Sort of a Defense

Thanks to my wife for sharing this article by a Muslim religions scholar in San Diego.  I was excited to read it as it sounded like it might be what I’ve been looking for – an intelligent, theological explanation as to why ISIS is *not* legitimate Islam, while moderate, mostly Westernized Islam is.

Whether Muhammad was preaching a purely defensive interpretation of jihad while he was in Medina seems a matter of interpretation.  What is defense?  Does defense include offensive measures to right previous wrongs?  The treatment in this article is slippery and vague, and necessarily so undoubtedly given length considerations.

I was intrigued by his discussion of the Hadith, the body of writing claiming to describe the words and actions of Muhammad that were not part of the divinely revealed Qu’ran.  Though the Hadith is of immense importance in Islam, the author seems to marginalize that importance, casting doubt on it’s accuracy regarding Muhammad and focusing on it as primarily informative about the people who compiled it.  Who is a “specialist”?  Is that a Muslim professor?  An imam?  What is the distinction of use of the Hadith between a “specialist” and someone else?  Is that distinction important?  I suspect it probably is very important.

He implies that the Hadith has been misused to appropriate passages from the Qu’ran intended within a limited context for use in broader times and circumstances.  He cites a passage(but does not document the citation) and claims that this passage applied only to a certain time and condition.  But he doesn’t provide the textual support to undergird that assertion.  Why is his interpretation of this passage in that way more valid than the broader interpretation of ISIS?

He espouses a very western interpretation of what gives rise to radicalism.  Radicalism is a matter of education and empowerment and economics.  He tacitly dismisses the idea that anyone might actually believe some of the rhetoric and goals of ISIS.  This isn’t a religious issue, then, but merely a sociological and economic one.  The writer claims to be Muslim – what does he believe about his religion, then?

This is where he completely side-steps the issue.  Rather than addressing whether there are legitimate Qu’ranic texts that support violence in our time, he sidesteps by opining about how all religious texts have been misused to legitimize violence.  This may be very true, but it doesn’t answer his question, so his assertion that there’s no point in answering it doesn’t hold water, logically.

The fact that other religious texts have been misused for justifying violence does not address the question -which the author himself raises – of whether the Qu’ran does specifically.  And this really matters.  If the Qu’ran does legitimize violence in a broad manner (as opposed to the limited, contextual violence of the Hebrew/Christian Old Testament), then there is a problem much greater than education or economics.  It is a problem that must be addressed by the Muslim community, and to simply claim that Isis doesn’t match your preferred way of practicing Islam doesn’t solve the problem at all.

The author pushes the solution to the problem to others, rather than to the theological leaders of Islam.  Warning people about falling pray to “demagoguery” is only helpful if there is clear, vocal, consistent refutation of demagoguery as such.  How does one determine what is demagoguery and what is not?  What constitutes a reliable authority on the Qu’ran, and by what means is that reliability established?

Agreed, the Muslim population of the world has the difficult but important duty of demonstrating the true character of their religion, but that also requires clear voices on what that actually means.  Sidestepping the whole religious violence in the Qu’ran issue is not helpful, either to Muslims seeking to be faithful to their religion or outsiders seeking to make sense of Islam and its followers.

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