Yale’s Post-Franz Rosenthal Islamic Studies Travesty

“Understanding has given away to apologetics pure and simple.”


From Franz Rosenthal


 …to current Yale chaplain, the conspiratorial and idiotic Omer Bajwa



Two obituaries (published in the New York Times, and Yale News) from 2003 for Yale Prof Franz Rosenthal—the Sterling Professor Emeritus of Arabic—highlighted his escape from Nazi totalitarianism.


How bitterly ironic Rosenthal’s Yale has now submitted to Islamic supremacism/ totalitarianism as evidenced in a series of chilling blogs (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) by my colleague Diana West about Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s recent speaking engagement on the campus. Westergaard’s visit was accompanied by a surreal combination of swat team level security, and a disturbing, far too prevalent display of intellectual and moral idiocy by both Yale faculty and students, which was not at all limited to the Muslim members of the Yale community.

The late (d. 2003) Yale scholar of Islam Franz Rosenthal’s own work included lucid, timeless, analyses of Islamic “martyrdom” vs. suicide, and the antithetical Islamic and Western conceptions of “freedom.” In his 1946 essay, “On Suicide in Islam” (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 66, pp. 243, 256), Rosenthal noted that in contrast with negative Islamic attitudes towards suicide (for melancholia/depression), acts of jihad martyrdom were extolled in Islam’s foundational texts, i.e., the Koran and hadith:


“While the Qur’anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act….On the other hand, death as the result of “suicidal” missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are no[t] suicides in the proper sense of the term. (Emphasis added.)”


Rosenthal also analyzed the larger context of hurriyya, Arabic for “freedom,” in Muslim society. He notes (in his official Encyclopedia of Islam entry on the subject) the historical absence of hurriyya as  “a fundamental political concept that could have served as a rallying cry for great causes.”  An individual Muslim “was expected to consider subordination of his own freedom to the beliefs, morality and customs of the group as the only proper course of behavior…” Thus politically, Rosenthal concludes,  “…the individual was not expected to exercise any free choice as to how he wished to be governed…In general, …governmental authority admitted of no participation of the individual as such, who therefore did not possess any real freedom vis-à-vis it.”


Franz Rosenthal wrote an obituary for the Austrian-born US scholar Gustave E. Von Grunebaum (1909-1972) published in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, (Jul., 1973), pp. 355-358, which included these observations about von Gruenbaum’s seminal contributions, and uncompromising standards (from pp. 356-357):


“If von Grunebaum was able in addition to produce an amazingly large and significant number of books and articles, to which all these and many other activities ranked second in importance in his estimation as well as ours, it was because everything he did arose from the same source – his personal conviction as to the intellectual obligation resting upon the Western student of Islam. He was convinced that it was his duty to interpret Islam from the point of view of the Westerner deeply steeped in his own civilization at its best, that there was indeed no other way of making the study of Islam meaningful for non-Muslims, professional scholars and educated non-specialists alike, than by scrutinizing it from the outside and measuring it by the most demanding and universally valid standards devised in the West for assessing intellectual and moral worth.”

 Brilliant, forthright analyses by von Grunebaum from four to five decades ago elucidate critical unresolved issues Muslim societies continue to deny, abetted, tragically by sycophantic cadres of Western academic, journalistic, and diplomatic elite apologists for living Islamic institutions and mores that imperil both Muslims, and non-Muslims alike.


They now hold sway at formerly great universities such as Yale.


Over fifty years ago (i.e., circa 1955), von Grunebaum issued this prescient warning based upon actually studying the writings of the Muslim ideologues of his day, including UCLA Law Professor Khaled El Fadl’s ideological inspiration, Muhammad al-Ghazali. [Gustave von Grunebaum, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1955, Vol. 14, p. 202, (Book Review of Muhammad Al-Ghazzali’s, Our Beginning in Wisdom, 1953, translated by Ismail R. al-Faruqi)]: 


“The political constellation of the moment which is likely to continue for some not inconsiderable length of time has induced us to envisage ourselves in a world of an ‘either…or.’ We concern ourselves with the compatibility or otherwise of Islam with communism and regardless of the conclusion in which we acquiesce, we are apt to overlook the fact that the Muslim circles most emphatically opposed to communism are at the same time potentially if not actually the most formidable stronghold of hostility to the West. Ghazzali’s tirade against American Democracy (pp. 60-62) with its warning “against the spreading American ways,” with its condemnation of “the domestic as well as foreign policy of America” as “actually a systematic violation of every virtue humanity has ever known” should make us aware that the Muslim “extremists” will be with the West not because of any recognized affinity but merely out of momentary political considerations. Ultimately, the self-conscious world of Islam would wish to consolidate into a power center strong enough to set itself up by the side of the Russian and the Western blocks, strong enough to determine for itself what its primary political concerns should be, and strong enough perhaps to be no longer compelled to westernize for the sake of survival. The hot-headed half-truths of Ghazzali must not delude us into considering absurd the aspiration of those who feel that for its revival Islam needs less rather than more gifts of the West.”



Like von Grunebaum, whom he eulogized, Rosenthal as a serious Western scholar of Islam (and the Arabic language), was immediately able to see the powerful implications of Qutb’s work and its potential resonance with the Muslim masses. Compare his real time insights with the ignorant prattle of those among us today who over a half century later cannot contextualize Qutb and his heirs whose authentic Islamic “language” is best understood, and best “appeals” to the “majority” of Muslims in the Near East—and well-beyond.


From p. 234,  Review: [untitled] Author(s): Franz Rosenthal Reviewed work(s): Social Justice in Islam by Sayed Kotb; John B. Hardie Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 294, America and a New Asia (Jul., 1954), pp. 233-234. Qutb’s (Kotb’s) work, [KOTB, SAYED. Social Justice in Islam. Translated from the Arabic by John B. Hardie. Pp. viii, 298. Washington, D. C.: American Council of Learned Societies (Near Eastern Translation Pro- gram, No. 1), 1953] the book had been published a year before Rosental’s review appeared in 1954:



“….Sayed Kotb’s ideas represent a definite continuity with the past and speak the language which the majority of Near East people still understand best. Thus, their actual and potential appeal must not be underestimated by anybody interested in the present and future of the Near East.”


The Yale community mindset on display during and just after Kurt Westergaard’s visit reveals a post- Franz Rosenthal Islamic Studies era travesty which no longer upholds fundamental Western scholarship. This anti-intellectual attitude toward Islam which has triumphed at Yale was well-characterized by another esteemed 20th century scholar of Islam, Maxime Rodinson, writing in 1974:


…The anti-colonial left…often goes so far as to sanctify Islam and the contemporary ideologies of the Muslim world… Understanding has given away to apologetics pure and simple.”

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