Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"The truth cannot be overcome"

Muslim reformer Khaleel Mohammed, in a March 6th essay originally published in the Ottawa Citizen, describes the reaction when he criticizes certain aspects of Islam:

Whenever I criticize some aspects of traditional and contemporary Islam in public, the reactions are boringly uniform. The leaders of national Islamic organizations come out with harsh denunciations of my views, while individuals within the community write to congratulate me. Some do question my motives, advising that my harsh words might add to rampant Islamophobia.

My answer is always the same: I do what I do because I see myself, especially in my role as a scholar, as being so commanded by my God, "O you who believe, be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives" (Koran 4:135).

When the Feb. 6 edition of the Citizen put my comments on its front page, the reaction was predictable. It was no less different when in March 2004, at a conference in Montreal, I made the statement that many mosques preach anti-Jewish and anti-Christian rhetoric. I was, the leaders of some Muslim organizations declared, destroying the bridges of rapprochement that had been built between communities. On these occasions I point to translations of the very first chapter of the Koran that have interpolations that preach hatred against Jews and Christians. I can quote exegete after exegete. The truth cannot be overcome.

The following passage sheds light on the climate of censorship that has been imposed in Muslim communities worldwide:

My statements to the Citizen about the backwardness of my faith community were meant to prod my co-religionists into thinking about themselves and their harsh views of the other. I don't deny for a minute that as a body of people, Muslims in Canada are among the most sophisticated citizens, the holders of degrees and some of the most demandingly intellectual professions. That, however, does not erase the pervasive religious illiteracy that, like a malignant cancer, threatens to destroy the entire corpus of what was once, and still can remain, a great religion.

Scholar Scott Appleby of Notre Dame describes "religious illiteracy" as the low-level or virtual absence of moral reflection and basic theological knowledge among faith followers that could lead to violence against perceived threats. In Islam, this is particularly applicable.

The evidence is blindingly clear: Throughout the world, Muslim intellectuals are punished for daring to criticize. Muhammad Said al-Ashmawy in Egypt is under house arrest for his own protection; Abdel Karim Soroush is beaten in Iran for daring to raise the voice of inquiry, Mahmoud Taha is killed in Sudan. Scholars Rifat Hassan, Fatima Mernissi, Abdallah an-Na'im, Mohammed Arkoun and Amina Wadud are all vilified by the imams for asking Muslims to use their intellects.

It is this ideological rigidity and intolerance in much of the Islamic world, actively fostered by Islamist states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, that lays the groundwork for jihadist extremism. In the long term, it is men and women like Mr. Mohammed who, if they succeed in establishing freedom of thought and expression in Muslim communities, will bring about the defeat of Islamist radicalism.


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