Some of my best friends are Muslims. Or rather, some of my best friends were Muslims—not that they are no longer Muslims but that they are no longer my friends.
The problem I had over years of friendship had to do with certain personal attributes which I value highly, namely, consistency and the ability to recognize facts. My friends were good men who believed in Western democratic values, in selective immigration policies based on the possession of needed skills that would contribute to both society and the economy, in the necessity for Muslim (and all) immigrants to assimilate into the heritage culture, and in customary methods of education and a traditional curriculum; they rejected the utter folly of multiculturalism as it is practiced in Canada. At the same time they were staunch adherents of Islam as they understood it and swore by the distinction between Islam and Islamism, between genuine Muslims and radical Islamists, a distinction characterized, they claimed, by an unbridgeable divide.
I enjoyed a positive and warm relation with two of these men in particular. Both are published authors. Both are much in the limelight, reviewed and interviewed in many different places, for defending the liberal society they find superior to any other. And both are under a fatwa issued by their less tolerant brethren. And yet one of these valiant combatants considers Mohammed to be the perfect man whom Muslims should strive to emulate, is not well versed in the complex history of the Middle East, and entertains a corrosive skepticism about Israel. The other, while regarding his jihadist co-religionists as barbarians, yet argues that the atrocities associated with the development and diffusion of Islam should be historically contextualized, that the doctrinal heart of Islam is untarnished by events, and that the faith has not been properly interpreted by those who, he feels, wantonly abuse it. He believes that Islam blossomed under Mohammed as a spiritual quest, ignoring completely the historical fact that the Prophet was also a conquering warlord who engaged in raids for booty and committed bloody and indiscriminate acts of slaughter.
My two ex-friends reminded me of Irshad Manji who, in The Trouble with Islam Today, anatomizes everything that is wrong with her religion but makes a passionate case for its reform, including the revival of the faculty of ijtihad (independent thinking and counsel). It is hard to take her argument seriously. After 1400 years of nearly unchecked imperial conquest, with a holy book brimming with commandments to kill, mutilate, tax and enslave those it denominates as “infidels,” with hardline clerics in control of dogma today, and with terrorist regimes intent on bringing the West to its knees, can one credibly argue that Islam is even remotely susceptible to wide-scale, peaceful renovation? Moreover, reform would entail the gutting of myriad canonical texts, including the Koran, the Hadith and the five schools of Sunni and Shia jurisprudence, leaving nothing but a rump scriptural archive. Plainly, under the aegis of “reform,” Islam would cease to exist.
My own trouble with Islam, and the reason for calling it quits with my former friends, involved precisely what I understand as the immutable or essentialist nature of Islam. This nature prevails despite the historical nuances, the times when the faith was less oppressive than at other times (e.g., the Abbasid dynasty of early ninth century Baghdad), and the existence of comparatively enlightened movements like the eighth-and-ninth century Mu’tazalites, who fought for the primacy of reason, man’s free will, and the moral responsibility of the individual. The Mu’tazalites, be it noted, were decisively crushed in the tenth century by the fundamentalist Ash’arite sect, after which, as the latter’s leading theologian al-Ghazali wrote in his perennially influential The Incoherence of the Philosophers, “the gate of ijtihad is closed.” And it has been closed ever since. Additionally, we should keep in mind that although the Mu’tazalites believed that the Koran was a divinely created text, contingent upon the circumstances of its revelation, and not, as the Ash’arites claimed, co-existent with Allah and therefore fixed eternally, it nevertheless could not be transformed into something it was not.
Read more at Front Page
For an opposing view see “Recommended Reading: Islam and Islamism” (globalmbwatch.com)