Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Disclaimer: the views expressed here are solely those of the author, weekly Judean Rose columnist Varda Meyers Epstein.

Robert Werdine was my friend. He was also a Rhodes Scholar, historian, ardent defender of Israel, serious music lover, and a devout Muslim. Robert died too soon from complications of diabetes and was buried as a Catholic, his father’s faith, but he was undeniably Muslim. Through our three years’ worth of correspondence, Robert left me with a wealth of material on Islamic thought as it relates to Jews, Judaism, and Israel. These were subjects he cared about and wrote about, but never published.

More than once, Robert alluded to being in bad odor with certain family members over his stance on Israel. He detailed an incident in which his uncle, a member of Hamas, roughed him up when he found out that Robert was writing blogs at the Times of Israel, an Israeli publication. Which is actually how I met Robert. We were both blogging there in 2012, the year that TOI was launched.

Robert also mentioned that his mother was afraid for him to say in his blogs that he was a Muslim. She didn’t know what, if any repercussions there would be for him, and for the family as a whole. After some back and forth, Robert’s mom came to see it his way, and agreed that he should no longer hide his Muslim identity or his strong affection for Israel.

Since Robert died in 2017, I haven’t known what to do with the prodigious material he sent me—brilliant material, meticulously researched. These papers should be published. And I believe that is why he sent them to me. He knew he wasn’t going to live much longer. I think he hoped I would do something with his work after he died. Yet, all this time I haven’t been sure I should.

I’m still not certain it’s the right thing to do—publish Robert’s work without his permission. But I think he felt he could not publish them while he was alive, and trusted that I would make a decision about what to do with his work, and that it would be the right decision. All of this came to mind last week during an exchange yet another confrontational antisemite on Quora.

The exchange began, as usual, with a “question” I was asked to answer, that as per usual, was some gross, not-so-thinly-veiled anti-Israel propaganda: “Why does Israel have the right to occupy land where the Palestinian have lived?”

This was my answer:

“Israel builds in very few areas where Arabs once might have lived. In those areas, the Arabs either left of their own volition, at the behest of Arab leaders preparing to extinguish the fledgling Jewish State, or the land was retaken during the course of a defensive war, in which case, it is perfectly legal.

“The Jews expelled from Arab countries were absorbed by tiny Israel, while the 22 Arab states in the region, which cover an enormous breadth of territory, refuse to absorb the Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 (and their descendants).

“It is normal for a population exchange to occur as a result of war. The shameful aspect of what happened here is the Arab refusal to absorb and resettle their brethren.”

Naturally, there were confrontational comments. One particular commenter, Esmailjee Mohamed Ali, wrote: "How can there be Judhas or Jews in Palestine when they lived in Europe for 2000 years from the time they were created by the Romans in 69BC.

It was from EUROPE after the Second World War, 5MILLION Judhas or Jews migrated to America and another 6Million was brought landed and in PALESTINE by the British Empire and the League of Nations on creating the State of Israel in 1948CE."

“It was the British Empire that was upto [sic] all the mischief. Allah wiped out the British Empire because of all their cruel acts. Today, unfortunately the PALESTINIAN PEOPLE are suffering at the hands of the Poor downtrodden criminals who came from EUROPE because of the British Empire.”

Well, I couldn’t leave that alone, now could I? So I said, “Funny, because that’s not what the Quran says,” said I thinking of all the Quranic references to the Bani Isra'il.

To which Mr. Ali took umbrage, responding, “Do not misinterpret the QURAN.”

As I am so often wont to do in these situations, I went to my Robert Werdine gmail folder to see what my dear late friend had to say on the subject. I was looking for what he had said about Muslims living under non-Muslim rule. Because really—why did the Arabs have to kick up a fuss over the establishment of the Jewish State or be in denial about Jewish history, detailed in their own holy book? The Arabs didn’t have to leave, nor did they have to “suffer” at the hands of the Jews. They could have—and would have—been perfectly happy and prosperous under Jewish rule. Instead they were turned—by their own people—into perpetual refugees, filled with hate and blood lust. And their own people didn’t—and don’t—want them.

None of this had anything to do with the British Empire. Nor did it relate to “downtrodden criminals from Europe” supposedly brought to the region by the Brits.

It had to do with Muslims who are ignorant of what their own holy books and commentators have to say on the subject. They should have stayed. They would have been free to practice their religion under the Jews, and they would have led happy, content lives. And of course, the October 7th Massacre would never have happened. What happened on that Black Sabbath was in fact, proscribed by Islam. 

I found what I needed in my “Robert Werdine” email treasure chest, and it was so perfect I quoted it word for word. I knew Robert would forgive me. And I never heard a peep back from Mr. Ali:

The Shafi’i jurist, Imam Abu Zakariyya Muhyi ’l-Din al-Nawawi (1233–1277) [stated]: 

If a Muslim is able to declare his Islam openly and living therein (in a land dominated by non-Muslims), it is better for him to do so […] because by this it becomes Dar al-Islam […] (Al-Nawawi, rawda al-talibin, (Beirut: Dar ibn Hazm, 2002), p. 1819)

Al Nawawi also stated: 

Where a Muslim is able to protect and isolate himself, even if he is not able to proselytize and engage in combat, in such case it would be incumbent upon him to remain in this place and not emigrate. For such a place, by the fact that he is able to isolate himself, has become a dar Islam

The opinions of al-Ramli, al-Mawardi, and al-Nawawi are all consistent with prophetic practice in the authentic Sunnah. Two Hadiths, one from Sahih Bukhari and one from Sahih Muslim attest that the prophet would refuse to attack any non-Muslim entity that allowed for the practice of the Muslim religion by Muslims living there. Here is the Sahih Bukhari (Vol. 4, Book 52, #193):  

Narrated Anas: Whenever Allah's Apostle attacked some people, he would never attack them till it was dawn. If he heard the Adhan (i.e. call for prayer) he would delay the fight, and if he did not hear the Adhan, he would attack them immediately after dawn.

Nawawi interprets the Hadiths as follows: 

In this narration is evidence that verily the call to prayer forbids invading (yamna‘) a people of that area, and this is an evidence of their Islam.

This is only one tiny fragment of the material I have from Robert. Some of what he wrote was conversational. I’d ask him questions, and he’d answer. Once, for example, I asked him how he felt about the word “Palestinian.” What did he, Robert, call the Arabs who call themselves “Palestinians?”

He wrote (May 20 2015), I'm not sure what to call the you-know-who. I call them the Nowhere People; they came out of nowhere and they're going nowhere, fast. I generally call them Palestinian, but I don't remember my grandfather using that term. He just called them Arabs and refugees. Probably "Arabs" is the best word to use, or Palestinian Arabs, either word refers to the customarily delusional, intransigent, and recklessly self-destructive people whose leaders will continue the long, hard slog of hatred, violence, and deligitimization of a people who have shown them more humanity and compassion than their own Arab brethren ever will.”

Robert knew more than Islam. He ate, drank, and slept history and was always happy to share with me what he learned—especially if there were a reference to Jews. On May 27, 2015, he wrote: “I’m reading Robert Markus’ biography of Pope Gregory the Great. What a phenomenal figure. He was almost an exact contemporary of Muhammad. Gregory was a great reformer. He also wrote a six-volume commentary on the Book of Job. He was a font of wisdom, integrity and able statesmanship. The chants that bear his name are the earliest music that is written on record, and still haunts the monasteries of Italy, France, and Germany. 

“He was also a great protector of the Jews. He forbade compulsory conversions that so many popes of the past had winked at, and he gave them full rights of equal citizenship—a true rarity in that day and age.  When he learned that the bishops in Palermo had appropriated the local synagogues, he ordered that they make full restitution. Here is what he wrote to the Bishop of Naples: 

“‘Do not allow the Jews to be molested in the performance of their services. Let them have full liberty to observe and keep all of their festivals and holydays, as both they and their fathers have done for so long.’’’ 

Sometimes I wonder what Robert would have said about October 7. I know that he was sickened by Arab terror against the Jews of Israel. On September 23, 2015, he wrote, “My mother and I were talking the other day about what it would be like for us to know that there were people living in the next county who would be only too happy to murder us and all our love ones, and celebrate the deed afterward. How could we help from hating such people filled to the brim with such murderous hatred for us, and who demonstrate such hatred in deeds of unmentionable horror day after day? It's a sobering thought to ponder.”

By ironic coincidence, on October 7 (!), 2015, he wrote to me in regard to the murder of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in front of their four young children, one of them a four-month-old infant, only one week earlier:

“Your feelings after that savage murder of the Henkin couple are completely natural and understandable. How would any person of conscience react to an act of such naked savagery?  In their evil they could not be more evil. The hysterical glee that they show whenever Jewish blood is shed is like something out of a nightmare. The one, true accomplishment of the Palestinians is their societal normalizing of savagery as a virtue to be emulated: murders celebrated like weddings, streets and village squares named after suicide bombers. These people are sick. I mean: SICK.” 

People don’t believe me when I tell them about Robert. They think he was pulling the wool over my eyes. That he was deceiving me the Sunni Muslim way with taqiyya. But I know that he was good. And that the scholarly works he sent me should be read by more than one person (me). Robert did not agree with the idea of “Islamic reform.” He believed that the violent, Jew-hating form of Islam all too unfortunately practiced by too many Muslims the world over, was due to ignorance of what Islam actually preached.

Believe me, I am no apologist for Islam. But I also know that it doesn’t need to be practiced in the violent way it is currently practiced by way too many ignorant, blood-crazed cretins. I would like others to at least see and wrestle with Robert Werdine’s writings.

So now I would like to ask a question of regular readers of this column: would you like to read these works sitting and doing nothing in a Gmail folder? Shall I post them here in weeks to come? Or should I keep them hidden, buried away where no one will ever see them?

I honestly seek your opinions. And I’m guessing that Robert, were he able to weigh in, would hope that you’d view the idea with favor. He wished with all his heart that more people were open to the Islam that he saw and believed—an Islam that respects the rights of people of all faiths to follow their beliefs in peace.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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