essays kaddish in two-part harmony

a kaddish for Osama bin Laden

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




By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

4 replies on “a kaddish for Osama bin Laden”

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J Fox Circe
Excellent article by one of the wisest people I have the privilege of knowing, Mira Z. Amiras….

David Wiegleb, Autumn Tyr-Salvia and 3 others like this.

James Conohan Yes there are different forms of sharia, there are also various forms of Chrisian law; yet I don’t think any of us would fancy life under Catholic rule just because it was different from John Calvin’s dictatorship. If the Ottomans, a truly …
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15 hours ago · Like

J Fox Circe James: I don’t think you were reading context very well if that’s the takeaway you got from this piece.
15 hours ago · Like

James Conohan I read it several times to make sure it wasn’t a parody of Galloway’s latest rant.
15 hours ago · Like

Barry King James: Show me an empire that hasn’t committed genocide.

I’d offer that brutality is a human condition, not one we can ascribe to any particular religious flavor.
12 hours ago · Like · 2 people

Melissa Powerhouse Perkins Oh I love Prof. Amiras!!!
12 hours ago · Like

James Conohan Barry, notice how I said that Islam isn’t evil? I was arguing against the lunacy of an Islamic state, not “ascribing brutality.”
3 hours ago · Like

19 hours ago · · Like · · Share
Amy Smith, Howard Buzick and 2 others like this.

Autumn Tyr-Salvia Well said, thank you.
17 hours ago · Like

If I hear one more #%@#$ gloat about the death of OsamaB, I am going to loose my freakin’ mind!!!

Is it required that we, at regular intervals, prove to the world we are nothing more than a bunch of stupid savages? Is that really required?

Fireworks were going off in my neighborhood last night.

If I try really hard and think until my head hurts, I cannot think of ONE thing that is made better by this action. NOT $#%@ ONE!!

Here is something no one asks:

How shitty does your life have to be for you to come to the conclusion that bin Laden is the shining light of hope?

What does your perspective have to look like, how shitty does it have to be, for you to think that flying airplanes into buildings is an improvement?

And, if you ask those questions, I think the thoughtful human being MUST ask “how can I help make that shitty view better?” or “how can we help to create hope where there is none?”

so, clearly the solution is carpet bombing and drone attacks.

For sure these are more important than instead of schools, hospitals, condoms…
food …shelter …clothing

I am so grateful I walked into your classroom those 22 years ago.


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