Linda Sarsour’s Resounding Notes On Tyranny
By Mack Zed | July 14, 2017
Many if not most of the counter-jihad theorists and anti-Islamization activists in the West, today, believe Islam is a radical totalitarian political ideology – akin to Nazism, Fascism or Communism – rather than a religion. The phrase ‘Radical Islam’ is a shorthand variation of this assessment of modern Islamism, or political Islam. The theorists and activists find fault with the dualism Sharia Law exhibits; that is, they find it problematic that Islamic Law treats Muslims and non-Muslims differently. While the classification of Islam as a political ideology is not wholly accurate, it would be a mistake to categorize the concerns of these activists and theorists as irrational fears, since over 100 verses in the Koran relate to the utter destruction and conquest of the non-Muslim through Jihad. These thinkers do not hate or fear Islam, they resent it. There is a difference between animosity and enmity. Western counter-Sharia activists do not hate Muslims, they resent Islamists who espouse Radical Islam and Jihadists who carry out terrorist attacks and insurgencies in the name of Allah. That is, they resent the tyranny advanced by these individuals at the behest of a radical vision of supremacy. And, the last time I checked, it is more than reasonable to harbor animosity for tyranny in its every form; indeed, it is unlikely that you could find a Muslim who disagrees with this sentiment. Knowing this, it is from the vantage of this perceived agreement in the arena of tyranny that western activists and theorists should consider the nature of their ‘Radical Islam’ discourse.
Ask any observant Muslim and he or she will tell you that the tyrant is a social scourge, a test of suffering on this earth, best confronted with Jihad. According to one popular Islamic tradition, Tariq ibn Shihab reported that a man once asked Muhammad, “What is the best jihad?” And the Prophet of Islam responded, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.” By most accounts, this is a Sahih saying, an authentic Hadith tradition. Every non-Muslim thinker can appreciate the strength of will and character required to straighten one’s shoulders and speak the truth aloud without flinching in the face of death or torture should a tyrant in audience find the sentiment objectionable, treasonous or criminal. However, when analyzed in terms of the revelations in the Koran, it becomes clear that tyranny holds a radically different connotation in the Muslim psyche than that beheld by the mind of the patriotic defenders of Freedom in the West, who would find this Islamic stance against the tyrant appealing, in principle.
In the Koran the term that skewers the idea of tyranny and the concept of a tyrant is Taghut. In Islamic thought, a taghut is one who misleads. More specifically, a taghut is a leader who crosses the limits of acceptable or permissible behavior and thus displays his rebellion against Allah’s Law. In the worst case, a taghut is a tyrannical leader who sets himself on par with Allah. In all cases, the taghut is led to delude the people by the whispers of Iblis, and is among the rebellious party of Satan. Muslims are presented with three major examples of the taghut in the Islamic tradition. Abraham and Moses are depicted as standing firm for Allah’s Law in the face of tyrants. And Muhammad, too, was forced to face down a taghut.
According to the Islamic tradition, Ibrahim, or Abraham, was a bit of a troublemaker in his day. The Koran delivers a number of tales in which Abraham destroys the idols of his people. But, when his exploits land him before the high king Nimrod, Abraham was forced to outwit a taghut that had misled his subjects into worshiping idols. When quizzed about Allah by Nimrod, Abraham spoke his word of truth, “My Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die.” At this statement, Nimrod ordered his servants to bring forth two prisoners. Nimrod, asserting he was the Lord of the earth rather than Allah, ordered one prisoner to be put to death and the other to be freed and said, “As you see, I hold the power to give life and cause to die in this domain.” To counter the taghut, Abraham then said, “Allah causes the sun to rise from the East. Do you possess the power to make the sun rise from the West?” This episode is visible in the Koran in Verses 2:256 through 2:258. Here is the Saheeh International interpretation:
[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become distinct from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.
[2:257] Allah is the Ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into the light. And those who disbelieve – their allies are taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.
[2:258] Have you not considered the one who argued with Abraham about his Lord [merely] because Allah had given him kingship? When Abraham said, “My Lord is the one who gives life and causes death,” he said, “I give life and cause death.” Abraham said, “Indeed, Allah brings up the sun from the east, so bring it up from the west.” So the disbeliever was overwhelmed [by astonishment], and Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.
Similarly, in the Islamic frame, Musa, or Moses, is depicted as squaring off with a taghut, the Pharaoh of Egypt, who refused to obey the command of Allah to free the Israelites from slavery. In this case, Moses actually prays for Allah to destroy the riches of the Pharaoh and his chiefs and to harden their hearts for the crime of believing themselves to be blessed with godly power on the earth due to their wealth and adornment until such time as they see their chastisement from Allah. When it was clear that the sea would swallow him and his men, the taghut Pharaoh would at last relent and submit to the god of Moses, Allah. But rather than having mercy on the taghut, Allah killed him and cast his body to shore as a portent for those tyrants who would follow and remain heedless of Allah’s signs. The episode is found in the Koran in Verses 10:88 through 10:92.
In Islamic thought, while the pre-Koranic Messengers of Allah, Abraham and Moses, with only faith as their shield, opposed the corrupting power of tyrannical kings with the weight of armies and sorcerers at their command, the taghut of Muhammad’s time was an influential man named Amr ibn Hisham of the Makhzum clan, who was referred to by the Quraysh as Abu al-Hakam, a kunya which meant “Father of Wisdom”. At the battle of Badr, the first military confrontation between the Muslims and the Quraysh idol-worshipers in 624 AD, Muhammad’s main antagonist, the taghut Abu Jahl, was killed. In many ways, the lessons in the Koran about the Pharaoh were directed squarely at this figure. The Islamic concept of Jahiliyyah refers to an age of ignorance that ended with the death of Abu Jahl on the fields around the wells of Badr; that is, the age of false belief ended when the supreme Truth of the Koran was made manifest to the world when Allah defeated the taghut which oppressed the earliest Muslim community. Thus, for Islamic fundamentalists, salafi-wahhabists, and Islamist activist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, which take cues from supremacist teachings of Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi among others such as Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Ibn Taymiyya, the taghut and jahiliyyah are constructs of lasting importance in the establishment of a just social order. By the same token, non-violent and reform-minded Muslims, often referred to as moderate Muslims, who seek to advance a pluralistic interpretation of Islam, look to the oppression and torture of the earliest Muslim community at the hands of the taghut Abu Jahl and evoke a purely social justice minded form of Islam. That is, psychologically, peaceful Muslims are just as wedded to the Islamic teachings surrounding the taghut as the activist Islamist and violent jihadist elements of the faith community, if not more so.
It is for this reason that Linda Sarsour’s recent speech at ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, should be regarded as a teachable moment for the anti-Islamization community in the West. The non-Muslims of the western world, by and large, are befuddled by the constant refrains of “Death to America” that arise from the Muslim World amid conflict, and have grown numb to the ubiquitous characterization of the United States of America as “The Great Satan” by Muslim leaders for the last half century. Linda Sarsour’s speech, while directed at the Trump Administration, sheds light on this phenomenon. More importantly, Sarsour’s resounding notes on tyranny have brought the question of the compatibility of Islam and the West to the forefront of our modern discourse in striking tones.