False Claims to Authority in Islam Attempt to Undermine Reform

The voices of Muslims who grapple with Islam's troubled history are just as valid as any of those who claim the authority to speak for Islam.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | September 29, 2016

We here at CounterJihad have an interest in the Muslim reformers, including our own Shireen Qudosi, whose recent piece in The Hill has prompted radio interviews and much commentary.  We support those who are free thinkers within Islam, questioning their heritage with a view toward improving it.

Yet there are those within Islam who would like to discredit such reformers.  TIME Magazine published a piece from Qasim Rashid, in which he claims that Muslim reformers are wasting time and money, and equates reform efforts with “promot[ing] fear about Islam and Muslims.”  Most importantly, he writes, “each [reformer] refuses to acknowledge the practical and proven models from Muslim organizations that have long existed well before 9/11 that analyze Islam from a position of honesty and scholarship, and demonstrate that it is not Islam that needs reformation—but Muslims themselves.”

However, Rashid is himself a member of the Ahmadiyya movement — itself a reformist movement that dates only to the 19th century.  It is a movement that makes some claims that are fairly radical when considered in the context of the Islamic world, such as that their founder was born in fulfillment of prophecies about the end of the world.  If “Muslims themselves” were to adopt the Ahmadiyya movement, it would in fact entail a major reformation of Islam itself as well.  The religion would change substantially were Muslims to adopt his views.

This is not unique.  Consider one of the most authoritative statements of Islamic law in recent years, the Amman Message.

In order to give this statement more religious authority, H.M. King Abdullah II then sent the following three questions to 24 of the most senior religious scholars from all around the world representing all the branches and schools of Islam: (1) Who is a Muslim? (2) Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir)? (3) Who has the right to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)?…  In Amman, the scholars unanimously issued a ruling on three fundamental issues (which became known as the ‘Three Points of the Amman Message’):

  • They specifically recognized the validity of all 8 Mathhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic Theology (Ash’arism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim.
  • Based upon this definition they forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
  • Based upon the Mathahib they set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam….

This amounts to a historical, universal and unanimous religious and political consensus (ijma’) of the Ummah (nation) of Islam in our day, and a consolidation of traditional, orthodox Islam. The significance of this is: (1) that it is the first time in over a thousand years that the Ummah has formally and specifically come to such a pluralistic mutual inter-recognition; and (2) that such a recognition is religiously legally binding on Muslims since the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: My Ummah will not agree upon an error (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadithno.4085).

Perfectly clear, right?  Every Muslim must therefore believe that — except the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who recently declared Shia Islam not to be a real form of Islam; or the leader of Hezbollah, who recently declared that Wahhabi Muslims like the Grand Mufti are more evil even than Israel, and opposed to Islam and its heritage.  Or the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that Saudi Arabia was not worthy to protect the religion’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina; or his foreign minister Javad Zarif, Secretary of State John Kerry’s favorite negotiating partner, who published an op-ed in the New York Times proposing to rid the world of Wahhabi Islam.  For that matter, Wahhabi Islam is itself considered a reformist movement by many scholars, in much the same way that fundamentalist Protestant sects were attempting to reform Christianity by stripping away everything except the “core” religion.

All of these efforts to declare who speaks for Islam and what Islam “really” says are themselves reform movements attempting to alter the faith.  The sectarian fighters who claim to speak with authority ultimately disagree with each other on even these most fundamental points, the ones that the Amman Message supposedly clarified in a binding way for all time.  Does that mean that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, or Ayatollah Khamenei, are not true Muslims?  To say that would be to engage in the very takfiri act that is allegedly forbidden by the Amman Message, which presents authority figures with a logical contradiction.

In fact, nothing is more Islamic than takfiri disputes.  Only Muslims engage in them, and they are explicitly about what constitutes the genuine content of Islam.  Our resident Islamic scholar explained the practice’s history at some length in this piece.

The truth is that the so-called authorities on Islam do not agree with each other about what the faith entails.  Islam not only needs a reformation, it is actively engaged in one at every level.  Every one of these authorities, no matter how conservative or “ultraconservative,” represents a faction within an ongoing reformation aiming to alter and unify the faith.  They preach often very different principles, all claiming that their model is the true Islam.

Given that there is no true and reliable authority, why not listen to the voices of those who are thinking it through for themselves?

“We must realize,” I said in my opening statement, that “we are dealing with a political ideology that is parasitically feeding off a religion that is already complex by being both peace and war.”

According to sacred Islamic sources themselves—not hated Islamophobes—the Prophethood of Muhammed was, in fact, both peaceful and war-mongering. Indeed, the Prophet would have been viewed as a violent terrorist to his opponents. I encouraged the audience to not withdraw from threats of bigotry, racism and “Islamophobia.” Muslims will find that, first, we do not suffer when we are offended; even more importantly we will learn that no ideas are above scrutiny, including our own most cherished ones.

Sometimes, they make a lot of sense.  But even if you think they are wrong, consider the value of that last principle:  “no ideas are above scrutiny, including our own most cherished ones.”  That gives you permission to disagree, and to engage in questioning what might really be right.  How valuable that is, and how much more honest than the claims to speak with unerring authority.



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