Sunday, 12 May 2013

Islam is as Islam is Interpreted

I've heard this argument quite a few times from liberals. It's quite a persuasive argument but nonetheless wrong in my view. It runs like this: Islam is not a fixed and immutable thing. It is the sum of however Muslims practice it. The way Muslims practice Islam is neither uniform nor unchanging. Therefore, Islam is simply the most prevalent interpretation of itself as practiced by self-identified Muslims.

First of all, this is typical liberal thinking at work. In liberal culture we talk a lot about different interpretations of things: ideas, words, books, films, poems, pictures, etc.; it is an integral part of our liberal culture. To talk of varying interpretations of Islam is, to some extent, to see the Muslim world as a reflection of our own in certain respects. This might be true or it might be false but this "interpretative" perspective does not ask that question, it simply assumes it to be true. It may be hard to prove it true or false but that is still no excuse for assuming it to be true.

Secondly, Islamic doctrine is constructed logically from the teachings and example of Muhammad. It is not a difficult task to compare these three things and ask the question: how close to the teachings and example of Muhammad are the different interpretations of Islam that we have presented to us? The objective answer to this will conclude that what liberals deem to be the most extreme forms of Islam are in fact those closest to the teachings and example of Muhammad. What kind of Muslim was Muhammad? Answer: an extreme Muslim.

Thirdly, we can ask which groups currently possess the means (money, influence, networks) to make their interpretation the dominant one? The answer to this is also easy to demonstrate. The Saudis, the Emir of Qatar, the Deobandis, are those best placed to make their interpretation dominant; all of whom share what the ignorant call extreme forms Islam. So, if we were to accept that Islam is whatever is the prevalent interpretation among Muslims, then we can safely conclude that the "extreme" interpretations" are likely to become more dominant in the near term.

Fourthly, although this interpretative view of Islam might hold true for any point in time it does not address Islam's historical mission. The mission statement of Islam is clear: to make the whole world submit to Islam. "Fight the unbelievers until their is no more fitna and all religion is for Allah." No ambiguity there. Islam is not a state, it is a process. It has a teleological dimension in so far as it aims for an end result. All manner of states in between can serve that end result. If Muslims in a particular time and place are required by the mission to be ignorant of Islam's real nature then their ignorance serves the mission. For the Muslims currently living in non-Muslim countries to be able to say in good faith, "Islam seeks to live in peace with all people" is ideal, even though the statement itself is fundamentally false and misleading. These very attributes serve Islam's ultimate mission.

As the strength of Muslims grows in the various societies where they are embedded, the need to mask Islam's real character, to go along with more benign interpretations, can be phased out and the Islam of Muhammad can emerge, unambiguously brutal, clear, and in total fidelity to Muhammad's mission statement: "Fight them until there is no more fitna and all religion is for Allah".

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