There is a fascinating exchange at FrontPage today (thanks to EPG for the link) on this question between the great (and often unjustly maligned) ex-Muslim scholar Ibn Warraq, author of Why I Am Not A Muslim, and Thomas Haidon, a convert to Islam and President of the New Zealand Chapter of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism.
A segment of Ibn Warraq’s piece:
Islam is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects — the life of its followers without qualification, and the life of those who follow the so-called tolerated religions to a degree that prevents their activities from getting in the way of Islam in any manner. And I mean Islam. I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic terrorism.” The terrorists who planted bombs in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and those responsible for the death of approximately 3000 people on September 11, 2001 in New York, and the Ayatollahs of Iran, were and are all acting canonically. Their actions reflect the teachings of Islam, whether found in the Koran, in the acts and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, or in Islamic Law that is based upon them.
In reply to this, I think Haidon, for whom I have great respect, somewhat misunderstands Ibn Warraq’s first point. Says Haidon in his piece, which he has given the anti-Warraqian title “Why I Am A Muslim”:
While Ibn Waraq’s frustrations with the Muslim tradition and contemporary Islam may be understandable, I strongly disagree with Ibn Waraq on his implicitly overbroad generalisation of all Muslims. I take ultimate issue with the statement: “I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic terrorism”. By implication, no distinction need be made between the terrorists of Al-Queda, Fateh, Hamas and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid Group and great number of Muslims who love their religion and believe in peace and modernity. Such a conclusion is overbroad and destructive. Nonetheless, at a rudimentary level it is a perspective that needs to be understood and appreciated by moderate and peaceful Muslims (who don’t exist according to Mr. Warraq’s implicit rationale).
But Ibn Warraq didn’t say that peaceful Muslims didn’t exist. He said that the 9/11 terrorists and other Islamic terrorists acted canonically — that is, according to core teachings of Islam. That is not to say that all Muslims are terrorists, or even that all Muslims approve of terrorism. Ibn Warraq is only saying that the terrorists are not hijacking Islam, but acting within the bounds of its traditional teachings. This is a point that Muslim reformers like Haidon must ultimately face, if there is to be genuine reform in Islam.
Haidon’s reply is refreshing in one respect: he doesn’t pretend that the moderate Islam he envisions already exists. He even goes so far as to say:
In brief, the most significant barrier between Islam and reform is the perceived duality of the Qu’ran and Sunnah. Most of the issues raised by Ibn Waraq in his article are compounded by aspects of the Sunnah (particularly Jihad) or are a result of direct contradiction between the Qu’ran and Sunnah (apostacy).
This is a significant admission, because most Muslims would not admit even of the possibility that the Sunnah could contradict the Qur’an. It is not all that must be done, but it is a beginning.
If Muslims derived their inspiration exclusively from the Qu’ran, and formulated a new authoritative moderate and liberal tafsir, terrorism and extremists would be minimalised. As Daniel Pipes aptly pointed out in a recent article, Muslims have the opportunity to create a new slate and turn what Islam has become into a religion consistent with humanity, liberalism and modernity (as I believe was intended) or continue the status quo of totalitarianism.
Yes. They have the opportunity, but they have not yet grasped this opportunity. The American government and law enforcement establishment, abetted by the media, tries to ascribe to “bigotry” the idea that this moderate Islam does not yet exist — but here is a Muslim acknowledging as much.
Read the whole exchange.