Perhaps the major theological problem confronting the revisionist Muslim community today—i.e., those whom we call “moderates” or “secular-oriented intellectuals”—is the canonical scriptures which define their faith and without which Islam would cease to exist. The dilemma for these “enlightened Muslims” is the Koran itself, with its ubiquitous summons to warfare, conquest, enslavement and social and economic persecution of vanquished peoples, which is why they are preoccupied, to the brink of obsession, with the twin concepts of re-interpretation and contextualization.
These meliorists are convinced that Islam is diametrically opposed to something called “Islamism,” that Islam is essentially a “religion of peace” rather than a bellicose imperial movement and that its founding texts therefore invite reinterpretation. This belief can be readily demolished by anyone with a cursory acquaintance with the Islamic literature and a modicum of common sense. For once the incendiary and violent passages are expurgated from the Koran and the Hadith, and the philosophical and political curriculum appropriately bowdlerized, there is far too little left over on which to base a credible and authoritative, world-historical faith. Indeed, as I have argued before, the result would resemble a version of Baha’i’ and could no longer legitimately be called Islam. Re-interpretation is effectively a dead end, a theological placebo swallowed by the naïve or the willfully ignorant who find the strong medicine of reality unpalatable or even abhorrent.
The notion of contextualization fares no better. Here the thesis is that one must adopt a historical or dialectical perspective on the progressive evolution of belief systems. The repugnant portions of the scriptures are understood to apply only to the times in which they were conceived and written. Of course, there is some truth to this contention. The Bible also contains offensive passages which have been despumated with the passing of time. But the difference between the Bible and the Koran is categorical. The former is largely narrative and parabolic in structure and the parts we would regard as objectionable are comparatively few. The Koran, on the contrary—especially the longer, Medinan section—is almost unrelentingly belligerent and exhortative, commanding the believer to slay, conquer, oppress and impose draconian taxes on those who have been subjugated.
To say, as did reformer Salim Mansur, an apostle of contextualization, that Jesus should not be held responsible for the actions of his followers and therefore, by implication, neither should Mohammed is to miss the point entirely. Jesus commanded the faithful to turn the other cheek, not to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (Koran 9:5). Jesus is in no need of contextualization. Judaism differs inasmuch as the messiah has not yet arrived and the fundamental commandments are both few and benign. In Christianity, as we have noted, Jesus is a harbinger of peace and love, and his exegetes, like Saint Paul, are fallible human beings whose utterances are seen to be open to debate. In Islam, however, the word of the Prophet, transmitted by Allah via the angel Gabriel, is set in theological stone; it cannot …read more