Friday, January 09, 2015

thoughts after Paris

Reforming Islam: Where change comes from

WHEN news came of today's appalling terrorist attack in Paris, I was in the middle of drafting an Erasmus post with some thoughts on the question: can we expect Islam to undergo its own version of the Reformation, or to produce its own Martin Luther? The subject is addressed, in quite an intelligent way, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, an American journal, and it is a topical one because various modern figures, from the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen to Egypt's military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have been described, however improbably, as Muslim answers to Martin Luther.
Today's ghastly events in France make the question even more pressing, because some people will undoubtedly say: this is proof, if proof were needed, that Islam is incorrigibly and by its very nature violent, intolerant and incapable of accepting the liberal ideal of free speech. And if that view gains traction, many Muslims will in turn conclude that in the face of such unremitting hostility, there is no point in even trying to explain their faith to others or seeking accommodation with their neighbours.  So the stakes are very high.  
Nick Danforth, the Foreign Policy writer, does a decent job of deconstructing the “Luther” question and showing how posing it reflects a linear, Anglo-Protestant view of history. According to this view there is a single-file march towards secular modernity, with reforming Protestants out in front, Catholics being dragged along a bit reluctantly, and Muslims far behind. “For most of American history, it would have been self-evident to the majority of American Protestants that the celebrated separation of church and state in the United States became possible because the Protestant Reformation tamed the Vatican in the 16th century.” You don't have to be a Protestant to argue for this sort of view; you could say, as many do, that the Reformation's real merit was that it reduced the importance of religion in general, and ushered in a more rational world. In fact, the article counter-argues, every religion has it own trajectory and its own way of negotiating the boundary between revealed truth and changing reality; it's not helpful to imagine a single track along which people travel at different speeds.
Here are some of my own thoughts on the subject. They have to do not with the merits, attractiveness or truth-claims of any religion, but with the way that religions in general work.
Martin Luther raised his voice against the abuse of clerical power by the Catholic authorities of his time: the ways in which sacraments (in other words, rituals which require a priest) were manipulated for cynical or venal purposes, doctrines were distorted, and ordinary people denied the opportunity to seek religious truth for themselves. He spoke with the authority of a well trained Catholic monk, versed in the Bible and in early church history. He wasn't rejecting all religious authority, or the idea of a sacrament as a ritual in which God was present; if he had taken that uncompromising view, he probably wouldn't have found many followers.  
In my experience, Muslims' first response to Luther's protests is usually something like: the abuses that he addressed are never likely to arise in Islam, because Islam has no equivalent of sacraments or priests who come between man and God and monopolise certain rituals. Islam has imams or prayer leaders, but no bishops or father-confessors.  (Shia Islam does have a tradition of powerful clerics, but the power they now enjoy in Iran is, arguably, a historical aberration.)
At the same time, many Muslims would stress that the "reform" or "renewal" of their religion, in the sense of cutting away unwanted accretions and getting back to Islam's original inspiration, has been a recurring theme in their history; and they would probably agree that some reform is badly needed now. But it's worth stressing that in neither Christianity, Islam, Judaism nor any other major religion can "reform" be equated with moderation or emollience. A stripped-down, minimalist religion can be more violent and intolerant than an elaborate one; just ask Oliver Cromwell or the Pakistani Taliban.
At this point, many non-Muslims might say, "we don't really care whether Islam is elaborate or stripped-down, we only care whether its followers can be persuaded to renounce terrorism, beheadings, and the pursuit of political power." Well, passionate arguments against all these things are being heard within the world of Islam, although they get less publicity than the violent voices. Look, for example, at the personally courageous stance of Hamza Yusuf, an American-born scholar with a wide following in the Islamic heart-land, in denunciation of Islamic State, its aims and methods. In recent weeks some 300,000 people have used the internet to hear him condemn, in rigorously Islamic terms, the claim of IS to be authentic representatives of the Sunni creed. His voice comes from deep inside scholarly, traditional Islam, just as Luther's came from deep inside sacramental, episcopal Christianity—and many people are listening.
Islam will not be scolded, scorned or aerially bombed into reforming by outsiders; it is deeply immune to external pressure. But it can and will change from within, as the founding texts and traditions are reread and refracted by successive generations. Nobody can predict which way that change will go—and there is not just one, single historical path along which it will or won't progress.
Islam Will Not Have Its Own Reformation
Stop expecting a Muslim Martin Luther. No two religions follow the same historical path.
Islam Will Not Have Its Own ‘Reformation’
Last week, in his annual Christmas address, Pope Francis prayed for victims of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. His prayers for both Christian and Muslim victims of the jihadis’ violence were a fitting tribute to one of the most dismal aspects of 2014. But the pope’s words also offered a striking contrast between the manifest humility of the Vatican — back on the good side of what seems like a decades-long good-pope/bad-pope routine — and the savagery of a newly declared caliphate.
This contrast led some observers (like, say, Bill Maher) to declare we should stop being so politically correct and state the obvious: Islam remains stuck in the Middle Ages. And even those who found this particular formulation too crude were still struck trying to explain why it seems that so many western countries have figured out how to separate church and state, while Muslim countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Turkey continue to struggle.
One of the most enduring explanations is that the Islamic world really needs its own Reformation — a Muslim Martin Luther to bring the religion of Mohammed into modernity. It’s an argument that Thomas Friedman and various others have been making for over a decade. In the last year alone Fetullah Gulen and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were added to the short list of potential Martin Luthers. Many analysts and critics of Islam seem committed to the idea that, be it a reclusive Turkish preacher or an authoritarian Egyptian general, there must be someone out there who can straighten out the confusion over church and state in in the Muslim world, and finally help Islam make the jump from totalitarian fundamentalism to enlightened, liberal religion, from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to Pope Francis. 
But before western observers start applying lessons of European history to the Muslim world, a little self-reflection is in order. Wasn’t the Reformation an attack on the Catholic Church? Didn’t Martin Luther, the man who began it, once write a book called Against the Roman Papacy: An Institution of the Devil? Indeed, every time a western writer identifies an Islamic Martin Luther, it highlights an unresolved question about western society itself: Is today’s modern Christian world a triumph of Protestantism over the pope? Or is it a reflection of Christianity’s more secular essence, inherent in Protestantism and Catholicism alike?
Neither. The different political cultures in Christian and Muslim countries we debate today resulted from a convoluted history, a twisting path that offers few simple or satisfying lessons.
For most of American history, it would have been self-evident to the majority of American Protestants that the celebrated separation of church and state in the United States only became possible because the Protestant Reformation tamed the Vatican in the 16th century. Most viewed Catholicism as a medieval religion at odds with the Anglo-American tradition of secular democracy. Shortly after Boston preacher Jonathan Mayhew declared that “Popery and liberty are incompatible,” the famed Continental Congress declared Catholicism a religion that spread “impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.”
American anti-Catholicism was certainly crude but not entirely without reason. The Vatican, after all, didn’t exactly cultivate a progressive image at the time. The church’s leaders proudly proclaimed opposition to crucial aspects of democracy, such as voting. Pope Pius IX, for example, issued a famous 1864 encyclical called the Syllabus of Errors condemning, among other things, liberalism, freedom of conscience, and progress.
These days, though, most Protestants would likely agree that Pope Francis seems like a pretty nice guy, and certainly no threat to democracy. The pope — this one especially — is on board with progress. And maybe even with evolution now. So what happened?
For most of Europe’s past, the only thing church leaders and their monarchical counterparts agreed on was that church and state should be united. They just disagreed over who should be holding the reins. In fact, if anything kept church and state separate, it was the power struggle between the two camps.
As the Roman Empire lost control of Europe during the first millennium, the pope maintained control over the church (and its extensive property) throughout Rome’s former territory. The pope’s earthly power frequently brought him into conflict with Europe’s kings. When these rulers tried to seize church land or appoint bishops, the Catholic Church called on its considerable allies and resources to resist. This conflict would pit some of Europe’s most powerful rulers — Charlemagne, several Holy Roman Emperors, and King Philip IV of France — against the pope over the question of whether kings should choose popes or popes should choose kings. Both sides wanted to play the “caliph,” with the joint spiritual and temporal authority that role entailed. But while both church and state relied on the other for legitimacy, neither could permanently gain the upper hand for centuries.
The Protestant Reformation finally gave European monarchs like Henry VIII the theological justification to unite church and state under their authority instead of the Vatican’s. Indeed, Protestants only favored the separation of church and state so long as the church in question was the Catholic one; in 1534, when English King Henry VIII split with the Vatican, he made himself the head of the newly proclaimed Church of England. In one version of history, put forward by generations of Protestant historians, this was a triumph of secularism. The state, as embodied by King Henry, had freed itself from the church, as embodied by the pope in Rome.
But no one seems to be calling for an Islamic Henry VIII to reinvent Muslim society — and that isn’t just because the king had a penchant for beheadings. There is no getting around the fact that Henry technically transformed England into a theocracy. The king declared himself England’s supreme political and religious leader, the very role that Islamists imagine a caliph would enjoy. (To this day, Queen Elizabeth vies with the Dalai Lama for the title of World’s Most Endearing Nominal Theocrat.)
Uniting church and state under protestant kings like Henry only helped facilitate modern secularism because these rulers were more serious about their new-found power than their theology. They wanted their countries to become rich and powerful. In their new roles as religious authorities, they could bend or warp religious rules for earthly end goals. As European states became richer, more stable, and more powerful over the ensuing centuries, their political cultures became more liberal and democratic. And religion in the hands of protestant monarchs kept pace. Queen Elizabeth, weighed down by an elected parliament and generations of English common law, could no longer use her authority as Anglican potentate to, say, endorse enslaving prisoners of war as the Islamic State recently did. In short, she isn’t the kind of caliph anyone in the Islamic State wants.
The church-state relationship developed differently in countries that remained Catholic, like France or Italy. Rather than become leaders of new churches, subsequent revolutionary leaders like Robespierre in France or Garibaldi in Italy sought to abolish Catholic institutions entirely. The French Revolution, for example, confiscated church land, banned monastic orders, and forced priests to swear an oath to the civil constitution (of course, all this involved many more beheadings). The pope and his faithful were, understandably, horrified. The Vatican spent the better part of the 19th century on the political sidelines, refusing to engage with Europe’s secular regimes.
In the early 1900s, the Catholic Church belatedly recognized that accepting the state’s new-found primacy, and even some of its liberal ideology, was the price of remaining relevant. With the Vatican’s concordat with the Italian state in 1929, the faithful could finally vote in civil elections without fear of damnation. In a sense, concessions like these enabled church and state to meet each other halfway, as governments in France and Italy also laid the basis for Europe’s present-day accommodation by allowing the Vatican to reclaim some of its former power and property.
The history of how secularism developed in Protestant and Catholic countries serves as a reminder that politics and circumstance shape religion, and its application to society, far more than abstract theology does. And these forces can change a faith dramatically even while scripture remains the same. The claim that there is something inherently secular or humanist about Christianity hardly holds up against a history of 250 popes who all read the same Bible as Francis and came to completely different conclusions about the role of the church in society.
But if the separation of church and state is all about politics and not theology, it seems even more pertinent to ask which of the political precedents from western history offers the best model for the Muslim world. Is the solution not a Muslim Henry VIII but an al-Robespierre?
Unlikely. The real answer is that there’s no single, obvious, historically proven path to modern secularism. Take just one example: The French revolutionary approach to dealing with the church served as the example for one of the most famous secularizers in the Islamic world, Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk saw the Islamic religious establishment as an enemy force — just like French revolutionaries saw the Vatican — that had to be defeated. He expropriated the property of religious foundations and banned religious orders. And he was so committed to teaching an anti-Catholic view of European history — inspired by both protestant prejudice and French revolutionary secularism — that even today a surprising number of Turkish high school graduates have told me they believe Protestants are the modern Christians and Catholics the backwards ones.
But anyone who’s been following the news from Turkey over the past decade or so knows that a century on, Ataturk’s approach did not work perfectly. Turkish politics remain bitterly divided between those who think the country is too secular and those who complain it is no longer secular enough.
So if even Ataturk couldn’t do it, is there any hope for creating a consensus on the role of religion in public life sufficient to facilitate liberal democracy in Muslim-majority countries? Or at least sufficient to forestall some of the violence we saw in 2014? Looking optimistically toward the new year, one lesson from several millennia of church-state conflict in Europe is that even without following any particular model, Muslim countries might just succeed in blazing their own paths, much like the Vatican managed to do, even without a Catholic Martin Luther of its own.
Getty Images/Wikimedia

An Open Letter to Moderate Muslims

Sylvester Adams via Getty Images

Let's start with what I'm not going to do.
I'm not going to accuse you of staying silent in the face of the horrific atrocities being committed around the world by your co-religionists. Most of you have loudly and unequivocally condemned groups like the Islamic State (ISIS), and gone out of your way to dissociate yourselves from them. You have helped successfully isolate ISIS and significantly damage its credibility.
I'm also not going to accuse you of being sympathetic to fundamentalists' causes like violent jihad or conversion by force. I know you condemn their primitive tactics like the rest of us, maybe even more so, considering the majority of victims of Islamic terrorists are moderate Muslims like yourselves. On this, I am with you.
But I do want to talk to you about your increasingly waning credibility -- a concern many of you have articulated as well.
You're feeling more misunderstood than ever, as Islamic fundamentalists hijack the image of Muslims, ostentatiously presenting themselves as the "voice of Islam." And worse, everyone seems to be buying it.
The frustration is evident. In response to comedian Bill Maher's recent segmentripping liberals for their silence on criticizing Islam, religious scholar Reza Aslanslammed him in a CNN interview. Visibly exasperated, he ultimately resorted to using words like "stupid" and "bigot" to make his points. (He apologized for this later.)
We'll get to Aslan's other arguments in a bit. But first, let's talk about something he said to his hosts that I know many of you relate to: that moderate Muslims are too often painted with the same brush as their fundamentalist counterparts. This is often true, and is largely unfair to moderates like yourselves.
But you can't simply blame this on the "ignorance" or "bigotry" of non-Muslims, or on media bias. Non-Muslims and the media are no more monolithic than the Muslim world you and I come from.
The problem is this: moderate Muslims like you also play a significant role in perpetuating this narrative -- even if you don't intend to.
To understand how, it's important to see how it looks from the other side.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
(1) A moderate Muslim states that ISIS is wrong, they aren't "true" Muslims, and Islam is a religion of peace.
(2) A questioner asks: what about verses in the Quran like 4:89, saying to "seize and kill" disbelievers? Or 8:12-13, saying God sent angels to "smite the necks and fingertips" of disbelievers, foreboding a "grievous penalty" for whoever opposes Allah and his Messenger? Or 5:33, which says those who "spread corruption" (a vague phrase widely believed to include blasphemy and apostasy) should be "killed or crucified"? Or 47:4, which also prescribes beheading for disbelievers encountered in jihad?
(3) The Muslim responds by defending these verses as Allah's word -- he insists that they have been quoted "out of context," have been misinterpreted, are meant as metaphor, or that they may even have been mistranslated.
(4) Despite being shown multiple translations, or told that some of these passages (like similar passages in other holy books) are questionable in anycontext, the Muslim insists on his/her defense of the Scripture.
Sometimes, this kind of exchange will lead to the questioner being labeled an "Islamophobe," or being accused of bigotry, as Aslan did with Maher and his CNN hosts. This is a very serious charge that is very effective at ending the conversation. No one wants to be called a bigot.
But put yourself in the shoes of your non-Muslim audience. Is it really them linking Islam to terrorism? We're surrounded with images and videos of jihadists yelling "Allahu Akbar" and quoting passages from the Quran before beheading someone (usually a non-Muslim), setting off an explosion, or rallying others to battle. Who is really making this connection?
What would you do if this situation was reversed? What are non-Muslims supposed to think when even moderate Muslims like yourselves defend the very same words and book that these fundamentalists effortlessly quote as justification for killing them -- as perfect and infallible?
Like other moderates, Reza Aslan frequently bemoans those who read the Quran "literally." Interestingly enough, we sort of agree on this: the thought of the Quran being read "literally" -- or exactly as Allah wrote it -- unsettles me as much as it unsettles Reza.
This is telling, and Reza isn't alone. Many of you insist on alternative interpretations, some kind of metaphorical reading -- anything to avoid reading the holy book the way it's actually written. What message do you think this sends? To those on the outside, it implies there is something lacking in what you claim is God's perfect word. In a way, you're telling the listener to value your explanations of these words over the sacred words themselves. Obviously, this doesn't make a great case for divine authorship. Combined with the claims that the book is widely misunderstood, it makes the writer appear either inarticulate or incompetent. I know that's not the message you mean to send -- I've been where you are. But it is important to understand why it comes across that way to many non-Muslims.
If any kind of literature is to be interpreted "metaphorically," it has to at least represent the original idea. Metaphors are meant to illustrate and clarify ideas, not twist and obscure them. When the literal words speak of blatant violence but are claimed to really mean peace and unity, we're not in interpretation/metaphor zone anymore; we're heading into distortion/misrepresentation territory. If this disconnect was limited to one or two verses, I would consider your argument. If your interpretation were accepted by all of the world's Muslims, I would consider your argument. Unfortunately, neither of these is the case.
You may be shaking your head at this point. I know your explanations are very convincing to fellow believers. That's expected. When people don't want to abandon their faith or their conscience, they'll jump on anything they can find to reconcile the two.
But believe me, outside the echo chamber, all of this is very confusing. I've argued with Western liberals who admit they don't find these arguments convincing, but hold back their opinions for fear of being seen as Islamophobic, or in the interest of supporting moderates within the Muslim community who share their goals of fighting jihad and fundamentalism. Many of your liberal allies are sincere, but you'd be surprised how many won't tell you what they really think because of fear or political correctness. The only difference between them and Bill Maher is that Maher actually says it.
Unfortunately, this is what's eating away at your credibility. This is what makes otherwise rational moderate Muslims look remarkably inconsistent. Despite your best intentions, you also embolden anti-Muslim bigots -- albeit unknowingly -- by effectively narrowing the differences between yourselves and the fundamentalists. You condemn all kinds of terrible things being done in the name of your religion, but when the same things appear as verses in your book, you use all your faculties to defend them. This comes across as either denial or disingenuousness, both of which make an honest conversation impossible.
This presents an obvious dilemma. The belief that the Quran is the unquestionable word of God is fundamental to the Islamic faith, and held by the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, fundamentalist or progressive. Many of you believe that letting it go is as good as calling yourself non-Muslim. I get that. But does it have to be that way?
Having grown up as part of a Muslim family in several Muslim-majority countries, I've been hearing discussions about an Islamic reformation for as long as I can remember. Ultimately, I came to believe that the first step to any kind of substantive reformation is to seriously reconsider the concept of scriptural inerrancy.
And I'm not the only one. Maajid Nawaz, a committed Muslim, speaks openly about acknowledging problems in the Quran. Recently, in a brave article here right here on The Huffington Post, Imra Nazeer also asked Muslims to reconsider treating the Quran as infallible.
Is she right? At first glance, this may be a shocking thought. But it's possible, and it actually has precedent.
I grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the Internet. We had an after-school tutor who taught us to read and recite the Quran in classical Arabic, the language in which it's written.
My family is among the majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims -- concentrated in countries like Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran -- that doesn't speak Arabic. Millions of us, however, can read the Quran in Arabic, even if we don't understand it.
In most Muslim households, the Quran is physically placed at the highest place possible. In our house, it was at the top of a tall bookshelf. It cannot be physically touched unless an act of ablution/purification (wudhu) is first performed. It cannot be recited or touched by menstruating women. It is read in its entirety during the Sunni taraweeh prayers in the holy month of Ramadan. In many Muslim communities, it is held over the heads of grooms and brides as a blessing when they get married. A child completing her first reading of the Quran is a momentous occasion -- parties are thrown, gifts are given.
But before the Internet, I rarely met anyone -- including the devoutly religious -- who had really read the Quran in their own language. We just went by what we heard from our elders. We couldn't Google or verify things instantaneously like we do now.
There were many things in the Quran we didn't know were in there. Like Aslan, we also mistakenly thought that harsh punishments in Saudi Arabia like decapitation and hand amputation were cultural and not religious. Later, we learned that the Quran does indeed prescribe beheadings, and says clearly in verse 5:38 that thieves, male or female, should have their hands cut off.
Now, there are also other things widely thought to be in the Quran that aren't actually in there. A prominent example is the hijab or burka -- neither is mentioned in the Quran. Also absent is stoning to death as a punishment -- it's mentioned in the hadith(the Sunnah, or traditions of the Prophet), and even in the Old Testament -- but not in the Quran.
Neither male nor female circumcision (M/FGM) are found in the Quran. Again, however, both are mentioned in the hadith. When Aslan discussed FGM, he neglected to mention that of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Shafi'i school makes FGM mandatory based on these hadith, and the other three schools recommend it. This is why Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, mostly Shafi'i, where Aslan said women were "absolutely 100% equal" to men, has an FGM prevalence of at least 86%, with over 90% of families supporting the practice. And the world's largest Arab Muslim country, Egypt, has an FGM prevalence of over 90%. So yes, both male and female genital cutting pre-date Islam. But it is inaccurate to say that they have no connection whatever to the religion.
That is the kind of information I could never reliably access growing up. But with the Internet came exposure.
Suddenly, every 12-year-old kid could search multiple translations of the Quran by topic, in dozens of languages. Nothing was hidden. It was all right there to see. When Lee Rigby's murderer cited Surah At-Tawbah to justify his actions, we could go online and see exactly what he was talking about. When ISIS claims divine sanction for its actions by citing verse 33 from Surah Al-Maaidah or verse 4 from Surah Muhammad, we can look it up for ourselves and connect the dots.
Needless to say, this is a pretty serious problem, one that you must address. When people see moderates insisting that Islam is peaceful while also defending these verses and claiming they're misunderstood, it appears inconsistent. When they read these passages and see fundamentalists carrying out exactly what they say, it appears consistent. That's scary. You should try to understand it. Loudly shouting "Racist!" over the voices of critics, as Ben Affleck did over Maher and Sam Harris last week, isn't going to make it go away.
(Also, if you think criticizing Islam is racist, you're saying that all of Islam is one particular race. There's a word for that.)
Yes, it's wrong and unfair for anyone to judge a religion by the actions of its followers, be they progressive Muslims or al Qaeda. But it is appropriate and intellectually honest to judge it by the contents of its canonical texts -- texts that are now accessible online to anyone and everyone at the tap of a finger.
Today, you need to do better when you address the legitimate questions people have about your beliefs and your holy book. Brushing off everything that is false or disturbing as "metaphor" or "misinterpretation" just isn't going to cut it. Neither is dismissing the questioner as a bigot.
How, then, to respond?
For starters, it might help to read not only the Quran, but the other Abrahamic texts. When you do, you'll see that the Old Testament has just as much violence, if not more, than the Quran. Stoning blasphemersstoning fornicatorskilling homosexuals -- it's all in there. When you get about ten verses deep into Deuteronomy 20, you may even swear you're reading a rulebook for ISIS.
You may find yourself asking, how is this possible? The book of the Jews is not much different from my book. How, then, are the majority of them secular? How is it that most don't take too seriously the words of the Torah/Old Testament -- originally believed to be the actual word of God revealed to Moses much like the Quran to Muhammad -- yet still retain strong Jewish identities? Can this happen with Islam and Muslims?
Clearly from the above, the answer is a tried-and-tested yes. And it must start by dissociating Islamic identity from Muslim identity -- by coming together on a sense of community, not ideology.
Finding consensus on ideology is impossible. The sectarian violence that continues to plague the Muslim world, and has killed more Muslims than any foreign army, is blatant evidence for this. But coming together on a sense of community is what moves any society forward. Look at other Abrahamic religions that underwent reformations. You know well that Judaism and Christianity had their own violence-ridden dark ages; you mention it every chance you get nowadays, and you're right. But how did they get past that?
Well, as much as the Pope opposes birth control, abortion and premarital sex, most Catholics today are openly pro-choice, practice birth control, and fornicate to their hearts' content. Most Jews are secular, and many even identify as atheists or agnostics while retaining the Jewish label. The dissidents and the heretics in these communities may get some flak here and there, but they aren't getting killed for dissenting.
This is in stark contrast to the Muslim world where, according to a worldwide 2013 Pew Research Study, a majority of people in large Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Pakistan believe that those who leave the faith must die. They constantly obsess over who is a "real" Muslim and who is not. They are quicker to defend their faith from cartoonists and filmmakers than they are to condemn those committing atrocities in its name. (Note: To their credit, the almost universal, unapologetic opposition against ISIS from Muslims is a welcome development.)
The word "moderate" has lost its credibility. Fareed Zakaria has referred to Middle Eastern moderates as a "fantasy." Even apologists like Nathan Lean are pointing out that the use of this word isn't helping anyone.
Islam needs reformers, not moderates. And words like "reform" just don't go very well with words like "infallibility."
The purpose of reform is to change things, fix the system, and move it in a new direction. And to fix something, you have to acknowledge that it's broken -- not that it looks broken, or is being falsely portrayed as broken by the wrong people -- but that it's broken. That is your first step to reformation.
If this sounds too radical, think back to the Prophet Muhammad himself, who was chased out of Mecca for being a radical dissident fighting the Quraysh. Think of why Jesus Christ was crucified. These men didn't capitulate or shy away from challenging even the most sacred foundations of the status quo.
These men certainly weren't "moderates." They were radicals. Rebels. Reformers. That's how change happens. All revolutions start out as rebellions. Islam itself started this way. Openly challenging problematic ideas isn't bigotry, and it isn't blasphemy. If anything, it's Sunnah.
Get out there, and take it back.

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