Sunday, 4 January 2009

True Islam?

I find it rather perverse that extreme Muslim-haters want to convince everyone - including Muslims - that moderate forms of Islam are wrong and that the true version is the terrorists' version.

The reason they do this is obvious. They need to justify their hatred towards Muslims. When they insist that Islam is a a Fascist ideology and that all 'true' Muslims are Nazis, they are giving people no option but to agree that Islam must be destroyed and Muslims wiped out. By equating Islam with Fascism, they open the door to justifying violence and aggression against Muslims as the righteous reaction of decent people against evil dark forces.

Now I'm not saying that all those who consider there to be a 'True Islam' are haters and bigots - certainly not! It is a common and quite innocent mistake.

But it has become a principle of the far-right, Christian fundamentalists and other bigoted anti-Islam groups to insist that true Islam is the Islam of the terrorists and to equate it with Fascism.

But is there really such a thing as 'True Islam'?

Of course Muslims think so, but that is only to be expected since they have to preserve the integrity of the Divine message they believe in. But those of us who do not believe that Islam was the carefully planned work of an Omniscient and Omnipotent Creator, but the rather less carefully planned work of the human mind, are under no obligation to defend it's integrity and consistency against all reason.

There are certainly interpretations that are closer than others to what Muhammad brought in 7th century Arabia. But one cannot claim they constitute one homogeneous view. When moderate Muslims accuse the Salafis of being selective in how they interpret Islam, choosing to overlook the more moderate and liberal elements, they are right. But what they forget to mention is that they are just as selective when they choose to overlook the harsh and rigid elements.

The truth is that there are aspects of Islam where literal interpretations are closer to what Muhammad brought while at other times allegorical interpretations are closer. There are times when a belligerent meaning is correct and others when a conciliatory meaning is correct.

That is because what Muhammad himself did and said varied at different points of his lifetime and according to the circumstances. I know some will say that the principle of abrogation means that the more peaceful and conciliatory verses are no-longer valid. But anyone with the slightest knowledge of abrogation knows that it creates more anomalies than it solves, not to mention it was largely constructed after Muhammad's death. Since then the companions, followers and scholars have added ever more twists and turns. What one is left with is a multitude of interpretations, schools of thought, groups, parties and sects. Today Islam offers many competing interpretations that have valid claims to 'traditional' Islam. Mystical traditions as well as literalist traditions. Moderate traditions as well as hard-line traditions.

Of course that doesn't mean one cannot criticize Islam, but simply that one should be wary of generalizing. Most of all we must reject completely the claim that 'True Islam' is the Islam of the terrorists and that it is a Fascist ideology.