Thursday, July 05, 2007

Irshad Manji

Why we should be calling not for Islamic moderates but Islamic reformers (article here):
They're in fine company: moderate Muslims do the same. Although the vast majority of Muslims aren't extremists, it is important to start making a more important distinction: between moderate Muslims and reform-minded ones.

Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam but deny that Islam has anything to do with it. By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions, effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won't challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations. To do so would be admit that religion is a factor. Moderate Muslims can't go there.

Reform-minded Muslims say it's time to admit that Islam's scripture and history are being exploited. They argue for reinterpretation precisely to put the would-be terrorists on notice that their monopoly is over.

Reinterpreting doesn't mean rewriting. It means rethinking words and practices that already exist, removing them from a 7th-century tribal time warp and introducing them to a 21st-century pluralistic context. Un-Islamic? God, no. The Koran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to think, analyse and reflect than passages that dictate what's absolutely right or wrong. In that sense, reform-minded Muslims are as authentic as moderates and quite possibly more constructive.

This week a former jihadist wrote in a British newspaper that the "real engine of our violence" is "Islamic theology". Months ago, he told me that as a militant he raised most of his war chest from dentists. Islamist violence: it's not just for doctors any more. Tackling Islamist violence: it can't be left to moderates any more.


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