Few Secular Observations Regarding Islamic Reformation

A paper presented at a conference in Europe 

Abstract

The rise of Islamic Radicalism makes it more necessary than ever to come up with an equally Islamic alternative that can appeal to the Muslim peoples in the course of time. This alternative cannot be produced without reevaluating the very fundamentals of the Islamic faith, history and worldview, a process that will most likely assume the proportions of a full-fledged Reformation.

The argument here is that such a Reformation is indeed a must for the sake of salvaging the meager remains of Muslim identity and empowering the Muslim peoples to take a more active  part in drawing up their future destiny(ies). The desired reformation, nonetheless, will need to satisfy certain secular conditions first so as to prove viable on the long run. After all, its influence is bound to extend beyond the sphere of practicing and believing Muslims to involve all the peoples of the world, religious affiliations notwithstanding.  

Introduction

The spectacular rise of Islamic Radicalism has stirred debate for more than two decades now. However, and quite unsurprisingly, the interest in this phenomenon acquired a more global and critical relevance in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorists attacks in the US.[1]

Indeed, ever since the attacks, the phenomenon began to be approached, perhaps for the first time since its inception, with the intention of finding specific “policy recommendations” that can help curtail it, and, on the long run, put an end to it. For the phenomenon was clearly identified as a global menace and the willingness to use it as an instrument of war vis-à-vis another country (as had been the case with regard to the Former Soviet Union) was no longer present, not simply from the point of view of US policymakers, but also from that of various European governments and most Arab regimes (many of which having reached this conclusion at much earlier dates).

The rise of Islamic Radicalism as an active and militant phenomenon can be initially attributed to three main reasons:

  • the advent of Modernity, a development usually affiliated with the beginning of the Western colonial experience in the Muslim World,
  • the failure of the various nationalist ideologies that swept the region in the aftermath of independence (both the more encompassing ones, such as Arab and Iranian nationalisms, or the more particularistic versions, such as Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese or Iraqi nationalisms) in meeting even the most modest expectations of their constituencies, and finally,
  • the corruption and authoritarian predilections of most, if not all, Muslim regimes, and the use of various internal and regional conflicts by these regimes to divert their peoples’ attention from the worsening internal situation – economic, political and social.[2]

Of these three factors, the first two, namely: the advent of Modernity and the failure of nationalist ideologies, should indeed give us pause, as they tend to denote the presence of an intrinsic cultural malaise of sorts. We are indeed forced to wonder here regarding those particular aspects of Islam and Islamic traditions that, through their conflict with Modernity, ended up hindering the development of nationalist ideologies and giving birth in the process to Islamic Radicalism.

But then, even the third factor seems to have a cultural implication as well, as we are again forced to identify those specific aspects of Islam and Islamic traditions that somehow facilitate the relapse into authoritarian practices, despite the fact that many Muslim governments have always tended to pay lip service to democracy and democratic values and have even engaged in some tentative experimentations with democratization, at one point or another, especially as they tried to alleviate certain pent up internal pressures and feelings of discontent.

As such, we are indeed left with one main intrinsic reason for the rise of Islamic Radicalism, namely: the conflict with Modernity. If we should seek, therefore, to deal with this phenomenon as a problem, the only realistic solution we can present should come as an attempt to reconcile Islamic values and traditions with those of Modernity, a process which will require relinquishing some of those values, meaning the Islamic values.

For the values of Modernity, which are taken to be those generally encompassed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related conventions, are considered in some cases to be either superior to traditional values (be they Islamic, Christian, Jewish or other), or, in other cases, identical with these values. The values of Modernity, as encompassed in the Declaration and similar conventions, cannot, by definition, be considered inferior to traditional values, as they are taken to represent the best that these traditional values have had to offer, and since Modern values have been elaborated in the course of centuries and as a result of certain intellectual openness that took place in the West vis-à-vis other intellectual and spiritual traditions. Indeed, the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though, admittedly products of western or western-style educational systems for the most part, came from different cultural and religious backgrounds and, as such, represented a myriad of religious traditions.

So, the question now is: how to address this “partial,” though serious, clash between some traditional Islamic values and those of Modernity? Indeed, are the two value systems reconcilable? Isn’t it enough to know that at least some Islamic values have actually contributed to the formation of Modern values? But, more importantly, where does the clash exactly take place? Indeed, what are those values that are clashing here?

Since any serious attempt to answer these questions is bound to lead to an identification of those particular traditional Islamic values that need to be modified and, at occasions, even relinquished, the attempt itself may indeed represent a form of reformation – an Islamic Reformation, to be sure.

As such, it is clear that the Islamic Reformation will come as an effort to catch up with, rather than complement, certain human and moral developments. The sense of novelty will most likely be restricted to the community(ies) of the faithful. This is not intended, however, to undermine the need and serious nature of this endeavor, but to put it in the right context and, as such, give it the right sense of urgency it most certainly deserves. For failure to catch up with the prevailing moral code, even the theory of it, would, sooner rather than later, render the faith-system involved to the “dustbin of history,” to revive this old Marxist term that has only recently lost its currency in some parts of the Muslim World, though not necessarily its usefulness.

So, what is exactly involved in an Islamic Reformation? Before we answer this question, there is still another point that needs to be tackled.

For raising the whole issue of an Islamic Reformation will undoubtedly result in unsettling the faith of many believing Muslims, a development that, judging from previous historical precedents in both East and West, would mostly likely lead to a potentially long period of violence and mayhem. So, what right do we have to do so? one may ask.

There is no easy answer to this question really, especially when you take the potential human toll that will most likely be involved. Still, and bearing the note made earlier, an Islamic Reformation, if successful, will give to the Muslim peoples, the majority of whom have not yet made their peace with Modernity, the chance to finally do so and thus join the rest of humanity on an equal moral footing in contributing to the march of human progress. In other words, a successful Islamic Reformation might provide the final opportunity for the Muslim peoples to take part in working out their destinies as Muslim peoples per se,[3] otherwise, and as the US example in Iraq has shown, somebody will do it for them, and not necessarily for their benefit, pretexts and assertions notwithstanding. Indeed, the consequences of lagging behind have traditionally been more serious and violent than those of going forward.[4]

On the other hand, for a secularist, or a secular humanist, who happens to come from a Muslim background, the whole issue of an Islamic Reformation might seem unimportant at first. But, so long as the great majority of the Muslim peoples remain believers, in one sense or another, the issue cannot be ignored. There is a sense of responsibility involved here, a civic responsibility to be exact. So, in the final analysis, it is merely a question of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. Moreover, and since an Islamic Reformation, whether successful or not, is bound to have many serious repercussions for the region, if not the whole world, all the peoples of the region, regardless of their particular religious affiliations and points of view , should have a say in it. It is their future as well that is being drawn in the process.[5]

The Basic Outlines of the Reformation

Going back to the question of the Reformation itself, the following points seem to represent the major requirements in this regard:

  • Opening the doors for a critical inquiry into the origins of Islam and the Islamic phenomenon itself, and not simply its modern manifestations.
  • Embarking on a reevaluation of the basic teachings of the faith in light of Modern values, especially those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights.
  • Redefining the boundaries of the public and private spheres in the Islamic cosmology, a development that would set new limits to the potential intrusion of the Sharia into the lives, public and private, of individual Muslims (and non-Muslims).

It should be quite obvious to observers of Muslim societies that each one of the above points represent a potential Pandora’s Box, the opening of which is bound to bring out too many unexpected developments, at least in the immediate sense. On the long run, however, and as certain historical precedents demonstrate, the end product is bound to involve the emergence of new sects (if not new religions), an entrenched secular (if not, at occasions, downright anti-religious) current that will justify itself more and more on the basis of internal experiences and developments rather than exposure to the West, and, more importantly perhaps, a certain amount of “battle fatigue” will likely set in among all concerned, a development which could set the grounds for working out the necessary compromises that would represent the cornerstones of secular democratic systems of governance.

Armed with this observation/certainty/necessary illusion/wishful thinking/what have you, let us now proceed to tentatively open these cans of worms.

1) The Origins of Islam:

No, I shall not attempt in the following to present a coherent set of speculations regarding the actual origins of Islam, because there is room for many opinions in this connection, and mine are not necessarily any more or less legitimate than others. What I shall endeavor to accomplish, however, is to set certain workable parameters that I deem necessary to help transfer this inquiry from a potential exercise in futility to an actual debate-generating process.

For if the study of the origins of Islam is to acquire the potential of helping to stimulate an actual Islamic Reformation, then, it needs to go beyond the game of textual interpretation and reinterpretation that has been taking place on all levels for decades now, and into an actual acknowledgement of the limits of the textual approach, not to mention the available texts themselves, no matter how supposedly sacred.

Indeed, the process of critiquing the texts and putting them in their “proper” historical contexts has to be legitimized on Islamic grounds, as the similar process of critiquing Christian texts had, eventually, been. It is true that the various Christian churches still have problems with this approach, but there are many other churches and scholars who don’t and are, in fact, quite willing to concede that texts may not necessarily represent the final arbiters for understanding even such basics Christian doctrines as Trinity, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Transubstantiation, among others.

The desacralization, if not the defetishizing, of the texts can be advocated here on the basis of the principle of the strict Monotheism that Islam itself has always championed. Treating the texts as some holy and scared entities can be rejected as an idolatrous practice. In a sense, the old Mu’tazili stand insisting on the “created nature” of the Qur’an should be legitimized (though not necessarily adopted), as Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid had attempted to do at one point.

But perhaps the most important question that needs to be raised with regard to the historical origins of Islam is this: has historical Islam been a perfect embodiment of the Islamic ideals? In fact, what is the real of reference point for the faithful– the Islamic past? Or the Islamic ideals?

Another related point pertains to the early Islamic Conquests, and the behavior of the early Islamic generations, especially those of the Companions, whose behavior, generally speaking, is taking to be referential and normative. It should be made clear here that the Islamic Conquests were actually wars of expansion meant to foster and spread Arab hegemony and had nothing to do with the basic teachings of Islam, as (should be) understood by enlightened Reformers.[6]

The Traditional Islamic Cosmology calling for dividing the world into the two irreconcilable parts of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, should also be refuted and put in its proper historical context.[7] Otherwise, the Islamic community, or the Ummah, will remain de jure in a state of war against the rest of humanity.[8]

2) Reevaluating the Basic Teachings of Islam (the divine vs. the human sphere in Islam):

What are the basic teachings of Islam? Or, to put things in more philosophical terms: is there anything that can qualify as Original Islam in the theological sense? Or, is Original Islam a process of discovery, or an ideal state that all Muslims should strive to attain (meaning that the promise of its fulfillment lies in the future and not the past)?

Moreover, and considering the Qur’anic insistence on the possibility of acquiring religious knowledge from various temporal sources, and its challenge to the individual to travel across the land and learn from his/her various observations,[9] can we indeed consider Islam as a fait accompli, or is it something to which contemporary Muslims can legitimately contribute? In other words, is Islam a process or a package? And, what is the role of non-Muslims in the making of this process/package?

One thing is clear enough in this regard, namely that the study of those Suras (chapters) in the Qur’an deemed to date back to the beginning of the Da’wa (the Call), seems to denote an insistence on individual liberty and the necessity of independent inquiry into existential issues.[10] Since, these conjunctions date back to the earliest days of Islam, according to the opinions of the majority of Muslims and most “independent” studies so far, shouldn’t they be considered among the foundational and basic pillars of Islam? Wouldn’t such principles open the doors for greater respect of individual liberty and difference?

This brings up a series of questions, which relate to the inquiry into the Origins of Islam as well as the nature of its teachings, namely: what is the relation between the Meccan and Madinan periods? And, if we are to accept the hypothesis that there is an Original Islam that can be located in the past as well, when in the past is it located: the Meccan period, the Madinan Period, or both? More importantly, is Muhammad as a statesman as good a moral guide as he is when he was only a prophet and a messenger?

But, we can delve even deeper here and wonder whether indeed there was a Muhammad, at least as depicted in the existing historical texts, the earliest of which having been written more than 150 years after the supposed death of their main protagonist on the basis of largely oral sources. Is the Muhammad of the Sirah books a real historical character? Or is he an mythological figure invented for the sake of popular mobilization? While, academically, this is indeed quite a legitimate question to pose, we have to admit here that denying the historical reality of Muhammad, no matter how justifiable it could prove to be academically, will prove to be a very difficult position to adopted or advocated by the reformers (although some might actually be of that opinion). It is only the legitimacy of this kind of queries that needs to be advocated. The position that will most likely be adopted by the reformers will more likely revolved around the lesser controversial question of whether the Textual Muhammad is not actually an amalgamate or composite character, or, at the very least, a character whose achievements have been tremendously exaggerated and/or distorted by way of hero-worship and/or seeking to use the central figure of Islam to legitimize certain claims, stands, points of view and/or practices.

These questions surrounding Muhammad, the central and foundational character of Islam, as attested in the first pillar of the Islamic Creed, or the Shahadah,[11] help raise two other no less important questions:

  • What is more central to Islam: Muhammad or the Islamic Ideals (regardless of how they are defined at this stage), and as such, who is more worthy of being followed: Muhammad or the Ideals?
  • Where are the boundaries between the divine (sacred) and the human (though not necessarily profane) spheres to be located? Or, in other words, what are the perimeters within which people are supposed to work out their own understanding of the universe and their role in it, not to mention their own destinies and salvation?

These are only some of the questions and issues that are bound to emerge when the basic teachings of Islam are reevaluated. Naturally, there will be a lot of answers (if we should forgo the questions themselves for now) that many believers would find anathematic, which brings us to the third point.

3) The Public vs. Private Sphere in Islam:

Islam, in the traditional understanding of it, represents a perfect and semi-closed system. That is, while people can come into the folds of Islam, they are not allowed to leave, as apostasy in Traditional Islam is punishable by death. But then, and oftentimes, so is heresy. Heresy in historical Islam has always been considered synonymous to apostasy and as such, it, too, was punishable by death.

Of course, even a simple glimpse of Islamic history reveals that such strict clauses in the Sharia went often un-enforced. This is so because these clauses have often proven unenforceable, due to the proliferation of heresies throughout the history of Islam. Indeed, only when these heresies acquired a political dimension challenging the stability of the state or the rule of the monarch, were they fought against and subdued using all the coercive means of the state.

Still, if we are seriously to harmonize Islamic teachings with the values and rights advocated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we cannot simply do what the authors of its Islamic counterpart did. For the authors of Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, good intentions aside, failed to challenge any Sharia law in their document, even at the expense of including such shameful and idiotic clauses as: “wherein slavery and forced labor are abhorred” (but not proscribed). This is so, because the Sharia regulates but does not proscribe such practices, and the authors did not dare oppose the Sharia even in this document meant to showcase the harmony that supposedly exist between Islamic and  Modern values.[12]

In general, the new boundaries between the public and private spheres have to be modified so as to accommodate such individual rights as: the right to privacy and the freedom of conscience, speech and expression. In short, this amounts to a recognition of the right to heresy and apostasy. A Muslim will have to be granted the basic right of changing his faith, or of deviating from the agreed traditional norms, without any stipulations or preconditions.

Moreover, the right to privacy means conceding to individuals the freedom to choose how to dress, what to drink (or not drink), and how to express their sexuality: within or outside the bounds of marriage, and/or in a hetero- or homosexual manner. This does not mean, of course, that Islamic doctrine will have to relinquish its attitude vis-à-vis the veil, the consumption of alcohol, or premarital and homosexual sex. Indeed, these practices could remain, for some,  condemnable from a certain religious standpoint, but it is the practical scope of the Sharia or its applicability that is limited. No more temporal punishments will be prescribed for such infringements of the religious doctrine, as the state and the Sharia will indeed be divorced.

Indeed, the very concept of Islamic State would need to be modified here to include any state wherein the basic rights of the believers are respected, and all citizens, regardless of race, color, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation are treated equally under the law. Those who aspire to more than this in an Islamic State are, in effect, aspiring to a state of affairs whereby their points of view will be granted greater legitimacy than those of their opponents and compatriots who are at best assigned a secondary status under the law, all under the pretext that “God is with us,” not them. This attitude cannot be harmonized with the ideals embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[13]

Not only that, but, since many countries still apply the Sharia with regard to personal status law, there is a serious need here either to update the Sharia, or allow for the introduction of civil law into these affairs and give the people the right to choose between the two. Why should a communist, an atheist or a secular humanist have to follow Islamic law when it comes down to regulating their personal lives, when they hardly believe in the religion itself? And why should the traditional interpretation of the Sharia be more valid than any new set of interpretations? Why would non-Muslims for that matter have to follow Islamic law in some of their affairs (such as inheritance settlements)?

Indeed, there needs to be a clear enunciation of the rights of religious minorities in any document calling for an Islamic Reformation, else the issue will remain murky despite a general condemnation of discrimination and an affirmation of religious freedom. (The Universal Islamic Declaration is, in fact, replete with such references, which, of course remain absolutely useless, since Sharia law is considered supreme, no matter how implicitly, all through the document).

One brave and direct way for avoiding all of these issues and pitfalls is, of course, to abrogate the Sharia itself, and declare that, with regard to temporal affairs, any democratically-adopted law is licit under Islam. This would, in fact, represent a much more honest and internally consistent approach and would make it unnecessary for people to engage in the kind of mental gymnastics that will result out of the attempt to help “modernize” Sharia law and make it more compatible with the requirements of modern life.

Reformation Without a Church?

One important matter that still needs to be considered with regard to the issue of Islamic Reformation pertains to its actual feasibility, especially in the absence of a church – that institution that was the focus of all resentment during the Christian Reformation. But then, the absence of a church is in a way irrelevant, because Islam has managed to create its own institutions that can always be made the focal of resentment in the Islamic Reformation, namely: the Sharia and the Ulema.[14]

As such, the feasibility of Islamic Reformation will depend in no small part on the ability of whatever basic manifesto(s) or declaration(s) of principles, that should and needs (need) to be issued as the initial call for reformation, to channel popular resentment into the direction of these two basic Islamic institutions, showcasing, in a consistent and methodical manner, their shortcomings and internal contradictions.

The critique of the Sharia, as we have noted earlier, could assume one of two forms: the first calling for a drastic reform of its scope and not simply its content, this while preserving it as an important Islamic institution in itself. The second, on the other hand, calls for an outright abrogation of the Sharia in favor of civil law.[15]

As for the Ulema, they have consistently indeed proven quite a resilient target to any sort of attack or criticism no mater how virulent. But this is exactly why they should be targeted as part of the Islamic Reformation. Indeed, no reformation is possible as long as the sanctity of the institution represented by the Ulema is left unchallenged. When fellow Ulema end up taking part in this critique, and when the critique itself is presented in consistent and coherent terms, the Reformation will have greater credibility among the ranks of the believers and the Reform effort itself will have greater popular resonance that could help undermine the sanctity of this most popular Islamic institution on the long run.

Other participants in this process should include Muslim intellectuals and professionals from all fields, including journalists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and politicians (or at lest retired politicians).

Here “We” Stand

As it has been noted in the previous section, the Reformation process will require the adoption of an initial document or a charter, of one sort or another, that can help set the stage for the launching of the Reformation. The Basic Document will most definitely lead to the appearance of many other manifestoes, each outlining the viewpoints and opinions of their authors and each launching a new school of thought in the Islamic Tradition that could promise to be more or less compatible with Modernity, depending on the stands of its particular authors vis-à-vis this phenomenon.

Moreover, the Basic Document should probably advocate what I will call a “Mainstream Islamic Reformation,” that is, a Reformation that will attempt to maintain some degree of pragmatism so as to enhance its potential popular appeal, at least on the intermediate run.

As such, the authors of the Basic Document should strive to make it at once as comprehensive and accessible as possible. Although these two demands might sound contradictory, the contradiction could be resolved by dividing the document into two main sections – the first being a preamble reflecting the general ethos of the document, and in which the main points are summarized and the basic principles succinctly listed. The second section could then delve into a more methodological analysis of the various points and principles advocated by the Reformers showcasing in particular the various objections to the Sharia and the Ulema.

The Document should above all be frank. Positions, no matter how controversial or anathematic they would at first appear from the standpoints of the average Believing Muslim, should be made very clear, and apologetics should be left to the second section. Moreover, the preamble should also include a concise statements regarding motives: why is this document being issued? why now? and why in such a “provocative fashion?” (as the document is bound to appear provocative to most people as they are unaccustomed to frank handling of such sensitive issues).

On the other hand, it has to be noted that, when I said earlier that one of the basic purposes of the Document is to channel resentment in the direction of the twin institutions of Sharia and Ulema, I did not mean that the Document needs to be filled with victimary rhetoric and hate speech that could incite acts of violence towards these institutions and their symbols. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Document rather needs to be very rational, the only emotions that should pervade it is one of sincere concern for the shameful situation of the contemporary Muslims and their potentially bleaker future, unless they acted now. This is the tone that needs to be sounded. As for the resentment, it will be channeled in the “right direction” simply by being very frank about assigning blame where blame is due, and not through the use of any inflammatory and/or demagogic rhetoric.

Conclusion

Perhaps the best way to end this paper would be to include my own amateurish attempt, made at a time when I still considered myself a believer, albeit a resentful and dissatisfied one, to tackle the issue of Islamic Reformation by listing certain principles that I deemed key to it.

The list, then, was created at a time when I was still personally concerned with the actual gist and content of the imagined Reformation and not only its scope and main guidelines.

The following points were among those included in the list. I hereby reproduce them in spirit but not in letter so as not to create confusion through the use of different terms, and wishing to allow for some measure of consistency in relation to some of the issues raised above:

  • The Qur’an is God’s created word, created for purposes more sublime than the literal and even literary qualities of the text. As such, many of its pronouncements and guidelines regarding temporal (and, occasionally, spiritual) affairs, could indeed be considered as dated and outmoded.
  • The end of the prophecy, which Muhammad seems to have declared before his death, means that the prophecy, in the historical process, was no longer tenable through the individual but through the collective, in other words, vox populi vox dei.
  • But, seeing that whatever consensus to be reached needs to start with an opinion or a variety of opinions expressed by individuals, the basic individual freedoms of conscience, speech and expression, are sacrosanct. Indeed, spiritual affairs are outside the realm of state and societal consensus.
  • The end of prophecy does not denote the perfection of the faith. As God continues to speak through the people, the message of Islam itself should be viewed as a process. As such, historical Islam is improvable, or perfectible.
  • Justice is the basis upon which states are founded, and since religions are always contentious issues, the protection of the freedom of religion is sacrosanct. Any state that protects the basic rights of its citizens and upholds the principles of equality in front of the law is, by definition, Islamic.
  • Jihad is the struggle for liberty and justice, its means should conform to its ends. The early Islamic conquests had nothing to do with this Jihad, since they were more about spreading the hegemony of the Arabs and collecting booty than anything else.
  • All the World is Dar al-Islam. Dar Al-Harb could  only emerge as a temporary state of affairs involving an infringement of the basic principles of “liberty and justice to all,” that could not be redressed without recourse to war.

Notes

[1] The phenomenon of Islamic Radicalism is, of course, not as unique as it is made up to be sometimes. In fact, it is only a part of a whole global trend related to the advent of Modernity, as we shall later argue. There are indeed fundamentalist and radical movements and forces all over the world and all across the religious spectrum. Nor is the level of violence used unique to Radical Islam, militant Hinuds with their record of genocidal attacks against Muslim villages and neighborhoods have not been any less violent, nor have the Maronites of Lebanon proven to be a great embodiment of Christian love and charity in their own campaigns throughout the Lebanese Civil War, an observation that applies to the other religious involved as well. What is unique about Islamic Radicalism is their global aspirations, at a time when their actual size and contributions to contemporary civilization fails drastically to justify such tendencies. A Christian fundamentalist living in the US might raise the same objections with regard to Modernity as a Syrian Islamist, but the degree of the disinheritedness and resentment felt is not the same. The latter is definitely more disenfranchised and marginalized than the former. Still, the Syrian Islamist has inherited a very similar cosmology to that of his American Christian counterpart, he, too, thinks that he at the center of the universe and of gold plans for the humanity, he, too, has a sense of manifest destiny. But, being a citizen of a weak and repressive state, he is to bound to harbor much greater resentment towards the world than his Christian counterpart, not to mention his Hindu or Jewish counterparts, where the religious weltanschauung involved has traditionally been much less ambitious in temporal terms.

[2] The Arab-Israeli conflict is, of course, the most notorious example here. But then the Muslim World is replete with similar examples, including: the Iraq-Iran War, East Timor, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, to name but a few. Indeed, all of these situations have been used to various degrees by the Muslim governments involved to detract attention from their failure to address certain festering socioeconomic problems.

[3] That is, the sense of Islamic identity is what is at risk here, as it could simply pass away. This was indeed the fate of Manichaeism and many other ME religions before.

[4] This is, in a sense, the combined curse of geography, monotheistic tradition(s) and oil. The ME greatest contributions to humanity were in part caused by these factors. But, and as it now seems, so is its infamous downfall and shame.

[5] With regard to the assertion on the inferiority of certain traditional Islamic values in comparison to Modern ones, two potential defense mechanism could be employed here by certain advocates or apologists of Traditional Islam and/or multiculturalism. The first could argue that the existence of certain stipulations within the Sharia that assign inferior status to women or non-Muslim minorities, only reflect a temporal law that could be updated, and not perennial value judgment that are intrinsic to Traditional Islam. This is, of course, a spurious argument, for it fails to acknowledge that laws are not elaborated in a socio-moral vacuum, but tend to reflect the influence of certain mores and value judgments. There is indeed a value judgment behind the inferior status allocated to women and non-Muslims in the Sharia, namely: men are better than women, and Islam is right while other religions are wrong. This is a value judgment. The scone defense mechanism could point to the failure of various western governments in upholding the standards of human rights as encompassed in the Declaration, especially in the way they have dealt with “us.” But then, human communities have always failed to live up to the ideals they advocate. The “Westerners” are not an exception. As such, their failure to uphold their ideals, or their abuse of these ideals, that is as camouflage behind which other intentions and schemes are hidden, is not necessarily indicative of the imperfection of the advocated ideals, rather it is more indicative of the imperfection of humanity itself. Moreover, it would be interesting to see how the Muslim critics of Western dual standards and hypocrisy would examine the history of slam itself and the behavior of Muslims throughout history, especially in the foundational times. How willing would they be in detecting the hypocrisy in these cases as well? If history is indicative of anything in this regard, it’s that Islamists have always had a certain moral blind-spot when it comes down to their sacred history. This, at lest in the minds of people like me, undermines much of their moral vituperations against the West.

[6] Not all Reformers will be enlightened, of course, as the case of Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab clearly demonstrates.

[7] It is exactly this kind of dichotomy that Islamic Radicals use to justify their own version of the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis.

[8] The “intermediate world” of Dar al-Sulh was used to denote a temporary state of affairs, and was never meant to cancel out the possibility of renewed hostilities between the two main parts of the world.

[9] “Have they never journeyed about the earth and beheld what happened in the end to those [deniers of the truth] who lived before their time and were so much greater than they in power?” (35:44), among many others.

[10] “You have your faith, I have mine.” (109:6). Also: “Behold, we found our forefathers agreed on what to believe, and, verily, it is in their footsteps that we found our guidance.” (43:22).

[11] “I certify that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

[12] The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human rights, Preamble, Article g/iii. The Declaration was adopted on September 19, 1981.

[13] Though it can be, and is in fact, embodied within the scope of the Islamic counterpart, which is why this document is quite useless.

[14] Some reformers might be tempted to add here the role and character of the Prophet, his family, and the companions as well. But, I will focus above on what I will call mainstream reformation, that is a reformation that has the potential of being more widely accepted by believing Muslims.

[15] Which represents, as we have noted earlier, the more realistic approach in the sense that, while it will face greater initial popular resistance and uproar it will on the long run prove to be more compatible with Modernity and its exegesis.