Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
The Growing Tension between the West and Muslims
Points of contention between Muslims and non-Muslims have gradually increased in recent years. In the opinion of many, they represent the most serious risk for world peace. It is not merely a conflict between Israel and the Arabs, but rather, the policy of Iran and Al Qaeda, who openly express sheer hatred of Israel and the West. In the words of the Iranians, the United States is the “Great Satan”, while Israel is the “Little Satan”.
Moreover, dangerous conflicts are occurring between India and Pakistan, between the Chechnya rebels and Russia, and between the people of Uyghur and China. In the major cities of Europe – from France to Russia – tensions between native residents and Muslim immigrants is on the rise, as well. It appears these conflicts are not coincidental; rather, they reflect a core problem which, if not thoroughly understood by the Western world, will lead to increasing tensions, until the conflict is likely to result in terrible bloodshed throughout all of Europe and the Islamic countries.
Failures of Western Policy and “Experts”
In my article last week, I criticized U.S. President Barack Obama’s position, who, in his keynote speech in Jerusalem, said that young Muslims want “the ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married and have a family.” He thereby expressed the prevailing view among those who believe that liberalism is the supreme aspiration of all mankind, while ignoring the extraordinarily powerful religious values that have motivated people and nations throughout history.
“To worship God in their own way”, is the ambition of a person who believes in liberalism and wishes to reserve a certain place in his life for spirituality, irrelevant of how it is expressed. However, for someone motivated by time-honored religious beliefs, “to worship God in their own way” is highly inadequate. This is the reason why the U.S. and Western countries, whose positions are guided by basic liberalism, fail to understand Muslims, and consequently, do not know how to deal with them – despite the enormous resources at their disposal.
First, one needs to understand Islam’s exceptional strength – together with its virtues and shortcomings. I am far from being an expert on this, and I am also sure that the few books I have read on Islam were not accurate representations, because they were written by academics who find it difficult to properly understand what faith and religion are all about. But it seems that precisely as one who fully identifies with his faith, I am able to add a dimension missing from the understanding of Muslim culture and religion. Instinct tells me my inaccuracies are in the specifics, whereas most Western “experts” err in theory.
The Religious Point of View
The fundamental approach of Islam lies in a religious perception which views God as an all-powerful champion, to which everyone must submit and accept his absolute authority. Out of the five major precepts of Islam, four deal directly with the honor of god and submission to him: 1) accepting faith in him. 2) praying to him five times a day, mainly involving bowing and reciting seven verses praising Allah, seventeen times, and accepting his authority. 3) fasting in the month of Ramadan. 4) making the pilgrimage to Mecca. (An additional precept is giving charity to the poor, which expresses submission to Allah as well – for money belongs to him and not man). Even praise and confession to Allah is performed out of a feeling of submission and honor.
Islam’s Influence on Personal Behavior
This approach extends to all interpersonal relationships, all of which are based on honor. A wife must highly respect her husband, and a husband is obligated to take care of, support, and protect his wife – this is his honor. Needless to say, children are also required to honor their parents. Interpersonal relationships as well are based on great respect, producing a sense of noble generosity, which allows room for hospitality and brotherhood.
Seeing as honor is so important, offending a Muslim is intolerable, because it undermines the very foundation of his existence; consequently, he is obliged to respond with extreme gravity, leading to the familiar and horrifying expression of “family honor killings.”
Since force and control are vital to Islam, consequently, a ruler who is not perceived as strong and even cruel is incapable of lasting in Muslim culture. Therefore, the democratic system is unable to provide stability for Islamic countries. The ideal government for them is an authoritarian rule that protects and provides honor to all its citizens, similar to a compassionate father caring for the welfare of his sons.
The Positive Aspects of Islam
Unmistakably, there are very positive aspects of Islam. The foundations of the religion were derived from Judaism, and tailored to the character of the Arab nation. These positive aspects and their contribution to the world deserve of study, to clarify how useful the value of honor could be for the modern world, whose problems, to a large extent, stem from a lack of respect of God and human dignity. The right to freedom is not a substitute for lost honor. The right of dignity in a democratic society is expressed merely by refraining from humiliating someone; it is void of positive respect. This allows for a feeling of apathy, arrogance, and contempt for others, and their values.
All the same, at present we are engaged in the tensions surrounding the followers of Islam, which naturally will present its less attractive sides.
Islam – A Religion of War
Following the five precepts of Islam, the next most important precept is the command of jihad. Resembling Allah, his followers must also act courageously, forcibly subduing those who do not succumb to his authority. Power and the sword play a central role in the Muslim religion, emphasizing the physical strength of the religion, and enhancing the greatness and honor of Allah by imposing his beliefs on all mankind. Even the calls to prayer over loudspeakers by the muezzin day and night, are an expression of imposing the religion over wide-open areas, directed towards themselves, and all others.
It is no coincidence that the Arabs have succeeded in imposing Islam on many nations, to the point where presently, there are approximately 1,400,000,000 followers. The genetic code of Islam is programmed towards a steadfast war of imposing Muhammad’s religion on the entire world by means of the sword. To achieve this goal, everything is legitimate. If they must kill, they will kill; if they must lie, they will lie. It was not the enchanting beauty of Islamic religion which enticed so many nations to accept it upon themselves, but rather, the clear threat of death.
All nations attained their achievements through confrontations and triumphs. Unlike other cultures however, in Islam, the principle of compromise is intolerable, especially a territorial compromise. Compromise is an expression of weakness, whereas a Muslim is required to represent the heroism and strength of Allah, and must always clutch the sword, prepared to continue the war of imposing his religion.
Therefore, even when Muslims lack the power to defeat their enemy, there is no willingness to compromise. If they are compelled to agree to a cease-fire (‘tahadiya’ in Arabic), as far as Islam is concerned, it is only a respite which must be utilized to prepare for the continuation of the war. In the interim, if possible, they will weaken their opponent by means of terrorist attacks and raids. If they are unable to win, at the very least they will attempt to sedate him with lies, and when the opportunity arises, attack once again till he is defeated. This method is based on the conduct of their prophet Muhammad towards the tribe of Quraysh.
The Significance of the Sword in Islam
According to Muslim belief, the world is divided into two parts: ‘Dar al-Islam’ is territories already conquered by Islam. ‘Dar al-Harb’ is territories of war, which the Arabs are commanded to conquer, and after doing so, they become Muslim holy territory (waqf), which must not be relinquished under any circumstances. Even if this territory is re-conquered by another nation for hundreds of years, according to Muslim law, it is still considered ‘sanctified’ land which must be returned to Muslim control.
Of course, the State of Israel constitutes a twofold problem for them: First, it was established on territory that was conquered by Islam ever since its inception (except for a period of approximately 100 years when it was ruled by the Crusaders). Secondly, it is also located in the heart of Arab-controlled areas.
Some Muslims are more devout, others less; nevertheless, they all share the desire to return Arab rule over the Land of Israel. The debate between the moderates and the extremists is over the question of whether they are able to conduct an overt, all-out war against us, or first, to emasculate and weaken the State of Israel by means of agreements and political pressure, and only afterwards, take it by force.
How to Deal with the Islamic Threat
The only way to exempt a Muslim from war is by creating a situation in which he is entirely helpless – without the capability or opportunity, to succeed. Only then, according to Islamic law, is he exempt from the necessity to wage war. In that case, he will wait for years or even generations, confident that when the opportunity is presented, he will return to wage war.
In contrast, any attempt to compromise with Islam will inevitably lead to the continuation and intensification of war and terror, because it is perceived as a weakness. Since, according to Muslim culture, if the Western countries had the power to defeat them, seeking a compromise would be unthinkable. The search for compromise can only be due to their inability to face the heroic attacks of Allah’s faithful, and hence, their downfall is close at hand. The same is true regarding Israel – any attempt at compromise or looking for a “political horizon”, instills hope within the Arabs that they can defeat her, and as a result, encourages terrorism and war.
Anyone wishing for peaceful and calm relations with Muslims must avoid presenting ambitions of peace, or any talk of it, because peace with non-Muslims contradicts their beliefs. The objective of Western countries must be to secure a durable ceasefire, and at the same time, conduct respectable relationships. When this occurs, it will be possible to eventually reach a loftier and more profound peace. Such a peace, however, cannot be discussed at this point in time.
The Mistake in Obama’s Cairo Speech
Instead, when Obama spoke in Cairo four years ago, he erred twice: First, by calling the Muslims to peace, thereby intensifying their battle against America, and hastening the downfall of Arab rulers who supported the United States. Secondly, despite all the praise for Muslims, in truth, he was condescending, humiliating their beliefs by preaching to them to behave democratically, to grant equality to women, and to provide equal rights for minorities – when in fact, Muslim values are based on honor, and not equality. Had he firmly insisted on equality for Egypt’s Christian Copts, they would have respected his demands. But when he asked for this in the name of democracy and religious freedom, he damaged his status in their eyes, and endangered the Copts, whose situation has since deteriorated.
Let us conclude with the prayer: “The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace”. As a result, Islam’s positive values will come to the fore, the nations will come closer to faith in God and fulfilling the Noahide commandments – each nation according to its own qualities and character – and true peace will come to the world.