Influence: The Muslim Brotherhood in America

Islamization of Knowledge: al-Alwani’s Islamic Thought Laid Groundwork for Muslim Brotherhood in America

Al-Alwani played a seminal role in laying the intellectual groundwork for Islamists to establish a deeply-rooted and functional Islamic movement in the West.

BY Kyle Shideler · @ShidelerK | July 1, 2016

The late Taha Jaber al-Alwani was a major figure in Islamist scholarship, playing a key role in the founding of numerous Muslim Brotherhood organizations, including the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Alwani also had his hand in a number of international Islamic organizations, including the Saudi-based World Muslim League (WML) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Islamic Fiqh Academy.

Al-Alwani played a seminal role in laying the intellectual groundwork for Islamists to establish a deeply rooted and functional Islamic movement in the West. Many of the successes that Muslim Brotherhood-led movement enjoys today were forged on the intellectual infrastructure established by the Iraqi sheikh decades ago.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a group the US government has proven is tied to Hamas, honored al-Alwani on the cover story of its May/June 2016 edition of its magazine Islamic Horizons.

ISNA’s magazine highlights Alwani’s key role in establishing the “Fiqh of Minorities,” a relatively young area of Islamic jurisprudence intended to establish a legal standard regarding the role of Muslims as minorities in Western societies. He was uniquely suited for this effort with his strong background in Sharia, with a B.A., M.A., and PH.D in Sharia and law from Al Azhar University in Cairo.

The Fiqh of Minorities proposed by Alwani and his colleagues sought to reconcile Islamic legal requirements with the inherent limitations of implementing Sharia that exist within a man-made Western legal system.

One of those requirements was to authorize Muslims to reside permanently within Dar Al-Harb (literally the House of War, areas not under the rule of Sharia) as long as they were engaged in the practice of Dawah.

The role of Dawah, translated as preaching or proselytizing, is perhaps best described by Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayyid Qutb who noted:

This movement uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and beliefs, and it uses physical power and Jihad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili [Pre-Islamic] system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs…”

Establishing a Fiqh of Minorities was a necessary step in order to permit the Islamic Movement (led by the Brotherhood) to move forward with a strategic program for the “settlement” of Islam in the west.

Alwani was also instrumental in the advancement of the concept of the “Islamization of Knowledge,” which viewed Western education as inherently hostile to Islam by westernizing Islamic societies, and proposed a way in turn to “Islamize” Western social sciences in order to achieve the reverse effect. In an influential monograph on the Muslim Brotherhood’s intellectual network in the United States, the Hudson Institute’s Zeyno Baran, described IIIT’s concept:

[Islamization of Knowledge] could be a euphemism for the rewriting of history to support Islamist narratives. For example, after such Islamization, Spain is permanently relabeled “Al-Andalus” (as it was called during Muslim rule) and the country becomes the rightful property of Muslims. That Spain was first conquered from Christian peoples before it was re-conquered by them does not matter—Islamists still believe that the region “belongs” to Muslims.

This view of a conflict between Western and Islamic ideology being carried out by means of education forms the basis for what was described in the seminal work Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan [PDF], as a “civilizational battle” between the two sides.

That said, however, Alwani opposed a narrow construction of the “Islamization of Knowledge” methodology, noting in his work The Islamization of Knowledge: Yesterday and Today [PDF] that the goal was far more than a mere “ideological discourse” by Islamists and instead a far broader goal upon a longer timeline.

Nevertheless both concepts of “civilizational battle” and a Fiqh of Minorities would form the backbone of Islamist efforts in the United States. This is best described in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Brotherhood in North America written in 1991 and which lists groups Alwani co-founded among Brotherhood assets.

The document explains how Brotherhood Dawah practitioners would counter Western institutions by waging “civilization jihad” to undermine the West.

The creation of the Islamic Centers, Islamic schools, and Islamic courts detailed in the Memorandum were necessary to “settle” Islam in Western society in the Brotherhood view.

But none of these institutions could operate without a jurisprudence that detailed how they would exist within the confines of Sharia while remaining subject to limitations imposed by the West and which would address the inevitable questions that were to arise as a result.

Alwani’s role in laying a relatively “modern” Sharia groundwork for Muslim/Non-Muslim interactions in the West has been taken to imply that Alwani’s views were necessarily “moderate,” in any meaningful use of the term. This is a mistake.

Indeed, during his time as a leader of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), Alwani participated in providing tens of thousands of dollars to a front group of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to federal law enforcement affidavit.

Alwani also issued a fatwa in support of jihad against Israel stating,

Jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine; that no person or authority may settle the Jews on the land of Palestine or cede to them any part thereof, or recognize any right therein for them.

Alwani also issued a fatwa on behalf of the Fiqh Council of North America, upholding “earthly punishments” for homosexuals.

Alwani’s fatwas make clear that the Fiqh of Minorities was never intended to undo or undermine key Sharia obligations that put the Islamic legal system at odds with Western constitutional norms. Rather, Fiqh of Minorities is about easing the burdens of religious practice and upon Muslims residing in territories, which are, at least temporarily, ruled by man-made law.

This can perhaps best be seen in Alwani’s endorsement of the English-language edition of the Shafi’i manual of Sharia known as Reliance of the Traveller, which upholds jihad warfare as obligatory, permits the taking of sex slaves, and calls for the death of homosexuals, adulterers and apostates. As Andy McCarthy wrote in The Grand Jihad,

Dr. Alwani’s lavish praise for Reliance of the Traveller was significant enough to be included in the book’s preface, in the form of a thoroughgoing IIIT “report” endorsing the manual’s rendering of sharia. He described the translation as an “eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence,” the purpose of which was to make a faithful interpretation of sharia “accessible” to English speakers who are not fluent in the original Arabic. “The book will be of great use,” he elaborated, “in America, Britain, and Canada,” among other countries.

And so it has been.

McCarthy himself appeared at a recent Senate hearing entitled, “Willful Blindness: Consequences of Agency Efforts To Deemphasize Radical Islam in Combating Terrorism” with his dog-eared copy of the al-Alwani-endorsed Reliance of the Traveller.


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