Or can it be done at all?
In an interesting and presumably comforting article recently posted on this site, titled Muslim Activism Done Right, Michael Volpe draws our attention to a new Canadian advocacy group, Progressive Muslims Institute Canada (PMIC). Anti-extremist, amenable to secular values and politically communal, PMIC seeks to counter the theological summons to jihad and the spirit of antisemitic hatred embraced by its majoritarian co-religionists, and to establish friendly working relations with the Jewish community. Volpe understands this new project as a welcoming sign and harbinger of the future, suggesting the hope for a gradual reconciliation between heretofore antagonistic groups and the restoration of both sanity and the desire for social peace within the Muslim collective.
According to the Director General of the PMIC, Tahir Gora, the Institute “strongly denounces all forms of extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam” and promotes “gender equality…liberal, progressive and secular values among Muslims, and believes in a clear separation between religion and state.” Jewish organizations like the The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), whose concern with interfaith outreach trumps Jewish security, and B’nai B’rith have enthusiastically applauded such initiatives. And of course, developments like PMIC are a far sight better than jihadist savagery and orthodox adherence to the basic Islamic texts.
But there is a real problem here that Volpe’s article refuses to acknowledge. What these “moderates” or enlightened Muslims are proposing, however laudable, has little to do with mainstream Islam, whose fundamental scriptures cannot be rewritten on pain of apostasy and execution. Any scrupulous reading of the Koran and the attendant canonical and jurisprudential literature should make it amply clear that injunctions to slaughter, conquest, oppression and domination are inscribed in the faith. No attempt at what is euphemistically called “re-interpretation” or “contextualizing” can be expected to gain even modest traction in the larger Muslim world.
Efforts like those advanced by PMIC are doomed to fail. They cling precariously to a comparatively few benign tropes in the earlier, Meccan portion of the Koran, which are in any case subject to the principle of abrogation (Nasikh/Mansukh) and replacement by the later, more ruthless and bloodthirsty passages in the Medinian Koran. The “activists” are incubating an entirely new religion, an ostensible form of Islam that is no longer Islam but something closer to, perhaps, the inoffensiveness of Bahá’i, which is vaguely related to Shi’a Islam but essentially independent of it and condemned by both Sunni and Shi’a as haraam (sinful, unclean, forbidden).
Scrub the propulsion toward imperial ferocity from the bedrock tenets of Islam, separate mosque from state, eliminate the doctrine of violent jihad and advocate for gender equality, and what you come up with is a fantasy exercise, that is, an Islam divorced from its historical and present reality. It would comprise a body of doctrine completely alien to the rules, beliefs, usages and commands associated with the legacy of Mohammed. Contrary to the pious and uninformed sentiments of the liberal intelligentsia, Islam is not a religion of peace. As Charlie Daniels writing for CSN News asks, “What kind of religion and what kind of god advocates the wholesale slaughter of ordinary citizens, what kind of clergy send young men to a gruesome death promising them a place in some male-dominated sensuous paradise where they will while away the eons in the arms of multiple virgins?” A few small activist groups stippling the vast Islamic landscape will not do much in the way of terraforming a world.
The fact is, unfortunately, that Islam cannot be reformed if it is to remain Islam. The apostles of secular values, interfaith communion, and reconciliation with the infidel are, as Muslims, in denial of the proscriptions and prescriptions of the faith they continue to profess. Their approach, writes Mark Durie at The Gatestone Institute, “must at the very least honestly acknowledge Islam's traditions of commentary on the Koran, and explain how a large number of violent texts might be viewed in a more liberating light.” But as Durie goes on to show in meticulous and irrefutable detail, explicit calls for violence as the religious obligation of every believer simply cannot be explained away. Context is no “silver bullet against violent texts.”
When PMIC’s honorary director, Arshad Mahmood, apologized to his fellow Canadians, lamenting “I am sorry that although I retain the title of Islam the radicals and the terrorists and the pseudo-intellectuals kept encroaching on my religion until they took complete possession,” he has utterly missed the point. The radicals have not taken possession of Mahmood’s religion, they are faithfully practicing it and enacting its precepts, edicts and solemn duties, as spelled out in sura after sura and verse after verse of the Koran and in the plethora of ancillary texts. If our neo-Muslim evangelists were to be candid as well as unsparingly lucid, they would realize that they are venturing into terra incognita, attempting a reform for which there exists not a single viable historical precedent. If they truly desire peace and moderation, they would have no choice but to apostasize or to acknowledge that they are engaged in a species of reformation whose effect, were it successful, would yield a largely unrecognizable theological amalgam—or, as we’ve noted, a neoteric branch of Bahá’i.
Their efforts are not derisory, if only in that they might theoretically eventuate in a somewhat greater degree of local harmony and a reduced threat level on the home front. But such noble intentions will have little impact on the structure, axioms and psychological ambience of the global religion, and would likely be ephemeral on the domestic scene. The tendency among our media elites, boilerplate intellectuals, political officials and “activist” Muslims to edulcorate Islam as a religion that has been hijacked by disreputables and “extremists” is founded on one, several or all of five factors: ignorance, fear, venality, wishful thinking, or endemic softmindedness. There is no other set of explanations that would account for so monumental an error in judgment and so craven a genuflection before so muscular a supremacist ideology.
And certainly, the official Jewish organizations that have been smitten with the activist bearers of renovating aspirations will learn once again that they have been enchanted by futile and grandiose delusions. Indeed, “regularly interface[ing]” with such naïve and self-contradictory assemblies, they have embarked on a fool’s errand and will one day suffer both renewed violence and the bitter regret of history’s chosen dupes and victims.
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