Saturday, April 5, 2008

Finding Moderate Islam

Jay Tolson wrings his hands about the quickness with which American critics of Islam give up on finding 'moderate' voices, and nominates Egypt's grand mufti, Ali Gomaa:

Look hard enough, and an American reader will doubtless be able to find things in the grand mufti’s rulings that don’t conform to current standards of enlightened moderation. For example, he issued a long and complicated fatwa on the issue of wife-beating—a fatwa that acknowledges certain pre-modern cultural and historical contexts in which sharia was used to justify the odious practice. But he also said that since those cultural and historical conditions are not the conditions of modern societies, Muslims today cannot invoke sharia to justify any form of spousal violence. If the reasoning sounds tortured, well, it is. And it would be much more appealing to American ears to hear him simply say that Islamic law has never sanctioned such practices. [emphasis mine]
I can't speak for every American ear, but no, this pair of American ears would regard the highlighted claim as a patent falsehood. If this pair of American ears had its druthers, they would hear it acknowledged that the god of Islam does not exist, and therefore Sharia is invalid, whether here or in Egypt, whether on spousal abuse or any other topic. I do not ask that Muslims pretend that their religion teaches something other than it manifestly does teach and has taught. I ask that Muslims recognize that Islam is not a legitimate foundation of law.

Tolson continues:
But we must recall that Christianity and Judaism have been used—in ways that seemed legitimate at the time—to justify practices and institutions that we now find morally repugnant, including slavery. The mufti was guilty of being honest about the historically determined interactions between customary practices and religious principles.
Why must we recall that? What good is served by recalling that? Christianity and Judaism were used "in ways that seemed legitimate" at one time, but the Enlightenment marks the end point of that time. Good riddance to that byegone time, and the reasons for its passing have not changed: there's absolutely no point in rolling back the calendar just because another religion's followers (be they 'extreme' or 'moderate') have decided to assert that law should come from their favorite god. No, it shouldn't.

Moderate Christians and Jews accept secularism, whereby law and public policy are justified and couched in non-religious or religiously-neutral terms. Moderate Muslims will distinguish themselves from their more radical co-believers by accepting secularism; and when they do so, they will not be difficult to find. Muslims who reject secularism but insist on labeling themselves 'moderate' are fooling no one, and will continue not to be found by those of us willing and eager to hear genuinely moderate voices.


George Junior said...

"Moderate Muslims will distinguish themselves from their more radical co-believers by accepting secularism."

Agreed. Problem is, in some parts of the world, devout muslims tend to regard muslim secularists as ex-muslims, and fundamentalists treat them as targets.

Look what's happening to Salah Choudhury in Bangladesh.

Dale said...

True, true. The atmosphere of intimidation and violence makes it hard for moderates to show themselves. This is a problem.