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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Imam Zaid Shakir- Thomas Friedman: Prisoner in a Glass House


Cross-posted from New Islamic Directions

In a recent New York Times Op-ed entitled “”, Thomas Friedman states that Muslims lack the moral courage to condemn the murderous outrages of “jihadi” extremists. Part of the reason for this moral failure, in his view, is because the West has not demanded that Muslims take responsibility for their societies, beginning with a strong condemnation of their violent extremists. Without such a condemnation, coupled with concerted action, America’s efforts to rebuild the Muslim world in her image will prove a futile endeavor.

Mr. Friedman posits that very few Muslim political or religious leaders are willing to challenge the violent ideology of Islamic extremists. What Mr. Friedman apparently fails to realize is that there is an intense ideological struggle underway in the Muslim world, and at the heart of that struggle is the effort of orthodox scholars to delegitimize the arguments of those who would use Islamic teachings to justify wanton violence and destruction. Furthermore, contrary to his assessment, orthodoxy is gaining the upper hand.

In making his argument, Friedman quotes Mamoun Fandy, an analyst at London’s Institute of Strategic Studies, as saying: “What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan.” Indeed, there are Muslims who are concerned about the fate of their coreligionists in the West, and are quick to comment on the real or perceived injustices involving Muslims in western lands. However, most of those commentators condemn the violence of the modern-day Khawarij [1] with far more words, passion and fervor.

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By way of example, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, one of the preeminent jurists in the Muslim world, has written a brief statement on the Swiss minaret controversy. However, he has recently written an entire book condemning the violence and misinterpretations of the so-called “jihadis”. That book is currently being translated into English and will be available in this country early next year.

Shaykh bin Bayyah is not alone. Many scholars from al-Azhar University, the most prestigious center of learning in the Muslim world, have been engaging in a deep dialogue with members of al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyya, Jihad Islami and other violent Egyptian groups. This dialogue has led to hundreds if not thousands of members of these groups renouncing violence against civilian and noncombatant forces. It has resulted in thousands of pages of literature and a deep societal debate in Egypt. Dr. Sherman Jackson, an Islamic studies and Arabic professor at the University of Michigan, is currently translating some of this literature into English and has lectured extensively about this initiative.

A similar effort by scholars and jurists in Yemen has also met with tremendous success. Even within the jihad movement, there is a deep debate about the moral sanction and strategic efficacy of violence against civilian and noncombatant targets. An excellent article, The Rebellion Within, examining this debate in great detail, appeared in the June 2, 2008 edition of the New Yorker Magazine. Written by Lawrence Wright, the article highlighted one of the most influential theorists of the jihad movement, Dr. Fadl, born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, and his rejection of the wanton violence of al-Qaeda. In England, Johann Hari has recently written in The Independent about similar ideological debates and their influence on British-born Muslim radicals.

This debate about the moral validity and strategic efficacy of wanton violence is raging in every Muslim society. Even in Palestine, many have questioned the moral, strategic, and tactical efficacy of suicide bombings against Israeli targets. The disappearance of that tactic there indicates that the voices arguing against it have prevailed. One wonders how Mr. Friedman can miss all of these developments as he pontificates to “infantilized” Muslims about what they must do to put their house in order.

Mr. Friedman is free to condemn Muslims for a lack of moral courage. However, the same issue he raises can be posed to American political and religious leaders. Namely, when will they find the moral courage to seriously challenge the American military machine that is currently spending a trillion dollars a year, more than the rest of the world combined, for war? If Mr. Friedman thinks that the wanton violence visited upon Muslims by America is less a factor in stimulating Muslims to contemplate violent actions than the agitation of al-Qaeda or similar movements, he is seriously mistaken.

I ask Mr. Friedman, are not Americans just as “objectified” in their passive acquiescence to what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the “military industrial complex”, and the tremendous violence ensuing from it, as are Muslims, according to his view? If, as Mr. Friedman argues, Islam needs a civil war to confront the odious idea of a violent minority that believes it is okay to murder Muslims and non-Muslims who will not accept “the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate,” does not America need another civil war to challenge the foul idea that any country, Muslim or non-Muslim, that will not submit to American strategic designs can be bombed, invaded, occupied, or otherwise systematically destroyed?

Yes, Americans defeated the idea of slavery domestically. However, have we as a society defeated that idea internationally? What is the fate of those weak people and states that will not submit to our political and economic domination? Are they not brutalized in the most horrific fashion like rebellious slaves?

As Mr. Friedman argues, a corrosive mindset has indeed set in since 9/11. That corrosion is not limited to what he mentions. This mindset also states that hapless Muslims are the major cause of violence and instability in the world, and to deal with them we can engage in preemptive wars, we can develop a generation of tactical nuclear weapons to use against them, we can bomb, invade and occupy their lands on the flimsiest pretexts, and we can silently sit back as they are demonized and dehumanized in the media – as if we do not know what the ensuing political climate has led to in places like Bosnia and Rwanda.

I will make Mr. Friedman a wager. I bet that Muslims will wage an ideological civil war to address their violent extremists long before Americans will. I bet that long after Muslims have reclaimed their subjectivity in this regard, most “objectified” Americans will still be passively acquiescing to the imperatives of the military, and now, terrorist, industrial complexes. Like Mr. Friedman, their failure to meaningfully address America’s militarism, aggression and violence will render them prisoners in a glass house.

[1] The Khawarij were a fanatical group who emerged in the early days of Islam. One of their well-known excesses was removing Muslims who disagreed with them from the fold of Islam, and then making it lawful to kill them.

Imam Zaid Shakir

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Imam Zaid Shakir is a scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. In 2001, he was the first American male graduate from Syria's Abu Nour University.



  1. Ahmed B.

    February 18, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    This is a powerful, powerful article.

    Mr. Friedman is free to condemn Muslims for a lack of moral courage. However, the same issue he raises can be posed to American political and religious leaders. Namely, when will they find the moral courage to seriously challenge the American military machine that is currently spending a trillion dollars a year, more than the rest of the world combined, for war?

    I felt giddy after reading that! At the same time, I wonder if I fall into that same category of U.S. citizens who watch idly as the American war machine continues its “nation building.”

    Thanks to whoever re-posted this article! May Allah bless and continue to guide Imam Zaid Shakir.

    • Abu Ahmed B.

      February 20, 2010 at 9:08 AM


      Well said.

  2. Bruno DeGourville

    February 18, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
    السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاتة

    What a great concise, thourough, articulate and powerful piece!

    Although I wonder about the necessity to confront a so called journalist known even among his Jewish coreligionists as being part of the Israeli hasbarah?
    (ref. The crazy, irrational beliefs of Muslims from Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer who could hardly be accused of anti-semitism. Also from the same author: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of “terrorism”. Or from Helena Cobban, hardly an anti-semite either: T. Friedman “sharing” with and “lecturing” IDF general staff.)

    Thomas Friedman’s bias and disingenuity towards anything related to Islam has already been called to attention by Middle East expert Juan Cole in the following post dated 2005: Tom Friedman is a Middle East expert who knows a lot about Islam. Why, then, does he keep saying misleading things?.

    For whoever has been following Friedman’s writings and public interventions, it is obvious that little does he concern himself with truth, accuracy and the fundamental ethics of journalism. So again I am asking: what is the point to once more call Friedman to account when he seems so bent on deliberately ignoring intellectual and professional rectitude?


    • amad

      February 18, 2010 at 8:59 AM

      Agree, but we cannot deny his influence.

      I am a bit surprised that Saudis continue to approach him as being some sort of reasonable voice for peace. He even supported the Gaza massacre for the most part. He is just part of the grander Israel Lobby.

      I did enjoy his book on globalization though… wish he would just stick to that instead of meddling his biased opinion into world politics.

      • Bruno DeGourville

        February 21, 2010 at 6:07 AM

        Maybe realizing Friedman’s power and influence they don’t want to give up on their da’wah too easily? And isn’t persistence in da’wah a quality?

        I would certainly not count on inexperience or immaturity in anything politic to explain it! The Saudis are anything but inexperienced or immature in matters of politics!

        • Umm Bilqis

          February 21, 2010 at 10:55 AM

          True, the Saudis should continue to address Friedman the way Prophet Musa (Moses peace be upon him) addressed Pharoah for the purposes of dawah and to stop his promotion of oppression, fear mongering and war.

          I really enjoyed reading the way Sh. Shakir dealt with this issue, this is good for publication and provoking thought for those who read and listen to Friedman’s drivel.

          We still need others Muslim and Non Muslim to address his obvious agenda and counter it with a message of peace.

      • Bruno DeGourville

        February 25, 2010 at 4:57 AM

        Dear Amad:

        I’m having second thoughts.

        Although i was merely suggesting a possible answer to your question, namely why “Saudis continue to approach him as being some sort of reasonable voice for peace”, I realize now that by making any speculative response, I am hastily assuming that it is true that Saudi officials still continue to give Friedman consideration.

        But knowing a bit about Saudis, I gave it a second thought and did some research. Nowhere was I able to find any evidence of such positive attitude towards Friedman from the Saudis. So if you could provide me with some evidence to support your opinion, it would be greatly appreciated.

        Furthermore, since you seem to appreciate Friedman’s view on globalization I would suggest anyone concerned with truth consider people’s background and education when trying to assess their opinions and theories. And in the case of Thomas Friedman he is hardly an accomplished economist. I would also caution anyone to give credence to someone who once said: “”But I’m not trying to convert anybody. I’m just trying to explain globalization to the world. You ignore it at your peril.” How presumptuous and arrogant a stance? You world don’t know. And I know! I am here to to teach the world!

        Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. of the Mises Institute brilliantly exposed the sham that is Friedman, not only on global affairs but also on economic matters: One Big Thing Wrong


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  4. ummabdullah

    February 18, 2010 at 4:00 PM


  5. um

    February 18, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    ma sha Allah, excellent piece.

    the US has by far the largest military defense spending budget in the world.

    it is the #1 exporter of arms in the world.

    look at the list of top arms exporters in the world, you will not see 1 muslim-majority country on it.

    • Bruno DeGourville

      February 21, 2010 at 6:22 AM


      What is wrong with having the largest military defense spending budget in the world? are you one of those people brainwashed by MSM and politically correct buzz words?
      There is nothing wrong having the biggest military budget. There is nothing wrong with being the biggest global arm exporter! What might be wrong is what you do with those arms. But that’s a different debate altogether and it wasn’t your point.

      At the times of its global zenith, the Ummah was probably in that position once (although i don’t have any historical statistics on that and i am assuming). As you said yourself , today you don’t see one muslim majority country in the list of top arms exporters. And maybe that’s why others can trample our land and tell us what to think and what to do with impunity?

      I’m certainly not advocating a military solution to our problems. I am merely pointing out a flaw in the thinking process for the sake of blaming others instead of focusing on our own shortcomings. Using MSM politically correct concepts.


      • Naseebah

        February 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM

        Some countries have a huge financial investment in the continuation of conflict. that is part of the industrial military complex — politics, military, and commerce having a vested interest in the continuation of conflict — that President Eisenhower talked about and which Imam Zaid Shakir refers to in his article.

        The numbers quoted affirm that war is a big, big business.

        The deep structural and psychological investment of a society in war and its continuation should at least be acknowledged by that same society when it lays the exclusive blame for war on others’ doorsteps.

        I don’t doubt that a society should be able to defend itself, but in the US, as elsewhere, that defense system has become its own self-perpetuating juggernaut. The arms industry fuels the very conflicts that come back to bite that society.

        I didn’t even mention the convulated nuclear defense system, which even vp cheney when first briefed was reported to have said something like, How the hell did this come about?

        Worry about other countries getting nukes, fine. But it’s not fine thinking (or more to the point, not thinking) that having – for the last 50 or so years – a hair trigger system that could blow up the world many times over is not massively aggressive and violently extreme. the cold war is over, yet the system is still in place. Why?

        Why is it that if any respected journalist like Friedman decried the violent underpinnings of our country he would be dismissed as unpatriotic or a wacko?

        When you talk about the need to stop blaming others and focusing on our own shortcomings, as a loyal american who lives and votes in america, I couldn’t agree more.

        • Bruno DeGourville

          February 23, 2010 at 1:48 PM

          Dear Naseebah:

          Let’s please stick to the points each one of us make on this thread for the sake of a fruitful discussion that leads to some conclusion. And not to the entertainment of sheer rhetorical debate to which our own egos would like our intellect to retreat:

          I will certainly not disagree with you on any of the points you so articulately make. But once again, just as for Imam Shakir’s and Juan Cole’s exposure of Friedman’s deceitful strategies and spin on truth, your remarks and ideas have been many a time eloquently expressed and developed by learned and respectable people.

          So again: “what is the point to once more call Friedman to account…” or the military industrial complex for that matter? That was my original question.

          Now as to my reply to UM, read it again and you will realize that you don’t address the points made in it: mainly that being the world biggest arms manufacturer or dealer in and of itself is not bad. Or that maybe we are too busy beating down on others’ flaws to do better and develop our own military industrial complex thinking it is bad to be the world first arms manufacturer?

          Furthermore, no where did i say we need to stop blaming others. It is part of our duties as Muslims to point a finger at wrong, if only that, when we see wrong. I said: “I am merely pointing out a flaw in the thinking process for the sake of blaming others…”. Meaning, that using unjustified arguments, in this case “it is bad to be the biggest arms manufacturer”, to just beat down on whomever we dislike or think is wrong. It is intellectually skewed, biased and immoral.

          No matter what one might think of the US foreign policies or it’s military strategies, no matter the truthfulness of your remarks and argumentation regarding the US position in regard to nuclear arms and the military industrial complex, you or UM still have to prove to me that being the world first arms manufacturer or dealer is in and of itself reprehensible.


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  7. Nahyan

    February 18, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    Excellent article.

    I don’t know of the journalist nor the article, but this really is a great work from Imam Zaid; being articulate and accurate.

    • MentalMuslim

      February 19, 2010 at 11:47 AM

      Go to and go to the opinion section. You will find the article archived under Thomas Friedman’s name. I have long been reading op-ed’s on the NYTimes and his columns are always the same – repeatedly blaming Muslims as the primary troublemakers in Muslim affairs. I sometimes wonder how individuals with such vile thoughts are allowed to grace the pages of major newspapers – but then again, there’s always a hidden agenda somewhere, especially in corporate America. Some of the most sane NYTimes op-ed writers are Bob Herbert and Roger Cohen – they are worth reading.

  8. Rehan

    February 19, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    Friedman is an idiot. He was cheer leading the invasion of Iraq and now pretends like he didn’t want it. He’s so quick to call out Muslims but is painfully slow to point fingers at his own people. He lost credibility on the left and the right, he should just focus on greenhouse gases.

  9. MR

    February 19, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    Thomas you just got “Fried, man!

    • Umm Bilqis

      February 24, 2010 at 2:11 AM

      LOL, I think the prisoners in glass houses are getting seriously exposed. The neocons are being shed by the conservatives.
      He sure looks like he has a lot of explainin’ to do> more double standards and sophistry no doubt!

      • Bruno DeGourville

        February 24, 2010 at 5:04 AM

        And I dearly hope that Conservatives will be shed by Ron Paul and the Libertarians. I am glad to see that there are still out there some people who hold tight to the fundamental principles of our Republic.

        Thanks Umm Bilqis for referring us to this article.
        I just wish it had been written by someone other than Pat Buchanan with whom I profoundly disagree on many issues, on methodology and the language he uses. Especially when it comes to anything related to Islam.

        Pat Buchanan gives a very simplistic view of world geostrategy. He childishly thinks that if America removed herself from its military outposts across the globe no one other country would jump on the opportunity to threaten our national interests abroad one way or the other. I really don’t know what history books he has been reading or if he has read any good one at all. It is the nature of global geopolitics for crying out loud. China is already mulling the idea of a permanent naval base in the Gulf of Aden (China floats idea of first overseas naval base)

        But to his credit Pat Buchanan reminds us of a very clear and paramount lesson from one of our Republic Founding Fathers, John Adams:

        “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. ” and

        “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

        I just wish Pat could have understood his moral but also Christian duty to intervene in Kosovo and not hypocritically argue against the risk of continual warfare to let those Muslim innocent men and women be so inhumanely butchered.

        Continual warfare is erroneous, devious, misleading and dangerous for the Republic and our liberty indeed M. Buchanan. But letting your fellow human beings next door be slaughtered in the name of those ideas is MURDEROUS!

        • Umm Bilqis

          February 24, 2010 at 4:22 PM

          True, I would have been surprised last week about linking to anything Buchanan wrote!

          The truth is my concern is for the innocents and the unlawfully held Muslim prisoners and I doubt that they will deal fairly with them as long as they support the draconian and oppressive Patriot Act in addition to the neo con philosophies that promote it.

          It is time that those who support the constitution rally for it and disassociate from the war mongers.

          I think Buchanan is an opportunist, he holds double standards>as long as they are abusing the rights of Muslims and not giving them due process he is O.K with it. He is Virulent in his hatred of Islam and Muslims.
          However, since they have not benefited from their wars he is distancing himself at this time. Basically he is not like Ron Paul and the libertarians who realize the folly of war, and fear mongering.

          • Bruno DeGourville

            February 25, 2010 at 5:01 AM

            Dear Umm Bilqis:

            Who is “they” in : “I doubt that they will deal fairly with them … as they support …”

          • Umm Bilqis

            February 25, 2010 at 11:03 AM

            Assalamu alaikum Bruno I meant the Republicans and democrats as opposed to the libertarians.

  10. MM Associates

    February 20, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    That was a captivating read. You systematically dismantled arguments which often confuse us common Muslims too, about the things that are happening in our societies.

    – Ameera

  11. Amir

    February 20, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    It could also be asked of Friedman and other Jews to stand up against Zionist oppression around the World.

    We have yet to see Friedman equate Jewish radicalism in the form of Zionism, with Muslim radicalism in the form of Al-Qaeda-ism.

  12. Mr M

    February 20, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    People who could have learnt much better knowledge on the internet, but choose to learn how to make crass bombs and kill people are suppose to be blamed on all Muslims?

  13. Momin Saeed

    February 20, 2010 at 7:05 PM

    Imam Zaid never ceases to amaze me…Mashallah!!! May allah keep our imam on this path and help be the face of islam.

    • Bruno DeGourville

      February 21, 2010 at 5:30 AM

      My brotherly love for Imam Zaid is genuine and unquestionable. And may Allah تعالى reward him for all his good work.
      But with all due respect aren’t you being a little bit dramatic? Imam Zaid, the face of Islam? Knowing his humility and his recognition of much more learned scholars, i doubt he himself would agree with such hyperbolic praise?! But again, we’d have to ask him.

      • greentea

        February 24, 2010 at 12:42 PM


        Strange comment. I believe you may have mistaken a prayer for a praise.

        • Bruno DeGourville

          February 24, 2010 at 1:06 PM

          السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاتة

          My bad Greentea.

          Momin was indeed praying the Almighty تعالى to make our Imam Shakir the face of Islam!

          What a dubious prayer indeed !? I thought Islam had already “its face” in our beloved Prophet Muhammad ï·º !

          Furthermore, to pray Allah تعالى to keep our Imam on “this path”, to whichever path Momin is alluding, is to assume that Imam Shakir is on the right path. And I never ever heard Imam Shakir nor any learned scholar make such presumptuous arrogant self-assessment. Nor have i heard any of them accept it from others.

          But i heard them indeed pray God تعالى to guide them to the straight path. There is here a paramount spiritual but also intellectual difference in attitude and mind set, towards oneself, towards the community, but most importantly towards Allah تعالى.

          Everything right and True is from Allah. Any mistake is from myself. May He forgive me for my deviances, and may He manifest the Truth on your tongue so that I may accept it.

          والسلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاتة

  14. Mohammad Islam Hussain

    February 20, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    More power too Imam Zaid,
    Folks name calling and proving any body Zionist, Israeli lobbyist will not change anything. Argument like Imam Zaid and deconstruction of thesis and address issues on our terms with daleel and wisdom is the need of our times.

    • Bruno DeGourville

      February 21, 2010 at 6:04 AM

      Dear Mohammad:

      I agree with you to a certain extent. But let me make a cpl of remarks here:

      -Beside Rehan calling Fried-man (hats off MR that was really witty) an idiot, i haven’t seen much name calling on this post. The author certainly didn’t rely on it.

      -it seems to me that the argumentation and deconstruction brought about by Imam Zaid was done on “our term”: justice , truth and their logic. What’s wrong with that?

      -refutation of non-Muslims by our beloved learned scholars have been made from the dawn of Islam. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is made following the proper Islamic teachings. And i don’t see where we have strayed here with Imam Zaid’s article?

      The question i have, and no one so far has answered, is:

      What is the point in keeping refuting and deconstructing Friedman’s, or anyone else’s for that matter, dishonest, deceiving, manipulative ideas when it has already been done time and again and in as a brilliant a manner as Imam Zaid’s?
      Isn’t Friedman the type of main stream media polemist who enjoys distracting us from the real issues and concerns with his ill intended controversies?
      Isn’t there a time when endless repetitive debate and argumentation becomes sheer intellectual entertainment that risk distancing us from our original goal?:

      وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُون
      ” I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me” Surah 51 v.56


      • Umm Bilqis

        February 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

        Thomas Friedman is obviously peddling the politics of foreign interests in the midst of American politics. Disinformation is the tool for neoconservative war mongers such as Friedman. Gilad Atzmon highlights the success of Zionists in the, “….infiltration into the politics, laws and value system,” and in shaping the debates within various countries.

        They have the same problem over in England and as he also observes these people are “Hasbara Authors” who peddle war and propaganda for the sake of Israel. They seek universal recognition for supposed threats and always advocate for more sanctions, and war through wholesale fear mongering.

        Gilad Atzmon’s on Hasbara authors:

  15. Wael -

    February 24, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Thank you Imam Zaid for once again blasting this baseless accusation that Muslims have failed to confront extremism, and for turning the accusation on its head and demanding the same accountability from the accusers, who are making war and murdering innocents everywhere.

    I’m glad to see a scholar who teaches and pursues spiritual enlightenment, but has not lost touch with the realities of the outside world.

    Jazak Allah khayr.

  16. Umm Bilqis

    February 25, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    Story in ICH about Reporters with Conflicts of interests in Israel:

    A couple more horrifying stories about the children in Afghanistan as well.

  17. Unimpressed

    February 27, 2010 at 5:30 PM

    It’s very simple. Thomas Friedman is a Zionist Jew. I as a non-Muslim can recognize what his agenda is, I hope Muslims do the same but with more forthrightness.

  18. Unimpressed

    February 27, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    It’s even more ludicrous for Friedman to state such rubbish considering that the number of extremists in Christianity(Evangelicals) and Judaism(Zionist scum) far outstrip anything the Muslims have. Do Friedman can the lying liars of the West have moral fiber, the spine to call Americans and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan..terrorists?
    NO! They do not.
    And they expect Muslims to be self critical at a time when their lives are being taken from them by western terrorists? Surely you jest, Mr.Friedman. Muslims have every right to exact vengeance from those ramping across the Islamic world with the most powerful WMDs.

  19. Yusuf

    September 6, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Brother Zaid Shakir never ceases to amaze me with his views of the Muslim world and the struggles we as Muslims face. And his views on the west and it’s vilification of Muslims and Islam. Zaid is so knowledgeable and right on point with everything he espouses. I love this brother. May Allah continue to bless him and all Muslims as we struggle to be understood,

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