Students of Carl Ernst or of his colleague Omid Safi, or of other professors in other universities where the Middle East Studies Association MESA-Nostrans (google "MESA Nostra") have steadily infiltrated and now run everything having to do with teaching about Islam and topics connected to Islam, may find amusing the following interview with Carl Ernst, upon the occasion of his winning what is certainly not going to be his last Arab-funded prize, given for his services, past, present and implied future, to Islam, and its "correct reception" in the United States.
Here it is:
Answers with Carl Ernst on the Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement in the Humanities awarded for Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (UNC Press, 2003)
UNC Press, May 7, 2004
How was the book nominated?
Very unexpectedly, I was contacted by Dr. Seham al-Freih, a professor of Arabic literature at Kuwait University, on May 7, when she called to ask me to accept the prize. I had never heard of the Bashrahil Prize, because this year is the first time it has been awarded. After making inquiries, I learned that the foundation established for the Bashrahil Prize is an organization dedicated to the support of literature and culture, and on that basis I was happy to accept the award.
How did Dr. Al-Freih become aware of the book, and why did she nominate it?
Dr. Al-Freih visited North Carolina in January 2004 to take part in the Muslim Networks Consortium meeting held at Duke University; she had been invited by Prof. miriam cooke (Duke) when the latter visited Kuwait to evaluate the Arabic program at the university there. The Muslim Networks Consortium, now consisting of nearly thirty universities in the US and a number of other countries, was created by a group of scholars at Duke and UNC, based on a series of seminars that began in 1999. The aim of the Muslim Networks Consortium is to create new models for Islamic studies, moving away from academic Orientalism, Middle East area studies, and inter-religious dialogue. By using analytical tools such as network analysis, and by embodying a new academic network that cuts across existing boundaries between academic disciplines and geographic regions, this group hopes to bring Islamic studies into the heart of the humanities and social sciences in the American university, instead of relegating them to the status of an exotic subject reserved for specialists. Literature and the arts are key elements for the Muslim Networks project. Among the fruits of the Muslim Networks Consortium is a new publication series called Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks, published by the University of North Carolina Press; my book Following Muhammad is the first book of the series, and its publication was one of the items discussed at the workshop.
Dr. Al-Freih was very impressed by what she saw of our efforts, and she expressed the wish to support this new initiative. As a member of the jury for the Bashrahil Prize, she was in a position to take action by nominating Following Muhammad for the prize at its board meeting in May; she did so with a 7-page letter in Arabic that summarized the contents of the book and highlighted its main features, especially the fact that it is written in a clear style that is accessible to non-specialist readers.. She particularly emphasized the point that my book makes regarding phenomena such as extremism and terrorism, as being the results of particular modern political mentalities rather than being somehow essentially part of Islam. She concludes, "Some cultivated Arabs believe that the author joins his voice to the voices of the elite thinkers (like Edward Said) in rejecting the notion of an absolute totalizing concept of Islam, which customarily appears in the form of fundamentalist groups, as Islam in the eyes of the West. Through the attempt to demonstrate that there is pluralism in Islam, this diversity reaches the difference of traditions in Muslim societies wherever they are. The author also calls for the need to recognize the importance of seeing these different kinds of pluralism within Islam."
Why was Following Muhammad nominated for this prize, rather than other books on Islam?
Muslims around the world have become acutely aware that, especially since the terrorist attacks against US targets in September 2001, there has been a spate of publications in America that have increasingly argued that terrorism is inextricably associated with Islam. These anti-Islamic publications range from the urbane and scholarly condemnations of modern Islamic countries by Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis to the rabid denunciations of Islam emanating both from right-wing think tanks and fundamentalist Christian organizations. This stream of negativity causes considerable concern in majority Muslim countries, since these books offer, explicitly or implicitly, a justification for new military incursions that will inevitably be seen as a new colonial regime to the peoples of the Middle East.
Following Muhammad is not an apologetic defense of Islam, nor was it written by a Muslim; defenses of Islam based on Islamic ideals are indeed readily available, but they fail to address the questions raised by the conflicts of recent years. By offering a reasoned critique of colonialism as well as a critique of ideologies like fundamentalism, Following Muhammad demonstrates that it is possible for an American author to provide a fair-minded introduction to Islam for non-Muslims. The book also provides access to Islamic civilization and culture from aesthetic and ethical perspectives, which can be appreciated by readers of any background, and it makes clear how the Qur'an and especially the Prophet Muhammad function as centers for the values and aspirations of Muslims from many backgrounds. Moreover, by emphasizing the multiplicity and pluralism characteristic of Muslim societies throughout history, the book makes it possible to reconsider the phenomenon of Islam from a non-fundamentalist perspective (whether on the part of Muslims or non-Muslims).
What is the purpose of the prize, and who were the other winners?
The Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement was intended primarily as a recognition and encouragement of artistic creativity in the different areas of Arabic literature. In this respect it aspires to achieve what the Pulitzer Prize does in America, or the Booker Prize in the UK. While certain other major cultural prizes have existed previously in Arab countries (e.g., the King Faisal Prize offered by the Saudi government, and the Owais Prize awarded by the Arab Emirates), the Bashrahil Prize is distinctive in being offered by a private family foundation that is headed by an eminent contemporary Arab poet, Dr. Abdullah Bashrahil. With this award, Dr. Bashrahil and his family honor the memory of their father, the late Shaykh Muhammad Salih Bashrahil, who was an eminent philanthropist in Mecca (known particularly for his founding of an important hospital and also for an equestrian school there)."
From the article above, note carefully the following:
"The aim of the Muslim Networks Consortium is to create new models for Islamic studies, moving away from academic Orientalism, Middle East area studies, and inter-religious dialogue. By using analytical tools such as network analysis, and by embodying a new academic network that cuts across existing boundaries between academic disciplines and geographic regions, this group hopes to bring Islamic studies into the heart of the humanities and social sciences in the American university, instead of relegating them to the status of an exotic subject reserved for specialists."
Yes: "this group [the Muslim Networks Consortium] hopes to bring Islamic studies into the heart of the humanities and social sciences in the American university."
Islamic studied will not be an "exotic subject reserved for specialists" [i.e., those who may know what they are talking about, though so far MESA Nostra, and Arab money, has done a fabulous job at keeping those "specialists" duly inhibited or made sure that only apologists for Islam end up with tenured jobs].
And how will this plan, "to bring Islamic studies into the heart of the humanities and social sciences in the American university"? Oh, by staying away from the texts, the tenets, the attitudes, the atmospherics of Islam. By staying away from the concept of "Jihad" and the concept of the "dhimmi." By staying away from the texts of Islam -- Qur'an (unexpurgated, and not the ludicrous "Approaching the Qur'an" by Michael Sells that none other than Carl Ernst pushed the university to have incoming Innocent freshmen at UNC read the summer before they arrived, in order upon arrival to "take part" in a campus-wide discussion based on that required, but completely misleading, reading.
No, now that it is getting harder and harder to hide the texts of Islam, for they are all on-line (you can get, with a click, five translations of the Qur'an laid out synoptically for easy comparison), now that too many people are beginning to find out about the Hadith, and the "authoritative" muhaddithin, and the assigned levels of likely "authenticity," and those Hadith too, are a click away, that poses a problem for the likes of Carl Ernst. And so too does the Sira. And of course, the biggest problem of all for the likes of Carl Ernst is not Robert Spencer. It isn't Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It isn't Wafa Sultan, or Ali Sina, or Walid Shoebat, or Azam Kamguian, or Irfan Khawaja, or even, lower down, Irshad Manji. No: the biggest problem for Carl Ernst, and his careful new hire, Omid Safi (who had been previously blocked from getting that job at Harvard Divinity School, in "Islamic studies," that he so coveted and that Leila Ahmad and Diana Eck and William Graham had so tirelessly pushed, but the clearer heads on the faculty prevailed).
Here's another quote from the interview with Ernst above:
"Dr. Al-Freih [who visited Ernst in situ in Chapel Hill, and who nominated Ernst for the Bashrahil Prize] was very impressed by what she saw of our efforts, and she expressed the wish to support this new initiative. As a member of the jury for the Bashrahil Prize, she was in a position to take action by nominating Following Muhammad for the prize at its board meeting in May; she did so with a 7-page letter in Arabic that summarized the contents of the book and highlighted its main features, especially the fact that it is written in a clear style that is accessible to non-specialist readers.. She particularly emphasized the point that my book makes regarding phenomena such as extremism and terrorism, as being the results of particular modern political mentalities rather than being somehow essentially part of Islam."
Yes, indeed. "She particularly emphasized the point that my book makes regarding phenomena such as extremism and terrorism, as being the results of particular modern political mentalities rather than being somehow essentially part of Islam."
Got that? Make sure, students, that you do. Under no circumstances, if you take Carl Ernst's course, or that of Omid Safi, must you ever give the slightest hint of conceivably wondering if, after all, given what is in the Qur'an, Hadith, and Sira, might there not be just a teeny-weeny connection, just the eensiest little connection, between such "phenomena" as "extremism and terrorism" and that Total System of Islam with its Complete Regulation of Life and, at no additional cost, a Complete Explanation of the Universe. Aren't there just a few passages -- just a few -- that might lead an unsuspecting an innocent Muslim to conclude that perhaps "terrorism" and that other "phenomenon" that Ernst calls "extremism" might indeed be connected not unnaturally, with those many quite clear passages in the Qur'an, those hundreds or thousands of relevant Hadith, and those details from the Sira, or life of Muhammad including the slaughtering of the bound prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, and the attack on the inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis in order to obtain loot, and the assassination of Asma bint Marwan and Abu Akaf, and the consummated marriage with little Aisha when she was nine, and the theme of bloody battles, in 78 of which Muhammad took part, and the Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyya, which forms the basis for all subsequent Muslim agreements made with Infidels, which are to be broken as soon as the Muslims feel strong enough, and of course, such important bits of advice, nothing like the Sermon on the Mount, as Muhammad's "war is deception."
Students, ask those who have studied with Ernst but are not majoring in Islamic studies and have gone on to other things. Ask if they can define such terms as "Jihad" and "dhimmi" and "naskh." Find out if they can list four or five of the disabilities which dhimmis, that is the non-Muslims who were "ahl al-kitab" or People of the Book, were forced to endure, if they wished to avoid immediate forced conversion or death. Ask them if, since they had taken Ernst's course, they had learned anything that might call into question the usefulness, or the truthfulness, of his course, and of his carefully-composed syllabus of readings, with no Schacht or Jeffrey or Snouck Hurgronje or Vajda or Fagnan or any of the other great Western scholars of Islam, but of course, bristling with such things as Said's "Orientalism" and Maria Rosa Menocal's fantasy, "Ornament of the World." (google that title, and "Jihad Watch," for a sampling)
Go ahead. You would do better, of course, simply to read on your own. You will know less about Islam, and have to undo the damage that Ernst's teaching will cause you, later on. But you are young. You can read the the articles, and the books he will carefully leave out altogether, or attempt pre-emptively, as with Robert Spencer, to blacken his name, or mock him, before you can decide for yourselves. It's an old trick, and an obvious one. But look -- those invitations, that Arab financial support for this or that "workshop" or "consortium," those Muslim colleagues whom one does not wish even in the slightest to offend, that attempt of someone who started from his own Spiritual Search and found Islam to make sure that nothing harms the image of Islam in the lives of his charges, and no doubt at the back of one's mind there is that vision of the letter that comes in the mail -- or is it a telephone call, just like the Nobel -- announcing that yes, you Professor Carl Ernst, have won the King Faisal Prize in the proud category of "Services to Islam."
Who could resist? Students -- oh, who cares what they learn or are kept from learning. They can take care of themselves. Besides, there's a completely new crop, every four years.