[Photo of Muhammad al-Asadi by Mohammad al-Sharabi for Newsweek.

If your down and confused
And you don’t remember who your talking to
Concentration, step away
‘Cause your baby is so far away
And there’s a rose and it fits me close
And the eagles fly with the doves
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one your with
Love the one your with
Love the one your with
You gotta Love the one your with
— Will Young

There is no dearth of Islamophobic and outright anti-Muslim rhetoric in both American and European public opinion forums. A litany of recent events, from the 9/11 Twin Tower tragedy to the Danish cartoon controversy, makes it seem to many people that Muslims are on the attack against “civilized” secular society. Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine (perhaps even Dubai these days) look at their nightly news and see an indiscriminate political war against their moral principles as well as individual lives. The rash of suicide bombings against Western targets, especially U.S. and British military in Iraq, gets precedence because it falls into the usual tit-for-tatness that uncontrolled violence feeds on. But how are we to understand the increasing threats and actual mayhem between fellow Muslims?

Those of us who grew up (or at least through) the 1970s probably have the words of a rock tune (written by Will Young and popularized by Crosby, Stills and Nash) stored somewhere in our memory. The line that most readily surfaces, perhaps for the wrong reason, is the resignation to “love the one you’re with” if you can’t be with the one you love. To explain what we see daily on the news these days it might be better to paraphrase this as “hate the one you’re with” if you can’t get at the one you hate, or even if you can (as we see in Iraq).

Two recent items from Yemen exemplify this alarming descent into the morass of frustration chained to the comforting cover of intolerance. The first is a dreadful case of over-reaction, if indeed it rises to more than partisan blustering. The editor of the English-language Yemen Observer has been in jail for several weeks for publishing blackened illustrations of the infamous Danish cartoons (and at the same time condemning their publication). Now the stakes have been raised, but to a new depth of absurdity.

Lawyers Demand Capital Penalty for Al-Asadi and Observer Close

Yemen Observer
SANA’A – Up to 21 prosecution lawyers called for the death penalty against Mohammed Al-Asadi, the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Observer, and the permanent closure of the newspaper, during Al-Asadi’s trial on Wednesday. The lawyers, commissioned by Sheik Abdul-Majid Zindani, the Chairman of Islah Shura Council and led by Mohammed Al-Shawish, also called for the confiscation of all the newspaper’s property and assets, and for financial compensation to be paid to be the Muslim’s ‘Finance House’, which last existed during the time of the Caliphs, 1200 years ago. They recounted a story in which a lady was killed during the Prophet’s lifetime after she insulted him, and that the Prophet then praised the killer.

Is it the case that Mr. al-Asadi, an accomplished journalist and devout Muslim, is an “infidel” worthy of death because he tried to cover (and literally cover the offending images in this case) a breaking story? There are many traditions of the Prophet and very few indeed defend the misogynist reading given here of a woman who insulted the Prophet and was justifiably killed. Consider the hadith in which Aysha, the Prophet’s wife insulted him and brought on her head the wrath of her father Abu Bakr, who beat her with patriarchal fervor. The response of the Prophet, who comforted Aysha, was that Abu Bakr, his friend, had overreacted. My point is not to get into the “my hadith against your hadith” argument, but to stress that no one tradition of the Prophet has absolute authority. All statements must be measured against the Quran, other relevant traditions and a long history of interpretation. Al-Bukhari did not say that the traditions he collected were all gospel truth, but some Muslims today seem to know better than the master.

The second case drives a wedge between sunni and shi’a in a country where this fault line has seen little historical division. A Yemeni journalist recently raised a long-standing critique against one of the companions of the Prophet named Abu Hurairah, perhaps the most controversial relater of traditions to the Prophet Muhammad and one at odds with the most prolific sourc e of traditions, namely Muhammad’s beloved wife Aysha. Here is the story:

Yemeni Writers Union consolidates Al-Junaid and Al-Mustakila
Yemen Times
SANA’A, Mar. 5 — A Salafi group is leading an extensive campaign against writer Adnan Al-Junaid and Al-Mustakila newspaper due to his writings about the Prophet Mohammed’s fellow, Abu Hurairah.

Al-Junaid criticized prophetic traditions narrated by Abu Hurairah. Critics also blame Al-Junaid for doubting many prophetic traditions in the volumes of Al-Bukhari and Muslim (considered by Muslims to be genuine sources). Al-Junaid is a mystic scholar classified under the Shiite sect.

In his last issue, Al-Junaid said the Islamic legacy should be revised in order to redecorate Muslims’ image in the eyes of Westerners. According to the writer and journalists’ petition to the Minister of Interior and the Attorney General, the campaign included Friday speeches of Al-Asadi mosque preacher Mahmoud Al-Barakani and Al-Tawheedion mosque preacher Khalid Al-Saighi, in addition to mosques of Nasar, Al-Shaibani towns or mosque names and Al-Kurifa in Al-Mudam area.

Al-Mustakila received a number of electronic and faxed threatening messages, the most prominent being a message from ‘Abu Abdullah Al-Yamani.’ Addressing the writer and the newspaper, it said, “We tell Adnan to stop his writings or consider himself on the screen and the blacklist. In God’s name, if you do not stop your writings and apologize, your blood is considered spilled with impunity. The threat also concerns the newspaper.”

In a special release to the Yemen Times, Al-Mustakila owner, MP Ahmed Saif Hashid, said the fidelity campaign has spread to most governorates like Lahj, Al-Maharah and Taiz. “The campaign went to the extent that some infidel accusers went to my constituency to tell them that Al-Mustakila newspaper spreads infidelity and that it insults the prophet and his fellows,” he said.

An internal debate over the authenticity of traditions, one that has been carried out among Muslims since these traditions were first systematically codified, now becomes grounds for identifying an “infidel” who also happens to be a fellow Muslim. Here the rhetorical spiraling damns the one disagreed with as an “infidel” in both directions. To suggest that the journalist is not a devout Muslim but rather on a par with those who really do despise Islam and Muhammad essentially robs the term “infidel” of any serious meaning. To be an infidel is reduced to simply being someone you disagree with. This is not the Muhammad the vast majority of Muslims revere, nor is it the message of the Quran.

So why is this happening now? If you can’t get back at the infidels you hate, which presumably includes the entire population of Denmark and Norway at a minimum, then how easy it is to hate the one you’re with.

The real infidels, to the extent such a term should be used with impunity, must be very happy that Muslim brothers are killing themselves over trifles. But, as so many of the earlier authorities were not to proud to admit, Allahu a’lama (God knows best).

Daniel Martin Varisco