'Islamophobia' and Islamo-reality

Count me among those daring to rationalize -- and echo -- the sentiments of 70% of my fellow Americans, who oppose the Ground Zero mosque/Islamic center edifice for ecumenism. But simply expressing legitimate, widespread concerns about this project has unleashed a torrent of obloquies emanating from distressingly ill-informed political and media cultural relativists, decrying "bigotry" and "intolerance." Contrast this outpouring of self-righteous indignation by these elites about the purported "Islamophobia" of Americans opposing the mosque with their own egregious ignorance of, and/or silence about, the extensive writings, pronouncements, and living, hateful legacy of the late Muslim Pope, Sheik Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi.

For over a thousand years, since its founding in 792 A.D., Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, has served as the academic shrine -- much as Mecca is the religious shrine -- of the global Muslim community. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi was Sunni Islam's " moderate" papal equivalent, Grand Imam of this Muslim Vatican, Al-Azhar, from 1996 until his recent death on March 10, 2010.

Tantawi was born in 1928 in Selim Al-Sharqiya, Egypt. He graduated from Al-Azhar University's Faculty of Religious Studies in 1958 and received his Ph.D. in 1966. Tantawi's  Ph.D. thesis, Banu Israil fi al-Quran wa-al-Sunnah (Jews in the Koran and the Traditions), was published in 1968-69 and republished in 1986. Two years after earning his Ph.D., Sheikh Tantawi began teaching at Al-Azhar. In 1980, he became the head of the Tafsir (Koranic Commentary) Department of the University of Medina, Saudi Arabia -- a position he held until 1984. Sheikh Tantawi became Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1986, a position he was to hold for a decade before taking on his final post, first assumed in 1996 and serving for fourteen years, as the Grand Imam.

Lengthy extracts translated into English from Tantawi's 700-page magnum opus Banu Israil fi al-Quran wa-al-Sunnah,are provided in my compendium, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism. This brief excerpt summarizes, in Tantawi's own words, the salient features of the Koran's normative Muslim Jew-hatred:

[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61 / 3:112], corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness...only a minority of the Jews keep their word [Koranic citation, here] ... [A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran  3:113], the bad ones do not.

Tantawi was apparently rewarded for this scholarly effort by being named Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in 1996. These were the expressed "carefully researched" views on Jews held by the Muslim Pope -- the former head of the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam for fourteen years, which represents some 90% of the world's Muslims. And Sheikh Tantawi never mollified such hatemongering beliefs while serving as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar as his statements on "dialogue " (January 1998) with Jews, the Jews as "enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs" (April 2002), and the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews (April 2002) made clear.

The statements on dialogue Tantawi issued shortly after he met with the Israel's Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, in Cairo on December 15, 1997, provided the late Grand Imam another opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to the views expressed about Jews in his Ph.D. thesis:

... anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward. My stance stems from Allah's book [the Koran], more than one-third of which deals with the Jews...[I] wrote a dissertation dealing with them [the Jews], all their false claims and their punishment by Allah. I still believe in everything written in that dissertation [i.e., Jews in the Koran and the Traditions, cited above].

Unfortunately, Tantawi's antisemitic formulations are well-grounded in classical, mainstream Islamic theology. The Koranic depiction of the Jews -- their traits as thus characterized being deemed both infallible and timeless -- highlights, in verse 2:61 (repeated in verse 3:112), the centrality of the Jews "abasement and humiliation" and being "laden with God's anger," as elaborated in the corpus of classical Muslim exegetic literature on Koran 2:61, including the hadith and Koranic commentaries. The terrifying rage decreed upon the Jews forever is connected in the hadith and exegeses to Koran 1:7, where Muslims ask Allah to guide them rightly, not in the path of those who provoke and must bear His wrath. This verse is in turn linked to Koranic verses 5:60 and 5:78, which describe the Jews' transformation into apes and swine (5:60), or apes alone (2:65 / 7:166), having been "... cursed by the tongue of David, and Jesus, Mary's son" (5:78). Moreover, forcing Jews, in particular, to pay the Koranic poll tax "tribute" (as per verse 9:29) "readily," while "being brought low," is consistent with their overall humiliation and abasement in accord with Koran 2:61 and its directly related verses.

An additional, much larger array of anti-Jewish Koranic motifs build to a denouement (as if part of a theological indictment, conviction, and sentencing process), concluding with an elaboration of the "ultimate sin" committed by the Jews (they are among the devil's minions [Koran 4:60], accursed by God [Koran 4:47]), and their appropriate punishment: If they do not accept the true faith (i.e., Islam), on the day of judgment, they will burn in the hellfire (Koran 4:55). As per, Koran 98:6, "The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures."

However, understanding and acknowledging the Koranic origins of Islamic antisemitism is not a justification for Tantawi's unreformed, unrepentant modern validation of these hateful motifs -- with predictably murderous consequences. Within days of the Netanya homicide bombing massacre on a Passover Seder night, March 27, 2002, for example, Sheikh Tantawi issued an abhorrent endorsement (April 4, 2002) of so-called "martyrdom operations," even when directed at Israeli civilians.

And during November 2002 ("Tantawi: No Antisemitism," Associated Press, 11/19/2002), consistent with his triumphant denial, Sheikh Tantawi made the following statement in response to criticism over the virulently antisemitic Egyptian television series ("Horseman Without a Horse") based on the Czarist Russia forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

Suppose that the series has some criticism or shows some of the Jews' traits, this doesn't necessitate an uproar ... The accusation of antisemitism was invented by the Jews as a means to pressure Arabs and Muslims to implement their schemes in the Arab and Muslim countries, so don't pay attention to them.

On January 22, 2008, it was reported that Tantawi cancelled what would have been an historic visit to the Rome synagogue by Ala Eldin Mohammed Ismail al-Ghobash, the imam of Rome's mosque. The putative excuse for this cancellation was Israel's self-defensive stance -- a blockade -- in response to acts of jihad terrorism (rocket barrages, attempted armed incursions) emanating from Gaza. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, commenting aptly about these events, observed that the cancellation proved that "... even so called Muslim moderates share the ideology of hate, violence and death towards the Jewish state." Al Azhar, Corriere della Sera further argued, which in the absence of a central Muslim authority constituted a "Vatican of Sunni Islam," had in effect issued "a kind of fatwah." The paper concluded by noting that "[w]hat the Cairo statement really means is that Muslim dialogue with Jews in Italy is only possible once Israel has been eliminated."

This is the overall context in which to view Tantawi's better-known -- if meaningless -- bland condemnation of generic terrorism as "un-Islamic." Tantawi's case illustrates the prevalence and depth of sacralized, "normative" Jew-hatred in the contemporary Muslim world. Arguably Islam's leading mainstream cleric, the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi, epitomized how the living legacy of Muslim anti-Jewish hatred and violence remains firmly rooted in mainstream, orthodox Islamic teachings, not some aberrant vision of "radical Islam."  

It is axiomatic that our elites will declare this whole discussion "Islamophobic" -- despite the contents being based almost entirely on Islam's sacred texts and Tantawi's own expressed words and actions. Fortunately, tens of millions of Americans are not playing our elites' endless, self-destructive game of Wonderland croquet, and they understand the stark difference between Islamophobia and Islamo-reality -- some 16,000 jihad terror attacks after 9/11.
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