This morning at FrontPage there is a lively discussion of the Abdul Rahman case and the Islamic death penalty for apostasy, featuring the Muslims Thomas Haidon and Salim Mansur along with Serge Trifkovic and me. Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald also makes a guest appearance near the end.
The recent case of Abdul Rahman raises, once again, serious concerns about the possibility of the modernization and democratization of the Muslim world. To be sure, what does it say about a religion that, in the year 2006, pronounces that a human being must be executed if he changes his faith? Can it be denied that Rahman is still breathing in Italy today not because the Afghan government let him go, but because he escaped from the Islamic world? And what does it say about Islam that the leading clerics in Afghanistan supported Rahman’s execution on a theological basis — and that almost the entire Islamic world was behind them? How, in the context of these realities, can true democracy ever be really built in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world?
To discuss these questions with us today, we have assembled a panel of experts. Our guests today are:
Thomas Haidon, the Chief Legal and Policy Advisor of the Free Muslim Coalition and a member of its Board of Advisors. A commentator on legal issues surrounding counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he currently serves as an advisor to the New Zealand government and has provided guidance to parliamentary committees on counter-terrorism issues. His works have been published in legal periodicals, newspapers and other media.
Salim Mansur, a Muslim writer and a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.
Serge Trifkovic, a former BBC commentator and US NEWS and World Report reporter. His last book was The Sword of the Prophet. The sequel, Defeating Jihad, will be published by Regina Orthodox Press in April. Read his commentaries on ChroniclesMagazine.org.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.
FP: Thomas Haidon, Salim Mansur, Serge Trifkovic and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Haidon, let’s begin with you.
I think it would be important to start with this question: As a Muslim yourself, what do you think about the death sentence handed down on Rahman? It is based on the teachings of Islam that you yourself cannot deny and must also follow, correct?
Haidon: On a personal level, the imposition of any criminal or social sanction to punish an individual who has made a decision of conscience to change their religion is morally and legally indefensible from an international legal perspective and, in my view, from a contextualist interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah (which is not necessarily a prevailing Islamic view).
The prosecution of Mr Rahman, and others recently arrested in Afghanistan (not to mention those accused and punished in other Muslim countries), poses a serious challenge to moderate Muslims, to not only condemn this punishment (which also applies, according to Yusuf Qaradawi, to “intellectual apostates as well) but to develop clear and thorough theological arguments showing that the punishment is indefensible, using the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The only positive outcome from the prosecution of Mr. Rahman, is the open visibility of Islamic intolerance exhibited by the Afghan government (including the ambivalent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission), and Muslims throughout the Muslim world who have rabidly called for Rahman’s death. This visibility will hopefully increase Western awareness of the tenets of Islamism and lead to more effective strategies in combating it.
At the outset, I acknowledge, that according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, as informed by the scholars of the four Sunni madhabs, as well as Shi”ia jurisprudence, affirm that an apostate in Islam, must generally be killed. However, as I hope to explore in this discussion, the Qur’an, the authoritative source of Islamic jurisprudence contradicts the Muslim tradition on this issue (which creates the legal basis for the penalty). The Qur’an prescribes no earthly penalty for the individual who ceases believing in Islam, in fact, many verses appear to affirm the freedom of religion and conscience. The particular hadith, as a reliable source for the punishment, when read with the Qur’an should be explored today.
FP: Serge Trifkovic?
Trifkovic: It may be possible to dispute the Kuranic justification of death for apostasy, but it is not possible to deny that the demand for such punishment is based on incontrovertibly valid Islamic sources, precedents, and methods of deduction.
While in some details Islam is not monolithic and there is no single “correct Islam,” the advocates of death for apostasy invoke sources and principles that are independent of any capricious or dubious interpretations of the Kuran or the Hadith.
These core sources have created a moral philosophy and a legal code that erases individual judgment based on natural morality or on the allegiance to any other source of authority but itself. Analogies thus derived stand above reason, conscience, or nature. The lack of any pretense to a moral basis for executing apostates is explicit: there is no “spirit of the law” in Islam, no rationality behind it for human reason to discover. There is no discernment of the consequences of deeds, and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked, least of all a notion of “natural” justice.
Islam’s denigration of the individual conscience has serious political consequences for societies that derive their concept of authority from the “Prophet.”: Any notion of freedom distinct from complete submission is forbidden and sinful. Human imperfection is not subject to improvement in the direction of God. Political progress of the kind that defined America in 1776 is not just impossible, it is irrelevant.
The fruits of Islam’s denial of natural morality are as predictable as they are grim, for the Muslims no less than for their victims: both are enslaved, brutalized, and de-humanized. Discrimination against non-co-religionists and women, racism, slavery, anti-Semitism, and cultural imperialism can be found, individually or in various combinations, in other cultures and eras. Islam alone has them all at once, all the time, and divinely sanctioned at that. As Clement Huart pointed out back in 1907,
“Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, have spread further and have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action.”
It is not Rahman’s would-be executioners who are “distorting” Islam; the reformers are. It breeds a peculiar mindset, the one against which Burke warned when he wrote that “intemperate minds never can be free; their passions forge their fetters.”
FP: Salim Mansur?
Mansur: Thank you, Jamie.
Oddly I will be in agreement with just about everyone in this discussion. The reason is simple. Islam and the Qur’an can be practiced and explained, justified or denounced, in whichever way and with whatever understanding an individual or collective approaches it.
The Qur’an describes itself as an inexhaustible ocean from whose bosom men might pull forth a mix of things life-sustaining and life-denying. In this metaphor the Qur’an is as is nature with volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and in their midst you will also find fragile roses. Muslims driven by power-seeking individuals remain wilfully negligent of fragile roses. Abdul Rahman is that rose as was Mansur ibn Hallaj, as was Ali ibn Talib and Husayn ibn Ali, and countless others killed by Muslims on the basis of life-denying reading of the Qur’an.
Islam is now open to global scrutiny as it should be. Religion is a human construct, and any religion as life-denying is worthless. So Muslims have to step forth unapologetically and fearlessly to cast aside the shell in securing the pearl inside the Qur’an. God gives man intelligence and freedom to discern the difference between the shell and the pearl within it. The Qur’an has been used by Muslims in their majority as a legal code to be enforced (hence a shell), rather than as a book of ethics enjoining freedom and responsibility (hence a pearl). The inevitable consequence of this has been Muslims making Islam into a political instrument shaping their life-denying culture — now fully exposed as in the incidence of Abdul Rahman.
Hopefully the outside world will squeeze Muslims to make them become eventually discerning individuals wanting freedom, as the Qur’an instructs, and cast aside their life-denying reading of the Qur’an for reconciling themselves with the modern world of science and democracy.
FP: The Qur’an instructs Muslims to become discerning individuals wanting freedom? This is news to me. Am I missing something here? To be honest, I have never read any consistent themes in the Qur’an that resemble anything even close to what is in the American Declaration of Independence or in the American Constitution or in anything else that promotes the individual’s right to live his life by his own conscience — and that instructs that it is no one else’s business what beliefs he has and how he lives his life.
Robert Spencer perhaps you can shed some light on the discussion thus far?
Spencer: The responses thus far have been illuminating both for what has been said and what has not been said. Both Muslims have acknowledged that, in Haidon’s words, “according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, as informed by the scholars of the four Sunni madhahib, as well as Shi”ia jurisprudence, affirm that an apostate in Islam, must generally be killed.” Thus Trifkovic is correct that “it is not Rahman’s would-be executioners who are “˜distorting” Islam; the reformers are.”
This indicates that the moderate Islam which is the object of so much confidence and hope in the West is at this point essentially a chimera, a fantasy. When George Bush, Tony Blair, and other Western leaders refer to a vast majority of law-abiding Muslims in the West, they are assuming that the major portion of Muslims in their countries accepts the principles of the societies in which they live. But if they accept the canons of traditional Islamic jurisprudence — in other words, if they adhere to what has been mainstream Islam throughout the history of the religion — they will not only approve of the execution of apostates, but will also accept many other notions that are fundamentally incompatible with core elements of Western pluralism and many Judeo-Christian principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Right now the public discourse is dominated by a dogmatic unreality that not only refuses to confront these unpleasant realities, but stigmatizes and marginalizes those who do so. But the implications of these facts will have to be confronted sooner or later — particularly as the force of events, in the United States and Western Europe as well as elsewhere around the world, makes it ever more difficult for the prevailing fantasies to be maintained.
Haidon: At the outset, I want to briefly outline why, in my view, and of some scholars, that the death penalty for apostasy should be inapplicable. My objective is not to convince Mr. Trifkovic or Mr. Spencer. Genuine moderate reformers have an obligation to engage in research that helps clarify the edicts of Islam towards moderation. We are not, as Mr. Trifkovic and Mr. Spencer point out of, distorting Islam (although it is recognised both gentlemen are merely restating, not endorsing what many Muslims would argue). I find this particularly offensive however as genuine moderate Muslim reformers are often the subject of fatwa and the rulings of apostasy which result in death.
Some scholars have gone so far as to accuse genuine reformers of being the “worst kind” of apostates (“intellectual apostasy”). I need not cite the countless examples of brave Muslim reformers who have set forth clear arguments in favour of moderation, and have suffered greatly. Having been called an apostate (by some Muslims) myself and threatened, I stand in solidarity with Mr. Rahman, and all others who have been deemed as such.
Over the past month I have articulated to Muslims in several forums and meetings our position (FMC) why the death penalty for the “crime” of apostasy is wrong. I will briefly walk my colleagues through it here (understanding full well that they may take issue with it).
The principle source of usul al fiqh is the Qur’an, the primary source (in theory at least) of sharia”. With respect to religious questions, the Qur’an must be consulted first. In cases where there is no clarity from the Qur’an, other, secondary sources are consulted (ie Sunnah, qiyas). The Qur’an could not be any clearer on the fate of those who accept and then reject faith (2:217, 3:176, 5:54, 9:101, 9:74, 9:80, 47:25, 47:27, 47:28, 88:21-260 (not an exhaustive list). They are to be punished by God alone (please note that I have not employed the oft used 2:256). The oft-cited hadith clearly contravenes the Qur’an.
According to most fuqaha, a hadith can limit the application of a general Qur’anic statement, but cannot negate it. For instance, a clear hadith which specifically stated that apostasy is illegal when coupled with high treason or sedition, would arguably be a valid limitation. But this is not the case, and should cast serious doubt on the validity of those hadith. Further, if we look to the actual practice of the Prophet, we will find that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to suggest that the Prophet killed apostates solely for the reason of their apostasy; in other words, he did not follow his own purported tradition.
The Prophet was surrounded by hypocrites (often deemed to be the worst of apostates) at times and even lived amongst them. How did the Prophet deal with them generally (outside of battle)? He prayed for them until he was ordered by Allah to stop. Some Muslims have used the examples of Abdullah ibn Abu al Sarh and Abdullah ibn Khatal to demonstrate that the Prophet ordered the death of apostates. While the Prophet did order their execution however, the evidence points to the fact their apostasy was coupled with the acts of spreading tales which the Prophet deemed false, in the time of war.
The example of Abdullah bin Sa”˜d provides some evidence that the Prophet did not kill apostates) whom only apostatised. While this still may be abhorrent, it does not demonstrate that the Prophet killed apostates, because of their apostasy. The sanctioned killing of apostates (whose sole crime was apostasy) did not arise until the Abassyid period (Abu Bakr’s infamous battle against those who did not pay zakah to the state cannot seriously be viewed as a war against apostates).
However even if the hadith can be construed as valid, the circumstances of when the statements were apparently made must be considered. In other words, the hadith must be viewed contextually. As discussed, the Prophet did not (in practice) kill apostates because of their apostasy alone, but because of a simultaneous or subsequent act which endangered the Islamic state. (Please do not read into this my acceptance or endorsement that the Prophet was justified in killing anyone). When viewed in this context, application of these hadith must be limited.
Mr. Trifkovic’s recitation of Clement Huart resonates with me. It is up to Muslim reformers to develop these new conceptions, and develop a way of disseminating the message. The latter in my view is the real crux of the problem. There are plenty of Muslim scholars, in recent times who have developed some of these “new” approaches: including Mohammed Tata, Kassim Ahmed, Rashid Khalifa, Fazlur Rahman, Ahmed Subhy Mansour, etc. (some of who have suffered the ultimate price for making these arguments). Convincing the Muslim masses of these concepts has been and will continue to be the challenge. Why are we failing? And to be sure, we most definitely are failing.
Mainstream moderate Muslim reform movements are marginalised by the greater communities. I would argue that such movements fare much better in countries like Egypt (the Ibn Khaldoun Centre) than they do in the West. Our organisation for example has extremely low Muslim membership. While some Muslims support FMC, many more Muslims shun our message of reform and moderation, and prefer instead to align themselves with groups like CAIR. Groups like CAIR and MPAC, who have a solid Muslim base could take the lead in reform (they have the capacity and capability). They could start with the issue of apostasy. But alas, we know this will not happen.
Again our challenge as Muslim reformers is to “clarify” and contextualise Islamic teachings, to bring them towards moderation and consistency with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the ICCPR and ICESR. There is a partial and universal moral foundation in the Qur’an contrary to Mr. Trifkovic’s assertion. This moral foundation however is clearly not overtly apparent or pervasive in traditional and contemporary Muslim teachings.
FP: Ok so the Prophet did not order the execution of this or that person for this reason but for that reason. Like what kind of explanations are these? You have a Prophet engaging in ordering executions? And Muslims in the same breath say that their Prophet was a man of peace? I find this quite troubling and confusing. And Mr. Haidon, you say that we should not assume that you support the Prophet ordering the executions you refer to. What does this mean? You are a Muslim who believes in Prophet Mohammed but you do not agree with how he killed people? Am I, once again, missing something here?
In any case, Mr. Trifkovic what do you make of the discussion?
Trifkovic: The discussion has a surreal quality to it. At a personal level I may sympathize with the desire of moderate, decent and powerless Muslims to be “revisionists” without sliding into apostasy, but the effort is sadly doomed. It evokes the perpetual quest for a socialism with a Human Face east of the Iron Curtain. Equally moderate and decent intellectuals were busy “discovering” and “rediscovering” the Young Marx — he’s the exact equivalent of those “enlightened” early Meccan suras — but it was always the old, mature Karl, and Vladimir Ilich and Iossif Vissarionivich, Medinans red in tooth and claw, that had the last laugh.
The willingness of a few to become what are objectively bad Muslims, because they are willing to reject discriminatory and offensive tenets of historical Islam, may be laudable in human terms but it will do little to modify Islam as a doctrine. As Sir William Muir noted back in Huert’s days, a reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer.
The problem is the same with Marxism and Islam because they are so structurally similar. Even Marxist and Islamic moderates who abhor violence nevertheless have to deny the legitimacy of other forms of social, political, and cultural organization — or else they cease to be believers altogether.
Those who do remain believers, Red or Green, cannot give up on one thing: on their quest for an eschatological shortcut that would enable the initiated to bypass the predicament of a seemingly aimless existence. By embracing natural morality and rejecting the gnostic mantras of Umma, or Classless Society, they would cease to be what they are. Alas, the fruits of Muhammad’s adage that “only Muslims’ blood is equal” is the curse that cannot be eradicated, short of a breathtakingly radical reform from within — a reform exceeding in boldness and scope those of Luther and Calvin — that seems no more likely today than at any time in the past 14 centuries.
Mansur: These are tiresome old debates that have taken place among Muslims and between non-Muslims and Muslims. Strange it is, or perhaps not so strange, that you have not heard about them, debates which have led to bloodshed. Right from the outset of Muslim history — as in the history of other faith traditions — there have been quarrels over ideals and practice, over what emerges as the official doctrine and what is driven underground as heresy by the power of the sword. Official Islam (the five schools of Muslim jurisprudence, four Sunni and one Shii, recognized as authoritative) reads the Qur’an as “diktat” and have killed Muslims on the grounds of apostasy by arrogating to itself rights that only belongs to God, so let us be clear about this. Who official Islam consider heretics, the Sufis for instance, read the Qur’an esoterically, understand it in terms of its hidden meaning (batin), and in this reading the Qur’an itself becomes an apostate to official Islam (as it does for instance in the reading by Rumi, who was a judge and jurist). Members on this panel are concerned, or berating, official Islam, even as they arrogate to themselves as official Islam does to dismiss those Muslims who will not concede to the authority of official Islam. And most Muslims, not all, for all sorts of reasons and apologetics, knowingly in the case of the ulema (religious scholars) or in ignorance of Muslim history, contort themselves into denying misuse and abuse of power in the name of Islam, or hadith-traditions, whether fabricated or having some measure of truth to them, of the Prophet.
There is no space here for a wide discussion of these matters where politics went into crafting an official doctrine of Islam and Muslim history, a history that only now because of the conditions available is being contested by Muslims and non-Muslims alike and will be reconstituted by Muslims (contrary to the dogmatism of official Islam) slowly in keeping with universal values of science and democracy.
For Muslims it is not a choice between the one and the other, between science/democracy on the one hand and continuing adherence to an official Islam at variance with our world. Nor is it for non-Muslims to enclose Muslims in their past and deny them, as official Islam does, their future by declaring Islam is frozen and life-denying, and cannot be reconstituted in terms of its ideals that were warped in practice.
And let us be clear that the Prophet of Islam is no less answerable to God for any wrong done by him (He only knows) than is any other mortal. In the Qur’an the Prophet is rebuked and the people are reminded he is a mortal, in other words fallible as all mortals are.
What is being insisted by one side, by those who hold on to official Islam as a frozen shell, is that the Prophet is infallible; and on the other side, those non-Muslims who mock the ideals of Islam by insisting that since the Prophet does not accord with their respective ideals Islam is analogous to Marxism and such other “isms”, in effect it is not a transcendent faith and its worldwide adherents are irredeemably misguided.
Between these two camps, and with these two camps, there can be no communication, and this is the problem of such discussions. Ironically, both camps, however much they insist on being reliant on history — a human craft riddled with human imperfection — are reductive in their views and, hence, ahistorical in their epistemology.
FP: Robert Spencer?
Spencer: Mr. Mansur says: “Members on this panel are concerned, or berating, official Islam, even as they arrogate to themselves as official Islam does to dismiss those Muslims who will not concede to the authority of official Islam.” This canard is familiar to me: I have frequently been charged with aiding the cause of Osama bin Laden when I dare to point out that his theological perspective is not quite as heretical and discredited within the Islamic community as mainstream analysts would have us believe. But this makes about as much sense as saying that Winston Churchill was a Nazi sympathizer because he tried to alert Britain to the magnitude of the threat of Nazism while most in Britain assumed that Hitler was a ridiculous crank who would come to nothing.
I am not in the least interested in dismissing Muslims who “will not concede to the authority of official Islam,” but I would feel much better about their ultimate prospects for success if Mr. Mansur could show me evidence that their views enjoy a wide following anywhere in the Islamic world — or that any significant body of Muslims anywhere rejects the authority of the madhahib, the schools of Islamic jurisprudence of which Mr. Mansur evidently takes a dim view. Unfortunately, I know already that despite the assumption of most Western analysts and government officials that a peaceful, moderate Islam is actually mainstream and dominant, neither Mr. Mansur nor anyone else can provide any concrete evidence that this is so.
Pointing out that Muslim reformers are actually few in number, with little support for their views both among the great aggregate of Muslims worldwide and within Islam’s various juridical traditions is not, as Mr. Mansur charges, an attempt to “enclose Muslims in their past and deny them, as official Islam does, their future by declaring Islam is frozen and life-denying, and cannot be reconstituted in terms of its ideals that were warped in practice.” I hope they will indeed achieve victory and transform Islam’s future. But it is important for non-Muslim analysts to make a realistic assessment of how likely that is. Islamic theology and history provide useful means by which such a realistic assessment can be made. To come away from examining that material with a dim view of the prospects for Islamic reform is not to support the global mujahedin; it is merely to understand why they are in the intellectual and theological ascendancy in Muslim communities around the globe — an understanding that Western officials would do well to gain.
Haidon: In response to your query Jamie, as Mr. Mansur has pointed out, the Prophet was fallible, a human being, not a deity despite the fact that Muslims perhaps unwittingly deify him. On several occasions in the Qur’an he is admonished by Allah, this is prima facie evidence of his fallibility.
On a personal level, I find many of the acts attributed to the Prophet in hadith and sirah, immoral, reprehensible and indefensible. These traditions are partially responsible for the travails before Islam.
In my view, reform of Islam does not require questioning “the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest”. There is only one divine authority in Islam, the Qur’an. If reform can occur, it will occur through the development of new hermeneutical methods in Tafsir, which contextualise the Qur’an in a modern context; and through the marginalisation of the Sunnah and man-made tradition of Islam from collective Muslim conscience. Both are magnanimous tasks (and arguably aspirational at best). The former requires a concerted effort by a core of “moderate” scholars (yes, some do exist), along side a forceful strategic grassroots “marketing campaign”. It demands an honest discussion of the doctrine of abrogation (nansakh).
On of the natural responses to my argument above (that the penalty of death for apostasy is wrong) is the doctrine of abrogation, which holds that later, more violent verses actually trump verses that were revealed earlier. The latter is easy to rationalise (but almost impossible to implement).
The Qur’an is revelation, Sunnah is not. The hadith were compiled almost one hundred and fifty years after the death of the Prophet. While Muslims have developed so-called scientific methods of verifying hadith, it is dubious at best. Ibn Waraq and Sheikh Ahmed Mansour have discussed the dubious nature of hadith. I will not discuss this further, and I am fully aware that this practically will not occur. Not because it is not a correct and legitimate argument, but because for centuries the confounding (not clarifying) hadith have existed as a duality along side the Qur’an (although most Muslims will deny it).
I would recommend my fellow panellists read the works of Sheikh Ahmed Mansour, Kassim Ahmad and Ibn Warraq (although not Muslim takes a skeptikal approach to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but has argued that most hadith are fabrications).
Until an honest discourse emerges among non-Muslims and among Muslims, Islam will remain in stagnation. It pains me to witness the West espouse the idea of “inter-faith” dialogue. I am consistently a participant in such dialogue, although in my view, the current state pf such dialogue renders it useless and actually distorts the real issues. When Muslims are involved, “inter-faith” dialogue becomes a platform for apologetics. Serious discussions on the aspects of Islam that are (or at least should be) a concern to non-Muslims are not engaged out of fear. Instead, these sessions involve a discussion of isolated ayat and traditions, which purport to fall in line with other faiths.
Regarding a theme in Mr. Mansur’s remarks, while I share, at some level, frustration at Mr. Trifkovic and Mr. Spencer’s scepticism about Islam’s prospects for reform, I understand it. However, the key difference (that cannot be overstated) between the Islamist camp and commentators like Mr. Spencer, is that in all likelihood Mr. Spencer would applaud a genuine and broad-based reformist effort, which had universal support, whereas Islamists would not.
While I am not familiar with Mr. Trifkovic’s work, I am familiar with Mr. Spencer’s. All one needs to do is read Mr. Spencer’s work. He makes no judgments himself, but merely highlights the fact that prominent and foundational Islamic scholars have for centuries advocated teachings which contravene the Western understanding of universal human rights. He consistently challenges Muslims to develop effective theological responses to jihadist ideology, and to be able to effectively deliver the responses to the Umma. Will we answer this challenge?
The case of Mr. Rahman, and those of countless others could serve as an optimal starting point. And to some extent it is. I am encouraged by the response of some Muslims. I have engaged with a number of communities (in the West) who have been prepared to have open and honest discussions about this. Out of the couple or so hundred Muslims I have discussed the issue with, a majority have unqualifiedly condemned the punishment of apostasy. Whether this is based on their own understanding of Islamic jurisprudence or of their own personal moral leanings is another question.
Nonetheless it is an encouraging sign.
On some levels it is unfortunate that the Abdul Rahman case was dismissed. Had the case been adjudicated (in which Rahman would have undoubtedly been prosecuted), we would have been able to see the actual resolve of the West. Would they have applied strong pressure or imposed sanctions? The tension between cultural relativism and the universality of human rights has existed since the advent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ambivalent international human rights monitoring framework has not helped resolve this tension. Many nations were silent during the Abdul Rahman affair (particularly New Zealand), and will undoubtedly be silent in future cases due to the absurd stagnation and political unwillingness of politicians to confront the hard questions about Islam.
Unfortunately, prominent states like the United States did not lead by example or “walk the talk” in terms of advocating for Mr. Rahman’s release. At the very least, however, the issue has been given some prominence, despite the fact that those Afghans” arrested subsequent to Mr. Rahman’s release have had no press coverage, and are of little interest.
In addition to the moral ambivalence of nations, we are also witnessing equal ambivalence amongst the prominent human rights non-governmental organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. While Amnesty did, attempt to intervene (albeit at a very late stage), it has no focused campaign which seeks to highlight the injustices faced by those in Muslim societies. Amnesty was silent in the case of Abu Za”id and countless other apostasy cases.
There is no hope for a peaceful resolution to the “clash of civilisations” if Western ambivalence and Muslim inability to modernise continue. To this end, I and other genuine moderates will continue, as Mr. Trifkovic states, to distort Islam. We have an almost insurmountable task in front of us. At the end of the day, it matters not if Mr. Trifkovic or Mr. Spencer believe we will fail. True reformers need to spend less time concerning themselves with what non-Muslims think, and concentrate all of our efforts towards genuinely developing a solution, within Muslim communities. My organisation, and others are continuing to fail in this regard; instead we have essentially pandered ourselves to non-Muslims. It is this sort of “pandering” that leads some non-Muslim commentators to doubt our motives.
FP: Just a quick note here. Mr. Haidon, when you say that “On some levels it is unfortunate that the Abdul Rahman case was dismissed,” I would just like to add that, while I see the general point, it has to be noted that if the case had not been dismissed a human being would have been executed. Mr. Trifkovic, go ahead.
Trifkovic: At the risk of sounding trite let me confess that this final round brings to mind Yogi Berra (“deja-vu all over again”). Inevitably perhaps, we have drifted from l’affaire Rahman to the perennial problem of Islam’s character and its potential for reform that would enable it to reflect upon itself.
I could have conceded the possibility of such reform at any time between 1918 and 1939, when the emerging elites in the Muslim world tried to define the quest for national and cultural identity and political power in terms of secular concepts, such as nationalism, with distinctly Western-inspired overtones. Al-Bana belonged to the fringes back then, and modernizers (including those on the Left) had the center stage.
The line connecting the Arab debacle of June 1967 and the reawakening of political Islam a generation later, following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, is uneven but clearly discernible. It was centered on the seminal “realization” that all earlier Muslims’ failures were due to its one improtant failure, to be truly Islamic. This “solution” demanded nullification of the historicity and an essentially mythical cognitive system.
That much is common to all contemporary adherents of Islam-as-solution. The alleged distinction between “extremists” and “moderates” reflects a Western mindset rooted in the liberal tradition alien to the Islamic world. The difference between them today may concern the methods to be applied but not the final objective: to rekindle the glory of Muhammad’s early successors.
The first decade of the XXIst century is unpromising in the extreme for radical reformers, including those who hope to achieve it by developing “new hermeneutical methods in Tafsir, which contextualise the Qur’an in a modern context; and through the marginalisation of the Sunnah and man-made tradition of Islam from collective Muslim conscience.”
With the success of the “traditional” project — just look at the demographic curve in Europe! — there is no pressure to seek such radical new paths. It is “objectively” less likely today than at any time over the past century that a reformed variety of Islam will emerge that would be capable of reflecting upon jihad, sharia, hadith etc.
This is so, let me repeat, for reasons political rather than philosophical. Only a major, painful, irreparable physical blow to the geopolitical ambitions and aspirations of the “traditionalists” could push the edifice some other way, including the wholesale expulsion of the jihadist fifth column from the West. Since I see no likelihood of any such scenario unfolding, the issue remains academic.
Mansur: Jamie, thanks. In the back and forth that we have gone through in this discussion, the only cheerful words for me are yours. So let me quote them: “The Qur’an instructs Muslims to become discerning individuals wanting freedom? This is news to me. Am I missing something here?” There is, I hope, in these words of yours, apart from your expression of surprise and disbelief, an element of humility which we all need, particularly the intellectuals, scholars, bookworms, scribblers, polemicists, apologists and all such folks who imagine if they can pen a few lines they have trumped the mystery of God. I write these words on the Easter weekend, a weekend of much mystery, when the Son of Man who died on the cross (the Qur’an states Jesus was lifted to the heavens unharmed) between a thief and a beggar would eventually have those who believed in him triumph over the might of Rome.
Let me recall what we got together to discuss: apostasy in Islam and the death penalty for apostates as might have been decided for Abdul Rahman. This is emblematic of Official Islam, and Official Islam’s history from its genesis is steeped in crime. Representatives of Official Islam is so sunken in crime that unlike Macbeth they cannot dare admit their unclean hands will make “The multitudinous seas incarnadine, /Making the green one red.” If you invited me on this panel to make apology for these criminals, you sent out an invitation to the wrong Muslim.
On the other side of Official Islam are not the “traditionalists” and the various sects — such as were the Wahhabis once — seeking to become representatives of Official Islam by usurping power as is the purpose of thuggish leaders of al Qaeda. On the other side of Official Islam are those who keep the Words of God and the love for His prophets alive despite persecution, abuse, disdain, and scorn of the intellectuals, and they are the common folks of the Muslim world. Theirs is the world of Unofficial Islam. Perhaps it is time for you, and for some of our panelists, to take some trouble and learn about this Unofficial Islam, and then you might truly be surprised to learn how much the Qur’an speaks about freedom, about God’s greatest blessing to His creation being freedom, and why freedom is heaven’s gift to man so that this lowly creature out of his own discernment (unlike the angels devoid of free choice) and given all the temptations of the flesh yet submits to Him out of love, not fear.
The Qur’an is not your American constitution, or Jeffersonian Declaration of Independence, which are worthy documents representing the best of human efforts in the making of free society. The Qur’an is God’s speech to man, to each individual soul for that person to understand God’s words in accord with his/her capacity, to discover inside themselves their Creator for, as the Qur’an states, He is closer to man than his jugular vein.
Quite rightly, your focus, and that of some of Frontpage, and others since 9/11 is on Islam. This is the Official Islam, and as I said in the earlier round the more the world squeezes this Islam of the hard shell, breaks the carapace of life-denying Islam, then life-affirming and life-sustaining Islam will slowly come to the surface.
In the meantime if you want to go beyond “what is news” to you, then come with me. I will take you to the shrines of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, in the province of Rajasthan, the heart of Hindu India, or Nizamuddin Awliya in Delhi, the historic capital of India, or Datta Ganj Baksh (Mansur al-Hujwiri) in Lahore, Pakistan, or Imam Reza in Mashhad, Iran, or Bahauddin Naqshbandi in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, or Shah Jalal in Sylhet, Bangladesh, or Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya, Turkey. These are only a few sites from many you may visit. For instance, Shah Jalal left his native home somewhere in the Middle East and traveled deep into the interior of Bengal and settled where he is buried. His name, while he was alive, reached far into the other side of the known world so that when Ibn Battuta, the famed traveler of the early 14th century, left his home in North Africa he made sure of visiting Shah Jalal in Bengal. And if journeying to these places with me is fabulous and improbable, then visit the shrine of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a jewel set in the cornfields just outside of Philadelphia, and discover for yourself the meaning of love and freedom as found in the Qur’an that the criminals of Official Islam despite all their efforts have not been able to extinguish.
The living reality of Unofficial Islam lies below the radar of most people, but some are now beginning to pay heed to the voices, for instance of women, that were ignored in the past. It is only when you begin to seek out the voices from the ranks of Unofficial Islam you will discover the untapped resource that can eventually wash away like a tsunami the detritus of Official Islam that has become a plague.
Neither in Ajmer, nor in Philadelphia, adherents of Unofficial Islam distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, nor pay heed to the life-denying discourses of Official Islam that so readily pronounces judgment as they would on Abdul Rahman, nor quibble over definitions of apostasy and other idiocies that occupy the waking hours of ayatollahs and sheiks. For Unofficial Islam there are only two categories of people: “Muslims” (those who have submitted to authority out of fear) and “Momeen” (believers in God the Merciful and the Day of Reckoning), and “Momeen” (as are President Bush and Prime Minister Blair) are closer and dearer to God than all the Muslims gathered together by the canes and whips of those who serve Official Islam.
History is non-linear, full of paradoxes, irony and, yes, Yogi Berra being a natural philosopher has it right when he says “It ain’t over until it’s over.” None of us will be around to see that moment. But, for instance, just as the immense tragedy of the Holocaust finally gave birth to Israel, the fires that turned to ashes the remains of the Twin Towers might well be the torch that has alighted the flames to melt down the walls of Official Islam and let the Words of God become unfettered to be heard and understood afresh.
Spencer: Thomas Haidon, an honest man whom I respect, is of course correct when he says that I would “applaud a genuine and broad-based reformist effort, which had universal support.” I have long maintained that one of the principal obstacles to their gaining such support is the tendency of many would-be reformers to base their reform efforts on weak foundations.
For example, while Mr. Haidon is right when he notes that the Qur’an takes for granted that Muhammad is fallible (cf. 48:2; 80:1-12), it also instructs Muslims repeatedly to obey Muhammad (3:32; 3:132; 4:13; 4:59; 4:69; 5:92; 8:1; 8:20; 8:46; 9:71; 24:47; 24:51; 24:52; 24:54; 24:56; 33:33; 47:33; 49:14; 58:13; 64:12). The Qur’an calls Muhammad uswa hasana, an “excellent model of conduct” (33:21).
But how is this model of conduct to be emulated and obeyed? The Qur’an’s information about Muhammad himself is sketchy at best; pious Muslims throughout history have therefore turned to the Sunnah in order to discover exactly what Muhammad was like and what he expects of them. They understand, as Mr. Haidon puts it, that “the Qur’an is revelation, Sunnah is not.” However, they find it inconceivable that in a book that “is not such as can be produced by anyone other than Allah” (10:37), there would be a command repeated many times – to obey Muhammad — that cannot be honored by any Muslims living after the death of the Muslim Prophet. Why would Allah tell them to do something that is impossible? So they turn to the Hadith for insight into Muhammad’s character and behavior.
Certainly there are many fabricated ahadith. There is also an entire theological science within Islam devoted to distinguishing authentic ahadith from false ones. The very existence of the science of mustalah al-hadith (Hadith classification) is yet more evidence that Haidon’s attempt to emancipate Muslims from the Hadith is unlikely to win broad support within the umma: the Hadith, along with legal rulings derived from it, are so deeply embedded within Islamic theology and practice that groups that challenge this are almost immediately declared heretical by what Mr. Mansur would term “official Islam” – an entity that, however odious, is undeniably dominant, influential, and all-pervasive in the Islamic world. It is also hard to imagine how the Qur’an-only Islam projected by Mr. Haidon would itself handle the oft-repeated command to obey Muhammad without recourse to the Hadith and Sira.
Nor is it useful in any way to maintain the illusion that a Qur’an-only Islam would not contain features that are jarring to those who believe in the universal rights and dignity of all people. Mr. Mansur asserts that Jamie Glazov “might truly be surprised to learn how much the Qur’an speaks about freedom, about God’s greatest blessing to His creation being freedom, and why freedom is heaven’s gift to man so that this lowly creature out of his own discernment (unlike the angels devoid of free choice) and given all the temptations of the flesh yet submits to Him out of love, not fear.” I am more interested in learning how Mr. Mansur and Mr. Haidon intend to blunt the force of passages in the Qur’an such as the one that calls “the unbelievers among the People of the Book [that is, primarily Jews and Christians] and the pagans” the “vilest of creatures” (98:6). Jews and Christians are under Allah’s curse (9:30) and must be fought by Muslims until they “pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). Islam must “prevail over all religion” (9:33), and Muslims must wage war against non-Muslims until “religion is for Allah” (2:193). Hardly a promising foundation for interfaith harmony.
The Muslim holy book tells Muslims: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly” (47:4). That is the Islamic justification for the spate of beheadings we have seen in Iraq and elsewhere in recent years. Such exhortations to war occur throughout the Qur’an. A sampling:
“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate” (9:73).
“The true believers fight for the cause of Allah, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan” (4:76).
“Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors. Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage.” (2:190-191).
“When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy [i.e., if they become Muslim], allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful” (9:5).
“Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another” (48:29).
Slavery is taken for granted in the Qur’an: “The penalty for a broken oath is the feeding of ten needy men with such food as you normally offer to your own people; or the clothing of ten needy men; or the freeing of one slave” (5:89). Another verse allows a slaveowner to marry his property: “Take in marriage those among you who are single and those of your male and female slaves who are honest” (24:32). Believers may keep slave-girls as well as wives: “Blessed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers; who avoid profane talk, and give alms to the destitute; who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)” (23:1).
And while the Qur’an does not contain any directive to stone adulterers, it is harsh toward other offenders: “As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands to punish them for their crimes” (5:38). Immoral women are to be imprisoned within the home: “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way” (4:15).
The Qur’an doesn’t treat women who are not guilty of immorality any better. Rather than regarding women as human beings equal to men, it likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223). It declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282). It allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3). It rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
Worst of all, the Qur’an tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34). It allows for marriage to pre-pubescent girls, stipulating that Islamic divorce procedures “shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated” (65:4).
Mr. Mansur, I am glad to hear that the Qur’an “speaks about freedom.” Please explain how you propose to help Islamic societies overcome the damage to human rights and human dignity that these other passages of the Qur’an have caused, and continue to cause. Yes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. But these and other Qur’an passages have led many people of good will to wonder if the prospects for large-scale reform in the Islamic world are over before they have even begun.
Haidon: Mr. Spencer has aptly cited most of the ayah that Muslims rely on to justify adherence to hadith. As Mr. Spencer implicitly points out, while the Qur’an does not expressly require Muslims to follow hadith, it dictates, in several instances, that Muslims must obey God and the messenger.
The Qur’an however does not state that Muslims must follow, blindly, a set of traditions that were compiled and written almost two hundred years after the Prophet died. The Qur’an is the authoritative Criteria. While space and time constraints prohibit me providing a thorough exposition into hadith criticism, I will refer Mr. Spencer to Kassim Ahmed’s exposition “Hadith: A Re-evaluation” for further (and undoubtedly more cogent and sound) articulation (see also Sheikh Ahmed Subhy Mansour’s superb “The Qur’an as the only Source of Law”).
The Qur’anic commandments to obey the messenger as cited by Mr. Spencer have been interpreted through hadith. As the Messenger, Muhammad’s duty was to proclaim and deliver the Qur’an. The meaning of the command to “obey Allah and his Messenger” is to obey the Message, which is the Qur’an. The Qur’an also affirms that the role of the Prophet is to merely deliver the message (46:9). Unqualified adherence to hadith, which is a hallmark of Wahabism, deifies the Prophet. Further the Qur’an affirms its own completeness on enumerable occasions (3:118, 6:114, 6:126, 7:52, 10:24, 10:37, 16: 89, 17:89, 29:51, 30:28, 39:23, 39:27-28, 41:3, 43:2-3, 44:2). Indeed, the Qur’an predicts the eventual Muslim abandonment of the Qur’an: “The messenger will say, “My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran.” (25:30).
Undoubtedly, many hadith provide necessary guidance on methods of worship and general conduct, and are innocuous. The conflict arises, in cases such as apostasy and the traditions, which make many Muslims uncomfortable to talk about. Admittedly as a Muslim, I rely on traditions in relation to salat and zakah. However, according to some fiqh scholars, this tradition is no less sahih than is the Prophet’s alleged sexual violation of Aisha. How can we as Muslims reconcile this? The failure to confront the way we view this body of tradition will lead to further stagnation. I do not agree as do some Muslim commentators do, that it is unnecessary to undergo this critical re-evaluation.
Moral Resolution of the apostasy issue will only occur through this re-evaluation.
I recognise the challenges that the Ahl’al-Quran face in effectively delivering a workable roadmap that forces Muslims to question hadith. I also recognise, that this approach may be the least amenable path towards reformation. At the very least however, Muslims must re-consider the methodology of Hadith-Qur’anic reconciliation. Ideally hadith which are prima facie inconsistent with the Qur’an, should be discarded. The problem with this approach however is the doctrine of abrogation, as it is understood by many scholars, in that it is difficult to say that certain unpalatable hadith are inconsistent with the Qur’an ( surat as-saif).
Reformation must be a gradual process in order to succeed. Before rational hermeneutical approaches to interpreting hadith can be thoroughly scoped, developed and implemented, Muslims must re-think their approach to the Qur’an first, and move away from the Wahhabi analytical literalist method ( al-‘ittijah al-tajzi’I fi al-tafsir) towards an enhanced thematic approach (‘ittijah al-tawhidi aw al-mawdu’I fi al-tafsir) .
Mr. Spencer asks the question that must be answered by reformists: How do we “blunt” the force of the verses which foment violence and intolerance among Islamists? If this question cannot be honestly and comprehensively addressed by Muslim reformers, reformist efforts are meaningless. I can provide no easy answer, as there are many dimensions to this problem that I do not believe I am competent enough to answer to.
But in my view, a primary exercise will be for there to be Umma-wide reconsideration of the scope and operation of the doctrine of abrogation. (The ground work for this discourse has been laid by Mohammed Al-Ghazali, Sheikh Rashid Rida, and Sheikh Al-Khidri). As long this doctrine prevails, reconciling Medinan-Maccan verses will be a difficult task. The adoption of a contextualist-thematic approach to Qur’anic interpretation will also be necessary. Such an approach, would examines ayah against the whole of the Qur’an and the historical context in which it was revealed to indicate that the application of the commandments set forth are relevant for that particular time period only. The Free Muslim Coalition is currently working towards a project for the development of a comprehensive tafsir that would employ this technique.
Again, some of the views I have expressed here must be qualified due to the reality of the current state of the Muslim world. But despite the scepticism of Mr. Spencer, Mr Trifkovic and others, we are making small gains, and some “quick wins”. This should not be overlooked or scoffed at.
Mr. Mansur’s earlier frustration at Muslim and non-Muslim marginalisation of reformers is understood. And again, while Robert Spencer provides legitimate critique, others do not. I take particular issue with Mr. Hugh Fitzgerald, a colleague of Mr. Spencer, who go beyond legitimate and academic criticism of Islam (which is needed). Mr. Fitzgerald, has engaged in unprovoked personal attacks on genuine moderate Muslims (Professor Khaleel Mohammed, Mstafa Akyol and others), and has denigrated the efforts of many Muslim reformers. Mr Fitzgerald in his daily postings at Jihad Watch has called for, among other absurdities, the unprecedented denial of some civil rights for law abiding Muslims in the West, and has advocated the brutal oppression of Muslims in China and other countries, and has further argued that Shi’a and Sunni violence is a good thing for the “Infidel’s”.
While Fitzgerald on occasion makes cogent and “spot on” arguments, his analysis is clouded by his unabated hatred for everything that is Islamic. To be sure Mr. Fitzgerald has every right to state what he pleases, and I would defend his right, particularly in the post-Danish cartoons context, but I do not have to like or agree with what he has to say. Does this make me less moderate? I think not.
I think a natural response of some reformers and pseudo-reformers, post 9/11 was to focus on trying to convince (rather unconvincingly) non-Muslims of our good intentions, instead of focusing on doctrinal reform. That course is now beginning to shift. The catalysts have not been acts of standard terrorism that we are so accustomed to seeing, but from the fallout over the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim response to the criminal charges lodged against Mr Abdul Rahman. Mr. Mansur, a true and prominent moderate (if he does not mind me calling him as such), will undoubtedly be aware of this. I am encouraged by the discussions coming from the Australasian Muslim communities who relied on dialogue and not violence or rhetoric to express their views on the topic.
Trifkovic: In the context of Abdul Rahman’s case, an essential element of that reform would have to be the (re)discovery of natural morality that would enable one-fifth of the humanity to escape the shackles of 14 centuries of dehumanizing nominalism. A reformer will need to aver that any Qur’anic command or precedent established by his Prophet have to be measured against both Reason and Heart.
It is essential to move beyond those endlessly arid analogies and deductions that are frankly offensive to one’s sense of moral distinction no less than to one’s reason. They stifle the proclivity to natural law, “this high and often ultrahuman motive” that needs to be further enhanced by education and refinement, “that is found in the pride of glorious traditions, in a keen sympathy with surrounding misery, or in philosophical recognition of the dignity of the species.” (C.S. Lewis)
Can a Muslim ever say that a thing is not necessarily right just because Allah says it is, or because the prophet has thus said or done, AND REMAIN a Muslim? Can he ever invoke some other standard of good and evil, and validate inhibitions based on Reason and Heart, without placing himself beyond the pale?
I don’t know, but I greatly fear that the demand for an obedient servant’s prostration before a capricious master, whose commands have no rational basis, is a hardy perennial.
Mansur: Jamie, a point is rapidly reached in discussions of this nature when nothing further might be squeezed from what has turned arid. If what I have stated this far remains elusive then I cannot make it any simpler, except repeating myself.
Let me try just one more time.
Human understanding of the natural world and beyond evolves over time, and yet we have tremendous disparity among us in our comprehension of the world of which we are ourselves a part. The unequal understanding is reflected among other things in the immense disparity among us between wealth and poverty, between health and sickness, between freedom and its denial. And yet the world is the same world accessible to all equally, but not understood or “read” well equally. Over time the disparity between the various understandings of the world bring individuals and peoples to grow and prosper, or decay and vanish. Cultures and civilizations have gone through this cycle, and even as we engage in this discussion we are witnessing the cycle unfold.
My reading of the world around me is what once constituted the “Official Islamic” civilization, with all its faults and some of its vitality, is in its death throes. The sooner it is interred the lower will be the cost incurred to Muslims and non-Muslims alike as a result of the destructive process of its demise. The burial of “Official Islam” will, most importantly, liberate Muslims to think afresh, to borrow, adapt, and grow once again. In this process of liberation many Muslims, perhaps even a majority, might seek comfort and renewal in other faith traditions and escape from the brutalizing effects of “Official Islam” not dissimilar to what occurred so many times in history such as when Persians, or North Africans, or Hindus and Buddhists left their faith-traditions turned life-denying to embrace Islam, or as Goths, Nordics, Celts and others embraced Christianity.
Such changes occur for many reasons, but one reason undeniable is that people leave the faith-traditions into which they are born when these become unbearable. “Official Islam” has become unbearable, and there is a vast corpus of Muslim writings on this matter. Let me just cite two names that your readers might want to be acquainted with, Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938) from India, and Malek Bennabi (1903-73) from Algeria. It is not a failure of imagination and critical thinking on the part of Muslims to engage in what Iqbal called for, and Bennabi echoed, the “reconstruction” of Islam, the reading of the Qur’an with fresh understanding consistent with the spirit of the age, of our time of science and democracy, and thus seek reconciliation of the eternal message of the Qur’an — its ethic of freedom and responsibility — with the perennial quest of an individual, man and woman, for truth, love, justice and mercy that leads to God.
I barely have time and space here to start quoting verses of the Qur’an, or for that matter the Bible. This is what folks do, those of “Official Islam” and those who engage with them in the game of verse-quoting, each side scoring points and seeking to best the other while the world goes awry. Long have we known that devil can quote the scripture better than saint; the pertinent question is whose conduct defines who is devil and who is saint.
What matters is God’s chosen or elect in this world and on the Day of Reckoning is, as the Quran states (49.13), the one most righteous in conduct.
The idea of freedom, both implicit (batin) and explicit (zahir) in the Quran, means prior existence of choice, of discerning between good and evil, right and wrong, and individual responsible for consequences that follow of choosing. Without prior existence of choice there is no freedom, and by denying choice freedom is annulled. When God hears the argument of the devil and leaves him alone to tempt man, instead of crushing him (7:11-18) evidently God bestows His trust in man and leaves him free to choose and bear the consequences. This is why man is grander in creation than angel for angel, secure from any temptation of the devil, is bereft of freedom to err, whereas man by his conduct can surpass angel in sublimity or descend to unredeemable misery. Only God knows what is in the heart of man, but the world can bear witness and judge his conduct.
The redacted Qur’an we hold in our hands has 114 chapters of varying length and some 6,666 verses. But then a verse of the Qur’an reads, “If all the trees of the earth were pens and the oceans ink, with many more oceans for replenishing them, the colloquy of God would never come to an end” (31:27). So for every verse of the Qur’an there is another to be cited, for any wrong that might be avenged lawfully there is the choice to be merciful and let judgment be with God, for any war to be just and rightfully waged there has to be freedom at stake, the freedom to worship freely, the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Righteousness is not pacifism and surrender of freedom, and if it were so then there would be no place for goodness and virtue. Men and women must choose to be free, and in that act of choosing is the risk of making false choices unleashing the struggle between good and evil.
Nothing said here is new and the only surprise is the need for repeating. “Official Islam” arrogates to itself power to deny choice, hence annulling freedom, and dictating what is right and wrong to Muslims and non-Muslims alike out of its own authoritarian inclination. As I said in the earlier round, the case of Abdul Rahman is emblematic of “Official Islam,” of making Islam into a state (or better still a prison run by wardens of “Official Islam”) and thus abjuring Islam by a Muslim is viewed as treason punishable by death. To “Unofficial Islam” the verse “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) needs no qualification, and trumps all the endless mumbo-jumbo of “Official Islam.” Now obviously, “Official Islam” rules in the guise of being faithful to God’s words, but what is the judgment of the world of this conduct. The answer is also obvious. No amount of quotations from all the various books of fiqh, nor legal contortions of Muslim apologists, nor ranks upon ranks of ayatollahs and sheikhs with their idiocies, will obscure the fact that this conduct is contrary to what is abundantly plain and simple in a verse without ambiguity that religion is a matter of an individual’s conscience and cannot be subjected to the power of an earthly authority.
I am asked how damage done to human rights and human dignities by certain verses of the Qur’an be overcome. It is rather simple and no different than such damages we hope will be overcome by people who suffered the totalitarianism of Soviet Communism and Nazism: first by helping defeat them (pacifists would surrender) by waging a just war with means in accordance with the situation, interning them and freeing those subject to such totalitarianism by lending them support to build a free and democratic society. This is indeed what is taking place in Iraq, and if Iraqis after having been delivered from tyranny to freedom then chooses to make a new hell for themselves by resurrecting some version of “Official Islam” they shall bear then the sole responsibility of their own misery.
It is pointed to me that the Qur’an condones slavery. This is the literalism of “Official Islam” parading as an absolute critique of the Qur’an. Slavery is a human condition as much as is our frailty and our mortality. It is ironically slavishness to be imprisoned by one stereotypical example of slavery in history, of buying and selling humans as chattels for their work as witnessed, for instance, in American history. I invite you to come with me to India, not a Muslim majority country, and witness slavery in the form of casteism, or to Africa, or Latin America, or in the chain gang shops in the interior of China, and see the wage labour at one dollar a day, or even less, of women and children in sweltering heat breaking stones, or drawing water, or selling themselves in tourist trade for a pittance to barely breathe.
The Qur’an speaks of slavery and instructs those who are more fortunate to show mercy and charity, kindness and fair treatment, of providing freedom (from bonded labour or wage labour) by provision of fair earnings so life may be lived by less fortunate with some dignity. It is not slavery that is being condoned (such may be the reading of “Official Islam” justifying the evil of slavery we have witnessed in Sudan), rather the human condition is identified that might change in its outer form and appearance but in substance remains with us and, therefore, the caution of how we conduct ourselves with discernment and mercy even as we seek mercy for ourselves. In a fair society such condition might get transcended and then these verses of the Qur’an will be redundant.
Similarly, on matters of gender, sex, inheritance, etc, there is the literalism of the Qur’an read by “Official Islam” and the vastly different comprehension of “Unofficial Islam” whose members are persecuted, silenced, and often physically eliminated. Take for instance punishment about adultery, about producing four reliable witnesses to indict a woman and a man of adulterous behaviour. Now where, may I ask, even in as open and transparent a society as found in the West, a woman and a man will engage in adulterous behaviour (unless they are publicly in sex trade) to be witnessed by four reliable individuals? The minimum condition of reliability of witnesses is sufficiently stringent to make any such charge absurd. I resist getting here into the discussion of whether free and consensual sex between two adults is adultery. But “Official Islam” at any time can produce four reliable witnesses to indict any person, or couple, then punish them and make for a hell of a society as Afghanistan under the Taliban became, or as so much of Muslim majority countries remain trapped in their own absurdities and criminality.
In respect to the Qur’an condemning Jews and Christians, these verses can be countered by other verses that assure Jews and Christians, and all believers, of mercy, justice, peace, ever-lasting life in concordance with good deeds for only God knows what resides in the soul of man be he a Muslim or non-Muslim. While “Official Islam” highlights such verses to privilege itself over others, “Unofficial Islam” reads the Qur’an as a universal message warning people, whether they are among Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, of the consequences of their misdeeds without any differentiation. And yes, verses from chapter 9 of the Qur’an are readily and frequently cited as evidence of the cruelty and violence in Islam. Muhammad as God’s messenger was instructed after all peaceful and persuasive means of preaching God’s message was exhausted among an indifferent people disposed to violence to defeat his persecutors, to destroy idolatry and establish Islam. But “Official Islam” that arrogates to itself the right to act as Muhammad also bears the responsibility for the consequences of what must follow when the act is unjust, wrong, or evil as so much of “Official Islam” is. History bears proof of arrogant “Official Islam” repeatedly defeated by those whom it labelled as “unbelievers,” a reminder to discerning souls not to be deceived by labels. Haven’t we witnessed the irony of chapter 9 turned against the Taliban, of these purveyors of “Official Islam” being scattered to the winds by the just arms of those who liberated Afghanistan? If we keep faith with justice chapter 9 will be the epitaph of “Official Islam.”
The Qur’an will be read variously, and understood differently. A chasm separates “Official Islam” and “Unofficial Islam.” The former is authoritarian, denying individuals their freedom that is gift from God; the latter cherishes freedom, so that individuals may be reckoned by God on their conduct in conformity with the Qur’an’s advice, “So try to excel in good deeds. To Him will you return in the end, when He will tell you of what you were at variance” (5:48).
And yes, such comprehension of the Qur’an and building a free society by Muslims with support and goodwill of those who cherish freedom are not unimaginable. But first “Official Islam” will need to be interred for Muslims to find liberation, rediscover God as the ever-merciful Lord of the Universe and not the capricious Master of the Day of Reckoning as rendered in self-projection by Macbeths of “Official Islam.” As I also observed in the earlier round, “Unofficial Islam” have always been there below the radar, an Islam that strives for the unity of the Heart and the Mind of a believer in submitting freely out of love to God that Blaise Pascal as a good Christian understood observing, “We know truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.”
Spencer: I appreciate Mr. Haidon’s explaining his case for a Qur’an-based, Hadith-free Islam. I wish him and all like-minded Muslims all success in their endeavor to construct an Islam that is humane in all respects and aallows Muslims to live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbors as equals. I appreciate his honesty in declaring that my oft-repeated question — how can the force of Qur’anic verses that foment violence and intolerance be blunted among Muslims? — must be confronted and answered by any would-be reformers. I am not in the least interested in scoffing at his “small gains.” Ultimately the fact that he and others like him face an uphill battle is not due to the skepticism of people like me and Mr. Trifkovic, but to the novelty of his views from the standpoint of Islamic tradition. But my hope that he succeeds is wholehearted.
Accordingly I was saddened and puzzled to see his gratuitous non-sequitur attack on Hugh Fitzgerald, my colleague at Jihad Watch. Mr. Haidon complains that Mr. Fitzgerald has “engaged in unprovoked personal attacks on genuine moderate Muslims” including Khaleel Mohammed — an ironic charge in light of the unprovoked attacks on me and my work by Khaleel Mohammed and other prominent Muslim moderates. But since Mr. Haidon has brought Mr. Fitzgerald into this discussion, I thought it only fair to pass on his remarks to my colleague. I received this reply:
In what is supposed to be a discussion of the ways in which Islam might be reformed — for example, through attempts to limit the significance, or dispense with altogether, the Hadith, on the assumption that the Qur’an taken alone is somehow peaceful enough — Thomas Haidon veers suddenly from a discussion of passages, and of his hopes and dreams for reforming Islam by doing such little things as ending the doctrine of abrogation, and opens up with an ad hominem attack on me.
He claims that I “go beyond legitimate and academic criticism of Islam.” What does this mean? What criticism is “legitimate” and what criticism is “illegitimate” in the eyes of Thomas Haidon? One needs something more than a mere dismissal by Thomas Haidon of “criticism” that is “illegitimate” in the eyes of Thomas Haidon; offer examples of that criticism, so that readers may decide for themselves what is, or is not, “illegitimate.”
The other charges are equally vague. How could I, how could you, how could anyone, reply to a charge like this: I, or you, or anyone “has called for the unprecedented denial of some civil rights for law abiding Muslims in the West”? What does he mean? Tell me, and I will reply in detail, beginning with a focus on the words “law abiding” in the context of discussing what is the minimal demand for loyalty — to the American Constitution, for example, and its principles — that can reasonably be required of those wishing to be citizens of the United States.
What about Thomas Haidon’s further charge of “advocacy of brutal oppression of Muslims in China”? Could that be Mr. Haidon’s attempt to express the idea that just as in World War II the English and the Americans did not take that occasion to worry overmuch about civil rights in the Soviet Union, the war of self-defense against the Jihad suggests that it is not illegitimate to fail to protest China’s treatment of its Muslim minority with the same feeling that one would protest its treatment of Tibet and Tibetan culture? If Mr. Haidon cannot figure out why that is a reasonable suggestion, then he could re-examine the entire history of warfare, and of the use of allies.
Doing exactly what he charges me with, Haidon then claims that I have “engaged in unprovoked personal attacks” on assorted “reformist” Muslims. Those who present themselves as Muslim “reformers” and whose reforms are based on ignoring both the texts and the reality of Islam deserve to be held up for ridicule. The reality is that there are a billion believers who are not about to listen to Mustafa Akyol with his “sola scriptura” (and in any case the Qur’an is quite damaging enough). A good many prominent Muslim reformers today are self-promoters. The attention, the lecture fees, the grant money from foundations being lavished on any Muslim “reformer” (see the beneficiaries of the Carnegie Foundation’s latest unloading of largesse) allow for a skeptical eyebrow to be raised. Why shouldn’t I mock those who have earned a little mockery? Why should I pretend that they are all so pure of heart, and none of them have their eye on the main chance? Do you think that Kamal Nawash is not promoting Kamal Nawash? That Mustafa Akyol is not promoting Mustafa Akyol? That Khaleel Mohammed is not enjoying the honoraria he receives from the synagogues at which he speaks about Islam’s need for reform, and about the important role of Khaleel Mohammed in that important work?
I am impressed with Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, Azam Kamguian, Irfan Khawaja — those who saw what was unacceptable in Islam, and having been born into it, gave it up, at immense personal risk and great personal cost.
As for what Tom Haidon, his charge that I exhibit an “unabated hatred for Islam” is nonsense and lies. I suspect he has far less interest in what is best in the world of Islam — that is, the poetry, Persian, and Urdu, and Arabic — produced by those who at least were called Muslims, than I do. But I don’t think he”ll be opening up his copy of “Tabletalk of a Mesopotamian Judge” or Mutannabbi anytime soon.
Readers deserve to know why Thomas Haidon suddenly veered way off topic and completely changed the tone of the discussion, when he stopped in mid-career from discussing Qur’an, Hadith, abrogation, and the possibilities of reform, and went after me. But in his outrageous list of charges, he does not offer you an article, a paragraph, or even a phrase by me.
So here, I’ll do it for him. Here’s a sentence I often write. No doubt Tom Haidon finds it offensive, finds it “illegitimate.” The sentence is this: “The large-scale presence of Muslims in the Western countries has led to a situation that is more unpleasant, more expensive, and more physically dangerous for the indigenous Infidels than it would be without that large-scale presence.”
You decide for yourself if that is an intolerable sentence, or an accurate one.
Thus Mr. Fitzgerald. As for the rest — for the putative glories of Mr. Mansur’s “Unofficial Islam,” forgive me if I continue to regard them rather the way I regard the unicorn. When I begin to see this Unofficial Islam wield significant influence in the Islamic world in convincing mujahedin to lay down their arms, I will change this view. When I begin to see this Unofficial Islam countering the dreary deception, half-truth, and shameless character assassination of those who tell the truth about Islamic teaching that today dominates the discourse of almost all those who proclaim themselves “moderate Muslims,” I will be the first to stand up and applaud.
FP: Thomas Haidon, Salim Mansur, Serge Trifkovic and Robert Spencer, I think we need to do a book length symposium. But we can’t do it here. Thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.