In the wake
of the Christchurch and Colombo massacres, Islam has assumed a new prominence
in the consciousness of New Zealanders.
different ways, those events highlight a pathological evil that has cut short
too many lives among people of diverse faiths, here and overseas.
most of those victims have been Muslims slain by Muslims, for Islam is no more
a monolithic mass than any other religion. Views within it range from seeing
the core of their faith as peace and spiritual serenity, to encouraging
violence in pursuit of a fundamentalist and political vision of the place of
Islam in today's world.
is that both emphases can be justified by appealing to verses in the Qur'an and
Hadith (the sayings and doings of Muhammad compiled after he died).
verse of equal weight and immutable? Or is the text open to fresh
interpretations as societies evolve?
steeped in Islamic experience look closely at these questions and come to
similar conclusions. Both were born into devout Muslim families, both embraced
an extremist version of Islam in their youth, both now think that modern
Muslims must be free to reappraise aspects of their religion in light of the modern
world. And both, significantly, live in the West. Their musings would not be
tolerated in countries where ultra-conservative clerics hold the whip hand.
author of The House of Islam, was born in England and remains committed to
Islam. He attributes this to the gentle, spiritual depth of his Indian parents.
Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali lived for a time in Mecca, studied and became an MP
in the Netherlands, felt compelled to leave the faith and now teaches at
Harvard and Stanford Universities in the US. Her experiences led her to write
Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She has had numerous death threats.
neither as bent on destroying the faith. Though strongly critical of some
interpretations, they are basically constructive. They plead for changes that
would restore the spirit of Islam's golden era in the Middle Ages, when
scholars enjoyed a freedom to analyse, explore and critique in a generally
tolerant environment, and Islam flourished.
heavy hand of theocratic conformity throttled that back, and over the past
seven decades Saudi Arabia has spent $US200 billion spreading a narrow,
aggressive and politically-oriented puritanism as the only true expression of
Islam. The effects have been felt through the Muslim world.
sees three major groupings contending for the soul of Islam. She calls them
Mecca Muslims, Medina Muslims and Modifying Muslims.
Muslims are by far the majority. For about 10 years from 610CE, Muhammad was
intent on inviting polytheists around Mecca to abandon their idols and worship
only Allah. The earliest chapters of the Qur'an reflect this. Mecca Muslims are
loyal to this peaceful emphasis, worship devoutly, and do not promote violence.
Ali, they have a problem, especially in the West, since certain of their
beliefs sit awkwardly with modernity. ``Trapped between two worlds of belief
and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to
Islam in the context of a secular and pluralistic society that challenges their
values and beliefs at every turn.''
Some try to
wall off outside influences, and permit only an Islamic education for their
Muslims look rather to the time when Muhammad and his followers assumed
political authority and took up arms to defend and extend the new faith. Those
who refused to submit to Allah were attacked or downgraded to second-class
citizenship. The religion expanded by conquest.
extremists find inspiration in verses in the Qur'an that reflect this shift.
a regime based on Sharia, Islamic religious law,'' says Ali. ``They argue for
an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original 7th-century version.
What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it
on everyone else ... They preach jihad and glorify death through martyrdom'' -
as with al Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram.
acknowledges the deep emotions of hurt, betrayal and humiliation that
blundering Western intrusions into the Islamic world have caused, but objects
to the Medina Muslims' ``political hijacking'' of his religion.
Modifying Muslim, he challenges the majority to disown, even oust these
``theological brigands'' and work instead to rekindle the openness, tolerance
and freedom of their faith's glory days.
enriched the world would be if that were to happen!
Harris is a journalist and commentator.
Source: Otego Daily Times