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Putting aside militant ire, can Muslim moderates merely survive their conservatives?


Being shouted down amid chants of "Liars! Liars!... You are all Zionists! You are all infidels!" while being lunged at by conservative Muslims does not inspire confidence that moderate Islamist introspection can proceed safely, if at all.

For readers unfamiliar with Sunni sects, it is important to understand what has been called "fatwa chaos," i.e., that there is no central authority responsible for issuing penultimate rulings on doctrinal questions as there exists in Shias or, for that matter, Catholicism. Each Imam can preach and invoke within an enormously wide latitude, thus opening the possibility for contradictory "sweeping, ill-defined statements [that can be] interpreted as a mandate to undertake any violence, no matter how vicious."

Katzman believes that "Islamic reformers will always face an uphill battle [as] whenever they attempt to depart from Qur'anic literalism, they become vulnerable to charges from radicals of infidelity to Islam. This poses what is probably an insurmountable problem for those who would reform Islam."

Robert Spencer (of JihadWatch not for the faint but valuable material once one gets past the necessity of a PC mindset) doubts "whether Islam would or could develop interpretative traditions analogous to those in Judaism and Christianity that mitigated the force of bellicose passages of the Old Testament -- in other words, how this Islamic renaissance would manage to blunt the force of Qur'anic literalism (and literalism in Hadith [oral sayings of the Prophet] interpretation also) so that they would not continue to be inspirations for violence and fanaticism."

Spencer wryly observes that the [NYT] implicitly acknowledges [that] the extremists are not a "tiny minority," and are not as discredited as the Times would have had us believe on many other occasions, but are in control of the interpretation of Islam, such that the faith must be "wrestled back" from them [yet when he makes that observation he is] called an "Islamophobe."

Having long been of the opinion that Islam had its reformation and its Luther (many of whose brutal prescriptions have been softened for lay readers over time) in the person of al-Wahhab, I can agree with Spencer's position that "The primary point of similarity that that both Luther and Wahhab led movements that purported to strip away later accretions and get back to the core elements of their religions. That al-Wahhab's reformation was violent and virulent is a reflection on the core texts of his religion, to which he dedicated himself and his followers with all-encompassing zeal." Unfortunately, it is that Wahhabism that so frequently wends its way across the net today to waiting eyes.

When cast against Sheik Yousef Qaradawi whose "Islamic Law and Life" program on Al Jazeera (and thereby an extremely influential cleric among Sunnis) implied that all US nationals in Iraq could be targets and that "Resistance [in Iraq] is a legitimate matter - even more, it is a duty," and Abdel Sabour Shahin who states most foreigners in Iraq are legitimate targets, I can only hope that Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is correct in sensing that "there is a movement in the Arab world, if perhaps not yet a consensus, that understands that Muslims have to start reining in their own rather than constantly complaining about injustice and unfairness. The violence has not only reduced sympathy for just causes like ending the Israeli occupation but set off resentment against Muslims wherever they live."

It is worthwhile to read the 10 point statement from the Cairo Islam and Reform conference as it offers some insight into the overhead of "reviewing the roots of Islamic heritage [Hadith included], ending the monopoly that certain religious institutions hold over interpreting such texts and confronting all extremist religious currents." For a religion whose adherents have been imbued with immense pride for centuries that "Islam was spread by the sword, that all Arab countries and even Spain were captured by the sword" such that most of the Arab street believes that "the religion of Islam is the religion of the sword," the reformists have a challenge before them. Egypt's most senior religious scholar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, immediately labeled the attendees of Islam and Reform as a "group of outcasts."

Perhaps it is true that "even raising the topic [of reinterpretation of Islam] erodes the taboo that the religion and those schooled in it are somehow infallible," but the struggle will be long and I think dangerous as it is all too easy for a reformer to be ruled an apostate to the faith by a conservative cleric with a following and thus be open to summary execution for that 'lapse' of faith.

Part 3 of Islam's trajectory

The War Inside the Arab Newsroom
New York Times
January 2, 2005

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before
New York Times
December 26, 2004

Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
New York Times
December 10, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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