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Symposium: The Islamic Reformation? By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 13, 2004

Can Islam reform? If so, where are the seeds of reformation planted and how can they best grow? Who can and should lead the reformation? To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests today are:

Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. He has sparked controversy within the Islamic community by arguing, as a Muslim himself, that the Koran says Israel belongs to the Jews;

Kamal Nawash, the Founder and President of The Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism, which denounces all forms of  fundamentalist Islamic terror and advocates an American no-tolerance stance on terrorism;




Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who has become an ardent Zionist and evangelical Christian.


FP: Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Kamal Nawash and Walid Shoebat, welcome to Frontpage Symposium, it is a pleasure to have you all here. Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, let me begin with you. Does Islam need a reformation? How come it never had one? Why is self-criticism and self-questioning almost unheard of in Islam?


Mohammed:  First of all, thanks again for having me on this forum. There is no doubt that Islam is in need of reformation.--the religious elites have been out of touch with modernity and have dug themselves into a morass of legal interpretations and understandings of the Qur'an that has NOTHING to do with the ethical view of the Qur'an.


With creedal formations that are as far removed from the Qur'an as can be, they talk about the permanency of certain laws for all times and climes--although the Qur'an clearly does not talk about this. As Fazlur Rahman said in his "Islam"--the scholars confused the Qur’anic claim of inimitability with that of immutability. And so Muslims today in the US, Australia are being asked to follow certain laws that are more at home in eighth century Baghdad, oblivious to the changes that have taken place. Our intellect has expanded, the world has changed--but the elites want to remain in power, although they read nothing else except 10 century treatises, and know hardly anything of modern science and philosophy.


So yes, Islam needs a reformation. How come it never had one? It was not for lack of effort or self-criticism and self-questioning. The history of Islamic thinkers show that there was self criticism and self-questioning. From Abu Hanifa to  Al-Jahiz, al-Hallaj, right down to  Muhammad al Ghazali of Egypt, Taha alalwani of the US, Azizah al Hibri of the US, Mahmoud Taha in the Sudan, Sa'ed Ebrahim in Egypt, to Arkoun in France, we have had people who have questioned. For the Muslim countries, the State use of religion as its organ of coercion is what has silenced the voices of dissent.


The entire idea of the Qur'an teaches us to question: Say! Produce your proof if you are telling the truth!  Do you not think? Do you order the people to piety and forget yourselves?.....these are all quotes from the Qur'an. But now, anyone who dares raise questions is chastised--with ultimate prejudice as in the case of Mahmoud Taha--or ostracized by fellow Muslims, as in the case of Khalid Abou El-Fadl right here in the US. Under man-made laws to silence dissent, the jurists, as organs of the state, came up with  capital penalties for excommunication or whatever they deemed as injurious to their view of religion--thus silencing many. Here in the US, there are many who would like to speak out, but are afraid to because of being labeled as too Western, CIA spies, Israeli spies etc.


Shoebat: I agree with Mohammed on one issue: that "the religious [Islamic] elites have been out of touch with modernity". Yet I disagree with him on the rest of his issues. Allow me to make my case.

He quotes Ghazali as a thinker and questioner. Yet when he was asked a question regarding living in foreign non-Muslim countries Ghazali responded:

"Muslims could live under non-Muslim rule as long as they do not forget that they are Allah's missionaries and, if needed, His soldiers"


I suppose that Mohammed might re-interpret the meaning of "soldiers".

He also points to Khalid Abou el Fadl, whose argument that "only fringe elements among Muslims consider that [Jihad is] war". That "The Qur'an refers to jihad only in terms of intellectual effort to apply divine revelation in promoting peace through justice". Abou el Fadl also was quoted saying "There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism, but there have always been Muslim terrorists."

Indeed, this to me sounds like fighting Jihad extremism. I have heard of Hamza Yusuf, Tariq Ramadan, Fazlur Rahman, and Amina Wadud who do the same, yet on the other hand, their advocacy is an "extreme" denial of the facts regarding the meaning of Jihad according to Islam.

True battle against Islamic terrorism is not by "denial" of what Islam says via re-interpretation of the true meaning, but by combating the very principles, sources, text, edicts, and writings of the authors themselves.

But this can never be done. Islam with its volumes of writings is literally filled with violence.

One question to this group - do they not wish to see the West converted to Islam? Have they spoken out for opening the doors of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, and all other Muslim states to Christian Missionaries? Or are they working predominately in America on fighting Islamophobia?

Abou el Fadl who Mohammed quoted, likes the following definition of Jihad:

"struggle for the sake of God, whether for self-discipline and self-purification or against oppression and justice."

Let's not re-interpret Jihad, indeed if we are talking about reformation. Jihad, the law of "Abrogation of peace" from the Qur’an with infidels, has been conferred by the highest of the interpreters of the Qur’an: Kitab Al-Nasekh Wal-Mansookh, Al-Neesaburi, Al-Hafeth Ibnu Katheer Ibin Abas,  Al-Tasheel Lulum Al-Tanzeel, Al-Husain Ibn Fadl, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhaqiq Abu Al-Qasim Hibatullah Ibn Salameh, Al-Sudy Wa-Al-Dahak. Muhammad Abdulsalam Faraj. Etc.

The classical Muslim jurist al-Mawardi (a Shafi'ite jurist, d. 1058) from Baghdad was a seminal, prolific scholar who lived during the so-called Islamic "Golden Age" of the Abbasid-Baghdadian Caliphate. He wrote the following, based on widely accepted interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunna  regarding infidel prisoners of jihad campaigns:

"As for the captives, the amir [ruler] has the choice of taking the most beneficial action of four possibilities: the first to put them to death by cutting their necks; the second, to enslave them and apply the laws of slavery regarding their sale and manumission; the third, to ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners; and fourth, to show favor to them and pardon them."

Indeed such odious "rules" were iterated by all four classical schools of Islamic jurisprudence, across the vast Muslim empire. Do I need to quote Shafi'i Maliki, Hanbali, and Hanafi?

ALL MUSLIMS fall under one of these four. Which one are you?

Jihad (besides the self Jihad apologists speak about) is to fight and kill non-Muslims [the Kuffar]:

Hanafi Fiqh: "to call the unbelievers towards the true religion of Islam & to fight against them, if they are unwilling to accept this true religion."

Christian reformation started when followers went to the text and the founders of the faith who clearly prohibited genocide and murder. Yet Muslims cannot do the same, since the founders themselves (Muhammad the prophet of Islam, the Sahaba, and the Chaliphs) all participated in Jihad by killing infidels and whoever opposed the Islamic system.

This is why the talk of reformation can never be by "re-interpretation" but "confession".

Is this panel ready to do that?


Nawash: I can easily agree with most of the statements made by Walid Shoebat and Prof. Khaleel Mohammed.  However, they both make a crucial mistake that is made by most intellectuals who tackle the issue of Islamic reformation.  Both rely on the Koran and other Islamic religious text to justify their conclusions.  This is not a formula for success and will always fail.  The fact is, the Koran, similar to the Bible and the Torah, says what ever the reader wants it to say.  Thus, in his interpreting of Islamic text, I have no doubt that Mr. Mohammed is sincere in interpreting Islam as a peaceful, loving religion.  I also believe that Mr. Shoebat is sincere and justified in interpreting Islam as an evil religion.  The Koran has many verses that can justify both interpretations.


In light of this, all who are interested in Islamic reformation must begin with the belief that Islam is no innocent bystander in the violence perpetrated by Muslims. Just as moderate Christians and Jews acknowledged the nasty side of their holy texts, modern Muslims must acknowledge that the Koran can easily be used to justify terror and evil.  It is not sufficient for moderate Muslims to argue that certain passages in the Koran are being politically exploited.  Muslims must realize that the passages would not be exploited if they didn't exist.


As to whether we need an Islamic reformation, the answer is YES.  If Islamic society is to become prosperous, free and democratic, a true reformation must take place within the Arab and Muslim nations. The governments of the Muslim world must remove theocratic Islam as the most dynamic force within their borders. Secularization, respect for other faiths and self-criticism must be achieved in order to attain Islamic reformation and the elimination of the daily violence resulting from a plausible interpretation of Islam.


The key to Islamic reformation is the promotion of secularism which will lead to the rationalism that is, unfortunately, rejected by most Muslims today.  Secularism and rationalism is how Christians and Jews reformed their religions.  For example, in Europe, rationalism lead to scientific discoveries that undermined the Aristotelian physics upon which the church had built its view of the universe.  These discoveries ultimately discredited the church as the giver of the only truth about everything and relegated religion in the Western world to a personal relationship between an individual and his Lord.  This is what is needed in Islam today.  We need to slowly remove religion from public life and relegate it to a personal relationship between the individual and his Lord.


As to why we don’t have attempts at reformation, self-criticism and self-questioning, it is dangerous to do so.  The Muslim religious establishment immediately labels anyone who seeks reform as an infidel, anti-Muslim or agents of the Mossad and CIA.  Moreover, even “secular” governments such as Egypt prosecute people who seek reform in order to appease the religious establishment and their ignorant Muslim followers who regard such calls for reformation to be so offensive as to justify violent retribution.


For those few brave individuals who are willing to call for reform or engage in self-criticism, there is generally no public forum to publicize their views.  In the Muslim world, there are no media outlets willing to publicize such messages.  In the West, media outlets are generally not interested in Muslims calling for reform or self-criticism.  These visionary people or groups are not considered exciting or representative enough to merit coverage by the Western media and instead the western media general focus their attention on the Muslim groups who are part of the problem rather than the solution.   This is a serious mistake by the Western media.  The Muslim reform groups such as the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism need as much media coverage as possible.  The more that reform groups succeed in getting their message to other Muslims the more likely they are to inspire passionate discussion among Muslims and provide moderate Muslims the opportunity to join them.   Moreover, the more western media coverage that Muslim reform groups get the more likely they are to get Arab media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia to cover them and thus help spread the reform Message.  Simply stated, Muslims calling for reform need Western help in disseminating their message.


FP: Prof. Mohammed, Mr. Nawash draws an equivalency between the Islamic religious texts and the Christian and Jewish ones in the context of all the holy books having violent  verses. This is absurd. Unlike Islam, nowhere in Jewish and Christian teachings is there a specific instruction to kill all those who are unlike you and to do this in order to force your religion upon others – which Islam irrefutably does. Moreover, unlike Christian and Jewish religious texts, the Koran is considered by Muslims to be the literal word of Allah, articulated by Allah in a dialogue with the supposed Prophet. It is believed to be timeless and locked away in heaven. Anything you reject in the Koran is therefore considered to be blasphemy, since it is the word of Allah. Aren’t these significant differences from Christianity and Judaism, and don’t they pose serious problems for any kind of Islamic “reformation”?


Mohammed: Jamie, please allow me to respond to you after I deal with the ideas presented by Messrs. Nawash and Shoebat first.


I am a Muslim, and for me to remain quiet in the face of some of the statements made would be to forego my duty of fighting against oppression--especially when it is in the form of intellectual tyranny.


I agree with Mr. Nawash's observation regarding the problems in a methodology such as my own. I accept the criticism because I was not explicit in my opening statements. Yes, the verses of the Qur'an can be misinterpreted, and we cannot talk of Islam in terms of text only. This is why I quote people like Fazlur Rahman, Abdullah al-Na'im, Khalid Abou el-Fadl. Rahman--and I am his disciple in this--advocates the "double movement"--understanding the verses in their context, their ratio legis, and then using the philosophy of the Qur’an to interpret that in a modern social and moral sense.


For Muslims, no text of any Muslim writer, be it Tabari, Mawardi or whoever is divine. This is significant because I studied in Saudi Arabia, yet knew NOTHING of people like al-Wansharisi etc.  until the true Western doyen of Islamic law, Prof. Wael Hallaq would mention these names.


My point is that western scholars read the works of such Muslims, and attribute to them false importance in terms of precedent and authority for the Muslim community. So what reformers seek is simple: a textual approach that is devoid of the medieval understandings imposed on the Qur'an. This seemingly impossible task is difficult, NOT impossible. I have proven this several times as in my take on the verses regarding Israel in the Qur'an.

Now regarding Mr. Shoebat: I do not know from where he gets his understanding of the Qur'an which seems to be based on pure Islamophobia, probably intensified by evangelism. He deliberately misrepresents al Ghazali, and now can do so with me, for I agree that "Muslims could live under non-Muslim rule as long as they do not forget they are Allah's missionaries and if needed, his soldiers." Only an evangelist could take issue with such a benign statement, for after all, the world is divided into two is it not? Those who are Allah's missionaries, and those who are Jesus' missionaries. (I see two of the most destructive forces on earth as Muslim and Christian missionaries, each party seeking to convert people. Can't we believe that if God so badly wants followers in a particular faith, She would send us clearer signs?). 


On the assumption that his translation is a faithful one, what is wrong with fighting against tyranny and oppression, whether it be intellectual or otherwise?  Is this not what the US forces are supposedly in Iraq to do? What makes it right for these predominantly "Christian" soldiers to do that and not for Muslims to have a similar philosophy?

Khalid Abou el-Fadl is an expert in Islamic law, and I, based on rigorous study of texts, agree with him that only fringe elements today consider that Jihad is war. Which is why the word for war, as Mr. Shoebat ought to know, is Harb, and NOT Jihad. Can Mr. Shoebat quote a single ayah, and with Christian honesty, prove that it advocates terrorism? When all the verses of war are to be taken in light of the conditions for such war: when the enemy has declared war against Islam.


If one says that the verses have been misinterpreted, I am the first to agree. If one says that the traditional juristic understanding has been one of a warlike nature, I too agree. But such interpretation was from the jurists. And Abou el-Fadl, as a jurist, can justifiably critique previous explanations--as al Na'im, al Ghazali, Fazlur Rahman, and I have done. The meaning of Jihad according to Islam: Who is Mr. Shoebatt to seek to distort the meaning is when several scholars have, like Dr. Abou el-Fadl provided the latter's view?


Now, in a previous FP interview, Mr. Shoebat said "Peace started when we made it illegal to follow the text and ultimately defanged Islam from Jihad..." No, peace has not started, and it is not because of this. Peace ceased when the crusades were launched, and which have not yet ended. Peace can only return when Muslims return to properly understanding the text, without medieval refraction, and when governments do not seek to impose Christian ideas on people. After all, it was not Islam that slaughtered the people of the "new world", and enslaved millions. It was another religion, doing so out of a purported love of all humankind.

Am I to understand that Mr. Shoebatt wants that
Saudi Arabia should open its doors to missionaries? For what? Is this reforming Islam? But the US should ask Muslims if they want to spread Islam? The only euphemism I can use to describe such warped reasoning is "excrementatious." He cites from al-Mawardi and conveniently forgets to tell us that the source is a book on advice to the rulers, among such advice being the issue of dealing with prisoners-- serving the purpose of what a document on how to deal with Iraqi prisoners would be (and we know that several such documents have surfaced. And we only have to go back to the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries to see how Christian thinkers felt one should deal with "natives and savages."  And he forgets to mention that  Christian writers were far more horrible; after all, who was it that coined the term "bellum justum".

From whence does Mr. Shoebat get the ideas that ALL MUSLIMS must fall under one of  four schools of thought? No Shias? Let us face facts: Mr Shoebat is not about reform in Islam, but the demonization of a faith so that inroads may be made for proselytization to evangelist Christianity. And Muslims have no need for that: the wonderful ethics of Christianity are duplicated and added to in the Qur'an, a document that came AFTER the Christian testament and therefore emended what needed to be emended. For any Muslim with a brain, the concept of God having a son is the most odious of heresies, and so, it would be retrogressive for Muslim theocracies to open their doors to Christian missionaries, and subject the masses to deviation from the true Abrahamic concept of monotheism (i.e. Judeo-Islamic)..

If we cannot agree to have factual representations of Islam, then there is no need for dialogue. For I do strongly disagree with Mr. Nawash that Mr. Shoebatt's comments were in any way justifiable.

Now for Jamie’s comments. How can one say that nowhere in the Jewish and Christian teachings is there a specific instruction to kill those who are unlike you? And by the way, where in the Muslim teachings is there an instruction to kill all those who are unlike you?  In all my years of study of these texts, I have found much more instructions to kill, maim, and take every soul, to kill every man, woman and child--and if not instructions, then these were done by "godly" people. And the stories formed the nucleus on how one should understand interaction with the "other.". The Book of Joshua? And the writings of the Church Fathers?

Also, let us not forget: The Torah as I pointed out does contain violent verses, which, as Michael Cook pointed out in "the Koran: A Very Short Introduction" are far more than the Qur'an. The Talmud does not contain such verses because it was composed at a time when the Jews are not in power. The Christian Testament, does not contain such verses (I have not forgotten the sword verse of Matthew
10:34 that Mr. Shoebatt may wish to reinterpret), because Jesus NEVER EVER gained political power. He spent his life as a fugitive, taking care not to offend the Roman masters. But his expected mission was to restore the throne of David; he had to repel the invader. Which is why, because of his failure, the later Christians had to create the theology of his return...and which later was imported into Islam with its inherent Judeophobia undercurrent.  He did not succeed, otherwise the Christian testament would have contained verses of government. But under Constantine, the sword did become Christianity's hidden organ, as eloquently portrayed in James Carroll's 'Sword of Constantine." Muhammad, on the other hand, did succeed in his mission, and so the Qur'an does have instructions on government.

Are there not Jews who believe that the Torah is God's word? What is it then, if not written by the divine finger? Are there not Christians who believe that the Christian Testament is not God's word? And why should Muslims change their belief regarding the Qur'an? The problem lies not in the SOURCE of the Qur'an but , as Mr. Nawash pointed out, and as ALL reformers have pointed out, on HOW it is INTERPRETED.

Let us admit: Islam and Judaism are alien to Christianity in theology. As Mr. Nawash pointed out, the roots of reform may lie in a tilt towards secularism, for only in a secular state can we have true freedom of religion. Unlike Mr. Shoebat's take on his new religion, Xity has not returned to any text. It is rather a departure from the text that makes it a seemingly peaceful religion now. For Muslims it is the departure FROM the text, and the inculcation of tradition and Syrian Christian importations (such as the antichrist theory), as well as medieval socio-political conditions that deformed Islam.


The issues that pose problems for Islamic reformation are several, among them: (a) dominant Muslim belief in the hadith--without regards as to mutawatir and ahad-- as an authentic basis for creed  (2) the governments imposed on Muslim people in the name of Islam (3) the status forced on Muslims by non-Muslim powers so that Muslims, instead of trying to genuinely reform their religion, are instead forced to defend against horrendous lies. An example is right here--where I was asked a question to begin the forum, and then had to defend against the most vicious lies against Islam. (4) The old male power structure within Islam (5) The imposition of Arab culture as the interpretive basis of the Quran in today's world (6) The Arab world's obsession with Israel, and the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have their own state. (7) Disregard for the fact that Islam is NOT the world power it was in the medieval times, and that we have matured to the point where we can use our intellect more freely.  As with Mr. Nawash's group, the Foundation for the Study of Abrahamic Religion is a newly formed organization that seeks, with the help of input from religion scholars of every faith, to bring about such reform/reconstruction in Islam.


FP: Prof. Mohammed, let me ask you a few questions that I hope you will briefly answer:


You draw an equivalency between the activity of Muslim and Christian missionaries. What does dhimmitude mean to you? Can you find anything equivalent in Christian and Jewish experience? If you can, is that behaviour rooted in the religious texts?


Your reference to “governments” seeking “to impose Christian ideas” on people is a mystery to me. Please tell us where “Christian” governments rule and where they force unbelievers to submit to Jesus or face paying taxes and being treated as unequals if they do not, and face an even worse fate if they refuse to do the latter.


You oppose Mr. Shoebat’s challenge for Saudi Arabia to open its doors to Christian missionaries. You say that the Muslims don’t need it and so it just shouldn’t happen. Do you not believe that Muslims should have the freedom to be exposed to different ideas and thoughts and to make their own choices in regards to these matters – and without fear of physical harm? In general, I take it you think it is fine that Muslims can freely preach in the West, but that non-Muslims are not allowed to preach anything non-Islamic in Muslim countries?

What do you think should be done to a Muslim who rejects Islam and decides to become a Christian – as Mr. Shoebat has done? Does the Qur’an teach something about what should be done with such a person? Is there anything equal to this teaching in Christianity or Judaism?

What does Sura 9:5, the famous Verse of the Sword, mean to you? Is it significant that it is the Qur’an’s final word on jihad?


After Muhammed died, especially in the immediate years following his death, Muslims engaged in ferocious attacks on their non-Muslim neighbors. Within a decade of Muhammed’s death, his followers expanded violently outside their region. The Islamic empire grew quickly by force and military campaign. Is this because Muslims misunderstood the Qur’an? Is it because they went against the example that Mohammed had personally set? If the Prophet had preached to love thy neighbour as thyself, peace, non-violence and had lived a life following these teachings, would this post-Mohammed aggression of Muslims have occurred anyway?


Muslims subjugated Syria, Egypt, Persia etc. It is quite impressive how so many of the conquered people became Muslims afterwards. Did they do so voluntarily? If not, why not? Did it have something to do with Islam and what it teaches?


I am a bit confused about your point regarding Jesus’ mission being a failure. I must say that, as a Christian, I have never heard anything about this failure. I’ll go back to the New Testament and look for it, but I have read it many times and have a feeling I won’t find it.


By your remark, I am not sure if you are aware that Christians don’t consider Christ a failure because He didn’t lead an army and conquer a whole bunch of unbelievers somewhere. Christians believe that Christ succeeded in his mission -- which was to die on the cross so that his blood would redeem humanity’s sins. Yes, I know, Muslims don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross. That is why they are Muslims and not Christians and Christians are not Muslims. There are different faiths.


I have many Muslim acquaintances that laugh when I tell that that I believe Jesus is God and that he died on the cross for our sins. They find it hilarious that a God would ever subject himself to this kind of “defeat” and “humiliation”. But as Christians, we believe that the temporary powerlessness that Christ experienced saved humanity. We live in a part of the world, Prof. Mohammed, where certain people are still allowed to believe this and can talk about it openly. We are not in Saudi Arabia.


Please explain to me what you mean by Christ’s “failed mission” and whether you are implying that Christians should stop believing what they believe.


The Pope and myriad Protestant groups have issued apologies for the Crusades. Where are the Islamic leaders of the world apologizing for violent jihad and dhimmitude? Could this have something to do with the Crusades not being theologically based in any kind of Christian scripture, and violent jihad and dhimmitude being based in Islamic texts? Is there actually even any base in Christian texts for Christian rule in the political sphere? Can we deny that Christianity not only allows but actually teaches separation of Church and State, as Christ’s reference to paying Caeser’s taxes indicates? 


Forgive me for my long-windedness, but before Prof. Mohammed hopefully answers my questions, let us allow Mssrs. Shoebat and Nawash to rejoin. Mr. Shoebat, go ahead. . . . .


To continue reading this symposium, Click Here.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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