"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
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Thursday, October 28, 2004
  Can Islam Be Reformed?
(Author's Note - My apologies in advance, I know this posting is a little long, but I personally found the exchange fascinating, and have reproduced relevant portions.)

I've been following an interesting set of articles between Stephen Schwartz (a moderate Muslim) and Robert Spencer (director of JihadWatch). It all started when Schwartz published a paper at FrontPage Magazine The "Islamic Reformation" Revisited, which argued that Islam didn't need to be reformed, but instead to return to its "true" nature.
I say therefore that Islam needs no Reformation, merely to return to its long-established tradition: pluralistic, spiritual, and committed to the protection and refinement of its civilizational heritage. Nothing need be abandoned; nothing will be lost in God's message. The outcome should be obvious: Islam will survive and be revived as a civilization of beauty, or there will be no Islam.
This is essentially the viewpoint of President Bush; the (Islamic) terrorists aren't religious or Muslims - they hijacked one of the world's great religions. In response, FrontPage published two articles (combined in one article), An Islamic Renewal?. The first part of this article was penned by Mustafa Akyol, another moderate Muslim who disagrees with Scwartz because he believes that there are parts of Islam that must be thrown out (namely parts of the Hadith, the collected sayings of Muhammad). In the second part, Robert Spencer presents some prescient questions to Mr. Schwartz's dismissal of any need for reformation:
A few final questions: how will this revived civilization of pluralism and beauty induce Muslims to set aside the command to fight Jews and Christians until they convert or submit and pay the jizya (Qur'an 9:29)? Or the idea that it is permissible to kill those who leave Islam (Qur'an 4:89, 2:217)? Or lying to protect Islam (taqiyyah), as based on Qur'an 16:106? Or Muhammad's statement that "no Muslim should be killed for killing an infidel" (Sahih Bukhari, volume 4, book 52, number 283)? Or all the many Qur'anic declarations of hostility toward Jews and Christians (see Qur'an 2:62-65, 5:59-60, 7:166, 9:30, 98:6, etc.)?

There are many other elements I could raise that should be rejected: the punishments for adultery and theft, the whole legal superstructure of dhimmitude, etc. In short, Schwartz's statement that "nothing need be abandoned" raises critical questions -- chief among them being this: Shouldn't the needed Islamic renaissance (or reformation -- whichever you prefer) be an explicit abandonment of Qur'anic literalism? And if it isn't, how will it keep that literalism from reappearing?
Schwartz (who didn't respond to an earlier posting by Mr. Spencer about another of his articles) responds to Mr. Spencer's questions in an article published at FrontPage Magazine today, A Schwartz-Spencer Exchange. Instead of answering the questions though, Mr. Schwartz responds with disdain to a non-Muslim:
Third, I do not feel compelled to reply to Mr. Spencer's disquisitions on my religion because I not not consider him in the slightest manner competent to comment on my religion. He has a magpie knowledge of what he imagines Islam to be based on fairy tales and armchair reading. His obvious aim is to instil fear of Islam in Western readers who know even less than he knows about the faith of Muhammad. I do not in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims, except when they are made by apologists for Wahhabism. I am more interested in convincing Muslims of the need for moderation, than in wasting my time trying to persuade biased non-Muslims that moderate Islam exists.
Spencer's reply is eloquent, with just a dash of tongue-in-cheek:
I was saddened to read Mr. Schwartz's letter, particularly its heading, since I have never attacked him in any way. I have merely asked questions about his recommendations for a reconfiguration of Islam so as to make it no longer a refuge and motivating force for international terrorists. Had Mr. Schwartz answered these questions honestly, fully, and civilly, we might have been on the way to a fruitful dialogue that could have helped accomplish what he professes to work for: "convincing Muslims of the need for moderation.”

But instead, we learn that he does not “in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims.” In this I suppose Schwartz demonstrates his bona fides as a moderate Muslim, for while his radical coreligionists want to kill, convert, or subjugate us (cf. Qur’an 9:29), Schwartz merely won’t speak to us. Thank heaven for small favors. But I can’t help but wonder: this Islamic Ozymandias may demand that I tremble silently before his mighty works, but what of other non-Muslims? Does he really mean to dismiss out of hand the great scholarly works on Islam of John Wansbrough? Patricia Crone? A. S. Trittan? Arthur Jeffrey? Joseph Schacht? Bat Ye’or?

Are ex-Muslims acceptable? Would Schwartz deign to respond to Ibn Warraq? Ali Sina? Or does leaving Islam disqualify one from understanding it? What about, then, the heroic Iranian dissident Ali Dashti, author of a revealing study of Muhammad’s career, 23 Years, who as far as anyone knows never explicitly renounced Islam? Would Schwartz have responded to Ali Dashti before he was tortured and killed by Khomeini’s thugs? Yet many of the questions I have raised about Islam and the Qur’an are raised also by Ali Dashti. Are they valid questions coming from him, but not from me?

Unfortunately for Schwartz, his stance is self-defeating. I have asked him a number of questions about the Qur’an and Islam. He has chosen not to answer them, but to characterize them as personal attacks and to content himself with impugning my knowledge of the subject. The result is that for every person of good will, the questions remain. Islamic texts are widely and easily available today. Do they mean one thing when non-Muslims read them and another when Muslims read them? If only Muslims possess the secret key to understanding them, and will not share that key with anyone else, non-Muslims will continue to read these texts, and to see the easy use to which Muslim radicals put them in recruiting and motivating terrorists. But Schwartz will not share his secret decoder ring with us, and so instead of demonstrating true Islamic moderation, he leaves the field to the radicals.
Mr. Spencer has done an excellent job of pointing to the ultimate problem with Islam and Muslims; until Muslims are willing to at least temper faith with reason (let alone "fix reason firmly in her seat"), there will never be progress in the Muslim world. I think he is definitely a blogger worthy of further study. Check him out here.

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