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Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques

About 80% of mosques are found to be teaching jihad warfare and Islamic supremacism.

by Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi

How great is the danger of extremist violence in the name of Islam in the United States? Recent congressional hearings into this question by Rep. Peter King (Republican of New York), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, have generated a firestorm of controversy among his colleagues, the press, and the general public. Though similar hearings have taken place at least fourteen times since 2001,[1] King was labeled a latter-day Joe McCarthy and the hearings called an assault on civil liberties and a contemporary witch-hunt. Yet the larger dilemmas outlined by both the congressman and some of his witnesses remain: To what extent are American Muslims, native-born as well as naturalized, being radicalized by Islamists? And what steps can those who are sworn to the protection of American citizenry take that will uncover and disrupt the plots of those willing to take up arms against others for the sake of jihad?

Root Causes and Enabling Mechanisms

 

A comprehensive study of the relationship between Shari’a adherence and incitement to violence in American mosques found that mosques that segregated men from women during prayer service were more likely to contain violence-positive materials than those where men and women were not segregated.

While scholarly inquiry into the root causes and factors supportive of terrorism has accelerated since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, there are few empirical studies that attempt to measure the relationship between specific variables and support for terrorism. To date, almost all of the professional and academic work in this field has been anecdotal surveys or case studies tracing backward through the personal profiles of terrorists and the socioeconomic and political environments from which they came.[2]

 

One study by Quintan Wiktorowicz, assistant professor of international studies at Rhodes College and now on the staff of the National Security Council,[3] noted that modern jihadists legitimize their violent activities by relying on the same textual works as their nonviolent Salafist counterparts. However, the approach taken to these texts by the violent jihadist may be distinguished from that of the nonviolent Salafist insofar as the jihadist uses the principles advanced by both classical and modern Islamic scholars and ideologues and adapts them to modern situations in a way that provides a broader sanction for the permissible use of violence.[4]

Further, in 2007, Paul Gill concluded that terrorist organizations seek societal support by creating a “culture of martyrdom” and that one theme common to suicide bombers was the support they received from a community that esteemed the concept of martyrdom. Thus, a complex dynamic is at work between a terrorist organization, society, and individuals with the interplay between these three dimensions enabling radicalization and terrorist attacks.[5]

Another item that may help to understand the growth of modern jihadism appears in Marc Sageman’s 2004 study, which found that 97 percent of jihadists studied had become increasingly devoted to forms of Salafist Islam highly adherent to Shari’a (Islamic law) while on their path to radicalization, despite many coming from less rigorous devotional levels during their youths. This increase in devotion to Salafist Islam was measured by outwardly observable behaviors such as wearing traditional Arabic, Pakistani, or Afghan clothing or growing a beard.[6]

When viewed together, a picture emerges that may give researchers, as well as law enforcement officials, a way to monitor or potentially to predict where violent jihad may take root. Potential recruits who are swept up in this movement may find their inspiration and encouragement in a place with ready access to classic and modern literature that is positive toward jihad and violence, where highly Shari’a-adherent behavior is practiced, and where a society exists that in some form promotes a culture of martyrdom or at least engages in activities that are supportive of violent jihad. The mosque can be such a place.

That the mosque is a societal apparatus that might serve as a support mechanism for violent jihad may seem self-evident, but for it to be a useful means for measuring radicalization requires empirical evidence. A 2007 study by the New York city police department noted that, in the context of the mosque, high levels of Shari’a adherence, termed “Salafi ideology” by the authors of the report, may relate to support for violent jihad. Specifically, it found that highly Shari’a-adherent mosques have played a prominent role in radicalization.[7] Another study found a relationship between frequency of mosque attendance and a predilection for supporting suicide attacks but discovered no empirical evidence linking support for suicide bombings to some measure of religious devotion (defined and measured by frequency of prayer).[8]

However, the study suffers from a major methodological flaw, namely, reliance on self- reporting of prayer frequency. Muslims would be under social and psychological pressure to report greater prayer frequency because their status as good or pious believers is linked to whether they fulfill the religious obligation to pray five times a day.[9] This piety is not dependent on regular mosque attendance as Muslims are permitted to pray outside of a mosque environment whenever necessary.[10] Hence, the pressure to over-report exists for self-reporting of prayer frequency but is not present in self-reporting of frequency of mosque attendance, which is a measure of both coalitional or group commitment and religious devotion.

Thus, there is a need for the study and corroboration of a relationship between high levels of Shari’a adherence as a form of religious devotion and coalitional commitment, Islamic literature that shows violence in a positive light, and institutional support for violent jihad. By way of filling this lacuna, the authors of this article undertook a survey specifically designed to determine empirically whether a correlation exists between observable measures of religious devotion linked to Shari’a adherence in American mosques and the presence of violence-positive materials at those mosques. The survey also sought to ascertain whether a correlation exists between the presence of violence-positive materials at a mosque and the promotion of jihadism by the mosque’s leadership through recommending the study of these materials or other manifest behaviors.

Identifying Shari’a-Adherent Behaviors

Shari’a is the Islamic system of law based primarily on two sources held by Muslims to be respectively direct revelation from God and divinely inspired: the Qur’an and the Sunna (sayings, actions, and traditions of Muhammad). There are other jurisprudential sources for Shari’a derived from the legal rulings of Islamic scholars. These scholars, in turn, may be adherents of differing schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Notwithstanding those differences, the divergence at the level of actual law is, given the fullness of thecorpus juris, confined to relatively few marginal issues. Thus, there is general unity and agreement across the Sunni-Shiite divide and across the various Sunni madh’habs (jurisprudential schools) on core normative behaviors.[11]

Surveyors were asked to observe and record selected behaviors deemed to be Shari’a-adherent. These behaviors were selected precisely because they constitute observable and measurable practices of an orthodox form of Islam as opposed to internalized, non-observable articles of faith. Such visible modes of conduct are considered by traditionalists to have been either exhibited or commanded by Muhammad as recorded in the Sunna and later discussed and preserved in canonical Shari’a literature. The selected behaviors are among the most broadly accepted by legal practitioners of Islam and are not those practiced only by a rigid subgroup within Islam—Salafists, for example.

Among the behaviors observed at the mosques and scored as Shari’a-adherent were: (a) women wearing the hijab (head covering) or niqab (full-length shift covering the entire female form except for the eyes); (b) gender segregation during mosque prayers; and (c) enforcement of straight prayer lines. Behaviors that were not scored as Shari’a-adherent included: (a) women wearing just a modern hijab, a scarf-like covering that does not cover all of the hair, or no covering; (b) men and women praying together in the same room; and (c) no enforcement by the imam, lay leader, or worshipers of straight prayer lines.

The normative importance of a woman’s hair covering is evidenced by two central texts, discussed at length below, Reliance of the Traveller and Fiqh as-Sunna (Law of the Sunna), both of which express agreement on the obligation of a woman to wear the hijab:

There is no such dispute over what constitutes a woman’s aurah [private parts/nakedness]. It is stated that her entire body is aurah and must be covered, except her hands and face … God does not accept the prayer of an adult woman unless she is wearing a head covering (khimar,hijab).[12]

The nakedness of a woman (even if a young girl) consists of the whole body except the face and hands. The nakedness of a woman is that which invalidates the prayer if exposed. … It is recommended for a woman to wear a covering over her head (khimar), a full length shift, and a heavy slip under it that does not cling to the body.[13]

In a similar fashion, Shari’a requires that the genders be separated during prayers. While both Reliance of the Traveller and Fiqh as-Sunna express a preference that women should pray at home rather than the mosque,[14] they agree that if women do pray in the mosque, they should pray in lines separate from the men.[15] Additionally, authoritative Shari’a literature agrees that the men’s prayer lines should be straight, that men should be close together within those lines, and that the imam should enforce prayer line alignment.[16]

Sanctioned Violence

The mosques surveyed contained a variety of texts, ranging from contemporary printed pamphlets and handouts to classic texts of the Islamic canon. From the perspective of promoting violent jihad, the literature types were ranked in the survey from severe to moderate to nonexistent. The texts selected were all written to serve as normative and instructive tracts and are not scriptural. This is important because a believer is free to understand scripture literally, figuratively, or merely poetically when it does not have a normative or legal gloss provided by Islamic jurisprudence.

The moderate-rated literature was authored by respected Shari’a religious and/or legal authorities; while expressing positive attitudes toward violence, it was predominantly concerned with the more mundane aspects of religious worship and ritual. The severe material, by contrast, largely consists of relatively recent texts written by ideologues, rather than Shari’a scholars, such as Abul Ala Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. These, as well as materials published and disseminated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, are primarily, if not exclusively, aimed at using Islam to advance a violent political agenda.

Mawdudi (1903-79), for one, believed that it was legitimate to wage violent jihad against “infidel colonizers” in order to gain independence and spread Islam. His Jihad in Islam, found in many of the mosques surveyed, instructed followers to employ force in pursuit of a Shari’a-based order:

These [Muslim] men who propagate religion are not mere preachers or missionaries, but the functionaries of God [so that they may be witnesses for the people], and it is their duty to wipe out oppression, mischief, strife, immorality, high handedness, and unlawful exploitation from the world by force of arms.[17]

Similarly, Qutb’s Milestones serves as the political and ideological backbone of the current global jihad movement. Qutb, for example, sanctions violence against those who stand in the way of Islam’s expansion:

If someone does this [prevents others from accepting Islam], then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.[18]

These materials differ from other severe- and moderate-rated materials because they are not Islamic legal texts per se but rather are polemical works seeking to advance a politicized Islam through violence, if necessary. Nor are these authors recognized Shari’a scholars.

The same cannot be said for some classical works that are also supportive of violence in the name of Islam….

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One Response

  1. The Boston Attack

    1. It was an Islamic Attack

    2. It was a simple attack


    3. It can be repeated all across America very easily.

    4. The two white America Muslims will be hero’s and martyrs to 80% of America Muslims
    With anti terrorist stuff I don’t like being right. That is when people get hurt.

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