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In response to Nonie Darwish

Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 07:03

Last Thursday, March 11, Arabs for Israel founder Nonie Darwish spoke on campus about Islamic law and the Arab−Israeli conflict. After the lecture and the subsequent question and answer session, Conversation, Action, Faith and Education (CAFÉ) — Tufts' student interfaith group — felt that it was necessary to respond to Ms. Darwish's claim that her remarks support and encourage interfaith activities. On behalf of CAFÉ, while we do not question Ms. Darwish's right to speak on campus, and in fact we commend Rabbi Jeffrey Summit and the sponsoring groups for providing the audience with a time for responses, we believe that Ms. Darwish's remarks ultimately undermined the key tenants of interfaith work by generalizing and attacking the Islamic faith.

The purpose of interfaith action is not to avoid differences or difficult issues, and we cannot pretend that a few magic words will end all of the world's problems. Nevertheless, how we discuss these difficult issues is very important, considering that the ultimate goal of interfaith work is finding ways to work together despite our differences. Therefore, when Ms. Darwish issued generalizations and superficial statements about Islam, she did not contribute to a greater understanding of the Muslim faith. Instead, by characterizing her controversial personal interpretation of Islam as the true Islam, she portrayed it as something many in the audience do not believe to be true. While CAFÉ often uses religious scholars — something Ms. Darwish professed she is not — to further our discussion and knowledge, we never assume that they are presenting the only interpretation provided by the religion. Therefore, we encourage the participants of the lecture to explore for themselves the evidence used by Ms. Darwish, who is not an expert on the issues she discussed. Without repeating Ms. Darwish's specific attacks on Islam, we wish to point out that Ms. Darwish did not make her statements in a way that is conducive to interfaith learning. It is a shame that Ms. Darwish chose to share her powerful and relevant personal story in a manner that does not advance the discussion on these issues.

At Monday's New Initiative for Middle East Peace dialogue, which was dedicated to the lecture, many of these issues were expressed, and there was general consensus that Ms. Darwish spoke well beyond the scope of her qualifications and that her controversial opinions on Islam were rooted in misunderstandings and generalizations. At the dialogue, a question was brought up about whether Tufts should feature controversial and critical speakers on religion. In CAFÉ, we discuss religion frequently and believe that it is a topic that should be broached more, not less, and this includes raising certain concerns about particular religions and about religion in general. However, this discussion of religion must be enlightening and productive — "bringing light and not heat," as Rabbi Summit wonderfully says in response to difficult issues — so that the discussion promotes cooperation and not alienation. This means that each speaker would present only his/her interpretation of the issue, and that there would be a forum to respond to the speaker, so that there is a space for all the identities represented to be heard. Personally, CAFÉ believes that this type of conversation on religion is best represented in a discussion format, in which it is easier to talk about heated issues in an intellectual, rather than impassionate, way and in which it is easier to find common ground for cooperation.

On that note, CAFÉ wants to reaffirm its commitment to the Middle East Peace Coalition, which consists of a number of diverse groups that aim to see more peace in the region. The Coalition has promoted many cooperative events since the spring of 2009, and CAFÉ hopes that we can use Ms. Darwish's lecture as a learning experience and as a stepping stone for more cooperative action in the future.


Dan Resnick is a sophomore who is majoring in International Relations. He is the co-president of the Tufts Conversation, Action, Faith and Education interfaith group.

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16 comments Log in to Comment

Tue May 4 2010 15:21
I like how Jews at Tufts act like they know everything about Islam. PEople you won't understand Islam unless you are a Muslim. So go back to bashing Islam and trying to legitimize the existence of Israel when it truly isn't right
Thu Mar 18 2010 22:56

You speak from your life experiences but I wonder what that really means. To reiterate of the 57 OIC countries not one has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have instead opted to sign onto the Cairo Delegation of Human Rights. This is very significant, and says more about Islam than your or my experiences say about spending time with Muslims on campus or at tourist destinations.

And probably more important that this all one need do is look at Muslim nations to see some version of the Cairo Delegation in action. (Of course the Cairo Delegation is not much more than enacting one version of Sharia law.) But getting to my point here is a list of Islamic nations. Tell me one of them where individual rights, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, women’s rights, homosexual’s rights, Jew’s rights, Buddhist’s rights are respected to an equal level as male Muslim rights are:
• Saudi Arabia
• Yemen
• Iran
• Iraq (pre the Iraq war under Hussein or post war)
• Syria
• Turkey
• Jordan
• Egypt
• Algeria
• Libya
• Morocco
• Mauritania
• Niger
• Sudan
• Somalia
• Afghanistan
• Pakistan
• Bangladesh
I do not mean to make light of your personal experience but only want to point out that your experience does not appear to carry over to most of what is being experienced in the rest of the world.

Thu Mar 18 2010 17:49
Hi everyone,

I think the point of this op-ed was to show that simply taking some quotes and asserting them as the ultimate truth does not work. I understand that these versus in the Quran exist and that some scholars/politicians advocate for a more aggressive stance; however, none of the Muslims I know have advocated such violent messages. In fact, I know many Muslims that participate in interfaith work because they believe their religion encourages understanding, social justice, and peace. Personally, I would be very upset if someone claimed most Jews hate homosexuals because the Torah forbids it, because that simply does not match up with the reality that I live in.

Thu Mar 18 2010 11:46
I agree completely. Why westerners refuse to take Muslims at their word is beyond me.

"Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital. . . . This capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas." -- Hamas MP and Islamic cleric Yunus al-Astal, 2008

"We reject the U.N., reject America, reject all law and order. Don't lobby Congress or protest because we don't recognize Congress. The only relationship you should have with America is to topple it. . . . Eventually there will be a Muslim in the White House dictating the laws of Shariah." -- Muhammad Faheed, Muslim Students Association meeting, Queensborough Community College, 2003

“Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Qu’ran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.”—Omar Ahmed CAIR (Council for American Islamic Relations) Founding Chairman

Thu Mar 18 2010 04:24
What inhibits an incisive discussion of Islam by well meaning Western liberals is the smokescreen that the label "religion" creates in their minds. One must approach Islam as a political ideology first and foremost, since that is the way it sees itself vis-a-vis the governmental structures of the world. In Islam, the world is divided into two spheres: dar al-Islam, or the house of peace, and dar al-harb, or the house of war. The Koran clearly states that it is the destiny of Islam to bring the world into the house of peace, dar al-Islam. This is what a Muslim means when he says that Islam is a religion of peace- the peace that will come when every Muslim has fulfilled the requirement to bring the world under complete Islamic rule. They see themselves, for the Koran ceaselessly tells them, that they are the sole possessors of truth, and they alone have the right to rule the world. Their conception of peace does not include Western notions of tolerance and living in harmony with disbelievers. It is time the West wakes up and believes what is said about it by Muslims and by their holy text. Islamic supremacism driven by religious fanaticism is not the aberration, it is the norm. Listen to Nonie Darwish and others like her; they lived it, saw it from the inside, saw the insidious seed of arrogance and hatred planted in the minds of Muslims throughout the Middle
East, and broke free in time to carry a warning to us all. They say, You are either a Muslim, or a disbeliever, and if you are a disbeliever, God himself will not lift a finger to protect you from the righteous wrath of the Muslim sword. In their minds, they are fighting the same war against the infidel that wasd begun in 622 AD, year 1 in the Islamic calender. Their anger stems not from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is the war against the disbeliever. It is a cosmic struggle with one goal- dar al-Islam. It is almost beyond the ability of the Western mind to conceive, but we must begin, and begin soon.
Wed Mar 17 2010 22:19
Hi Alex,

It appears it is you who is now being disingenuous! (Just kidding.) I do appreciate your taking the time and your challenges to the points I make in my comments.

In thinking about our debate on the Amalekites versus the many Koranic verses which do encourage open ended Jihad against all non-Muslims I believe we have gotten off track. We are focusing on the Amalekite tree while we forget we are in a dark and deadly forest.

I agree with you. The Old Testament did demand the Jews kill the Amalekites. But once this was done did the Old Testament demand the Jews to kill others? Or to convert all other people –and to convert by force if necessary – to Islam? For this is what Mohammed preached to his followers and this is what the Koran and Hadiths contain and teach followers of Islam to carry out. The brutality we read about daily committed by Muslims is no coincidence.

I think we’ve gotten distracted by an anomaly --that being the Old Testament verses on the Akalemites-- and that what I wrote earlier about Islam being unique among the major religions for its affinity with violence and supremacist underpinnings is still completely true.

Alex Baskin
Wed Mar 17 2010 17:55
I would not accuse you of being disingenuous. You seem to be merely misinformed. The Amalekites are gone as a people, but their bloodline undoubtedly lives on. Luckily, they have mixed enough that we cannot tell who is Amalek and who is not so you will not see Orthodox Jews going around trying to kill Amalek. But if you could point to someone who did descend from Amalek, then it would be the duty of any Torah-following Jew to kill him or her. It is agreed upon by all interpretations that people who descend from Amalek do exist in our world and that there is a positive commandment to kill them. Therefore, Judaism and Islam both include verses in their holy books that demand genocide from their followers in the here and now and it is the responsibility of Jews and Muslims to not take those injunctions too seriously.
Wed Mar 17 2010 17:38
I'm not being disingenuous, but are not the Amalekites long gone?
Alex Baskin
Wed Mar 17 2010 16:37
You wrote "Every passage of violence in the Old Testament is specific to a certain people or specific time. None of it is open ended." I showed you an open-ended commandment in the Torah. Jews are commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites and all their descendants. That means that as a Jew, if I were to meet a person who was undoubtedly a descendant of Amalek, I would have a duty to kill them, according to the Torah. How does this support your position?
Wed Mar 17 2010 15:53
Alex,Thank you for responding, but as I understand your response it only serves to support what I wrote. The history of the Amalekites is not clear due to the ancient time period involved, but almost every interpretation is of a specific group of people.Again, and in sharp contrast to this, the Koran and Hadiths are filled with verses and examples encouraging Muslims to wage Jihad –both violent and not – against all non-Muslims until Islam rules the world. Here are just a handful of examples:The Qur'an:Qur'an (2:191-193) - "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]...and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah." There is a good case to be made that the textual context of this particular passage is defensive war, even if the historical context was not. However, there are also two worrisome pieces to these verse. The first is that the killing of others is authorized in the event of "persecution" (a qualification that is ambiguous at best). The second is that fighting may persist until "religion is for Allah." The example set by Muhammad is not reassuring. Qur'an (2:244) - "Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah Heareth and knoweth all things." Qur'an (2:216) - "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not." Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding caravans with this verse. Qur'an (3:56) - "As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help." Qur'an (3:151) - "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority". This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be 'joining companions to Allah'). Qur'an (4:74) - "Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward." The martyrs of Islam are unlike the early Christians, led meekly to the slaughter. These Muslims are killed in battle, as they attempt to inflict death and destruction for the cause of Allah. Here is the theological basis for today's suicide bombers. Qur'an (4:76) - "Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…" Qur'an (4:89) - "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks." Qur'an (4:95) - "Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward,-" This passage not only criticizes "peaceful" Muslims who do not join in the violence, but it also demolishes the modern myth that "Jihad" doesn't mean holy war in the Qur'an, but rather a spiritual struggle. Not only is the Arabic word used in this passage, but it is clearly not referring to anything spiritual, since the physically disabled are given exemption. (The Hadith reveals the context of the passage to be in response to a blind man's protest that he is unable to engage in Jihad). Qur'an (4:104) - "And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain..." Pursuing an injured and retreating enemy is not an act of self-defense. Qur'an (5:33) - "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement" Qur'an (8:12) - "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" No reasonable...
Alex Baskin
Wed Mar 17 2010 15:22
Dear Arafat,
In Deuteronomy 25:17-19 there is a positive commandment given to the Jewish people to wipe out the people of Amalek. This commandment is so strong that in 1 Samuel 28, Samuel criticizes Saul for not killing all of Amalek (this is supposed to take place hundreds of years after the commandment to kill Amalek was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai). As you can see, the positive commandment to kill all of Amalek is an incitement towards violence that exists for all Jews throughout time and place.
Long story short: All religions preach violence and it is up to the practitioners to not take those parts of their texts seriously.
Wed Mar 17 2010 14:21
Stephanie and Alexander,

Thanks for your replies.

I DO think there is a profound difference between Islam and any other religion. First off there is no denying Mohammed was a military leader in addition to being a prophet. One cannot say the same about Jesus or Buddha, no? Secondly, there is a profound difference between the violence in the Old Testament and the violence in the Koran and Hadiths. Every passage of violence in the Old Testament is specific to a certain people or specific time. None of it is open ended. In contrast to this the violent passages in the Koran and Hadiths are general and open ended. They are about waging Jihad until all people are subservient to Islam.

I would be interested in anyone’s explanation as to why not one single of the 57 OIC countries (Islamic countries) is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and instead have all signed the Cairo Delegation of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration is a document that upholds individual rights, freedoms and specifically freedom of religion. In contrast the Cairo Delegation holds Islam and Sharia Law to be above all other religions and laws. Why is this?

I look forward to your reply and thank you, again, for responding to my comment.

Stephanie Crosby
Wed Mar 17 2010 12:09
Dear "Arafat,"

At the Alumnae Lounge event, Ms. Darwish claimed that 97% of Egyptians "hate Jews." Multiple Egyptians, young and old, responded by saying they were not raised to hate Jews.

Furthermore, Darwish has claimed in the past that the main goal of Islam is "jihad". As a non-Muslim who has studied Islam as part of my college curriculum AND informally with my Muslim peers, I know that it is self-evident that among 99% of believers, the main goal of Islam is not "jihad" (and certainly not the radical militant jihad implied by Darwish). Rather, the main goal of Islam is summed up in the shahada, or declaration of faith, "There is no God but [the one] God, and Muhammad is his messenger." ("La illaha ila Allah wa Muhammad rasooluhu.")

Surely if Ms. Darwish had paid as much attention to Islamic doctrine in her 60+ years as I have in 4, she would know that the main goal of Islam is belief in the oneness of God and the Prophet Muhammad's message.

Wed Mar 17 2010 11:59
Re: Arafat

She said that non-muslims traveling in muslim countries which accept shari'a as the basis for their legal system (such as egypt) could be killed without consequence. Ms. Darwish also was unable to name the four schools of sunni islam, which is basic background knowledge taught in Islam 101. She cited the % of times jihad is mentioned in violent contexts in the quran as if that were an accepted method of interpreting the text. Despite citing inflammatory passages of the quran she refused to answer a simple question about a quote from Leviticus.

Wed Mar 17 2010 09:47
Daniel wrote, " Ms. Darwish spoke well beyond the scope of her qualifications and that her controversial opinions on Islam were rooted in misunderstandings and generalizations."

What specifically can you point to where Ms. Darwish illustrated her misundertanding of, or where she incorrectly generalized about Islam?

Wed Mar 17 2010 08:58

Your description of Islam reminds me of Nevill Chamberlain trying to convince people Hitler was a reasonable man.

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