Thursday, November 30, 2006

Defining Moderate Muslims

Self-proclaimed "Muslim refusenik" Irshad Manji asks a very important question in the Times of London: What is a "moderate" Muslim?

Ms. Manji begins seeking her answer by describing two rather hostile responses she received after commenting on the controversial speech by Pope Benedict. Disturbingly, the messages came from two Muslim Americans who seemed to be anything but radical. After some analysis, Ms. Manji is forced to conclude that the intolerant nature of their comments is reflective of a larger problem:

Imran and Sonya are more representative than I wish. All Muslims are taught that because the Quran comes after the Torah and the Bible, we must regard it as the final and perfect manifesto of the Divine. It is, we’re told, free of ambiguities, contradictions and human editing; in other words, free of the corruption that contaminates Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Thus the central conundrum for us Muslims. If it’s an article of our faith that the Quran is the unfiltered declaration of God, then what makes moderate Muslims “moderate”?

Perhaps it’s that they won’t murder to assert their convictions. But is this enough, given that moderates such as Sonya tolerate the murderers? And, as Imran demonstrates, those of us who dare to imply that the Quran can be questioned are not real Muslims. We are Jews.

Being told that only Jews would condemn Islamic radicalism? Hmmm, that sounds strangely familiar. I guess that puts me in very good company indeed.

Ms. Manji does see reason for optimism in some recent developments:

Fortunately, more and more Muslims are proclaiming that it’s time for a liberal Islamic reformation. Two groups that powerfully attest to this movement are the Democratic Muslims of Denmark and their off-shoot, the Critical Muslims, both of which emerged from the Danish cartoon wars.

It’s revealing that neither group calls itself the “Moderate Muslims”. Their members considered doing so. But in the end, they couldn’t agree on what “moderate” means. Maybe that’s because it means too little. Suppose more of us aimed to be reform-minded instead?

Yet another question to ask during an important week in relations between Muslims and Christians worldwide.

I for one definitely hope that more Muslims answer Ms. Manji's question in the affirmative.


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