There are some who deny the existence of moderate Muslims “” that is, people who identify themselves as Muslims but genuinely have no desire to wage jihad against unbelievers in order to force Sharia upon them, and who accept as a model for society Western principles of pluralism and mutual coexistence, rather than Islamic principles of the conversion or subjugation of non-Muslims.
There is a certain surreal element in these denials. When talking with people who say that there are no moderate Muslims, I am tempted to respond with Mark Twain’s rejoinder to someone who asked him if he believed in infant baptism. “Of course I believe in it!” he replied. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” But of course, in this case it is not quite that simple. Those who deny the existence of such people maintain that they must either be lying or ignorant, and point out that they are violating numerous precepts of the Qur’an and Hadith, and therefore are not true Muslims. There is something of the spectacle in this, in non-Muslims setting themselves up as ayatollahs and muftis and deciding who is Muslim and who isn’t. But there is also some truth to it, given the fact that some self-proclaimed moderates are indeed lying or ignorant, and even more importantly, given the fact (unmistakeable to any unbiased researcher) that the Qur’an and Hadith do contain numerous clear exhortations to warfare against unbelievers, as well as numerous warnings against truncating or altering the message of Islam in any way — which would rule all reformers out of court forever. These exhortations are only amplified by Islamic jurisprudence, Sunni and Shi’ite. As the great ex-Muslim writer (and new Jihad Watch Board member) Ibn Warraq has pointed out, there are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate. Some analysts have maintained that to note the existence of moderate Muslims is to assume the existence also of moderate Islam, but there is no reason why this must be the case, and the analysis itself betrays an awareness of the contents of the texts without a concomitant awareness of the realities of Islamic history and culture. Islam exists as a religious and civic culture in many areas where there is no emphasis on the texts of jihad, and has not been with the span of anyone’s memory (at least up until quite recently). Consequently, there are in the world millions of people who identify themselves as Muslims without knowing or caring what Islam teaches about jihad, and without being called to account for it by their local religious leaders.
This doesn’t mean that the texts don’t exist, or aren’t important — indeed, quite the contrary, since literal-minded jihad terrorists are making inroads and recruits in such places today by calling the Muslims there back to full observance of the Qur’an and Sunnah. But are there Muslims who are sincerely trying to reevaluate such texts in order to make it possible for Muslims to live in peace with the rest of the world? There certainly are — and Thomas Haidon, author of this FrontPage piece, is one of them.
Haidon speaks realistically here about the possibilities for Islamic reform, with a candor and honesty that have been unfortunately rare from Muslim spokesmen. He accurately characterizes my own position when he notes that I have:
legitimately questioned the ability of reformists to implement comprehensive initiatives due to the impediments that the classical sources and methodology of Islam and Muslim tradition present to us. Spencer has rightly argued that until a reformist movement tables coherent and irrefutable evidence that the version of Islam envisioned by reformists is the “correct Islam”, then the movement will never have mass appeal in the Ummah.
I stand by these views. It must be noted that they make a reform in Islam virtually inconceivable. Others, realizing this, have called instead for an outright ban on Islam. I would ask them: how would you propose to enforce such a ban? What penalties would you levy for the continued practice of Islam? Would you prosecute people for evidence that they were ready to commit violence in the name of Islam, or simply for owning a Qur’an and praying Muslim prayers?
The non-Muslim West is in a fight for its very life, although few are willing to admit it. The most important theater of this conflict is not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the domestic ideological conflict in all its permutations. This conflict calls upon us to defend the principles which have made Western civilization great, and unique: equality of dignity and rights for all, due process, etc. If we compromise or discard these principles to fight the jihad, we might as well elect Osama bin Laden President of the United States. Accordingly, I reject solutions to this problem that contravene those principles. But there are no good choices in this conflict: “banning Islam” is a quixotic call with genocidal overtones, trampling upon the freedom of conscience that we should defend (although freedom of conscience must end where violent jihad begins); calling for Islamic reform, however, is essentially just as quixotic, given the dim prospects of such a reform.
What we can do at this point is continue to try to raise awareness of the true nature of this conflict, which is the purpose to which Jihad Watch is dedicated, and advocate in the public sphere measures which take realistic account of the nature of Islam, the implications of virtually unrestricted immigration from Muslim countries, the likelihood of jihadist activity in American mosques, and so on. At the same time, we need to call upon the Muslim world to heed voices like Thomas Haidon’s, before the conflict escalates to a point that will make that impossible.
Here is a key excerpt from his piece:
Reform movements and organizations are not only facing a barrage of opposition from Islamist Muslims, but also from “middle of the road,” traditional and conservative Muslims. The latter groups, while purporting to agree with some reforms, have argued that organizations such as FMCAT need to develop a more pluralistic and conciliatory approach towards Muslims who do not necessarily support Islamist ideology, but whom are traditional and conservative and less prone to change. These individuals often argue that a softer approach is required. Also, they say we should soften our stances on specific issues in order to include more Muslims. They raise a point in some respects. Perhaps our organization should develop a more pluralistic approach- one that would result in larger membership. I think this can legitimately be achieved through more strategic initiatives. The reformist agenda must not deliberately alienate “middle of the road” Muslims, as they are key to the battle of ideologies. If we lose this contingency, we lose the war.
However, where do we draw the line? Is it possible to be committed to a reformist agenda, while compromising that agenda at the same time? Allowing for even seemingly smaller compromises could lead to a slippery slope where bigger compromises are made. Reformist movements will fade away into insignificance and obscurity. Simply saying that Islam needs reform without taking adequate steps to do so, out of fear from angering those in the Muslim community, will render any movement utterly spineless.
Groups like FMCAT has made some inroads to promote the reformist discourse. The organization has grown to ten active domestic chapters, along with three international chapters in Canada, Egypt and New Zealand. While membership numbers are relatively modest, Muslims have been aligning themselves to the organization at a fairly significant rate as we reach out to local Muslim communities. And to what end is FMCAT contributing intellectually to the reformist movement? The answer is not as much as it can. So far FMCAT and other reformist organizations have failed to develop an effective theological base for reform. This aspect is now in the infant stages of development as our organization has acquired several Islamic scholars (who are the bedrock of real reform) to help create a plan. While we are building a series of grassroots initiatives designed at presenting aspects of the reformist agenda, the development of the theological reasoning behind our mission will be essential to our survival. We are rising to this challenge. We are beginning to accomplish what so many have told us is impossible.
So where do we go from here? Unless reformist organizations develop effective, grass roots strategies to achieve goals that are firmly rooted in theological principles — i.e. the Qur’an — the reformist discourse will prove to be nothing but rhetoric. But at the same time, strategies and policies must be developed in such a way that they do not compromise the essence of “reform,” which is the cultivation of a modern and moderate Islam, in order to appease Islamist elements of the Muslim community. Moderate reformist scholars, who have laid the groundwork for this discourse, must also play an active role in the popular, as well as the intellectual, discourse on reform.