Misunderstanding Islam

In a February 25, 2016 interview for FrontPage Magazine, notable Islamic reformer Tawfik Hamid listed several ways to combat Islamic terrorism, which he regards as founded on a “literal understanding of the Islamic texts” (italics mine) and on “Islam as it is currently taught and practiced in the vast majority of Muslim communities.” A winning strategy against violent jihad, he continues, would therefore entail the use of “negative deterrents”; support for “theological reforms within Islam that encourage peaceful co-existence”; encouragement of “education reforms” to counter standard Islamic teachings; effective use of the Internet; rendering radical organizations accountable; and putting an end to political correctness, which “prevents serious discussion, or criticism of Islam.” These recommendations are fully elaborated in his 2015 volume Inside Jihad, one of the most eloquent defenses of a redeemable Islam to be published in recent memory.

Regrettably, many of his suggestions tend to beg the question and are devoid of practical application. How do we go about abolishing political correctness, which is so deeply embedded within Western culture that it may never be defeated, or certainly not within a foreseeable future? No sensible person could oppose making Islamic institutions—mosques, social networks, political organizations—accountable for promoting extremist policies and dogmas, but the effort has gone for naught, and the leaders we continue to elect have moved neither to counter nor delegitimize them.

Most importantly, why is the “literal understanding of Islamic texts” wrong or misguided, when the Koran, its bulwark of ancillary documents, and the five schools of jurisprudence (usul-al-fiqh) say exactly what they mean? Where is the warrant for revisionary intrusion into a canon that has been firmly established by millennial authority and ulemic scholarship, that is hedged around by militant conviction, and whose innumerable texts and scriptures are so intricately interconnected that meaningful change is virtually impossible?

In Inside Jihad, Hamid argues against “fundamentalist Islam,” as if there were any other kind. He honorably insists that we must “face the unavoidable reality that [violent] teachings do exist, and they remain unchallenged in the mainstream Islamic books.” He fails to see that the purgation of such doctrines means that Islam would effectively cease to exist. Hamid inveighs against the tactic of taqiyyah—religiously sanctioned lying—deployed by the jihadists, as if taqiyyah did not enjoy theological validation as a general principle—Koran 3:28, 3:54, 9:3, 16.106, as well as the Hadith (Bukhari 84:64-65) among other instances. He is surely right in remarking that “a central obstacle in the battle with jihadism is the West’s tendency to engage in moral relativism,” but he does not pause to consider that the “battle with jihadism” is only a subset of a much larger conflict that is constantly being shirked.

In other words, the issue that should engage us is not only jihad but Islam in its holistic and testamentary totality. It is disheartening to observe a presidential hopeful like Marco Rubio, to take one conspicuous instance, declaim that our issue is not with Islam but with radical jihadis. Rubio goes so far as to assert that jihadism threatens not only America but is an “ideology that threatens Islam,” betraying an ignorance so profound (or a political correctness so slick) as to call his potential stewardship into question.