Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part I: The Quran

This may seem an arrogant question for a non-Muslim to ask. However, I am basing my query on the fascist doctrines of Islam: namely, Jihad and Sharia. These doctrines clearly infringe upon the rights of non-Muslims, and for this reason, the subject is fair game for comment from a non-Muslim. In addition, non-Muslims can have compassion for the Muslim victims of Islamo-Fascism, who currently are the primary victims. Reform of Islam can only be done by Muslims, but non-Muslims can choose to give or withhold support for a particular reform effort.

I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion only (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamo-Fascists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims. However, there are serious challenges to reforming Islam, which may or may not be possible to overcome. This is only a brief overview; much more could be said, and I welcome a variety of perspectives in the comments. I will examine the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, in this seven part series.

Challenge: The Quran. Orthodox Muslims believe the Quran was written by Allah, word-by-word and letter-by-letter. We’ve seen how some Muslims react to even a rumor that a Quran somewhere in the world has been mistreated. Non-Muslims aren’t even supposed to touch a Quran because they are “unclean”, and Muslims are supposed to go through a ritual purification before doing so. The Quran is supposedly eternal, meaning it was never created because it has always existed in its current form. Many non-Arab Muslims around the world believe there is value in learning to read the Quran in Arabic, even with no understanding of what it says. Orthodox Muslims believe they must follow every verse, and are not allowed to pick and choose.

It is important to understand the extreme nature of orthodox Muslims’ view of the Quran, which is probably more or less the prevalent view, and is not comparable to prevalent views of any other religion toward any book or other object or symbol (with the possible exception of explicit idol worship). We do not see murderous riots from other religious groups resulting from offense toward an object or symbol.

I call this “orthodox Quranic extremism”, and it is a problem because the Quran contains loads of material supporting fascist, discriminatory, and violent behavior, in addition to hate, as noted in the examples below, with more here. According to Robert Spencer, there are over a hundred Jihad verses in the Quran. Here’s a sampling of verses I find objectionable:

“Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (2:216)

“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (4:34)

“Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors? Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.” (5:59-60)

“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (9:29)

“Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” (9:111)

“Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not [a good example] in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming.” (60:4)

For those who maintain that the Quran is no worse than the Bible, here’s a rebuttal. In addition, the fact is, there is no global jihad movement which justifies its actions by quoting the Bible, and there never has been. There is no global movement to impose “Christian Sharia” that compares with the real Sharia. Of the many Christian majority countries that exist, not one imposes Christian fascism today which could be considered the equal to Islamo-Fascist regimes abounding throughout the Muslim world. If anyone still believes the Bible or other religious book should be a priority to reform, then that can be their project.

What can overcome this challenge?

Muslims Against Sharia would like to throw out several hundred problematic verses from the Quran. To paraphrase, their arguments for doing so include: it is possible the Quran has been corrupted over the years; these verses “promote divisiveness and religious hatred, bigotry and discrimination”; and it is inconceivable that any merciful, compassionate god would advocate hate, violence, and oppression. They do have some valid points.

Other Muslim reformers want to keep all the verses, but change the interpretation to a non-literal, peaceful, tolerant one. This may be easier for some Muslims to swallow, but it is questionable whether a new interpretation, with little to no real tradition behind it, could be accepted as more authentic than current understandings. Still, it’s possible this could be a useful avenue for some Muslims.

There is some history of a non-literal approach to the Quran which held sway for a time, if we go way, way back. The Mutazilites held that the Quran was not an eternal text, valid for all situations for all of time. They favored a non-literal interpretation. However, they were also ruthlessly violent toward those who disagreed with them. They were significantly overshadowed and even marginalized by more orthodox schools by the end of the tenth century century. Some Muslims today are attempting to revive their way of thinking.

One possible approach that, if embraced by Muslims, could completely eliminate orthodox Quranic extremism is rigorous academic study of the origins of the Quran. This type of analysis has been applied in great depth to Christian and Jewish texts, often by Christian and Jewish scholars themselves. This is one reason Christians and Jews generally do not have the same beliefs about their holy texts that Muslims often do about theirs. With Islam, the study is still in its infancy, and breakthroughs have generally come from the few non-Muslim scholars of Islamic texts. Muslim scholars tend to accept the divine revelation of an eternal Quran to Mohammed as a given, and work from there, although there are a few brave exceptions.

Here are some examples from the introduction to The Origins of the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq: The Quran was written in an imperfected script, in which various consonants are indistinguishable, and short vowels were missing. According to Charles Adams, around the early tenth century, thousands of variant readings were narrowed down to seven, ten, or fourteen, depending on which Muslim scholar one believed. These were narrowed down to three, then two, which we still have today. Scholars Bell and Watt believe that the unevenness of style points to numerous alterations in the Quran. Wansbrough also provides evidence that the Quran was not in final form before the ninth century. Michael Cook notes that the earliest Quranic quotations, from late seventh century coins and inscriptions, diverged from the Quran as we know it. There is also historical and other evidence that contradicts certain passages in the Quran; I’ll discuss that further in later parts of this series.

I also have to wonder whether the idolatry angle could be useful in loosening orthodox Quranic extremism. Islam is a strict mono-theistic religion. It even criticizes (condemns, actually) Christians for believing Jesus is the son of God. Yet it could be argued that the manner in which Muslims treat the Quran borders on idolatry. Do they worship Allah or a book?

For anyone who believes this is unaceptable criticism of Islam, I would note that it is certainly no worse than criticisms of Christianity and Judaism expressed right in the Quran (9:30). If this type of criticism of Islam were banned, in fairness, such verses would also have to be banned from the Quran, as would similar statements from numerous Islamic websites. Christianity has had a long-standing internal debate about the dangers of allowing Christian symbols or objects, even the Bible, to become idols. It is fair to challenge Muslims to engage in the same degree of introspection that other believers do. To argue otherwise is to insult Muslims, implying that unlike non-Muslims, they are not capable of introspection and handling criticism. As an aside, for this reason, I personally think the recent UN Resolution pushed by the OIC is a big insult to Muslims.

Also, since I know that people often read into things more than was said, I’ll clarify my position that orthodox Quranic extremism is probably more or less the prevalent view. This does not mean that half or more Muslims would personally participate in Jihad. Most Muslims, as most people, have a normal conscience and self-preservation instincts that make them very reluctant to do such things, and many Muslims don’t even know what’s in the Quran. However, it does mean that significant numbers of Muslims would not categorically condemn the theologies of Jihad and Sharia (which is different from condemning “terrorism”), and could be sympathetic to Jihadists, and perhaps less than enthusiastic about helping law enforcement root out Jihadist cells. In addition, Jihadist recruiters, who have a track record of influencing people to overcome their natural conscience and self-preservation instincts, view the orthodox Muslims as a huge pool of potential recruits.

This is why it is essential for all who oppose Islamo-Fascism to support efforts to counter orthodox Quranic extremism. Otherwise, time is not on our side.

Part II of this series will examine the Hadith (oral traditions).

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions

2 Responses to Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part I: The Quran

  1. reformislam says:

    “Other Muslim reformers want to keep all the verses, but change the interpretation to a non-literal, peaceful, tolerant one.”

    They will have real hard time re-interpreting “kill them [infidels] wherever you find them” and similar verses. Besides, there is a good chance of reverting to literal interpretation in the future.

  2. citizensagainstsharia says:

    Thank you for your comment. I agree, it’s better to get rid of verses like that.

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