Journalist and political advocate Tarek Fatah was the founder of the moderate Muslim Canadian Congress. Fatah, a Pakistani-born Canadian Muslim, strongly rejected radical Islamism, gaining many enemies among extremists for doing so.
His rejection of antisemitism as incompatible with Islam, support for Israel’s right to exist, and opposition to Sharia (Islamic religious law) led Wahida Valiante, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, among many others, to claim Fatah’s views were unacceptable to most Muslims because they contradicted the fundamental teachings of Islam.
His alleged apostasy and blasphemy led to many threats on his life. In November 2017, Indian police arrested two men who were hired to assassinate Fatah.
In his 2011 book The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism, Fatah tried to show how early 7th century pronouncements from the prophet Mohammed and his followers helped fuel Muslim hatred of Jews. He especially challenged Hadith writings – supplementary Islamic religious texts attributed to Mohammed and his companions compiled outside the Quran, hence still contested for their accuracy and applicability – upholding Arab supremacist doctrines. In challenging the Hadiths, he argued that hating Jews is against the essence of the Islamic spirit.
Fatah died on April 24 but during his lifetime his arguments nearly always fell on deaf Muslim ears, as recent events have shown with the horrendous October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and the swift Israeli response pitting Muslim against Jew as never before. Around the globe, tensions are at a boiling point, and some kind of cataclysmic “race” or religious war threatens.
As in most wars, superficial beliefs and slogans rule the day. The current conflict can’t be called a race war because Jews and Palestinians share the same DNA given their origin in the same Middle Eastern area. Some 45% percent of Israel’s Jewish population are categorized as Mizrahi (“Oriental” Jews defined as having grandparents born in the Middle East, North Africa or Asia). When Muslims are included, 70% of Israelis are “people of colour.” As for religion, both Judaism and Islam are Abrahamic belief systems sharing the same origins.
And it’s clear from past and present conflicts, many preceding the re-founding of Israel in 1948 by the direct descendants of its indigenous people, these have never been about territory, settler colonialism, or apartheid but about chronic aversion to the presence of any Jews in the region.
So, what explains the barbaric hatred of Jews so dramatically shown in an October 7 slaughter that might have made Ghengis Khan recoil in horror?
And what could possibly make a person who describes himself as a believer in Allah advocate bloody murder, like a certain imam who may now be criminally prosecuted in Quebec? It is not surprising that Adil Charkaoui’s public exhortation to “kill the enemies of the people of Gaza” sounds very much like “kill the Jews” to the Quebec authorities.
Simply put, is there a rational, factual, or historical explanation for all the hate now being spewed against Jewish people wherever in the world they are living?
To answer this question requires interrogating Fatah’s conviction that in promoting violence, terrorists are misinterpreting Islamic ideology.
Fatah is only one of many researchers who have explored whether current Islamic extremism stems from interpretations – true, false, or exaggerated – of the faith’s sacred texts or is the product of very different contemporary issues like poverty, political marginalization, cultural isolation, and other forms of alienation, including real or perceived discrimination against Muslims, features that have twisted and contorted Islam’s foundations.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch-American, activist, Hoover Institution research fellow, and recent convert to Christianity offers a compelling challenge to this view.
In an article titled Islam is a Religion of Violence, she divides Muslems into three categories: (1) fundamentalists who embrace a sharia (traditional Islamic legal system) worldview based on the words and exploits of the Prophet Mohammed during his later warrior years in Medina; (2) the majority of Muslims who are loyal to the core teachings of Islam but are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims, instead following the revelations of Mohammed during his early years in Mecca, but unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological grounds for intolerance and violence embedded in their religious texts; and (3) “modifying Muslims,” moderates who promote the separation of religion from politics and other reforms.
Tarek Fatah was clearly in this third category while most Muslims are in the first two. Although some of these reformers are apostates, most are believers, among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an endless cycle of political violence.
Unlike transformation in other religions like Christianity and Judaism, ideological and behavioural changes have never been institutionalized; successful Islamic reformations have always been retrogressive.
For Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the future of Islam and the world’s relationship with Muslims will be decided by which of the two minority groups wins the support of the majority who are in the middle.
This is a critical observation given her claim that “violence is inherent in the doctrine of Islam” because of the warlike nature of its founding father, Mohammed, and “the passages in the Quran and Islamic jurisprudence used to justify the violence we currently see in so many parts of the Muslim world.”
As for the warfare example of Mohammed, she argues, “Sahih Muslim, one of the six major authoritative Hadith collections, claims the Prophet Mohammed undertook no fewer than 19 military expeditions, personally fighting in eight of them.”
She concludes that “It’s possible to claim, following Mohammed’s example in Mecca [during his early years of little success trying to gain converts to Islam], that Islam is a religion of peace. But it’s also possible to claim, as the Islamic State [and Hamas and other groups] does, that a revelation was sent to Mohammed commanding Muslims to wage jihad until every human being on the planet accepts Islam or a state of subservience, on the basis of his legacy in Medina” during his later years of successful proselytizing, much of it using the sword.
If she is correct, the key question is not whether Islam is a religion of peace, but rather whether more Muslims will follow the warrior Mohammed of Medina or the peaceful Mohammed of Mecca going forward.
Given the horrific events of October 7 and many that preceded it in Israel and elsewhere, the Medina Mohammed has long occupied the high ground.
Despite this, Western societies are still blindly struggling to understand the justification for the growing Medina ideology. Two main viewpoints have emerged in the debate on the causes of violent extremism in Islam with most Western political leaders, enthralled by Marxist-based postmodern critical theory have simplistically argued that the difficult living conditions and lack of statehood of the Palestinians are the root causes not only of the current uprising but of all previous violent Islamist uprisings.
A notable exception was former British Prime Minister David Cameron, just named his country’s new foreign secretary.
In a 2015 speech, Cameron said, “Simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work, because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims. The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith. Now it is an exercise in futility to deny that.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes, “The view that the ideology of radical Islam is rooted in Islamic scripture understands fully the cause of terrorism; it takes religious arguments seriously, and does not view them as a mere smokescreen for underlying ‘real’ motivations, such as socio-economic grievances. This school of thought understands that the problem of radicalization begins long before a suicide bomber straps on his vest or a militant picks up his machine gun; it begins in mosques and schools where imams preach hate, intolerance, and adherence to Medina Islam.”
What this means is that since October 7, crowds even containing many non-Muslims yelling “gas the Jews,” and calling for the destruction of Israel and the elimination of all Jews, summarized by genocidal slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are gripped not by political and economic grievances but by extreme antisemitic beliefs rooted in Islamic ideology and teaching.
So, how should Westerners respond to this carnage, given that it is impossible in the short term to change this hateful ideology?
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s messaging on this crisis has been equivocal, constantly qualifying and equating antisemitism with Islamophobia, presumably to avoid unduly offending his large Muslim base. He has left it to Canada’s defence minister, Bill Blair, to announce Canada’s official policy. Blair says bluntly “Hamas has to be eliminated.”
That goal seemed strategically obvious for Israel once the extent of their October 7 barbarity became evident even if most politicians and policy analysts have rarely had the courage to challenge a narrative rooted in superficial woke ideology.
Even though it is unclear how many Gazans took pleasure in the October 7 pogrom, it is certain that nearly all have been brainwashed for decades with hatred for Jews, a sentiment increasing by the day as they become the unintended collateral victims of Israel’s determination to eliminate Hamas.
As far as Tarek Fatah’s campaign to convince Jews and Muslims that they are not enemies – that looks a long way off, given centuries of animosity that only increased since that late 1800s, and has now reached a fever pitch.
Still, if there was ever a time for Meccan and “modifying” Muslim leaders to strongly denounce the vicious antisemitism of dangerous Medina demagogues like Adil Charkaoui, it is now.
Sadly, we seem to be at the stage where the term “moderate Muslim leader” has less application than ever.
Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of anthropology, The University of Manitoba, and editor of REAL Indigenous Report.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired Manitoba judge and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.