Rushdie calls for Islamic reformation
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Author Salman Rushdie has suggested that “nothing less than a reform movement” will do “to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air.”
In an article in the Washington Post on Sunday, the author who now lives in New York, argues that the “deeper alienations” that lead to terrorism may have their roots not so much in the objections of young Muslims, such as the London bombers, to events in Iraq or elsewhere, but because the “closed communities” of some traditional Western Muslims are places in which young men’s alienations can easily deepen. What is needed is a move beyond tradition, he adds.
Rushdie is critcal of the Blair government’s strategy of relying on traditional, essentially orthodox Muslims to help eradicate Islamist radicalism. “Traditional Islam,” he writes, “is a broad church that certainly includes millions of tolerant, civilised men and women but also encompasses many whose views on women’s rights are antediluvian, who think of homosexuality as ungodly, who have little time for real freedom of expression, who routinely express anti-Semitic views and who, in the case of the Muslim diaspora, are - it has to be said - in many ways at odds with the Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish cultures among which they live.”
The British-Indian author points out that in Leeds from where the London bombers came, many traditional Muslims lead “inward-turned lives of near-segregation from the wider population.” From such defensive, separated worlds some youngsters have indefensibly stepped across a moral line and taken up their lethal rucksacks.
He is of the opinion that it would be good to see governments and community leaders inside the Muslim world as well as outside it throwing their weight behind this idea of reform, because creating and sustaining such a reform movement will require a new educational impetus whose results may take a generation to be felt. New scholarship will be needed to replace the “literalist diktats and narrow dogmatisms” that plague present-day Muslim thinking.
Writes Rushdie, “It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it. It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose origins were recorded historically and thus are grounded not in legend but in fact.” He stresses that the Quran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the 7th century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. The Prophet (peace by upon him), as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Quran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, “a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless and, yes, the orphans.”
Rushdie argues that the Holy Prophet was also a successful merchant and heard, on his travels, the Nestorian Christians’ desert versions of Bible stories that the Quran mirrors closely. “It ought to be fascinating to Muslims everywhere to see how deeply their beloved book is a product of its place and time, and in how many ways it reflects the Prophet’s own experiences.
However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence that the Quranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical, scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socio-economics of 7th century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger’s personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?”
According to the author of the controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, that most Muslims to this day consider blasphemous, the traditionalists’ refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamo-fascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes.
If, however, the Quran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the 7th century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. “The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance of the concept that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities. Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace. This is how to take up the ‘profound challenge’ of the bombers.”