randomly destroy Palestinian homes. Does anyone of a sound mind really believe that Israel would destroy homes of peaceful Palestinians as a matter of policy or sport?
Third, in the well—researched and scholarly Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad by Matthew Levitt (Yale UP, 2006), the author explains Israel's position on destroying the homes of terrorists. Among the radical Palestinians, terrorism is a family affair. Some children look forward to the day when they can strap on bombs to fight for the cause. However, as this excerpt reveals, they need proper training.
An Israeli Security Agency (ISA) report in 2004 identified a 64 percent increase in the number of minors involved in terrorism compared to 2003. Gaza psychologist Fadl Abu Hein has lamented, 'Martyrdom has become an ambition for our children. If they had a proper education in a normal environment, they won't have looked for a value in death.' Because they see Palestinian children as legitimate tools in their fight against Israel, Hamas leaders openly discuss how children should be trained and incorporated into the group. On May 26, 2002, Salah Shehadah, a founder of the Hamas military wing, stated in an interview on the Islam Online website that children should be properly trained prior to the execution of terrorist attacks, and that they should be enlisted in a special branch of the military arm of the organization. (p. 110)
Israel would like to send a message that families should not support their own children in terrorism. Levitt goes on to list some of the family members who blew themselves up or committed other violent acts (p. 123).
And this fact should also be repeated. Thousands of Palestinian Muslims live in Israel, peacefully. The Israeli government does not destroy their homes simply because they are Palestinians. Rather, there must be a cause and effect, as follows. First, the young terrorist strikes (after leaving a videotaped message and receiving great honor from his family). That's the cause. Then Israel responds. That's the effect. One could assert that the first cause is Israeli 'oppression,' but this has already been answered in Part Nine. The Palestinians should get on with the business of building, as Israel has done, a prosperous society with all of the aid money that they receive from the western governments and the charities you extol, below.
The bottom line on destroying the homes that encourage and breed terrorism: Israel itself should decide on how it must survive as an island in a sea of Islamic nations that hate it. Many would like to see it destroyed completely.
JA (2005) 2. On April 11, 2002, Saudi Arabia held a telethon and raised 109 million dollars for 'Palestinian martyrs.' Saudi spokesman Adal al—Jubeir denies that the money was supporting suicide bombers or terrorist organizations like Hamas. Even if we assume, only for the sake of argument that the money was not going to a slush fund to support Hamas or suicide bombers, is it not clear that this money at least supports the effects or aftermath of suicide bombings, and it therefore supports its origins?
SaB (2005): The problem here is the style of your question: you have already assumed that, 'for the sake of argument' (therefore placing the burden of proof upon me), a 'slush fund' was created, implying a cover—up.How does one prove a negative?It seems that your argument is that evil will come from covert monies are connected to Saudi Arabia because nothing good can come from our people.In fact, the funds you mention were directed toward the families who suffered substantial loss and had no means to get back on their feet.If those families have no way of meeting their living expenses, we recognize that other members of their family may become angry and even more hostile towards the Israeli government.We try and support innocent children and families in part in order to avoid this perpetual cycle.We want small children to have food, and the elderly to have shelter.It is the West that concludes that assistance to the needy and homeless has to equate to support for the bombers themselves.Saudi Arabia does not support the bombers; rather, it supports the victims.It is part of Islam that we give charity.
JA (2006): Again, we have a misunderstanding. My hypothetical scenario assumes that money does not go to terrorist organizations or to slush funds. So the assumption, for a moment, supports your claim that the money goes only to poor and deprived Palestinian families. Next, I am convinced that the best way to avoid the cycle of violence is for the Palestinians to lay aside their hostility and their bitterness at losing Jerusalem and portions of the historic homeland of the Jews—see Part Nine and the list of facts gathered by Dennis Prager. And the Palestinians should instead develop their economy and preach from the mosques and teach in the schools the message of love and reconciliation instead of hatred and the twisted love of death and martyrdom. Many people in many societies are oppressed, but they do not become human bombs.
SaB (2005): As for the funds actually raised for the purposes discussed above, their collection and distribution was completely transparent.The United States government has accepted this purpose.It is only people like Gold who wish to ignore those facts in order to perpetuate his hatred of the Kingdom (that he has never visited).
JA (2006): It is not clear, as you assert in your long paragraph above your immediate one here, that 'Saudi Arabia does not support the bombers; rather, it supports the victims.' Moreover, it is not clear that the US government has accepted this purpose and transparency.
First, a long publication by Freedom House on the ideology of hate from Saudi Arabia says that in 2004 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shut down the Saudi Haramain charity organization because it channeled money directly to al—Qaeda. Saudi authorities agreed on shutting it down, as well (here is the quick synopsis of the long report). Did action like this prompt these words in your Open Letter? 'Claims that Saudi charities either deliberately or inadvertently fund al—Qaeda ignore the fundamental tenet of charitable giving in Islam.' In reply, the point is not so much the motive of zakat or charity, but the direction or recipient of the charities.
Second, as to my point about Saudi spokesman Adal al—Jubeir, Levitt in his book (cited above) reports that in 2002 Saudi Arabia promised to crack down on support for Hamas. However, Adal al—Jubeir admits that money still goes to the 'political wing' (as opposed to the militant wing) of Hamas (p. 191). What happens to the money after it goes to the political wing? Can anyone prove that it is not transferred, at least in part, to the militant wing?
Third, Levitt further says Saudi Arabia produces mixed results on fundraising for Hamas:
A 2004 Council on Foreign Relations report on terror financing notes Saudi progress in the war on terror financing, but adds that 'in Saudi Arabia, whose people and organization may contribute as much as 60 percent of Hamas' budget, the government still does recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization, notwithstanding important recent steps, such as the announced cessation of official efforts to raise money for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.' (p. 193).
If Saudi Arabia has not declared Hamas a terrorist organization, then why would the Saudi donors not give to it? So the question is—why has Saudi Arabia not declared it a terrorist organization?
SaB (2005): A final point on the Palestinian issue:Have you personally ever visited the West Bank or Gaza?Have you spent even one minute living the life of a Palestinian in occupied Palestine.I know Americans who have — and who have returned from that ordeal with a festering hatred in their hearts for their government's blind support of continued Israeli oppression.I would be happy to put you in touch with any number of them at your request.
JA 2006): It is a pity that Americans have come back from Gaza with 'festering hatred in their hearts.' The road to peace goes through the human heart, but hatred will block peace. If I were to meet these Americans, I would tell them to get the hate purged out. I would tell them to go back to Gaza and preach on the streets that the Palestinians should spend the billions they receive in financial aid from western and Islamic governments on building a prosperous society, as Israel has done. The Palestinians should also get the hatred purged out. It does them no good. It is a cause of violence.
Assuming these Americans would not get murdered by radical Palestinians, the Americans should preach everywhere in the PalestinianTerritories that mosques and schools should promote peace and reconciliation, not the virtue of martyrdom and a death cult. These Americans should tell the Palestinian authorities that they should produce TV programs that say that Jews are not descended from apes and monkeys. Jews are humans too. These Americans should tell the Palestinian authorities to fire or sack, for example, Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, who appears on national Palestinian TV spewing Jew—hatred and his prediction that Islam will rule the world, even America, and rid the world of Jews.
Most pro—Palestinian American protesters are hard leftists, and they value gay rights. They should march through the streets of Gaza asking the new Hamas government to allow gays to live in peace. Truthfully, the protesters may get killed for this. But they could do this freely in Israel. Next, they should march through the streets of Gaza and inform the Palestinians that Israel is not their oppressors. In the big picture, Israel is surrounded by nations that wish and work for its annihilation. It is Israel that constantly feels threatened. If I could meet these misguided protesters, I would tell them that the Jews lived in their homeland and capital for centuries before Islam arrived on the world stage and the Palestinian Arabs gradually, over the centuries, moved into Israel's land from east of the Jordan River.
As I noted in Part Nine,
Other nations squabbled over borders as the nations were being established. For example, Mexico and the US fought a war in the middle of the nineteenth century. The US paid compensation to the Mexican government. But do Mexicans strap on bombs and blow themselves up in a US shopping mall or a crowded subway? China raped Tibet. Does any Tibetan strap on a bomb and kill innocent Chinese? The list of border disputes and conflicts is endless. Why do only Muslims kill innocents, believing that they as 'human bomb martyrs' will go to Islamic heaven? If Islam as a religion is not to be blamed entirely, can it be excused entirely?
JA (2005) 3. This article says that the Qur'an itself guarantees Islamic heaven for martyrs in military holy wars (jihad or qital), especially Sura 61:10—12. Where does this article go wrong? Do you see how these verses in the Qur'an may inspire human bombs?
SaB (2005): First, is it possible that these words were poorly translated? We in the Arabic world are constantly annoyed when we see poor translations of the Qur'an, knowing that the worst of them are grabbed by MEMRI to 'sell' to the US public as evidence of evil intent.
Second, the Qur'an promises heaven for those who are martyrs and who have died in defense of their people.It promises eternal hell for those who commit suicide.There is nothing unclear about this in the Qur'an, at least in its original Arabic.It is up to Westerners to understand that, just as the Bible was mistranslated (thus the debate at the Council of Nicea centuries after the death of Jesus), the Qur'an is constantly mistranslated these days.
Third, It is common knowledge among Muslims that those who die in the way of Godare promised paradise. But in Islam we don't talk about 'guarantees.' No Muslim says about himself or any one else that they will definitely go to paradise. This is so because one can never be sure that he has fulfilled all the conditions of a righteous deed so that God will accept it. We can only say in a general sense that a person who fights sincerely and rightly in the way of God will surely go to paradise.
Fourth, Can these verses inspire human bombs? Yes they can if a person sees what he or she is doing as a good example of fighting for the sake of truth. Many of your soldiers are killing themselves and many innocent people for what they are told by their politicians is a defense of freedom or the national interest of their country.(Has anyone in the West considered the morality of 'collateral damage' during the 'Shock and Awe' campaign in Iraq?)
JA (2006): My four points correspond to yours.
First, you retreat to the 'bad translation' position concerning the invaluable organization MEMRI. If you observe any specific mistranslations, then notify this superb organization. I am sure it will enquire further into your suggestions. That said, this plea of a 'bad translation' is often the default position of anyone who is uncomfortable with an idea. Translating can sometimes be difficult, but in most instances it is straightforward. For example, it is not the case that the words 'we enthusiastically work for Israel's annihilation' in one language can be accurately translated as 'we love Israel' in another language.
Also, your reference to Nicea eludes me. The Bible was intact long before then. The New Testament was written in Greek, and many theologians at Nicea could read and speak it. So how is there a mistranslation?
In your second point, you once again retreat to the 'bad translation' defense. I have no fewer than eighteen translations of the Quran at home, most of which are translated by Muslims. Throughout our dialogue, I have mostly used Hilali and Khan's translation, supported by the Saudi Royal family. I notice that you use it in your online articles. Plus, my linked article describes your position in your third point perfectly. The article says, as you do, that martyrs get a 'fast track' to heaven. In your third point you merely shift the vocabulary from 'guarantee' (my word) to 'promise.' Next, you say that the Quran promises hell for anyone who commits suicide. That's fair enough. But your third and fourth points, examined next, clarify things more fully.
Third, you say that Muslims who die in the way of God are 'promised paradise.' What does 'the way of God' mean? In the Quran the 'Cause / Way of Allah' usually refers to jihad or qital. Your last sentence in your third point supports this interpretation: 'We can only say in a general sense that a person who fights sincerely and rightly in the way of God will surely go to paradise' (emphasis added). Then you say that 'one can never be sure that [a Muslim] has fulfilled all the conditions of a righteous deed so that God will accept it.' So we have two groups of Muslims in your explanation: (1) those who do righteous deeds. They can never be sure that their deeds are good enough. (2) Those who fight sincerely. They will 'surely go to paradise.' In reply, however, all of this seems strange and backwards. It would be better, would it not, if jihadists or qitalists would not be promised paradise (but be promised hell), whereas the doers of good deeds (without violence) would be promised paradise.
Fourth, our soldiers are in a fight for freedom, liberating Afghanistan and Iraq from a religious tyranny and a secular tyranny. They do not fight to be promised paradise. We Christians believe that Christ's 'martyrdom' secures our entrance into heaven. We do not have to fight and die or get involved in a (twisted) quest for martyrdom and death.
As for the collateral damage in 'shock and awe,' Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld explains his views before liberating Iraq, and he admits that this was a difficult decision. But Saddam was killing a lot more people (usually Shi'ites) than the Iraq War has by now—a lot more. We have developed technology to avoid civilian casualties. It seems that Sunni factions, some of whom come from Saudi Arabia, are deliberately targeting civilians in Shi'ite sections of Iraq, particularly their mosques.
JA (2005) 4. In endnote 2, below, [sic, World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and Muslim World League (MWL)] you list Muslim organizations. What is the essence of the goals of these organizations? Do you believe it is to further Islam around the world generally and around North America specifically?
SaB (2005) It is unlawful for us to 'further Islam' by unlawful means.
Whenever we hear the West insist that we want to force Islam on others, whether in the US or not, we can't understand why the West does not understand the even most basic outline of Islam!The acceptable way for one to come to Islam is on his own, by seeing what we are like in truth and without pressure.
The goal of organizations 'furthering' Islam is, quite simply, to correct the constant and increasing misunderstandings the West perpetuates (often intentionally), to serve the Muslim communities, to speak the truth, and to show others Islam.If one becomes interested in Islam, he will himself come to these Islamic organizations to learn more out of his own curiosity and free will.This is the same process that Christian organizations, including millions of missionaries sent out by churches, have used for centuries as they have attempted to propagate Christianity all over the world.
JA (2006): There is nothing wrong with a religion preaching its message peacefully. No one said anything about 'unlawful means.' The point to my question no. 4 is to get a clear declaration from you that Muslims are missionaries. In any case, this peaceful proclamation is why Saudi Arabia should open the doors to Christians and Jews, so they can return to their historic homes in the Arabian Peninsula. Christians simply want to preach their message, which you so eloquently describe as the method of Islam.
However, the full story must be told. In Part Three (see my four numbered points below the long list of Quranic legal decrees), I cite Suras 9:5 and . They command battle against polytheists and Jews and Christians. You explain in Part Eight (see my question 4B) that Christians are polytheists, so apparently radicals can apply both Quranic verses to them. These verses and many others make Christians and Jews nervous about the intent of missionary Muslims. What are the true intentions of WAMY and MWL? Are they peaceful? Or are they merely peaceful on the outside, but on the inside they can hardly wait to establish shariah? Too often the sword speaks for dawa (the call to Islam).
In the New Testament Jesus does not tell his followers to commit violence and force people to convert at the edge of a sword. He did not kill apostates. It is beyond my ability to figure out why Muslims believe that Islam completes and fulfills Christianity.
JA (2005) 5. Why are not Christian organizations allowed to operate so freely and publicly in Saudi Arabia? Does it not seem fair that they would be permitted to do so?
SaB (2005): Can I ask why there are no synagogues at the Vatican?Why is there no mosque next door to the Papal palace?
Churches are allowed in all Muslim countries except ours; they are excluded from Saudi Arabia because this country is the home of Islam.Saudi Arabia is more than a nation, a state, or a Kingdom — it is the centre of the entire Islamic world.Just like the Vatican it is sacrosanct in this way.We have never demanded that mosques be built in the Vatican, or in atheist China or Cuba for example; it is equally wrong for Westerners to focus on the building of a church or synagogue in the Holy Places.However, people here are free to worship unhindered in their own homes — and they do so.
JA (2006): Here are some repeated points from elsewhere in our dialogue, especially Part Five, but other ones are new. (1) There is in fact a synagogue and a mosque in Rome. The mosque, not surprisingly, was funded by Saudi Arabia. The Vatican approved of its construction. (2) Saudi Arabia is 1,960,582 square kilometers (not counting the rest of the Peninsula and the Gulf States), but the Vatican is 0.44 sq. km. Surely there is room for even a few churches outside of Mecca and Medina and perhaps outside of the Hijaz. (3) At the very least visiting Christians and Jews should be able to wear their symbols and religious adornments and carry their holy books without being harassed or arrested in Saudi Arabia. (4) In Saudi Arabia people are free to worship in their homes? Truthfully, however, Christians and Saudi Shiite Muslims secretly hold their ceremonies in their homes, but they are not free. Under a wide range of circumstances, sometimes they get arrested,imprisoned and tortured. (5) Saudi authorities should stop blocking websites like answeringislam.org. Is the worldwide web in Saudi Arabia sacrosanct from religious liberty? (6) You say that Islam never demands that mosques be built in China or Cuba. 'Demand' does not fit our dialogue. And there are mosques in China. A Muslim leader in the Muslim World League asked permission from the Cuban authorities to build a mosque in support of the small Muslim community there. Did he 'demand' it? (7) When religious authorities of one religion suppress freedom of other religions, they testify against their own religion. It is an admission of weakness. Your version of Islam, so pure and strict and therefore safeguarded by Allah, should be able to stand on its own two feet without scaring away other religions by force, persecution, imprisonment, and torture.
Open Letter to Congress (continued):
In conclusion, I would like to remind the American people and their representatives that for more than 70 years there has been a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries.In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, 'the friendship and cooperation between our governments and peoples are precious jewels whose value we should never underestimate.'I believe that the Muslim world in general and people of Saudi Arabia people in particular genuinely desire to overcome the current tension and retain this precious jewel. The Muslims, and in particular their religious leadership, want only to develop and reform their societies; they do not seek a perpetual war of civilizations or World War IV.Rather, we seek peaceful coexistence and an exchange that is mutually beneficial to both Muslim and non—Muslims alike.
Such a future can only be built on understanding and trust. In that spirit, we invite the members of the 109th Congress of the United States of America to an honest and open dialogue. Instead of attempting to form an opinion based on the testimony of others, invite the Islamic scholars of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to stand before your distinguished body and address your every concern directly. Instead of rushing into a hasty judgment on this nation and these people who have been your friend and ally for over 70 years, I suggest to the members of Congress themselves visit the Kingdom and observe first hand our religious systems and our way of life. True peace can only be based upon understanding.
JA (2005): You ask that Saudi scholars stand before Congress and address its every concern. If that does not happen, then I hope our dialogue addresses the concerns that many Americans, besides myself, have in regards to Wahhabism and Islamic fundamentalism.
SaB (2005): I hope too.
JA (2005): In your email to me, you say that you have discussed your letter with Saudi religious scholars and theologians. I hope that they join with you in answering these questions and concerns.
In conclusion, we have done our best to answer your questions in the best way we could, I again reiterate that we seek peaceful coexistence (please see How We Can Coexist) and an exchange that is mutually beneficial to both Muslim and non—Muslims alike. We do not believe it imperative that our civilizations should be enemies to each other; rather, we hope and aspire to build a friendship and future based on understanding and the mutual recognition of difference.
It is understandable that many of our practices and beliefs seem strange to those in the West, just as the practices of many Westerners seem strange to us.While many Saudi people have benefited from an exposure to Western civilization and formed more nuanced views as a result, likewise we believe that the West might benefit from investigating in an open—minded, unbiased manner our civilization and our religious systems.
I will conclude with Prince Charles, Heir to the British Monarchy, in public speech at OxfordUniversity stated:
'If there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilization owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure, which stems, I think, from the straight—jacket of history, which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic World, from Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society, and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great reliance to our own history.'(Please see History of Science and Civilization as taught by many education systems).
In this spirit, we invite you to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and observe our way of life first hand.
JA (2006): It has been an honor to dialogue with you.
In the big picture, you wrote your Open Letter to Congress to explain that Wahhabis are just Muslims who follow a strict interpretation of the Quran. This may be true, but over a billion followers of Islam lay claim to the title of 'Muslim.' So we need to make distinctions. Whatever label is selected for Wahhabism, I hope that peace and religious liberty can become a reality behind the word, in Saudi Arabia.