Eastern Islam

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by Randall S. Frederick

Continued from “Western Islam

In supporting the religion of Islam while simultaneously taking a firm position against Islamism, it is important to make the distinction between the two evident and to emphasize the distinction between East and West expression of the religion. It is a popular trope to suggest that the West is stoic and constant while the East is exotic and unpredictable. I don’t entirely believe either one of this narratives, but the differences in experience, in language, and in worldview between continents, ethnicity, and context are, indeed, substantial and for many making a (quite literally) global assumption is the easiest solution to overcome misunderstanding, bias, and diminish the role of the “other.”

Instead of trying to translate the teachings of Islam or speak for Muslims, I would prefer to refrain from doing this as much as possible. Accordingly, this article will uncharacteristically not be written by me, but will instead be a collection of important notes to understanding the divide, rather the divisionsplural – within Islam today. More, by editing in such a way to incline the reader toward changes that need to take place, I would encourage the reader to do their own investigation into viable changes. In brief, this is a primary, immediate, topical, even generalized survey of changes that most Muslims and most non-Muslims would agree on. Without becoming slowed down in the discussion by looking at specific theological and cultural changes, these are the primary, “universal” concerns by both East and West. We begin with discussion of the language of reform. As should be evident, given the history of the West and especially Christianity’s use of the word “Reformation” as grounds to exterminate those who do not see the world as they do, “reform” seems a rather loaded word.

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From The Agenda with Steve Paikin, aired 27 May 2015

Host Steve Paikin: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali [author of Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015)] writes, “Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam’s core concepts, we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion. Your view?”

Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: “The idea of reform is not new. My belief and understanding is what Islam needs really is clarity. It needs overhauling. It needs Muslims to let go of fictional add-ons that have become part of the faith, and what it needs it a very acute awareness that there is a difference between the political and the spiritual message of the faith.”

Mohammad Fadel, the Canada Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law at the Univ. of Toronto: “What I would say is that Muslim societies are in profound need of radical transformation. I’m a little skeptical of using the concept of ‘reformation’ with regard to Islam because it comes out of a particular context of church-state relations which can’t really be mapped onto Islam. Islam doesn’t have a governing corporate structure that you could institute a reformation via that sort of structure. What we can talk about is how can we transform Muslim societies to make them more peaceful and progressive. I think that’s a conversation worth having. I’m very skeptical about theological discussion and trying to figure out their relevance to concrete [the] political, [the] social, and economics.

Steve Paikin: “Imam, does your religion need a reformation?”

Imam Shabir Ally, president of The Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International: “To answer the question, we need to see what Ayaan Hirsi Ali is explaining as the ‘Reformation’ she has in mind; what she calls actually a ‘renovation’. [With] an old historical building you want to renovate, one is to knock it down and build something new where it was. That’s not going to work with a world religion. She says another option is to just fortify it the best you can, but that of course means you are stuck with many of the old problems – just patching it up as you go. What she has in mind, precisely, she says, is to gut out the interior as much as you can, leaving only the facade. And then you rebuild the interior entirely, using modern elements. Well, I just drove past such a building on my way here [to the studio] and it’s a retirement residence. Once a church on Avenue Road. What remains of the church is only the facade of the old church, but I don’t think you can call it a church anymore.

Host Steve Paikin: “So her idea does not work for you?”

Imam Shabir Ally: “No. What will work for me, however, is not to use the word ‘reform’ because that has its connotations in Christian history with the Protestant Reformation, which was really a reneging of the papal authority and especially with reference to indulgences which were being granted at the time. But I would use original Arabic terms from the classical Islamic tradition. I would speak of ‘renewal’, which would mean for me going back to the original principles of Islam but applying them in a new manner in our present circumstances, and I would speak of Jihad, which is a reasoning which for many Muslims had been a no-no for many centuries, but when we go back to our history, we see that this is what was practiced in the early times. If we want to let this religion be relevant to our present times, to be a religion of peace as we believe it to be, we need to apply that once more.”

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What exactly is the Imam referring to here, outright saying that Islam must return to their cultural and religious origin, especially through the use of jihad to achieve peace?

Before we allow our imagination to get the best of us, I believe that Malala Yousafzai, who last year became the youngest-ever Nobel-laureate when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, recently said in an interview with Channel 4 in the United Kingdom that, “The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create. It’s important that whatever politicians say, whatever the media say, they should be really, really careful about it. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism. It will radicalize more terrorists.”

But not all Muslims see it as optimistically. Raheel Raza, who was part of the 27 May, 2015 interview cited above elaborates that Islam is, in large part, a violent religion and that this cannot be overlooked.

Note that, as stated previously, Raheel Raza is the president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, an author, and a human rights activist. She is also a Sunni Muslim and her statements come from a lifetime spent within the religion and the culture of Islam. From By the Numbers: The Untold Story of Muslim Opinions and Demographics, published on 13 December, 2015.

Almost every day, we are told that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam and we are told that Muslims reject the extremists. But is it true that 99.9% of Muslims don’t support extremism?… This is not an easy topic to discuss, but in light of the fact that most of the terrorism in the world today involves Muslims in one way or another, and because it directly involves our lives and our security, I think that we need to be able to have an open, honest, and fact-based conversation about that.

This is not a conversation about Islam. This is a conversation about the growing threat of Radical Islam and how it affects us all.

Our society has evolved to the point where we can have a civilized debate about almost anything. Anything except what may be the most important issue of our time: the rise of Radical Islam. This fear of being called a racist has caused many people to act against their better judgement and it may have even cost innocent lives. In San Bernadino, California, two Muslim terrorists who had pledged allegiance to ISIS killed at least 14 people. But a few weeks before the attack, neighbors apparently noticed suspicious activity but didn’t call the police. Why? Did political correctness cost people their lives? It’s hard to say for sure, but we do know that it has become harder and harder to speak about these things without being told we are racist.

I don’t need celebrities defending me from talk show hosts. I need to be defended from the radicals in my own religion who want me dead — radical Islamists who behead people, set people on fire, pour battery acid on women’s faces, murder people in the name of my god, radicals who seek to take over the world in the name of my religion. So let’s get real and look at some numbers.

Today, there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. In fact, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and according to Pew Research, will surpass Christianity in this century. Now, obviously, not all Muslims are radical. But a certain percentage are.

Raza breaks down the 3-tiered spheres of radicalized Islam, which includes jihadist soldiers, violent jihadists and fundamentalists. The first group, violent jihadists, are 

The first circle of radicals. Violent jihadists such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas, and various lone wolves. These are the jihadists who murdered people in San Bernadino, Texas, Paris, London, Delhi, Jerusalem, Madrid, Nairobi, Boston, and of course New York… So how many jihadists are there? There are anywhere between 40,000 to 200,000 Muslims involved in fighting for ISIS across the world. And that’s just ISIS. It doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands jihadis fighting for Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and other groups. But the thing about terrorism is that it only takes a handful of terrorists to do serious damage and even change the way society operates.

Reza’s video can be seen in its entirety here (Israel Video Network), here (The Rebel), and here (YouTube) and – though I shy away from being an alarmist – the statistics she refers to are alarming and they are not new. Every graphic she presents, every statistic she quotes are from legitimate, well-vetted agencies who have quietly and consistently presenting their findings to the world, to little acclaim. It’s time to start paying attention.

The fact remains that, overwhelmingly, the radical face of Islam is the only Islam both those in the East and those in the Western hemisphere know. The civil nature of democratic nations necessitates that we emphasize “not all Muslims” in the same telling way that we might say, “not all Christians” were involved in the Crusades or “not all North Koreans” want to defect. That we must preface our statements in this way means that there is an undeniable and unmistakable violence within Islam that must be confronted – ideally, through reformation, renewal, or radical transformation from within. Muslims must confront – by whatever means necessary – the future of their faith.

As Reza’s countless polls are evidence, at present, Islam in the Eastern Hemisphere has been lost. It is too late to turn back the tide of radical Islam, or as it is called for political purposes, Islamism. Jordanian and Egyptian leaders may be calling for change, but either ISIS and all forms of radicalization must be confronted, or nothing will change. And a conversation like that cannot happen, since too many resources, too much land, and too many deeply held theological beliefs are involved to undo the last seven decades. Ideally, change must come within but it is no longer a matter of civil discourse and interfaith dialogue. Too much has happened, too many lives lost, too many resources stolen for us to passively allow radicalization to continue while they “figure it out.”

In the West, Islam faces a very real crisis as well. They remain silent in the wake of global-scale terrorism, to the consternation and compounding frustration of their neighbors. It is not enough for sporadic leaders, authors, or talking heads in the West to shake their heads and say, “We are not like them.” There must be some kind of action, lest the world entire begin to do the very thing ISIS and other terrorist groups want them to do – engage in a global war that will activate a final jihad. I believe that the silence of Western Muslims is because, as stated previously, they lack a coherent and definitive reading of the Quran, and entirely lack a comprehensive commentary or the religious means to express an alternative. Put another way, it is not enough to say “we are not that.” Muslims must begin to say, “we are this – we are something else.” They must disavow and disassociate from the radical elements of their faith for real change, real trust, to take place. “Here is our faith, here are our works, this is what we stand for and ask you to stand with us in solidarity.”

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