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Debating Islam ( 10 Apr 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali – The Literary Queen of Reformist Islam Is Not Infallible: A Critique of Her Essay, “The Future of Islam in the Hands of Reformers”



By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.

April 11, 2015

 The article begins with a sweeping statement that unabashedly blames “the faith of Islam and the incompatibility of its key tenets with modernity for the political and economic crisis in the Muslim countries” and goes on to expand this judgmental statement. Since the West regards the author asa competent source on Islam and even courts her for her open criticism of Islamic faith, it is necessary to critique her essay in an objective manner to remove her misconceptions about Islam, to inform her wider global readers that the self-proclaimed Reformist sometimes makes sweeping and misleading statements. Here are my further comments.

The author seems to be judging the faith of Islam from the practice of today’s Muslims. The inherent flaw in this line of thinking is that the customs, practices, social values, political ideologies and ways of life of adherents of any faith community at any point (space, time) in history only represents the interpretation or application of its core scripture / tenets by the custodians of the faith - religious, political or theocratic leadership. In Islam today, its custodians (Ulema, Muftis) are adamantly clinging to its medieval version which is governed by its secondary sources and is no match to the Islam taught by the Prophet and his early followers, and enshrined in the Qur’an.

The pristine Islam brought about by far the greatest social and intellectual revolution in history that transformed the camel drivers and caravan raiders to the most civilized, enlightened, tolerant, creative and progressive people of their era leading to the founding and flowering of Islamic civilization. However, as it happens with all movements, reactionary forces gain strength with time and stifle its advance. In Islam, this happened around its fifth century, when the orthodox took absolute control of Islamic thoughts. They outlawed the rationalist school (Mu‘tazila), abolished use of reason and critical thinking (Ijtihad), claimed the infallibility of the opinions of scholars and introduced the doctrine of ‘Taqlid’ that called for repetitive learning of what had already been learnt. This on one hand blocked any broadening in religious thoughts and on the other, pursuit of universal knowledge that was growing explosively in Europe. This virtually froze Islam in the medieval age – both in religious thoughts and secular knowledge. While the harsh political realities of the subsequent centuries, marked by colonization of the entire Muslim world forced the Muslims to acquire universal/ secular knowledge, the religious thoughts in Islam remains under the long shadow of its medieval era, and no doubt, there is an urgent need to broaden and reorient Islamic thoughts. This must be in tune with its pristine model, if Islam must be preserved as a religion and not dismissed as incompatible for this era.

The author makes another sweeping remark against the Prophet Muhammad by charging him very casually of ‘war like’ conduct. This shows her complete ignorance of the evidence of the Qur’an that was memorized in full light of history and is preserved word for word by an unbroken chain of memorizers. Its glimpses on various facets of the Prophetic mission including all the major armed encounters as captured in a recently published and duly approved and authenticated exegetic work [1] projects the Prophet as most forgiving, tolerant and kind person, who went through a long period of persecution followed by another long period of staggered military attacks and conspiracies. The Qur’an does not furnish any evidence of the Prophet leading an army to attack its enemies except for his actions against three native Jewish tribes, which, barring one, the Qurayzah, were soft in civilizational relativism.

At one place the author claims that “the majority of dissidents are reformist believers who have come to realize their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of violence”.

If by ‘religion’ the author means, ‘the religion as practiced today – a Medieval and petrified version of Islam’, she are right. But if by ‘religion’ she means the core religion as enshrined in the Qur’an, then her suggestion to change it is too radical. The Qur’an espouses, among other things, the doing of good deeds. excellence in lawful pursuits, collaborating with the rest of humanity in all lawful avenues of life, exemplary conduct and behaviours, pursuit of knowledge, discharge of one’s social, moral and ethical responsibilities, empowerment of women, freedom of religion, equal status of people of other faiths, fair payment for services, sharing of wealth with the community, integrity in financial dealings, good business ethics, upholding justice, moderation, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, kindness to neighbours and strangers and so forth. What better package can the author offer? Besides, who is going to change what in the Qur’an and on what authority? As far as any tampering with the words of the Qur’an is concerned, the Prophet who was under pressure to make some concessions in the Qur’an was warned against any such attempt in the harshest stern terms:  

“If he (Muhammad) attributed to Us any false speech (69:44), We would seize him by the right hand (45), then We would sever his aorta (46) and none of you could prevent it (69:47).

Hence, any suggestion to change or alter the Qur’an – the core of the religion is bound to create strong resentment among the custodians of the religion and Muslims masses and will boomerang.

The author makes another specious statement that “the (Islamic) zealots' vision of a violent return to the days of the prophet poses an even bigger threat to their fellow Muslims”

The truth is, the Islamic zealots/ extremists are bent on taking the Muslims to the pre-Islamic era and NOT to the days of the Prophet. Their claim of representing Islam is a lie as President Barrack Obama courageously declared in the Feb. 18/19 Summit on terrorism. Besides, the above remark purports to characterize the Prophet’s era with the mayhem, violence, brutality, barbarism, misogyny, persecution of minority and atrocious and misogynist rulings of Sharia Law as championed by the ideologues of terror of this era. This is stark denial of history as the Prophet’s era saw a glorious transformation from ‘the darkness of ignorance to the light of enlightenment’ and accordingly, the Qur’an referred to the companions of the Prophet as the best of community (3:110). The Muslims accordingly take these so-called reformists’ views as a conspiracy to reinforce the negative perceptions about Islam and its Prophet and hence their authors are rejected and ostracized. Some odd fanatics, whose protests never reach the media, are driven to threaten these authors out of deep frustration. No doubt those who threaten these authors are criminals, but those who attempt to slight and demean Islam and its Prophet in the name of bringing reform are no saints either.

The truth is the atavistic Ulema who adamantly insist on clinging to the secondary sources including the Islamic Sharia Law, and radical Muslims/ ex-Muslims like the author of this article are the twin enemies of Islam [2] – the former bent on keeping the faith inextricably anchored in the Medieval ages and the other bent on defaming the faith by conflating it with its Medieval model, none endeavouring to rid the faith of its Medieval notions and paradigms and resuscitate its pristine model.  .

The author concludes: “So Western leaders stick to their decade-old script: "Islam is a religion of peace."

The script is not decade-old. It is fourteen centuries old. If Islam were a religion of violence, the Europeans could not have ruled the whole of Islamic world from East to West for over a century without encountering an endless series of terror attacks.

The author provokes the Western think-tank with the question: “But during the Cold War, no US president said: "Communism is an ideology of peace."

Interesting! The author compares a fourteen centuries old religion that has survived far worst times and immensely greater measure of death and destruction and attracting fresh blood in tandem with a short-lived political ideology.

In sum, the author’s self assumed role as a reformer of Islam is commendable, but if she is conflating Islam with its secondary sources and is sceptical of Islam’s core scripture, the Qur’an and its Prophet, she simply does not know what Islam stands for and therefore will be dismissed as a reformer by the Muslim community, though she may be patronized by others for speaking up against Islam and its Prophet. And if the author is entertaining any contempt for this writer’s implicit suggestion to explore the core scripture - an antiquated book that is allegedly the root of all the problems, she may take note of the following remarks of two of the most leaned scholars of Arabic Qur’an from the Christian West - whose names will eternally shine in the scholarly domain like a beacon in night sky.

“Concepts of prophesy, inspiration and revelation must be re-examined in view of the undoubted revelation of God in Muhammad and the Qur’an.  Then much more real charity and generous understanding must be shown to members of other faiths. The example of Islam towards other People of the Book often put us to shame.” [3]

“What happens in the Qur’an is deeply related to the travail of our time, and we need the Qur’anic word in the face of it. This would be true, of course, if only for the reason that multitudes of mankind, to be guided or persuaded about modernity at all, will need to be guided and persuaded Qur’anically.....Even where secularism has gone far among them or irreligion presses, their judgments and their sanity, their priorities and their ideals, will always be in large measure within the mind of the Qur’an.” [4]

With this, this writer will call upon the author to read the following article [5] and the above referenced exegetic work, Essential Message of Islam [1] to have some critical and fresh insights into Qur’anic theological sources and the crux of its message.

All is well that ends well. The author has time to catch up and right the wrong. 

1.            Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, Maryland 2009

2.            The Radical Intelligentsia of Islam and Its Orthodox Ulema Are the ‘Hypocrites’ and ‘Nomadic Arabs Intense In Kufr’ Of This Era: They Are Its Twin Internal Enemies, and Must Be Resisted,-new-age-islam/the-radical-intelligentsia-of-islam-and-its-orthodox-ulema-are-the-‘hypocrites’-and-‘nomadic-arabs-intense-in-kufr’-of-this-era--they-are-its-twin-internal-enemies,-and-must-be-resisted/d/34621

3.            Geoffery Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, One world Publications, U.S.A., 196, p.173.]

4.            Rev. Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Qur’an, One world Publications, USA 1974, p. 22/23.]

5.            Universal Dimensions of the Qur'an and Historic Specificity of Islam's Theological Sciences.,-new-age-islam/universal-dimensions-of-the-qur-an-and-historic-specificity-of-islam-s-theological-sciences/d/12106

Related Article:

The Future of Islam in the Hands of Reformers

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.