Monday, February 04, 2008

patient research

The latest book I've been looking at is The place of tolerance in Islam by Khaled Abou El Fadl (as main author) and edited by Joshua Cohen and Ian Lague for Boston review (Beacon Press, 2002).

book cover

I found (Abou El) Fadl's initial long essay quite reasonable, despite its apologist overtones. A main difficulty arises in his shifting of moral judgment and clarity away from the Qur'an and onto the reader (p.14-15) [my emphasis]:

In a further example, as to justice, the Qur'an states: "O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, as witnesses for God, even if it means testifying against yourselves, or your parents, or you kin, and whether it is against the rich or poor, for God prevails upon all. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God knows what you do." [Qur'an 4:135] The idea that Muslims must stand up for justice even against their own self-interests is predicated on the notion that human beings are capable of achieving a high level of moral agency. As agents, Muslims are expected to achieve a level of moral conscientiousness, which they will bring to their relationship with God. In regards to every ethical obligation, the Qur'anic text assumes that readers will bring a pre-existing, innate moral sense to the text. Hence, the text will morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the text. The meaning of the religious text is not fixed simply by the literal meaning of its words, but depends, too, on the moral construction given to it by the reader. So if the reader approaches the text without moral commitments, it will almost inevitably yield nothing but discrete, legalistic, technical insights.

see also online: The Place of Tolerance in Islam

However, it is in his Reply to the eleven other contributors that I find him unreasonable or leaning toward an Islamist view. It is especially evident in his frequent - and often subtle - shifting of responsibility away from Muslims and onto non-Muslims. An example (p.96): "After all, isn't the real question whether non-Muslims are willing to tolerate Muslims, instead of the other way around?" Another (p.104): "[...] I believe that Muslims such as the Taliban [...] are not the outgrowth of a religious process, as much as a reaction to external secular forces, such as colonialism or corporate capitalism. "

The most serious example, however, is the moral equivalence demonstrated here (p.98) [my emphasis]:

If Americans allow the attacks of September [11, 2001] to alienate them from their moral values and from the civil liberties won in countless battles over two hundred years, then the terrorists have won. Similarly, if the Muslim response to the state terror inflicted upon them by Israel and other countries is to become alienated from their religious morality, then Muslims have lost something that is far more important than the political struggle - they have lost their moral grounding.

The exact repetition of wording here affirms that Israeli "state terror" is equivalent to the Islamist terror of Sep11, a deliberate act of murder against innocent and unsuspecting civilians. And since Israel has been indulging in "state terror" since (no doubt) at least 1967, it follows that the Sep11 attacks are what you'd expect as a justified retaliation. My own "pre-existing, innate moral sense" tells me that Fadl himself has completely lost his own moral grounding.

This is a man touted as a "moderate" and a respectable scholar of Islamic law (an identity he promotes on his own website: Scholar of the House). This kind of guy gives me the creeps. Utterly. I'm so glad that truer and better scholars like Daniel Pipes are keeping an eye on people like him:

The case of Abou El Fadl points to the challenge of how to discern Islamists who present themselves as moderates. This is still possible to do with Abou El Fadl, who has left a long paper trail; it is harder with those who keep their opinions to themselves. In either case, the key is old-fashioned elbow grease: reading, listening, and watching. There is no substitute for research. It needs to be done by White House staffers, district attorneys, university search committees, journalists, Jewish defense agencies, and churches. Failing proper research, Islamists will push their way through Western institutions and ultimately subvert them.

from Daniel Pipes: Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fadl

Finally, here is the last paragraph of Fadl's Reply (p.111):

God relegated to Muslims a moral trust. At no point in history can Muslims ignore their unending obligations to appropriately discharge this moral trust. The basic and invariable point is that Muslims - and non-Muslims - must understand that it is in the power and is in fact the duty of Muslims of every generation to answer the question: What Islam? The response must not be left in the hands of the bin Ladens of the world.

also online in draft version as: Khaled Abou El Fadl Replies

I would simply add that the response should never have been left in the hands of a man like Mohammad on whom bin Laden conscientiously - and quite precisely - models himself. Mohammad was a thief, a terrorist, an assassin, and a mass murderer. If, as Muslims believe, he is "the best of men" then it follows that Sep11 was a noble act along similarly "noble" lines. Deep down inside men like Fadl - and bin Laden - there must lie a numb and dumb and quivering mass of terrified "innate moral sense" too frightened even to squeak in the name of authentic Truth and Justice. How pathetic and pitiful are these poor Muslims, how cruel has been that Allah that led them to this dire circumstance. I can only thank God that I was not born into that world myself.

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