No, Islam Does Not Need A Reformation

This month’s Foreign Policy magazine features an essay by Ayyan Hirsi Ali who argues that to counter ISIS, and other forms of radical violent Islam, the religion needs a reformation.  Here W&Y Guest Writer Aisha Ali Khan responds –GUESTSM2

 

By Aisha Ali Khan

“In her essay titled, ‘A Problem from Heaven,’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes that Islam is in desperate need of a reformation, that America needs to shrug off its current position of hesitancy and dithering and get behind that call by helping to fund it.

She believes the absence of such a movement has contributed to the present volatile situation in the world, and in particular, in the Middle East and that the rise of Islamic State (IS) can only be defeated if the rest of the world’s Muslim’s reject violence and extremism through a process of Reformation.

As a (fairly) young Muslim, I find her views intriguing and interesting. I will try to evaluate Hirsi Ali’s essay based upon my own outlook and experience of a Muslim woman growing up in the West.

Yes, Islam is a 1,400 year old religion and like many other religions, it has picked up a lot of additional baggage. A difficult, blood soaked beginning gave rise to the notion that Islam was spread primarily by the sword, thus unfairly linking it to violence and violent ideology. This perception remains and it is no doubt justified in the minds of many who see the recent carnage of IS as another, more current example of Islam’s relationship with death and destruction.2000px-Dcp7323-Edirne-Eski_Camii_Allah-ds.svg

Do I believe that a reformation is necessary for Islam to shed its widely believed current position as a religion whose followers seem to embody the very essence of intolerance and xenophobia? I am, currently, inclined to say ‘no’.

I, and many of my Muslim contemporaries, do not accept violence in the name of Islam. Indeed the rise of IS has shown a new, different side to the argument that Muslims are prone to harbouring violent tendencies; many Muslim have been so repulsed by the barbarity being inflicted by IS that they are turning away from attempts of trying to justify the savagery and bloodshed of recent years.

These attempts placed the blame for the violence in the Middle East entirely at the feet of America and the West. ‘The American/ Western aggressors deserve their soldiers being killed and maimed because they chose to go to war’ was a common response circa 2003. It is believed less and less now.

Hirsi Ali’s argument that a reformation within Islam could provide the answer to combat the rise of IS is therefore flawed; the majority of Muslims across the world have decided to reject IS and their ideology anyway. A reason why there are so many Muslims who have left their established lives in the West (3,400 according to her essay) could simply be because there currently exists a robust IS strategy to recruit Western Muslims; they have mastered the use of social media and honed their narrative down to simple, effective messages that do not require critical thinking. Such messages are thus easily absorbed and accepted without much thought by eager and willing followers. This is something the Western countries are simply lacking; a counter narrative to the IS violent but seductive narrative.

In his response to Hirsi Ali’s essay, William McCants writes “if (Islamic) Scripture is a constant but the behaviour of its followers is not, then one should look elsewhere to explain why some Muslims engage in violence” (‘Islamic Scripture is not the problem’).

He further argues “if Islamic Scriptures doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, then one should not expect the reform of Islam to end terrorism.” In this last statement, I feel McCant has hit the proverbial nail in the head. If a person is already predisposed to violent interpretation, a change in Islamic Scriptures will not make any kind of difference. They will find some hidden meaning in the most innocuous Scriptures to justify their thirst for violence and murder anyway.

Sadly we live in a world in which generations of young people are being born into conflict. For them, extremism and violence are not isolated phenomenon, but are part of the fabric of their existence.

What is required is a frank and open acknowledgement that, for some people, these tendencies have become intrinsically woven into the fabrics of their characters.

Take for example, some British born families who hail from the Kashmir region of Pakistan. Known as Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), the region has been involved in a territorial dispute with India since just after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. There have even been three wars between India and Pakistan over this region since that date.

When I visited the Pakistan side of the Line of Control in 2010 the Pakistan Border Forces were referred to as Mujahideen Border Forces; any attack by India, either military or otherwise, is seen as a direct attack against the faith of those living in AJK. Stories of Indian transgression such as violence, rape and murder, are routinely covered in the UK based, Urdu press and young children are fully aware of violent events in AJK. I believe that terminology such as Mujahideen (a person fighting Jihad, or Holy War) and the drip, drip feed of violence eventually leads to desensitisation and creates a person more susceptible towards adopting violent and extreme views themselves.

Therefore, going back to Hirsi Ali’s stance that a Reformation of Islam could lead to the rejection of violent extremist ideology – I believe her argument is too simplistic and one dimensional. However, it is a brave viewpoint and one that should not be overlooked outright. Let us instead use Hirsi Ali’s argument as a starting point and try to move towards countering the violent extremist narrative offered by groups such as IS, preferably more rapidly than we are doing so now.”

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6 Comments on "No, Islam Does Not Need A Reformation"

  1. I reject the writer Aisha Ali Khan’s position in its entirety as I reject that of Ayyan Hirsi Ali claiming that Islam can & needs to be reformed, it’s an internal matter to be decided on by Muslims in Islamic lands not here in the West. Western democracy which is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian values & Islam which is the religion of the fire & the sword can not peacefully co-exist in the same geographic territory therefore separation is urgently required. Islam must sort out its problems on its own territory far removed from the West without any interference from the West, since Western interference in Islams affairs is counterproductive & Muslim interference in the affairs of the West only leads to violence & conflict.

    • Dan, yr argument does not take into account European Islam. This has been in Europe for centuries, especially in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia. Muslims are 10% of France, about 4% of the UK etc… A modern European Islam will help us all to grow together, and a modern tolerant Islam will help all parts of the world.

      • Mr. Marshall, it is not the Albanian, Kosovoian and Bosnian Islam that needs reforming, nor for that matter the Kurdish or Druze forms of Islam, the problem is with the violent Sunni & Shia forms of Islam in the Mid-East, Asia & North Africa which have come West and are both unable & totally unwilling to integrate in Western society due to their total incompatibility at every level. Thus your talking about a European Islam such as that in the Balkans is a different thing to what has arrived in the West over the last few decades as a result of conflict elsewhere be it as a result of end of the French colonial wars in North Africa, the wars between India & Pakistan or the current Muslim on Muslim wars in the Mid-East & North Africa. We in the West must have no part in deciding for the Muslims in the East what direction they want to take their religion in, they must keep out of the West & we out of the East, mixing people of opposing belief systems leads to war not tolerance & I for one do not believe that the Islam of the East can reform nor should they be allowed to engage in a dangerous experiment with their religion on our soil.

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 9th October 2015 at 4:13 pm | Reply

    ISIS and Al-Qaeda terrorists use Islam to justify their actions. They politicized Islam. When confronted by the media, they cite verses from the Qur’an to justify their crimes. There are some 20 verses in the Holy Book that justify fighting non-Muslims (Kuffar) and taking violent actions against apostates and those who renounced Islam. I demanded in articles in Arabic that such texts are examined by scholars either for re-interpretation or complete removal. Political Islam has a lot to answer for.

    • Mr.Ismail, my understanding of your post is that it is up to Muslims of good will to influence their fellow Muslims into reforming Islam & not for us non-Muslims to interfere, since all our political leaders have done since the end of WW2 is make mistakes in the Mid-East which are adding to the wars going on there. Mr. Marshall seems to believe that Islam can somehow be reformed within Europe, where as I do not & don’t want us in Europe to interfere in an internal Islamic religious dispute that has been going on for almost as long as Islam itself, likewise I don’t want us involved in a super power military confrontation over Syria which will IMO not solve the ongoing Sunni vs. Shia conflict.

  3. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 9th October 2015 at 8:27 pm | Reply

    Thanks Dan. Muslim scholars must get together and sort out the anomalies that exist and are being exploited by extremists. If this is done successfully which I doubt very much, its impact will be global.

    Tim is right. The Balkan Muslims are less prone to violent extremism. They are pragmatic enough to realize that they can’t thrive in Europe if they adopted the attitudes and methods of their brothers in the volatile Middle East.

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