On December 11, Mohammed Dajani along with Irshad Manji addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of Manji’s remarks.
Islam needs to transition away from the past and move on to the future. The concept of “reform” implies a return to the past. Christianity, and Judaism are religions of moderation, reconciliation, and peace. Because these qualities are essential to the human pursuit of felicity and security, these religions are part of the solution to conflict. Unfortunately, all of these faiths can be perverted and abused by extremists, who cherry-pick verses to support their own agendas. Would-be peacemakers need to remember that their religions share the same moral values, including the golden rule, the prohibition against evil, and encouragement to do good deeds. Moderation is a core human virtue that can cultivate social harmony and peaceful coexistence.
In this sense, moderation is fundamental to Islam, with a clear basis that can be found in many surahs and hadith. Justifications for religious freedom, gender equality, and abolition of the death penalty can all be found in Islam. Only rational analysis of religious texts and principles enables one to reach a moderate and righteous version of Islam. Moderate Muslims also need to learn that jihad is the spiritual struggle within themselves against evil and sin, not a struggle against nonbelievers.
While extremists can select surahs and hadith to support their narrow interpretations of Islam, proper religious study looks at the intention of the text and teachings. Strictly literal interpretations do not provide true meaning — Islam should look at the Christian reformation, which distanced the religion from literal interpretations of the Bible. Islam’s ultimate aim is the betterment of humanity, so it must be studied with a human heart, not a heart of stone.
Moderates are also impelled to stand up against extremism committed in the name of Islam. Extremism will not be eradicated by a war of hatred, but by moderates conquering fear and promoting reconciliation. Muslims, Christians, and Jews know little about each other’s religion; thoughtful interfaith dialogue can combat ignorance and highlight the good in all sides. Government, civil society, and think tanks also have a role in combating extremism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
While Arabs have monopolized Islam and imposed their terminology and interpretation, extremism promoted by the likes of Ibn Taymiyah, Sayyed Qutb, and others is not cultural. For example, female genital mutilation, the veil, enmity toward Jews and Christians, the stoning of adulteresses, and the killing of apostates and homosexuals are not prescribed in the Quran, nor are they traditionally Islamic, yet they are being practiced by extremists today. Moderate Muslims do not advocate or practice these backward views.
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This summary was prepared by Patrick Schmidt for The Washington Institute.