It is not often that I find myself in disagreement with Louis Palme, but in his article “Muslims to Muslims: “Knock off the Jihad crap!” I find things with which to take issue.
Before I do, however, let me on one level concede his point: there are Muslims who would want the “radical/extremist”, that is orthodox, Muslims to “knock off the Jihad crap”.
Some of them will even want the orthodox to do so for reasons with which non-Muslims would concur, others for reasons more soundly based in Islamic Theology on the grounds that 'terrorist' attacks in the west are likely, in their view, to have detrimental effects on the Muslim minorities therein.
Such minorities living amongst majority Kuffar populations are “in Mecca” in the sense that they lack the power to effect overthrow of the current governments and are at risk of the much touted but not materialising “Islamophobic backlash”; as such being peaceable is in their interests.
The orthodox, on the other hand, are “in Medina”. They believe that Islam as a worldwide concern has the power (however they conceive this) to effect sword-Jihad against the Kuffar for the advancement of Islam.
This is not the article for a detailed treatment of this topic, but the point I'm driving at is that there are 'good' reasons – Islamically speaking – for both points of view.
Let me also concede that there are Muslims, some not living in the west, who genuinely wish a “reformation” on Islam in the sense that they seek it's accommodation with the modern world (such a change would be more accurately termed a “modernisation”).
Let us also acknowledge that there are plenty of Muslims quite prepared to be deceitful in their dealings with the Kuffar on the basis of several well known Islamic Doctrines. Thus we have to admit that this or that Muslim may not be being honest in his/her rejection of “Islamic terrorism” - a phrase that some Muslims consider an oxymoron, and therefore non-existent, in the first place – or Sharia.
Turning to Palme's article, under the heading of “Muslims against Terrorism” he refers to:
The Open letter to Baghdadi which has been subjected to much criticism by a wide range of writers, including Muslims who are no lovers of ISIL. This letter is riven with internal contradictions and ambiguities (see here, here, here and here for a flavour of the responses) which rob it of much of its possible authority.
To give one example: the letter's authors set the bar for being able to issue a fatwa so high as to make it almost impossible for anyone or any group to legitimately do so – and then go on to issue a whole string of them by saying “It is forbidden ...”.
Louis Palme quotes one such sentence: “It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.” on which he editorialises: “In other words, applying 7th Century Quranic precedents of killing, torture, enslaving, and converting through force to the 21st Century is erroneous and forbidden.”
The mistake here is to over-interpret the statement. The fatwa only says that what is “forbidden” is the ignoring of contemporary times, it does not say that historic precedent must be abandoned and nor could it legitimately do so.
For the Salafist there is the great sin-and-crime of “Bid'r” that is “innovation in religion”. Thus any consideration about how to weigh “the reality of contemporary times” will be balanced against the need to avoid Bid'r.
Islamic (Sharia) law is dynamic in the sense that it, like any other legal system, will meet situations that it has never encountered before and on which rulings must be made. To be somewhat simplistic: the usual mechanism for this is argument by analogy which therefore reasons from an historical precedent of some sort to the 'new' ruling.
Thus, in my opinion, the part of the executive summary of the letter quoted by Louis Palme means rather less than he states.
A more basic criticism is that the letter is only an attack of ISIL – and thus implicitly its terrorism – it is categorically not an attack on all Islamic terror groups.
Thus Louis Palme is guilty of “over-egging” his implications here, I doubt that (m)any of the signatories would condemn the terror-group HAMAS for example.
I think that al-Sisi was entirely sincere in what he said (Egypt is a mix of the cosmopolitan and the puritanical – I have met both), but what he said was perhaps less than it seems, it spoke neither of Jihad nor Sharia. It was also, in my opinion, something of a Cri-de-Coeur rather than a fully reasoned out statement.
He spoke of Islam not, for example, DAESh. And Islam does not want to kill all Kuffar, it acknowledges “the people of the Book” and allows them to live as Dhimmis – as the Letter to Baghdadi acknowledges.
Something I do not find particularly reassuring.
The words of Yasser Reda quoted by Palme are a mouthful of nothing. What is the “intellectual fuel” of Islamic terrorism? (Clue: the answer is in the question.)
Rada speaks, I presume, of the UN “International Convention on Civil and Political Rights”, yet Egypt is a signatory to the “Cairo declaration of Human Rights in Islam” which “supercedes” the UN declaration and specifically subjugates all human rights to Sharia, thereby rendering most of them meaningless - including many in said convention. Thus Rada's words are also ironic, whether intentionally so or not.
Under the heading of “Muslims against Sharia law” Louis Palme gives several quotations:
Kamal Nawash is a founder of the “Free Muslims Coalition.” Which says of itself (in Nawash's profile) “The Coalition promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam...” thus, by self-definition the coalition members are secularists and/or modernists – and good for them.
His article (also linked in Palme's piece) is a trenchant polemic against “Political Islam” and “Islamic Theocracy”, of which Palme quotes a footnote.
That footnote is correct as far as it goes, in that Mohammed was a “warner”, not a “keeper” or “guardian” (wali) of the Muslims.
But the Koran says more, stating approximately fifty times that that Muslims must obey “the prophet” - thus he was a ruler contra the footnote - and the very concept of Caliphate derives from Mohammed himself. Furthermore, the fact that the obedience of Muslims to “Allah and the prophet” is commanded means de facto – and later de jure – that the commands of Allah and Mohammed were law.
In addition the Koran says, as Nawash admits (quoting a Maududi paraphrase), that “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision.”(K33:36), thus the Koran states that Allah and Mohammed issue decrees – that is laws and that these laws were not optional.
The Koran also states that Mohammed and the Muslims are the only “awliya” - the plural of “wali” - for Muslims, another point neglected by Nawash in his intent to divorce “Political Islam” and “Islamic Theocracy” as instituted by Sharia from Islam.
I would also note that “political Islam” as a distinct sect, “belief” or similar within Islam simply does not exist. Islam's political dimension is an inherent part of Islam, along with the religious dimension. I regard the two as the warp and weft of Islam itself.
Whilst I do not doubt Nawash's sincerity, even a fairly cursory understanding of the Koran calls into doubt his assertion that “Sharia [is a] Violation of the Koran”, the matter is more complex than he says, as I have shown above.
Abou El Fadl's quotation of K.5:48 is amusing. He quotes the second half of the verse thereby divorcing it from its context. (But it's only Islam's critics who ever take things “out of context” let's not forget!)
The context of the verse is actually the supremacy of Islamic Sharia over the earlier Mosaic Law (or Tawrah) and a presumed “Sharia” (the “Injil”) of the Christians. By beginning the quote “...To each among you, ...” it might be implied that “Sharia” is a personal matter for each person, but that is not, I think, El Fadl's intent – I do not think him ignorant of the context of the verse.
That he “is one of the foremost critics of puritan and Wahhabi Islam” does not make him adverse to Islamic law, a point his membership of the editorial boards of the Journal of Islamic Law and Society and the Journal of Islamic Law and Culture would reinforce.
As El Fadl writes: the reason “for hijab was to protect women from harm and to avoid bringing undue attention to them. In the United States, hijab often results in the exact opposite, in other words, bringing undue attention to a Muslim woman and heightening the risk of harm.”
Thus his “opposition” to Hijab is based on the fact that in the U.S. (and West) its use has the opposite result to its intent. In this he is using the doctrine of “Tayseer” - “ease” and also (perhaps) “Maruna” - “blending in”. He is also careful to state that this is his opinion, not a ruling per se.
Thus to assert, based on the evidence supplied as Louis Palme does, that El Fadl is “against Sharia Law” is an over-statement, since all El Fadl is doing is setting aside a somewhat controversial element of Sharia (hijab) in the specific context of life in the United States of America.
Raheel Raza and Shireen Qudosi are “modernist” western-living Muslim female voices. Raza describes herself as a “progressive reform-minded Muslim” and Qudosi as “a conservative, an American, and a Muslim reformer”. Both are thus precisely the type of Muslims who would want the orthodox Muslims to “knock off the Jihad crap” on general principle - and both are the type of Muslim who would find life very much more difficult in many Muslim-majority Countries.
Let me add I am making no criticism here. These voices are precisely the sort that need and deserve to be heard and particularly so in Muslim-majority lands.
That “Governments are also taking action” against those who threaten the lives of their citizens should not be a surprise.
That so much of it is belated should be.
I'm not sure that Louis Palme is entirely aware of the possible irony (or sarcasm) of writing about the governments of Germany, Great Britain, the United States and Russia in an article titled “Muslims to Muslims...” As far as I know (I live in the U.K.) these Countries are not Muslim controlled.
Neither should the fact that several Muslim Countries had declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation be a surprise – though what should be surprising is that many western Countries including the U.S. and U.K have not.
The MB is a real threat to the governments of those Muslim majority countries that Palme lists and in which, certainly in the case of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there are many MB members.
Yet SA is hardly calling on Muslims to “knock off the Jihad crap” given its support of “Islamist Jihadists” in Syria where it is fighting a proxy war with Iran – as it is in Yemen. And SA is not the only Gulf state supporting Jihadists.
Thus here the implications of Palme's piece are too strong: the Muslim Countries he lists are complicit to various degrees and extents in (Sunni) Jihadist activity.
A final thought.
I do wonder if Louis Palme was being ironic in this piece.
With the exceptions of Kamal Nawash, Raheel Raza and Shireen Qudosi who are self-professed “secular” or “modernist” voices (which most certainly need to be widely heard and particularly so in the Muslim world), none of the examples given actually oppose Jihad or Sharia outright.
Thus I wonder if his intent was to show, via irony, that there is a long way to go before truly “mainstream Muslims” will start to reject either.