Dealing with the ambiguity of Islam

One of the reasons the West cannot negotiate with the Middle East is because we do not understand how to deal with their ambiguity. Photo: Islamic ambiguity (

CHARLOTTEAugust 28, 2013  —  When James Baker was secretary of state, he spoke of the difficulties in negotiating with the Muslim world. Baker noted that details of a settlement would be agreed upon one day and by the next, the specifics might be completely different.

Such is the enigma of American policies in the Middle East in dealing with Islamic radicalism since 9/11/2001. A demonstration of how ambiguity works is highlighted by Robert Spencer in his book Not Peace but a Sword which shows how the Muslim Brotherhood exploits a position to its advantage.

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In Spencer’s example, if a person in the West makes a statement saying “we need to build a “bridge” between our countries,” that implies unity and a good faith effort to seek harmony despite differing ideologies.

But look at the perspective of Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb who uses the same word, “bridge,” for an entirely different purpose. “The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah (the society of nonbelievers) is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so the people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so the people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam.”

In 1981 Sheik Mohamed Abdul-Salam Faraq, an Egyptian radical, published a book called The Forgotten Obligation, which changed the meaning of an important word, jihad. In Arabic jihad  means “struggle” which, as with so many words in English, can have many definitions.

Until The Forgotten Obligation was printed however, jihad was primarily interpreted by Muslims as their personal struggles through life. To be a truly pious Muslim there are five mandatory pillars which must be practiced: Shahadah (declaring this is no god except God and Muhammad is His Messenger); Salah (ritual prayer five time a day); Sawim (fasting); Zakat (tithing to the poor); Hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if physically and/or financially able to do so.

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One of the attractions of Islam is its simplicity. A dedicated Muslim need only follow the five pillars and believe in the words of the Koran.

Farag’s book added a new dimension by creating a sixth pillar, jihad. Not the jihad of individual struggle, but violent jihad which uses passages of hate from the Koran to make them a virtue.

Though jihad is not one of the pillars of Islam, many followers have come to believe that to be a truly pious Muslim they must also practice violent jihad.

Two major Islamic events had the greatest impact on the problems we face in the Middle East today.

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The first was the development of Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century which is fierce in its enforcement of the ancient social codes of the Prophet Muhammad.

Second was the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1927, from which the other factions of current Islamic radicalism arose.

Because of this and our naiveté of the subtleties of the various factions involved, the best policy in Egypt is to allow the Egyptians to resolve it themselves. They created it. They understand it. For the most part, Westerners do not. Egypt is a family feud that bears close monitoring and greater understanding.

Meanwhile, there are things that can be done to minimize Islamic extremism at home. Already seven states have taken action, North Carolina being the most recent, by prohibiting judges from considering Islamic laws for Muslims that are incompatible with the U.S. Constitution.

The decision by North Carolina, along with Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, directly coincides with a solution suggested by Robert Spencer. His proposal is simple, “Enforce our laws and not accord any special rights, which Muslims are pressing for today in all kinds of ways, to Muslims or anyone else. If we (do) that, then a lot of the problem would be solved. What you have here is a situation where we have to understand that there are elements of orthodox Muslim practice that Muslims are going to have to give up in the United States because they are not in accord with American law.”

That would be a good start toward reducing a serious problem in our own country.

Meanwhile, we should be ever vigilant about gaining knowledge of the nuances of Islam in the Arab world by realizing we are being purposefully manipulated by ambiguity

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (  

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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