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Douglass-Williams: The Challenge of Modernizing Islam

Douglass-Williams: The Challenge of Modernizing Islam
General view of a mosque on January 3, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

By    |   Tuesday, 18 July 2017 10:59 AM

The following article is excerpted from the book "The Challenge of Modernizing Islam: Reformers Speak Out and the Obstacles They Face" by Christine Douglass-Williams.

It is an often-repeated view that Muslims must be violent to be true to their faith, and that Islam cannot be reformed, but in the vast world of today, such a view does not offer solutions. It does not address the fact that 1.6 billion Muslims are not going to disappear, and ignores the facts that human change and ideological evolution are historic phenomena. Bernard Lewis wrote eleven years prior to 9/11: "Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women," and notes that "the Muslim world is far from unanimous in its rejection of the West."

Not all Muslims are Islamists or supremacists who conquest. Every immigrant group faces trials of cultural integration, but Islamists exploit such challenges to fuel hatred among their followers. Many Muslims are being taught in mosques to hate infidels and ultimately conquer their lands. Such messages are rooted in indoctrination by Muslim leaders who strive to keep their followers in the dark ages so as to control them and to discourage them from questioning and independently seeking answers about their faith.

A brief look at history: the diminishing of the Ottoman influence and European expansion produced the reactionary movement "Pan-Islamism", which was intended to "shore up the ramparts against economic and ideological penetration." Consequently, post-Ottoman states experienced one failure after another; many of them today hold rigidly to Islam in their quest for Islamic awakening and resurgence.

In 1928, Egyptian schoolteacher Hasan al-Banna formed the Muslim Brotherhood, which "targeted the Western-educated elite’s fumbling attempts to indigenise modernity." In exploiting the widespread political disillusionment that permeated the Islamic world after the 1924 abolition of the Islamic caliphate by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, al-Banna’s paradigm married together an indigenous religious conservatism with political activism that would restore the "lapsed fortunes" of the Islamic world.

Subsequently, the Puritanical Salafist movement, which aimed to avenge past failures, grew as a traditionalist reform movement, encouraged "ancestor worship", indoctrinating into Muslims a modernity-phobia, along with the message that the texts of the Koran and Sunnah were non-negotiable and constituted the "official closed corpus." This fundamentalist veto drew from historic Muslim luminaries such as the ninth-century jurist Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who decreed that "whoever involves themselves in any theological rhetoric is not counted amongst the Ahl us-Sunnah, even if by that he arrives at the Sunnah, until he abandons debating and surrenders to the texts." Muslim reformists are adamant that every text must be subject to new interpretations consistent with modernity. Like any religion, Islam is not static, any more than humans are static, as Salafists would have it.

Mass disenchantment, human unpredictability, and zeal for progress have yielded notable surprises historically. The eruption of the Arab Spring demonstrated a dissatisfaction among the populace in the Muslim world. Despite its failure, as overthrown tyrants were generally replaced by more brutal Islamists, the revolutions became unforeseen evolutions that continue to bring upheavals and expanding turf wars, with an unpredictable outcome.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution was also a surprise, and today, though radical clerics rule the regime, the discontent of the people is widely known. Now "a wide chasm has opened between what Iranian citizens profess" under religious dictatorship and what they do; that is a reason for the high walls in private homes, according to Fouad Ajami, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at John Hopkins University. The ideological dissonances within Iran were most apparent when protestors — emboldened by the Arab Spring — took to the streets for a second time in the space of a week on February 20, 2011, even though they were squelched in a brutal crackdown by security forces.

Understanding the difference between Muslims who practice their faith personally from Islamists who thrive toward a political Islam and to impose their ideologies globally is crucial. It is imperative for citizens and authorities to understand this differentiation, given the vast Muslim immigration to the West and the threats posed by political Islam, which include infiltration. We cannot realistically implement a policy of closing the doors to Muslim immigration permanently, deport Muslims already living in the West, or stop every penny coming inside our borders from Salifist-funding states, but we can limit the influence of Islamism by first asking questions to better immunize ourselves through knowledge and open dialogue. The book "The Challenge of Modernizing Islam" aims to provide a foundation to ask valid questions; the word "moderate" means a form of Islam that accepts pluralism and is compatible with modernity and Western democracy.

The media often reports about Muslims who condemn the brutality of ISIS and al Qaeda as un-Islamic and display sympathies upon Islamist attacks, but upon further research, many of these so-called ‘moderates’ have ties to Islamist organizations and are on record as advocating Sharia law globally.

Westerners applaud "peaceful" Islamists for their gestures of conviviality and national solidarity and embrace them in the name of tolerance and diversity, without realizing that these crypto-moderates are well-versed in playing Westerners for fools. To advocate a "peaceful" and stealth replacement of Western democratic constitutions with Sharia law in any form is not moderate. It is a brand of ideological warfare, the end goal of which is no different from that of violent jihadists, but much more difficult to recognize.

Bernard Lewis noted that "with the Barbarians in Rome and the Mongols in Iraq, what made it possible [conquest] was things were going badly wrong within the society so that it was no longer able to offer effective resistance." What is currently badly wrong in the West is our lack of resolve in defending our freedoms against the scourge of Islamism, which seeks conquest. We are too afraid to be branded racists and Islamophobes; this fear detracts from a clear focus on policy solutions.

"The Challenge of Modernizing Islam" features face-to-face interviews with influential moderate Muslims in the United States and Canada. In their preparation, I found myself confronted by intense questions from fellow non-Muslims, of which the most frequent was: how is it that moderate Muslims — particularly practicing, devout ones — can call themselves Muslims and be modern at the same time, when the Koran itself calls for violent jihad, the subjugation of women, and much more that is deeply at variance with modernity? I was also often reminded that those moderates are not accepted as Muslims by their more fervent coreligionists, followed by the claim that so-called moderate Muslims are not Muslims at all. The moderates I have interviewed here have formulated responses to this in numerous ingenious and important ways. I refer to them as "moderates," to be differentiated from those crypto-moderates who appear as genuine, but who under further scrutiny support and advance political Islam and global sharia law.

There are also moderates that prefer to be deemed "reformers" because they believe that there are problematic texts in the Koran that need to be reinterpreted in a fashion that is consistent with modernity. To reformers, it is not enough to ignore such texts in today’s world. In this book, both moderates and reformers explain their frequently contrasting and often mutually complementary approaches to the problematic texts of Islam.

The tenets of public Sharia law are resisted by every moderate (and reformist) voice featured in these pages; ironically, they defend our freedoms against Islamists more actively than many Westerners who are phobic about being branded racists. A different kind of Islamophobia has gripped the West: an irrational terror even justifiably to criticize Islam. Islamists who subscribe to literal interpretations of Koranic texts are proficient at using charges of racism to silence their critics. As the fox guarding the henhouse, they use Western fears and ignorance about their religion in order to become the authorities to instruct us on how to deal with the Muslim populace; thus intentionally moving our democracies, and our very civilization, closer to the edge of a cliff.

Abdur-Rahman Mohammad, a former member of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), emphasized the importance of the U.S. government moving to "stop legitimizing groups" like CAIR, MPAC, and ISNA, which he described as a "fifth column" in the United States. His warning is applicable to every Western country.

It is in the interests of Westerners to question any ideology that is backward, barbaric, and inconsistent with modernity, human rights and Western constitutions — particularly one that has seeped virtually unnoticed across its borders through immigration. It is the duty of Western authorities to protect their citizens from this threat.

As an observer, journalist, interviewer, I am witness to the existence and determination of many devout, practicing Muslims who publicly and ardently defend peace and Western Constitutional freedoms. They serve as fellow partners in protecting our freedoms in the West in opposing and exposing Islamists. I wish them every success.

Christine Douglass-Williams is the author of "The Challenge of Modernizing Islam: Reformers Speak Out and the Obstacles They Face." She is a nine-time international award-winning journalist and television producer. She is an appointed director with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and an appointee to the Office of Religious Freedom as an external advisor. She also writes for the Gatestone International Policy Council, at which she has served on the Board of Governors. Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Jewish Press, Breaking Israel News, Front Page Magazine, and the Hudson Institute, as well as many other news outlets.

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Not all Muslims are Islamists or supremacists who conquest. Every immigrant group faces trials of cultural integration, but Islamists exploit such challenges to fuel hatred among their followers.
christine douglass williams, challenge of modernizing islam, book
Tuesday, 18 July 2017 10:59 AM
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