I have written a great deal about Islamic reform, Islamic moderation, various self-proclaimed and actual Islamic moderates, and the prospects for a large-scale renunciation of the Islamic theological and legal principles that fuel the global jihad.
Everyone is looking for Islamic reformers and attaching massive hopes to Islamic reform. The thirst to find such people is so great, and the ignorance of Islam so widespread, that Westerners are ready to embrace and trumpet anyone who says some reassuring things — even if he has no following, or only a tiny following, in the Islamic world, or if he is hounded and hunted as a heretic by the adherents of various Islamic orthodoxies, or if his prescription for reform is self-contradictory and unworkable.
Here is an example of the latter. I post it not because I do not wish Malek Chebel well. In fact, I wish him all success. But I am aware that if what is below is an accurate summation of his views, he has little chance of success, because what he says must be done cannot be accomplished in the way that he outlines. I present this, as I have presented all criticism of Islamic reformers, in the hope that they will begin to address these antinomies, recognizing that the principles “We must return to the original Islam” and “Jihad should be declared illegitimate” are in irreconcilable opposition. Once they recognize that, perhaps they will be able and willing to sketch out a prescription for reform that will not so readily founder upon its own self-contradictions.
“Algerian Reformist Malek Chebel: 27 Propositions for Reforming Islam,” from MEMRI, with thanks to all who sent this in:
Malek Chebel, a renowned anthropologist focusing on the Arab world, is one of today’s prominent French-speaking North African intellectuals. In 2004, he established, in France, the Foundation for an Enlightened Islam.
Chebel has published some 20 books on Islam, in which he has frequently dealt with sensitive and uncommon subjects, such as love in Islam: He claims that Islam is a sensuous religion and condemns the strict fundamentalist approach to relations between men and women. He has also tackled such taboos as wine and homosexuality in Islam. His publications include a Love Dictionary of Islam (Plon, 2004) and an Encyclopedia of Love in Islam (Payot, 1995). His other main focus is reform of Islam, to which he has dedicated two major books: Islam and Reason: The Struggle of Ideas (Perrin, 2005), and Manifesto for an Enlightened Islam (Hachette, 2004).
In his Manifesto for an Enlightened Islam (Manifeste pour un islam des lumiÃ¨res), Chebel puts forth 27 proposals for extensively reforming Islam. He turns to the values of the 18th-century European Enlightenment for guidance, when rationalism and secularism guided the drive towards cultural, social and political progress. Chebel’s first two propositions set the principles of reform: a new interpretation of the Koran, and the preeminence of reason over creed. However, he dismisses atheism, noting that “nothing very important is achieved outside the framework of religion.” 
Chebel calls for putting an end to violence in the name of Islam; for renouncing Jihad, which is, in his eyes, immoral; for abolishing all fatwas calling for death; and for abolishing Islamic corporal punishment. Chebel stands against female genital mutilation and for banning slavery and trafficking in human beings in the Arab world; for strict punishment of the perpetrators of honor crimes and for promoting the status of women.
Returning to the Original Islam to Combat Islamism
Islam used to be modern, whereas today it is backward, says Chebel. He explains that only a return to the “intellectual heritage” of Islam will counter Islamism: “This disgusting ideology [Islamism] is fed by a kind of complicity, of indifference, of fatalism […] We must provide Muslims with an alternative solution to which they can adhere. In order to achieve this, we should go back to the intellectual heritage of original Islam […] This is what I am trying to do when I advocate a true and therefore modern Islam. As a matter of fact, [true] Islam has always carried [within it] modernity.”  He says that as a “modern” religion, the original Islam did not deprive Muslims of their freedom of choice: “The Islam I love is freedom. But current Islam is not. It is controlled by a certain number of structures [societal, political, educational, and religious structures] aiming at destroying freedom. They impose one vision, one judgment, one outlook. They prevent any kind of free choice.” 
The “enlightened Islam” Chebel advocates is based on the values of secularism. But, he explains, today the Arab world considers secularism to be a Christian threat: “Muslims have associated the concept of secularism with Christian aggression against Muslims. The word ‘secular’ sounds derogatory in the preaching of several preachers, like an insult.” 
In addition to basic comprehensive reforms, Chebel proposes specific changes within Islam, in an effort to put an end to violence in the name of religion. He also suggests specific political reforms aimed at promoting democracy in the Arab world, and a set of social reforms meant to increase well-being and general happiness in Islamic countries.
Declaring Jihad Useless and Obsolete: “Is it possible to replace war with peace?” asks Chebel, and answers: “Jihad should be declared illegitimate since it entails death, which is not a noble thing in the eyes of the Koran, and also because it is used to justify all kinds of aggression.” On the other hand, peace initiatives from outside or from within the Muslim world should be promoted. Chebel suggests the establishment of a Muslim NGO, with sufficient resources, to promote peace between people, in Islamic lands and everywhere needed. Chebel writes: “I believe no other region spends as much money for its armament, relatively, as does the Islamic world.” In addition, Chebel notes that “there is no redistribution of wealth, and when there is, it only concerns the construction of mosques.”
Chebel’s other recommendations are excellent. I hope they are adopted. But will a return to the original Islam really result in an intellectual flowering and enable the idea of violent jihad to be discarded? The Qur’an considers death “not a noble thing”? Yet it instructs Muslims to “kill the unbelievers wherever you find them” (9:5), promises Paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for Allah (9:111), and taunts the Jews that if they are really chosen of Allah, they will love death: “Say (O Muhammad): O ye who are Jews! If ye claim that ye are favoured of Allah apart from (all) mankind, then long for death if ye are truthful” (62:6).
And Muhammad, of course, was a warrior. He fought in battles, he ordered the assassinations of his enemies, and he blessed those who carried out his wishes by killing those enemies. This is all readily established from Islamic sources — and you can’t get any more “original” in Islam than the example of Muhammad himself.
I have discussed here before the fact that I am considering writing a biography of Muhammad. I set it aside for awhile, but now I have a proposal in with a publisher; they’re considering it. More and more I think such a book is necessary, since we hear from good people like Chebel that a return to original Islam will solve the problems of the Islamic world, and yet we also hear from the jihadists that it is they who are following the mandates of true, original Islam. Accordingly this is a question that needs to be resolved, and has large implications for public policy. I’ll keep you posted.