Sheikh Dr. Umar al Qadri

ISIS; Modern day “reformers” of Islam By Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri

A recent article in an Irish newspaper “We should support the Pope’s crusade against Islamism”, in which the writer, mentioned me, concerns me not only as a Muslim scholar but also as someone who strongly believes in co-existence in the society. The premise of the writer’s argument is that Islam needs a “reformation” in order to make Muslims more peaceful. The writer draws inspiration from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a well-known bigot who describes Islam as “evil” and calls for Western countries to wage a total war against Muslims across the world. The main flaw with their argument is that Islam is already undergoing a reformation.

So-called “Islamist” groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are the modern-day reformers of Islam. These groups oppose the 1400-year-old Islamic tradition of relying upon Muslim scholars and jurists for advice and guidance in relation to matters of religion and politics. The overwhelming majority of the members of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have no formal training in Islamic theology, and nor have many of them served in positions of leadership and authority in relation to Muslims. As Emmanuel Sivan writes in Strong Religion: “The Rise of Fundamentalism Around the World, the leadership of “Islamist” groups is “composed for the most part of university students and modern professionals, autodidacts in religious matters.”
Leaders such as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State are certainly not Islamic scholars, yet Al-Baghdadi issues fatwas (rulings on Islamic law). The Islamic reformation that the writer and Hirsi Ali want is in fact happening before their eyes. This reformation is not enlightening, but rather destructive and damaging to Islam and the world.

The writer is wrong to argue that Muslims are too rigid in their adherence to old, literal interpretations of the Qur’an. She claims that all Muslims use religious texts in the same way and that Islam is a monolithic religion.  It is certainly true that some Muslims have a narrow-minded interpretation of the Qur’an or Hadith, and this is because they reject the 1400-year-old traditional method of interpreting the Quran, which is to understand and know the historic context (maqam) of the verses. Understanding the verses of the Quran out of context always leads to misunderstanding and this applies on all scriptures. A protestant scholar Dr. Donald A. Carson said: “A text without a context is pretext”.  Without examining the context in which a verse was revealed one can easily (or even intentionally) misuse or misapply or misunderstand a scripture. The so-called  “Islamists” promote a literal interpretation of the Quran and this leads to extremism and radicalization. Most Muslims around the world understand the verses of the Quran in light of the context. The verses of the Quran, if read and understood with the context are for Muslims a source for tolerance and respect for non-Muslims.

One of the more intellectually dishonest arguments of the writer’s article is the claim that there are over 100 verses of the Qur’an that call for violent jihad against non-Muslims. The writer does not provide context or give a definition of jihad, which literally means “to struggle.” Jihad does not have one meaning. In fact, it has five different forms including knowledge, charity, struggle for social reforms, and struggle against ones ego and struggle to defend yourself. My recently launched anti radicilisation website provides Muslims and non-Muslims with a much more sophisticated understanding of the term jihad.

Another claim in the writer’s article is that Muslim leaders do not speak out enough against “Islamic extremism.” Scholars and leaders of Islam regularly condemn the actions of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The problem is not that Muslims do not condemn “Islamism,” as the writer suggests, but rather that non-Muslims never hear their voices or listen to their calls for tolerance and peace. The media is partly to blame for this development because news sources typically portray Islam as “violent” and “backwards.”

The writer should carry out more research before coming to conclusions about Islam. Turning to bigots such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali will only increase ignorance and misunderstanding of Muslims. And this also leads to extremism. The writer ended her article by calling for a crusade against Islamist evil. I would like to end my letter by calling for dialogue and a joint crusade against ignorance, as ignorance is the biggest evil of all. It is ignorance of religious teachings that result in terrorism and ignorance of other communities that results in prejudice and hatred.


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