One thing I enjoy reading every Saturday is the WSJ “Review” section. Every Saturday morning at least one article in “Review” enlightens me as to some aspects of our life and world. This morning (3/21/15) what interested me most was its cover story about Islam. The article, which is an adapted excerpt from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book titled Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, sheds light on aspects of Islam that puzzled me for a long time. Granted that I am ignorant about Islam, but I was often unable to reconcile the fact of bloody terrorism perpetrated by Islamic fanatics and the mantra repeated by most Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s discussion of Islam to a great extent clarified the cloud in my head about the “paradox” of Islam.
According to the author, Islam is not a religion of peace. This idea was expressed by many people, particularly westerners who are familiar with Islam and Muslims. However, such an idea expressed by outsiders has always been discounted as prejudicial despite the evidence that most violent and indiscriminate terrorism had been committed by Muslims, from the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 to Mosques attacks in Yemen only a few days ago. Like many religions in their original forms in the world, such as Judaism and Christianity, Islam contains endorsements of violence against some people. The author writes: “It is not just al Qaeda and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice. It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labeled as blasphemy and punishable by death. It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their ‘crime.’” The difference between Islam and Judaism and Christianity is that Islam did not adjust itself even when the historical and special changes demanded some forms of transformation. As the author writes, “because their faiths went through a long, meaningful process of Reformation and Enlightenment, the vast majority of Jews and Christians have come to dismiss religious scripture that urges intolerance or violence.” We are living in the modern world of the 21st century not in the 7th century. So the author proposes the reformation in 5 areas, such as changes in Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran, and the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war, so that Islam may become a true religion of peace.
I thought Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s argument was very honest, thoughtful and convincing, but the caveat is that I was already inclined to agree with him. My hope is that what the author calls “Mecca Muslims,” “the clear majority throughout the Muslim world,” is also going to agree with him and be persuaded into becoming reformers themselves.