Friday Ephemera

Act Casual, Say Nothing (2)

Robert Spencer responds to Ed Husain’s Guardian article, in which he claims that Spencer, Ibn Warraq and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are playing into the hands of jihadists:

The contention is that because I - and Hirsi Ali, and Ibn Warraq, and others - point out that there is a broad and deeply rooted tradition of violence and supremacism within Islam, therefore we are marginalising other Islamic traditions and legitimising bin Laden. In saying this, Husain implies that jihadism is a clear Islamic heresy, and that there is a broad tradition within Islam that rejects violence against non-Muslims and Islamic supremacism - and that Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq and I are ignoring or downplaying it out of some base motives. Bin Laden or someone like him invented jihadism and grafted it onto a religion that has otherwise peaceful teachings.

In reality, however, while there are a few courageous reformers out there, all - not just one, or a few, but all - the orthodox sects and schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach that it is part of the responsibility of the Islamic community to wage war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law (references can be found here). There is no sect or school recognised as orthodox that rejects this. It is not playing into bin Laden’s hands to point it out; in fact, it is playing into bin Laden’s hands to deny it and denigrate those who point out that it is so, for there can be no reform of what one will not admit needs reforming.

Indeed. What’s interesting to me is how Husain’s transformation from extremist to ‘moderate’ seems to involve a denial of jihad’s historical and theological lineage and ultimately hinges on a conception of Muhammad that is, to say the very least, open to question: 

For me, it is [Muhammad’s] guidance, compassion, humanity, warmth, love, kindness that rescued me, and others, from Islamist extremism… His was a smiling face. His tomb in Medina today radiates the peace and serenity to which he was called.

And herein lies a problem. Any remotely critical, contextualised reading of Muhammad’s life, rule and purported ‘revelations’ will call into question Husain’s rather sugary imaginings. Assertions of Muhammad’s “compassion” or “kindness” are easily contested, often abrogated, and do little to inhibit jihadists who know their theology and history quite well, perhaps better than Mr Husain. Those who use Muhammad’s own words and example as a mandate for violence, coercion and atrocity are unlikely to be convinced by talk of “smiling faces” and radiant tombs. And the phenomenon of global jihad, arguably the issue of the age, will not be made to go away by ignoring its deep and problematic roots.

There are, of course, countless degrees of religious affiliation and many believers will be remarkably ignorant of their supposed prophet’s life and less edifying deeds. Many will know only the sketchiest and most sanitised accounts of who and what Muhammad was. More to the point, there will among many be a strong emotional disinclination to look critically at the founder of their religion - and at what that might imply about their own credulity. The potential for dissonance and resentment – to say nothing of embarrassment - is pretty obvious.

Judging by his Guardian article, Ed Husain seems to have lurched from Islamist to ingénue without pausing to reflect on the question of whether his belief in Muhammad as a numinous figure is fundamentally misplaced. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising. If a believer were to look critically at the most reliable accounts of Muhammad’s life, it would, I think, be difficult to reconcile the man’s supposedly numinous status with his actual behaviour. Could such a questionable figure really be a timeless example and inspired by the divine? And doesn’t that kind of question risk undermining the entire, dubious, edifice?

Update: Mary Jackson has more on Mr Husain’s contortions.

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