OPINION: The Muslim Mobius Loop

By Adam Kheroua

What do Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Linda Sarsour and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi all have in common? They love lists of three. In the case Islam, the list presents itself as more of a loop, with three parties each battling one another in an attempt to formulate a coherent concept of Islam that is simultaneously rooted in an out-dated tenth century mindset and an eighteenth century Enlightenment project that has produced modern secular, liberal values, wholly divorced from theological constraints. While Hirsi, Sarsour and Baghdadi might need a few minutes to agree on the contents of a sharing cobb salad, their positions regarding one another couldn’t be clearer:

Each of them knows what’s best for Islam, and none of them know what’s best for Islam.

The fundamental problem with the religion of peace™ is – and always will be – the fact that it has fragmented into pieces. ‘Extreme’ Islamists, or literalist Islamic followers, will denounce their western counterparts for their ignorance towards the ‘sword verses’ of the Qu’ran, as well as western Muslims laissize faire attitude to Islamic doctrine and scripture. As of 2013, 88% of Muslims surveyed in Pakistan, as well as 75% of Muslims surveyed in Bangladesh and Iraq, believe that western entertainment – essentially western culture – is morally corrosive for Muslims. Furthermore, western technological development that has become virtually inseparable from our entertainment culture, such as Facebook and Instagram, are not only considered morally corrosive but also haram, meaning forbidden, under Islamic doctrine. The use of such technologies to share images with friends and family around the world is, without a doubt, a major sin according to the Qu’ran, as well as the Bukhari, as evidenced by the staggering volume of Islamic verses that condemn the act of taking or worshiping images. In fact, to do so can be considered ‘shirk’ – the greatest of all the 70 major sins in Islam, that condemns the worship of any image before Allah – and is punishable by death. On a similar note, research conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2012 found that ‘Globally, views among Muslims trend in the opposite direction: a median of 27% say Islam is open to more than one interpretation’, contrary to the western, pluralistic, a la carte vision of Islam as a malleable set of beliefs that can be subscribed to at the discretion of the believer, rather than extolled by the infallible word of a creator-God. On the face of it, this pick-n-mix western articulation of theism seems ludicrous, since is presupposes that the follower knows more than the deity they presume to follow. This one-size-fits-all approach to religion – an ‘all-thodoxy’, if you will – would mean that any Muslim using Instagram, Facebook or Twitter is committing a sin against their God. Although this mindset seems extreme, it is perfectly reasonable to hold this belief as per the worldview of Medina Muslims, who do not conflate their own individual whims and desires with the unassailable word of their God. This authenticity on the behalf of the more extreme medina Muslim sects gives them the moral authority to delegitimize western Muslims, essentially disabling them from entering into a valid discussion about the ‘need’ for reform in Islam because they are dishonest by virtue of their own practice of Islam.

Be that as it may, Western Muslims, by virtue of their ‘faith’, cannot condone the apostasy of would-be reformers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And as such they too align with the Medina Muslims in this shaming of would-be reformers of the faith. To take one prominent example of a peaceful, western Muslim who engages in a religious ‘all-thodoxy’, I need only present Linda Sarsour.

She’s called for a ‘jihad’ against the United States, publically aligned herself with prolific anti-Semitic figures such as Louis Farrakaan, demanded Ayaan Hirsi Ali be subjected to female genital mutilation and physical assault, openly supported Hamas-inspired political action against Israel that would invariably lead to the dissolution of the Israeli state, and has marched alongside domestic terrorist organizations such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Linda Sarsour is a moderate muslim.

How can one say this with a straight face, you may ask? Well, if you walked into a curry house and your only options were vindaloo, a bucket of ice with a grain of rice on top and the searing-liquid drippings of Mt. Fuji ringed with ghost chillies, I’d imagine you’d be forced to put vindaloo in the middle of that spectrum too. The sad truth is Linda Sarsour is about as far from Michael Adebolajo as she is from Majid Nawas. Sarsour doesn’t eat pork, she doesn’t drink, she observes muslim holidays, believes the word of the Qur’an to be a code that transcends time, place or nation, wants the Jews to be ruled by Muslims and believes in Jihad against the supposed Tagut – tyrant – that occupies the White House currently. Sarsour is no reformer, nor is she hacking off heads in the name of Allah. She is a moderate muslim, such is evidenced by her rather outlandish claims against those who advocate for reformation within her faith. Five minutes of reading the Qur’an will show you that Muslims are duty-bound by their creator-god to call each other religiously illiterate, therefore obfuscating any theological discussion and barring anyone from attempting to address any perceived problem with Allah’s unalterable tome. From the outset of the second surah (chapter) of the Qur’an, Allah is quick to point out that there are Muslims who profess to follow the words of Allah and the faith of Islam, but do so under false pretences, wilfully attempting to defraud their god:

Of the people there are some who say “We believe in Allah and the last day” but they do not (really) believe. Fain would they deceive Allah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves, and realize (it) not… They say “We believe”, but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say “We are really with you, We (were) only jesting”. (S:2 A8 – A14)

Within minutes of picking up the Qur’an, Muslims are told – and taught – that fellow Muslims may be deceiving them if they do not practice their faith a certain way. This undoubtedly breeds a density of subjective perspectivism around the very concept of what it means practically and spiritually to be a ‘proper Muslim’, thus allowing women like Sarsour to denounce the efforts of Islamic reformers, and slander them publicly, as was the case with Hirsi Ali. Conversely, Ali does the exact same thing by denouncing Sarsour, in what appears to be a perennial reconstitution of the historical confrontation within Islam between ‘rationalists [squaring off] against literalist’ (Ali, p.103) throughout three centuries of Islamic history. This battle, to which ‘scholars arguing in favour of human reason have been on the losing end’ (Ali, p.103) came to a head in the tenth century:

At that time, jurists of the various schools of law decided that all the essential questions had been settled and permitting any new interpretations {of the Qur’an} would not be productive. This famous episode became known as the closing of the “gates of ijtihad” (Ali, p.103)

With the question of questioning being answered a thousand years ago, one can see why proper, moderate Muslims like Sarsour might take umbrage with pesky troglodytes such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. After all: a caste of bias, inflexible zealots have already agreed that the Qur’an is perfect, so what gives Ali the right to question their tenth century wisdom with her post-enlightenment, scholarly critique of a document that is as morally abhorrent as pineapple on pizza? This closing of the gates from an intellectual – and interrogative – perspective demands that the Qur’an remain impregnable and perpetually shielded from analysis, even from scholars who are far more qualified to speak on articles of faith than Sarsour can ever hope to be.

And so, the ‘Muslim Mobius loop’ begins to present itself. The ‘moderate’ Muslims denounce the ‘extremists’, who refuse any attempt at reason from the ‘modifying’ Muslims, who then take ‘fake’ Muslims like Linda Sarsour to task for their retrograde, harmful views on Israel and contemporary American politics. These groups can be swapped around, of course – group X delegitimizes group Y, who then delegitimizes group Z. All the while, the issue itself – the Qur’an and the canonical texts that comprise the harmful ideology that uses rape as a form of corporal punishment, promotes paedophile rings across the UK that have destroyed the lives of a generation of young girls, and forbids people from enjoying the unrepentant splendour that is a Bacon Double Cheese burger from Burger King.

As we can see from the meticulously put together image adorning your screen, the three splintered cells operating around Islam prevent any possibility of unity within Islam. When reformerss speak of the need for moderate Muslims to speak out against extremists, what they ought to call for is a unification with those moderates. Individuals such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali ought to be fighting together with Linda Sarsour. A toning down of the political grandstanding and woke twitter jabs, coupled with a humanitarian aim of saving Islam from it’s most abhorrent saboteurs, might just allow for a concentrated push into the nucleus of Islam, and a much-needed scholarly re-articulation of the texts therein.