It has become clear that the neocons and those who support them in and outside the United States take Islam to be their main enemy, and the main challenge to Western civilization after the collapse of communism. They therefore aim at nothing less than the transformation of this religion to make it compatible with so-called Western values. The different aspects of their policies concerning the Muslim world, whether they be military, economic, political or cultural, are only different ways and means to achieve that goal.
One such means is the invitation to Muslims to reinterpret their religion; some of those who call for this have the audacity of even telling Muslims how to do it. What does a reinterpretation of Islam consist in? It is a misnomer for distorting the religion and replacing it by something else that has the same name. Islam is the message which God revealed to Prophet Muhammad to be conveyed as guidance to humanity from his time until the end of the world. This message was properly understood by the Prophet, to whom it was revealed, and by the people to whom he conveyed it, and by all generations of learned Muslims who followed in their footsteps
Faithful Muslims have many good reasons for rejecting this invitation to reinterpret, to transform, their religion.
First, because it is based on the assumption that the message of Islam is no longer true or useful as it stands. But this amounts to a declaration that it was not, in the first place, revealed by God as a final message. God does not err, and He cannot be ignorant of the circumstances that He will cause to prevail at different times of history. It also amounts to a rejection of Muhammad as God’s final Prophet. If God sent down the message as a final message and to Muhammad as a final Prophet, that message must be true; it must be good; and it must be suitable for all people at all times and places; Muhammad must always be accepted as the sole ultimate interpreter of that message by his words as well as his example.
Second, because Allah warned us not to follow the ways of the Jews and the Christians in distorting the meanings of His words.
Third, because this distortion is an immoral act; it is the worst example of deception: you do not like what you find in a sacred text, so you replace it by something that suits your whims or the whims of your society, and then attribute that whimsical meaning to God. You make God say what you want to say. So instead of being guided by God’s words, you appoint yourself as the one who tells God what to say. As God has said in the Quran, “Then who doth greater wrong than he who deviseth a lie concerning God, that he may lead mankind astray without knowledge. Lo! God guides not wrongdoing folk” (6:144)
Fifth, it is a futile attempt:
- because God has promised to preserve this message as a reminder, athikr, and therefore as something that affects the thinking and behavior of those who believe in it. There will therefore always be Muslims who understand this message and believe in it as it was revealed.
- because no one has the right to make that reinterpretation and impose it on the rest of the Muslims
- because it is an ending process; if a reinterpretation is made today to satisfy the prevailing whims of some Western values, why can’t it also be done to satisfy some other different values prevailing tomorrow; and why can’t it be done today to satisfy some local values?
Six, Islam is confessed even by those who call for this reinterpretation, to be the fastest growing religion — even in Western countries like the United States. If Jews and Christians who are citizens of these countries leave their reinterpreted and distorted religions and seek refuge in one that is preserved in its pristine truth, why should Muslims make their religion like the one that these people flee? Does that make any sense?
Seven, the invitation to reinterpret Islam is an invitation to make it compatible with Western secular values. We are not, and many people in the West itself are not, impressed by these values. We believe, as they do, that they are behind the moral decadence that is increasingly spreading in the West, and which is bound to cause its fall if it continues unchecked. No amount of scientific, technological or material power can save the West from such a fate. Only a return to a true religion will do so. When we insist on keeping Islam in its pristine purity, and when we invite people in the West to accept it as such, we are in fact doing them a great service. The real enemies of the West are those in the midst of its people who do not see it, or do not care to see it, heading towards the precipice.
Eight, it is true that there is much in Islam which is not compatible with Western values. But who said that it is only those Western values that suit our modern times? There is indeed much that is good in the West, and we are ready to adopt it and benefit from it because we don’t see any incompatibility between it and Islamic beliefs, values or laws. But to borrow what is good in the West, and benefit from it, does not commit Muslims to accept every thing Western. Only narrow-minded and culturally blind people think so.
Jaafar S. Idris
12 February 2005