This article first appeared in New English Review (The Iconoclast)
Having learned much about Islam since 9-11, I have come to distrust the term, “moderate Muslim”, especially here in the US. Many of the people who are regarded as moderate Muslim leaders are just trying to put a happy face on Islam for our benefit. I have visited several mosques over the last decade and listened to their presentations when they invite the public in. They invariably say Islam is a religion of peace, and that the terrorists (whose acts they condemn), are not practicing true Islam. While I concede that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide are not terrorists and lead peaceful, lawful lives, that doesn’t clear up the problems I find within Islamic doctrine. I am not so convinced that the terrorists are not actually practicing the true Islam as outlined in the Koran, the hadith, the Sunna, and the very life of the Prophet Mohammad.
I should point out at the outset that certain Islamic factions have a pretty good record in not being involved in terrorism and other forms of violence. I am referring to the Sufis and the Ahmadiya. The former practice a mystical version of Islam while the latter, formed in the 19th century in British Mandate India by a man known as Ahmed, believe that this person is a latter day prophet-after Mohammad. Because of this, the Ahmadiya are considered heretics by mainstream Muslims. They are persecuted in countries like Pakistan, where their numbers are greatest. The Sufi are also considered outside of mainstream Islam.
That has led me to searching for true Muslim reformers those who recognize there is a problem within the religion, and that young Muslims must be taught to be against violence and intolerance toward other religions. Perhaps, the best known reformer is Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian-American based in Phoenix. Dr Jasser is a physician and former military officer. He is the head of an organization called American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which is dedicated to human rights (the American concept of human rights) and fighting what he terms, political Islam, that is Islam that seeks to dominate.
Another is a young Iranian-American woman named Shireen Qudosi (with whom I happen to be in email/Facebook contact). She recently testified before Congress, and she is someone to watch. I predict she will become quite prominent in the years to come. Her website is called, “The Qudosi Chronicles”.
But here is my dilemma: Can Islam-The Perfect Religion- as Muslims are taught, really be reformed?
Islam, as we know, was not subjected to the Reformation as was Christianity. Nor was it subjected to the Enlightenment as were Christians and Jews in Europe. As to the Reformation, however, there are a couple of points to remember.
First of all, when Martin Luther began the Reformation, he was not rejecting Jesus Christ, nor was he rejecting the Bible. He was rejecting what he saw as the corruption of the Vatican. When the Reformation took hold and succeeded, the Bible and the figure of Jesus Christ were still sacred with Protestants.
In my view, for Islam to undergo a true reformation means they would have to reject those parts of the Koran which advocate hate, violence, and even death toward non-Muslims. That constitutes a lot of the Koran. The estimates I have read indicate that about 62% of the Koran refers to non-Muslims. And those references are not complimentary or respectful. Muslim leaders in the US love to recite the portions of the Koran that are peaceful, such as , “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2 verse 256). They don’t recite the verses that urge Muslims to commit violence against unbelievers.
The key to understanding the obvious contradictions in the Koran is the rule of abrogation, handed down by the top Islamic scholars over the centuries. The Koran is not written chronologically. The chapters (suras) are ordered (with tiny exceptions at the front and end) by longest to shortest. Therefore, there is no story that the reader can follow. When Mohammad first began preaching his revelations in Mecca, he was peaceful, but the powers that be drove him and his followers out of Mecca, at which time Mohammad settled in Medina. Once he consolidated his power in Medina, he began to spread Islam at the point of a sword. That process continued after his death, but what is important to note is that as his life changed, so did the revelations from God, which he claimed he was receiving through the archangel Gabriel. In other words, the revelations evolved from peaceful to hateful and violent.
Thus, the rule of abrogation tells us that in case of conflicting verses, that which was received or revealed later in time abrogates the one revealed earlier.
So much for the Koran and its hateful and violent passages (from Mohammad’s Medina period). For a true reformation to take place within Islam, Muslims must also reexamine Mohammad himself, his deeds and his words, which have been passed on generation to generation via the Hadith and the Sunna. Muslims consider Mohammad as the man to emulate in every way. How can they reconcile his wars, the execution of prisoners, the taking of their wives and daughters into sexual slavery, his orders to have people murdered with the demands of a modern world that all religions should co-exist in peace? Is it reasonable to expect that such a meaningful reformation could take place?
I also take issue with those who say that the killers of ISIS, Al Qaeda etc are violating the teachings of Islam. If so, where is the theological debate that should be raging all over the Islamic world? Aside from certain national armies (Iraq, Syria), where are the armies of Muslims rushing to fight and kill those who are giving such a bad name to Islam? There are tens of thousands of Western Muslims who have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. Others, mostly Somalis, have gone back to Somalia to join Al Shabaab. Many more in the US have been arrested attempting to leave. I don’t mean to stigmatize all Western Muslims, but the numbers are alarming.
How many Western-based Muslims do we know of who have gone to those areas to fight against ISIS or Al Shabaab?
There are many reasons why Muslims have not risen up. For some it is fear. For some it is ambivalence or a degree of sympathy. However, I suspect that the biggest reason more don’t confront the extremists is that they fear they cannot win the theological argument. After all, remember that 30 years ago, we were calling these killers fundamentalists.