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The Free Congress © Commentary:

Sheikh Tantawi Grows in Office
By Robert Spencer
April 23, 2002


George W. Bush knows that Islam is a religion of peace because Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi said so. Two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the President told the United Nations that Tantawi, "the Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, the world's oldest Islamic institution of higher learning, declared that terrorism is a disease, and that Islam prohibits killing innocent civilians."

Yet unfortunately for Bush and others who trumpeted Tantawi's words around the globe last winter, this sheikh whom the BBC called "the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims" has now changed his tune. As liberals say about conservatives who start voting for big government and high taxes, Tantawi has grown in office.

The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that on April 4, an Arabic-language website connected to Al-Azhar stated that Tantawi has "demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [that is, suicide bombings] against the Zionist enemy, and described the martyrdom operations as the highest form of Jihad operations. He says that the young people executing them have sold Allah the most precious thing of all."

Islamic law, the good sheikh maintained, demanded the blood of non-combatants. He "emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land and cause the cruel Israeli aggression to retreat..."

Tantawi, Bush's imam of peace, thus joins Yasir Arafat in the Hall of Fame of Islamic dissemblers. Both are extremely adept at telling the Western media what it wants to hear - and then doing likewise for the Arabic press, contradictions be damned. Like Arafat, the wily Tantawi seems to have mastered this art long before September 11. As far back as 1998, he declared that "it is every Muslim, Palestinian and Arab's right to blow himself up in the heart of Israel, an honorable death is better than a life of humiliation." This right is, in fact, a religious duty: "All religious laws have demanded the use of force against the enemy and fighting against those who stand by Israel; there is no escape from fighting, from Jihad, and from [self-] defense, and whoever refrains from such things is not a believer."

Maybe Tantawi's latest change of heart was dictated by his faith. Unfortunately for those who want to believe that pro-terrorist Islam is an aberrant form of the religion of peace, the foundational text of Islam is, well, soft on terrorism. The Qur'an, which Muslims believe to be the perfect words of Almighty God, tells believers that "when you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly" (Sura 47:4).

This is just one of the verses that may have moved Tantawi to throw in his lot with the terrorists. Others include Sura 48:29: "Muhammad is God's Apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another," and Sura 9:5: "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them."

Tantawi's switch may also have been inspired by the example of the Prophet Muhammad himself; traditions about Muhammad's words and deeds are for Muslims second in importance only to the Qur'an. According to George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Muslims revere Muhammad as "the perfection of both the norm of the human collectivity and the human individual, the norm for the perfect social life and the prototype and guide for the individual's spiritual life."

This perfect Islamic man was a man of war. He never shrank from the use of force. He ordered his enemies murdered, and assured his followers that they incurred no guilt by carrying out these orders. While Jesus rebuked his disciples for asking Him if they should call down fire from Heaven upon a disbelieving village (St. Luke 9:51-55), Muhammad several times cursed those who rejected his message. An entire Sura, or chapter, of the Qur'an is devoted to cursing Muhammad's disbelieving uncle and wife: "May the hands of Abu Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck!" (Sura 111:1-5).

Tantawi, then, seems by embracing terrorism to have done nothing other than become more true to his faith. How many more such spiritual homecomings among Islamic "moderates" will it take for the multiculturalist establishment to admit the true nature of Islam?

Robert Spencer is an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation. He is the author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith, coming this summer from Encounter Books.

This column is the property of the Free Congress Foundation and may not be reproduced without their permission. For comments and inquiries, contact Angie Wheeler at awheeler@freecongress.org. Visit our website at www.FreeCongress.org