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Daniel Pipes is too optimistic about the possibility that a moderate Islam can evolve

Reader comment on item: Are Muslims Fatalists?

Submitted by traeh (United States), Oct 10, 2015 at 04:46

Daniel Pipes as I understand him believes that some day a moderate Islam might evolve. He compares Islam to Christianity and Judaism, noting that Christianity and Judaism have changed greatly over the centuries. Why then should not Islam eventually evolve as well toward a moderate stance?

Does Daniel Pipes believe that any ideology is equally capable of evolution? Does he believe that some ideologies have minimal capacities for evolution? Is it not true that some ideologies have such rigid core doctrines that they cannot evolve, but only dominate or shatter?

Perhaps it is not absolutely impossible that even Islam could one day evolve -- but the more interesting question is how likely is that, by comparison with other worldviews such as those of Christianity and Judaism. It would be interesting to see an attempt at a sort of rough comparative quantification of the likelihood, say on a scale of 1 to 10.

I suggest that the core teachings of Judaism and Christianity give far more scope for evolution, and have for more flexibility, and always have, than Islam ever has. Judaism and Christianity were never totalitarian doctrines to anything like the extent that Islam has been.

And it seems to me that Daniel Pipes' view suggests that he takes an almost post-modern view of the scope for interpretation -- that a text sets no limits on how one can interpret it, that it is infinitely elastic, and says whatever people choose to make it say. If that's what he believes, it surely is an error. Yes, there is some elasticity to texts -- and in vaguer texts moreso than in more literal texts -- and Islamic core texts permit some variation in interpretation -- but at the same time, Islamic texts are not infinitely elastic. They tend to channel most interpretations of adherents along a broadly consistent course based on the fairly clear meaning of the core doctrine.

I know Daniel Pipes is a historian, but I prefer the interpretation of Islam given by another historian, Daniel Boorstin, who compared Islam to Christianity and Judaism and did not find, as Pipes seems to do, that the religions are almost entirely relative to a historical period, or have little or no stable essence encoded in sacred core texts.

Boorstin (in a short chapter in The Creators) finds Judaism and Christianity profoundly different from Islam in several core doctrines. The Islamic God is conceived primarily as a commander, who did not need to rest after creating the world, because he merely had to order things to Be, and they were. He did not need to do any creative work. The Judeo-Christian God commands as well, but the emphasis there is much less on mere fiat, and much more on the actual active work of creating. The Jew and Christian furthermore according to the Bible were meant to imitate their God's creativity, to be fruitful and multiply -- whereas for a Muslim, to create is a rash and dangerous act - as only Allah can create. The Muslim is conceived as a slave or servant of Allah, who has no children. Whereas the Jew and Christian conceive themselves as children of God the Father. The Qur'an says that nothing is made in the image of Allah, that there is nothing like him. Jews and Christians are made in the likeness of God. The prime exemplar of Christianity said "my kingdom is not of this world," and "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," and from the very beginning of Christianity, Christians however confusedly, have tended to assume two realms, and gradually that evolved into the explicit distinction between religion and state. By contrast, Islam's chief exemplar BECAME Caesar, more precisely, the ruler of a theocratic state.

Daniel Pipes sometimes seems to think such tremendous differences of core doctrine are of little moment when considering potentials of Islam to evolve. Totalitarian core assumptions do not mean that it is absolutely impossible for Islam to evolve beyond such beginnings -- but for Pipes to point to changes in Judaism and Christianity as proof that Islam can be expected to evolve, is to treat as small what are in fact huge and probably unbridgeable differences between totalitarianism and non-totalitarianism assumptions. Islam cannot evolve, it can only dominate or be shattered. And when it shatters, what emerges will not be something that has evolved from Islam. To speak of evolution there must be sufficient continuity between one stage and another. But when something shatters, what comes next is something essentially different.


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