by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
THE MUSLIM REFORMATION
Today there is a war within Islam—a war between those who wish to reform (the Modifying Muslims or the dissidents) and those who wish to turn back to the time of the Prophet (the Medina Muslims). The prize over which they fight is the hearts and minds of the largely passive Mecca Muslims.
For the moment, measured by four yardsticks, the Medina side seems to be winning.
One is the scale of individuals leaving the Mecca side and joining the Medina side (what in the West we call "radicalization").
The second metric is attention: the Medina Muslims attract media attention through statements and acts of violence that shock the world.
The third metric is resources: through zakat (charity), crime, the violent seizing of territory and property, support from rogue states, and petrodollars, Medina Muslims have vast resources. The Modifying Muslims have virtually none. Pushed to make a choice between earning a living and campaigning for religious reform, most Modifiers soon opt for the former.
The fourth metric is one of coherence: in many ways this is the most important advantage the Medina Muslims have over the Modifier Muslims. The latter are faced with the daunting— and dangerous—task of questioning the fundamentals of their faith. All the Medina Muslims have to do is pose as its defenders.
Yet I believe a Muslim Reformation is coming. In fact, it may already be here.
I think it is plausible that the Internet will be for the Islamic world in the twenty-first century what the printing press was for Christendom in the sixteenth.
I think it is plausible that the violent Islamists I have called the Medina Muslims are the modern counterparts to the millenarian sects of pre-Reformation Europe and that a quite different reform movement is already taking shape in the cities of the Middle East and North Africa. Above all, I believe that the upsurge of popular protest that we call the Arab Spring contained within it some of the seeds of a true Muslim Reformation, despite the obvious and predictable failure of the political revolution to live up to Western hopes of a Middle Eastern 1989 [fall of the Berlin Wall].
Much at this early stage is uncertain. The only real certainty about the Muslim Reformation is that it will not look much like the Christian one.
There are such fundamental differences between the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad, to say nothing of the radically different organizational structures of the two religions—the one hierarchical and distinct from the state, the other decentralized yet aspiring to political power—that any analogy is bound to break down.
When I first conceived of writing a book about a Reformation of Islam, I imagined it as a novel. Entitled The REFORMER it was going to tell the story of a charismatic young imam in London who would emerge as a modern-day Muslim Luther. I abandoned the idea because such a book was bound to be dismissed as fanciful.
The Muslim Reformation is not fiction. It is fact.
Over the past few years, dozens if not hundreds of developments have convinced me that, while Islam's problems are indeed deep and structural, Muslim people are like everyone else in one important respect: most want a better life for themselves and their children. And increasingly they have good reasons to doubt that the Medina Muslims can deliver it.
(MAYBE THAT IS THE ANSWER AS TO WHY SO MANY MUSLIMS LIVE IN WESTERN NATIONS - Keith Hunt)
It is no accident that some of the most vocal critics of Islam today are, like me, women.
For there is no more obvious incompatibility between Islam and modernity than the subordinate role assigned to women in sharia law.
That subordinate role has long been the justification for a litany of abuses of women in the Muslim world, such as male guardianship, child marriage, and marital rape.
Just as the surge of sexual assaults was one of the most disturbing features of the Egyptian Revolution, so the response of groups like Tahrir Bodyguard and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment was one of the most heartening. We are seeing similar movements in Lebanon and Jordan, notably the protest against Article 308, the Jordanian law that allows rapists to marry their victims to avoid going to jail. Iran is an especially interesting case, for there thirty years of Islamist rule appear to have failed to prevent a significant shift in attitudes toward female -sexuality.
Yet it would be a mistake to think of this movement in narrowly feminist terms. Although it is women who are spearheading change, there are other issues in play besides the status of women as second-class citizens. In some parts of Africa, we are seeing waves of conversion from Islam to Christianity. Another pioneer of change is Walid Husayin, the Palestinian skeptic jailed for antireligious agitation. Then there are the Muslims who speak out for toleration, such as the Turkish columnist and TV commentator Aylin Kocaman, who has defended Israel and rejected Islamist calls for violence against Jews, or Nabil al-Hudair, an Iraqi Muslim who has spoken up for the rights of his Jewish fellow countrymen.
There really are tides in the affairs of men—and women, too. I believe this is one of those historic tides.
Why the Tide Is Turning
Three factors are combining today to enable real religious reform:
1. The impact of new information technology in creating an unprecedented communication network across the Muslim world.
2. The fundamental inability of Islamists to deliver when they come to power and the impact of Western norms on Muslim immigrants are creating a new and growing constituency for a Muslim Reformation.
3. The emergence of a political constituency for religious reform emerging in key Middle Eastern states.
Together, I believe these three things will ultimately turn the tide against the Islamists, whose goal is, after all, a return to the time of the Prophet—a venture as foredoomed to failure as all attempts to reverse the direction of time's arrow.
As we have seen, technology is empowering not only the jihadists. It is also empowering those who would oppose them in the name of human rights for all, regardless of religion. (Without the assistance of Google, for example, it would have been far harder for me to write this book.) In November 2014, an Egyptian doctor coined an Arabic hashtag that translates as "why we reject implementing sharia"; it was used five thousand times in the space of twenty-four hours, mostly by Saudis and Egyptians. In language that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, a young Moroccan named Brother Rachid last year called out President Obama on YouTube for claiming that Islamic State was "not Islamic":
Mr President, I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam. ... I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam. . . . ISIL's 10,000 members are all Muslims. . . . They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam's Prophet Muhammad in every detail. . . . They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam.
I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct—to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. ... If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? . . . Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Qur'an and the hadith? . . . How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?1
(Having been saying such things for more than thirteen years, I feel a surge of hope when I read words like those in The New York Times.)
Brother Rachid is a Moroccan convert to Christianity who broadcasts on a television station, Al-Hayat, based in Egypt. His story perfectly illustrates how fast things are changing in North Africa and the Middle East. Religious minorities, as well as women and gay people, remain highly vulnerable in the Middle East and North Africa. But precisely because of their sufferings, I think it is ever more likely that they will ultimately unite against Islam's religious apartheid. When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago.
In short, I agree with Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize—winning Pakistani schoolgirl whom the Taliban tried to kill:
The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. That is why they are blasting schools every day—because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring to our society. They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school.2
Here, surely, is the authentic voice of a Muslim Reformation.
Change is also under way in the Muslim communities of the Western world.
True, further Muslim immigration to Europe and North America will very likely increase the tensions between Westerners and Muslims. Yet even as the probability of such conflict increases, so too does the exposure of second-and third-generation Muslims to Western values and freedoms.
Yes, some will withdraw into a cocoon of denial, and others will become Medina Muslims in reaction against the dissonances they experience. In the long run, however, these options are far less appealing than the third option of religious reform.
Finally, there is the horrified reaction of many Muslims to the atrocities committed by Al-Qaeda, IS, and Boko Haram, which has led some Muslim political leaders to get serious about taking Islam back from the extremists.
The government of the United Arab Emirates has called the threat posed by "Islamic extremism" a "transnational cancer" requiring an "urgent, coordinated and sustained international effort to confront" it.3 The fight against radical Islam, the UAE ambassador to the United States insisted, "must be waged not only on the battlefield but also against the entire militant ideological and financial complex that is the lifeblood of extremism."4
Before an audience of Muslim clergy, as we have seen, the president of Egypt himself has called for a "religious revolution." That is the kind of support a Reformation cannot do without if it is to succeed.
The fact that President Sisi elected to make his call for religious revolution at Al-Azhar—the preeminent institution of Sunni religious learning in the world—was highly significant. For Al-Azhar has long been the citadel of clerical conservatism, ruthlessly resisting even the discussion of meaningful reforms to Islam.5 In June 1992, for example, an Egyptian academic and human rights activist named Farag Foda was shot dead as he left his office. For years, Foda had defended secular policies and criticized sharia law, arguing for a separation of religion and politics. Two weeks before Foda's death, the widely respected cleric Muhammad al-Ghazali, a senior figure at Al-Azhar, had declared Foda to be an apostate, knowing full well that under Islamic religious law, the punishment for apostasy is death.6 Activists of the Islamic group Gama'a al Islamiyya subsequently killed Foda, heavily injuring bystanders (including Foda's son) in the process. "Al-Azhar issued the sentence and we carried out the execution," the group stated.7 Al-Ghazali, the cleric who had declared Foda an apostate, subsequently testified on behalf of Foda's killers, arguing that the presence of an apostate inside the community constituted a threat to the nation.8 Though now deceased, al-Ghazali remains a venerated figure among Islamic scholars,9 while Al-Azhar as an institution has never expressed any contrition for its role in Foda's death.
It is precisely institutions like Al-Azhar that stand in the way of a Muslim Reformation. If the Egyptian government is prepared to take on Al-Azhar, the times are indeed changing.
Je Suis Charlie
There is one final reason I am optimistic. I begin to hope that the West may finally be coming to its senses.
Over the past twenty years, terrified of appearing culturally insensitive or even racist, Western nations have bent over backward to accommodate the demands of their Muslim citizens for special treatment. We appeased the Muslim heads of government who lobbied us to censor our press, our universities, our history books, our school curricula. We appeased leaders of Muslim organizations in our societies, who asked universities to disinvite speakers deemed "offensive" to Muslims. Instead of embracing Muslim dissidents, Western governments treated them as troublemakers and instead partnered with all the wrong people—groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.10 And we even subsidized the jihadists. (For example, the man who killed Theo van Gogh was living off Dutch welfare benefits.)
Yet I dare to hope that what happened in Paris in January 2015 may prove to be a turning point. It was not that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was especially bloody. Many more people had died in the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December 2014. Many more people died in the Boko Haram attack on Baga in Nigeria in the same week as the attack in Paris. Rather, it was the fact that more than a dozen people were murdered because they had drawn and published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
There were, of course, the usual craven editorials and press statements by moral idiots arguing that the editors of the magazine had lacked "common sense" in offending Muslims, and that nevertheless the violence had nothing to do with Islam. But for the millions of people who took to the streets bearing "Je Suis Charlie" signs, these arguments clearly were not reassuring.
As of this writing, ten thousand military and security personnel have been deployed across France as authorities brace for more attacks. Even to me, just a week ago, such a militarization of policing in one of the West's largest and oldest democracies would have been unthinkable. France's prime minister, Manuel Vails, said three days after the attack that France was at war with "radical Islam." The French, once so critical of the United States after 9/11 (not least for the sweeping scope of the Patriot Act), are now following in the footsteps of George W. Bush. Stephen Harper, the prime minister of the other great French-speaking democracy, Canada, explicitly connected the Charlie Hebdo attack to the "international jihadist movement." "They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act," Harper said. "They have declared war and are already executing it on a massive scale on a whole range of countries with which they are in contact, and they have declared war on any country, like ourselves, that values freedom, openness and tolerance. We may not like this and wish it would go away, but it is not going to go away."
At a time like this, the claims that the "extremists" have nothing to do with the "religion of peace" simply cease to be credible. The enemy in this war is saying just the opposite. Consider, for example, the book written by the Al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Suri, entitled The Call to Global Islamic Resistance. As the enemies of Islam, al-Suri lists:
the Jews, America, Israel, the Freemasons, the Christians, the Hindus, apostates (including established Muslim leaders, officials, and their security apparatus), hypocritical scholars, educational systems, satellite TV channels, sports, and all arts and entertainment venues.11
This would be comical if it were not so deadly serious.
Western leaders who insist on ignoring such explicit threats run two risks.
Not only do their words ("Islam belongs to Germany") embolden the zealots. They also create a political vacancy. Even before Charlie Hebdo, Germans were protesting under the banner of Pegida (short for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West") in Dresden, Berlin, Munich, and Leipzig. All over Europe, populist parties are mobilizing voters in increasing numbers against immigration and Islam, from the National Front in France to the Sweden Democrats. It can be in nobody's interests for Europe to slide in this way down a perilous path of polarization.
Instead, as briefly happened in Paris in the days after the massacre, we in the West need to unite. But we need to be clear about what we are uniting for, and what we are uniting against.
In all holy books, in the Bible as well as the Quran, you will find passages that sanction intolerance and inequity. But in the case of Christianity, there was change. In that process of change, the people who wanted to uphold the status quo made the same arguments that present-day Muslims are giving: that they were offended, that the new thinking was blasphemy. In effect, it was through a process of repeated blasphemy that Christians and Jews evolved and grew into modernity. That is what art did. That is what science did. And yes, that is what irreverent satire did.
(FALSE CHRISTIANITY BROUGHT INTOLERANCE AND "HOLY WARS" - BUT FINALLY FOR NOW, BETTER MINDED PEOPLE, AND BETTER THEOLOGY OF FROM THE OLD TO THE NEW TESTAMENT, BROUGHT TOLERANCE TO "CHRISTIAN RELIGION" - Keith Hunt)
The Muslim Reformation is not going to come from Al-Azhar.
It is more likely to come from a relentless campaign of blasphemy. So when a Muslim sees you reading his book and says, "I am offended, my feelings are hurt," your reply should be: "What matters more? Your sacred text? Or the life of this book's author? Your sacred text? Or the rule of law? Human life, human freedom, human dignity—they all matter more than any sacred text."
Christians have been through this, Jews have been through it. It's now time for Muslims to go through it. In that sense—in the sense that I passionately believe in the world-changing power of blasphemy—je suis Charlie.
Yet we need to do more than merely blaspheme. We need to reform.
The Five Amendments, Restated
The tenth-and eleventh-century Islamic legal scholar al-Mawardi, writing in The Ordinances of Government, says: "If an innovator appears or a holder of suspect views goes astray, the imam should explain and clarify the correct view to him, and make him undergo the penalties appropriate to him, so that the religion may be preserved from flaws and the community preserved from error."12
I know that anyone who advocates reforming Islam runs a risk.
So let me be unambiguously clear.
I am not advocating a war—quite the contrary. I am explicitly arguing for peaceful reform: for a cultural campaign aimed at doctrinal change.
As I have argued, there are five core concepts in Islam that are fundamentally incompatible with modernity:
1. the status of the Quran as the last and immutable word of God and the infallibility of Muhammad as the last divinely inspired messenger;
2. Islam's emphasis on the afterlife over the here-and-now;
3. the claims of sharia to be a comprehensive system of law governing both the spiritual and temporal realms;
4. the obligation on ordinary Muslims to command right and forbid wrong;
5. the concept of jihad, or holy war.
My "five theses" are simply that these concepts must be amended in ways that make being a Muslim more readily compatible with the twenty-first-century world.
Muslim clerics need to acknowledge that the Quran is not the ultimate repository of revealed truth. They need to make explicit that what we do in this life is more important than anything that could conceivably happen to us after we die. It is just a book. They need to make clear that sharia law occupies a circumscribed role and is clearly subordinate to the laws of the nation-states where Muslims live. They need to put an end to the practice of delegated coercion that inflicts conformity at the expense of creativity. And they need to disavow completely the concept of jihad as a literal call to arms against non-Muslims and those Muslims they deem apostates or heretics.
This Reformation would not only benefit women, gays, and religious minorities. I believe it is also in the interests of Islam itself. In order to avoid eventual collapse, even the most revered structure requires renovation. Mere restoration is no longer a plausible option for Islam, no matter how much blood the Islamists shed. Indeed, the more blood they shed, the more they risk bringing the entire structure crashing down upon their heads.
How long will the rest of us have to wait for this Reformation to succeed in transforming Islam as deeply as the original Reformation transformed Christianity?
(TRANSFORMED CHRISTIANITY TO BE TOLERABLE, PEACEFUL, FOR NOW - BUT CERTAINLY APART FROM THAT TRUTH IT'S STILL A BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, OF MANY FALSE TEACHINGS - Keith Hunt)
In the last decade, many thousands of innocent people have lost their lives in an escalating sectarian conflict that rages across borders. Tens of millions of decent men and women and their children remain trapped within failing states, stagnating economies, and repressive societies. Will the Muslim Reformation be widespread or localized (after all, the Protestant Reformation did not succeed in all of Christendom)? Will the Muslim Reformation produce wars of religion, like its Christian predecessor, before its more beneficial effects make themselves felt?
The answers to these questions depend above all on Muslims and the choices they make.
But they also depend to some extent on the choices we in the West make. Do we help the Reformation? Or do we unwittingly undermine it?
It will not be easy to bring about this change. But perhaps the words of two thinkers, one an Islamic heretic and one a master of the Western Enlightenment, can give us encouragement.
In 1057, the Syrian poet and philosopher Abul Ala al-Ma'arri died. In his lifetime, for the act of forgoing meat and being a vegetarian, he was branded a heretic. He was also branded a heretic for his poetry and other fictional writings, including The Epistle of Forgiveness, in which he imagined a journey to heaven and to hell.13 Although he is largely unknown in the West, his work is regarded as a forerunner of Dante's Divine Comedy, and over the years, statues of him have been erected around his home region, south of Aleppo. In 2013, jihadists, primarily with the Al-Nusra Front, began attacking and beheading his statues. There are multiple theories about the attacks, including one that perhaps al-Ma'arri is related to President Assad. But the more plausible explanation is that nothing—not even the passage of a thousand years—can expunge the guilt of the heretic. The stigma of heresy is eternal.14
And what did al-Ma'arri write that was so heretical? Here are a few of his lines:
"Shall I go forth from underneath this sky? How shall I escape? Whither shall I flee?" And: "God curse people who call me an infidel when I tell them the truth!" And: "I lift my voice whene'er I talk in vain, / But do I speak the truth, hushed are my lips again."15
I find those lines almost unbearably moving. And yet, nearly a thousand years after they were written, I am certain that the time for heretics to speak the truth with impunity has at last arrived.
And for those still unsure how they should react to the words of a heretic, I turn again to Voltaire, the freest of freethinkers:
"I disapprove of what you say," he is said to have written to Claude Helvetius, "but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
The dawn of a Muslim Reformation is the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion.
AS WE MOVE TO THE END EVENTS OF THIS AGE, TO THE LAST 42 MONTHS OF THIS AGE, THERE WILL BE A WAR BETWEEN SOME UNITED ARAB NATIONS LED BY EGYPT, AND A RESURRECTED HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE IN EUROPE. DANIEL SPEAKS OF IT IN HIS ELEVENTH CHAPTER VERSES 40-45. THE BEAST BABYLON OF EUROPE WILL WIN; CHAPTER 12 - THEN WE MOVE INTO THE LAST 42 MONTHS PLUS SOME EXTRA DAYS [GIVEN BY DANIEL AT THE END OF THE CHAPTER] FOR A TIME OF TROUBLE AS NEVER BEEN ON EARTH SINCE THE CREATION OF MANKIND. JESUS SAID IN MATTHEW 24, THAT UNLESS THAT TIME WAS SHORTENED [STOPPED] NO FLESH WOULD BE SAVED ALIVE. JESUS WILL COME AND REIGN FROM JERUSALEM; HE WILL SET UP ONE WORLDWIDE RELIGION; BY THAT TIME MANKIND WILL BE READY TO HAVE THE ONLY HOLY GOVERNMENT THAT CAN GIVE THE NATIONS PEACE AND PROSPERITY, AND CORRECT FREEDOM UNDER A HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS LAW. ALL PEOPLES WILL COME TO AGREE THIS GOVERNMENT FROM THE TRUE GOD, IS THE ONLY WAY. MANKIND WILL THEN HAVE A THOUSAND YEARS OF LIVING THAT CAN HARDLY BE UNDERSTOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF HOW THEY ARE LIVING TODAY.
SO IT IS WRITTEN - SO IT WILL COME TO PASS!!