A recent article by National Public Radio’s religion reporter Tom Gjelten praises a push towards “fighting extremism” by urging Muslims to emulate the prophet Mohammed through increasing religious literacy and examination of the hadiths, the sayings and stories about Mohammed as recorded by Muslim scholars. The article asserts, absent any evidence, that groups like the Islamic State “misrepresent” hadiths to justify violence.
Particularly egregious in this regard are the statements regarding Mohammed’s interactions with the Jewish tribes of Medina, as related by Dalia Moghed, head of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). Moghed, a former advisor to President Obama, says Mohammed:
‘wanted to lessen the barrier between Muslims and Jews. He wanted to connect with them.’ This was a story, she says, with implications for how Muslim-Americans should see their role in U.S. society. ‘What this means is, we have to understand the culture and the context we live in,’ she says. ‘We should do all that we can to connect to people and respect their culture.’
What Moghed does not say and the entire NPR article fails to address is that Islamists view Mohammed’s behavior in Medina as an example for establishing Islam as the dominant political system, at the expense of the Jews, which Islamic historiography identifies as being massacred and expelled. Moghed herself can scarcely be unaware of this, seeing as ISPU is itself a pro-Islamist think tank whose members include numerous Muslim Brotherhood-associated thinkers.
The Medina Model
The Muslim Brotherhood pioneered the revival of Islamic antisemitism in part through invoking the Medinan example. As German historian of antisemitism and Islamism Mathias Kuntzel notes regarding the earliest participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in attacks on Israel,
Islamists justify their aspiration to eliminate the Jews of Palestine by invoking the example of Muhammad, who in the 7th century not only expelled two Jewish tribes from Medina, but also beheaded the entire male population of a third Jewish tribe, before proceeding to sell all the women and children into slavery. Third, they find support and encouragement for their actions and plans in the Koranic dictum that Jews are to be considered the worst enemy of the believers.
More important, though, is the role Medina plays as the pinnacle of Islamists’ effort to install Islam as total system of both political and spiritual life. Brotherhood figures, like Tunisian MB leader Rachid Ghannouchi, have repeatedly cited Mohammed’s “Charter of Medina” as an example to emulate. Coincidentally, they typically justify the massacre and expulsion of Jews from Medina in part by their supposed violation of this charter.
The Islamist focus on Medina derives from the belief that the Brotherhood is the vanguard in establishing the Islamic State through a gradual process of stages. These stages are designed to match the example of Islam’s progressive revelation of the Quran to the prophet Mohammed. The early Muslims’s arrival in Medina is thus viewed as a key turning point in the interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in the realm of political affairs.
Code for Establishing Sharia
This view is best understood by examining Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb’s seminal work, “Milestones.” Qutb wrote:
In Makkah the Muslims were not autonomous nor did they have any influence in the society. Their practical life had not taken a permanent form so that they could have organized themselves according to the Divine Law (Shari’ah); hence no regulations and laws were revealed to them by Allah Almighty. They were taught only belief and those moral principles which follow from this belief after it penetrates the mind. Later, when an autonomous state came into existence in Medina, general laws were revealed and that system came into existence which satisfies the needs of a Muslim community, and the power of the state was behind its enforcement.
The call by individuals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood to adopt the position of Mohammed at the time of Medina is thus highly suggestive. It is essentially a veiled reference saying the time has come to begin implementing Sharia, Islamic law. Qutb continued, referring to the very same “Charter of Medina”:
In the pact it was agreed by all parties that no one would make a treaty of peace or declare war or establish relations with any outsider without the express permission of the Prophet. Thus, the real power in Medina was in the hands of Muslim leadership.
But ultimately the transition into a Medinan stage suggests an implacable movement forward towards Sharia through, eventually, force of arms, in the same manner in which Muslims eventually conquered Medina. Nor has the Brotherhood been shy in recent years of announcing exactly that, as it did in a New Years’ message dated October 15, 2015:
A new Hijri year is a new hope. For it is based on the migration of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Companions to a new life in Medina, to lay the foundation for our great Islamic state. On their return to Mecca, the good Prophet announced that ‘there is no migration after the Conquest (returning to Mecca), only jihad – and if you are called to arms, go forth’.
NPR’s shilling on behalf of Islamists is representative of a wider ignorance of Islamic doctrine and history, which Islamists in the West have aggressively exploited. This tactic was perhaps best described by Omar Ahmad, an identified U.S.-based Hamas leader and founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, when the FBI recorded him saying, “You send two messages; one to the Americans and one to the Muslims.”
Thanks to NPR’s willful ignorance, they are happy to treat Mohammed’s example at Medina as a positive role model for “fighting extremism” among the Muslim community without any awareness the hearers may receive an entirely different message.