بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The goal of building (or rebuilding) an Islamic State is something as yet under-appreciated in the West. Do we in the West ask what kind of State is it? Or do we just assume it’s the oppressive, misogynistic monolith that we have dubbed it? Do we even ask ourselves if there is more than one model of the Islamic State? More than one Shariat legal system? Has the American public ever thought about how an Islamic State under Maliki law might differ from Hanbali or Hanafi or Shi’i law?
Do Americans care about this sort of thing at all?
My own family survived to see the 21st century grace à the Ottoman Islamic State.
In 1992, on the quincentennial of the reconquista of Spain, I presented a paper at the Sepharad ’92 Conference in San Francisco, CA. My thought was to use the Sephardi experience of protection under the Ottoman Islamic State as a model for contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations. I also curated an exhibit that traveled across the USA for two years, thanking the Turks for five hundred years of refuge.
This is not to say that every moment of Sephardi history under Islamic rule is above reproach. Not at all. But that we did thrive. We did survive as a People. Our language and culture were preserved through the Ottoman policy of religious apartheid — which allowed the self-regulation of each religious community under their own legal system. The State was highly decentralized.
The Ottoman State lasted from 1453 to 1924. That’s a chunk of change that I’m not sure our own ‘democratic’ state is likely to beat in terms of longevity. Surely, it worked because it had some virtues. And surely, we should pay attention to what those virtues might be.
However, does the Islamic State need to be brought about by violence? Do we need Osama bin Laden’s methodology to bring Islamic law and justice back into the world as it was originally intended? Do we need jihad to do that job? And do we rightly know anything about jihad — or is it the shorthand ‘holy war’ we think it is?
There are two kinds of jihad — internal and external. Jihad is a concept even Freud would have been proud of. The word simply means ‘struggle.’ And it recognizes that there is internal struggle, and external. Of the two, the ‘greater jihad’ is the internal one. We struggle against (I’m borrowing Freud’s language here) our base id impulses. We reach for superego moral teachings to help us in this regard. The ‘lesser jihad’ is external. And it is supposed to be entirely and wholly defensive. We struggle against those who would prevent us from exercising our religion. Jihad is invoked legally for no other reason than this.
It is not to be used as an offensive weapon.
It is not to be used as a tool to force conversion (forced conversion being illegal in Islam).
It is not to be undertaken against innocents.
And, most important, perhaps — it is not the mechanism by which the Islamic State is born or reborn.
Abusing jihad, according to Islamic law, dooms the abuser to hellfire.
I offer here a kaddish for Osama bin Laden — believing that some of his goals were nevertheless worthwhile and worth fighting for.
At the same time, I offer a kaddish for the terrible loss of life and lives that have been perpetrated as a result of his terribly misguided methods — may the victims of both terror and oppression now rest in peace.
My prayer (if I may be so bold) is that the history and precepts of Islamic law be taught both far and wide — so that Muslims and non-Muslims alike can come to appreciate the innovations in religious tolerance that Islam and the Islamic State can bring, when done correctly.
And I offer yet again my thanks to the Ottomans for taking us in when the Spanish solution to what we now call ‘diversity’ was a choice of forced conversion, expulsion, or death. We lost almost everything leaving Spain in 1492. The Islamic State gave us our safe passage.
Barak’allahu’fik — بارك الله فيك