Mustafa Abu Sway, Islamist
by Daniel Pipes
In "Fulbright's Terrorist Tie," Asaf Romirowsky and I recently broke the news that Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor teaching at Florida Atlantic University courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, also happens to be "known as an activist" in Hamas, a group on the U.S. government's terrorism list. Now I learn – from Abu Sway's own curriculum vitae no less – that he also served as president of the Islamic Society of Boston during the years 1990-92. The Boston Herald's two-part investigative exposé of the ISB, "Radical Islam: Outspoken cleric, jailed activist tied to new Hub mosque" and "Under suspicion: Hub mosque leader tied to radical groups" (summarized in a weblog entry of mine) establishes its extensive ties to such Islamist and pro-terrorist figures as Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi, Abdurahman Alamoudi, and Osama M. Kandil. That's one more reason for FAU to worry about the man teaching courses to its students on "Introduction to Islam" and "Islam and Modernity." (November 3, 2003)
Nov. 5, 2003 update: "I said at a recent speech that I cherish the Jewish presence and I advocate nonviolence. My immediate reaction is that this is a witch hunt. These are the conjectures and whims of Mr. Pipes. It's very sad it's reached this level. It's obvious he's trying to intimidate people." That was how Abu Sway responded to Romirowsky's and my article about him when interviewed the same day by the Palm Beach Post. But contrast that with what he said in 2002 to an interfaith meeting in Israel:
Has our article prompted the good professor to clean up his act, at least when speaking in English?
Nov. 6, 2003 update: A reader points to Abu Sway's much-posted article, "Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment," an attempt to show how Islam fits twenty-first-century ideas about humans, animals, plants, land, water, and air. Of particular interest in this article is that all the authorities Abu Sway refers to – Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyyah, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, and Sayyid Qutub (the last of which he praises as the "renowned contemporary Muslim scholar") are either proto-Islamist or Islamist. Now, he is entitled to admire Islamists, and this is unrelated to his being an activist in a terrorist organization, but it does point to his ideological compatability with Hamas, something his admirers seek to deny.
Nov. 9, 2003 update: More confirmation of Abu Sway's Islamist orientation comes from two other sources. ABC News quotes him on the definition of jihad: "We talk about a very beautiful concept which is deep in the area of spirituality," though he adds, in a minor concession to over a millennium to Islamic legal realities: "We have to admit that at one point it is permitted for Muslims to have self-defense and this is the equivalent of a 'Just War' in Christian theology." (I discussed this Islamist/academic apologetic at length in "Jihad and the Professors".)
Then Yehezkel Landau, a "faculty associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary," offers a revealing quote from Abu Sway in a pamphlet authored by Landau and published by the U.S. Institute of Peace:
When traditional Muslims find themselves as a minority in society [in Israel or Western countries], their aspiration is to restore or establish sovereign majority status. To imagine shared sovereignty or dual sovereignty is not being faithful to Islamic tradition.
(The square brackets were in the original USIP publication.) Abu Sway's wording is exquisitely polite but his meaning is also very clear: Palestinians cannot accept a state alongside Israel but must have one that replaces Israel. Although Landau goes on to spell this view out in his own words (Abu-Sway, he writes, "advocates a single state, governed in accordance with Islamic principles"), he seems unable to understand its significance, as shown by his calling this chauvinistic demand an "idealistic argument." Also of interest is Landau's slightly hysterical defense of Abu-Sway in a letter to the editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger in which Landau deceptively states that Abu Sway "does not endorse any nation-state, whether Jewish or Palestinian," when of course he endorses an Islamist state.
Dec. 9, 2003 update: Guess what? The students at Florida Atlantic University don't seem to be interested in Abu Sway's offering, a course titled "Islam and Politics." In a private letter to her colleagues dated today, Associate Dean Lynn M. Appleton writes of her hopes that they might
generate some publicity about Abu-Sway's course. Enrollment is small and stagnant. Might instructors be able to publicize it in the remaining days of exam week? Could you put up some posters—very rapidly! -- so that students would have a chance to learn about it before they leave for the term? Is there an email list of majors to which information could be sent? Let me know what you are able to do.
The dean then ends on a plaintive note: "I would hate to see the course cancelled."
Jan. 27, 2004 update: The following provides documentation and added information to complement Asaf Romirowsky's and my article in the New York Sun today.
Not only does our man Abu Sway teach college students but, according to his bio, he helps write textbooks for the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, the resume indicates that he co-authored the Islamic Education book for seventh graders produced by the PA's "Ministry of Education."
And what is in that textbook? Fortunately, the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (a New York organization whose main work "consists of examining the content of school textbooks used in the Middle East") has studied Islamic Education and made the results of its work available. CMIP finds that Abu Sway co-authored a textbook that includes these passages (whose translations I have lightly edited):
These and other passages leave no room for the imagination; the professor teaches Palestinian youth that dying "in the path of God" is something to "rejoice" in. Is this, I can't help but wonder, the education that the Fulbright program and Florida Atlantic University wish to promote?
Jan. 27, 2004 update 2: L. Kirsh, who is attending Abu Sway's class, reports today in a comment at my website:
I am attending a class given by Dr. Abu Sway at LLS [Lifelong Learning Society, a division of FAU]. In this class he has said: "I don't recognize the state of Israel as a legitimate state". This is an exact quote! His views are very clear. When he says that he welcomes a Jewish presence he means a Jewish presence in an Islamic Palestine.
Feb. 8, 2004 update: The memo sent out by an FAU dean (see the Dec. 9, 2003 update above) apparently salvaged Abu Sway's class by getting the faculty to recruit students for it; 21 of them appeared. But as the semester wears on, attrition has set in; the number of students has now declined to just 14.
As for the course's contents:
This reading list includes two Islamists and four apologists; nary a critical word of militant Islam will be found here.
Mar. 23, 2004 update: In response to an article in the Florida Atlantic University Press, Beila Rabinowitz provides important new information on Abu Sway, including the fact that when asked the difference between defending one's rights and terrorism, he replied "Sometimes, there's really a play on words, and it depends on where one stands."
May 30, 2004 update: A student in Abu Sway's class informed me that Abu Sway:
Again, I ask: is this the deceitful education FAU wants its students to receive?
July 20, 2004 update: Scott Alexander, director of Catholic-Muslim studies at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union (CTU), came to public attention as a would-be expert witness for Fawaz Damra, ready to explain why Damra having called Jews "the sons of monkeys and pigs" really did not mean what it would seem it does. Now it turns out that Alexander hosted Abu Sway in 2002, found in him a model for Catholic-Muslim dialogue, and nutures hopes for long-term ties to him: "The visit of Professor Mustafa Abu Sway as keynote speaker made for a stimulating contribution in deliberations but also marked the beginning of a proposed institutional relationship between the CTU and Al Quds University's Islamic Research Center." This linkage shows again how Middle East specialists who apologize for Palestinian violence and militant Islam stick together.
Mar. 11, 2005 update: Oh, those clever Islamists, using freedom of speech, democracy, and other liberal concepts for their violent and totalitarian ends. The Palestinian Authority is attempting to curb incitement to terrorism by Islamist imams, and so is requiring that they submit the text of their khutbas (Friday sermons) to the PA for vetting; refusal to comply will lead to prohibition from delivering sermons. There might even be texts prepared by the PA to read out. To which, our old friend Mustafa Abu Sway, now back at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, responds that this "is an anti-democratic choice and contrary to freedom of expression." Asianews paraphrases him to the effect that "the sermons' anti-Israeli bent and the incitement to violence are just expressions of resistance. 'Here, there is occupation, and where there is occupation, there is resistance'."
Feb. 1, 2006 update: In a long, winding rant on "Islamophobia: Meaning, Manifestations, Causes," Abu Sway calls me a one of the "pseudo-scholars of Islam who abuse the freedom that the First Amendment grants." Comment: Pretty preposterous, no, a Palestinian Islamist declaiming on the First Amendment, about which he has not the least understanding?
Dec. 4, 2008 update: According to a lecture announcement, Abu Sway is a visiting scholar this semester at Bard College.
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