Ayaan Hirsi Ali has changed her mind. She had always believed there was no hope of moderating Islam. It was a creed that needed to be “crushed”. Now she says that Islam can and indeed must be reformed.
Hirsi Ali begins by describing an atrocity that could have happened anywhere. Then:
- For too long, she says, Muslims and Western liberals have argued that such atrocities, as well as the ideas and organizations behind them, are aberrations; that they represent a travesty of “true” Islam. Nonsense, she writes:
“They are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad…. Islam is not a religion of peace.”
However, she notes that scholars of the Koran have long distinguished between the eighty-six chapters, or suras, revealed at the Prophet Muhammad’s hometown of Mecca and the twenty-eight suras revealed later, during his exile at Medina:
- The Koran of the Mecca period dwells on themes such as the oneness of God, the wonders of creation, the wisdom of earlier prophets, and the perils of hellfire.
At Medina, where Muhammad took on new roles as the lawgiver, supreme judge, and military commander of a growing flock facing stronger hostile forces, the revelation takes on a more militant, legalistic, and exclusive form. Earlier verses declare that there is “no compulsion in religion” as well as the tolerant principle, “to them their religion, to me my own.” By contrast a later sura, which appears to address soldiers shirking their duty, enjoins the faithful to “fight and slay wherever you find them” those unbelievers who have broken treaties with the Prophet.
Hirsi Ali believes the majority of Muslims belong to what she calls her “Mecca” category, a group she defines as devout worshipers who remain “loyal to the core creed” yet are “not inclined to practice violence.” She also identifies a small category of what she terms “Modifying Muslims,” people who have come, like herself, “to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.” She picks out five tenets of the faith that must be “reformed or discarded”:
• The infallible status of Muhammad and the literal understanding of the Koran
• Giving priority to the afterlife over the present day
• Sharia law “and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence”
• The empowerment of individuals to enforce such laws and customs
That’s a tall order, says Rodenbeck, but he says there are within Islam waves of doubt, reform and secularisation. He finds her writing problematic, including:
- such troubling aspects as her use of unsound terminology, a surprisingly shaky grasp of how Muslims actually practice their faith, and a questionable understanding of the history and political background not only of Islam, but of the world at large.
Hirsi Ali’s intent is to make people feel uncomfortable and generate discussion. Rodenbeck spends considerable time and space sorting through the issue and what she has to say. His bottom line:
- The very shrillness of today’s zealots may reflect an underlying fear that conservative orthodoxies are under threat as never before, facing a growing backlash not so much from the outside world as from within the faith. It is noteworthy that thirty-five years of self-declared “Islamic” rule in Iran have fostered not greater religiosity but creeping secularization, with ever fewer people observing religious rites. The more recent excesses of Islamist terrorism and sectarian rivalry have accelerated a far wider wave of doubt. Muslims with such doubts will not need Hirsi Ali’s hectoring to feel “uncomfortable,” and to consider new approaches to their faith. (Emphasis added)
There is plenty of interest in the review, including Rodenbeck’s statement that, contra Hirsi Ali, there is no tradition of murderous martyrdom:
- In fact the four main schools of Sunni jurisprudence—including arch-conservative Saudi clerics—all concur that suicide is a serious sin. Some individual clerics have condoned its use in war by invoking arguments of necessity, not “tradition.”
I read five other reviews, but Rodenbeck’s was by far the most helpful.