By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
November 16, 2013
Moderate Muslims have become much too predictable these days. The jargon of so much Progressive thinking has become mouldy. The time has come to recycle the old arguments, starting with the usual defence. The trouble is not with Moderate Islam, but with moderate Muslims. The trouble is not that other Muslims have hijacked my faith, but that it has become poisoned with the arsenic of my own rationales.
Religious expressions like God is greater no longer stand on their own merit but require modifications. God is great, because, as the contemporary lexicon of new age Buddhist types tell us- its all good. God is good, Life is good, bad is good, and good can be bad. Confused? That's okay, because confusion is good too. The trouble is that we have been whirling around like dervishes beyond the state of spiritual enlightenment, into a state of chronic uncertainty.
So what exactly was it about traditional, fundamentalist, radical (choose your adjective) Islam, which needed renovating?
Radical Islam is built on the belief that our ancient traditions are transcendent and divine in origin, and should be imposed on reality, irrespective of context. Radicals study Islam, not as an event inside history but as the divinely orchestrated final word on the mechanics of a Utopian society. This one fundamental and unchallenged approach has given rise to the kind of static mentality responsible for obstructing religious thought for hundreds of years.
Moderate Islam is responding to this by advancing the subjectivity of all interpretations with an equally subjective prejudice against radicalism, as its only defence against it. The trouble with moderate Islam is that it exists as a judgment against the failures of traditional interpretations and has become completely defined by those failures as opposed to its own success.
The trouble with moderate Muslims is a failure to acknowledge that sometimes a quest for truth is really just a quest for the self-esteem we lost when the inconsistencies of life bulldozed our metaphysical house of cards. Like when we realized that the cookie baking Mrs. Smith, dressed in a mini skirt, appeared more innocent and less sexualized then most of the Hijabi women we knew. Or when your beer drinking colleagues proved to be more honest and righteous then the card carrying Muslims who never touched the stuff.
One of the side effects of living in a free and diverse society is the realization that appearances are not a sufficient indication of truth and goodness. When personal experiences compel us to adopt a notion of God as a participant and not just an observer, we begin to believe that our perceptions of his will should have some kind of universal significance. The trouble with that way of thinking is that it’s not a way of thinking at all, but a way of feeling. The trouble with Moderate Islam is that it is an emotional response to an intellectual problem.
The spiritual laws of nature dictate that in order to have transcendent experiences you must be willing to relinquish rigidity in your thinking. Sometimes it is a frightening trade off. But more importantly, it's a very personal one. Moderate Islam exists to defend that process.
But what moderate Islam still needs, is the religious validation that traditional Islam simply inherited. Moderate Islam needs an institutionalized religious identity that is immune to the emotional black mail of its radical counterpart. It needs to prune the religious bureaucracy of its red tape by crossing the red line. This will mean taking concrete positions, not on the application of the rules, but on the fundamentals. Starting with the most fundamental question, which no one wants to face. Do we or do we not believe that morality can or should be legislated?
If you believe on any level that morality should fall within the jurisdiction of a government authority, you are, by definition, not a moderate Muslim, no matter how liberal you are about the application of a particular moral code. To be moderate does not mean that you are lax and benevolent. It means that you are fundamentally and in principle opposed to the legislation of moral laws. Because you believe that freedom of conscience cannot co exist with institutionalized forms of coercion, even if that coercion is as benign as a meagre tax or as ceremonial as a slap on the proverbial hand.
If you are moderate, it means that you are willing and unafraid to deal with questions like; is the Quran a form of guidance or inspiration or both, and how and when does literalism evolve into allegory and vice a versa. If you are a moderate, it means you are unafraid to ask if the word God can submit to the finitude of human language without the shroud of allegory.
If you are a moderate, you do not take polls, because moral and social values are not determined according to scholarly consensus but according to clearly defined principles. If you are a moderate Muslim, you are not afraid to define those principles.
If you are a moderate, you no longer engage in archaic debates regarding whether or not the sexes should be segregated during Friday prayer. You take it as a given that segregation is counterintuitive to the Islamic spirit. The fact that segregation in our places of worship is still the norm says that moderates and radicals are still united by a subconscious desire to preserve a level of awareness that refuses to be fully aware. If you are moderate, you are aware.
A religious culture is built on a division of labour. Moderate Islam must allow for traditional ways of life to exist, but not to dominate or define its ideology. Because the reality is, that Moderation is not the dominant or defining ideology in the Muslim world. Its dominance is purely demographic, and therefore meaningless. It is easier to rule over a majority with progressive ideologies then to overrule a minority of radicals with brute force.
Yes sometimes we must break the rules in order to break free in our thinking. Yes, sometimes we must bite into the forbidden fruit, to reclaim our own free will and consciousness, but let us not choke on the seeds before they are planted. Muslims should reject the false alternative that we must either give up life by degrees if we want to practice religion, or give up religion by default, if we want to “have a life”.
The word moderate can no longer be safely used as the code word for a kind of moral and political agnosticism. If you are going to call yourself a moderate, then the time has come, to start getting radical about it.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.