Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part VI: Muslim Culture

January 25, 2008

This is the sixth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (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 Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Muslim Culture. Besides the religious doctrines, Islam also has a culture which has been influenced by those doctrines, but is really a separate item, with several components. For example, Islam is an honor/shame-based culture, meaning that having a good image is of primary importance. This makes it difficult to admit to problems. In addition, honesty is not an absolute virtue in Islam; there are various exceptions to the rule. The combination of an honor/shame orientation and excuses for dishonesty creates a strong tendency to blame others for problems, which we often see in practice today. Blaming others for problems created by self is a sure way NOT to solve the problems.

Also, it is psychologically difficult for Muslims to accept a “demotion” from being superior (according to Islamic law and tradition) to being no better than the low-class dhimmis or the unclean kafirs. And, many Muslims strongly identify with Islam, making it more difficult for individuals to change their beliefs.

In addition to the purely psychological factors, there’s also real danger: Sharia’s draconian punishment for apostasy has also created a culture that is dangerous to reformers, as orthodox Muslims can label any attempt at reform as being an act of apostasy, carrying the penalty of death.

How to overcome this challenge:

This is a tough set of issues, but it must be addressed. As long as Muslims cling to the idea that Islam is the world’s most perfect religion, and that all the world’s problems result from Jewish conspiracies, Western imperialism, and whatnot, nothing will change.

First, honor and shame can be redefined. “Real honor comes from admitting ones own faults.” “People who blame others for their own faults should be ashamed of themselves.” This message would be more effective coming from Muslims, and there are a few who do put out messages along these lines. We need to support them. Let’s not expect immediate results, but a sustained effort could eventually make a difference. When Muslims blame others for problems that are obviously their own responsibility, the rest of the world should not buy into it.

In addition, the Muslims’ extreme aversion to shame can be utilized by criticizing the problems within Islam and expressing outrage at barbaric Islamic practices every chance we get. If they really get the message that others see Islam’s fascist doctrines as shameful, and honor is heaped upon those who are sincerely trying to reform those doctrines, we could start to see some real change.

This isn’t about using a “gimmick”, it’s just telling the truth. The truth really could set us free, if only we were willing to tell it. This is the opposite from what the PC crowd says would be effective, but for the past thousand years the Islamic world has gotten by with little or no challenge, and what has that yielded? Stagnation and misery. If we really care about Muslims, we’ll give them what they most need: a good dose of honesty. It’s painful, but it’s about the only thing that has a chance of helping them. The serious reformers, by and large, know this already, and they’re the ones we should be allying ourselves with.

Shame can also be utilized to make it easier for Muslims to accept the “demotion” from superiority to equality with others. We need to condemn supremacist doctrines, including Islamic supremacy, as shameful.

Shame is one thing that does actually have a track record for bringing about change in the Muslim world. There have been various examples of <a href=””<atrocities averted due to criticism from the West. Since we know shame works, and there’s so little that does, it would be foolish not to use it.

Note to PC crowd: Criticizing fascist doctrines of Islam (Jihad and Sharia) is not hate. If we hated Muslims, we’d allow these doctrines to grow unchallenged until the only possible effective response is a military one. I don’t believe we’re there yet, but the PC mentality is allowing us to drift closer to it. The first victims of Islamo-Fascism are Muslims; if we care about them, we’ll do what it takes to spare them from it.

Of course, we can expect a violent response to truthful messages, because Muslims have found violence very effective for getting their way. Think of a two year old. If they throw a tantrum and get what they want, what will happen next time? A responsible parent has to ride out the tantrum, lovingly yet firmly. Otherwise the two year old will soon be running the household, which is what we are already on a slippery slope toward. Many people believe Western culture will inevitably prevail because it is more sophisticated, forgetting the power of a two year old. We’ll have the fewest tantrums–er, the least violence–in the long run if we don’t reward it.

Making a distinction between Islamic doctrines and Muslim individuals is also useful. Muslims in general identify so strongly with Islam that they may not hear this message for a long time, but eventually it may sink in. Muslims will not be able to conceive of changing Islam until they develop their own identity, separate from Islam.

As for the danger factor, as with so many of these challenges, there’s no easy solution. However, at the very least, we who live in the relative safety of the West should be handing microphones to the brave Muslims and ex-Muslims who are willing to risk their necks to call for an Islamic reformation, rather than lavishing our attention on those who merely defend the status quo. If we even understood the danger factor better, perhaps we’d be more willing to lift a finger to amplify the effect of those few who are undeterred by death threats.

Part VII of this series will offer conclusions.

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