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Gatestone Institute: The Concept of Brotherhood in Islam

With the end of the Cold War, a new enemy emerged, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism, made up of Islamic extremists, terrorists and the states that support them. If we are to counter them at all, we must help to understand them as they understand themselves.

In their worldview, they see themselves first as Muslims; as such, they are not loyal to any geographic entity. The world, in their eyes, is roughly divided into two groups: the "Abode of Islam" [Dar al-Islam], and the "Abode of War" [Dar al-Harb] -- or the world which is not yet Muslim but eventually, they believe, should and will be. If they feel any sense of territorial loyalty, it is to the Abode of Islam, the places where Muslims live: "The "Nation of Islam" [Ummah]. In these two worlds, which do not have geographic borders, Islam is not only a religion, but the common political – almost familial -- bond that unites all Muslims.

Historically, the term "Abode of Islam" has meant: Those territories over which Muslims either rule or have ruled; or where Muslims predominate but are wrongly ruled by Non-Muslims. During the past 50 years, however, this definition has been modified to include: a) Those countries whose rulers claim to be Muslims but, in the eyes of the radical Islamists, are apostates; [1] and b) New territories, such as Europe, to which Muslims have been immigrating since the end of the World War II, and where they now form a significant part of the population. If present demographic trends continue, Europe promises to be significantly, if not predominantly, Muslim by the end of this century, and therefore, rightfully in their eyes, part of the "Abode of Islam."

As there are, from this perspective, only two peoples in the world – Muslims and non-Muslims -- Islam teaches that non-Muslims are also one nation [millah] united against the Muslims.[2] . Muslims, whether observant or secular, not only have a strong affinity toward each other, but assume that non-Muslims have the same strong affinity toward each other as well. Although non-Muslims make distinctions among the many peoples and religions of the non-Muslim world, most Muslims, on a deep level, see non-Muslims as one unified people -- whose long term interests are inimical to those of the Muslims.[3]

Whereas the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC], for instance, cultivates political and religious solidarity among all Muslims, regardless of the countries in which they live, one cannot imagine a similar organization in the West of Christians, most of whom seem divided into different branches of Christianity – from and Roman Catholicism to scores of Protestant offshoots. Moreover, Western Christians seem not to care unduly about the plight of their co-religionists in Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Lebanon, or anywhere else in the Muslim world, including even Bethlehem and Nazareth.

If one compares this view of the world to that of the Jews for their people worldwide, although Jews show a deep concern and sympathy for Jews everywhere, very few, if any, are prepared to overlook or rationalize criminal behavior in other Jews: when Baruch Goldstein, for example, shot and killed almost 30 Muslims praying at the grave of the patriarch Abraham [4] in 1994, most Jews were ashamed and outraged, and openly condemned Goldstein.

In the Muslim world, however, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and other Muslim leaders -- in keeping with what seems to be a cultural inability to admit wrongdoing or apologize for anything -- seem proud to express their solidarity with the Turkish IHH terrorists who were part of the Mavi Marmara Flotilla that tried to break a legal naval blockade; with the Egyptians after the August 2011 attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo, or with the terrorist group, Hamas.

No Muslim leader has yet apologized or expressed any remorse for the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001; for the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, or for pushing a wheelchair-ridden man into the sea – all non-Israeli and non-military targets. Erdoğan has even said there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism. Does this mean that whatever Muslims do, no matter how awful, cannot be considered terrorism because if Muslims do it in the name of Allah or Islam, that makes it right?

As for non-Muslims living in the Muslim world, they can easily attain equality and acceptance from their fellow Muslims by converting to Islam. As kinship is not based on blood or ethnic ties, as in the West, but above all on religious identity -- irrespective of the level of religious observance -- their earlier, non-Muslim, origins will be quickly forgotten. To be a true Arab, Turk, Iranian, or Kurd, all that is required is to be a Muslim.

This view may account for why Middle Eastern Christians seem to conclude they have no future in the Middle East, and have been emigrating to the West. They apparently see that in the end, the Muslims do not look at them as equals -- as we are currently witnessing in the ongoing massacre of Christians in Egypt, Sudan and Iraq -- and that there exists a huge, permanent glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing in their and their ancestors' countries of birth.

Israel, a small non-Muslim country in the middle of the Muslim world, is in the same situation as the Christians. No matter what it does -- simply because it is not Muslim – Israel will always be regarded as an outsider. If the only way to really belong is to be Muslim, Israel can never be fully accepted by its neighbors in that part of the world. Being Muslim, therefore, is as much a political identity as a religious one.

The same holds true for non-Muslims in the US and the West. Unless the Muslim world undergoes to major revolution in its thinking, we shall always be regarded as outsiders. Although we might have amicable relationships, Muslims will always regard us with suspicion: When the chips are down, they believe, they will be on one side and the non-Muslims on the other – supporting their own, non-Islamic "brothers" just as the Muslims would support theirs.

Muslims understand Western support for Israel, or Western concern for the plight of the Christians in Lebanon or Iraq as a natural and unchangeable form of religious brotherhood -- like theirs. When Westerners try to prove the Muslims mistaken by citing Western support for the Bosnian Muslims, whom Westerners tried to save from being slaughtered by their Christian neighbors, Muslims seem to have great difficulty making sense out of why the Westerners "really" did this. It simply does not conform to their view of Muslim solidarity vs. non-Muslim solidarity. Muslims, therefore, either choose to ignore Western support for their brothers, or dismiss Westerners who have aided Muslims in distress as being part of some deeper plot against the Muslim world.

Any alliance between a Western country and a Muslim one needs to be seen in this context.

No matter how hard non-Muslim powers plead with them to do otherwise, Muslim countries will never see themselves as true friends of the non-Muslim world. Regrettably, the Islamic concept of non-Muslim brotherhood, or millah, means that the Muslims and the West will continue to be at odds with one another, unless the Muslims are forced to re-evaluate their religious sources, most likely as the result of a massive military loss.

In the US, where people of different ethnic and religious groups might feel a lack of solidarity toward others of different backgrounds, all Americans are nevertheless considered equal before the law. For non-Muslims in the Muslim world, unfortunately, this is not what occurs. Non-Muslims are, at best, tolerated, "protected" not-quite-guests, who, under Islamic Shari'a Law, are subject to a different set of regulations and expectations that place severe limitations on their ability rise to the highest political and social levels.

Even though, throughout much of the twentieth century, most of the Muslim world seemed to Westerners to have abandoned its Islamic identity in favor of national identities -- such as Arabic, Turkish, or Iranian -- Islamic identity apparently continued underneath as an essential component of identity. Loyalty, for a large number of Muslims -- and most significantly for the Islamists -- is still owed to the amorphous concept of the Muslim Nation, or Ummah. As the Muslim prophet Muhammad said, "All Muslims belong to one people, the only difference among them is in piety." For Muslims throughout the centuries, this feeling of brotherhood, [5] of belonging to one people – not only to a religion -- is so deeply engrained that today it even permeates the world view of secular Muslims, as well.[6]

Even though Muslims feel a sense of brotherhood toward each other, it does not mean that all Muslims get along well together. Islamic history is filled with examples of how the Muslims have failed because they refused to recognize each other as brothers and members of the same people. The demand from their prophet -- and, later, political and religious leaders -- again and again that they get along together indicates that they did not. In general Arabs cannot stand Persians, who look down on Turks; Shi'ites fear Sunnis; Sunnis intimidate Shi'ites; most look down on Sufis, and so on.

As in the Iran-Iraq War, or every week on the streets of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, many Muslims have no problem inflicting murder and mayhem upon their Muslim brothers. More Muslims have possibly been killed by their fellow Muslims than by non-Muslims. In the West, however, one is judged by one's actions, not by one's thoughts; but in Islam, if the intent of the killer can be interpreted by Islamic Shari'a Law as furthering the cause of Islam, murdering one's own people – or sometimes even family members -- is not only considered permissible but even at times praiseworthy.

On occasion, Muslims have sided with non-Muslims against their fellow Muslims.[7] A few years ago, for instance, as the situation in southern Iraq deteriorated -- largely because of Iranian-armed-and-backed militias reaping havoc in the area -- the Iraqi Shi'ite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sent Iraqi forces to clean it up. By doing so, he signaled that he had chosen to side with the non-Muslim Americans who had liberated his country from tyranny, rather than with his fellow Shi'ite (though non-Arab) Iranians. Despite the animosity and hatred toward each other, however, the reflexive reaction of most Muslims seems to be to side with each other against the non-Muslims -- a proclivity that has major political ramifications for the non-Muslim world.

One way of understanding the Islamic concept of brotherhood operates is to look, as a parallel, at how the American Mafia operates. Each Mafia family is independent, although the various families often engage in internal warfare. To the outside world, it appears that they deeply hate and mistrust each other. But the moment the "Feds" confront them, they cooperate as members of the same family, unite against what they see as the common threat, then resume their internal warfare when the threat disappears.[8]

If our radical Muslim adversaries all view the world as divided into Muslims and non-Muslims, it is crucial that we understand that when we are fighting, we are not fighting against a particular country. International borders are irrelevant. By continuing to respect borders, we cripple our military and prevent it from defeating the enemy, who, as we have seen for years in, say, Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Iraq and Iran, simply keep crossing back and forth across borders as needed. If we are to win the war against the Islamists, we must adjust our military and political strategies accordingly.


The following sections, some based on the experiences of Western travelers throughout the Islamic world, illustrate how deeply the concept of Islamic brotherhood is embedded in the hearts and minds of the Muslims, whether radical or moderate..

1). Who are the Real Egyptians: the Coptic Christians, Descended from the Ancient Egyptians, or Recent Muslim Immigrants to Egypt?

In the West, one's religion is often a component of one's identity; in Islam, it is the basic component. Non-Muslims living in the Arab World are, in essence, eternal outsiders, never able to fully belong. This is true even in places such as Egypt, where the true Egyptians are the Coptic Christians, descendants of the ancient Egyptians. To the Muslims, a Muslim who immigrates to Egypt from Indonesia is, within a generation or two, an Egyptian, even though he has only been in the country for a relatively short time. Not so Egypt's Christian Copts who make up about 10% of Egypt's population, but, who, no matter how many centuries they preceded Egypt's Muslims there, are forever regarded by the Muslims in Egypt as outsiders.

Egypt, especially in Cairo and Alexandria, has long been a great center to which people from all over the Middle East immigrated, and is known to many people in Egypt and the Levant as the "Mother of the World" [Umm al-Dunya]. When Muslims migrated to these cities -- especially to Cairo – they easily intermarried with local Muslims and became "Egyptians." But almost all the non-Muslims who settled in Cairo and Alexandria eventually left. When they stayed, they usually did so because they had married Muslims and converted to Islam.

There have been massacres in Egypt -- as we are now seeing against the Copts -- even before the fall of its President, Hosni Mubarak. Since that time, the massacres have only increased in viciousness, with security forces driving armored vehicles into gatherings of unarmed Christians to mow them down, or else merely looking on.

From a Western point of view, no one could claim to be more Egyptian than these Copts; but most Muslim Egyptians feel a stronger bond with fellow Muslims in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, or even far more distant lands. Many laws in Egypt exist to make it easy for Copts to convert to Islam and become "real Egyptians," alongside other, strict, laws that ban Muslim from converting to Christianity. In Muslim eyes, the only way for a Copt to become a "true Egyptian," is to convert to Islam.

2). Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan's Election Victory Speech

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also seems to view all Muslims as members of the same people, regardless of nationality:

"Believe me," Erdoğan said, after winning another election in June 2011, "Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir."[9] Erdoğan also mentioned other predominately Muslim places not in Turkey, such as Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

From a Western point of view, Erdoğan was running for office of Prime Minister of Turkey – not of the entire Sunni world. But most of the places he mentioned – such as Damascus, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Sarajevo -- are not part of Turkey. They were, however, part of the Ottoman Empire; and most were, and still are, populated by large numbers of Sunni Muslims.

Imagine a European Prime Minister or American President making a similar speech with references to places outside their countries; such allusions would certainly elicit accusations of imperialism. Even the thought would be unacceptable. But Erdoğan could deliver such a speech because, in his thinking, the concept of Islamic brotherhood is paramount -- as can also be seen in many comments he has made about Israel. He constantly excuses acts of violence committed by his fellow Muslims, the Palestinians, but condemns the non-Muslim Israelis for defending themselves against Muslim terror attacks directed at Israeli border towns such as in Sderot.

Why is Erdoğan is so pro-Palestinian? Is it because he believes in the right of Palestinians to have their own state as they are his fellow Muslims; or because Israel, being largely the state of the Jews, is non-Muslim? If he believes that, as a people, the Palestinians as a national have the right to a state, then why would he not support the right of the Kurds – an ancient people without their own country -- to have their own state, which would include a large part of eastern Turkey that is historically overwhelmingly ethnically Kurdish? But Erdoğan repeatedly opposes a Kurdish state.

3). Are the Ruling Alawites of Syria Muslims? The Answer Determines Whether, in the Minds of Syrian Muslims, They Have a Right to Rule Syria.

Muslims have long accepted a wide range of diversity in Islam. There are four separate Sunni legal schools, each of which can have widely different views on what is legal and what is not. Shi'ites have their own legal schools, and differ strongly with the Sunnis and among themselves over important aspects of their religion. All these schools of Muslim thought, however, agree on one thing: If, according to the Koran the state exists for the good of, and for the propagation of Islam, only Muslims have the right to rule. Non-Muslims in the Muslim state are allowed to live under Muslim rule, but would never have the right to rule.[10]

The Alawites, whose homeland is the eastern Mediterranean coastal area, are an approximately 800-year-old offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. As they are a secretive sect, it is difficult to know exactly what they believe. What we do know is that, for Alawites, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, is a Jesus-like figure, possessing at the same time both human and godlike characteristics. When Alawites greet each other, one says "Ali is God;" the other responds, "The truest God."

To Muslims, however, Allah never had, or ever can have, a human form of any kind. Conversely, Muhammad was human -- a messenger and a prophet -- but with no divine characteristics. To Muslims, therefore, the Alawite deification of Ali is a heresy.

The question then arises as to whether the Alawites are in fact seen by other Muslims as Muslims at all; and, by extension, whether Muslims even consider them as members of the brotherhood of Islam. This is the question that forms the basis of the uneasy relationship in Syria between the ruling Alawites, who seized power there in the early 1970s, and Syria's Sunni majority –- about 70% of the population -- who see themselves as ascendant in alone having the right to rule their country.

The Alawites understand their precarious situation. In 1972, their leaders asked Lebanon's highly respected Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah, Musa Sadr, to issue a religious edict [fatwa][11], according to which the Alawites would officially be designated a branch of Shi'ite Islam. The ayatollah, for political reasons, obliged -- to bolster Syria's government, which he saw as an ally for beleaguered the Lebanese Shi'ites.

Although this should have helped the Alawites to be accepted as Muslims -- given that most Shi'ites and Sunnis do accept each other as Muslims -- the fatwa was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, the Syrian Sunnis still find it difficult to accept the Alawites as Muslims: if they are not Muslims, they do not have a right to rule the country.

Knowing that the issue of the fatwa is still unresolved for many Sunnis, the Alawites go overboard to demonstrate their "Muslimness" -- while at the same time ruling Syria with an iron fist.

The unsettled nature of their religious legitimacy is also the reason members of the regime cannot -- ever -- sign a peace agreement with Israel. They fear that if they did, the Sunnis would say that such a capitulation proves that the Alawites are not really Muslims. The only people who could possibly sign a peace treaty with Israel and not be labeled "non-Muslims" would be members of the Sunni majority. The Alawites can only forever dangle a peace agreement in front of the Israelis and Americans, negotiating forever, but never signing one.

4). Islamic Brotherhood in the Secular Republic of Turkey

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottomans adopted the European system of internal identity cards. If the cardholders were Muslim, under the entry "nationality," they wrote "Muslim, regardless of ethnic or country if origin.

When Turkey and Greece exchanged populations after the Turkish War of Independence in the early 1920s, it was decided that "Greeks" would be sent to Greece, and "Turks" to Turkey. What is distinctive is how the Greek and Turkish governments defined "Greekness" and "Turkishness": Greeks were defined as Orthodox Christians and Turks were defined as Muslims. This meant that Orthodox Christians, who happened to be of ethnic Turkic origin, were "repatriated" to Greece, a "homeland" that historically had never been theirs; and Greeks, who were descended from the ancient Hellenic peoples but who had converted to Islam, were sent to Turkey. Both groups then had to learn their so-called mother tongues, which their ancestors had never spoken.

In the early 1920s, on the embers of the Ottoman Empire, Atatürk and his inner circle founded the secular Turkish Republic. Their new country was to be based on the Western, or geographic, concept of nationality; not on religion. All citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious background, were to be called Turks. All were to be equal before the law and loyal to the republic, the borders of which were inviolate.

Loyalty to a geographic entity was a novel idea in the Muslim world. Before then, the Ottoman Empire had been Muslim and had existed for the good of the Muslims.[12] During the early years of the Turkish Republic, the government made no attempt to differentiate between the different residents, but despite what Ataturk had planned, the concept of Islamic religious brotherhood proved so strong that that Muslims of this newly established polity used the term "Turk" to apply only to Muslims. All others – the non-Muslims -- were called "Türk vatandaşları," or "Turkish citizens," meaning that although they resided in Turkey, it was more as "honored guests" than as equal citizens. Atatürk even tried to create a Turkish Christian patriarchate, but failed.[13]

Even today, more than 85 years after the secular Turkish Republic was founded, Turks sometimes ask foreigners who live in Turkey and who speak Turkish, if they are "Turkish citizens."[14] But if the foreigners are Muslim, they are then asked if they are Turks. To be a "real Turk," one must be a Muslim.

Even before the current Islamic-fundamentalist-oriented AK party took power in Turkey, secular senior officials would often talk about non-Muslim Turkish citizens in ways that implied that these officials did not believe non-Muslims were Turks. During the 1980s, for example, Turkish military and political officials said about the Jews of Istanbul –- most of whose ancestors had lived in what would later become Turkey since the early 1500s if not before –- that, "the Jews here have complete freedom. They are free to travel back and forth to their country [Israel]." During the late 1980s, when an Israeli prime minister visited Turkey and talked about the Jews of Istanbul, many Turkish officials referred to "the visits of their [the Jews'] prime minister" -- as if the Israeli prime minister were the elected leader of the Jews of Istanbul as well.

Among Turks – even the most secular - the idea of Muslim brotherhood is so engrained that it forms the basis of their suspicion of Western policy. Turks tend to see sinister motives, for instance, behind Western questions about the Kurds of Turkey. As Turks and Kurds are both Muslims, when Westerners talk about Kurdish rights in Turkey, Turks fear that by making distinctions between the Muslim citizens of Turkey, the West is trying to divide and conquer them – in the same way Westerners used ethnicity and religion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to divide up the Ottoman Empire. Sadly, most Westerners do not realize that, in spite of their best intentions, Turks believe that Westerners want to "divide up" Turkey into a rump Turkish State and independent Kurdish State. The more non-Muslims talk with Turks about these issues, it becomes clear that the words they use to describe supposed Western intentions are almost the same as those of their Ottoman ancestors when the Ottoman Empire's mission was to protect and advance of the cause of Islam throughout the world.

Even though the Turkish military and separatist Kurds in southeastern Anatolia have from time to time attacked each another -- as many Kurds claim that the Turkish government discriminates against them because they are Kurds and not ethnic Turks -- nevertheless, after subduing the Kurdish terrorists, the Turkish military keeps prodding the civilian authorities to step in and improve the civilian infrastructure for their fellow Muslim "brothers" there. At one point, when the military later saw that the civilian officials were not doing their utmost to improve the living standards of the Kurds, they complained that the civilian authorities were not making the Kurds of that area feel as if they, too, were Turks, and an integral part of the "Turkish" nation.[15] Not only does the Turkish military go out of its way to help the Kurds in the southeast, but until today, for example, the military arranges mass circumcision parties for boys in remote Kurdish-speaking villages where people do not have the money to put on the lavish parties expected of them.

As we in the West expect the Turkish military to be "anti-Kurdish" after being the recipients of terrorist attacks, the above might sound unusual, but from the Turkish military's point of view, all Muslims living in Turkey are Turks.

5). Attempts to Bridge the Political and Social Gaps in the Islamic World between the Non-Muslims and Muslims -- to Negate the Concept of Islamic Solidarity -- Always End in Failure

In the 19th century, Middle Eastern Arabic-speaking Christians invented Arab Nationalism as a way to bridge the gap between themselves and the Arabic-speaking Muslims. These Christians, hoping to attain the equality they could not have under Islam, invented an Arab "national" identity.

These Christian-Arab Nationalists started assigning Arab identities to historic Middle Eastern figures, none of whom was Christian and many of whom were not even ethnically Arab. The nationalists argued that the greatest book ever written in Arabic was the Koran, whose language would form the basis of modern standard Arabic. But for Muslims to say that the Koran was even written is a sacrilege: to them, the Koran is eternal, and existed in Arabic long before it was revealed to Muhammad.

As Arabic-speaking Muslims began to read the writings of the Arab Nationalist Christians, they quickly came to the conclusion that, as Arab culture was overwhelmingly Islamic, the only "true Arab" was still a Muslim. When the concept of national Arab brotherhood proved unable to replace the centuries-old concept of Islamic brotherhood, Middle Eastern Christians again found themselves left unequal to, and outside of, the system. Many Christians then turned to Marxism – probably in an attempt to repudiate all religious identity –- again trying to find an equality that had eluded them under both Arab Nationalism and Islam. Eventually many emigrated to the West to find safety, freedom, and true equality; others converted to Islam; still others remained, especially in Egypt, where they continue, uneasily, to live.

6). Islam Cannot Be Imperialist, Even if Muslims Conquer Non-Muslim Territories and Force the Inhabitants to Become Muslims.

A Westerner teaching a course on the history of Islamic peoples of North Africa at an American university, enrolled around 20 students, mostly secular Muslim Arabs from the Levant, in his class. The lecturer explained how North Africa became Muslim: Arab Muslims had conquered the area in the late 600s, sweeping across the coast and decimating the local cultures, most of which had been were Christian and Berber. Within a century, Christianity had been obliterated and most of the coastal peoples had converted to Islam, but the inhabitants had remained culturally and ethnically Berber.

The lecturer then spoke about the later conquest of the same area by the French in the 1830s; most of the students agreed that the French conquests were imperialist, and consequently decried the French for having seized the land and "imposed" French language and culture on the locals.

When the lecturer then asked what was the difference between the Arab conquests in the late 600s and the French conquests of the 1830s -- both, after all, were foreign cultures that sought to impose their ways on the locals -- the American students concluded that, as both were imperialist, both were bad.

The Arab students, however, emphatically disagreed. Although they all had opposed French imperialism, they either refused to, or could not, fathom the idea that the Arab-Muslim culture could be imperialist. They argued that the Arab Muslims were bringing their superior culture to the locals, who should have been grateful to the Arabs for such a gift.

The Arab reaction provoked outrage among some of the Americans, who then accused the Arabs of being hypocritical. If all imperialism was bad, the Americans argued, the Arab Muslims had been equally wrong to impose their culture on the local non-Muslim North Africans, too.

Neither side could even begin to understand or accept the others' views. To the Arab Muslim students, the Arabs had "liberated" the Berbers from the ignorance they had "suffered" before the Muslims arrived. The Americans could not convince even one Arab that these conquests were the same.

To the Muslims, any conquests launched in the name of Islam against the "The Abode of War" [Dar al-Harb], or the lands ruled by non-Muslims, were acceptable; but wars by non-Muslims against Muslims were, and are, not acceptable.

Today, as Berbers in North Africa and France have been trying to revive their language and culture -- most notably in Morocco, where Berbers constitute the majority of the population -- they have been allowed to do so, but only under strict government supervision. Arab leaders, like their Turkish counterparts, again perceive the differences in the languages and cultures of Muslim minorities as ways that non-Muslims could exploit, divide and conquer their countries.

7). How Muslims View Political Causes of Their Co-Religionists in Distant Regions

As the concept of Islamic brotherhood transcends borders, it is not surprising that Muslims take up the causes of their fellows Muslims in far off lands, such as Arab Muslim fighters joining the Chechens to fight the Russians in the northern Caucasus. This borderless worldview smoothes the way for holy warriors [jihadis] to be lured to training centers and causes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines and beyond, even though these jihadis often look down upon the local Muslims there and their cultures as primitive and backward.

Finally, this view highlights an incident reported in Turkish press concerning a 2008 meeting between US Vice President Cheney and Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan.[16] Erdoğan, according to the report, was sympathetic to Iran's Muslim fundamentalists' developing nuclear weapons. His officials and he argued that the US and other Westerners had a double standard regarding the nuclear issue: the West prohibited Muslims from having nuclear weapons, but Israel – a non-Muslim country – was not prohibited from possibly having nuclear weapons.

Cheney and the other Westerners tried to explain that whether a country was Muslim or non-Muslim was immaterial. The US, he said, took the position it did because Iran had threatened to obliterate Israel, but that Israel had never threatened to obliterate anyone. Cheney's response fell on deaf ears. The Turkish officials either refused to -- or could not -- understand the point the US was making.

8). Religiously Ignorant Members of the Former Ottoman Royal Family and Their Political Affinities

The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, the forefathers of the former royal Ottoman family, ruled for 653 years, during most of which time the Ottoman Empire was the largest and strongest Sunni Muslim power. During the last 100 years or so of their rule, each Ottoman sultan claimed to be the spiritual and political leader of the entire Muslim world.[17] Moreover, huge numbers of Muslims living outside the Ottoman Empire agreed with him and viewed him as such.

Today, although members of the Ottoman royal family, whose ancestors Atatürk expelled from Turkey in the 1920s, still get together from time to time, they are now frequently secular, and few seem to express more than a rudimentary knowledge of Islam.

One member of the Ottoman royal family who lived in Europe, was, like most of his relatives, secular: he ate pork, enjoyed alcohol, and had even demonstrated "philo-Semitic," pro-Israeli tendencies. He had even asked a non-Muslim friend whether he, a descendent of the Ottomans, was a Sunni or Shi'ite -- an astounding question from a relative of the Ottoman Sultan, his not-so-distant ancestor, who had been the spiritual and the political, leader of the entire Sunni Islamic world.

When Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, however, he, who had never displayed the slightest interest in politics and had virtually no knowledge of the people living in southern Lebanon, became enraged at Israel. He said he felt almost personally attacked -- as if Israel had assaulted his people -- even though, ethnically, it was highly unlikely that he shared the slightest blood relationship with anyone in Lebanon. The last Sultan was approximately 1/1258 ethnically Turkish; mothers of the sultans were almost always European, or Caucasian slaves and concubines who were part of the Ottoman harem. We do not know of even a single Arab one.

9) An Iranian Communist Supports His Muslim Brothers, Not the Poor Workers

In Iran, during the time of the Shah, a young Iranian approached an American visiting the Holy Shrine in Qom. The Iranian, saying he felt comfortable speaking about politics there as the Shah's police did not enter the shrine unless there was serious unrest, went on to say that he was a communist because in the Soviet Union people were free, and that he hated the Shah and the US because they supported "fascist" Israel.

The American replied that the Soviet authorities placed serious impediments on people who visited mosques and holy shrines in the Soviet Union; the Iranian said that he knew otherwise.

The American then asked why a communist was even visiting a religious shrine; communists called religion "the opiate of the masses." The Iranian said that he was just waiting for his mother who wanted to pray there; that he himself did not pray.

The American then asked which side the Iranian backed in the Lebanese Civil war, which had been raging for more than two years. The Iranian replied that of course he supported the Muslims: they were poor and exploited by the rich Christians.

The American said that he had seen that too, but that he had also seen rich Muslims exploiting poor Christians. The Iranian then became agitated and said: "But we have to support our Muslim brothers!"

The words "communist" and "fascist" seemed to him to be nothing more than superficial values to be superseded by the loyalty and responsibility with which Muslims defend each other. Newly adopted foreign ideologies could be easily discarded; what remained were the traditional bonds of Muslim brotherhood, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or economic status.

10). A Secular Iraqi and the "Clash of Civilizations"

An Iraqi of mixed ethnic (Kurdish, Arab, and Turkic, and Persian) and religious (Sunni and Shi'ite) origin had been deeply involved in the opposition movement to overthrow Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein. When asked who he was, ethnically and religiously, the Iraqi would reply that neither religion nor ethnicity meant anything to him. What mattered, he said, was democracy: this was the only way all Middle Easterners could be equal. He even refused to refer to himself in religious or ethnic terms: he was, he said, a Baghdadi; that was all he cared about.

As he began, however, to hear more and more anti-Muslim feelings expressed in Europe and the US, he eventually told his Western friends that in a conflict between the democratic West and Islam, he realized he would side with Islam: "In the end," he said, "I am part of them."

11). The Turkish View of Southeastern Europe

Muslims immigrants to Turkey from the Balkan states in southeastern Europe -- ethnically Slavs, with blonde hair and blue eyes -- are easily absorbed into Turkish society, and can quickly become culturally "Turkified." Although some of Turkey's senior military leaders speak Bosnian, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian, and are ethnically descended from the same stock as the Christians of southeastern Europe, as they -- and the Indo-European Albanians -- converted to Islam about 500 years ago, Anatolian Muslims see them as Turks. At the same time, of course, they do not view the longtime non-Muslim residents of Anatolia as Turks.

12). Being an Outsider [Khareji] in Iran and Afghanistan

Although the word Khareji means foreigner, or outsider, in Persian and Dari (Afghan Persian), it is hard to tell if it refers to non-Afghans, to non-Iranians visiting these countries, or possibly to any non-Muslim living there, no matter how for long.

In both Afghanistan and Iran, people were asked to describe the concept of Khareji and explain to whom this term applied.

Iranian Shi'ites said about Sunni Turks that although there is little love lost between them, Turks were not kharejis; or outsiders; they were just misguided Muslims, but, because they were Muslims, still brothers.

Iranian Shi'ites said about Iraqi Shi'ites visiting Iran that they were not outsiders. Even though Iran and Iraq look askance at one another, and hold strong prejudices against one another, marriages between them are common.

Iranian Shiites said about Armenians and Jews who had lived in the ancient Iranian city of Isfahan for many centuries -- often much longer than many of the Muslims – that they were kharejis, although a different type of khareji than Europeans or Americans.

13). Israel: Jewish-Muslim Intermarriages, and the Islamic Identity of its Muslims

Under Shari 'a law, marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women are permitted, but marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are not, unless the man converts to Islam beforehand.

In the Muslim world, non-Muslims can convert to Islam, but according to Shari'a Law, converting out of Islam is an act of apostasy that requires the apostate to be killed, so virtually no one ever converts from Islam. Those Muslims who leave Islam do so at their peril.

When assimilation occurs, it is usually minorities who assimilate into majority cultures. It is much rarer to find members of majority groups joining minorities.

A Jewish woman who marries a Muslim man almost always converts to Islam. As religious identity in Islam is passed down through the father,[18] any children born in a mixed union – even if by rape in a war -- are automatically Muslim.

In Israel, the children of Jews married to Muslims, members of the minority culture, are almost always raised Muslim, even though, from a Jewish legal view, the religion is passed down through the mother and Jews recognize the children as Jews. There are, however, virtually no instances in which such children identify themselves as Jews. Those few children who might try to escape Islam risk death – a threat that only serves to reinforce the solidarity of Islamic brotherhood.

* * *

What then, is the basic difference between the Western concept of solidarity and the Muslim concept of brotherhood?

In the West, citizenship and loyalty to one's country are looked on as the basic building blocks of political identity. Muslims, however, apparently feel a solidarity with Muslims worldwide even before they know what the circumstances are, in a way totally alien to Christians and others, and one that has that has no parallel in the West. In Egypt, Muslims feel a closer tie with Muslims in Syria or Saudi Arabia, than they do with the Egyptian Christians with whom they have been living for centuries.[19]

Almost universally, the Muslim reaction is to feel an accord with, for instance, the Palestinian cause, even though very few support the Palestinians in any significant material way -- casually leaving that to the US and Europe -- and are content to keep them in squalid living conditions, ostensibly for their own good .

In Turkey, one time, when a secular, pro-Western Turkish official criticized Atatürk, the founder of the secular Republic of Turkey, for not having forced the Turks to adopt Christianity, he was expressing an underlying thought: We Turks will never fully be accepted by the Western world because we are Muslims.

"Islam," he said, "claims that all Muslims are members of the same family. Christians, by this Islamic definition, are members of the non-Muslim family of nations who, in a crisis, will support each other against the Muslims."

Had Atatürk forced the Turks convert to Christianity, he implied, Turkey would then have a chance to be accepted into the European Union, and would not have had to worry about the Western-Christian-Greek lobby. He seems to have thought that only as a Christian country would Turkey have been able to gain full Western acceptance. To him, religious solidarity overrode everything. He probably would not have been able to see the situation any other way.


[1] Fundamentalists do not agree on which countries this view includes, although most agree that it does include much of the Arab world – especially Egypt, and the pre-AK Party-ruled Turkish Republic. Others include the rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, whom we see as deeply religious, but whom the fundamentalists see as lackeys of the West. As these rulers are therefore to them apostates, they must be punished according to Islamic law – meaning, they must be put to death. [2] In Arabic "al-Kufr millatun wahida." [3] In the Koran, non-believers are called one nation (In Arabic, al-Kufr millatun wahida.), as can be seen, for example, in a tape from March, 2008, supposedly from Osama bin Laden. Osama ranted and raved against Europe for republishing cartoons which denigrated the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Europe did not republish them. They were reproduced in Denmark, a tiny country in Europe. And Denmark did not publish them either. They were published by one publisher, but Osama failed to make these distinctions because for him, the non-Muslims are all one political entity -- so by extension, the whole region is guilty of publishing the cartoons. [4] [5] It is important to note that we are not talking here about the political organization called "The Muslim Brotherhood." [6] Examples will be presented in the following pages. [7] Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, ruled that the Iranian government could temporarily abrogate verses from the Quran if doing so served Iran's national interests – in this instance, enabling Iran to side with Christian Armenia against Muslim Shi'ite Azerbaijan. [8] For example, during the 1980's Iran and Iraq bled each other to death, both countries loosing hundreds of thousands – perhaps more than a million people each -- during the eight year Iran-Iraq war. But when the American-led coalition prepared to take back Kuwait from the Iraqis, Saddam had no qualms about sending 135 airplanes to Iran for safe protection. [9] To hear the speech in Turkish, click on the YouTube video: [10] Lebanon is a special case. In the 1930s, the Christians formed the majority of the population, but all of Lebanon's ethnic and religious groups came to an uneasy agreement regarding power sharing. This agreement subsequently became shaky when the Muslims --the Shi'ites and Sunnis combined – came to form a majority. Nevertheless, the Shi'ites and Sunnis look at each other with suspicion, and often look to the Christians as allies against each other. As Hizbullah does what it is told to do by both Syria and Iran, it is not clear how long this agreement will last. [11] A fatwa is a religious ruling. It can address any topic. It is not, as some believe, just a death sentence. [12] Historically, Christians and Jews had been allowed to live in the Empire under Islamic rule, but only as long as they accepted their status as being politically and socially inferior, and paid additional taxes [jizya]. [13] He sent a message to an Anatolian Turkish-speaking Christian prelate living in New Jersey during the 1920s, requesting that he return to Turkey and lead this "Turkish" church. The prelate refused, and with his refusal, died the idea of a Turkish Christian church. [14] It is obvious from their names they are not Muslims, so the question then becomes, are they non-Muslims of Turkey? [15] This makes sense only when we understand the word "Turk" to mean "Muslim." [16] [17] For Sunnis, a Caliph was and still is considered God's representative on earth. In addition to his political role as head of the Ottoman Empire, to his people the Caliph's role as a spiritual leader is roughly equivalent to that of the Pope in the Vatican. [18] There are almost never any marriages between Muslim women and Jewish men. In Islam, the children belong to the father's religion; children born of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father are therefore Muslim, irrespective of the fact that Jews claim these children as Jews. In Jewish law (Halakha), religious identity comes from the mother. [19] "The Return of Islam," Bernard Lewis, Commentary Magazine, January, 1976,

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