Striving to Understand 9/11

Striving to Understand 9/11:

Some Religious Dimensions of the Attack*

 Hanshin Journal of Humanities, Volume 3, December 2002

Humanities Research Institute Lecture

September 11, 2002


Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges

Hanshin University


[AUTHOR'S NOTE: At the time that this research was conducted, citation conventions for the internet were not yet uniformly established, and I was not yet aware of the need to cite a non-cached version of online articles, but current online searches might enable one to check for the original web source rather than a cached version.]

One year ago on a late Tuesday evening, I finished teaching my graduate conversation class, caught an Osan bus home, rocked my two-year-old son to sleep, turned on the television, and saw a huge passenger plane slam into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and explode into an enormous fireball. Within seconds, janitors and executives, secretaries and managers, waitresses and cooks, people who had been drinking a cup of coffee or chatting with a co-worker or mentally preparing for another work day, were leaping from the flames and plummeting, some hand in hand, for a thousand feet to the sidewalks and the streets and certain death. Then, a second plane, into the South Tower. Another horrendous fireball. More bodies falling in a gruesome rain.[1] Then, the thundering collapse of those two massive skyscrapers. Finally, ashes and silence. 

A year later, we Americans recall that shocked silence, that moment when we literally did not know what to say, when it was already more than we could bear.[2] 

Perhaps we still do not know exactly what to say. I certainly do not, and I must openly acknowledge that I am speaking today about an exceedingly complex subject upon which I am far from an expert. To speak authoritatively, one would need to have mastered at least the literature on religious fundamentalism, terrorism, and political violence generally. One would also need expertise in Islamic history, law, and theology along with a thorough grounding in studies on the long record of conflict between Islam and the West. One would need to be well-read in the daunting mountain of literature on the rise of modernity and its antimodern reactions. One would need to know well the history of Western imperialism and colonialism and the reactions to these. In short, one would need to know far more than a single individual can know.[3] 

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to speak now (if only with borrowed expertise), even as I had to speak one year ago. First, let me tell you what I said then (and my words will locate this article somewhere in the liminal space between quiet scholarship and the loudest public voices).[4] It was the day after the attack, and Noam Chomsky was quoting the British journalist Robert Fisk, who had just written: 

[T]his is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia—paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally—hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.[5] 

To which, Chomsky added: 

And much more. Again, we have a choice: we may try to understand, or refuse to do so, contributing to the likelihood that much worse lies ahead.[6] 

These words related by Chomsky figured in discussions and arguments across the United States. I participated in a listserve discussion hosted by the Society of Christian Philosophers. Here is what I wrote on September 13: 

Re[garding] . . . Chomsky’s words, I am reminded of something Malcolm X said at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination: 

“The chickens are coming home to roost.” 

It was a cold, and chilling, thing to say.[7] If he were around today, he would probably say it again—this time, with more accuracy.[8] 

When the events were unfolding on TV, it was late here in Korea, and I had just gotten my son off to sleep, so I had to wake my wife from a deep sleep for her to see the news. We sat horrified, and deeply saddened, by what we saw. 

After watching in silence for some time, I told her, “You know, this is a consequence of America being the world’s ‘policeman.’”[9] 

(Some might say “the world’s bully,” but I consider our role more complex than that.)[10] 

I lay awake most of the night, the image of those planes entering the Twin Towers repeating and repeating and repeating in my mind. 

I think that we Americans need to reflect very carefully upon how we will respond to this terrorist act. One thing for us to keep in mind is that Israel’s retaliation against terrorists has not solved the problem of terror. It may even have made more terrorists.[11] 

I have no sympathy for terrorists. When I was a 1998-99 Golda Meir Scholar at Hebrew University, my wife survived (unscathed, thank God) a bombing at the Mahana Yehuda market. She was only some 50 meters from the explosion and was pregnant at the time. I heard of the bombing and realized that she was doing the marketing there, and for over an hour, I had no idea what had happened to her. 

So, I know what it is like to endure the wait for word of life. 

But I want to say something that I think has to be said: These atrocities are NOT the acts of cowards.[12] 

These are people willing to die for their cause. We have to understand this very well because if we think that we can frighten that kind of terrorist by retaliating in kind, then we are fools.[13] 

Those were my words then. Like many commentators, I tried to understand what manner of grievance had motivated the terrorists to hijack commercial airliners and slam them into skyscrapers, and I strongly implied that we had to understand those grievances. I thought so then, and I continue to think so. 

Understanding grievances, however, does not entail exaggerating them, as Chomsky did in the opening words to his article: 

In terms of number of victims[, those of September 11] . . . do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people.[14] 

A suitable response to this was penned by David Horowitz, who himself considers Clinton’s decision to launch the missile “ill-conceived”: 

Clinton’s decision to launch a missile into the Sudan [in reaction to the blowing up of two of . . . {America’s} African embassies] . . . was not remotely comparable to the World Trade Center massacre. It was . . . precisely the opposite[,] . . . . designed . . . to prevent the loss of innocent life. The missile was fired at night, so that no one would be in the building when it was hit. The target was selected because the best information available indicated it was not a pharmaceutical factory, but a factory producing biological weapons.[15] 

As for casualties, according to one ABC news report, “the U.S. missile strike . . . injured 10 people,”[16] far from Chomsky’s claim about tens of thousands killed. This does not justify the missile strike, and even the U.S. government has since concluded that the strike was based on wrong intelligence data,[17] but if we are going to look for terrorists’ motives, we should not exaggerate.[18] 

Moreover, if we intend to understand grievances, we should go directly to the statements of the terrorists themselves. Here are Bin Laden’s own words explaining his fatwah of February 1998:[19] 

The call to wage war against America was made because America has spear-headed the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques. 

America[, in its support for Israel,] heads the list of aggressors against Muslims. . . . For over half a century, Muslims in Palestine have been slaughtered and assaulted and robbed of their honor and of their property.[20] 

Concerning those targeted in the fatwah, Bin Laden adds: 

We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets, and this is what the fatwah says.[21] 

To summarize Bin Laden’s views, American military and civilians are targets because America has troops stationed in Saudi Arabia and has a foreign policy that supports Israel. On the face of it, this would seem enough to explain the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. For this reason, I do not agree with Horowitz’s claim that “This is not a war about land in the Middle East or the structure of a Palestinian state, or a U.S. military presence in the Arabian peninsula.”[22] The attack by Al-Qaeda cannot be understood without understanding their stated grievances, whether we accept those grievances as justifiable or not. I thought this one year ago, and I still think so. 

As I recently explained my thoughts to a fellow scholar also interested in understanding the attack on the World Trade Center: 

I tend to disagree with Horowitz on one point, namely, that American foreign policy has no role in explaining the WTC attacks. Two points: 1) While the radical Islamists are active agents and do have an agenda, they—like everybody—also react to their historical context, and we cannot merely factor out of the equation American support of Israel or American troops in Saudi Arabia or the American-led sanctions on Iraq, aside from the issue of the rightness or wrongness of such American actions; 2) America acts in the world not only through being motivated by its moral vision (and it has one) but also through being motivated by its self-interest.[23] 

My fellow scholar acknowledged: “Both of your points seem right.”[24] 

My thinking, therefore, recognizes that we have to acknowledge the specific historical context of the attacks. However, fully grasping what happened encompasses more than just trying to understand the expressed grievances behind the attacks. The flaw in an approach limited to this sort of analysis is that it makes the actions of the other purely reactive, as if Newton’s third law of motion applied to political or religious movements, as if the other were not an active agent in world history.[25] As I told my wife, “Al-Qaeda didn’t order the Taliban to destroy the Bamyan Buddhist statues because they hate America.”[26] In fact, they hate everybody who is not Muslim (and probably everybody who is not specifically their kind of Muslim).[27] To understand radical Islamists like those of Al-Qaeda, we have to investigate not just their stated grievances but also how they make use of their cultural background, namely, their use of their Islamic heritage,[28] to condone and legitimate acts of extreme violence in the name of, and for the sake of, religion. This approach will, I recognize, constitute a study of an Islam only partially perceived,[29] so having acknowledged that, let us begin this investigation by noting the contentious words of Samuel P. Huntington concerning the Islamic world’s borders: 

In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.[30] 

What are some of the possible epochal reasons for these bloody borders? By this question, I mean to indicate something other than the specific historical context to which particular, militant Muslims or their sometimes equally militant enemies react. Specifically, I mean to suggest the larger, arguably religiously inspired imperial motivations that, at least in principle, characterize the Islamic world as an expansive, active agent over the long duration of historical time, for the authoritative religious texts expounding these motivations are the sources within Muslim tradition that modern militant Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda appeal to for justification and, very probably, even draw upon for inspiration.[31] 

In this respect, it is relevant to understand that Muslim theologians and jurists have traditionally divided the world into the House of Islam and the House of War, with the ultimate aim of extending Islamic rule and law over all of the House of War, either through peaceful means or through military jihad.[32] Although the legal rules defining this division stem from Islamic law compiled during the 8th through 11th centuries C.E.,[33] its origins supposedly lie in the reputed actions of Muhammad himself. One should note that according to the early Muslim traditions known as hadith (report), Muhammad was not just a religious leader but the founder of a new religion,[34] the head of a theocratic state, and a military leader who personally led his forces into battle, such as during the Battle of Badr in March 624, a decisive victory for the early Muslim community of Medina in their conflict with the pagan Meccans. As described by Kenneth Cragg in his reading of the sources: 

Under the Prophet’s own skillful military leadership some three hundred Muslims dispersed a thousand Meccans, losing only fourteen slain to some fifty of the Meccans . . . . Muslim history regards the Battle of Badr as crucial. Certainly the sword was unleashed . . . . The Jihad, or appeal to battle, had been irrevocably invoked.[35] 

A year later, however, the Muslims nearly lost another battle with the Meccans and “were only rallied in a desperate effort by the Prophet himself”[36] in his reportedly active role as the Muslims’ supreme military leader. 

The Meccans, perhaps sensing Muslim weakness, later (in 627) besieged Medina in what Muslim historians refer to as “The Battle of the Ditch” but withdrew without success when the weather became too cold. The Meccan withdrawal left their presumed allies, a Jewish tribe by the name of Banu Quraizah, to face Muhammad’s response. According to the sources, says Cragg: 

The whole tribe was dispossessed and after suing for clemency, the women and children were enslaved, while the men, traditionally numbered at seven hundred, were executed beside long trench graves.[37] 

As described by the respected French Semitics scholar Maxime Rodinson in his reading of the sources: 

The Jews were led out tied together in groups, and beheaded, one by one, on the edge of the trenches and thrown in.[38] 

Rodinson adds that according to these same Muslim sources, Muhammad “took a concubine for himself, the lovely Rayhana, the widow of one of those who had been executed.”[39] 

Doubtless, Muhammad would have felt his movement threatened by those he perceived as enemies,[40] and his reported treatment of the Banu Quraizah demonstrates an apparent willingness to deal ruthlessly with such enemies. We see this as well in traditional reports of his seeming acquiescence in violence against his critics when his power in Medina was beginning to grow. After an elderly Medinan man named Abu Afak had been killed by a Muslim because he had written poetry that satirized Mohammad, a female poet named Asma’ Bint Marwan wrote an angry, even shocking poem to criticize some of the clans and tribes of Medina for following Muhammad: 

Fucked men of Malik and of Nabit
And of ‘Awf, fucked men of Khazraj:
You obey a stranger who does not belong among you . . . .
Do you, when your own chiefs have been murdered, put your hope in him
Like men greedy for meal soup when it is cooking?
Is there no man of honour who will take advantage of an unguarded moment
And cut off [Mohammad]?

Let us clearly and frankly note that Asma’ Bint Marwan fully intended her words to incite someone to kill Muhammad, and in the shame-and-honor culture whose values Muhammad and his enemies shared, poetry could be a powerful medium of both praise and insult. Bint Marwan’s words had heaped shame upon Muslims and raised a mortal threat against Muhammad that would be difficult for him to leave unanswered. 

For his part, Muhammad would appear to have taken that threat seriously. Rodinson, again drawing upon Muslim sources, describes what is reported to have occurred: 

[Muhammad] said aloud: “Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?” There was a man present who belonged to . . . [her] clan. His name was ‘Umayr bin ‘Adi . . . . That very evening, he went to . . . [her] house. She was sleeping with her children about her. The youngest, still at the breast, lay asleep in her arms. He drove his sword through her, and in the morning he went to Muhammad. 

“Messenger of Allah,” he said, “I have killed her!” “You have done a service to Allah and his Messenger, ‘Umayr,” was the reply. Then ‘Umayr asked: “Shall I have to bear any penalty on her account, O Messenger of Allah?” He answered: [“Two goats won’t butt their heads about her.”][42] . . .  Then ‘Umayr returned to his own clan which was in a great uproar that day on account of the daughter of Marwan. She had five sons. ‘Umayr said: “Banu Khatma! I killed the daughter of Marwan. Decide what is to be done with me, but do not keep me waiting.” 

No one moved. The [Muslim] chronicler continues: 

That was the day when Islam first showed its power over the Banu Khatma. ‘Umayr had been the first among them to become a Muslim. On the day the daughter of Marwan was killed, the men of the Banu Khatma were converted because of what they saw of the power of Islam. 

The move had succeeded. . . . [This a]ssassination . . . is listed by [Muslim] chroniclers among Muhammad’s [military] “expeditions.”[43] 

If this Muslim chronicle is accurate, then Muhammad would seem to have (correctly) understood Asma’ bint Marwan’s words as a threat to his life and mission, and the fact that the earliest Muslim sources report this and other assassinations that were traditionally considered to have been approved by Muhammad suggests that they shared this assessment of the threat.[44] 

With the power of the early Islamic community growing, Muhammad’s confidence in the larger success of his mission would also appear to have grown. Cragg, alluding to early Muslim tradition, reports that Muhammad’s “clearly growing aspirations for the expansion of the faith into northern regions ... [were] indicated in letters summoning several potentates in the Christian world to Islamize.”[45] Early Muslim tradition also holds that as Muhammad lay on his deathbed, he expressed the desire that “Two religions should not co-exist within the Arabian peninsula.”[46] Many modern scholars question the authenticity of these actions and words attributed to Muhammad, but an expanded military jihad did begin shortly after Muhammad’s death. As the historian Bat Ye’or describes this: 

The Prophet’s successor, Abu Bakr, . . . . unif[ied] . . . the peninsula . . . [and] carried the war (jihad) beyond Arabia. The jihad provided non-Muslims with an alternative: conversion or tribute; refusal forced the Muslims to fight them till victory. Arab idolaters had to choose between death or conversion; as for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, if they paid tribute and accepted the conditions of conquest, they could buy back their right to life, freedom of worship, and security of property.[47] 

This was the early jihad of a rapidly expanding Islamic power that by 732, only one-hundred years after Muhammad’s death, had established an empire stretching from the border of India in the east to Spain in the west and from the Arabian peninsula in the south to Armenia in the north.[48] 

Jihad is a term that can be—and has been—variously translated. Among moderate Muslims living in the West, the term is understood solely in the correspondingly moderate sense of striving inwardly against sin. This is not generally the case for much of Islamic history. As the distinguished scholar of Islamic studies Bernard Lewis explains: 

The Arabic word literally means “striving” and is often followed by the words . . . “in the path of God.” Until fairly recent times it was usually, though not universally, understood in a military sense. It was a Muslim duty . . . to fight in the war against the unbelievers. In principle, this war was to continue until all mankind either embraced Islam or submitted to the authority of the Muslim state. Until this purpose was achieved there could theoretically be no peace, though truces were permitted.[49] 

According to the contemporary, conservative Syrian Islamic scholar Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, jihad has always been an offensive, not defensive warfare: 

The Holy War, as it is known in Islamic Jurisprudence, is basically an offensive war. This is the duty of Muslims in every age when the needed military power becomes available to them. This is the phase in which the meaning of Holy War has taken its final form. Thus the apostle of God said: “I was commanded to fight the people until they believe in God and his message.”[50] 

The contemporary, liberal Muslim scholar Fazlur Rahman appears to acknowledge this as well: 

The Qur’an calls upon believers to undertake jihad . . . i.e., to establish the Islamic socio-moral order . . . . So long as the Muslims were a small, persecuted minority in Mecca, jihad as a positive organized thrust of the Islamic movement was unthinkable. In Medina, however, the situation changed and henceforth there is hardly anything . . . that receives greater emphasis than jihad[51] . . . . The most unacceptable [interpretation of jihad] on historical grounds . . . is the stand of those modern Muslim apologists who have tried to explain the jihad of the early [Muslim] community in purely defensive terms.[52] 

As a military strategy, argues Ye’or, the early sources allow that jihad: 

provides for the destabilization at the frontiers of the dar al-harb [i.e., the House of War] by irregular forces—burn villages, take hostages, or pillage and massacre in order to drive out the inhabitants and facilitate the army’s advance by gradual territorial encroachment.[53] 

Given this Muslim view of the House of Islam’s relations with the House of War, Huntington’s observation that “Islam has bloody borders” would seem to be grounded not only in present-day geography but also in earlier Islamic history. 

In the first two hundred years as Islam expanded in this way, it also had to develop a legal system to govern relations among Muslims and between Muslims and those non-Muslims, known as dhimmis, who were allowed to practice legitimate religions. Given the usual policies of imperial powers, we should not find ourselves surprised to learn that dhimmis were second-class subjects in the imperial Muslim state and that their inferior status was encoded within the shariah, the Islamic legal system based upon the Qur’an and the hadith (report). For instance, “all litigation between a Muslim and a dhimmi was under the jurisdiction of Islamic legislation, which did not recognize the validity of the oath of a dhimmi against that of a Muslim,” a legal state of affairs reportedly based upon Muhammad’s own words, according to hadith.[54] Although the dhimmi were given legal status to practice their own religions, there were significant restrictions. According to the putative Pact of Omar, a treaty reputed to date to the seventh century, Christians were to be prevented from building new churches or repairing existing ones.[55] Moreover, half of the existing churches in newly conquered Christian territory were to be ceded to Muslims, who would use them as mosques.[56] As Ye’or notes, Jewish places of worship were treated similarly.[57] Beyond this, the mere right of dhimmi to practice their religion depended upon payment of a tax known as the jizya, the justification for which was grounded in the Qur’an, Surah 9:29, which also called for Christians and Jews to be “utterly subdued.”[58] The legal inferiority of dhimmi and superiority of Muslims thus seems to stem from the earliest Islamic period. 

In a sense, the superiority of Muslims was no legal fiction—if I be allowed an abusive usage of this expression—for Muslims “created a world civilization [that was] polyethnic, multiracial, international, one might even say intercontinental.”[59] It was the greatest military power on earth, the foremost economic power in the world, and the most highly developed in the arts and sciences that the world had ever seen.[60] Then, suddenly, this all began to change. Lewis notes: 

Even before the Renaissance, Europeans were beginning to make significant progress in the civilized arts. With the advent of the New Learning, they advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving the scientific and technological and eventually the cultural heritage of the Islamic world far behind them.[61] 

This fact escaped the Muslims for a long time and only began to come to their attention as the Islamic world began to suffer one military defeat after another in confrontations with European powers.[62] 

These defeats and the overall decline of the Islamic world led to an inevitable question: What went wrong?[63] For Muslims, such a question had theological significance since Islam had supposedly been intended by Allah as a religious civilization to supersede all other civilizations and to bring the final, uncorrupted divine revelation to all of humanity. The Islamic world was—in principle if not always in fact—a theocratic system ruled by the will of Allah as systematized in the shariah. In principle, this system favored by Allah should have continued to succeed culturally, economically, and militarily.[64] The question of what went wrong was thus a particularly anguished one for Muslims—especially given that Islamic culture is a shame-and-honor culture.[65] Lewis holds that the answers can go in either of two directions, depending upon how the question is intended. If the question is understood as “Who did this to us?” then the answers are often no more than conspiracy theories. But if the question is understood to mean “What did we do wrong?” then it can lead to yet another question: “How do we put it right?” Lewis thinks that this question holds “the best hopes for the future,” for the right answers can help to make “the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization.”[66] 

Well, perhaps, but this depends upon the answers given to these latter two questions. Moreover, there is a false dilemma being posed here. The question “What went wrong?” can mean—and very often does mean—both “Who did this to us?” and “What did we do wrong?” Radical Islamists surely understand it to mean both, for they point to what they see as the antagonism of the West (but not only the West) and to what they see as the corruption of the Islamic world itself. Their answers to both of these questions are thus not very reassuring, for they exhort Muslim society to re-Islamize within and to pursue jihad without. Even the attempts at re-Islamization can take the path of a militant jihad, as the case of Algeria demonstrates. 

The ultimate aim of radical Islamists such as Al-Qaeda is the worldwide dominance of Islam through military jihad,[67] as their own spokesmen state: 

The Entire Earth Must Be Subjected to Islam[:] “How can [a Muslim] . . . possibly [accept humiliation and inferiority] when he knows that his nation was created to stand at the center of leadership, at the center of hegemony and rule . . . . [and] that the [divine] rule is that the entire earth must be subject to the religion of Allah . . . ?” 

“As long as this Muslim knows and believes in these facts, he will not—even for a single moment—stop striving to achieve it.” . . . 

“The religious arguments . . . [for] Jihad against the Americans . . . are many.”[68] 

Such a view would be partly grounded in their understanding of hadith such as the following: 

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight the people till they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.’”[69] 

But it would also be grounded in their use of portions of a number of Qur’anic verses, such as the following ones: 

Fight for the cause of God. (2:244) 

[S]lay the idolaters wherever you find them. (9:5) 

Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the Last Day. (9:29) 

When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads. (47:4)[70] 

Moreover, for those who die in military jihad, paradise is the reward promised by Al-Qaeda (and other radical Islamists), as based upon their application of the following Qur’anic verse: 

Those that . . . fought and were slain: I shall forgive them their sins and admit them to gardens watered by running streams, as a recompense from God. (3:195)[71] 

Radical Islamists such as Al-Qaeda, perhaps ignoring textual[72] or historical context and certainly ignoring even the usual Muslim distinction between combatants and noncombatants,[73] interpret such hadith and verses with what one might well call a hermeneutics of violence. 

Osama bin Laden himself—speaking of those who hijacked the planes and slammed them into the World Trade Center—claims that the attackers and their actions are justified by Islamic jurisprudence:[74] 

Those youth who conducted the operations . . . accepted the fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] that the prophet Muhammad brought.[75] 

Furthermore, he considers them as having spoken through their deeds in a way that the entire world could understand: 

Those young men . . . said in deeds, in New York and Washington, speeches that overshadowed all other speeches made everywhere else in the world. The speeches are understood by both Arabs and non-Arabs–even by Chinese.[76] 

Indeed, Bin Laden believes that the attacks actually advanced the cause of Islam among the unbelievers: 

[I]n Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years. I heard someone on Islamic radio who owns a school in America say: “We don’t have time to keep up with the demands of those who are asking about Islamic books to learn about Islam.” This event made people think (about true Islam) which benefited Islam greatly.[77] 

Bin Laden’s words concerning his view of the attack’s religious effect recall the words of that Muslim chronicler who described the men of the Banu Khatma as having “converted because of what they saw of the power of Islam” in reaction to the assassination of Asma’ Bint Marwan.[78] 

Obviously, not all Muslims think as Bin Laden does. Clearly, most Muslims themselves live quite peaceful lives. Indeed, I would hold that the vast majority of Muslims truly oppose violence. Our collective predicament—and I include here both non-Muslims and the peaceful majority of Muslims—is that because Islam is a religion of about one billion believers, then even a small percentage of radical Islamists can factor out as a large number. If Daniel Pipes’s estimate were correct, then Americans would face “confrontation with 10 to 15 percent of the vast populations of the Muslim world.”[79] These percentages would indicate some 100 to 150 million potential mujahadin (i.e., holy warriors), and this sounds highly exaggerated to me. Yet even assuming that these numbers must have been vastly overestimated—and Pipes does not cite any strong sources for his statistics[80]—there are surely a relatively large number of hardcore radical Islamists who would be willing to heed Bin Laden’s call to jihad. Crucially, such Islamists would be very hard to dissuade from their radical views, for Islam is a founder religion with a founder who, according to some hadith and certain passages of the Qur’an, would appear to have taught, exhorted, and himself practiced military jihad. 

Indeed, as one might expect of a founder religion, Islam presents Muhammad as a universal exemplar, one about whom even the smallest points become significant.[81] Cragg notes that even the great, eleventh-century Muslim scholar Al-Ghazali stated: 

Know that the key of happiness is following the Sunna [Muhammad’s actions] and imitating God’s Apostle in all his goings out and comings in, in his movements and times of quiescence, even in the manner of his eating, his deportment, his sleep and his speech. . . . [God] said: “What the Apostle has brought you, receive . . . (59:7).”[82] 

Thus if radical Islamists strongly believe that the traditional sources are correct in portraying Muhammad as having brought a call to militant jihad and also as having practiced it, then many of them will feel pressure to respond faithfully to that call. And we see that some do so—sometimes to the point of perhaps distorting traditional practices of even militant jihad. 

For his part, Bin Laden is quite open and unapologetic about linking his understanding of militant jihad to acknowledgements of his use of terrorism.[83] In a video released to Qatar’s al-Jazeera television station in December 2001, Bin Laden stated: 

Our terrorism against the United States is blessed, aimed at repelling the oppressor.[84] 

In an earlier video, Bin Laden declared: 

[W]hat we are practising is the good terror.[85] 

Perhaps Bin Laden would propose to justify his “good terror” by trying to apply Qur’anic verses such as 8:59–60: 

Let not the unbelievers think that they can ever get away. . . . Muster against them all the men . . . at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of God and your enemy.[86] 

Or perhaps Bin Laden would be vaguely alluding to a hadith from Bukhari: 

Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been made victorious with terror.”[87] 

However, take careful note here that although the Qur’anic  verse does speak of terrorizing the enemy during military jihad, it says nothing explicitly about terrorist action, and the hadith from Bukhari provides no clarifying context at all.[88] These two sources may mean nothing more than that Allah Himself brings the enemy into a state of terror during battle, as is explicitly stated in the Qur’an 8:13, where Allah—exhorting the believers to battle—says: 

“I [i.e., Allah] shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels.”[89] 

Not without enormous hermeneutic effort by Al-Qaeda ideologues could these sources be made to justify the largescale terrorism of our technological age, since for seventh-century Arabia, terror accomplished by slamming commercial airliners into skyscrapers was thoroughly unimaginable.[90] 

Whatever the Qur’anic or traditional sources that Bin Laden claims to be referring to when he distinguishes his terrorism as “good terrorism,” we have to note very clearly that Al-Qaeda’s antagonism to America stems from more than a reaction to American foreign policy (regardless of what its militants, or even we, may think of that policy). According to one of Al-Qaeda’s own spokesmen: 

America is the head of heresy in our modern world, and it leads an infidel democratic regime that is based upon separation of religion and state and on ruling the people by the people via legislating laws that contradict the way of Allah and permit what Allah has prohibited.[91] 

From this perspective, a terrorist attack upon any democratic country would be justified. Al-Qaeda does not hate democratic countries merely for what they do but for what they are.[92] 

Is there then no hope? Even a scholar so learned and knowledgeable about Islam as Lewis, who tries to hope for the best, fears the very worst, and speaking specifically of the Arabic Muslim world, cautions: 

If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression.[93] 

So far (at the time of this writing), too few prominent Islamic religious leaders in the Middle East have condemned suicide bombings. The Palestinians who blow themselves up to kill Israelis are seen as martyrs—or as Ivan Strenski characterizes both them and the Al-Qaeda hijackers, “sacrifice (not suicide) bombers.”[94] Certainly, Muslims cannot legitimately allow themselves to recognize the bombers as committing suicide since killing oneself is forbidden by the Qur’an, Sura 4:29, which states: “Do not kill yourselves.”[95] 

Perhaps some hope lies here if only moderate Muslims, in large numbers, would begin to speak out against the violence. There are other possible sources within Islam that one might try to draw upon. For instance, there is the Qur’an, Sura 2.256: 

There shall be no compulsion in religion.”[96] 

In principle, that should preclude the use of force. Traditionally, it has not had this effect because of the principle of abrogation (mansukh), expressed in Sura 2:106: 

If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar.[97] 

Thus, orthodox Islam has generally maintained that the so-called “sword verse” of Sura 9:5[98] “annuls the 124 verses that originally encouraged tolerance.”[99] Those hadith stating that Muhammad himself led Muslims in battle and forcibly converted the Meccans when he finally conquered the city would, moreover, tend to support the usual position that the Medinan sword verse abrogates the early Meccan verse of tolerance. 

We can, however, raise a fundamental question about this. Can we know for certain that the early history of Islam was so violent as many of the hadith portray? These traditions were collected some 200 years after Muhammad’s death, more than enough time for false traditions to have been invented.[100] Bukhari and other compilers recognized this and established principles intended to distinguish authentic from inauthentic traditions by reviewing the reliability of the isnad (i.e., chain of narrators). Yet, the existence of ‘authentic’ hadith that contradict each other suggests that new principles are needed, as many scholars have already argued. For instance, one might apply a principle used in Biblical scholarship, the principle of dissimilarity, which holds that a tradition is likely authentic if it is dissimilar to what the early church might have invented. If we apply this principle to early, imperialistic Islam, then those hadith that report violence and military jihad on Muhammad’s part are questionable since they could easily have been invented to justify the imperial conquest by which Islam spread so rapidly and the unequal status that imperial Islam accorded to Muslims and non-Muslims. Ye’or acknowledges this same point: 

Those hadith [concerning jihad ideology and the dhimmi rules] were composed during the period of the Islamic conquest in the eighth or ninth century, at a time of strong military confrontation between Christianity and Islam, giving them a militant orientation.[101] 

Even the very conservative Muslim apologist Ruqaiyyah Maqsood[102] recognizes that many false hadith are in wide circulation among Muslims: 

It is commonplace to read numerous very weak and highly suspect hadith in countless Muslim articles and publications, often copied from one modern article to the next, without the least concern for scholarship or the veracity of the hadith.[103] 

Maqsood, nevertheless, accepts the traditional “rules for deciding whether a hadith was sahih (authentic), da’if (weak), or maudu’ (doubtful),”[104] but if contemporary Muslims use hadith without concern for their authenticity, then early Muslims probably did the same, and we have already noted that the principles applied for establishing the authenticity of an isnad have not eliminated contradictory hadith. Maqsood herself admits of early Islam that it is “a well-known fact that false hadith were soon in circulation, however pious the intentions of those who fabricated them.”[105] The more liberal Muslim Cyril Glassé even asserts: 

Hadith have [sometimes] been invented in order to justify some legal opinion or school of thought.[106] 

Assuming such a state of affairs—i.e., the existence of hadith recognizably fabricated for juridical purposes and the need for legal rules applicable to the new conditions of a rapidly expanding Islamic empire—then a hermeneutics of suspicion is justified, and one could therefore also justifiably ask if the sword verse has been illegitimately used to abrogate the tolerance verse.[107] 

Of course, the radical Islamists who urge military jihad are unlikely to be swayed through questions of hermeneutics raised by non-Muslims—probably not even by those non-Muslims willing to turn a critical eye upon American foreign policy. Bin Laden, for instance, has said, “We do not care what the Americans believe,”[108] and he does not qualify this statement. Nevertheless, there are a few encouraging signs in some parts of the Muslim world. According to a recent article from Egypt: 

The 12 leaders of the militant al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, . . . Egypt’s bloodiest and most ruthless Muslim group, were pictured in a popular weekly news magazine voicing remorse and promising that there would be no return to the violence of the past 20 years. . . . 

They were quoted as saying that they had misinterpreted the Islamic concept of jihad to justify killing Christian Egyptians, tourists, and police officers, and [were also quoted] as renouncing their use of violence to force women to respect Islamic dress codes.[109] 

Some militants, it seems, can moderate their views, and it would be interesting to know what changed their minds. 

There is also the case of Iran, which is having second thoughts about its Islamic radicalism.[110] As noted by Daniel Pipes, one of radical Islam’s severest public critics: 

Militant Islam is on the ascendant almost everywhere around the globe—except in the nation that has experienced it longest and knows it best. In Iran, it is on the defensive and perhaps in retreat.[111] 

Significantly, this is occurring not just because a new generation has grown up that “wants freedom from a regime that bullies them personally, tyrannizes them politically, depresses them economically and isolates them culturally”[112] but also because some in the ruling elite itself have become disillusioned. The Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, who had played a role in overthrowing the shah and establishing the Islamic regime’s intolerance, has resigned from his important position as prayer leader because the Islamic Republic has only brought “crookedness, negligence, weakness, poverty and indigence.”[113] Pipes suggests: 

Muslims who have suffered from the full debilitation inflicted by militant Islam over a period of decades, it seems, are immune to the charms of this totalitarianism and prepared to take on the challenge of finding an alternative vision to it.[114] 

He attributes this to “a maturation of the Iranian body politic” resulting from the fact that by overthrowing the Shah, “the Iranian population realized that it had control over and responsibility over its destiny” and that from this more mature perspective,  it “has looked at its choices and . . . [has] come . . . down in favor of democracy and a cautious foreign policy.”[115] Thomas Friedman agrees that the Islamists are losing in Iran: 

because the young generation in Iran today knows two things: (1) They've had enough democracy to know they want more of it. (2) They've had enough theocracy crammed down their throats to know they want less of it.[116] 

Friedman adds that this younger generation: 

will force a new balance in Iran, involving real democracy and an honored place for Islam, but not an imposed one.[117] 

John L. Esposito and Ahmed Rashid, among others, would seem largely to agree with this assessment.[118] For perhaps similar reasons, it would appear, Pipes agrees that “there is nothing in Islam that necessarily contradicts democracy,” though he holds that for Muslims to achieve democracy, they must also secularize—by which, he seems primarily to mean that Muslims must separate religion and state and subordinate the former to the latter.[119] 

That, of course, is a big question: Can the Islamic world, in this sense, truly secularize? More to the point, can this huge community that considers itself to have been founded by a religious leader to replace all previous religions and civilizations, this community convinced of its own cultural superiority and obsessed with its great weakness, this community afflicted with a burning sense of shame and deeply wounded honor[120] for the historically superior status that it has lost—can this community secularize, especially when the impulse toward secularization comes from a distrusted West that has undergone an Enlightenment era that the Muslim world has never experienced,[121] a West that has at times used the instrumental, secular rationality stemming from this Enlightenment to dominate much of the Islamic world?[122] And this leads to a second big question: Even if the Islamic world can secularize, can it succeed in secularizing the militant mind of radical Islamists? The fact that millions of evangelical Christians in America are not comfortably reconciled with secular modernity strongly suggests that we should not be especially optimistic about Islam successfully, comprehensively, and profoundly secularizing itself. We have perhaps even less reason for optimism given the fact that historically, the most authoritative Islamic thinkers have never recognized the genuine legitimacy of an enduring, legal separation between religion and state.[123] We thus have considerable reason for concern that at least some percentage—and therefore potentially a large number—of radical Muslims will perhaps never come to satisfactory terms with secular modernity.[124] If so, then for a fearfully long time, we may have to live with radical Islamists—and increasingly die with them.[125]

[1] Nancy Gibbs, “Special Report: The Day of the Attack,” Time Magazine, (World), Wednesday, September 12, 2001: “[A]s the gruesome rains came—bits of plane, a tire, office furniture, glass, a hand, a leg, whole bodies, began falling all around—people in the streets all stopped and looked, and fell silent” (,8599,174655,00.html+Heroism+was+everywhere+%22nancy+gibbs%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8).

[2] Echoing New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s words when asked to estimate the number of people killed at the World Trade Center: “When we get the final number, it will be more than we can bear.” Reported on live television a few hours after the attack. My written source is Marney Rich Keenan, “When many look back, they will remember 2001 wasn’t a good year” The Detroit News, (Home Life), January 5, 2002 (

[3] I would like to add here that I have not had the access to the fullest range of scholarly resources that I would have liked to have. Hanshin University’s library system, while quite extensive on Christian sources, is still weak on Islamic ones—though I am currently trying to change this by placing orders for primary and secondary sources on Islam. For many sources, I have had to rely upon the internet—as the majority of my footnotes will demonstrate.

[4] Some of these loud public voices may raise the ire of many readers, but they are the voices that have been heard in the public debate since (and before) 9/11, and because this article has its origin in and is now participating further in that public debate, I wish to engage with these voices. My agreement with particular statements by specific voices should not be taken as general agreement with their larger views. Normally, I would not feel the need to emphasize this point, but from reactions to my 9/11/2002 presentation, I have discovered just how sensitive the issue of understanding 9/11/2001 really is. Please see my footnotes to gain a fuller sense of my views.

[5] Chomsky was quoting from Robert Fisk, “The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people,” The Independent (London, UK) 12 September 2001 ( Fisk was referring to the American weaponry used by Israel in military actions in the West Bank, the Gaza strip, and Lebanon. Note that Fisk’s initial response to 9/11 seems to assume that Palestinians had carried out the suicide attacks. In fact, Palestinians would appear to have little direct link to 9/11.

[6] Noam Chomsky, “A Quick Reaction,” CounterPunch, September 12, 2001


[7] Similarly, Chomsky’s view that “much worse [probably] lies ahead” is also a chilling one. On this point, I largely agree with Chomsky (though on somewhat different grounds, as will become clear from my article’s overall argument).

[8] I was thinking specifically of American support for the mujahadin during their resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It should have been clear that the mujahadin had as much hatred of the US as of the USSR and would eventually turn against their American supporters. On this point, I fully agree with my friend and critic Robert N. Bellah, who reminds me: “How about Afghanistan in the 1980s? When the US backed and armed the most awful reactionary fundamentalists in an effort to give the Soviet Union its ‘Vietnam.’ And then once the Soviets were out, we abandoned Afghanistan, leaving it to the very people we had armed, the Taliban and the ‘Arab Afghans’ like Bin Laden,” in Robert N. Bellah, “Are you okay?” (private correspondance: September 24, 2002). This phenomenon (of being turned on by those one has armed) is known as “blowback.” Although I had not read the following article at the time that I wrote my words, it was available then and echoed the thinking behind my quote of Malcolm X: Michael Moran, “Bin Laden comes home to roost: His CIA ties are only the beginning of a woeful story,” (News: Brave New World), September 12, 2001 ( For the quote of Malcolm X, see: “Malcolm X shot dead at Harlem rally” Guardian Unlimited, February 22, 1965 (,6051,105659,00.html+malcolm+x+%22chickens+are+coming+home+to+roost%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8).

[9] Policing the world makes not only makes some friends (such as the Albanian Kosovars) but also a number of enemies (such as the Iraqi Ba’ath Party).

[10] American foreign policy expresses both moral vision and national self-interest in ways that sometimes cohere and sometimes contradict.

[11] This is a hotly debated point, and I claim no expertise. I would agree with Ladan Boroumand and Roya Boroumand, “Terror, Islam, and Democracy,” Journal of Democracy 13.2, April 2002, 1, that “however necessary an armed response might seem in the near term, . . . a successful long-term strategy for battling Islamism and its terrorists will require a clearer understanding of who these foes are, what they think, and how they understand their own motives” (

[12] I felt it necessary to emphasize this point because there had been so many references to the attacks as “cowardly” when it was obvious to me that cowards don’t deliberately pilot planes directly into skyscrapers. President George W. Bush immediately called the attackers cowards. See: Ian Christopher McCaleb, “Bush: U.S. feels ‘quiet, unyielding anger,’”, September 12, 2001: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward” ( Leonard Pitts, “We’ll go forward from this moment!” The Miami Herald, September 12, 2001, felt the same way: “What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center” (
miami+herald+%22coward%27s+attack%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). Susan Sontag, “The disconnect,” The New Yorker, September 24, 2001, disagreed: “[T]his was not a ‘cowardly’ attack. . . . [W]hatever may be said of the perpetrators . . . they were not cowards” (

[13] If power were capable of frightening terrorists like those who attacked the WTC, then the attack would never have occurred. Military action can destroy terrorist bases like those that existed in Afghanistan, but however necessary this may have been, military action will not stop the sort of terrorism that we witnessed on September 11, 2001. Only a change in the mindset of a significant part of the Muslim world can accomplish this, and there is little that we can do to change it since that mindset does not altogether stem from reaction to American foreign policy. For the online link to my post in the SCP Archives, go to:

[14] Noam Chomsky, “Quick Reaction.”

[15] David Horowitz, “The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky,” September 26, 2001 (

[16] “Nerve Gas or Medicine?,” International August 24, 1998 (

[17] “Blinded By (Bad) Science?” International February 10, 1999 (

[18] Christopher Hitchens, “Minority Report: A Rejoinder to Noam Chomsky,” The Nation, October 4, 2001, provides an interesting comment upon Chomsky’s later explanation for his initial comparison of the Clinton administration’s missile attack on Sudan’s pharmaceutical company to Al-Qaeda’s attack on the WTC: “How exact is this comparison? Chomsky is obviously right when he says that one must count ‘collateral’ casualties, though it isn’t possible to compute the Sudanese ones with any certainty . . . . But must one not also measure intention and motive? The clear intention of the September 11 death squads was to maximize civilian deaths in an area renowned for its cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic character . . . . The malicious premeditation is very evident and manifest: The toll was intended to be very much higher than it was. And I believe I have already pointed out that the cruise missiles fired at Sudan were not crammed with terrified civilian kidnap victims. I do not therefore think it can be argued that the hasty, politicized and wicked decision to hit the Al-Shifa plant can be characterized as directly homicidal in quite the same way” ( Note that Hitchens himself had already strongly criticized the bombing of the Sudanese factory.

[19] For and English translation of the fatwah, see: “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” 23 February 1998, provided online by The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) (

[20] John Miller, “Interview: Osama Bin Laden (May 1998),” (
html+israel+america+saudi+arabia+troops+palestine+%22osama+bin+laden%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). Bin Laden’s words probably reflect his genuine views and are likely not mere rhetoric intended to incite Muslims. See “Bin Laden aims to rid ‘infidels,’” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, September 15, 2001: “It was in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet fight that was supported by Washington that bin Laden’s rage grew. Among his visitors in Afghanistan were Palestinians who spoke to him about losing family members, friends and homes in confrontations with the Israelis. ‘I have seen him sob several times upon hearing such stories,’ [Jamal] Ismail [a Palestinian journalist] said.” Thus, we cannot lightly dismiss Bin Laden’s or Al-Qaeda’s references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ( This same article also appeared in The Korea Herald, September 17, 2001, 8.

[21] Miller, “Interview.” According to James Turner Johnson, “Jihad and Just War,” First Things: The Journal of Religion and Public Life, 124 (June/July 2002), 12–14, Bin Laden is extending the concept of emergency jihad, a category of jihad that allowed for Muslims other than the Caliph—the person occupying early Islam’s supreme religious and political position—to declare a jihad in response to aggression from outside of the Islamic community. Consistent with emergency jihad, Bin Laden describes the war against America as a defensive one in response to American aggression against the Islamic community. Bin Laden’s extends the concept of emergency jihad in two senses: 1) by characterizing any American presence in Muslim territory as aggression against Islam and 2) by designating the entire American nation as aggressors (perhaps because he considers American foreign policy to be an expression of the democratic will of the American people?). These two things enable him to reject any distinction between military and civilian targets ( See also the analysis by John Kelsay, Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1993), especially his chapter “Soldiers Without Portfolio: Irregular War in the Tradition of Islam.” Like Johnson, Kelsay argues that Bin Laden is expanding the Muslim concept of irregular warfare against superior forces so that terrorist strikes fall into the category of “right authority,” which is then used to justify the terrorist means as necessary means in a defensive war against injustice.

[22] David Horowitz, “Know The Enemy (And What He Believes),” June 25, 2002 (,+2002%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8).

[23] William F. Vallicella / Horace Jeffery Hodges, “Re: Radical Islam” (private correspondence: July 9, 2002).

[24] William F. Vallicella / Horace Jeffery Hodges, “Re: Radical Islam” (private correspondence: July 9, 2002).

[25] Moreover, as argued by Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage: Why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified,”  The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 266, Number 3, September 1990, 47–60, the usual explanations of radical Islamic antipathy to America—as reactions to American racism, imperialism, or foreign policy—are less than satisfactory ( This article is well worth reading, but I will not attempt to summarize it here.

[26] According to a report by Douglas Frantz and David Rohde, “How Bin Laden and Taliban Forged Jihad Ties,” New York Times, November 22, 2001, “[B]in Laden and his associates . . . persuad[ed] . . . the Taliban to destroy the giant statues of Buddha in Bamyan Province, which were among the most revered monuments in the Buddhist world.” An internet posting of this report can be found on website (

[27] These Al-Qaeda views are reflected in the statements of some Wahabi Muslims in Saudi Arabia. According Niel MacFahrquhar, “A Few Saudis Defy a Rigid Islam to Debate Their Own Intolerance,” The New York Times, International Section, “Bookshops in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina . . . sell a 1,265-page souvenir tome that is . . . . strewn with rulings on shunning non-Muslims: don’t smile at them, don’t wish them well on their holidays, don’t address them as ‘friend.’” One professor of Islamic law states: “"Well, of course I hate you because you are Christian,” before adding the very reassuring words, “but that doesn’t mean I want to kill you” ( Note that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Muslims, that Bin Laden is (was?) a Saudi Muslim, and that the Taliban were funded largely by money from Saudi Muslims. The Wahabi role in pushing Muslims toward extremist forms of Islam needs to be thoroughly investigated. Many moderate Muslims, for instance, have complained of Wahabi intolerance. A Google advanced search of the terms “moderate,” “Wahabi,” and “intolerance” will locate a number of online documents. See, for example, Karim Raslan, “The Threat To Islam: Asia's moderate Muslim nations must put their own houses in order if they want to stop the rise of militant fundamentalists in their midst,”, September 28, 2001 (,8782,175616,00.html+sufi+wahabi+intolerance&hl=en&ie=UTF-8).

[28] Read this with stress upon “how they make use of their cultural background,” for we need to recognize the selective choosing and interpreting of Islamic tradition carried out by radical Islamists. As David Bidney, Theoretical Anthropology (New York: Schocken Books, 1953), 27, correctly notes: “[T]he essential feature [of culture] is the combination of invention and acquisition.” The text of the hijackers’ letter is an excellent example of how the Al-Qaeda attackers made use of their Islamic heritage. It is also about as strong a piece of evidence that one would need to demonstrate that the attack was a religious act, indeed a religious act intended as a specifically Islamic deed of military jihad. For the text, which emphasizes maintaining a state of purity during the attack and treats the attack itself in a way that suggests a sacramental ritual, see “Suicide Note: Translation of the Hijackers’ Note (Originally Written in Arabic),”, September 28, 2001 ( See also Rebecca Raphael, “Religion from the Point of View of the Damned,” Religious Studies News: AAR Edition, May 2002, Volume 17, Number 3, page 19, column 2, who also notes that “[t]he events of September 11 demand religious categories if they are to be understood: the concepts of purity and pollution . . . [and] the self-sacrifice of the hijackers.”

[29] Here, I allude to the title of Bernard Lewis’s article “Islam Partially Perceived,” First Things, January 1996, 40–44, a review of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, edited by John L. Esposito. An online version of Lewis’s article is available: By the expression “Islam Partially Perceived,” Lewis refers to “a recurring flaw of the encyclopedia—the tendency to understate or omit anything unpleasant or likely to antagonize the modern Western reader.” I fear that my current article may err in the opposite direction by focusing primarily upon things that are in fact very “unpleasant or likely to antagonize the modern Western reader.” Islam in its totality is far greater in scope and complexity than my article can indicate, so I request the reader to keep in mind that my article concentrates upon the 9/11 acts of extreme violence and investigates some of the Islamic religious dimensions behind the thinking and motivations of the radical Islamic militants who conceived, planned, and executed those acts of violence. To interpret what I present as characterizing the entirety of Islamic thought on the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims would be to go beyond the evidence presented.

[30] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993) Volume 72, No. 3, 34­–35. Huntington takes his title from Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” Atlantic Monthly. I do not intend to suggest that the bloody borders are always due to Muslim aggression. In the case of the Balkans, for instance, the violence stemmed primarily from Serbian nationalism. I recognized this at the time, and very early in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, I was arguing, against my European friends, for Western military intervention to protect the Muslim minorities of Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO intervention was justified but came woefully late. Nevertheless, we have to recognize the burden of history in such liminal regions where Islamic imperialism has played a historical role.

[31] I stress the religious dimension in this article because I think that we have to recognize religion’s importance as a motivating force behind militant Islam. In this, I agree with such scholars as Daniel Pipes, “God and Mammon: Does Poverty Cause Militant Islam?” The National Interest, Winter 2002, who argues that “[b]y . . . appreciating the religious, cultural and political dimensions [of the Islamists], we may actually begin to understand what causes militant Islam” (emphasis mine) ( It will also help us to understand why radical Islamists’ exultation at the success of the 9/11 attack found such a large degree of resonance within the larger Muslim world. For a summary of the reactions of many Muslims, see also Pipes, “A New Round of Anger and Humiliation,” Our Brave New World: Essays on the Impact of September 11, edited by Wladyslaw Pleszczynski ( I realize that the substance of my article will bring me into territory occupied by scholars whose expertise is directly proportional to my own lack of expertise. I will try to keep my focus as narrow as possible while still, I hope, doing justice to the matter being analyzed. I also hope to avoid any condescending tendencies of the sort critiqued by both Edward Said in his influential Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1979) and Esposito in his many writings on Islam. However, because I am attempting to understand an act of extreme violence, my article will necessarily focus upon a dark aspect of Islamic tradition. One should also note that according to some scholars, such as Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001), the mainstream American scholarship’s honorable intention of avoiding Western condescension toward Islam has resulted in a practice of ignoring the broad influence and contemporary threat of the sort of militant Islam espoused by radical Islamists. Said himself, in the 1994 edition of his book, has noted the threat posed by Islamists and has stated that the use of his Orientalism argument by Islamists was “the one aspect of the book’s reception that I most regret” (see: Orientalism [Vintage Books, 1994], 330).

[32] Sohail H. Hashmi, “Jihad,” in Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, ed. Robert Wuthnow, Volume 1, (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998), 425: “In medieval legal sources (compiled roughly between the eighth and eleventh centuries), jihad generally referred to a divinely sanctioned struggle to establish Muslim hegemony over non-Muslims as a prelude to the propagation of the Islamic faith. Islamic legal scholars divided the world into two spheres: Dar al-Islam (land of Islam), where Islamic law applied, and Dar al-Harb (land of war), where the absence of Islamic law presumably fostered anarchy and immorality. The Islamic state’s duty was to reduce Dar al-Harb—through peaceful means if possible, through war if necessary—until it had been incorporated into Dar al-Islam” (

[33] See previous footnote.

[34] More precisely, Muhammad is officially presented in Islamic sources as the seal of the prophets who comes to restore the original, true religion that had become corrupted. Even so, this “restoration” constituted a radical break with what had come before, so Muhammad functions as religious founder.

[35] Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 85–86. Incidentally, when Cragg says “the sword was unleashed,” he perhaps intends to say “the sword was unsheathed,” which would be more accurate since swords are kept not on leashes but in sheaths. His mixed metaphor perhaps results from the similar sound of “unsheath” and “unleash” as well as their similar meanings within a military context, i.e., “unleash the dogs of war” and “unsheath the swords of war.” For the record, Cragg has served as a missionary to Muslims, so his interest in Muhammad is not unmotivated, but he generally presents Muhammad—and Muslims—in positive terms.

[36] Cragg, Call, 86.

[37] Cragg, Call, 87.

[38] Maxine Rodinson, Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), 213.

[39] Rodinson, Muhammad, 213. None of these reported actions by Muhammad would have radically diverged from commonly accepted standards of war and the treatment of prisoners in Muhammad’s time and culture, a point that needs to be acknowledged but which is sometimes ignored. Even so, since for the Islamic world, Muhammad serves as a moral exemplar par excellence, then this early Muslim tradition raises problematic issues in need of resolution. For the record, though, we do find a similar manner of dealing with defeated enemies in Deuteronomy 20:10–15 (cf. 21:10–14) and an even more extreme manner in Deuteronomy 20:16–18—though these scriptural passages date to a far earlier era than Muhammad’s time (over a millennium prior, in fact).

[40] Indeed, Muhammad (and perhaps his followers) had previously, just prior to his emigration from Mecca to Medina, been in mortal danger from enemies within Muhammad’s own tribe (the Qurayshites), so his concern for himself and his movement was hardly ungrounded. On this, see Rodinson, Muhammad, 134–147.

[41] Rodinson, Muhammad, 158–159. Rodinson is quoting from Ibn Hisham, Sira, Das Leben Muhammeds, ed. F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1859/60), 995 (Rodinson, Muhammad, 318, n. 2; 321, n. 6). Ibn Hisham was a student of the Muslim historian Ibn Is’haq, who died about 768. Ibn Hisham published his teacher’s biography of Muhammad, which became a classic among Muslim histories (Rodinson, Muhammad, 336).

[42] Rodinson’s translation actually reads: “Two goats shall not come to blows for her!” (Rodinson, Muhammad, 171). I prefer this more accurate and colorful rendering, which can be found on a number of websites, of which, I supply one (

[43] Rodinson, Muhammad, 171. Rodinson is again quoting Ibn Hisham, Das Leben Muhammeds, 996.

[44] Among Muhammad’s other enemies reportedly killed by his own actions or with his complicity were Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, Sallam Ibn Abu’l-Huqayq, ‘Uqba bin Abi Mu’ayt, ‘Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul al-‘Aufi, Umaiya bin Khalaf Abi Safwan, ‘Amr bin Jihash, Ibn Sunayna, and Abd Allah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh For easy access to primary Muslim sources online that detail Muhammad’s alleged treatment of these and other enemies, go to, click on “M,” then on “Mohammad,” and then on “Muhammad’s treatment of enemies.” Note that “Answering Islam” is a conservative Christian website and is extremely critical of Muhammad, but it does provide a lot of useful primary source material.

[45] Cragg, Call, 88–89. The authenticity of this tradition has been disputed by scholars, as noted by Bernard Lewis, “Europe and Islam,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, (Delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford University February 26, March 5 and 12, 1990), 12  (
+islamize+christian+arabia&hl=en&ie=UTF-8), but most Muslims still accept the tradition as authentic. See, for example, a popular-level introduction to the Muslim faith written by apologist Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, Islam (Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1994), 17. I will note the issue of authenticity again later.

[46] Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996), translated from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman, 39. Muhammad’s dying words are also disputed by scholars but are accepted by Muslims. See Lewis, “License to kill: Usama bin Ladin’s declaration of Jihad,” Foreign Affairs, Volume 77, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 1998), 14–19: “The classical Arabic historians tell us that in the year 20 after the hijra (Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina), corresponding to 641 of the Christian calendar, the Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from Arabia to fulfill an injunction the Prophet uttered on his deathbed: ‘Let there not be two religions in Arabia.’ The people in question were the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar in the north and the Christians of Najran in the south. Both were ancient and deep-rooted communities, Arab in their speech, culture, and way of life, differing from their neighbors only in their faith. The saying attributed to the Prophet was impugned by some earlier Islamic authorities. But it was generally accepted as authentic, and Umar put it into effect.” A copy of this short article by Lewis can be found at the following website:

htm+jihad+noncombatants+%22bernard+lewis%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8. Another copy is found at: and

[47] Ye’or, Decline, 39.

[48] Ye’or, Decline, 43.

[49] Lewis, “Europe and Islam,” Tanner Lectures on Human Values, 12–13. See also Bat Ye’or and Andrew Bostom, “Jihad Conquests: Islamism Today,” National Review Online, June 19, 2002, who note that Ibn Khaldoun (d. 1406) stated, “[T]he holy war is a religious duty, because of the universality of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everyone to Islam either by persuasion or by force” ( Ye’or provides a translation of her source in Decline, 296. See also: Ibn Khaldoun, The Muqaddimah, translated by Franz Rosenthal (New York: Pantheon Books Inc., 1958), Vol. 1:473: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united in (Islam), so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them (religion and politics) at the same.” An online version is available at:,+because+of+the+universalism%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8.

[50] Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, Jurisprudence in Muhammad's Biography (?), 134 ( This is apparently taken from Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, Jurisprudence in Muhammad's biography: scientific and systematic studies of lessons, principles and constitution (Damascus: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1988) translated by Ali Rustum (

[51] On the reported importance of jihad for Muhammad according to an official, early Muslim source, see Phil Parshall, Inside the Community: Understanding Muslims through Their Traditions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 99: “Naratted Abdullah: I asked the Prophet, ‘Which deed is the dearest to Allah?’ He replied, ‘To offer prayers at their fixed times.’ I asked, ‘What is the next (in goodness)?’ He replied, ‘To be good and dutiful to your parents.’ I again asked: ‘What is the next (in goodness)?’ He replied, ‘To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah’s cause.’” Parshall is citing from the authoritative traditions of the 9th-century-Muslim compiler Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad Al-Bukhari, edited and translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan, The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar Al Arabia, n.d.). Parshall gives the citation as Volume 1, page 300, Book 10, Chapter 5, Tradition 505 (1:300; 10.5.505). For the record, one should note that Parshall has served as a missionary in Pakistan, so like Cragg, his interest in Islam is not motivated by purely scholarly concerns, but also like Cragg, he presents Muhammad in generally positive terms, and he specifically notes the fact of holy war in the Old Testament. On this latter point, see Parshall, Inside the Community, 98–99.

[52] Fazlur Rahman, Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 37. See also the definition of jihad provided by the liberal Muslim convert Cyril Glassé in his The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 209b: “‘Holy War,’ a Divine institution of warfare to extend Islam into the dar al-harb (the non-Islamic territories which are described as the ‘abode of struggle,’ or of disbelief) or to defend Islam from danger.”

[53] Ye’or, Decline, 40; cf. 43–50. For several early Muslim documents on the theory of jihad, see Ye’or, Decline, 295–302. Further on jihad, see Thomas Patrick Hughes, “Jihad,” Dictionary of Islam (Laurier Books Ltd., 2001 [reprint of 1895 edition]), 243: “A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad. It is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Qur’an and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam and of repelling evil from Muslims” (
Hughes+Jihad+%22Dictionary+of+Islam%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). Hughes cites Qur’an and hadith as his sources. For a more recent explanation of traditional jihad as military struggle, see Emile Tyan, “Djihad,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (Brill Academic Publishers, 1960–), edited by T. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W.P. Heinrichs, which explains that “Jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam,” as is quite clear from “historical tradition, as well as the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunna.” This source is cited by Martin Kramer, “Jihad 101,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2002, Volume 9, Number 2 (

[54] Ye’or, Decline, 81. In particular, Ye’or, 81 and 458, n. 31, cites Bokhari, Les Traditions, volume 2, tradition 52, chapter 29, but she notes that Muslims also cited the Qu’ran 3:16–19, 71–72 and 5:70–71, which appear to accuse Christians and Jews as being untrustworthy for having corrupted their own revelation from Allah, all of this being evidence of “the perverse and mendacious character of the infidels . . . [who] stubbornly persisted in denying the superiority of Islam.”

[55] There are scholarly doubts about the authenticity of this pact, and it certainly has an odor similar to that of the medieval Christian forgery, The Donation of Constantine, but Muslims accept the Pact of Omar as authentic. For an English translation of the text, there are several online versions, of which, I provide one (

[56] Ye’or Decline, 83–84.

[57] Ye’or, Decline, 83.

[58] Ye’or, Decline, 77. The expression “utterly subdued” is from the translation of N.J. Dawood, The Koran (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 136.

[59] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 6.

[60] Lewis, What Went Wrong?, 6–7. I have no intention of denigrating the dhimmi, for the Muslim world, of course, built upon the great civilizations of the realms that it had conquered.

[61] Lewis, What Went Wrong?, 7. For a shorter, but equally brilliant summary of this reversal of fortunes, see Lewis’s “Europe and Islam,” Tanner Lectures on Human Values.

[62] Lewis, What Went Wrong?, 7–17, describes how the fact of Western superiority in the military, scientific, and technological arts slowly dawned upon Muslims.

[63] Not only Lewis notes the importance of this question. See also Pipes, “New Round of Anger and Humiliation,” Our Brave New World: “[S]tarting about 1800, things went awry. Power, wealth, health, and education moved elsewhere, and specifically to Europe, a place long scorned as backward. For two long centuries, Muslims have watched as other peoples, especially Christians, surged ahead. Not only did France, England, and the United States do so on the grandest scale, but more recently East Asia has outpaced the Muslim world. As a result, a sense of failure has suffused Muslim life. If Islam brings God’s grace, many Muslims have asked themselves, why then do Muslims fare so poorly? This traumatic of things going all wrong is the key to understanding modern Islam” (

[64] See Marc Gerecht (Katie Bacon Interview), “The Necessity of Fear,” The Atlantic Online, December 28, 2001, “For a thousand years Islamic civilization was triumphant, and that is what you would expect if in fact Mohammed was the last of the prophets and Islam the last of the revealed religions. So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them that for the past 300 years they’ve been consistently losing on the battlefield” (

[65] In this understanding, poverty does play a role in Islamic radicalism, for the poverty of much of the Islamic world contradicts what should have been the superior status of the Islamic realm compared to the non-Islamic realm. It is correct, however, that wealthier, not poorer Muslims are more likely to turn to Islamic radicalism. See Daniel Pipes, “God and Mammon,” The National Interest. Pipes notes that the stronger link is between wealth and Islamic radicalism rather than between poverty and Islamic radicalism. In this, he is supported by information provided by Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, “The Economics and the Education of Suicide Bombers: Does Poverty Cause Terrorism?” The New Republic Online, June 20, 2002. They conclude: “The evidence that we have assembled and reviewed suggests that there is little direct connection between poverty . . . and participation in or support for terrorism” ( See also Nicholas D. Kristoff, “Behind the Terrorists,” The New York Times Online, May 7, 2002 (

[66] Lewis, What Went Wrong?, 159–160.

[67] Such a longterm aim is unrealizable and contributes to the Islamists’ impractical sociopolitical views, as Reuven Paz, “Is There an Islamist Internationale?” Institute for Counter-Terrorism, July 9, 2000, notes: “Their struggle is not just to liberate a certain country from foreign occupation or from a ‘heretic’ regime. These are merely steps along the way in an eternal religious mission, whose victory, though guaranteed, is to be realized only by future generations. Thus many of the Islamists lack a clear political world view and hence, any kind of pragmatism” (

[68] “‘Why We Fight America’: Al-Qa’ida Spokesman Explains September 11 and Declares Intentions to Kill 4 Million Americans with Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Special Dispatch Series—No. 388

June 12, 2002, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) (

[69] Phil Parshall, Inside the Community, 100; cf. 13–14 and 230. Recall that Parshall is citing Bukhari. The citation here is Volume 2, page 274, Book 24, Chapter 1, Tradition 483 (2:274; 24.I.483).

[70] Dawood, Koran, 36, 133, 136, and 357. One could also cite: 2:216; 4:74–75; 4:89; 4:95; 5:36; 8:12–17; 8:59–60; 8:65; 9:14; and 61:4.

[71] Dawood, Koran, 59. See also: 3:157–158 and 3:169.

[72] Much depend upon how one arrives at an interpretation of Qur’anic verses. For a brief introduction to varying ways of interpreting the so-called “sword verse” (9:5), among other such verses, see Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[73] See Lewis, “License to kill,” 14–19. Concerning Bin Ladin’s declaration of jihad, Lewis states: “[F]or many—perhaps most—Muslims, the declaration is an equally grotesque travesty of the nature of Islam and even of its doctrine of jihad. The Quran speaks of peace as well as of war. The hundreds of thousands of traditions and sayings attributed with varying reliability to the Prophet, interpreted in various ways by the ulema, offer a wide range of guidance. The militant and violent interpretation is one among many. The standard juristic treatises on sharia normally contain a chapter on jihad, understood in the military sense as regular warfare against infidels and apostates. But these treatises prescribe correct behavior and respect for the rules of war in such matters as the opening and termination of hostilities and the treatment of noncombatants and prisoners, not to speak of diplomatic envoys. The jurists also discuss—and sometimes differ on—the actual conduct of war. Some permit, some restrict, and some disapprove of the use of mangonels [military engines for throwing large stones and darts], poisoned arrows, and the poisoning of enemy water supplies—the missile and chemical warfare of the Middle Ages—out of concern for the indiscriminate casualties that these weapons inflict. At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders” (19).

[74] Indeed, a more recent statement by Al-Qaeda goes beyond Bin Laden’s praise of the 9/11 attackers and explicitly takes credit for the attack. See again “‘Why We Fight America’: Al-Qa’ida Spokesman Explains September 11 and Declares Intentions to Kill 4 Million Americans with Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Special Dispatch Series—No. 388, June 12, 2002, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): “Al-Qa’ida takes pride in that, on September 11, it destroyed the elements of America’s strategic defense.” MEMRI’s source is Steven Simpson and Daniel Benjamin, “The Terror,” Survival, Volume 43, Number 4, January 2002. An earlier online version, “Bin Laden Lieutenant Admits to September 11 and Explains Al-Qa’ida’s Combat Doctrine,” Special Dispatch—Jihad and Terrorism Studies, February 10, 2002 No. 344, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), is available at:,+%C2%93The+Terror%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8.

[75] “Transcript of Usama bin Laden Video Tape,” Yahoo Daily News, December 13, 2001 (

[76] “Transcript of Usama bin Laden Video Tape,” Yahoo Daily News, December 13, 2001 (

[77] “Transcript of Usama bin Laden Video Tape,” Yahoo Daily News, December 13, 2001 (

[78] Rodinson, Muhammad, 171.

[79] Daniel Pipes, “Bin Laden Is a Fundamentalist: A reply to David F. Forte,” National Review Online, October 22, 2001 (

[80] Pipes, “Bin Laden Is a Fundamentalist,” National Review Online, does refer to sources for Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority: “[O]ne quarter of the populations in Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority (survey research finds, in separate polls both overseen by U.S. organizations) consider the September 11 attacks acceptable according to the laws of Islam.” This suggests to him “that a very substantial body of Muslim opinion is already in bin Laden’s camp; more, that virtually the whole range of fundamentalist Islamic opinion agrees with his goals and his methods.”

[81] We find this tendency in founder religions generally. See, for example, Jason David BeDuhn, The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 78: “Mani, as founder of the faith, provides a prototype of the perfect Manichaean, exemplifying in his life the correct behavior, and explaining through his spiritual experiences the rationale for that behavior.”

[82] Cragg, Call, 100–101; cf. 104. Cragg is quoting from James Robeson, “Al-Ghazali and the Sunna,” in The Muslim World, October 1955, Volume 45, Number 4, 324–333. Robeson takes the quote from Al-Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences.

[83] “Text of the Videotape [of Osama bin Laden],”, December 14, 2001: Shaykh Sulayman ‘Ulwan . . . gave a beautiful fatwa . . . . He . . . said this was jihad and those people were not innocent people (World Trade Center and Pentagon victims)” (

[84] “Osama bin Laden’s videotaped comments,”, Dec. 26, 2001 (

[85] “Downing Street releases new terror evidence,” Guardian Unlimited, November 14, 2001 (,1300,593386,00.html+bin+laden


[86] Dawood, Koran, 131. See also: 3:151; 8:12-13; 33:25-27; and 59:2, 13 (emphasis mine).

[87] “Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad),” Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220 (emphasis mine). Go to the website given, click on “B,” click on “Bukhari,” click on “Online English translations of Sahih Bukhari can be found here”,  and then click on “52. Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad)”  (

[88] Certainly, any efforts to portray Muhammad himself as a “terrorist,” whether attempted by conservative evangelical Christians such as Jerry Falwell (“Falwell Brands Muhammed a ‘Terrorist,’” October 4, 2002 []) or even by militant Muslims such as Bin Ladin, are utterly anachronistic. Terrorism is a modern phenomenon.

[89] Dawood, Koran, 127 (emphasis mine). Similarly, 3:151 and 59:2 present Allah as the one casting terror into the hearts of unbelievers. One should perhaps compare this to Exodus 23:27, where God promises the ancient Israelites: I will send my terror before you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come [in battle], and I will make all your enemies turn their backs before you [in retreat]” (emphasis and bracketed clarifications mine). I have taken this passage from Herbert G. May and Bruce Metzger, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 97–98. Compare also: Genesis 35:5; Joshua 2:9; Isaiah 19:17; Jeremiah 32:21; and Revelation 11:13.

[90] Another question that should be raised is whether the 9/11 attack itself was “terror” in the usual sense of the term. As Scott Corey, “I Wish I Were Wrong: Confessions of a Failed Political Scientist” (private correspondence), noted soon after the attack: “Terrorism uses violence to make a political argument. In this case, no one has taken responsibility for the attack, no ultimatum was issued, no demands have been made, no explanation given.” At the time of Corey’s analysis, no one had taken credit for the attack or presented any demands. Demands only came later, and then often obliquely. Moreover, the ultimate aim seems to be the defeat of America and the hegemony of radical Islam. Given this, we might better see the 9/11 attack not as an act of terror but an act of war. According to Pipes, “New Round of Anger and Humiliation,” Our Brave New World: “[T]errorist groups (and the states that support them) have declared war on the United States.” But even this statement conflates acts of terror with acts of war. For more on defintions of terrorism, see again Krueger and Maleckova, “The Economics and the Education of Suicide Bombers,” New Republic Online, who note that since 1983, the U.S. State Department has used the following definition for statistical and analytical purposes: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term ‘international terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.” Kureger and Maleckova also note that “[t]he definitions of terrorism used by scholars . . . tend to place more emphasis on the intention of terrorists to cause fear and terror among a targeted population that is considerably larger than the actual victims of their attacks, and to influence the views of that larger audience . . . [and tend to] include nation-states as potential perpetrators of terrorism.” Note that both of these categories of definitions speak of influencing an audience, which implies that most terrorist groups will release a statement declaring their demands. For a more recent analysis of the 9/11 attack, see Lee Harris, “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology: To Understand Sept. 11, think of it as theater, not politics,” Wall Street Journal Online, August 13, 2002 ( Incidently, Corey, “Presentation,” (private correspondence), now characterizes the 9/11 attacks as terrorism: “For the record, I think the attacks subsequently qualified as ‘terrorism’ when the Bin Laden tapes hit. Under the doctrine I endorse, it is not necessary for the people who are the targets of the physical attack to be the targets of the political message. Al Qaeda may not care what we think, but it used the attacks to try to affect what Muslims think in a way that would mobilize them to join Al Qaeda’s cause. That’s politics.”

[91]  “‘Why We Fight America’: Al-Qa’ida Spokesman Explains September 11 and Declares Intentions to Kill 4 Million Americans with Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Special Dispatch Series—No. 388

June 12, 2002, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) (

[92] Pipes makes a similar point in an interview by Lou Dobbs, “The Dobbs List: ‘Militant Islam Reaches America,’” CNNfn Moneyline News Hour, August 29, 2002: America in particular was attacked Al-Qaeda “by virtue of who we are, not necessarily what we do . . . . [b]y our democracy, our individualism, our consumerism, our commercialism” ( One could add that Al-Qaeda hates the emerging global economic system of international capitalism, based as it is upon the principle of interest returns for investment, which Muslims condemn as usury forbidden by Allah in the Qur’an. This may help to explain why Al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, a symbol not just of American capitalism but also of international capitalism. Whatever the specifics motivating Al-Qaeda’s hatred, it is clear from their views on democracy that they have what some just-war theorists, following Augustine, refer to as “implacable animosity.” See James Turner Johnson, “In Response to Terror,” First Things, February 1999, 11–13 (

[93] Lewis, What Went Wrong, 159.

[94] Ivan Strenski, “Review of Critics, Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion. By Russell McCutcheon. State University of New York Press, 2001. 266 pages,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2002, Volume 70, Number 2, 429. The Al-Qaeda attackers certainly saw their intended actions as sacrifice. See again: “Suicide Note: Translation of the Hijackers’ Note (Originally Written in Arabic),”, September 28, 2001: [S]houldn’t we use these hours to present [to God, our] sacrifices and obedience[?]” ( Boroumand and Boroumand, Terror, Islam, and Democracy, 17, argue that “the [Islamist] terrorists . . . preach a doctrine that does nothing but restore human sacrifice.” As Daniel Pipes, “The [Suicide] Jihad Menace,” The Jerusalem Post, July 27, 2001, points out, suicidal jihad has a long history in Islam: “Jihad suicide has been around for a millennium. The Assassins, a fanatical religious sect that flourished in the twelfth century developed jihad suicide into a powerful tool of war that succeeded in killing dozens of leaders and cast a long shadow over the region’s politics for decades. The Assassins’ suicide soldiers’ mission, as explained by the historian Bernard Lewis, had a distinctly familiar flavor: ‘by striking down oppressors and usurpers, they gave the ultimate proof of their faith and loyalty, and earned immediate and eternal bliss.’” Despite using the expression “suicide jihad,” Pipes emphasizes that for the Islamists, “Going into war knowing with certainty that one will die . . . is not suicide (intihar) but martyrdom (istishhad)” ( Similarly, Ehud Sprinzak, “Rational Fanatics,” Foreign Policy, September/October 2001, notes: “A long view of history reveals that suicide terrorism [has] existed [for] many years. . . . As early as the 11th century, the Assassins, Muslim fighters living in northern Persia, adopted suicide terrorism as a strategy to advance the cause of Islam. In the 18th century the Muslim communities of the Malabar Coast in India, Atjeh in Sumatra, and Mindanao and Sulu in the southern Philippines resorted to suicide attacks when faced with European colonial repression. These perpetrators never perceived their deaths as suicide. Rather, they saw them as acts of martyrdom in the name of the community and for the glory of God”  ( Sprinzak also points out that suicide attacks are not limited to the Islamic world. It would be interesting to apply Emile Durkheim’s category of “altruistic suicide” to attacks of these sort—though there are aspects of “anomic suicide” as well. See Durkheim’s Suicide: A Study in Sociology.

[95] Dawood, Koran, 64.

[96] Dawood, Koran, 38.

[97] Dawood, Koran, 20.

[98] A portion of this verse has been cited above, but here is the full rendering: “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters (i.e., mushrikun) wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer (i.e., perform as-salat, public prayer with Muslims) and render the alms levy (i.e., give zakat, Islamic alms), allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (cf. Dawood, Koran, 133). The primia facia meaning of this verse seems to be that idolators can be forced to become Muslims. A very rigorous, militant reading of this verse would include Christians among the mushrikun, translated “idolators,” since Christians are generally held to commit shirk, or association of other putatively divine figures with Allah. Other verses apparently legitimating the use of military force to coerce conversion, which are appealed to by militant Muslims, include the following: 2:193; 2:216; 8:39; 8:65; 9:29; and 47:4. Some of these have also been cited above.

[99] I quote here from Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 196. Geisler is a very conservative Christian philosopher, and Saleeb is a convert to Christianity from Islam. They are not always careful enough in their rendering of hadith. For example, they conflate the two poets noted above, Asma’ bint Marwan and Abu Afak, who were each killed for having written poems insulting to Muhammad: “[O]ne woman, Abu ‘Afk, had insulted Muhammad (by a poem)” (175). The error is a very embarassing one since “Abu” means “father” in Arabic, thereby making their statement read: “[O]ne woman, the father of ‘Afk, had insulted Muhammad.” Nevertheless, their sources are official Islamic texts, and their reference to the abrogation of 124 tolerance verses comes from Ibn al-’Arabi. The exact number of abrogated tolerance verses differs, according to various Muslim sources, but the assertion of abrogation is systemic. See: Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn ’Abd Allah, known as Ibn al-’Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur’an, Volume 1, 232-234; al-Nahas, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, 80; Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-’Elmeyah, 1986), 27 and 42; Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Abridged Volume 4, Surat Al-A’raf to the end of Surah Yunus, 375 and 377. A collected online translation of these can be found at the following website: For some of these same sources, see also the following website: Both of these websites are maintained by conservative evangelical Christian organizations and thus have their agenda, but they also provide a useful service in putting translated Muslim citations online.

[100] As already noted, many scholars consider the Pact of Omar to be a medieval Muslim forgery, much as they also consider the hadith reports of Muhammad summoning potentates in the Christian world to Islamize as spurious. See again Lewis, “Europe and Islam,” Tanner Lectures on Human Values, 12.

[101] Michael Cromartie, “Interview: The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Muslim ‘protection’ of Christians and Jews has actually been oppression, says scholar Bat Ye’or,” (

[102] On evidence of her conservatism, see Maqsood, Islam, 131: “In Islam there are three crimes which are considered ‘just cause’ for giving the death penalty—murder, publicly committing adultery . . . and openly attacking Islam in such a manner as to threaten it, having previously been a believing Muslim.” By “attacking Islam,” Maqsood seems to include an apostate’s “insults” against the Islamic community.

[103] Maqsood, Islam, 111.

[104] Maqsood, Islam, 111.

[105] Maqsood, Islam, 111.

[106] Glassé, Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, 141b. See also Joseph Schacht’s classic article on hadith fabricated to justify legal rulings: “A Revaluation of Islamic Traditions,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1949): 143-154. See also Ignaz Goldhizer, Muslim Studies (Muhammedanische Studien), Vol. 2 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971), 45, for the case of a hadith with a strong isnad that is recognized by Muslims themselves as a fabrication: “When the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik wished to stop the pilgrimages to Mecca because he was worried lest his rival ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr should force the Syrians journeying to the holy places in Hijaz to pay him homage, he had recourse to the expedient of the doctrine of the vicarious hajj to the Qubbat al-Sakhra in Jerusalem. He decreed that obligatory circumambulation (tawaf) could take place at the sacred place in Jerusalem with the same validity as that around the Ka’ba ordained in Islamic law. The pious theologian al-Zuhri was given the task of justifying this politically motivated reform of religious life by making up and spreading a saying traced back to the Prophet, according to which there are three mosques to which people may take pilgrimages: those in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.”

[107] Though I have not yet obtained the following book by a devout Muslim, references that I have seen suggest that it argues that the political and social circumstances of early Islamic imperial civilization are responsible for the use of mansukh to abrogate the tolerant Meccan verses in favor of the less tolerant Medinan verses but that an authentic Islam should base its shariah on the earlier Meccan verses and not on the later Medinan sword verse or similar verses. See: Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996).

[108] Miller, “Interview: Osama Bin Laden (May 1998),”

[109] “Egypt gives jailed militants a platform for repentance while some wonder why,” The Korea Herald, August 1, 2002, 18.

[110] For a recent (at the time of this writing) report on change in Iran, see Tim Judah, “The Sullen Majority,” The New York Times: Magazine Online, September 1, 2002 (

[111] Daniel Pipes, “Iran in Crisis,” New York Post, July 23, 2002 (

[112] Pipes, “Iran.”

[113] Pipes, “Iran.”

[114] Pipes, “Iran.”

[115] Pipes, “Iran.”

[116] Thomas L. Friedman, “Drilling for Freedom,” The New York Times, October 20, 2002 (

[117] Friedman, “Freedom,” The New York Times.

[118] For the fascinating discussion among R. James Woolsey, Patrick J. Buchanan, Daniel Pipes, John L. Esposito, and Ahmed Rashid on Iran and democratic change, see “Iran, a Coming Revolution?” FrontPage Magazine, September 18, 2002 (

+2002&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). Of noteworthy interest in this discussion is the degree of agreement among these five—several of whom are quite strongly opposed in their views on Islam generally—as to the likelihood of utter rejection of Islamic radicalism and full acceptance of democratic processes in Iran.

[119] Pipes, “The Citizen of the 21st Century: How Far, How Fast? A Long Way to Go,” Elections Today, Spring 2002 ( “Only when Muslims on their own turn toward secularism, democracy, free markets, private property and personal freedoms will the Muslim world make the advances that it craves and can achieve.” See also Pipes, “Islam’s Future,” New York Post, August 13, 2002, which notes the following interesting development in the secular but overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey: “In May, the Turkish religious authorities ruled—completely contrary to Islamic custom—to permit women to pray next to men and to attend mosque services while menstruating. The High Religious Affairs Board decided this on the (distinctly modern) basis that men and women are ‘equal and complementary beings.’ Next month, this same board takes up the extremely delicate topic of permitting Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, when it will perhaps again rule against centuries of practice” ( See also Bernard Lewis, “The Revolt of Islam,” The New Yorker, November 19, 2001, for he also points to the importance of secularism and democracy for generating a truly modern, tolerant Islam (

[120] On shame and honor as powerfully compelling mores in the Arab Muslim world, see David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 2002).

[121] And may not be able to experience at all if the Arab world does not begin to overcome its intellectual stagnation. See Barbara Crossette, “Study Warns of Stagnation in Arab Societies,” The New York Times, July 2, 2002 ( Overcoming this stagnation requires a number of changes, of which, I would note two: 1) an honest appraisal of the Islamic and pre-Islamic past by Muslims themselves; and 2) pressure for equal rights for Muslim women, especially by Muslim women themselves. A focus on both of these would also raise the issue of the legitimacy of jihad against non-Muslims and the inequality of the dhimmi in Muslim society. A third focus has been noted by Hillel Fradkin, “Parting of the Ways II: Jewish and Islamic Thought and 9/11,” The Ethics and Public Policy Center: A Lecture Delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, May 13, 2002, who argues that an Islamic turn toward accepting modernity will require the rehabilitation of medieval Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Bajja, and above all al-Farabi but also Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Khaldoun as voices opposing the dominant Muslim voices of Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Ghazzali, two very learned medieval Islamic scholars whose divergent teachings established the conditions within which intellectual debate in the Islamic has taken place but neither of whom emphasized values particularly congruent with the freedom of individuals. Ibn Taymiyyah’s thought, for example, served as an inspiration for the founder of Wahabism, the very influential but extremely intolerant sect of Islam that is Saudi Arabia’s state religion ( I wonder, though, how helpful Ibn Khaldoun would be, given his already noted defense of jihad. See the previously cited: Ye’or and Bostom, “Jihad Conquests: Islamism Today,” National Review Online, July 19, 2002 (

[122] This domination would include not only previous Western colonization of Islamic territory but also current political manipulation and economic pressures exerted to control oilfields and other wealth in Muslim lands. Additionally, from an Islamic perspective, such domination would include what Muslims interpret as Western colonialism-by-proxy through the state of Israel. Actually, Israel’s current administration (at the time of this writing), led by hardline Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, cannot reasonably be characterized as representing Western interests in general, American interests in particular, or even, arguably, Israeli interests at all. For instance, the July 23, 2002 Israeli missle attack that used an American-built F16 warplane to fire a 1000-pound bomb on the Gaza apartment of Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh and that killed not only Shehadeh but his wife and three children along with at least 11 other people (many of them children) and that injured more than 100 others in the residential district where the missle was fired has served only to intensify the Muslim view of Israel (and, by extension, the Muslim view of the United States) as a brutal, occupying force. Such a view is further exacerbated by Sharon’s remark that “This operation was . . . one of . . . [Israel’s] biggest successes,” as reported in “Hamas Leader Killed in Gaza Strike” FoxNews, July 23, 2002 (,2933,58411,00.html+Israeli+F-16+warplane+gaza+%22Salah+Shehadeh%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). See also various reports on other websites: “Hamas Hit,”, August 28, 2002 (


“Profile: Israeli Air Strike Kills Senior Hamas Leader and More Than a Dozen Others,” NPR, July 23, 2002 (

mccarthy.html+Israeli+F-16+warplane+gaza+%22Salah+Shehadeh%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8); “Arabs Want U.N. Resolution,”, July 23, 2002 (

shtml+Israeli+F-16+warplane+gaza+%22Salah+Shehadeh%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). I therefore cannot agree with either the tone or the words of Daniel Pipes in his remark that “[t]he Israelis have clearly made a mistake, and need to be more careful,” especially since he goes on to state “that the Palestinians have the moral opprobrium here in having the leaders of their military in civilian areas.” Pipes is, quite simply, wrong. The Sharon government committed more than a mistake, it committed a war crime, and any moral opprobrium unquestionably falls upon those who order a 1000-pound missle fired into a residential apartment building, not upon those toward whom the missile is aimed. Pipes himself recognizes this later when, interviewed by Phil Donahue, he considerably sharpens his tone towards Israel: “I went on that very same evening [of the missile attack] and I said . . . . this has to be condemned.” With all due respect to Pipes, his words at the time were not so strong as they should have been and certainly not so strong his memory of them implies.

[123] Thomas L. Friedman, “War of Ideas,” The New York Times, June 2, 2002, notes that “Islam ha[s] . . . not gone through [an Islamic equivalent of] the Enlightenment or the Reformation, which separated church from state in the West and prepared it to embrace modernity, democracy and tolerance.” For an online version of this article, see:,+which+separated+church+from+state%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8.

[124] As noted by John F. Burns, “Bin Laden Stirs Struggle on Meaning of Jihad,” The New York Times, January 27, 2002: “[T]here are legions of young men who seethe with resentment at America and its power, and long after Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda have faded into history, they seem likely to form a ready pool of recruits for messianic leaders.” In the words of one of these young men, “Jihad will continue until doomsday, or until America is defeated, either way.” The reference to judgement day suggests an element of Muslim eschatology that ought to be investigated. For an online version of this article, see:
as_occt=any&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=&safe=images. See also Daniel Pipes and Khalid Durán, “Faces of American Islam,” Policy Review, August/September 2002, for their views on Islamists living in the secular West but retaining radical beliefs and even violently acting out these beliefs (

[125] During my proofreading of this article, a terrorist bombing, presumably by militant Muslims, destroyed a tourist site frequented by Australians and Europeans on the primarily Hindu island of Bali, in Indonesia, and killed nearly 200 people. It does not appear to have been a suicide attack, however. According to a report by Raymond Bonner, “Bombing in Bali Seen as Opening New Front in Fight on Terror,” The New York Times, October 14, 2002: “[B]ased on earlier intelligence gathering and the nature of the blast, the bombing was probably the work of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional fundamentalist Islamic organization . . . [whose] members have trained at Al Qaeda camps in Indonesia, they said.” The report adds: “With cold calculation and meticulous planning, including reconnaissance, the bombers chose an unusual target, one that was certain to sow fear far beyond Bali, said a Western security analyst in Jakarta. It was on a faraway island, primarily populated by Hindus, with a reputation for tranquillity, and popular as a resort with backpackers and the wealthy alike. It was one of the deadliest attacks on civilians anywhere in the world in the last decade, one that seemed intended to undercut feelings of safety even in a remote enclave” ( Note that, unlike more typical terrorist attacks but similar to those of 9/11, no group immediately took credit or made political demands. Possibly, demands will come later, as they did with 9/11, but it can probably be presumed that the perpetrators expect their message to be clear enough already.