Muslim reformer Edip Yuksel starts out at this Frontpage symposium sounding as if he is full of reason and good will. He introduces us to his “reform” efforts, and sets out, in exhaustive detail — this symposium was conducted not as a live discussion, but as a submission of texts and answers to texts — in what ways the Hadith are a danger. He suggests that the path to the reform of Islam lies in recognition that the Hadith cannot be simply interpreted away, or assigned levels of putative “authenticity” different from those assigned to them by the most authoritative muhaddithin in the past so as to render them less noxious, but rather in simply refusing to recognize their validity altogether. For Yuksel sees the Hadith, correctly, as a post-Qur’anic invention, and he wishes not only to demystify them, but also to jettison them altogether, so that his goal of “sola scriptura” in the Muslim context — that is, reducing the canonical text to the Qur’an alone — may be achieved.
He tells us, for example, that the Hadith are later concoctions, some woven out of whole cloth, and others only partly so. But in all cases they reflect, he claims, the desire of this or that Muslim ruler or tribe, or of some other special pleader, for the authority they could obtain for this or that act. Or possibly they represent an attempt by those personages to increase their own prestige by concocting, manipulating, or promoting certain Hadith.
All this while, Yuksel fails to display any recognition of several things.
The first is that the Qur’an itself, as Robert Spencer points out, contains many passages that are disturbing, for women, and for Infidels, and that the removal of the Hadith would do nothing to correct the problems in the Qur’an itself. The second is that while Yuksel is apparently willing to see the Hadith as a product of history, as subject to the kind of study and criticism that, for example, the texts of both Christianity and Judaism have been subjected to ever since the Higher Criticism began in the nineteenth century, he is not willing to consider for one minute that the Qur’an itself may exist not outside but within history, as a product of its age, and so be susceptible to the same kind of study. For him the Qur’an must remain sacrosanct, uncreated and immutable, and he does not recognize that just like the Hadith, the Qur’an could be subjected to similar rigorous study — of the kind, for example, that Christoph Luxenberg, and not only Luxenberg, have started to offer.
The second is that Yuksel almost comically fails to recognize is that his time-line is quite different from what the age, and the situation, demands. He complacently explains that in Turkey, over the past 30 years, his “reforming” methods have attracted the support of “tens of thousands.” Now let us assume those tens of thousands are, for the sake of arithmetic, 30,000. That would mean that over 30 years, he has been converting Muslims to the notion of relying solely on the Qur’an at the rate of 1,000 a year. Given that there are at least a billion Muslims, at the same rate we should have to wait a million years to persuade all Muslims that they can safely do without the Hadith, and perhaps even the Sira. Can we wait a million years? A thousand? A hundred? Fifty? We can’t wait even twenty years for the Western world, or the larger world of Infidels, to take drastic measures to protect ourselves from the menace to our own societies, and wellbeing, that the Islam Jihad presents, and from the instruments of Jihad that have been most effective — not “terrorism” but rather the Money Weapon, Da”wa, and demographic conquest of the Dar al-Islam, or parts of it.
The third is that he fails to recognize that because the disturbing texts are not to be found in the Hadith alone, it is better to try to find ways to allow Muslims to re-think the Qur’an, to see it not as an uncreated and immutable text, but as a fallible human document, not outside but inside of history.
The fourth is that he fails to explain how Believers, those who rely on the Qur’an and the Sunna, will simply manage to do without the Sunna, when it is the Sunna that provides all the rules for daily life, what is commanded and what prohibited. It has frequently been observed that the Sunna is at least as important as the Qur’an.
But Yuksel cannot meet a single one of these objections. For he remains a Believer, and so there is a limit to what he can, intellectually and emotionally, permit himself. He simply cannot bear to contemplate the idea that the Qur’an is not the literal word of God, uncreated and immutable, and while he cannot refute Spencer when Spencer adduces the evidence from the Qur’an of support for the mistreatment of women and the even more horrendous mistreatment of non-Muslims, he simply becomes angry. How dare, he seems to say, Spencer be so ungrateful for the effort that he, Yuksel, has put into his “reforming Islam” project? Can’t Spencer simply be glad that the Hadith will be, in time, undercut? Why does he insist that Spencer is acting in bad faith by continuing to point to problems with the Qur’an?
Spencer is merely pointing out what is there, and not inventing a thing, but Yuksel’s tone quickly degenerates — first when he invites Spencer and Warner to become Muslims, and gives the usual Muslim view about the universe in essence being Muslim anyway. And then, still more telling, he erupts into that hysterical display that those raised as Muslims, even the “reformers,” so often exhibit, no matter how even-tempered and moderate they at first appear to be, whenever they are confronted with objections to which they have no answer, and their whole enterprise is exposed to Infidel view as faintly, or greatly, beside-the-point and even hopeless.
Let me simply let Yuksel speak for (or write for) himself:
I will attempt to clarify my statement. I meant what I said. Either Muhammad was one of God’s messengers or he was an impostor. Since, I am convinced because of substantial evidence that the Quran is the word of God, it follows that I should consider those who have devoted themselves to distort the truth about the Quran and its messenger, to be on the wrong path. Unlike Sunni or Shiite Muslims, I support their freedom to choose any path they wish and express their faith or conviction without fear. I will side with them against any group that would try to deprive them from their God-given right to freedom.
So, if these gentlemen have the right to depict Muhammad to be an evil guy and his supporters being as evil or duped, then I should also have the right to expose their so-called scholarly work, which is merely based on hearsay books and distortion and contortion of the Quranic verses by the followers of those hearsay stories. For instance, brother Spencer generously uses the hearsay stories fabricated centuries after Muhammad’s life to assassinate Muhammad’s character, while he knows well that according to the same sources which he trusts, Muhammad reportedly split the Moon causing half of it to fall in Ali’s backyard, or Muhammad reportedly made trees walk, Muhammad ascended to the seventh heaven with his body, and many other stories. Scholarly integrity requires consistency and honesty in using sources in evaluating a historic personality. But, your gentlemen pick and choose from those books as they wish. They take advantage of the crazy noises created by Jingoists, Crusaders and Jihadists, and hideously try to justify a bloody imperial Crusade with its resurrected Spanish Inquisition mentality against Muslims. I consider the work of these gentlemen a dishonest or ignorant attack against one of the most progressive and peaceful leaders in human history. I would like to repeat my invitation to Spencer to discuss his book about Muhammad at the Celebration of Heresy Conference, which we are organizing in Atlanta by the end of March. See: www.hereticmuslims.com.
That is Yuksel. He will not give up his Muhammad, who is either the Messenger of God or he is nothing, an impostor. He cannot conceive of Muslims investigating the nature of the historical Muhammad, as Western scholars study the historical Jesus, attempting to separate fact from fiction. It is, for Yuksel, all or nothing at all. So while he is willing to jettison the Hadith, he is not willing to see Muhammad as anything other than the Model of Conduct, uswa hasana, the Perfect Man, al-insan al-kamil.
And furthermore, Yuksel does not touch the details of Muhammad’s life that we Infidels are becoming familiar with: the mass decapitation of the bound prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, the attack on the Khaybar Oasis, the assassinations of Asma bint Marwan and Abu Afak, the marriage to little Aisha, the deliberate breaking of the treaty made with the Meccans in 628 A.D. “Ne touche pas a mon prophete” appears to be his motto. And do not change one diacritical remark in the Qur’an. No doubt Yuksel would be appalled by the work of Ibn Warraq, who notes that there is more than one received version of the Qur’an, for this is a delicate matter for all True Believers.
He disappoints far more than the other reformer in this symposium, Thomas Haidon, who is simply a Western convert who has created his own private Islam which he allows himself to believe has something more than wishful thinking to back it up. And yet at the same time he can recognize many — but not all — of the disturbing sentiments that Islam inculcates. I presume he feels caught, and thus his bizarreries are emotionally comprehensible, if intellectually unacceptable.
Spencer’s criticisms of Yuksel were offered in a spirit of sympathetic realism: just how are we to handle what is in the Qur’an? Pretend it isn’t there — or simply, as Yuksel does, become furious when anyone dares to notice what is there? And just how likely is it that a billion Muslims will now be willing to jettison the hadith? And would they be willing to concede that the first biography of Muhammad, that of Ibn Ishaq, was not written down until 150 years later? Would they then attempt to simply read out all the unpleasant bits — the Banu Qurayza, Asma bint Marwan, the Khaybar Oasis, little Aisha — as later interpolations that have nothing to do with the real, the good, the perfect Muhammad, on the theory that since Muhammad was so perfect, he couldn’t possibly have lead a raid on the inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis, couldn’t have decapitated the helpless prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, couldn’t have expressed delight at the murder of Asma bint Marwan, couldn’t possibly have had sexual intercourse with little Aisha when she was nine?
That’s a way out, but Yuksel showed no signs of presenting that.
Recently, on MEMRI, a dignified Saudi reformer expressed his pessimism about Muslims. He said they were mired in myth, and were “regressing.” He did not have much hope left. Clearly, he understood that the minds of men on Islam are not like the minds of men who were adherents of other religions, but were much more akin to the minds of those men who had been raised up in societies suffused with the ideology of such political Total-Belief systems as Nazism and Communism.
It’s a pity. A pity for them, and a pity for us. But it is us we must care for, us we must protect. They will have to fend for themselves.