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El Fadl's book, The Great Theft

Reader comment on item: Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fadl

Submitted by Jon Paul (Canada), Aug 29, 2014 at 02:37

I've read through this book a couple of times now, and can say that while I was uncomfortable reading the early parts of the book -- I did indeed get the very strong impression that the author was practising a kind of double discourse, the sort that Paul Berman finds in Tariq Ramadan's public utterances -- in the closing chapters he is unequivocal in his condemnation of those aspects of the Muslim religious tradition, it's shabby treatment of women, its barbarities masquerading as law, and so on.

All this leaves us with a dilemma, especially considering his defensive and sometimes hysterical comments as documented in the various updates to Pipes' original article: has El Fadl in fact changed at least some of his views, and tried to reorient himself with (what he defines as) shari'a so as to make it sound like a true heir of the enlightenment, as, in effect, secular-style law?

The problem here is simple, and can be stated in comparative terms. A Christian who believes in scriptural inerrancy is an outlier, a fundamentalist, a relative rarity. A Muslim who believes in scriptural inerrancy is just a Muslim, that is, the tenet of inerrancy is a key Muslim belief, meaning that if one calls oneself a believer, one begins from the premise that the Qur'an is the true revealed word of God, all of it, thus, one's interpretive room to maneuver is much more limited than for a believer of any other religion.

Does this matter? If we take El Fadl at his word, well, yes and no. He still holds to inerrancy, but allows himself, buttressed by appeals to 1500 years of scholarship, the right to proclaim that he has interpretive leeway to create a more liberal, secular version of Islam (but which he still insists is not secular).

To me the problem with all this is that it violates one of the basic norms of modern democracies, which is the separation of religion from the public sphere, its relegation to the private sphere; which El Fadl decries, and clearly dislikes. He is a sort of liberal, that is, he proclaims his allegiance to particular liberal doctrines, but ignores the history and philosophy on which those doctrines are founded; that being the case,

I don't feel a great deal of confidence in his long-term support of any particular liberal ideas, and while I sympathize with his feeling that he is being treated unfairly, I have to say that to me, he seems caught in cleft stick that is largely of his own making.

Submitting....

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