What's the Straight Dope on Radical Islam?

Are there different sects (I apologize if that is not the correct term) that can be ranked by their tendencies toward violence?

Do any of the “sects” totally repudiate the violent radicals? Do they dare go public with it?

Who are the major leaders? Who actually calls for “jihad” (if that is the term) toward an individual like Rushdie or cartoonists… or to a group of people?

A big question. Of the sects of Islam, the Wahhabi sect is among the proponents of violence - it has many critics within Islam. There’s also many, many moderates who speak out against the likes of bin Laden and extremism.

The Ayatollah Khomeni was the one who called for the death of Rushdie in a fatwa. Most Muslims would deny that there is any (current) central human authority among Muslims, they are all accountable to themselves and Allah, making their own decisions. The Caliph is arguably the only recognised Earthly authority, but the title has been defunct since 1924.

Does each mosque in the U.S. have ties to a specific sect?

Is there a leader of each mosque?

Does he “report” to anyone else?

And even then, it was only recognized by Sunni Muslims.

"Approximately half (50%) of the religious affiliations of Muslims is Sunni, 16% Shia, 22% non-affiliated and 16% other/non-response.[49] "
The difference between the Shia and Sunni essentially goes back to disputes over the Caliph, the successor to Mohammed. Here’s a Muslim take on it

The leader of a mosque is the Imam, although his (and it’s usually a he) role can be somewhat different in Shia and Sunni sects. As far as I know he doesn’t need to ‘report’ to anyone in the United States, although there may be Muslim organisations that they are a part of.

Islam doesn’t have a priestly hierarchy (although Iranian Shia have created one), so Imam’s technically aren’t anything but a fellow member of the congregation chosen to lead prayers. No “reporting” to anyone, no dioceses, no nothing. Always has struck me a lot like the really low church protestants, like Anabaptists or the like. The kind where every preacher is his own church.

As far as I can see in UK and RSA most Sunni mosques are their own deal, although on a secular basis they sometime affiliate with “councils.”

And the generic term for the really radical rejectionist types seems to be Salafi or Takfiri.

Links to Muslim critiques of terror movements have been posted on the board before, so clearly they “dare go public.”

What you’re asking is pretty complicated. Islam was, early on, divided into two main groups, Sunni and Shi’ite, over the question of who would lead the Muslim community after Muhammed died. Shi’ites thought that the Muslims should be led by a member of Muhammed’s family, specifically in that case, Ali, who Muhammed’s cousin and son in law, and one of the first converts to Islam. Sunnis thought that the new leader of the Muslim community should be picked by the community. As of now, about 90% of Muslims are Sunni and about 10% Shi’ite. Shi’a Islam is hierarchical to an extent, but Sunni Islam is not really hierarchical at all.

Sunnis are generally divided into four schools. At the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th centuries, when the original Muslim community was dying off, Muslims realized they had better write down Muslim law, which is called the Shari’ah. Four different people did this, and they all interpreted it slightly differently, and these differences became the four schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali.) These aren’t sects, they’re just different ways of interpreting Islamic law.

Now, we need to jump ahead for a little bit. In the 13th century, there was a Hanbali scholar named Ibn Taymiyya. The late 13th century was a bad time for the Muslim world, largely because of the Mongols, who had come in and were in the process of violently overthrowing the Muslim states of the Middle East, and then converting to Islam themselves, and ruling Muslim lands. So this led to a lot of turmoil. Ibn Taymiyya said, basically, that Islam had gotten corrupt, and that it needed to go back to the “original” Islam. . . that Muslims needed to live the way Muhammed and his original followers did.; Specifically, that they needed to get rid of all the practices that had developed since then, like praying to Muslim saints and holy men and the building of and worship at shrines. Ibn Taymiyya also came up with the idea that there could be people who called themselves Muslims who weren’t “true Muslims” (as defined by him), like the Mongols, for instance, and that it was a moral duty to wage war against these people, who were perverting true Islam. Ibn Tamiyya wasn’t popular. The Muslim states were already fighting the Mongols, and ibn Tamiyya’s “Nobody’s a real Muslim except me, and all the rest of you who think you’re Muslim are really just a bunch of superstitious fools” attitude didn’t win him many friends, and he spent most of his life locked up.

So, now, we jump ahead again to 18th century Arabia, where we meet a man, another Islamic scholar, named Muhammed al Wahhab. Al Wahhab “rediscovers” ibn Tamiyya, and decides that things haven’t really changed that much. Islam is still in need of reform, there are still no “real” Muslim states, and the world has pretty much gone to hell ever since Muhammed and the original Muslims died. So he starts a religious reformist movement, and unlike ibn Tamiyya, who nobody listened to, he’s lucky enough to meet and win over a tribal chieftain named Muhammed ibn Saud. Between the two of them, with the resources of ibn Saud, and Wahhab’s fanatical followers, they’re able to take over most of the Arabian peninsula, and the Saudis declare a holy, “true” Muslim state. This gets the attention of the Ottoman Empire, which nominally rules Arabia, and they send an army in and wipe it out. This doesn’t, however, wipe out either the house of Saud or Wahabi Islam, both of which will, about a hundred and some years later, come back in a big way.

Not too long after, in the middle of the 19th century, in India, a madrassah (a Muslim religious school/seminary) is founded in Deoband, and the scholars of this madrassah come to some of the same ideas as ibn Wahhab (although there are some major differences).

These two groups, the Wahabis and the Deobandis, make up the majority of the Salafi movement in Islam, and most of the violent radicals in Sunni Islam identify themselves as Salafi, although most Salafi are themselves not violent. The Rushdie thing was a separate thing. That was primarily the Ayatollah Khomeini (who was a Shi’ite religious leader), who took offense at Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses”, even though he probably had never read it, and issued a “fatwa” (a legal opinion) saying that the book was blasphemous, and that Muslims should do their duty and kill Rushdie and the book’s publishers.

I understand the version of the Koran distributed for free by Saudi embassies around the world are not considered authentic by most Muslims. Is this true, and if so, what are the differences between this version of the Koran and the more generally accepted one? Is it simply a matter of translation, or are there differences in the original Arabic text?

From what Muslims have told me my understanding is that, unlike the Bible which has the KJV, the NIV and whatnot, there is one and only one accepted version of the Koran, learned by rote and passed on exactly as-is (they had the sense to formulate it and get rid of anything they didn’t want in it very early on, so it couldn’t come back to haunt them). Muslims believe that the Koran is the ‘last word’; any change to it is anathema.

Is it a translation? I have never heard of this.

It’s Arabic text on one page with an English translation on the facing page. I assume they produce similar editions in other languages.

I don’t know if the problem is supposed to be in the English translation or in the original Arabic text. If you’ll visit their website, you can request a free copy. (It’s a very handsomely printed book too, I might add.) A Muslim from India at work told me this Koran is corrupted somehow, but I couldn’t tell if he meant the English translation had been heavily slanted towards Wahabism or if the original Arabic text had been tampered with. I would assume that any Muslim messing with the Koran’s original text would get called out very quickly. However, fringe religious sects can have incredible chutzpah.

Huh. I’d bet it’s somehow the English. Or maybe he just dislikes Wahhabis.

Which website is this? I’d actually like a copy just for my own edification. And how likely is it that I’ll go on some kind of list (either FBI or other) for having one mailed to me?

Here’s one.

Well, there are recognized minor variants in places in the Qur’an’s Arabic text, and different editions of the Qur’an may use different ones, so that might be considered “corruption”. However, AIUI Muslims in general don’t regard Qur’anic variants as very important or as reflecting different major recensions of the text.

Hard to find links that are not somehow involved with polemics between modern Muslims and modern evangelical/missionary Christians trying to make a case for the textual unreliability of the Qur’an, but here’s a scholarly article on the subject.

Any other Fatwahs in the last 20 years or so and who issued them?

What was Ayatollah Khomeni’s position at the time and who did he speak to/for?

Aha, that was it. Thanks.

Mate, any Tom Dick or Abdullah can issue a fatwa, as Wikipedia discusses.

Like I said, seems to me best way to understand Islam is to think of Baptists and other extreme low-church Christians who have no hierarchy and where any fellow can declare himself a preacher and set up a “church.”

Head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary state, presumably one can say he spoke for that.

Oh, and thanks, Captain Amazing. That was an excellent thumbnail summary of the topic.

Somewhat more specifically he spoke for those who would consider him a “source of emulation”, i.e. those that had attached themselves specifically to his teachings as a Grand Ayatollah. It would be to those people that his fatwa would be considered binding. But note that said attachment is voluntary and that at any given time there are a number of Grand Ayatollahs around - it corresponds to a very high level of attainment in religious scholarship in Ithna’ashari Shi’ism. It has no correlation with government rankings. Khomeini’s position as “Supreme Leader” and that of Grand Ayatollah were separate, except insomuch as the latter is considered a prerequisite to becoming the former.

As was already mentioned, a fatwa is just a legal decision issued by an expert on Islamic law. Here’s a website put up by a Deobandi mufti with fatwas on everything from whether it’s ok to get an ultrasound to determine the sex of your baby to whether there’s anything wrong with playing the game Monopoly.

Remember how I had said that the first big split in Islam was between Sunni and Shi’a? This began with political dispute over who should be the new head of the Muslim community after Muhammed’s death, but it had religious implications, because the Sunni tended to persecute the Shi’a, and the Shi’a didn’t trust Sunni religious scholars, so they developed their own religious authorities. For instance, Shi’a didn’t adopt any of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence I had talked about in my previous post. Instead, they have their own schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

There are two related concepts in Islamic jurisprudence, ijtihad, which means interpretation or reasoning, and taqlid, or imitation, and these have to do with how you make legal decisions. Ijtihad means using reasoning and logic to interpret the law and come up with a legal result. Taqlid means relying on precedence…finding out what authorities have already said about the topic, and basing your decision on what’s already been decided.

Sometime in the 10th and 11th century, Sunni Islam decided, for various reasons, that “the gates of ijtihad had closed”. From now on, all legal decisions would be based on taqlid, and Islamic judges weren’t allowed to create their own original interpretations of Islam anymore. The Shi’a, who really didn’t give a damn about what Sunni scholars thought, contined to use both ijtihad and taqlid to decide things.

This, of course, raises a problem, because if ijtihad is allowed, then who’s allowed to do it? Because if everyone’s allowed to do it, then that’s pretty chaotic. So, Twelver Shi’a (the Twelvers make up the majority of Shi’as and are mostly in Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan) solved the problem by basically setting up schools that teach Islamic law, philosophy, interpretation, logic, and so on. If you complete the course of study and graduate, you get the title Ayatollah, which gives you the right to do ijtihad. Ayatollahs tend to get followers, who recognize he knows more about Islamic law than they do, and take his advice on how they should live their lives. Eventually, if an Ayatollah is wise enough, respected enough, and gets enough followers, he becomes a Grand Ayatollah. Khomeini was a Grand Ayatollah.

Khomeini was also Supreme Leader of Iran. After the Iranian revolution, Iran was turned into a theocratic state, where ultimate power was placed in the hands of the Grand Ayatollahs. Since Khomeini was the most highly respected of all of them, he was given the title of Supreme Leader, which he kept until his death.

Generally, anyway. But it is probably worth noting that the exceptions to this are legion. In particular the 18th-19th centuries saw a flowering of new Sunni thought addressing ijtihad, most notably Muhammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab himself, but also other “fringe” scholars like the founders of the Sufi Idrisi and Sanusi orders.