Thursday, April 19, 2007

Moderate Muslims, Part III

In two previous posts (here and here), I've highlighted words and deeds by moderate Muslims as a favor for people who claim they don't exist.

Here's another: Author Irshad Manji, a Muslim (and lesbian) who writes about the intersection of faith and freedom. She participated in an online chat where she answered questions about Islam. Notable excerpts:

Simply put, we don't need to change Islam. That's because Islam itself contains the raw materials to be both humane and reasonable. What we need to do is change the Muslim mindset to bust out of tribalism (strict hierarchies that equating debate with division and division with crime), and recognize that Islam's own scripture, the Quran, contains 3 times as many verses calling on us to think/reflect/analyze than verses telling us what's forbidden/acceptable. In short, re-interpretation is not just permitted; it's encouraged.

Yep -- an Islamic Reformation.

As to the imams, why are they the arbiters? I wish that non-Muslims would stop investing these guys with the authority to approve or disapprove of other Muslims. They're not the only creatures who count. Especially before the eyes of God.

This, too, goes back to tribalism, not Islam itself.

The Quran vigorously defends religious pluralism, including those who convert or choose not to believe AT ALL. When some Muslims wage war on converts - as many of many mullahs in Afghanistan recenty did - they are following a SELECTED and REPORTED saying of the Prophet Muhammad (known as the hadiths). Problem is, the Prophet reportedly said many things that contradict each other.

Which is why Islam needs the equivalent of a Council of Trent or the like, where they separate the "true" Hadiths from the suspect ones. Or else the Hadiths need to be demoted in importance.

The Quran contains plenty of pro-women passages. One could argue that women have many more rights according to the Quran than according to any other scripture before it. But the reason for such anti-women interpretations is tribal culture; in the case of Islam, ARAB tribal culture. (I know that's politically incorrect to point out in the age of multiculturalism; so be it.) In particular, the tribal tradition of honor requires women to give up their individuality in order to maintain the reputation of the men in their lives. This turns women into communal property. The way in which Islam has been propagated for the past several hundred years, the code of honor has become enmeshed in religous practices. Bottom line: Although this problem didn't come FROM Islam, it has become a problem FOR Islam.

From the point of view of the nonMuslim world, we need to learn to separate the Quran from the Hadiths, and Islam from the tribal cultures that dominate its membership in the public consciousness. Only then can we come up with realistic strategies to engage moderate Muslims, isolate the extremists and help the Islamic Reformation along.

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