Were the Farooks Islamic?

On what grounds exactly can non-Muslim Westerners presume to pass this judgment?

The events in San Bernardino, California have reinvigorated talk of the relationship between Islam and terrorism.

This talk has been telling.  It warrants a few comments.

[1] Syed Farook and his wife had indeed been “radicalized,” but, we are assured, theirs is a “perverted” version of Islam. 

First of all, the word choice of the passive “radicalized” implies (and, I believe, is meant to imply) that the murderers weren’t free to choose their actions: Like any other inert, material object, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were acted upon by forces—“extremism,” in Barack Obama’s words—that were, ultimately, beyond their control. 

Second, the acknowledgement on the part of the Obamas of the world that the “radicalized” or “extremist” mindset that overcame the Farooks was a “perversion” of Islam belies their insistence that it hasn’t anything at all to do with genuine Islam.  To hear them ordinarily tell it, Obama and his ilk would have us think that the kind of homicidal violence that we see regularly carried out in the name of Allah is no more related to Islam than it is related to Quakerism or Buddhism. 

But if it is a perversion of Islam, as they say, then it most certainly is a reading of Islam—even if it is a misreading of it, for a misreading is still a reading of a sort.   

[2] Obama and his ilk are neither Islamic nor (much less) Islamic scholars.  And yet they are as certain as can be that violence and Islam are wholly incompatible, that “radicalized” or “extremist” interpretations of Islam are illegitimate.  However, on what grounds can non-Muslim Westerners presume to pass this judgment?

That there are lots of Muslims today that reject the shedding of infidel blood in the name of Allah is undeniable.  And while it is undoubtedly true that, empirically speaking, a majority of Muslims fall into this camp, this fact is wholly irrelevant to showing that “radical Islam” is somehow “un-Islamic”—unless, of course, one thinks that Truth is determined by majority vote.  

[3] In claiming that Muslims who commit violence for the cause of what they take to be their religion essentially haven’t a clue as to what they’re talking about, the suggestion is that there are no grounds in their religious tradition for linking bloodshed with Allah’s will.  Yet this is patently false from the standpoint of both Islamic history and the Quran. 

If it was true that Islam is devoid of so much as the slightest pretexts for violence, to say nothing of actual precedents for it, then how is it that so many practicing Muslims continue to get it so wrong?

Why is it that from America to Europe; from Africa to the Middle East; in dozens and dozens of countries around the globe, Muslims of various ethnicities, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds point to the inspiration of “the Prophet” Muhammad and call upon the name of Allah while slaughtering those who they identify as apostates, heretics, and infidels?

If, say, a book or an article gave rise to as many gross misunderstandings as Islam is alleged to have engendered, its author would feel obliged to rewrite it.  In other words, why is it that only this one religion manages to spawn as many brutal, murderous “misrepresentations” as it does? 

The very fact that its apologists have to continually seek to explain away the horrible things that are done in the name of Islam proves that there is a real problem here.

[4] It is simply not true to say that, for example, ISIS is somehow not really Islamic.

Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University, is widely recognized as the premiere Islamic scholar of our day. In a much quoted article by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic, Haykel scoffed at the notion that ISIS is somehow “un-Islamic.”

Those Muslims who characterize the Islamic State this way are “embarrassed and politically correct with a cotton-candy view of their own religion[.]” They fail to reckon with “what their religion has historically and legally required.” 

Non-Muslims in the West who deny the Islamic State’s religious nature are the products of an “interfaith Christian nonsense.”

Haykel regards the oft-repeated “mantra,” as he puts it, that Islam is “a religion of peace” as unmitigated gibberish. “People want to absolve Islam,” he explains.  But the violence that we see exhibited by jihadists is “what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” The Quran and Islamic history are replete with “slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings.”

And this interpretation, he declares, has “just as much legitimacy” as any other.

Haykel remarks on the “seriousness” with which jihadists take their sacred scriptures. “What’s striking about them is not just their literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts.” Haykel characterizes this as “an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”

Islamic jihadists, like Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, are indeed Islamic.