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What Is Moderate Islam?


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The New Republic:

Reuel Marc Gerecht
8/11/10

Is the “Ground Zero Imam,” Feisal Abd ar-Rauf, a moderate Muslim? I do not know. I have yet to read his books or peruse his speeches and sermons in all the languages that Mr. Rauf uses. Some of his short essays and interviews in English suggest that he is a preacher of moderate disposition and views. But some of his more tentative, if not deceptive commentary about terrorism against Israelis, America’s culpability for 9/11, and the nobility and value of the Holy Law for Muslims living in the West suggest something different.

I have a sneaking suspicion that those who have risen in high dudgeon against critics of the Cordoba Initiative’s “Ground Zero mosque”—for example, Peter Beinart, Richard Cohen, Fareed Zakaria, and Matthew Yglesias—may also not have done much due diligence on Mr. Rauf. (If they have done so, but have chosen not to reveal their homework in their writing, I apologize.) I can certainly appreciate why devout partisans of religious freedom have recoiled from some of the harsh and philosophically-chaotic commentary opposed to a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero. However, building an Islamic complex where the Twin Towers collapsed is different from building a mosque on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. With the latter, we may frown on monies flowing to it from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi establishment, given Wahhabism’s virulently anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and just all-around anti-fun traditions, but we certainly would not try to shut it down.

(Snip)

So what might be an American definition of a “moderate Muslim?” Perhaps the following two entries would be a good place to start.

(i) a believer who unqualifiedly rejects terrorism against anyone. This is America’s Eleventh Commandment. If a Muslim cannot renounce terrorism against Israelis, that person should not be allowed to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Testing for unacceptable deviancy isn’t hard. Just borrow from the former al-Qa’ida philosopher, Abd al-Qadir bin Abd al-Aziz, aka “Dr. Fadl,” who sees Palestinian suicide bombers as destined for hell. Thus: “Do you, Feisal Abd ar-Rauf, believe that Allah damns eternally Palestinian suicide bombers?” “Do you believe that rockets launched at Israeli towns by Hamas and Hizbollah are acts of terrorism, which will bring down upon the perpetrators Allah’s wrath?” Mr. Rauf’s answers ought to be short.

(ii) a believer who embraces the doctrine of “neo-ijtihad,” which holds that Muslims today are not chained to the Qur’anic interpretations and legal decisions accepted centuries ago as canonical. Specifically, a “moderate Muslim American” is someone who unqualifiedly renounces the applicability of the Sharia, the Holy Law, in American society. The “Americanization of Islam” here means that the traditional Muslim understanding of orthodoxy as orthopraxy (it’s not what you believe in your heart—that is between you and God—but how you act, i.e., apply the Sharia, in the public square that matters) is null and void. Thus, women may veil or not veil as they please; a woman’s testimony is equal to a man’s; polygyny is verboten; marriage to a menstruating child is an abomination; accepted corporalpunishments—amputations and stonings—are immoral; apostasy reflects bad judgment but isn’t criminal; and Jews and Christians should spiritually no longer be viewed as dhimmis, a properly subordinate species who really don’t deserve the same social status and legal rights as Muslims. Jewish and Christian power in America and Europe isn’t an offense against the divinely-sanctioned natural order; it’s just the product of a long, difficult, and tortuous evolution. The Sharia is a lengthy and complicated corpus that developed over centuries and often constrained the worst instincts of despots. A “moderate Muslim American” would see it in much the same way that a faithful “moderate Jewish American” views the Old Testament and the Talmud: documents of a certain time that contain considerable “divine” wisdom (as well as much looniness) and many imperatives for a good, healthy life.
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