Dinner With Saba
My evening with an Islamic "activist" -- and a 9/11 Truther.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/08/saba-ahmed.jpg)Another Ramadan has past, but not without personal opportunity to examine a recent Muslim media darling, Saba Ahmed. The 9⁄11 Truther and other radical beliefs expressed by Ahmed and her associates during a recent interview make her aspirations of being the “head of the Muslim peace movement” not worthy of further consideration.
After achieving national notoriety with Brigitte Gabriel at the Heritage Foundation and in two subsequent Fox News appearances, further attention for Ahmed, such as a Nation interview, followed. Her lobbying firm “monitor[s] all congressional hearings related to national security,” Ahmed explained, “primarily targeting” everything thereby that “has to do with Islamists.” According to Ahmed, using this word “to define ‘terrorist’” contradicts Qur’an 2:256’s message that “there is no compulsion in religion.”
Ahmed’s recurring requests for interaction with me resulted in a July 17 invitation to an Iftar hosted by Make Space mosque, a “non-judgmental community” with a “strong focus on youth and young professionals.” Make Space emphasizes “universal as well as Islamic values of compassion, cooperation and service” as opposed to a “counter-productive focus on controversial issues” in Islam. At Alexandria, Virginia’s Dunya Restaurant I removed my shoes and entered to be met by mosque volunteers, including a South Asian-looking, unveiled American woman wearing business slacks and blazer.
Literature for Guidance Residential, the “Leader in Islamic home financing” for American interest-free “Home Ownership the Sharia Way,” filled a table near the entrance. A postcard featuring Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Guidance Residential’s Sharia Board Chairman, caught the eye. A member of Pakistan’s Supreme Court since 1982, Usami played a key role in introducing sharia laws on blasphemy, corporal punishments, and other matters during Zia al-Haq’s dictatorship. The _Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims_ 2013-2014 edition ranks Usami 25th, a “leading scholar of Islamic jurisprudence” and “intellectual leader” of the Deobandi movement that gave rise to the Taliban.
Contrasting with laywoman Ahmed, Usami’s 2002 book Islam and Modernism does “not make excuses” for saying that the “command of jihad remains till the last day” and “killing is to continue until the unbelievers pay Jizyah after they are humbled.” During jihad the “clear manifest truth is that taking slaves is permissible,” Usami’s Islamic slavery apologetic argues. “Fiercely anti-American” according to Investor’s Business Daily, Usmani has urged Muslim support for fighting American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Islamic teaching, however, “proves the impermissibility of playing backgammon,” another Usami article declares.
Ahmed arrived shortly after me and explained to an inquiring Make Space organizer her “Dawah” or Islamic propagation with me. Ahmed introduced in turn her friend Wejdan Alharbi, a fellow American University law student from Saudi Arabia. While Ahmed wore her usual modest hijab attire of slacks, long sleeves, and veil, Alharbi additionally wore the niqab face covering, leaving only eyes through a slit and glasses visible. (Alharbi thus emulated Aisha, the “most beloved wife” of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, she later explained.) After much introductory handshaking, I mistakenly offered my hand to Alharbi, who observed the strict Muslim norm of not touching an unrelated male.
Following a brief prayer with genders divided across the banquet hall, Ahmed, Alharbi, and I entered the buffet line and enjoined the Iftar on the floor of the designated family area. Conversation during and after dinner roamed over various topics, but Ahmed’s oft-invoked “root causes of terrorism” became the focus.
“Stop blaming the religion,” Ahmed demanded with respect to associations of Islam with aggression and atrocities. “Terrorism has no place in Islam” with its “strict rules of war,” Ahmed contended, making groups like the Islamic State “completely un-Islamic.” “Not Islam,” but “grievances all around” motivated Muslims to act violently. Ahmed, however, ignored Islamic teachings condemning all non-Muslims in jihads waged by Muslims like Usmani as military targets.
Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks, though, climaxed the evening’s discussion. “Everyone outside the United States” knows that 9⁄11 is “just made…up,” Ahmed argued, contradicting her 2011 televised appreciation for the killing of the “criminal” Osama bin Laden. America “just needed a stimulus” for justifying conquests of mineral resources in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, Ahmed contended. Today “we have to keep on killing people” as Americans “play with joy sticks” in drone strikes.
“Nobody wants to find out the truth” on 9⁄11 and risk being tarred as a “truther,” Ahmed claimed. Ahmed speculated about discredited theories concerning a controlled demolition of World Trade Center’s Building Seven. Wreckage at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, appeared to Ahmed too insignificant to result from plane crashes, she argued while poring over photos on her smartphone. How could a Saudi hijacker’s passport on display at Washington, DC’s Newsuem survive an airplane crash, Ahmed likewise doubted in questioning Saudi hijacker involvement in 9⁄11?
“I don’t know what hit the Pentagon,” Ahmed responded to questioning. What about my law school professor, Robert A. Youmans, who saw through his Navy Annex office window a low-flying airliner seconds before it rammed into the Pentagon on 9⁄11? A drone airliner-look-a-like, Ahmed suggested.
The hour getting late, Ahmed kindly offered me a ride to a metro station and the three of us entered her Mercedes-Benz C230. Asked by Ahmed, I affirmed that I had once read the Qur’an as she played an Arabic singing of its sura 36, the “Heart of the Qur’an.” This sura, I later analyzed, exalts the “straight path” of “Prophet Muhammad” and the “wise Qur’an” while warning unfaithful of the “Hellfire which you were promised…for what you used to deny.”
Political scientist Hannah Arendt famously described the “banality of evil” during her coverage of Israel’s 1961-1962 trial of Nazi genocide organizer Adolf Eichmann. This banality can include the denial of Ahmed, an individual whose devotion to Islam’s “straight path” precluded reflection upon sources of evil within the faith. Yet, as Gabriel discussed at Heritage, defeating tyranny amidst any group, Germans, Muslims, or otherwise, demands that the majority define and defend a clear conviction of human dignity against internal enemies. Ahmed, though, dismissed at the Iftar any analogies in this regard with totalitarianisms past as inapplicable to Muslims, seen by her never as perpetrators, but only as suffering victims driven to extremes. Thus foreign military interventions in Muslim countries by America and others can only result from nefarious motives, not legitimate concerns with the Islamic world’s incessant instabilities and dangers.
Subsequent Ahmed Facebook postings confirmed her views of Islamic innocence. Historically “Israel opposed all UN efforts to create two states” and perpetrated “aggressive killings,” she complained. Additionally, Israel has “stolen lands over the last several decades” depicted in a posted map for which “there is no Jewish claim,” Ahmed proclaimed. Jews “were the chosen people until they disobeyed God and were punished by leaving their lands.” “I see now you hate the Jewish people,” a “saddened” person who had hoped Ahmed “were more moderate” responded.
Ahmed’s outlook had preoccupied me during the ride as the Pentagon and its 9⁄11 memorial appeared alongside the freeway in a yellowish glow of exterior lights. Among 184 dead from that fateful day there honored are 59 from the airliner Al Qaeda crashed into the Pentagon, deaths which Ahmed cannot explain. The Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville honoring the civilian heroes who lost their lives in a victory over Al Qaeda is also presumably fraudulent for Ahmed as she still searches O.J. Simpson-like for 9/11’s real killers. Ahmed’s fantasies of being a Muslim peace leader and national security expert notwithstanding, her 15 minutes of fame should end.
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