|Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now; Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Harper, Pp 272; Price $ 27.99
Intro : The book suggests that reformation of Islam is not only for Muslims, but is essential for the entire world to survive. “If fundamentalist Muslims win and the hope for a Muslim Reformation dies, the rest of the world too will pay an enormous price—not only in blood spilled but also in freedom lost.”
Today, one of the critical questions that haunt humanity is the question of reforming Islam. According to a recent study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims. In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks world-wide. The lion’s share was in Muslim-majority countries, and many others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynching not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves. Unless and until reformation takes place in Islam, all over the globe, the days ahead are going to be filled with unrest, strife and even wars.
Does the violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorist organisations have anything to do with Islam, the religion? In her recently published thought provoking book, ‘Heretic -Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now,” Ms. Ayyan Hirsi Ali, noted Islamic scholar says, “I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself. For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.”
She is of the view that even though there are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world, the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam.
In the book, she states that it is not just al Qaeda and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice. Rather, it is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labeled as blasphemy and punishable by death, it is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where ‘beheading’ is a legitimate form of punishment, it is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime.”
“As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less repudiating, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts. It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists,” she writes. She opines that instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland clichés about the religion of peace, people in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice. She is of the view that Islam must be held accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and we must demand that it reforms or disavows the key beliefs that are used to justify the acts of violence.
The book suggests that any serious discussion of Islam must begin with its core creed, which is based on the Quran (the words said to have been revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad) and the Hadis (the accompanying works that detail Muhammad’s life and words). Despite some sectarian differences, this creed unites all Muslims. The Hadith, in reality, is both religious and a political symbol.
In the early days of Islam, when Muhammad was going from door to door in Mecca trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no God but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger. Chronicling the origins of Islam, the author states, “After 10 years Muhammad’s mission took on a political dimension. Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to convert or to die. (Jews and Christians could retain their faith if they submitted to paying a special tax.)
Today there is a contest within Islam about the real face of Islam. Is it those Muslims who want to emphasize Muhammad’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina?
On this basis, Ayyan Hirsi Ali distinguishes the three different groups of Muslims. The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who, when they say the Islam, it means: “We must live by the strict letter of our creed.” They envision a regime based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else. She tiles them as Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty.”
The second group, according to the author, have clear majority throughout the Muslim world, it consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence. She calls them Mecca Muslims. “Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance,” she asserts.
Focussing on the Muslim world’s friction with the modern world, the book points out, “Muslims religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity—the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it. The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status. Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn. Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a
practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education
for their children and disengaging from the wider
She argues for a dialogue with sane Muslims, whom she terms as reforming believers, about the meaning and practice of their faith, though they are in a minority. “For the world at large, the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the fundamentalist Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformers and to help them to do two things: first, identify and repudiate those parts of Muhammad’s legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war, and second, persuade the great majority of believers to accept this change.”
Stating that Islam is at a crossroads, the book urges the need for Muslims to make a conscious decision to confront debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion. The author is of the view that extremists within Islam cannot be defeated unless Islam itself is reformed. She had identified five precepts central to Islam that have made it resistant to historical change and adaptation. The five areas that require reformation according to the author are:
1. Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran.
2. The supremacy of life after death.
3. Shariah, the vast body of religious legislation.
4. The right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.
5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.
Will Muslims, by and large, accept her arguments? She says, “I know that this argument will make many Muslims uncomfortable. Some are bound to be offended by my proposed amendments. Others will contend that I am not qualified to discuss these complex issues of theology and law. I am also afraid—genuinely afraid—that it will make a few Muslims even more eager to silence me.”
But to Ayyan Hirsi Ali, the reformation of Islam is not a work of theology. “The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here,” she hopes.
The author emphasizes that Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, and should not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.
The book suggests that reformation of Islam is not only for Muslims, but is essential for the entire world to survive. “If fundamentalist Muslims win and the hope for a Muslim Reformation dies, the rest of the world too will pay an enormous price—not only in blood spilled but also in freedom lost.”
Pradeep Krishnan (The reviewer is Kerala based senior journalist)