Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What is the Difference between Palestinian Nationalism and Islam?

Palestinian nationalism is a form of Arab nationalism focused on the domination of Israel. Let’s break this down into short concepts; Palestinian nationalism is a form of nationalism. It is a form of Arab nationalism. It is focused on dominating Israel. In political terms, this translates as total rejection in recognizing not only the State's right to exist, but in rejecting its right to take any defensive (and offensive) measures against enemies, rights that the Palestinians of course afford themselves, and carry out to murderous proportions against the Israeli’s. The Palestinians have been placed at the front line of this nationalism as the collective Arab martyr, and Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade have been created with the specific purpose of waging this war. Further, the goals of these groups are independent of the well being of the Palestinians; they exist in order to achieve their own goals.

But the real question is, is this in line with Islam and its religious precepts? Or is the insistence that Islam have sovereignty over every inch of land at any expense an extremist form of nationalism that runs counter to true Muslim precepts? Are Arab nationalists missing the big picture? This is the key question upon which the future will pivot. In other words, is Palestinian nationalism Islamic or anti-Islamic; is it a viable expression of Islam with basis in Muslim thought, or is it a perversion of Muslim thought and therefore deviant? What would Muhammad say? We cannot be sure, but we can know what he has said.

How is this related to Palestinian nationalism? It is part of a greater question; what does Islam advocate? The Muslim tendency has been to answer this question by either tailoring Islam to fit or not to fit Palestinian nationalism. Sadly, for the most part, love of Palestine has been presented as a specific Muslim value, but this is quite far from what Islam actually is. Palestine is no more holy to Islam than any other piece of land that Muslims conquered during and after Muhammad’s time. If Palestine, and the Jerusalem in its center, is so holy to Islam, why did Muhammad change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem 180 degrees to Mecca? If Palestine is so important to Islam, why does the Qur’an say that Abraham took Ishmael to Mecca instead of taking Isaac to Jerusalem? The Qur’an itself places Mecca at the center of Islam and Jerusalem at its periphery. It is a fact that Palestine became important to Islam at a date later than its inception, when the Muslim Umayyad Dynasty of Syria was trying to come to power. Palestine was a province of Syria and so the best way to remake Palestine important to Muslims was by introducing it into the Muslim narrative, via Jerusalem, the opposite of what Muhammad had done. Umar, of the Umayyad Dynasty, claimed that Muhammad took his Night Journey to Jerusalem rather than to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, and he built the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to commemorate it. Muhammad’s close family rejected this political machination, but Islam as a whole eventually accepted the changes. In the 21st century the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a political sticking point with the Israeli’s, but wouldn't it be fascinating if the whole Islam-Jerusalem connection via Al-Aqsa Mosque was a total fabrication? If it was, then the 21st century Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being fueled by a 7th century fabrication. The conflict is as constant as peoples' belief in the truth of the fabrication.

The Judaification of the Islamic Perspective

Love of Palestine as a Muslim value is almost like love of Israel as a Jewish value, except that love of Palestine was not a part of the Muslim sentiment at its inception at all. Contrast Abraham’s and Isaac’s journey to a mountain in Jerusalem (the future site of the Temple) with the Muslim view of Abraham’s journey to Mecca with Ishmael, as the “original” form of the account, which Muslims believe the Jews altered. The post-Muhammad introduction of Jerusalem into the Muslim sentiment and thought process mirrors the Jewish love of Jerusalem; it is modeled after it. All attempts after this time by Muslims to take Jerusalem have involved claiming a love for Jerusalem that tries to rival the Jewish love for their Holy City.

Around 1,200 years later, this process occurs in a different way. Around 1964, knowing that right after the Holocaust the world sympathized with the Jews of Europe, Arafat adopted “Jewish terminology” to use for Palestinian nationalism. Such terms were “right of return,” “Diaspora,” and “refugees,” all of which were used to explain the Jewish establishment of the State of Israel, Arafat borrowed to explain Palestinian nationalism, “Palestinian Zionism.” This practice has a root in Islam’s history right after the time of Muhammad.

Muslims must renounce anything Jewish, unless of course it helps their cause and they can claim that it is Muslim.

The Hip-Hop-ization of the Palestinian Cause

Since the late 1980’s, hip-hop has often served as a popular forum of sorts, many times of dissenting opinions. In the 2,000’s, many a varied people have taken to using hip-hop as an oratory style of communication. I used to say that the few number of Palestinian dissidants was like a hole in a pocket, soon the entire thing would tear. I used to argue that the Americanization of Muslim Arabs and their gradually joining the American mainstream was a harbinger of things to come, that it would allow them and cause them to feel comfortable and maybe even compelled in taking dissident stances against “traditional” political nationalist Arab views. Take the Jewish underground of hip-hop for example, which is not shy about making generalized statements about Orthodox religious views, but also about the wars in the Middle East, even if it means not taking a specifically pro-Israel stance. With the Muslim youth, however, the opposite has seemed to occur; American Muslim youth has joined the hip-hop scene but has, not to my surprise, dedicated their freedom of speech to furthering the Palestinian cause, not to dissenting against it or even criticizing it. With hip-hop, Palestinian and Arab American youth has simply set Palestinian Authority propaganda to a catchy beat and musical instruments, donning checkered kaffiye’s and wooing historically uninformed hip-hoppers to the “ghettoization” of Palestinian youth. Again, an opportunity for change has been dropped at the Palestinian door, into the hands of the youth, and again the Palestinian cause has turned the other cheek to reconciliation and chosen to live by the sword. It is not the older generation that is responsible for this wave of American intifada, it is the late teens and students, the college-educated, well-dressed, spirited, poetic, and liberal-minded hip-hop elite who find enough time to be artsy secular Palestinian neo-cons - walking contradictions, metaphorical suicide bombers with street cred - chic Jew-haters and Israel-bashers. While most people use hip-hop to dissent and disagree, Palestinian-American youth has used to it tout the party line, anything else would be civilized. The effect on the delivery style as a whole has been to “Islamicize” a small wing of hip-hop and to “convert” a score of hip-hop artists over to the Palestinian cause, yet another example of corruption. The American-Palestinian youth has dissapointed me greatly, I even went so far as to say that they would be the next American Jews, but Jews are not like Palestinians.

Muslim Apologies

Since 9/11 a growing number of Muslim groups and individuals have proclaimed sentiments such as that Islam does not allow the killing of innocent people. Jihad was explained to have many viable expressions, the basic ones being “greater jihad,” which involved fighting against one’s yetzer harah, his evil inclination, and the “lesser jihad” is the one that involved military and violent retaliation against an oppressor or an enemy of Islam. Logically, greater jihad is invisible because its battlefield lies in the heart and mind. The only thing about lesser jihad was that it was the only visible form of Islam reaching the eyes of much of the world. On top of that, it is also very general and can be used in almost any way. Muslims tried to educate non-Muslims about the reality of what Islam is, with much success, but with every suicide bombing their battle drew closer to loss. Those Muslims who tried to educate the world about Islam only fought half the battle; there was only so much they could do in trying to get people to think they were seeing green when they were really seeing red – a subtle attempt at slipping society a Ruhipnol. The fact is that lesser jihad was running rampant and the Muslim reaction was to say that since those actions were a deviant form of Islam, they should be ignored. But if it truly was a deviant form of Islam, why should Muslims advocate ignoring it – shouldn’t they have taken a stronger outward stance against it? Perhaps an ideological rift in Islam took place internally, but the fact that these issues were not handled in any public forums just bred mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims, and mistrust is dangerous for the minority, as we learned from the Holocaust. The Iraq war, which bred Muslim extremism in many Arab and Muslim countries, was the Muslims’ savior from starting the fight against extremism. At once, Bush became the savior and the devil, the savior because he (in their minds) freed Muslims from alienating Muslim extremism, and the devil because he caused more of it. I happen to recall the saying that silence is agreement, and so if Muslims had more actively pounced on Muslim extremism, perhaps a catalyst such as the war on Iraq would have been less of a catalyst. Again, the Muslim world relapsed into the blame game, with Bush as their scapegoat, when they should have been burning effigies of their extremists. If Muslims want to present true Islam to the world, then they either need to start with criticizing Arab nationalist causes that are not in line with Islam, or they need to accept that Islam is a religion that calls for political nationalist causes.

"Reverts," Converts to Islam

One common thing that seems to happen, from my personal experience and what I've seen on blogs, etc, of people who have converted to Islam, is that they feel a certain type of pressure to conform to the "Arabist" political point of view, or in other words, to take up the Palestinian cause and to cast their eyes low on the State of Israel. Again, why in the world would a rational Muslim human find such an inherent connection between practicing the faith of Islam and conforming to Arab politics? Might I remind the reader that Islam, by a Muslim's definition, not my own, is a universal religion, the Word of G-d, and not a composed set of Arab values. The Torah says that G-d reveals a message to a prophet through his own mental, verbal, cultural, and cognizant abilities in order to make finite the infinite. Muhammad was an Arab who lived in an Arab society, and so Islam was revealed to him through the vessel of his own mind in a way that he could comprehend. Therefore, even though Islam is a universal religion according to the Muslim view, there is an "Arabian" element inside it that, to most Muslims, is a sign of Islam's remaining true to its roots as originating from the mouth of Muhammad (through revelation).

What is the Difference between Israeli Nationalism and Judaism?

For starters, it's the same difference; Judaism is a religion and Israeli nationalism is a national movement. There is a correlation however; at the heart of the Jewish religion is the Promise from G-d to endow them with the Land of Israel, and so "Israeli nationalism," or more accurately Israelite nationalism, sits at the heart of the Jewish religion. This correlation is the "theme" of the entire Tanakh (Jewish Bible): Abraham visits a mountain in Jerusalem (Mt. Moriah) to be tested by G-d - when he succeeds, G-d makes a covenant with Him to give the Land of Israel to his ancestors. After the death of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Hebrews/Israelites are enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. After this period, they, with Moses, conquered the Land and settled there. Based on this, when King David came to power he began to build (and King Solomon finished) the Temple to G-d in Jerusalem on that very same site where G-d made His Covenant with Abraham. Thus began the approximately 546 year long Israelite and Jewish (Judean) Monarchy of history and can most definitely be said to be the first Jewish state. The Temple was where the subjects of the Kingdom, mostly Israelites but Gentiles as well, brought animals inside to be sacrificed. This ended with the exile of the tribes of Jacob in 709 BCE and the Monarchy ended with the Babylonian destruction of the Temple in 576. King Cyrus of Persia brought the Jews back to their Homeland in 506 and the Temple was rebuilt, although the Monarchy was not revived.

However, a semi-sovereign Jewish state continued to exist in the form of a Jewish community located around the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court in Jerusalem. This period came to an end when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE, which put the Jewish state to an official end. The total amount of time that the Jewish state existed, from the first King, King Saul, to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, was about 880 years. The total time of the Jewish control (either whole or partial) in the Land was from conquest of Israel (in Moses' time) until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, nearly three millennia. 1,778 years after the Roman destruction, the Modern State of Israel was created. It is not in its former state without the built Temple, but the movement that created it, Zionism, is entirely with merit from a religious Jewish perspective. In other words, Jews living in a sovereign Jewish state does not run counter to any of Jewish history while complimenting the Jewish religion. There was no Jewish sovereignty during the 2,000 years of exile but there were thriving Jewish communities in Israel during this entire time. In other words, there has been an unbroken Jewish population in Israel since Abraham until today.

The same cannot be said for the Muslims, who arrived on the scene when Muhammad started Islam in 570 CE. Just to put this all into perspective, the Jewish religion began, the Monarchy rose and fell, the Sanhedrin came to an end, and only after this occurred, five hundred and seventy years later, did the religion of Islam begin. All of Muslim history has occurred in a time after Judaism had risen and fallen several times and continued to successfully thrive against adversity. By contrast, the Jews were centuries more mature than the Muslims. For the Jews, the period of Islam was just another chapter in the "Jewish book of history," while it was page one of chapter one in the existence of the Muslims.


During his life, Muhammad made Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) the center point of Islam by claiming that the Torah's account of Abraham visiting Jerusalem was a Jewish falsification. Instead, he said, Abraham and Ishmael (not Isaac) actually went to Mecca, and for that reason he, (Muhammad) started the religion of Islam there. Of course, the other reason could be that the pagan Arabs were worshipping idols in the Q'aba, and Muhammad rededicated the Q'aba to the worship of G-d. He needed historical justification if he was going to do such a thing, and that was the point behind his claim of the Jewish falsification. In other words, he needed to connect Mecca to Abraham and the only way he could make that connection was through Ishmael. Through some creative re-interpretation, Muhammad attributes the Torah's absence of Ishmael's journey with Abraham to Mecca as a Jewish attempt to defame Ishmael. He embellishes on the text and "fills in the gaps," weaving together a dramatic age-old bloodfued where the descendants of Isaac attempt to discredit the descendants of Ishmael, the first born and rightful heir to their father's heritage. The logic makes quality sense and is extremely appealing but history does not cooperate with it; King David started the Monarchy in Jerusalem because Abraham journied there with Isaac! Had Abraham journied to Mecca with Ishmael, King David would have surely known that and based the Jewish Monarchy in Mecca. As a result of King David's establishment of the capital of Israel in Jerusalem and not in Mecca, world powers have been trying to seize Jerusalem ever since; not one has ever tried to seize Mecca.

Ironically, Muslims themselves, aware of Jerusalem's spiritual and political significance, have attempted to seize it as well. The most famous example of this is when the Caliph Umar of the Syrian Umayyad Dynasty in 638, after Muhammad's death and against the wishes of his close family, built the Al-Aqsa Mosque on top of the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. He also built the Dome of the Rock, and his attempt was to bring power to the Umayyad Dynasty and also to negate Christian advances and claims to Jerusalem. After Muhammad had already claimed the Jewish falsification of history in order to establish Mecca, Umar brought Jerusalem back into the fold of Islam by connecting it to Chapter 17:1 in the Qur'an. This chapter states that Muhammad went on a journey at night to a place called the "farthest mosque," which in Arabic is "al-masjid al-aqsa (the farthest)." Evidence shows that "the farthest mosque" existed in Mecca, but Umar attached that verse to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and built "Al-Aqsa Mosque," "The Farthest Mosque," in Jerusalem just to show that it was true. This would have gone directly against Muhammad's wishes and might have even been seen as an attempt to "Judaize" Islam.

This was related to, but was not the cause of, a split between the followers of Muhammad's cousin Ali, whom Muhammad himself appointed, and between people not belonging to Muhammad's household, primarily Abu Bakr and Umar. Those Muslims who claimed (and claim) loyalty to Ali, given that he was Muhammad's chosen successor and was from his family, became known as "Shi'a" Muslims, and those Muslims who generally reject dynastic claims became known as "Sunni" Muslims. Despite the issues over succession and the attempted overthrow of Ali on his first day being on the Caliphate, and a general historical tension, and violence, both Shi'a's and Sunni's accept the changes that Umar introduced and consider them to be historically accurate - in order to dethrone Judaism. Perhaps Umar was worth something afterall.

We must imagine what Islam would be like today if Muhammad's family rejected Umar's attempts to bring Jerusalem into the fold of Islam. According to the article "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem" by Daniel Pipes, "Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya (638-700), a close relative of the Prophet Muhammad, is quoted denigrating the notion that the prophet ever set foot on the Rock in Jerusalem; 'these damned Syrians,' by which he means the Umayyads, 'pretend that God put His foot on the Rock in Jerusalem, though [only] one person ever put his foot on the rock, namely Abraham.'"

If Umar had not irrigated and irritated those changes and greedily brought Jerusalem under his jurisdiction in the name of Islam and against the wishes of the Prophet Muhammad, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which causes tension between Jews and Palestinians, today there might not be an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like Umar and the Umayyads, Palestinian nationalism has centered Islam on the site of the Temple Mount, and had Muhammad been alive today, the chances are that he would reject the Muslim Umar's emphasis on Jerusalem. It is very likely that Muhammad's vision of Islam was to be centered around Mecca with no desire to dominate Palestine or Jerusalem. Indeed, much of the land that came under Muslim control did so at the hands of Caliphs after Muhammad's relatively short life. However, we also know that Islam was to be spread to the corners of the Earth, maybe even Palestine, so in the event that Islam reached Palestine in Muhammad's lifetime, chances are that he would have called for Jewish sovereignty there over its holy sites. What better people to safeguard the birth sites and burial grounds of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, Kings, and Prophets than the Children of Isaac, Abraham's younger son?

To conclude, we cannot honestly say that Palestinian nationalism compliments Islam when the site that Palestinians want as their capital was introduced into Muslim history against Muhammad's will. Palestinian nationalism is un-islamic.