The WSJ asked Anwar Ibrahim, Bernard Lewis, Ed Husain, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Tawfik Hamid and Akbar Ahmed to reflect on the nature that ever-elusive unicorn, moderate Islam.”A Symposium: What Is Moderate Islam?,” from the Wall Street Journal, September 1 (thanks to all who sent this in):
Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader, makes this admission:
Skeptics and cynics alike have said that the quest for the moderate Muslim in the 21st century is akin to the search for the Holy Grail. It’s not hard to understand why. Terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and the jihadist call for Muslims “to rise up against the oppression of the West” are widespread.
The radical fringe carrying out such actions has sought to dominate the discourse between Islam and the West. In order to do so, they’ve set out to foment anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. They’ve also advocated indiscriminate violence as a political strategy. To cap their victory, this abysmal lot uses the cataclysm of 9/11 as a lesson for the so-called enemies of Islam.
Countering this, he invokes the undeniable existence of Muslims who are just trying to live ordinary lives:
These are the Muslims who go about their lives like ordinary people–earning their livings, raising their families, celebrating reunions and praying for security and peace. These are the Muslims who have never carried a pocketknife, let alone explosives intended to destroy buildings. These Muslims are there for us to see, if only we can lift the veil cast on them by the shadowy figures in bomb-laden jackets hell-bent on destruction.
In the end he does not posit the existence of a Moderate Islam, but calls for its creation:
Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.
The renowned scholar Bernard Lewis makes a similar admission:
A form of moderation has been a central part of Islam from the very beginning. True, Muslims are nowhere commanded to love their neighbors, as in the Old Testament, still less their enemies, as in the New Testament. But they are commanded to accept diversity, and this commandment was usually obeyed. The Prophet Muhammad’s statement that “difference within my community is part of God’s mercy” expressed one of Islam’s central ideas, and it is enshrined both in law and usage from the earliest times.
However, he then trots out the familiar claim that historically Muslims were more tolerant than Christians:
This principle created a level of tolerance among Muslims and coexistence between Muslims and others that was unknown in Christendom until after the triumph of secularism. Diversity was legitimate and accepted. Different juristic schools coexisted, often with significant divergences.
Even if this is true, and there is a lot of evidence that it isn’t (why were 17 million Jews living in Europe and only one million in the Islamic world at the dawn of the twentieth century?), it establishes nothing. Laws of any kind can and will be relaxed, ignored, and broken. But if they remain on the books, they will likely be enforced again by someone with the will to do so. And so if Islam has no command to love one’s neighbor, Muslims will generally not be loving to their neighbors, except when human nature gets the better of what they’re taught.
Even after retailing this soothing nonsense, Lewis tells the truth:
For the moment, there does not seem to be much prospect of a moderate Islam in the Muslim world. This is partly because in the prevailing atmosphere the expression of moderate ideas can be dangerous–even life-threatening. Radical groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, the likes of which in earlier times were at most minor and marginal, have acquired a powerful and even a dominant position.
But for Muslims who seek it, the roots are there, both in the theory and practice of their faith and in their early sacred history.
In that, Lewis contradicts his earlier statement. Practice, yes. Theory, no. As Lewis himself pointed out.
Then Ed Husain, who is just another deceiver, chimes in with a tissue of detours entitled “Don’t Call Me Moderate, Call Me Normal”:
[…] The Prophet Muhammad warned us against ghuluw, or extremism, in religion. The Quran reinforces the need for qist, or balance. For me, Islam at its essence is the middle way in all matters. This is normative Islam, adhered to by a billion normal Muslims across the globe.
Normative Islam is inherently pluralist. It is supported by 1,000 years of Muslim history in which religious freedom was cherished. The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God’s will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.
The classical thinking within Islam was to let a thousand flowers bloom. Ours is not a centralized tradition, and Islam’s rich diversity is a legacy of our pluralist past.
Nothing about dhimmitude. Nothing about the deprivations, discrimination and harassment suffered by non-Muslims in Islamic societies for centuries. For a corrective, complete with numerous primary source documents showing what actually went on behind the facade of Islam’s history of “pluralism,” see Bat Ye’or’s Islam and Dhimmitude and The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.
Reuel Marc Gerecht then explains that “moderate Islam is the faith practiced by the parents of my Pakistani British roommate at the University of Edinburgh–and, no doubt, by the great majority of Muslim immigrants to Europe and the United States.” They were very nice to him, you see, and were “devout Muslims.” He confuses, as do so many, the individual practitioner of the religion with the teachings of the religion itself. Yet people behave in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons; the behavior of any given Muslim no more changes the teachings of Islam than the behavior of a non-practicing Catholic means that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach what it teaches.
Only Tawfik Hamid gets to the heart of the matter:
Moderate Islam should be defined as a form of Islam that rejects these violent and discriminatory edicts. Furthermore, it must provide a strong theological refutation for the mainstream Islamic teaching that the Muslim umma (nation) must declare wars against non-Muslim nations, spreading the religion and giving non-Muslims the following options: convert, pay a humiliating tax, or be killed. This violent concept fuels jihadists, who take the teaching literally and accept responsibility for applying it to the modern world.
Moderate Islam must not be passive. It needs to actively reinterpret the violent parts of the religious text rather than simply cherry-picking the peaceful ones. Ignoring, rather than confronting or contextualizing, the violent texts leaves young Muslims vulnerable to such teachings at a later stage in their lives.
Finally, moderate Islam must powerfully reject the barbaric practices of jihadists. Ideally, this would mean Muslims demonstrating en masse all over the world against the violence carried out in the name of their religion.
Moderate Islam must be honest enough to admit that Islam has been used in a violent manner at several stages in history to seek domination over others. Insisting that all acts in Islamic history and all current Shariah teachings are peaceful is a form of deception that makes things worse by failing to acknowledge the existence of the problem.
Ed Husain just above is an example of the tendency Hamid refers to here.
Akbar Ahmed, following Hamid, is smooth but empty. And so after all that, what is moderate Islam? None of these analysts seem to know, or to be able to point to it. One would think that would lead to some rather obvious conclusions for the WSJ, the nation, and the world. But it doesn’t.