Dr. Abou El Fadl's Response to CAIR on July 20


Dear Ms. Sabiha Khan:

al-salamu 'alaykum. First, and foremost, I want to thank you for setting an example, for all of us, of respectful and honorable civil discourse. Your civility and grace has touched me deeply, and given me much to think about.

I do appreciate the important role that CAIR has been playing in informing the public about Islam, and I do appreciate your public stance against those who attempt to defile our religion. May Allah, reward you, and aid you. Lately, I confess to you that I have become extremely concerned about several distinct developments, which have compelled me to write two recent op-eds, one in the NY Times and the other in the LA Times. As you know, op-eds offer a very limited vehicle for expression, and those limitations have prevented me from adequately expressing various concerns in my most recent articles. Although I have made arrangements for further op-eds to appear in the Washington Post and NY Times, you have made a civil gesture in opening the avenues for discourse, and I wanted to honor this gesture, and pay my respects. I am writing to express to you various ideas and thoughts, and to encourage you to give me your input, which most certainly, will affect my future writings and interviews in various public forums. The points I make below explain the intellectual background to what I have written recently, and also what I plan to write in the near future:

1. As a lawyer and academic, I am extremely concerned about the systematic undermining of Muslim civil liberties in this country. I have been following the cases of the Holy Land Foundation, and others, as well as the cases of the many detainees. I have been following the near evangelical fanaticism of our current administration, which is clearly reflected in its foreign policies and domestic legislation. I have also been monitoring the involvement of people like Emerson and Pipes in fueling and perpetuating this continuing persecution.

2. In addition, I have been extremely concerned with the massive influx of Islam-bashing books, and the high sales these books are achieving. These books are sinister, but, unfortunately, effective. They have now flooded all the major bookstores, and I am told by acquaintances in the book publishing industry that books of this nature are extremely popular nowadays. All major publishing companies have either published such books, or plan to do so because of the profits that they achieve. Various book editors have told me that they have received very few submissions by Muslim writers, and that so-called pro-Islam books do not achieve high sales. In addition, I serve as a reader for at least ten different book publishers, and I can say that most of the submissions I have reviewed by Muslim writers were not publishable because of the poor quality of writing or research or both. In short, the intellectual production of Muslims has been abysmal. Books written by activists, like Maher Hathout's pamphlet on Jihad, represent a good effort, but such pamphlets are also ineffective and largely unconvincing. They lack the intellectual rigor that is necessary to respond to these attacks. It is imperative that we get out of the habit of publishing our books in largely parochial and under-funded presses. We must publish our thought in mainstream presses in order to effectively disseminate our ideas. However, in order to be published in mainstream presses there is a mode of discourse and a style of analysis that very few American Muslims have mastered. It is does not help to simply claim discrimination as an excuse for our poor intellectual product, and our failure in reaching the reading public. There are, so to speak, rules to the publishing process in mainstream presses. Among the rules are a clear and grammatically correct style of writing, and a conventional method of citation. Many of the books published in, what one might call, ghetto-like Muslim presses are embarrassing if examined from the perspective of standards set by mainstream publishers.

3. This is a serious problem because the influx of hate-tracts written against Islam, and published and disseminated by influential mainstream publishers, feed the type of governmental policies that persecute many Muslims. We seem to fail to understand that a hundred works published by a relatively small Muslim press is not as effective in shaping public opinion and influencing public policy as a single book published by Harper Collins, for instance.

4. As someone who had the occasion to speak to mainstream media agencies, I have become extremely concerned by public perception that Muslims have not adequately responded to the 9/11 attacks. I am happy to send you copies of correspondence by average Americans asking me where is the Muslim response? Before I wrote my op-ed, I did a search on articles written in the mainstream media, and found that there were numerous articles written by various commentators complaining about the Muslim response. I also found that many commentators happily cited Muslims, such as Muqtader Khan and Hamza Yusuf, commending them for their efforts after 9/11 and also expressed the wish that there were more Muslim voices such as this. As an academic, I fear that the literature and governmental policies of the Islam-haters are finding a receptive audience because of the popular conception that we Muslims have not done enough. Before writing my op-ed, I also did research on the statements issued by various Muslim organizations. What I found missing is what might be called a proportional public relations campaign. Certainly, a Muslim American campaign existed, but, in my view, it was not proportional to gravity of events and accusations leveled against us. When someone threatens you with a tank, you cannot respond with a handgun. We needed to respond with a concerted, systematic, unified, and unrelenting effort, considering the stakes and dangers to our religion.

5. It is quite possible that I have become an isolated academic living in his proverbial tower of tenure security, and unaware of the facts on the ground. But keep in mind that academics are the ones who write history, and, as such, they are also the ones who construct reality for future generations. Your voice, as activists, must break through the barriers of isolation, if such barriers do in fact exist, and breach the proverbial tower. For the sake of our religion, you must convince the writers of history, and not just other activists.

6. I have many faults, but naivety is not one of them. I am not so na´ve as to think that there is no anti-Islam animus in the media, and that you, as a Muslim organization, need to scream much louder than anyone else to get the media's attention. This is simply a reality of Muslim life in the USA; we must work ten-times as hard as our Jewish or Christian counter-parts to achieve the same results. This is not just true as to the world of activism, but it is also true as to the academia and most fields and careers. There are many social and political presumptions that are at work against us, and we have no choice but to deal with them realistically and work to overcome and defeat them.

7. This brings me to the main point of my article. Considering the stakes, considering the animus and hostility to us, considering the plots and conspiracies against us, our voice, as Muslims, must be loud, resounding, and even deafening. We must be so loud to the point that we are able to drown out the voices of the Emersons and Pipes of our world. I made three suggestions, speculating that they might have such an effect. The point is not these three particular recommendations, or any others. Perhaps, you, as activists, are far more equipped to think of practical and effective policies that I could never imagine. I simply want us to do things that are so visible, so compelling, and so unequivocal that they could not be denied by anyone. For instance, I want to be able to document, as an academic, for history's sake, that Muslims on such and such date marched in the thousands to tell Bin Laden to "get lost." I want to be able to cite such a public Muslim stance in my interviews, write it in my books, and throw it in Emerson's and Pipe's faces next time I meet them in a conference or in a counter-terrorism intelligence briefing in the State Department or White House.

8. Do I think there is a problem with the Muslim leadership in this country? I must confess that most certainly I do, and for the record, I do not mean CAIR. CAIR is one of our very few shining examples, but it is not a grass-roots organization, and, if I understand CAIR correctly, it is primarily a civil liberties organization. Why do I think there is a problem with the leadership of Muslim organizations? My experience is that there is a clear tendency, visible among all the main organizations, for the leadership to be "stuck" in the immigrant experience. Most of the leadership has not mastered the intellectual heritage and cultural paradigms of the country in which they live. Most of the leadership remains to be the by product of an immigrant phenomenon -- individuals who grew up in authoritarian cultures, who came to the USA primarily for financial reasons, and who are unable to differentiate between Arab or Indo-Pakistani culture and Islamic law. My experience is that most Muslim organizations do not have the ability to benefit from and adequately utilize their human resources; they are unable or unwilling to incorporate a dynamic process of intellectual regeneration. For example, the same individuals who have existed at the helm of leadership when I came to the USA in 1982, are the same fellows who continue to dominate the Muslim reality today. What is interesting is that these individuals do not seem to have developed intellectually, or even linguistically, in more than twenty years. I find them still relying on the same ideas, and using the same language, that they utilized over twenty years ago without development or regeneration. Even worse, I find that their grip on power is such that they muffle and suffocate the emergence of any fresh intellects, original ideas, or the incorporation of diverse experiences. Whether we are from the Arab or Indo-Pakistani world, it seems to me that despite the fašade of democratic processes that we have learned to master in our home cultures, despotic proce sses and paradigms has become well-ingrained in the very psychology and intellectual fabric of our leadership. Our main organizations, despite the fašade of democracy, are still trapped within the mainly despotic paradigms that they imported from back home. Put simply, we have our God-sent, and God-inspired gurus, and these gurus, regardless of the official title and position, remain the effective and real source of leadership in our organizations. Unfortunately, I cannot get more specific without naming names, which I hesitate to do because, living in my ivory tower, I do not want to give the impression that there are any personal vendettas against any specific set of individuals. In addition, I must add that the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, is reported to have said: "As you are, you will be led." Therefore, I cannot exclude the possibility that our leadership merely mirrors the culture and intellectual orientations of its own constituency.

9. I must confess that I adopt the intellectual presumption that Islamic jurisprudence (Shariah) is core to the Islamic experience throughout all ages and places. To me, Shariah and Islam are inseparable, and one cannot be without the other. I also confess that my primary loyalty, after God, is to the Shariah, and not to any particular organization. I think it is truly alarming when I find that Muslim organizations have turned Shariah into a rubberstamp for their utility and culture based demands, without any serious engagement with either the paradigms of our American society or the paradigms of Shariah, itself. Suffice to say, that our leadership is constituted of self-declared Shariah specialists who tend to be medical doctors or engineers. This, in my view, is a disaster, and I have elaborated upon this in many of my books and longer articles.

10. I must emphasize that I am not wedded to what I said in my most recent op-ed. This is not a battle of egos or a matter of personal pride. If you have suggestions for a more effective way to vindicate Islam in the public view, and not let the Muslim leadership off the hook, so to speak, please feel free to advise me. Al-hamdullilah, I have sufficient access today to both the media and the government that, I think, I can get my message across in mainstream forums. As a matter of conviction and personal integrity, I am not willing to censor myself in my criticism of those who I believe hijacked and abused Islam and transformed Shariah discourses in the modern age into a joke, or even worse than that. I have despaired, long ago, of private criticisms; my experience teaches me that things develop in a far more healthy way if they are cast out into the light, and I have found that the mainstream public respects any voice that they find to be honest and straightforward. But I am eager not to undermine any of CAIR's admirable work, and therefore, I am open to feedback and suggestions.

11. For God's sake, and the sake of history, I thought it is important to present my testimony, and clarify my intentions. God commands us to bear witness with justice, for God's sake, even if it be against loved ones or ourselves. But I have no exclusive claim to the knowledge of justice, and it might be that, when all is said and done, I have fallen into error. Only God knows best, and if so, I ask God's forgiveness and blessings. May God aid you in your efforts and amply reward you for standing in justice and truth, wa al-salamu 'alaykum wa rahmatu Allah.

Please feel free to disseminate this message to Muslims, as you deem appropriate and fit.

Sincerely yours in brotherhood,

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl

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