Rice University sociologist Craig Considine has studied Arabic for three years, but his “Arabic is not sharp at the moment” and he does not normally interact with Arabs, he stated in a December 5 podcast. Such comments provoke suspicions about the credentials of this previously examined, self-proclaimed “Islamic apologist,” who spoke at the end of a virtual tour for his debunked, new book, The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View.
Growing up in the Boston suburb of Needham, Massachusetts, with a mother described by Considine as Catholic and an agnostic/atheist father, little in Considine’s background suggests a religious scholar. “We never learned anything outside of the Catholic faith,” he noted recently online of his upbringing, and in college he originally planned to study sports management before switching to politics after a transfer to Washington, DC’s American University. Now his interviewers present him as an “interfaith activist, who works to build bridges between people of different faiths as a means of promoting deeper understanding, connection, respect, love, and communication.”
Studying Islam and Arabic at American University, Considine found a mentor in the Pakistani Muslim anthropology professor Akbar Ahmed. Considine became the professor’s assistant for his 2009 Journey into America film and book project, which, like the subsequent 2016 Journey into Europe, whitewashes Islam as a benign, multicultural faith. Any observer of Ahmed will clearly see how his acolyte Considine consistently reiterates the dubious tropes of his former teacher.
Usually Considine tells in his autobiography how his “life-changing class” under Ahmed began with his recitation of a hadith or canonical saying from Islam’s prophet Muhammad. This statement that the “ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr” for Considine “shook me to my core…as a person of faith,” even though scholars have contested this hadith’s validity. Even if true, Muslim scholars such as dawa proselytizing clergy are not necessarily more benign than Muslim martyrs, as historically these scholars have justified violence against disbelievers in questionable Islamic doctrines.
Ahmed transformed Considine, who recalls having started college in 2004 with “this viewpoint of the Islamic tradition through the lens of 9/11,” a “terroristic lens, national security lens.” Yet he became “upset about the wars that were happening in our country with Afghanistan and Iraq” and the “demonization of an entire religion,” the “depiction of Iraqis as radical Muslims.” He “wanted to understand why this boogeyman was created,” for he came to believe that Islam “was nothing like I saw in the media” and “almost felt duped” after being “fed a lot of this kind of misinformation and propaganda.”
Today Considine worries that some Americans have taken the “Islamophobic propaganda bait” amidst a “manufacturing of anti-Muslim sentiment.” For him, this is just as much a distortion of what he considers Islam’s true peaceful nature as the Islamic State’s devout jihadists, “two sides of the same coin.” Accordingly, the “Islamophobia industry used to label me as an Islamic apologist and I was just like, I am going to embrace this.”
Although Considine has witnessed more than enough of Islam’s violent history during his brief lifetime, he sees in Muhammad a “very identification with love for humanity” that “allows me to love Prophet Muhammad.” On the basis of a 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article, Considine has asserted that Muhammad fulfills the Identification with All Humanity (IWAH) scale. This “relates to someone’s concern for human beings” and “their responses in favor of global harmony,” such that “people with higher IWAH are able to transcend tribalism.”
The “importance of interfaith dialogue” with Muslims and others has prompted Considine to coin his own acronym of DEUCE, for Dialogue, Education, Understanding, Commitment, and Engagement. Even though he has hardly ever said an unsettling thing about Islam, the DEUCE process “should be uncomfortable work,” but is for him “spiritual work” and “part of being a Christian.” “I seek out knowledge largely through the prism of Christian and Muslim relations and I find inspiration in Prophet Muhammad and Muslims themselves and the Islamic faith,” Considine has concluded.
Such gauzy accolades of Islam as an enlightened, inclusive, nonjudgmental faith cannot help but remind of the shadowy Hizmet (service) movement of the Turkish Sufi Islamist and onetime Erdogan ally, Fethullah Gülen. Sure enough, Considine proclaims himself a “friend of the Hizmet movement” and has been a “fan” of its Rumi Forum since college. The majority of his online book tour presentations have been with Hizmet institutions, which is unsurprising, given that Blue Dome Press, a Hizmet affiliate, is Considine’s publisher.
“The Hizmet movement is a class act when it comes to engaging in interfaith,” Considine has proclaimed. He is a “real admirer of Hizmet. I consider myself part of it as well, just because I am involved, even though I am Christian. My values and my ideals line up with Hizmet. I support it 100 percent.” In Texas, Hizmet’s “Harmony Schools are unbelievable,” he has stated in praise of Hizmet charter schools that worldwide have spawned corruption scandals and fears of cultic Turkish-Islamic indoctrination.
Like their Georgetown University colleagues, Turkish Rice University students with more intimate knowledge of their homeland have exposed Considine himself to unsettling questions about Hizmet’s nefarious character. Yet he remains unfazed, dismissing these students as having “been infused with some type of propaganda,” an example of “a lot of misunderstanding around the Hizmet movement.” For further critical perspectives on the Hizmet movement, he could have also, like this author, interviewed Islam’s German-Turkish Apostate Prophet, the ex-Muslim atheist Ridvan Aydemir.
Instead, Considine wants to continue to appear as a truth-teller about all things Islamic who battles against misinformed bigots. His moderator for an interview with Hizmet’s Niagara Foundation, Presbyterian pastor Dirk Ficca, quoted “you shall not bear false witness” from the Ten Commandments in the context of defending Islam against defamation. This honesty, Ficca claimed, is also a “central tenet of Islam” and not any taqiyya doctrine of deception in Islam’s name.
Invoking the Decalogue on behalf of Considine’s “fantasy Islam” is a serious reference to authority. He, however, is no Moses, but a millennial former student of sports management who has embraced modern Ivory Tower nostrums about the West victimizing Muslims. As Considine’s Turkish students have indicated and as future articles will continue to examine, reality does not justify his carefully constructed reputation.