Some critics of Islam

by Yule Heibel on July 29, 2005

Open Democracy has an excellent article by Maruf Khwaja, Terrorism, Islam, reform: thinking the unthinkable. It isn’t anything that Irshad Manji hasn’t said, but it’s nice to see it coming out on Open Democracy. Khwaja writes,

Contemporary Islam has produced more suicidal extremists than all other creeds, modern or ancient. In addition to real or imagined grievances, there are growth factors peculiar to Islam. An unshakeable belief that “life after life” is preferable to the earthly one; the mental discipline inculcated by rigid prayer rituals and the suppression of earthly desire through fasting and privation make vulnerable young minds especially receptive to brainwashing. (…)

Unreformed Islam’s relationship to the Muslim world is equivalent to pre-Reformation Christianity in Europe. The Reformation allowed the west to liberate itself from religious thinking and set free forces of progress; meanwhile, Islamic empires shrank into their shell, refusing reality, rejecting change and resisting “infidel” knowledge. Stupefied by ignorance, they submitted to western conquerors with scarcely a whimper. If today’s Muslim bomb-throwers want someone to blame for their mindless rage, they should look at their own ancestors.

The long-term answer to terrorism in its Islamic guise can only lie in reform. Islamic reformers must re-examine pre-modern practices and concepts (such as the hudood laws that allow men “non-reciprocal” rights over women); repudiate Islamic radicals who wish (as in Canada) to apply sharia laws to Muslims in the democratic west; shed sectarian dogmas that perpetuate intra-communal conflict; consign the theological disputes of early Islam to the past; and update or discard rigid rules (often deriving from pre-Islamic rituals) that have no relevance today. [More…]

Somewhere in the article, Khwaja also mentions ijtihad, which Irshad Manji espouses unequivocally and characterises thus:

Ijtihad (pronounced “ij-tee-had”) is Islam’s lost tradition of independent thinking. In the early centuries of Islam, thanks to the spirit of ijtihad, 135 schools of thought thrived. Inspired by ijtihad, Muslims gave the world inventions from the astrolabe to the university. So much of we consider “western” pop culture came from Muslims: the guitar, mocha coffee, even the ultra-Spanish expression “Ole!” (which has its root in the Arabic word for God, “Allah”).

What happened to ijtihad?

Toward the end of the 11th century, the “gates of ijtihad” were closed for entirely political reasons. During this time, the Muslim empire from Iraq in the east to Spain in the west was going through a series of internal upheavals. Dissident denominations were popping up and declaring their own runaway governments, which posed a threat to the main Muslim leader — the caliph. Based in Baghdad, the caliph cracked down and closed ranks. Remember those 135 schools of thought mentioned above? They were deliberately reduced to four, pretty conservative, schools of thought. This led to a rigid reading of the Koran as well as to a series of legal opinions — fatwas — that scholars could no longer overturn or even question, but could now only imitate. To this very day, imitation of medieval norms has trumped innovation in Islam. It’s time to revive ijtihad to update Islam for the 21st century. That’s why I’ve created Project Ijtihad.
Based on my extensive touring and interaction with young Muslims around the world, I can report good news: the idea of a campaign to revive ijtihad is generating huge excitement. Young Muslims and their friends are expressing gratitude, relief, even love for my willingness to help them confront the extremists. There’s no doubt that some young Muslims detest me and my message of ijtihad. They tend to be the vocal and vitriolic ones. But everywhere I go, I’m quietly approached by Muslims, especially young women, who are desperate to know that it’s possible to dissent with mainstream orthodoxy while remaining faithful. The challenge now is to help transform that underground hunger for change into an above-the-ground phenomenon.
[so much more here…]

Irshad Manji is profiled in a Times Online article from July 17: The lipstick lesbian daring to confront radical imams. The reporter quotes her:

“Why do they protest against France for making it illegal to wear hijabs, but not against Saudi Arabia for making it illegal not to wear them?”; more Muslims, she contends, have been killed in recent years by fellow Muslims than by westerners. [More…]

Good question.

Oh, and about those virgins awaiting “martyrs” in “paradise”? According to Manji, that belief is erroneous, based on a translation error. Instead of “virgin,” read “raisin.” Yup. Seventy-two raisins. Apparently they were incredibly valuable in 7th century Arabia.

Well. That gives a whole new spin to the sexist expression old prune, don’t it?

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