James M. Arlandson
On April 3, 2005 Mr. Soliman al-Buthe (aka AlButhi), a Saudi Wahabi, wrote me a letter in order to open a dialogue. Included was An Open Letter to Congress, in which he explained a gentler and kinder Wahabi movement that began in the eighteenth century by Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Wahab, a Hanbalist scholar. Mr. al-Buthe says that Wahabism is a fundamentalist reform movement that that seeks to return to a purer Islam. This movement is no threat to America or the world.
After a series of email in which he said that he is in contact with Saudi scholars and that I should respond to his ideas, we decided to correspond in the following format:
1. The basis of our dialogue is his Open Letter to Congress (in bold font). The endnotes can be read at the links to the Letter, provided at the fourth step, just below.
2. I (JA) will ask questions and seek explanations in each section of his Open Letter to Congress.
3. Mr. al-Buthe (SaB) will respond.
4. Finally, I provide a comment, where relevant. I have also asked some scholars and colleagues to contribute their ideas, at this stage.
We are pleased to engage in this kind of dialogue with people like you. We believe that this kind of exchange of ideas has become a necessity in a world in which relations among peoples are becoming manifold and getting stronger. Only values which are truly universal -- in the sense of being acceptable to human beings as human beings -- will come to survive.
We also believe that that kind of exchange of ideas is possible, and becomes more fruitful if it is based on standards shared by all of humanity. We all believe in reason, in moral values like truthfulness and honesty, in empirical facts, and in preferring what is more beneficial and useful. With people like you we share something more: a belief in God.
It is on shared grounds like these that our dialogue should be based. We will not be able to argue with each other if each of us takes for granted some standards that the other does not accept. On our side, we are Arabs and Muslims with an intellectual history that is different from yours, a history in which your European Enlightenment played no role. We believe in reason and emphatically do not believe that one must be a product of the Enlightenment to be rational or to scrutinize claims that are offered for belief. Humankind has been exercising this skepticism throughout history; if Europeans did do so prior to the Enlightenment perhaps that was because of some situation peculiar to Western religious or intellectual history. In any event, we do not believe that Islam should be judged by Enlightenment or any other standards that are peculiar to a certain civilization at a particular time in its history. If one must resort to Enlightenment standards, one should select only those in which it is sincerely believed that all rational humans will accept.
An Open Letter From a Saudi Wahabi To Members of the 109th U.S. Congress
Author: Soliman AlButhi
Dear Members of the 109th U.S. Congress:
With Gods Name, Who is the Most Merciful, the Dispenser of Mercy.
Since September 11, 2001, your distinguished body on many occasions has discussed the issue of "Wahabiism" and the threat it perceives to pose to the United States. The desire to ensure the security of ones nation is understood and admirable; however, I believe (along with many of my fellow countrymen) that in pursuing this noble objective, both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its religious teachings and practices have been unfairly misrepresented and maligned. It is in this spirit that I humbly submit this Open Letter to the Members of the 109th Congress.
I believe that in the interest of sound policymaking, I must provide you with our perspective on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and our religious practices in as concise and helpful means possible. My particular concern is that those who have testified before the various committees have included many whose opposition to so-called "Wahabi" doctrines is purely ideological and, more important, not grounded in fact. This only deepens our suspicion that, in attempting to achieve your aim of national security, Congress is being manipulated by those who seek to further their own agendas even at the expense of the United States true national interest. And the attacks are not limited to the halls of Congress; unjustified attacks on both the Kingdom and its religion are now being published in your most prestigious media with the purpose that long-term public opinion be turned against Kingdom, its peoples, and religion.
I believe that people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should engage in an honest and candid dialogue with the citizens of the United States and their representatives. In this spirit I have written this letter. I hope to inform its readers and clear up any misunderstandings that they might have regarding the religious teachings in todays Saudi Arabia.
Although I have addressed this letter from a Saudi "Wahabi," I first must point out that nobody in this countrys religious mainstream would refer to themselves by this name. Indeed, such a term is often used as a pejorative and is considered offensive; instead, we refer to ourselves simply as Muslims. In the end, I hope that this open letter will be the start of a continuing and fruitful dialogue between our people.
JA: I start off with my own explanation and response to this section of the Open Letter. You write that "unjustified attacks on the Kingdom and on its religion are now being published in your most prestigious media with the purpose that long-term public opinion be turned against Kingdom, its peoples, and religion." You indicated in your email to me that you have read my articles online. I admit that I have critiqued Islam as a religious system, but I do not hold a grudge against the people of Saudi Arabia.
Here is my more specific explanation as to why I critique Islam as a religious system. First, I am a product of the Enlightenment (c. 1600-1800), and personally I have been trained in it. So I am merely following my training. If Islam is to survive in the West, it must undergo close scrutiny and analysis.
SaB: We agree; but the same must apply to Christianity and all other beliefs and ideologies currently advocated in the West.
Second, my own religion, Christianity, has been placed under the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment microscope for the past four hundred years, and Christianity has survived remarkably intact. Therefore, I still have my own religious convictions, and your religion ultimately conflicts with mine, as we shall see below. Hence, I am responding to Muhammads challenge that he has perfected religion (Sura 5:3) and that the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) have walked in darkness until your prophet came (Sura 5:15-16). I do not believe that his claims are true for these top ten reasons and for simple logic. So following Enlightenment principles, I will continue my hard-hitting critique of your religion in a fact-based way, not in a mean-spirited way.
SaB: Has it? Many people in the West, even in the US, state otherwise.
Here are a few examples of such contradictions:
In this sense everything is the Word of God. It is not something peculiar to Jesus. One of our great and famous scholars put it succinctly by saying, "Jesus is not the Be!, but it was by the Be! that he came to be"
but as Western societies abandon traditional patterns of religious lifefor example, Sunday as a holy dayand dismantle such traditional institutions as marriage, one wonders whether Christians (and Jews) should join the chorus of those urging Muslims to set out on the path taken by Western Civilization since the Enlightenment. (Please see Robert Louis Wilken, Roots of Jihad, First Things 136 (October 2003): 671.)
As the 20th century began, this accommodation became increasingly evident as the church acquiesced to a culture of moral individualism.
In the wake of the Enlightenment, criticism of the Bible and the doctrines of evangelical orthodoxy was widespread. Even the most conservative denominations began to show evidence of decreased attention to theological orthodoxy.
The theological category of sin has been replaced, in many circles, with the psychological concept of therapy Sex is on the loose. Shame days are over Homosexuality is not condemned, even though it is clearly condemned in the Bible. To the contrary, homosexuals get a special caucus at the denominational assembly and their own publications and special rights. (Please see The Disappearance of Church Discipline--How Can We Recover? Part One.)
Continue with James Arlandson's response to the above.
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