Akyol is, of course, a “moderate Muslim.” I had earlier concluded that his intention was to give non-Muslims false reassurance rather than to bring about actual reform in the Islamic world; now I am not so sure. There are many Muslims around the world today who are hoping to bring about large-scale changes in the religion; they are, as I have pointed out many times, up against virtually insuperable obstacles, but that doesn’t mean that I am not hoping they succeed. When I argue with self-proclaimed moderates in the United States, it is not because (as Akyol tentatively implies in his response here) that I do not favor their enterprise; it is because I know in the first place that Islam sanctions religious deception (taqiyya; see Qur’an 3:28 and 16:106), and because I know that any sincerely reformist presentation must answer radical arguments, which moderates hardly ever do. So I try to determine if these self-proclaimed moderates are genuine, and if their arguments will truly hold up from the perspective of the radicals.
If this is not done, non-Muslims will continue to be deceived by false moderates, and radical Muslims will continue to win the theological arguments within Islam — thus enabling them to recruit more terrorists.
But do I really think Islam can be reformed? Over the last few days I have been involved in an irritating email exchange with someone who has taken me to task for saying just that. He has accused me of toeing the politically correct line and of ignorance about Islam’s teachings, to both of which charges I plead not guilty; but then the question remains: how can I say that Islam must reform if to do so, moderate Muslims must reject core teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad?
I have no illusions about the possibility of reform. In Islam Unveiled I wrote about the difficulties moderates face, because of the radicals’ ability to paint them as disloyal Muslims as soon as they begin to speak out for the change that is necessary.
That obstacle may indeed be insurmountable in the long run, but there is no denying that there are Muslims today who seem to be sincerely rising to the challenge. In any case, even if it does prove insurmountable, and I think a good case can be made for that from Islamic history, nonetheless I call for reform in order to raise public awareness of the fact that Islam does indeed need reforming — since most American Muslim advocates and the media establishment do not acknowledge this. I also call for it in order to draw attention to the true source of the problem: not poverty or ignorance or other fashionable causes, but Islamic teachings.
Also, in the history of religions there are instances of large-scale reform, including revisions of teachings that had appeared non-negotiable. Again, I don’t have any illusions about how difficult this will be: there are other analysts of Islam who say that “moderate Islam” is the solution without telling you that moderate Islam doesn’t exactly exist yet; I am not of that camp. Those who think the obstacles are so great as to render the call to reform useless should remember that the alternatives to this call — “ban Islam” or push for widespread conversion — are even less tenable for a variety of reasons.
But in case there is any misunderstanding (since the emailer I referred to above seemed to think this, which in itself shows he must not have read much that I have written), I am not of the position that Islam has been “hijacked” by terrorists. I have always maintained, in all my books and other writings, that the terrorists are operating within a broad tradition within Islam. Until Muslims and non-Muslims acknowledge that fact and take action accordingly, terrorism will continue to proliferate within Islam.