Thomas Haidon is a Muslim who is willing to entertain the possibility, as you can see below, that even the word of the Qur’an needs to be reevaluated and revised in light of the way it incites Muslims to violence today. He makes this case in the context of an extended reply to Stephen Schwartz’s article here. I am grateful for this reply since, although I have no idea who the ignorant, demogogic Islamophobes are to which Schwartz refers, I have made many of the same points they seem to have made “” including the assertion that Islamic radicalism was not invented by the Wahhabis, but has its source in the Qur’an and other core elements of the Islamic system. Haidon makes that case here. From FrontPage:
In his recent essay “What Defines Moderate Islam?” Stephen Schwartz highlights an essential element of the “reformist” discourse: how do we define a “moderate Muslim” or “moderate Islam”? Mr. Schwartz fails to arrive at a workable definition for either. Nonetheless, he believes that moderate Muslims and moderate Islam have existed throughout Muslim history, and that the only barrier to true moderation is the cancer of Wahabbism.
Mr. Schwartz employs the example of Bosnian Islam partially to illustrate his thesis. I am unable to comment on the unique case of Bosnian Muslims. While, I have, over the last month or so availed myself to research the Bosnian “phenomenon,” I am not learned to the point where I can question Mr. Schwartz’s characterization of that community. Nonetheless, I respectfully take issue with several of Mr. Schwartz’s general statements on “moderate Islam” and the role that the classical sources of Islam have played and will play in contemporary Muslim ideology.
At the outset, we have a divergence of opinion on the general source of the malaise that is facing Islam. Mr. Schwartz seems to believe that the source is exclusively Wahabbism. I put it to Mr. Schwartz, that while Wahhabism is a significant driving force behind the current malaise Islam is facing, it is not the foundation of that malaise. The real foundation is nearly fourteen hundred years of Muslim tradition, and the misguided interpretation of the Qu’ran and more importantly and the misapplication the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.
Read on: Haidon is not saying, as do many pseudo-moderates, that the Qur’an if understood properly will create a community of tolerance and peace.
I wholeheartedly reject the notion that prior to Arabia’s allegiance to Ibn al Wahab, that a truly moderate version of Islam existed. One need only to carefully evaluate the four schools of Sunni jurisprudential (and Sh’ia Jafari) thought (including the Maliki school), which evolved throughout Islam’s history, to determine that “moderation” still meant the killing of apostates, stoning of adulterers and the subjugation of women, etc.
Mr. Schwartz made the following observation in his analysis: “Moderate Islam has always existed; but it is not and will not be defined by purging of texts or precedents from the Qu’ran or other elements of its theology, which are harsh to Western ears, and which some Westerners wish to blame for terrorism.” I strongly disagree. While aspects of a moderate form of Islam have existed in pockets throughout Muslim history, as may be the case of the current Bosnian Muslims, it has never been a pervasive force, and was always prone to ideological defeat because of the complications that Muslim tradition presents and the sheer complexity of the Qu’ran itself. The so-called “Rightly-Guided Caliphates,” and the political power mongering in between, should be seen as the primary catalyst for this politicization and corruption of Islam. It is during the latter of these caliphates that men like Al-Bukhari and Abu Hurairah (relaters of the ahadith), became political “prostitutes” to the Caliphates.
Despite the fact that these so called traditions of the Prophet Muhammad were codified, approximately 150 years after his death, Muslims often make no distinction between the actual revelation of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah. In fact, Mr. Schwartz does not take pains truly to distinguish the nature of Muslim tradition from the revelation of the Qu’ran, and seems to paint them with the same brush in terms of their priority in Islam (although he of course recognizes the difference).
In Islam, the revelation forming the Qu’ran is the undisputed word of God, full stop. Ahadith, by their very nature, cannot be viewed as such. In several situations ahadith directly contradict the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran does not prescribe a worldly punishment, while specific ahadith prescribe the penalty of death. Each school of Islamic legal thought, including the Maliki school to which Mr Schwartz makes reference, sanction the death penalty for riddah (apostasy).
My argument is, following the “tradition” of Abdullah Na’im, Fazlur Rahman and Ahmed Mansour, that the perceived duality between the Qu’ran and Sunnah has led Islam to where it is today, in a state of disarray. What of one of the most controversial traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, in which the Prophet consummates his marriage to the nine-year-old daughter of Ali? This is a tradition that most Muslims rarely discuss in the open. I discussed this particular hadith with a Muslim recently who drew the conclusion that whatever the Prophet did was halal, hence legal; thus having sexual relations with a nine year old girl was perfectly acceptable because it was the Prophet who perpetrated it. To me, this widely accepted hadith provides the greatest case for abandoning or at the very least deemphasizing the entire Muslim tradition (whether the tradition is true or not).
Mere deemphasis or abandonment of the Muslim tradition does not end the inquiry. While I recognise (as a Muslim) that the revelation from God to Muhammad is “perfect”, the Qu’ran in itself is an extraordinarily complex document, often not fully understood by the most preeminent scholars. As such, it is essential in the twenty-first century that efforts be made to develop a new modern and moderate exegesis (tafsir) (in contrast for example to that of Sayd Qutb’s “In the Shade of the Qu’ran”).
I am not advocating the abandonment of the Qu”ran or its deemphasis in any respect, although it must be recognized that while the revelation of God to Muhammad may be “perfect”, the fact that the written Qu’ran has been tampered with and reordered by men, with certain verses omitted, should indicate that our holy scripture as codified by man may not be as perfect as we might think. This is why the development of a new, radically new, modern and moderate exegesis is essential.
Placing the complex Qu’ran, without comprehensive and exhaustive explanation of its contents and how it applies today, into the hands of Muslim youth is grossly irresponsible. Mr. Schwartz points out that once Wahhabism is vanquished and Islamic pluralism is “restored”, then we as Muslims can re-analyse the Qu’ran and Sunnah afresh. This is absurd. Muslims must collectively rethink and reevaluate these sources in the here and now. Through this self-evaluation, we can work towards providing a practical and viable alternative to the monster of Wahhabism. Simply fighting Wahabbism without providing an alternative vision will only perpetuate the existence of the ideology. Furthermore, a mere return, to pre-Wahabbi Islamic thought, even if that construct could be construed as moderate, without addressing the rationale behind the ideological shift from it to Wahabbism does nothing to adequately protect Islam from a future Wahabbi hijacking. What is required is not a return to the so-called “glory days” of Islam, where a limited form of pluralism and discourse existed, but the removal of the manmade doctrines that allowed Islam to succumb to Wahabbism. Otherwise the cycle will be repeated.
“Mr. Schwartz points out that once Wahhabism is vanquished and Islamic pluralism is ‘restored’, then we as Muslims can re-analyse the Qu’ran and Sunnah afresh. This is absurd.” Indeed it is, because Wahhabism spreads around the world by portraying itself, with abundant Qur’anic quotes and Hadith citations, as “true Islam.” It is the radicals who are interpreting the Qur’an for today’s Muslims. Unless and until moderate Muslims begin to re-analyze the Qur’an afresh now, and come up with some way to blunt the force of the radical exegesis that teaches that violent jihad is the Qur’an’s last word on relations with non-believers, the radicals will continue to have the intellectual ascendancy in the Islamic community.
Such reevaluation is not merely an academic or theoretical exercise. Western Muslims are slowly awakening to the fact that classical sources of Islam need to be reevaluated, not only in their interpretation but application. Western Muslims, in theory, provide the greatest hope for contemporary Islam (although reality seems to indicate a different trend). Discourse and critical self-examination are more likely to occur among Western Muslims because of the relative scope of freedom offered.
The influence of Wahhabism on Western Muslims, is largely a result of Western governments failing to curtail Saudi and Pakistani infiltrators and their propaganda from controlling Western Islamic institutions. Western governments have vested interest (which has been highlighted again by the killing of Theo Van Gogh) in ensuring that Western Muslims are free from the influence of Wahhabism.
I do not share the same enthusiasm that true Islamic moderation and modernization can emanate from the Arabian peninsula, even upon the collapse of Wahhabism, when Arabia is and always has been so culturally and ideologically divergent to Western idealism. Merely ignoring the disastrous impact that a greater part of the Muslim tradition has had on Islam, and hoping that Muslims can eventually discern what is moderate and modern from that tradition is naively optimistic in my view.
While I have nothing but respect and admiration for Mr. Schwartz’s knowledge and contribution to Islam, I strongly disagree with his conclusions. Nonetheless, I hope that this response fosters a healthy and constructive dialogue between two committed Muslims.
I hope so, but I rather doubt it “” and not only because Schwartz has replied haughtily and caustically to questions that I have raised. The larger problem is that as Haidon advances his project of Qur’anic reevaluation (in which I wish him all success), he will face Muslims who will brand him an unbeliever, and quote chapter and verse of the Qur’an both against him and to defend jihadist violence. There are moderate Muslims (and Haidon is one of the most forthright and courageous), but Islam itself is not and has never moderate. Jihadists base their actions on core elements of the Qur’an and Islamic tradition; attempts to uproot those elements, while I applaud them, are certain to meet with stiff and often lethal opposition.