Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation | Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan on the intellectual laziness of those who call for an Islamic reformation and the uncomfortable facts behind Luther’s reformation:

The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation of sorts, in the sense of a stripping of cultural accretions and a process of supposed “purification”. And it didn’t produce a tolerant, pluralistic, multifaith utopia, a Scandinavia-on-the-Euphrates. Instead, it produced … the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wasn’t reform exactly what was offered to the masses of the Hijaz by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities.

Some might argue that if anyone deserves the title of a Muslim Luther, it is Ibn Abdul Wahhab who, in the eyes of his critics, combined Luther’s puritanism with the German monk’s antipathy towards the Jews. Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s controversial stance on Muslim theology, writes his biographer Michael Crawford, “made him condemn much of the Islam of his own time” and led to him being dismissed as a heretic by his own family.

Don’t get me wrong. Reforms are of course needed across the crisis-ridden Muslim-majority world: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect – embodied in, say, the Prophet’s letter to the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, or the “convivencia” (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain.

If we are to fight extremism we must bring people together, not silence and ban them

What they don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.

Hirsi Ali, for instance, was treated to a series of encomiums and softball questions in her blizzard of US media interviews, from the New York Times to Fox News. (“A hero of our time,” read one gushing headline on Politico.) Frustratingly, only comedian Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, was willing to point out to Hirsi Ali that her reformist hero wanted a “purer form of Christianity” and helped create “a hundred years of violence and mayhem”.

With apologies to Luther, if anyone wants to do the same to the religion of Islam today, it is Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to rape and pillage in the name of a “purer form” of Islam – and who isn’t, incidentally, a fan of the Jews either. Those who cry so simplistically, and not a little inanely, for an Islamic reformation, should be careful what they wish for.

Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation | Mehdi Hasan | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Reforming Islam: Thoughts on its future – Economist Review

More on Hirsi Ali’s latest book from The Economist (earlier NYTimes Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’):

Unfortunately, very few Muslims will accept Ms Hirsi Ali’s full-blown argument, which insists that Islam must change in at least five important ways. A moderate Muslim might be open to discussion of four of her suggestions if the question were framed sensitively. Muslims, she says, must stop prioritising the afterlife over this life; they must “shackle sharia” and respect secular law; they must abandon the idea of telling others, including non-Muslims, how to behave, dress or drink; and they must abandon holy war. However, her biggest proposal is a show-stopper: she wants her old co-religionists to “ensure that Muhammad and the Koran are open to interpretation and criticism”.

Hearing this last argument, a well-educated Muslim would probably give an answer like this: “If ‘criticism’ means denying that Muhammad was God’s final messenger, who delivered the Koran under divine inspiration, then it would be more honest to propose leaving Islam entirely—because without those beliefs, we would have nothing left.”

To put the point another way, if there is to be any chance that Muslims can be persuaded to set aside premodern ideas about law, war and punishment, the persuader will not be a sophisticated secularist; it is more likely to be somebody who fervently believes in the divine origins of the Koran, but is able to look at it again and extract from its words a completely fresh set of conclusions.

Reforming Islam: Thoughts on its future | The Economist.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’ – NYTimes.com

Good review of Hirsi Ali’s latest book, “Heritic:”

In “Heretic,” Hirsi Ali forgoes autobiography for the most part in favor of an extended argument. But she has trouble making anyone else’s religious history — even that of Muhammad himself, whose life story she recounts — as dramatic as she has made her own. And she loses the reader’s trust with overblown rhetoric. Many Muslim immigrants in the West grapple with conflicted identities, she writes, leaving them longing for one extreme or another in the pursuit of certainty. She wonders: “Must all who question Islam end up leaving the faith, as I did, or embracing violent jihad?” (Probably not.) She tries to warn Americans about their naïveté in the face of encroaching Islamic influences, maintaining that officials and journalists, out of cultural sensitivity, sometimes play down the honor killings that occur in the West. But it is safe to say there is no shortage of horrified fascination in the topic; she even cites a 3,000-word Time magazine article that, in fact, spelled out every tragic detail of one of her examples.

When Hirsi Ali writes, almost wistfully, that “it is unrealistic to expect a mass exodus from Islam,” even secular readers may begin to wonder if she is their best guide to understanding the religion. (A suitable subtitle for “Heretic” might be: “How to Be a Muslim, if You Must.”)

Unquestionably, Hirsi Ali poses challenging questions about whether American liberals should be fighting harder for the rights of Muslim women in countries where they are oppressed, and she is fearless in using shock tactics to jump-start a conversation. Blasphemy is an essential part of any religious reform, she argues, and defends her right to speak bluntly. “I have taken an enormous risk by answering the call for self-reflection,” Hirsi Ali has said, in response to critics who find her tone abrasive. “I have been convinced more than ever that I must say it in my way only and have my criticism.” There is no denying that her words are brave. Whether they are persuasive is another matter.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’ – NYTimes.com.

Brandeis University rescinds planned honorary degree to outspoken critic of Islam

The latest polemic around Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Clearly, Brandeis did not do its research and background checks and should have anticipated this controversy. While many of the specific criticisms she makes about aspects of Islamic and related cultural practices are valid, she, like many critics (e.g., Pipes) go too far in painting Islam and Muslims with the same brush, rather than recognizing the diversity within Islam and among Muslims. Just imagine substituting Christian, Jewish or Sikh in any of her quotes below:

She has come under criticism for remarks about Islam. In a 2007 interview with Reason magazine, Hirsi Ali was quoted as saying “there is no moderate Islam” and that Islam needed to be defeated.

“Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful,” she said. “It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.”

That same year, she told the London Evening Standard that Islam is “the new fascism.”

She also characterized Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” she was quoted as saying, “It legitimates murder.”

Her selection by Brandeis sparked an outcry by students, faculty, and national advocacy groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We believe offering such an award to a promoter of religious prejudice such as Ali is equivalent to promoting the work of white supremacists and anti-Semites,” the group stated.

An online petition signed by students and other critics condemned Hirsi Ali’s “extreme Islamophobic beliefs.”

Brandeis University rescinds planned honorary degree to outspoken critic of Islam – Metro – The Boston Globe.

Two opinion pieces on opposite sides of the argument, starting with Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, defending the decision made by Brandeis:

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s statements on Islam are not incidental to her activism and her life’s work. They stand at the very center of her concern. It goes without saying that Brandeis blundered by not doing its research before making the announcement and embarrassing everyone involved. Still, the only issue for the critics of Brandeis is whether they affirm Ms. Hirsi Ali’s prejudicial and deeply offensive views on Islam as a violent and fascistic religious tradition. If they do, let them say so. And if they don’t, they should acknowledge that Brandeis was right in the decision it made.

Andrew Sullivan takes a very different take:
The rescinding of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not exactly an act of punishment. No one has a right to any such degree and Brandeis is fully within its rights to breach basic manners and fail to do basic research about an honoree’s past work. And Ayaan has indeed said some intemperate and extreme things at times about Islam as a whole. But to judge Ayaan’s enormous body of work and her terrifying, pioneering life as a Somali refugee by a few quotes is, I’m afraid to say, all-too-familiar as an exercise in the public shaming of an intellectual for having provocative ideas. There seems to be an assumption that public speech must seek above all else to be “sensitive” rather than provocative, and must never hurt any feelings rather than tell uncomfortable truths. This is a terrible thing for liberal society as a whole and particularly terrible for a university campus, where freedom of thought should be paramount (although, of course, the hard academic left every day attempts to restrict that freedom).
I am more with Rabbi Yoffie on this. Yes, one should consider the life work and not just selected quotes. However, the quotes are consistent in Hirsi Ali’s overall writing and public remarks, and are central to her arguments against Islam in general, not just particular aspects of Islam.
Find it a bit surprising that Sullivan defends her position when his own views on religion are nuanced thoughtful and reflective, unlike the overly broad brush approach of Hirsi Ali.