Political Islam, by Bill Warner, Sept. 7, 2016:
It is frequently said that moderate Muslims can solve the problem of jihad and terror. Everyone has met nice Muslims, some of whom are willing to admit that Islam has problems and may even say that Islamic State is bad. Moderate Muslims are nice people who come to interfaith events, interviews and talks at schools and churches. Moderate Muslims even tell us that they are the real victim, not the Kafir.
Here is the problem—Islam cannot be changed by anybody, moderate or not. Islam is the civilizational doctrine found in the Koran, Sira and Hadith. Nobody can change the Sunna and the Koran. Their words are eternal, perfect and universal. Nobody can change Islam. It is fixed and frozen by its unalterable doctrine.
What we call moderation is simply ignoring the violence and hate. But the jihad cannot be removed, it can only be denied by ignoring it. A moderate has the same Allah and Mohammed that a jihadist has.
Moderate Islam is Islam light, Islam ignored. Islam changes Muslims; Muslims can only choose not to practice the dark side of Islam, but they cannot change it or get rid of it. Islamic doctrine is fixed, eternal, unchangeable and forever.
For reformist Muslims like Raheel Raza, who recently spoke at the Act for America 2016 conference, Islamic doctrine is interpreted by leaving all objectionable verses out as “only applicable in the 7th century”. One current effort underway by the reform movement is to create a Quran only Islam. The problem is, how do you convince millions of Muslims and the authorities of Islam at Al Azhar University that this is legitimate? And how do you come up with a peaceful interpretation of Quran 9:29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humiliated.”
For a discussion on why it is impossible to reform Islam without essentially creating a new religion read CounterJihad’s recent piece by Immanuel Al-Manteeqi:
Here is the relevant excerpt:
Conclusion and a Possible Pathway for Reform.
…Now, the job of Western leaders and those in the intelligence community is to educate themselves about the underlying religious motivations of Islamists (and not censor talk about Islam in willful blindness). Muslim reformers, on the other hand, are tasked with the more difficult job of reforming Islam,and rejecting interpretations or Islamic source texts that are at odds with contemporary Western and egalitarian values.
Muslim reformers need to focus on cultivating a peaceful and tolerant Islam, one that bestows a much higher place to women than traditional Islam, and one which is not a prisoner to the above- interpretations or source texts.
However, as mentioned above, Muslim reformers should not just dismiss problematic stories like that of Ṣafiyya as ahistorical or unislamic whilst simultaneously accepting other material in the same earliest sources as being historical and Islamic. This is unlikely to convince any Muslim with a proclivity to the less palatable interpretations of Islam, and certainly not those who are intimately familiar with the source texts.
These Muslims, especially the non-Western ones, will immediately indict the Muslim reformer as succumbing to Westernizing influences in his/her understanding of Islam. They will challenge the reformer to explain why what he/she happens to find unpalatable in the sources is ahistorical or unislamic, and why what he/she finds palatable is historical or Islamic. The reformer will very likely be unable to provide a satisfactory answer here.
So Muslim reformers need a way to reform Islam without playing fast and loose with the source texts, an endeavor which is bound to fail (the proof of this is that so far it has failed miserably). Now, the reformation of Islam is a burden that moderate Muslims must carry themselves—reform cannot be imposed from outside the Muslim umma, but must arise naturally and organically within it. In a word, it is for Muslims themselves to go about the very difficult task of reforming Islam.
That being said, I suggest that one promising pathway of reform, at least one that is much more promising than cherry-picking what to believe in the early sources, is the methodology that is advocated by Ahmad Ṣubḥī Manṣūr, an Egyptian graduate of al-Azhar. Manṣūr is a prominent Muslim reformist who is a former Azharī PhD graduate and Azharī professor.
His reformist agenda is very simple: Islam should be based on the Qur’ān alone. To this end, he has written a whole book entitled al-Qur’ān wa Kafa (“the Qur’ān is Sufficient”) wherein he defends the Qur’ān-only view, of which he is currently and incontrovertibly the number-one proponent.
Manṣūr believes that the extra-Qur’ānic Islamic sources, written as they were many generations after Muhammad’s death, are historically unreliable, and are a byproduct of a later sectarian milieu with concerns that were alien to the time of Muhammad and the Qur’ān. Indeed, he describes much of the unpalatable material found in the ahādīth as “garbage.”
An upshot of his view is that many of the unpalatable teachings in mainstream Islam are not found in the Qur’ān, but in the extra-Qur’ānic sources, and so will be eliminated from his version of Islam. Examples of unpalatable doctrines or events that are not found in the Qur’ān but are present in the extra-Qur’ānic sources are as follows: the view that women make up most of hellfire and are lacking in faith and intelligence; the view that apostates should be killed; the stories that Muhammad enslaved women and had (ostensibly non-consensual) sexual relations with some female captives; the view that Muhammad wanted Jews and Christians expelled from the Arabian peninsula; the view that people should be fought until they believe in Allah and Muhammad’s prophethood, etc.
It must be noted that the view that Islam should be based solely on the Qur’ān and not on the extra-Qur’ānic sources is not something that is completely without intellectual merit. The extra-Qur’ānic sources of Islam are in fact written long after Muhammad’s death and contradict each other on many important points. That a ḥadīthin Sahih al-Bukhari has Muhammad saying that whoever changes his (Islamic) religion should be killed is hardly good evidence that Muhammad said such a thing.
Furthermore, eminent Western (non-Muslim) scholars of Islam, like Gabriel Said Reynolds of the University of Notre Dame, consider the extra-Qur’ānic Islamic sources, viz., the sīyar (plural ofsīra), tafasīr (plural of tafsīr), and aḥadīth (plural of ḥadīth), to be historically unreliable for constructing the context of the Qur’ān, or giving us accurate information about Muhammad. He views many of the extra-Qur’ānic stories as being Midrashic interpretations of enigmatic Qur’ānic verses that should be read as secondary literature rather than as historical accounts.
All this being said, the putative reformist pathway of Manṣūr is not without its demerits. First, the Sunna (or way of Muhammad) is firmly entrenched in early Islam and many Muslims would see a Qur’ān-only Islam as being very foreign from their understanding of the religion. And they would be correct. Qur’ān-only Islam is an alien form of Islam, after all, most of Islamic praxis today is based not on the Qur’ān but on the extra-Qur’ānic sources (particularly the aḥadīth); for example, the obligation to pray five times a day is not something that is taught in the Qur’ān, but in the extra-Qur’ānic source materials. So in one sense, a Qur’ān-only Islam is arguably a different religion than the mainstream Islam that is practiced today. [emphasis added]
Second, most scholars of Islam, whether Muslim scholars in Muslim countries, orientalist scholars, or otherwise, do believe that while the earliest extra-Qur’ānic Islamic sources are embellished, even to a high degree, they nevertheless retain a solid core of historical truth. Scholars like Reynolds are, as he himself notes, in the minority here. Orientalists still follow the methodology of the great Islamicist, Theodore Noldeke (1836 – 1930), which is different from the traditional Muslim approach to the sources only insofar as it utilizes a more critical approach.
Third, while the Qur’ān-only approach does eliminate many things that are unpalatable to a Western audience, one is still left with apparently unpalatable verses in the Qur’ān. Some Qur’ānic verses, like the ones mentioned earlier in this article, will need to be explained by Muslim reformers. However, given that the Qur’ān is, as the Islamicist F.E., Peters notes, “a text without a context,”there is much room for interpretive maneuvering.
All things being equal, the less that is known about the context of an ancient text, the greater the plausible interpretations of the text. This gives Qur’ān-only Muslims much greater leeway in explaining the prima facie unpalatable verses than Christians and Jews have in explaining away the violent or unpalatable elements in the Old Testament (the context of which are quite clearly stated in the text itself).
This is just one of a few putative approaches that Muslim reformers can adopt in order to combat certain religious doctrines that are not compatible with an egalitarian and Western ethic. Whatever the path that Muslim reformers take, it will certainly be an uphill battle for them. Manṣūr himself was tried by an Azharī tribunal and expelled from the University in 1987. And after being on the receiving end of many death threats for his unorthodox views, he sought political asylum in the United States and was granted it in 2002.
More recently, a young reformist, Islam al-Buhayrī, was imprisoned by ʿAbd al-Fatah al-Sisi’s “secular” Egyptian government for his vociferous efforts to reject much of what is unpalatable in the mainstream Islamic tradition. Likewise, Sayyid Al-Qumni is currently being taken to court in Egypt for his allegedly blasphemous reformist views. These courageous reformers are leading the drive towards reforming Islam, but when it comes to women under sharia, Muslim women themselves should be more proactive and they should take the lead in demanding equal treatment.
As can be seen from the above, there is much in the Islamic source texts that is not compatible with contemporary Western conceptions of the equality of man and woman. However, there are possible pathways for reforming these elements of Islam. And reformists who apply an intellectually consistent methodology, people like Dr. Manṣūr, should be encouraged.