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Reader comment on item: Identifying Moderate Muslims

Submitted by William Pillow (United States), Oct 2, 2007 at 09:54

Dear Mr. Pipes:

You seem very knowledgable and appropriately wary of the label "moderate muslim." The following is a passage in my forthcoming book. I would immensely appreciate your comments and/or your identification of text inaccuracies, preferably by 10/10/07.

Sorry to have to date this--I just found your fabulous site! THANK YOU!

Religious Fundamentalism The term fundamentalist or fundamentalism will likely provoke the immediate image of Islam. But the view of all Muslims as radical extremists, encouraging annihilation of infidels, is totally misleading. As the world watches the growth of Islam, it seems particularly noteworthy that even within Islam there is conflict between Muslims. In Iraq, for example, we hear about disputes between the Shiites and the Sunni; in Saudi Arabia, there is Wahhabism; and in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there is the Taliban. Some Muslims hold many of the same values as Christians, including brotherhood, the Golden Rule, democracy, women's rights, and freedom to adopt modern technology. Others are opposed to democracy, modern dress, television, movies, equality of women, and individual freedom.

The split between them is ideological, based upon wide variations in interpretations of the Koran, just as fundamentalism in Christianity and Judaism is based upon interpretations of the Bible. Perhaps these ideological differences would be acceptable if they were tolerant of each other's beliefs and conduct. Unfortunately, some groups are not. Fundamentalism often is characterized by desire for power, control of people's mind, and behavior. And the struggle is advertised as the only will of God. Some efforts employ military force, even to the extent of exterminating those with different beliefs. Others may use threat of eternal damnation.

Just as Christianity has weathered many secular or political storms over the past two thousand years, Islam seems embroiled in similar struggles today. Of course, Christianity had a 500-year head start on Islam. Hopefully, it has reached a more moderate, tolerant position. In Islam, the fundamentalists favor the return to conditions that they claim prevailed at the time of Mohammad, in regard to the family and society. No doubt you have heard of Imams living in the Western world who advocate the switch from democracy to theocracy and implementation of Sharia law. It is important to know what the Sharia is and what it is not. Sharia Law The Sharia, as it developed in the first few centuries of Islam, incorporated many pre-Islamic Middle-Eastern misogynist and tribal customs and traditions (Kjeilen 2007). Only a part of it is irrefutably based upon the Koran. The Sharia included legal principles from old Arab Bedouin law, Mecca commercial law, Medina agrarian law, law from conquered countries, as well as Roman and Jewish law. However, because it is always referred to as being based upon the Koran, it is claimed to be the will of God. Rather than being law, the Sharia applies to religious, social, political, domestic, and private life. It pertains to all Muslims and others living in a Muslim society, but Muslims are not totally bound by the Sharia when traveling or living outside the Muslim world. Fundamentalist Muslim groups are more radical in their beliefs, even to the point of labeling more moderate Muslims as infidels and killing them.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, this more militant group is armed and dedicated to the overthrow of democratic government and existing social order throughout the world, in the name of Allah. Moderate Muslims ask how a law whose legal elements were first laid down over a thousand years ago, that reflect the social and economic conditions at the time of the Abbasids and has lost touch with later social, economic, technological, cultural and moral developments, can possibly be relevant in the twenty-first century. They say that the principles of the Sharia are opposed to moral progress, humanity, and civilized values.

Theocracy Versus Democracy Throughout history, the Arab culture has contributed much to science. Today, however, fundamental Islamists believe that the only role of science is to support their religious interpretations of the Koran (Pitock 2007). It is therefore understandable why this group decries modern technological advances as heresy. They believe that God is, and should be, in complete control of nature and that God is a vengeful God, demanding adherence to a strict code of conduct. But that code, as they see it, is the one that existed many centuries ago. Historians say that the idea of a Muslim duty to eliminate all other religions has been falsely perpetuated, based on ignorance and bigotry (Rao 1978). The noted world historian, Gibbon, said, "A pernicious tenet has been imputed to Mohammadans, the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword." Further, the true Quran (Koran, or Muslim bible) refutes this precept, as exemplified by the forgiving behavior of the Musalman conquerors centuries ago and by their public and legal tolerance of Christian worship.

The great success of Mohammad's life was achieved by sheer moral force, without a stroke of a sword. With all the unrest around the world, much of it terrorist-based and implicating Muslims in the minds of a large proportion of people of other religious faiths, it is time to question the true goals of Muslim fundamentalists. Their explicit goal seems to be a belief that all people who do not share their partisan ideals are infidels and that the terrorists serve Allah by destroying them. But they may have a hidden, implicit, secular belief that the only way to rally all Muslims to accept their cause is to create immense hatred of the Muslim faith throughout the world, by causing it to become stereotyped as terrorist. The term secular is used for a reason, since meeting this objective would serve only the few who would rule the theocracy, certainly not Allah. There have been proposals to counter the threat from young Muslims being brainwashed into terrorism by converting them to another religious faith, such as Christianity.

But much can be said to applaud the devotion of moderate Muslims to their faith and its principles. Also, it is important to recognize that the Koran acknowledges Abraham and Jesus as well as Mohammad, and its teachings are similar to those of the Bible regarding brotherhood of all persons and the one Divine. Remember what Dr. Borg said earlier in this chapter. As you'll note, several online sites were used as sources for the information in this chapter. I also e-mailed six other online Muslim organizations, sending them a copy of the latter part of this chapter, beginning with Religious Fundamentalism, and I invited them to comment and to report inaccuracies. Unfortunately, none of the six responded.

Readers are encouraged to access an article by Daniel Pipes, in the New York Sun, "Identifying Moderate Muslims." His Web site (http://www.danielpipes.org/article/2226) includes frequently added updates from many sources (Pipes 2007).

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