Is the Islamic State the Islamic 'Reformation'?

What if this is as good as it gets?

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 2.34.22 PMThe self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has shocked the world with its brutality. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, along with other Western leaders, claims that the Islamic State has “nothing to do with the great religion of Islam, a religion of peace.” The former British PM Tony Blair states that IS’ ideology is “based in a complete perversion of the proper faith of Islam.”

Notice that both the current and a previous British Prime Minister say virtually the same thing as Tariq Ramadan. He is a Swiss writer of Egyptian origin and is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University in Britain. Tariq Ramadan suggests that the Islamic State is ”not Islamic.”

Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Banna's stated goal was the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate. We now have an Islamic State under the leadership of a Caliph. You could therefore argue that ISIS have fulfilled the original promise of Hassan al-Banna. What Tariq Ramadan is in effect saying is that: "The Islamic State have fulfilled the promise of my pious Muslim grandfather. Yet this has nothing to do with Islam."

The slick Islamic infiltrator Tariq Ramadan has always reminded me of the deceiving manipulator Grima Wormtongue from Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings. It is no wonder that Western ruling elites are clueless about the true nature of the Islamic threat when we allow people such as Ramadan to be treated as experts on Islam in prestigious Western universities and advise Western authorities on matters related to Islam.

Saying that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam or Islamic teachings is false. ISIS propagandists quote authentic Koranic verses or respected hadith literature in favor of their actions. Yes, texts can be interpreted in different ways, but some interpretations have a stronger foundation than others do. A rubber band can be stretched up to a certain point, but not forever. Likewise, texts can be read in several ways, but they are not infinitely elastic.

Maybe what the militant members of the Islamic State are doing is not the only way to interpret Islamic religious texts. Maybe. What should worry us, however, is that it is a perfectly legitimate way to interpret Islamic texts.

The Islamic State now has many supporters, also in Western countries. Their atrocities resonate with quite a few Muslims who recognize something similar from Islamic history. In the earliest days of Islam, Mohammed and his companions raided and pillaged their opponents, massacred and beheaded non-Muslims, enslaved their children, raped their women and forced them to be sex slaves. Suggesting that it has nothing to do with Islam, when militant Muslims today directly copy the behavior of their Prophet as described in Islamic sources, is not credible.

Western leaders and commentators are often shockingly ill-informed about Islam. Tony Blair, then still Britain’s Prime Minister, wrote about Islam for the influential magazine Foreign Affairs in its January 2007 issue. This quote sums up the breathtaking cluelessness of Western leaders:

"To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance. Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones.”

Some observers suggest that Islam needs to be reformed. Yet it is arguable that we have already witnessed an Islamic Reformation, and that ISIS/the Islamic State represents a culmination of this process.

In 2007 I published an essay with the title Do we want an Islamic Reformation? The question of whether Islam can be reformed largely hinges upon one’s definition of “Reformation.” This is often implicitly taken to mean something along the lines of “peaceful, non-sharia-based with respect for individual choice, freedom of speech and the freedom to criticize and leave your religion.” In other words: “Reform” is vaguely taken to mean less Islam, or at least less traditional sharia laws, and no violent Jihad.

However, several observers argue that there are similarities between Martin Luther and the Christian or Protestant Reformation in sixteenth century Europe and the reform movement started by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. Wahhab’s alliance with the family of Muhammad bin Saud led to the creation of Saudi Arabia. Using its massive oil wealth, paid for by non-Muslims, that country has for generations funded strict sharia-based Islamic movements worldwide. This Islamic revivalist movement is at the base of the present-day Salafist movement.

Although the Reformation was a turbulent period, it paved the way for more tolerance and religious freedom in Christian Europe over the long run. Christians could return to the example as contained in the Gospels of an early age where Jesus, the founder of their religion, and his disciples led a largely peaceful movement separate from the state. Muslims can find a similar example only in the Mecca period. however, as long as the writings from the very violent Medina period remain in force, when Islam was a state run on religious laws, a return to an “early, Golden Age” of Islam will mean a return to sharia and Jihad violence. As such, one has to ask whether an Islamic Reformation would be desirable from a non-Muslim point of view. The likely answer to that question is no.

There is arguably a direct line from the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 to the Islamic State. The Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb was one if the ideological inspirators for Osama bin Laden's Jihadist terrorist network al-Qaida. The Islamic State (ISIS) is an offshoot of al-Qaida that has fulfilled the Muslim Brotherhood's desire for a new Caliphate.

If a "Reformation" is meant to be a return to the earliest days of the religion, as Martin Luther and John Calvin wanted to achieve in Christian Europe, then what we are looking at now may well be the Islamic Reformation. Seen in this light, al-Qaida and the Islamic State are the culmination and logical conclusion of the Islamic Reformation. This Islamic revival and return to the earliest days of Islam has led to Jihadist terrorism, beheadings, large-scale massacres and mass enslavement because that was what early Islam was all about.

Right now, there are few signs that the unrest in much of the Islamic world will end any time soon. The brutal attacks on non-Muslims in the Middle East continue. The terror warnings about militant Muslims in the West are growing increasingly alarming. Since the Jihadist attacks of September 11 2001, the situation has deteriorated. We now face an extremely well funded terrorist organization in the form of the Islamic State. Through their control over substantial territory and several oil fields in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has access to far more money and resources than al-Qaida ever did during their time in Afghanistan up until 2001.

The historian Dominic Sandbrook worries that the ongoing disintegration of the Middle East could get even worse and more violent in the years ahead. He warns that ”We have lived through some of the bloodiest years in human history. But the really frightening thing is that the worst may be yet to come.”

The former Chief of the Australian Army, Professor Peter Leahy, has warned of a century-long war against Islamic militants. Several other commentators indicate that the unrest in many parts of the Islamic world and the Jihadist threat ensuing from it could continue for decades. Even in the very unlikely event that a peaceful version of Islam should emerge at some point in the future, this process would likely take generations.

Regardless of outcome, we are in all likelihood facing many years of continued instability in the Islamic world. This is intensified by the high birth rates in some Muslim countries. Some of this unrest is already spilling into other regions. Several European cities have experienced riots involving Muslim immigrants. Western intelligence agencies warn that the number of militant Muslims and potential Islamic terrorists is so large that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of them all.

It is immensely irresponsible of Western leaders in this situation to continue Muslim immigration. Yes, part of the damage has already been done, but that is no excuse for doing nothing. A firefighter does not let the entire neighborhood burn down just because one house has caught fire. If damage limitation is the only thing we can do at this point, then let us at least do that. When militant Muslims are threatening to behead us, it is simply no longer acceptable to continue mass-importing people from unstable Muslim societies.

Muslim immigration in every form to all European and Western nations needs to be suspended, and any practice of sharia laws banned. Western governments who fail to do this are failing to protect the basic security of their citizens. They should be held accountable for that failure.

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