The politics of takfir (excommunication) in the contemporary Muslim world is at its peak because of the subtle sophisticated promotion of the phenomenon by external forces. This does not mean that takfir has not been known in Islamic history; it existed and still does in all major religions.
Let us focus on the issue of takfir within the contemporary Islamic world by discussing what we consider to be the most sophisticated “takfir-promoting” book in recent history: Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US by Trita Parsi (Yale University Press, 2007). To the casual observer, Parsi’s book may appear as if it has nothing to do with takfir. This can be considered as one of its major “achievements”: to subtly alter people’s perceptions.
Prior to analyzing the book, two principles need to be borne in mind. First, the promotion of takfir by NATO regimes and their surrogates has two components; one is conceptual, the other practical. The conceptual factor revolves around promoting the notion that Islamic Iran and Shi‘is in general are “pro-West” and have had a historical “alliance” with the Jews. The corporate media regularly states how Iran and the US are “natural” allies; only the Islamic government in Tehran has disrupted this relationship. If it were to be replaced by another regime, relations would be back to “normal.” Another major aspect is NATO’s alliance with the despotic Bani Saud monarchy through which the myth of Ibn Saba (along with other takfiri mythologies) is propagated under an Islamic veneer.
On a practical level this manifests itself through conscious or subconscious half-truth propaganda that projects any interaction of Islamic Iran and its allies (whether Shi‘i or Sunni — the Salafis often accuse Hamas of being an Israeli pawn) with the imperialist powers as treachery. Both of these components complement each other and NATO’s soft and hard power institutions have mastered the technique of using the takfiri phenomenon in pursuing their strategic, geopolitical and economic goals.
Also, when glancing at history and analyzing events based on studies conducted by people whose worldview lies in materialistic/cynical, non-Islamic, legal and philosophical notions, it is crucial to keep the following Qur’anic ayat in mind. In Surah Aal ‘Imran, Allah (swt) says,
He [Allah] it is who has bestowed upon you [O Muhammad] from on high this Writ, containing manifestations that are clear in and by themselves — and these are the essence of the divine Writ — as well as others that are allegorical. Those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine Writ that has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create confusion], and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save Allah knows its final meaning. So those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say, “We are committed to it; the whole [of the divine Writ] from our Sustainer — albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight (3:7).
In Surah al-Jathiyah, Allah (swt) says,
Have you ever considered [the kind of man] who makes his own desires his deity, and whom Allah has [thereupon] let go astray, knowing [that his mind is closed to all guidance], and whose hearing and heart He has sealed, and upon whose sight He has placed a veil? Who, then, could guide him after Allah [has abandoned him]? Will you not then think for yourselves? (45:23).
Both these ayat have a spiritual as well as temporal aspect. We will briefly focus on the temporal aspects here.
The study of history and a careful examination of current affairs provide ample instances of historians or pundits cherry-picking information that suits their worldview and desires. For example, contemporary regimes in the Muslim world focus on Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) treaty with the Yahud of Madinah in order to justify their own treaties (subservience) with the Zionist State of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. Western Islamophobic/Orientalist historians often focus on the Prophet’s (pbuh) use of zakah, khums and sadaqah immediately after the liberation of Makkah as “proof” of his worldliness and desire to acquire temporal power. Any analyst or author whose understanding of socio-political factors is limited to a relativist, materialistic and cynical view of the world will see the actions of others only within that framework. For Parsi and his ilk, Islamic Iran’s or anyone else’s ideological, spiritual and idealistic values and views are there merely for the acquisition of temporal power. Western scholars, who qualify the oppressive Umayyad style of governance as “realpolitik,” often use such insulting reasoning to explain the Prophet’s (pbuh) conduct in order to undermine his standing and bring him down to their level.
Let us now examine some of the key arguments Parsi proffers in his book. Firstly, Parsi begins by building his case (p. 84) that Islamic Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric is not real and is used merely to win leadership position among the Arabs. This plays perfectly into the Ibn Saba myth. The question arises, why would Islamic Iran want to make powerful enemies like the US and the global Zionist lobby by being hostile to Israel in public while conducting business with the entity behind the scenes? If Islamic Iran was concerned merely about power, why would it not cut a deal with the Zionists like most Arabian regimes have done and enjoy the “perks” of servitude? The UAE, Jordan and a host of other Arabian potentates have done just that. There are of course some groups inside Islamic Iran that would like to forget about Islamic principles and strike a deal with the Zionists or even the devil for worldly gains. The munafiqin (dual-loyalists) are a constant phenomenon in an Islamic state system since the time of the Prophet (pbuh). In Islamic Iran, these groups are not, however, anywhere in or near decision-making positions. The proof can be found in the fact that the Palestinians continue to receive help, both material and financial from the Islamic Republic. And the Palestinians also continue to receive training.
Secondly, Parsi tries to paint every Iranian contact with Israel or the US as an act of collaboration or opportunism. Based on this reasoning every contact between the US and the USSR during the Cold War would be considered an act of cooperation between the two. During the 10 years of constant struggle and conflict with the Makkan mushriks, the Prophet (pbuh) was in regular contact with them. He even married women related to the Makkan oppressors. Was the Prophet (pbuh) collaborating with the mushriks? During the First World War, many European monarchs were related by blood ties. Czar Nikolai II of Russia was the first cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and at the beginning of the war, they were in regular contact with each other. Was Czar Nikolai II plotting against himself with the German Kaiser?
Thridly, Parsi also claims that Islamic Iran offered to disarm Hizbullah (p. 244). Ronen Cohen, a former military intelligence officer, told Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in August 2015 that “Hizbullah is Israel’s most challenging enemy and our main reference point for some 30 years now.” Anyone who has even an elementary understanding of Muslim East politics knows that Hizbullah is Iran’s most reliable external partner and one of its key deterrents.
Parsi further claims that Iran got so scared when the US invaded Iraq that it sent a proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann, with almost capitulating offers that Washington rejected (pp. 243–44). This assertion has been dismissed by the neocon Washington insider Michael Rubin, a former staff adviser on Iran and Iraq at the office of the Secretary of Defense. Also, if the Bush regime knew back in 2003 that Iran “got scared” of their presence in Iraq, why did it not aggressively push for regime change or even invade Iran? Based on Parsi’s argument, this would have been a natural step for the US to take. We know through General Wesley Clark (interview with Democracy Now, March 7, 2007) that soon after 9/11, the Pentagon had drawn up plans to attack seven countries. After Iraq, Syria and Iran were high on the list. So why did the US get cold feet?
Fourthly, if the Obama regime knew that Iran could be forced to give in on strategic points, why did it sign the P5+1 deal on July 14, 2015 on mutually beneficial terms? Islamic Iran went through great pains to help and support Hizbullah and has adopted a difficult position in Syria in order to safeguard Hizbullah from a global plot. Why would it offer to neutralize its most effective regional deterrent when there is no real reason to do so? Islamic Iran assisted in the formation of Hizbullah in the 1980s. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran with the help of the US, the USSR and a host of Arabian regimes. Surely it would have made more sense for Iran to disarm Hizbullah in the 1980s in order to undermine US support for Saddam and acquire support of the global Zionist lobby. Parsi’s cynical worldview reveals more about his lack of understanding of international relations than his grasp of the reality in Iran.
There are some points in Parsi’s book that expose his cynical description of Islamic Iran. These cater, even if subconsciously, to the takfiri-painted picture of the Islamic Republic. Firstly, describing Iran’s attempt to acquire through the black market desperately needed weapons possessed by Israel (p.129) for defense against Saddam’s aggression, Parsi claims that Iranians contacted Yitzhak Segev, Israel’s last military attaché to Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution. According to Parsi some unknown Ayatullah Iskandari initiated contact to acquire weapons in exchange for the release of Israeli soldiers who had been captured by Hizbullah in Lebanon. Parsi quotes Segev, who seems to be the only source of this story and writes, “Segev soon realized that the Iranians had no interest in relations with Israel. Rather, they just needed Israel’s help in getting US-manufactured weapons and spare parts. They played games with me,” Segev recalled. “After three meetings with them, nothing came of it because the soldiers were already dead,” as he latter came to ﬁnd out. In this episode as in most other parts of his book, Parsi intentionally or unintentionally confuses intelligence maneuvering with collaboration. Parsi’s supposedly “strongest” proof of “exposing” Israeli-Iranian “collaboration” is on page 129 when he quotes Eliezer Tsafrir, head of Mossad in Iran and Iraq in the 1960s and 1970s. Obviously Tsafrir is a biased source and someone who would naturally want to defame Islamic Iran in order to turn the Arab street even more against Islamic Iran. Mossad is a master in divide and conquer tactics.
Secondly, in describing one episode from the Iran-Contra affair (p. 119), Parsi writes, “Key administration members opposed the deal, but the prospect of winning the release of the hostages was too tempting for [President Ronald] Reagan. On August 6, 1985, the president gave the plan a green light, and the missiles were shipped off. Even though the missiles went to the radical wing of the government — and not to the moderates as Ghorbanifar had promised — the arms-for-hostage operations continued unabated.” The Iran-Contra affair is one of the favorite tools cynics have used to discredit Iran. However, the episode mentioned above clearly highlights the security-intelligence nature of the affair, rather than Tehran’s collaboration with Washington.
After the Battle of Badr, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ransomed the Makkan prisoners of war in exchange for their teaching Muslims in Madinah to read and write. Give and take is part of the Prophetic Sunnah and politics in general, provided fundamental principles are not breached. While the Treaty of Hudaibiyah was being drawn up, Suhayl ibn ‘Amr asked the Prophet (pbuh) to remove the basmalah from the document. The Prophet (pbuh) complied. If Suhayl had asked that the document should start in the names of “Laat” and “Manaat,” the Prophet (pbuh) would have categorically rejected such a suggestion.
While not meant to be a detailed review of Parsi’s book — a fairly sophisticated piece of half-truth propaganda — it fits into the Western promotion of takfir in the Muslim world. Those who might be inclined to think of this as a conspiracy theory should consider the facts that have been presented as proof. The neocon think tank, the Hudson Institute, correctly pointed out, “…some evidence indicates that ISIS is using textbooks in schools in Raqqa and Jarabulus whose contents and covers have been plagiarized directly from the Saudi Ministry of Education. The textbook on Tawhid (Monotheism): a Central Doctrine in Islam, is the most noteworthy example.” No person with even limited understanding can deny that the Saudi regime is Washington’s servant in the Muslim East; virtually everything that takes place in the Saudi-occupied Arabian Peninsula gets direct or indirect clearance from the US.
Islamic academics and researches should review Parsi’s book in detail. Leaving this type of sophisticated propaganda unchallenged creates further confusion and leads to sedition in the already troubled Muslim East.