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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Followup on "killing the filthy Kuffar"

Last week I mentioned a Jihad Unspun article showing, from an extreme Islamist perspective, how at least one literal interpretation of the Koran is about as intolerant and bigoted and supermacist as is possible.

My question was and remains, what, if any, is the basis within Islamic jurisprudence to disagree with this interpretation?

A couple of years ago a front-page article in The Spectator pretty much claimed that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. In what may be an oversimplification, the author says that while the Koran has many contradictory verses, in general the later verses trump the earlier ones and (also in general) the later verses tend to be more intolerant.

One serious attempt to refute that article was published in Islamica magazine, and while that author blunts some of the arguments he does not seem to really attack them head on. He anecdotally claims that moderate Islamic scholars have spoken out against the extremist interpretations within Islamic law, however he brings as an example of "moderation" statements by Sheikh Qaradawi, who has written his own fatwas supporting suicide bombing Israeli civilians. He also tries to deflect the argument by comparing Koranic verses with Old Testament verses that seem to be much more radical, which is not so much an argument as it is misdirection.

Daniel Pipes is famous for saying that "militant Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution." However, in a rather exhaustive review by Laurence Auster, Pipes' thesis that moderate Islam represents the majority of Muslims is questioned, as Pipes himself seems unable to come up with a meanigful way to differentiate them.

My question is a bit more basic. Islamic law may be arcane to Western ears but fundamentally it should be a coherent legal system with reproducible and explainable rules. It should not be a big stretch for a knowledgable Muslim to be able to explain to a Western audience some basic rules of interpretation and be able to illuminate how some Koranic verses can be shown to not be taken literally or to have been superceded by other legal considerations.

If a Jew or a non-Jew interprets a Torah verse or a Talmudic argument in a way that makes it look evil, there are no shortage of modern Torah scholars who are ready and willing to create web pages and articles that rebut the arguments one by one. The quality of the back-and-forth arguments are almost irrelevant (a layman would not know easily which arguments are more convincing) but the important thing is that religious Jews are so emotionally invested in their belief system and its underlying basic texts that they will happily research and teach their methods of interpretation to anyone who asks.

Islam, on the surface, is similar to Judaism in that it is a legal-based religion, unlike Christianity. If the extremist interpretations are so abhorrent to the vast majority of Muslims, including Muslim scholars as the Islamica article attests, then where are the web pages that refute the jihadist interpretations, point by point? Where are the books and articles that go into detail about these verses? If the extremists are such a tiny minority, why are we not seeing them treated the way that the Neturei Karta was treated by every major Orthodox Jewish group in the wake of their visit to Iran?

Much of Robert Spencer's work seems to show that there is no real alternative way to interpret Islam that does not tend to support extremism. Where are the Muslims that can prove him wrong - in the context of the Koran and Shari'a?

Because even if the arguments are esoteric and delve deeply into Islamic legal principles that outside people could not possibly appreciate, just the existence of such resources would go a long way towards the West believing that militant Islam is an anomaly and not mainstream.

Personally, I really want to believe that moderate Islam exists and is predominant. But the most moderate Islam that I have seen has been either still way too extreme for Western cultural mores (Qaradawi), or a clear repudiation of Islam's basic tenets (Wafa Sultan).

Am I wrong?