The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists

BOOK: The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists
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K H A L E D A B O U E L FA D L

T H E

GRE AT THEFT

Wrestling Islam from the Extremists

KHALED ABOU EL FADL

This book is dedicated to my teachers, who taught me beauty, compassion, and mercy,

and that the true Islam is the Islam of moderation.

Contents

I
NTRODUCTION

Recently, a rather well-known Islam-basher wrote…

1

P
ART ONE

The Battleground for Faith

9

O
NE

I
SLAM
T
ORN
B
ETWEEN
E
XTREMISM AND
M
ODERATION

Not too long ago, at the end of an invited lecture, I was…

11

T
WO

T
HE
R
OOTS OF THE
P
ROBLEM

All religions, like all sociological and political movements…

26

T
HREE

T
HE
R
ISE OF THE
E
ARLY
P
URITANS

The story of puritanical Islam should properly start with the…

45

F
OUR

T
HE
S
TORY OF
C
ONTEMPORARY
P
URITANS

Puritan movements took things to their logical extreme. The…

95

P
ART
T
WO

Charting the Moderate Versus Puritan Divide

111

F
IVE

W
HAT ALL
M
USLIMS
A
GREE
U
PON

As is the case with all religions, there is a core set of beliefs…

113

S
IX

G
OD AND THE
P
URPOSE OF
C
REATION

T
HE
N
ATURE OF
L
AW AND
M
ORALITY

There is perhaps no issue that sets moderates and puritans…

142

E
IGHT

A
PPROACHES TO
H
ISTORY AND
M
ODERNITY

At the very root of the debates about the nature of God’s…

162

N
INE

D
EMOCRACY AND
H
UMAN
R
IGHTS

In today’s world, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe…

180

T
EN

I
NTERACTING WITH
N
ON
-M
USLIMS AND
S
ALVATION

When it comes to thinking about issues such as how to…

203

E
LEVEN

J
IHAD
, W
ARFARE
,
AND
T
ERRORISM

No aspect of the Islamic religion is in the public eye and…

220

T
WELVE

T
HE
N
ATURE AND
R
OLE OF
W
OMEN

It might be surprising to realize that today the question of the…

250

C
ONCLUSION

Religions, like all strong convictions, are a powerful…

275

The relationship of the individual to God is the most significant… 126
S
EVEN

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS
N
OTES

A
BOUT THE AUTHOR

C
OVER
C
OPYRIGHT

A
BOUT THE PUBLISHER

INTRODUCTION

R

ecently, a rather well-known Islam-basher wrote an article accusing me of being a “stealth Islamist.” By this, I think

he meant that although I pretend to be a moderate Muslim, in truth I am an extremist who promotes a militant agenda. The secretive and conspiratorial tone pervading the article bor- dered on the paranoid, and yet, other than the ad hominem at- tacks on me, the article raised issues that have become matters of general importance, namely, the credibility of the Muslim voice in the West. The issue raised by the article and the prob- lem that has become of more general importance is: When are Muslims truthfully representing the true nature of their beliefs and convictions? What has contributed to the confusion is the lack of any clear demarcating points between extremist and moderate beliefs in Islam. Since it is not likely that any Mus- lim would describe himself or herself as militant or extremist, how can we really know if a particular Muslim writer or group holds fanatical or immoderate, as opposed to main- stream or moderate, convictions and beliefs about Islam? But even more urgently, the challenging question raised by the ar- ticle attacking me is: Who in the West or the United States gets to decide what are to be considered fanatical, extremist, and militant as opposed to moderate, reasonable, and ultimately, acceptable Muslim beliefs.

Particularly after 9/11, there has been a virtual flood of ma- terials published about Muslims, their beliefs, and loyalties, and yet it is fair to say that at no other time has there been as much confusion about Muslims and their beliefs, and Islam and its legacy. Despite President George W. Bush’s assurances that Islam is a peaceful religion and that Muslims are a peace- loving people, and despite his assurances that all good Mus- lims hunger for democracy, the confusion persists. Many non-Muslims in the West seem unwilling to leave matters there and move on. In large measure, what feeds this confu- sion is the flood of printed materials and deluge of talking- heads who clutter the field with often contradictory statements about militant Islam, extremist Muslims, political Islam, liberal Islam and so-called moderate Muslims. To make things worse, added to this chaotic state are pundits who urge people to watch out for subversive discourses, hidden motives, sinister plots, and double-talking Middle Easterners.

When it comes to the subject of Islam, there are many polit- ical interests at stake, and, as history repeatedly teaches us, nothing is as corrupting of religion as politics. This is not to say that Islam, as a religion, has become corrupted by politics. Instead, I am saying that politics and political interests have obfuscated and corrupted our ability to see Islam as a faith that is followed by well over a billion adherents in the world. Islam is the second-largest religious faith in the world, and the reality is that even in liberal and secular democracies, Islam has become the chosen faith of millions. Regardless of how much religious bigots may hate this fact, like Christianity and Judaism, Islam will continue to inspire and guide the convic- tions and actions of millions of adherents in every developed and underdeveloped country in the world. The only question is: What particular type or brand of Islam will tend to pre- dominate and prevail in each setting? Understanding Islam has

become an absolute imperative because achieving such an un- derstanding will determine the type of people we are— whether tolerant or bigoted, whether enlightened or ignorant. In teaching, I am often asked by well-intentioned non- Muslim students, “How can we contribute to a peaceful coex- istence with Muslims?” My response is that merely to resist the temptation to believe those who preach hate, dwell on un- controllable rages, and speculate about inevitable historical showdowns is already doing a lot. In most cases, such lan- guage and paradigms are sensationalistic and lazy replace- ments for the hard work of achieving a genuine understanding. No one is born blistering with hate and out- rage, and often what appears to be hate is in reality thinly con- cealed fear. The only ethically acceptable choice is to seek to

understand.

The problem, however, is that there are elements that make understanding the current Muslim condition particularly chal- lenging. The first and foremost must relate to what I call acts of ugliness surrounding the Muslim context. It is perhaps ele- mentary that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and do not condone terrorism. Yet hardly a time passes with- out a group of extremist Muslims featured in the news, typi- cally because of an act of violence that shocks the world. For those who know Islam only through the media, the legacy of modern Muslims seems to be a long sequence of morally re- pugnant acts. The list of such acts is long and onerous: hostage taking in Iran and Lebanon, death threats against and persecution of writers and thinkers, acts of extreme intoler- ance against women and religious minorities committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, suicide bombings in different parts of the world, and the list goes on. As a result, it is not an exag- geration to say that in the minds of many in the world, Islam has become intimately associated with what can be described

BOOK: The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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