Oct 8, 2019
years since 9/11, the Islamic reform movement has advanced sufficiently that
two distinct camps have emerged: reformers and bridge-builders. Genuine
reformers seek to transform how Islam is practiced, while bridge-builders seek
to improve how Islam is perceived, mainly by non-Muslims.
tend to be Muslims who fault their co-religionists from previous centuries for
writing counterfeit stories about the prophet of Islam, and those alive today
for believing those stories. Reformers denounce Koranic literalism.
tend to be non-Muslims or converts who fault those of other faiths for their
insufficient appreciation of Islam. They denounce reformers, even Muslim
reformers, as "Islamophobes"—a catch-all smear designed to intimidate
and silence anyone who criticizes anything about Islam.
Islamic reformer is Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, who
argues that all the hadith are fraudulent and that Islam begins and ends with
the Koran. Another, the Australian Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, blames Islamic
militancy on "historic texts, generally written by people who never saw
Mohammad, and were born centuries after him." In 2007, the now defunct
group called Muslims Against Sharia argued in a manifesto for changes to
"Islamic texts, including the Koran and Hadith . . . which call for
Islamic domination and incite violence against non-Muslims." All three,
albeit in different ways, refute the authenticity of certain texts, or parts of
them, that call for Muslims to dominate non-Muslims.
come at the issue from the opposite direction by encouraging universal
appreciation for Islam and insisting that they alone are capable of deciphering
the true meaning of Islamic texts. Some even promote forged texts that depict a
very different prophet from the Muhammad of the Koran, Hadith, and Sirat. Not
surprisingly, they are often academics.
University's Bridge Initiative, run by John Esposito, a project of the
Saudi-funded Alwaleed Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, is designed to
engineer mistrust for reformers and smear critics. It even maintains a
"Factsheet" on Islamic Reformer Tarek Fatah.
newcomer to the bridge-builders' club is the social media-obsessed Craig
Considine. According to his website, "Dr. Craig Considine is a scholar,
professor, global speaker, media contributor, and public intellectual based at
the Department of Sociology at Rice University." He is also one of the
most enthusiastic apologists for Islam in all of academia.
Karen Armstrong pronounced that "Muhammad was not a man of violence"
has there been a more dubious presentation of Islamic tradition.
"Unperturbed by this historical record," as Efraim Karsh put it,
Armstrong depicted Muhammad's life as "a tireless campaign against greed,
injustice, and arrogance," and exaggerated his alleged feminist tendencies
to an absurd extent. "The emancipation of women was a project dear to the
Prophet's heart," she insisted. His embrace of polygamy was merely a way
"to ensure that unprotected women would be decently married."
spite of critics' objections or the historical subordination of women in much
of the Muslim world, the Koran, she enthused, "was attempting to give
women a legal status that most Western women would not enjoy until the
who makes much of his Catholicism, clearly admires Armstrong, herself a former
nun. In an apparent attempt to out-Armstrong Armstrong, he writes, "I
consider Muhammad to be a quintessential anti-racist figure because he promoted
peace and equality. Without a doubt, he advanced human rights in an area of the
world that had no previous experience with this practice."
Armstrong's lead in attempting to contextualize Muhammad's behavior within
seventh-century Arab standards, Considine presents him as far more progressive
than his contemporaries and even compares him to George Washington. Both
sidestep all aspects of Islamic tradition that don't fit their narratives,
making them guilty of the same "cherry-picking" they complain about
in the work of others. Both rely heavily on obscure passages from questionable
sources written centuries after Muhammad's death. And both ignore any evidence
of violence advocated in the Koran, especially the 9th Sura.
attempts to demonstrate Muhammad's compassion are predicated on a series of
covenants the prophet of Islam allegedly made with a variety of Christian groups
towards the end of his life. Some of these texts were "discovered"
and promoted by John Andrew Morrow in a book titled The Covenants of the
Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (2013). No
"covenant" texts exist in original manuscripts, only copies of copies
of "originals" that no one has seen. Logical and chronological
problems abound. For instance, one "covenant," the Achtiname,
concerns Egypt, which wasn't conquered by Muslims until 639—seven years after
Muhammad died. In the foreword to Morrow's book, Charles Upton (who calls
himself a "poet and metaphysician") writes that after the Koran and
Hadith, the Covenants may be considered "a third foundational source for
Islam, one that is entirely consonant with the first two . . . composed by the
Prophet himself during his lifetime."
Durie (a theologian and acknowledged expert on the subject) expresses the
dominant scholarly opinion: "I don't know any serious scholar who believes
[these texts] are genuine." Many regard them as medieval forgeries, part
of a "survival strategy of a victim to praise the abuser and become an
apologist for his better side," says Durie.
defend the texts' credibility, Considine's contributions to this scholarly
debate amount to little more than jargon-laden ad hominem attacks. For
instance, he charges those who cast doubt on the authenticity of these
documents with, "us[ing] 'the hermeneutics of suspicion' to widen the gap
between Muslims and Christians and to fulfill their own self-fulfilling prophecies
about Prophet Muhammad." This is history twisted to the designs of the
For all his
claims to understand Islam, Considine mostly avoids its most important
document, the Koran, which is quite hostile towards his Catholicism but in
which he sees only "compassion and mercy." It denies Jesus was son of
God ("It befitteth not Allah that He should take unto Himself a son,"
19:35). It denies his crucifixion ("they slew him not for certain,"
4:157). The Koran portrays Jesus as a true prophet whose message was corrupted
by his followers, i.e., the Christians, about whom the god of the Koran says
"We have stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the Day of
In order to
accomplish his far-fetched portrayal of Islam's prophet as an "anti-racist,"
Considine ignores Muhammad's wars against Jews, Christians, and tribal pagans
and instead focuses on "Bilal ibn Rabah, a black slave who rose to a
leading position within the Muslim community of 7th century Arabia."
to the Bukhari hadith, Bilal was owned by Umayyah ibn Khalaf, an enemy of
Muhammad. After Bilal converted (or reverted, as the Koran would have it) to
Islam and was tortured by his owner, Muhammad sent his friend Abu Bakr to buy
the slave. After the hijra (the move from Mecca to Medina in 622) he joined the
prophet's inner circle and was asked to sing the call to prayer. To Considine,
this is evidence of Muhammad's anti-racism.
In 2015 the
Arab News published an article by Abu Tariq Hijazi offering Bilal's story as
evidence of "Islam's respect for human equality, anti-racism and social
equity." Considine again seems bent on one-upsmanship: "the Prophet
preceded the words of Martin Luther King Jr., whose 'I Have a Dream' speech
called for African Americans to be judged not by the color of their skin, but
by the content of their character."
Considine accepts the flawed convivencia narrative of a tolerant Islamic Spain
(Al-Andalus) where Christians and Jews allegedly lived side-by-side in harmony
with Muslims who in no way oppressed them. Describing Spain, Sicily, and
Portugal as having "Islamic roots" is insufficiently apologetic, so
he stretches his revisionist view to the breaking point: "Islam is in
their DNA." In reality these were Christian "spaces" (to use one
of Considine's favorite terms) that were invaded by non-Christian, non-European
colonizers who subsequently transformed them into Muslim "spaces,"
often by converting churches to mosques. He should put down Karen Armstrong's
book and read Dario Fernandez-Morera's The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise
(2016). Perhaps he will see himself in the description of those whose
"selective approach is . . . scholarly defective," or as another in a
long line of academics who "do not want to get in trouble presenting an
Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive
Islam Needs Reformers, not Publicists
Source: Middle East Forum