“A man of two worlds: West and East, intelligently at ease in both but at peace with neither.”

Islam and the Problem of Israel: The Three-Cornered Nature of the Problem

From Chapter 1: “The Three-Cornered Nature of the Problem” in Ismail Raji al Faruqi, “Islam and the Problem of Israel”, Islamic Council of Europe (1980)

A. Historical Preview

The problem of Israel confronting the Muslim World today has neither precedent nor parallel in Islamic history. The Muslim World has tended to regard it as another instance of Modern colonialism, or at best, as a repetition of the Crusades. The difference is not that Israel is neither one of these; but that it is both and more, much more. Unfortunately, there is no Islamic literature on the subject. The need for this analysis of the problem is, therefore, as great as the present moment which calls upon the Arab World in particular and the Muslim World in general to accept Israel as an integral member of a world-of Muslim-nations in Asia-Africa.

The “Problem of Israel” is a three-cornered affair, involving the Muslim World, Western Christendom and the Jews. The first two have been locked in struggle ever since the rise of the Islamic state in Madinah in 622. Indeed, even earlier. Christian commercial interest had pushed Abyssinia into launching a colonialist venture in South Arabia in 560 A. C. and an attempt to destroy the power of Makkah in the “Year of the Elephant,” or 570 A. C., the year of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam). Even as early as that time, Western Christendom saw fit to use the religious zeal of Eastern Christians in order to exploit both them and the pre-Islamic Arabs for commercial profit.

Pre-Islamic Arabia was a religious vacuum at the time, and the Christians of the West who held the reins of power in their hand were not concerned with preaching the faith. Rather, they were immersed in political struggles on the internal front, and economic and military struggle on the external. Arabia had no significance for them except as a trade route. When the new Islamic state began to raise its head following the integration of Makkah and most of the tribes of Western and South Arabia, Byzantium saw fit to mobilize its puppet armies in South Palestine and Jordan, a move which brought about the first military encounter between Islam and Christendom, the Campaign of Mu’tah (9 A.H./631 A. C.).

Previously, the Qur’anic revelation had said what it had to say concerning Christian doctrine, and through the personal conduct of the Prophet (SAAW), the Islamic state had laid down what her relation to Christians would be. The delegation from Christian Najran was well received by the Prophet (SAAW) and given full honor and hospitality. They were presented with Islam. Some accepted it and henceforth became integral members of the Muslim ummah. Others rejected it, and their decision was respected. They accepted the Pax Islamica and became an autonomous community endowed with its own law and institutions, its own destiny and momentum — an integral part of the universal Islamic state. But Christendom to the north could not countenance such arrangement. That is why when the Prophet (SAAW) sent two companions to Dhat al Talh to preach Islam, they were beheaded, and the confrontation became imminent.

From that time on, the relation between the Islamic state (then till now the Muslim World) and Christendom has been one of confrontation. Periods of relative inactivity on their common frontiers there certainly were. But these were temporary respites, due to the exhaustion of the two parties. In vain did the Muslim World offer Christendom the Pax Islamica dictated by the Islamic state’s constitution. Behind the still lines, stood a Christendom frustrated by its temporary inability to subdue the Muslim World. No sooner had Christendom recovered strength than it directed its fury and expansion in the direction of the Muslim World: against the Muslim petty states in Spain, the Ottoman caliphate in East Europe, the Muslims in West Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Malay Basin. The result was colonialism. The Muslim World has seen every kind of it: The European settler type — in Algeria; the intrusion of alien non-Muslim elements into Muslim societies — in Malaysia, Indonesia, Cyprus, Palestine; and economic exploitation, cultural imperialism, church mission, prevention of awakening and growth, spreading discord and fitnah (subversion) everywhere. When the Muslim World arose in armed resistance to this alien and alienating presence in its midst, Christendom only changed its tactics and quickly adapted its means to the new situation. Military occupation and colonial administrations were terminated; but colonialism continued in subtle yet more devastating ways.

The downfall of the Ottoman Empire was received in the Christian West with great jubilation because it marked the end of Muslim hegemony in the world, even in the territory of Islam itself. The peoples of Islam were now to be subject to Christian Western dominion; and their Islamic identity, unity, culture as well as religion must now be confounded and shattered. Only thus may the general resentment and hatred inherent in the heart of the Christian West be satisfied.

B. Western Interest and the Near East

The problem of Israel is inextricably linked to this fourteen centuries-old struggle between the Muslim World and Christendom. When Balfour made his nefarious declaration in 1918, he was continuing an old tradition which sought to rule by dividing the ruled, and to implant in the area a foreign body doomed to remain at odds with the rest — in short, to apply the principle of divide et impero. When the route to India and the Far East went around Africa, colonies at the Cape of Good Hope, the East coast of Africa, Aden, the littoral of the Arabian Peninsula, were necessary to safeguard that route. Opening of the Suez Canal made it necessary for Britain to occupy Egypt, to plan to neutralise Arabia and wrest the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean (Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) from Muslim (Ottoman) control.

These territories were also valuable for their own sake. The Nile Valley produced sugar and rice for the world markets and the finest cotton in the world for the English textile mills. The Eastern Mediterranean lands produced wheat and fruits close enough to be transported to Europe in ships before the days of refrigeration. Plans for the production of `Iraqi and Irani oil were conceived prior to World War I and were put into effect as soon as the occupation of the territories was complete. On top of all these, the strategic military value of these territories for the empires of Britain, France, Italy and Holland surpassed all considerations.

Two overriding American interests dictated assumption by the United States of the whole burden of European colonialism in the area following World War II: Anti-U.S.S.R. military strategy and oil. The creation of the state of Israel served at once all the following purposes: First, to provide, in case of another (world war, a friendly base whose friendship to the West depends upon its own inevitable need for protection by the West for survival; Second, to provide a sore capable of draining all energies and resources of the surrounding areas so as to retard, if not to render impossible, any national reconstruction that would make them more capable of resisting Christian Western domination; Third, now that oil has been discovered in the Arabian Peninsula in the thirties, to provide a strong but dependent friendly Israel which can be counted upon to assist in the securing of this tremendous and vital resource; Fourth, to provide a cause which would throw the whole area into constant turmoil and thus enable Western dominion to fulfill its colonialist exploitative objectives more cheaply and easily; Fifth, to provide an apparently non-Western “hatchet” which can be manipulated and hurled by the West at any state seeking to rid the area of Christian Western influence; Sixth, to provide relief to the Christian Western conscience ridden with the guilt-complex of Christendom’s crimes against the Jews over two millennia culminating in Hitler’s holocaust; Seventh, to subvert the worldly power of the religion of Islam by splitting the ummah (its world community) into an Asian half and an African half separated by an insurmountable barrier.

C. Zionism and Western Goals

All these goals are consistent with the general will of the Christian West, locked as it saw and deemed itself to be, into a life and death struggle with Islam. If there was never any Jewish problem in the West, if there never was any Zionism, the Christian West would have created one. Indeed, they did create many other “Israels” in the Muslim World. They planted the Chinese in Malaya and created the State of Singapore; they planted the Greeks in Cyprus, Greeks and Italians in Alexandria, Armenians in Lebanon, and deliberately created so many more potential “Israels”. The typology of the Christian West’s action vis-a-vis the Muslim World has always been the same. Wherever they had the power, they so rearranged the boundaries of the Muslim territories under their dominion so as to include within each an alien element that promised to remain at odds with the Muslim community and thus constitute a permanent impediment to its liberation and progress.

All this and much more every Muslim child knows. This essay does not have for purpose to repeat it. Rather, what is sought here is to emphasise the point that the Christian-Muslim confrontation was raised to new heights of danger, of ferocity and bitterness when the Christian West discovered Zionism as a willing instrument of its anti-Muslim World hostility. That is the significance of the Balfour Declaration for Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations. America made this dis-covery only during World War II, and gave it official endorsement when Truman put the United States squarely behind the Zionist movement by asking Britain to open Palestine for unrestricted Jewish immigration in 1945.

What is the nature of Zionism? What is its history? What is the internal force which has kept it alive? What is the nature of its appeal to the mind of the Western Jew? of the Western Christian? If Judaism is old, and Zionism very new, how do they differ and what is their relation to each other? Why did Zionism insist on having a state — Israel? Why did the State of Israel behave as it did towards its neighbors? Must Israel always remain a Zionist state? How does the advent of the State of Israel look from the standpoint of Islam? How is the ideological war between Israel and the Muslim World to be treated? What is Islam’s verdict today concerning Israel? May it be recognised under the terms of the shari’ah? What changes or conditions need to be instituted in order to make such recognition legitimate? Is the secular Palestinian state the Islamic answer to the problem of Israel? Suppose the whole machinery of the State of Israel were dismantled, what would Islam replace it with? How would Islamic constitutional law, under the circumstances, regulate future Muslim-Jewish relations? These and other questions are the subject of the present work.

Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi