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Muslims, Not Islam, Need Reform

By Qasim Rashid
Published May 12, 2011 | HuffingtonPost.com

In her recent Wall Street Journal opinion-editorial, Irshad Manji claims that not just Muslims, but the Quran and Islam itself needs reformation. In conflating the two, Manji ignores the possibility that the owner’s manual might be fine, while the issues lie with the owner. Manji concludes by assuming, again incorrectly, that Muslims are not addressing the Muslim-on-Muslim violence or extremist’s “violent ideology.”

The Quran commands Muslims to conduct a thorough investigation of its meaning (4:95) and, as Manji rightly noted, to repeatedly reflect (2:220) and meditate (4:83). It warns that those with a perverted heart will ignore the decisive foundational verses of the Quran, and manipulate the interpretive verses to promote discord and incorrect interpretations (3:8). Manji’s defeatist approach of “acknowledging and reinterpreting the [Quran's] awkward verses” solves nothing because it does not explain to extremists, or to the world, why the extremist understanding of Islam is wholly incorrect. This is crucial because otherwise, the false allegation that Islam promotes violence goes unanswered. If Manji is correct that bin Laden represents a real interpretation of Islam, then who represents the perverted understanding of which the Quran warns?

According to Manji, it might be moderate Muslims. Though Manji and I agree that the Quran is being manipulated, we strongly disagree on the solution. Manji glazes over the Quranic guidance to investigate, folds her hand to “publically acknowledge awkward verses,” and seeks a new interpretation, all the while hoping violent Muslims will simply forget the “awkward” meanings. The real solution, instead, is based on logic and explained in the Quran itself, “And none knows its right interpretation except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ — And none heed except those gifted with understanding” (3:8). Only with a firm foundation in knowledge and a concerted investigation — not blind avoidance — can a person properly understand the Quran, including the allegedly awkward verses.

Extremists like bin Laden arrive at their perverted understanding of Islam due to ignorance combined with a lack of sincere investigation. While on the opposite end, self-declared reformists like Manji arrive at their defeatist understanding of Islam for the same reasons. The reformation of those who support violent interpretations of the Quran can never happen with Manji’s proposed solution.

Manji describes the backlash she received from the Muslim community due to her “call to reform,” as if her call was unprecedented. She should take a page out of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s book, who sounded the call to reform Muslims — not Islam — over 120 years ago. Ahmad established the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 and laid claim to be the long-awaited Messiah, commissioned to re-unite all Muslims through love, logic, and peace. He condemned every type of religious violence as completely un-Islamic and instead championed the Jihad of the Pen. Among his 82 books and thousands of essays he wrote, “that faith which uses the sword to spread itself needs no other proof of its falsification. It slays its own throat before reaching others.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who Manji-described Muslim leaders consider heretical, was founded on an interpretation of Islam that is practical, peaceful, and wholly ingrained in the whole of the Quran. Ahmadi Muslims champion a complete separation of mosque and state (4:60), condemn any compulsion in religion (2:257), promote universal religious freedom (22:41), believe in spiritual equality and practical equity between the sexes (4:125), preach universal salvation (2:63), and teach that war can only be in self-defense (22:40) and as an absolute last resort (4:98).

Ahmadi Muslims do believe 5:33 establishes that killing one is to kill all mankind, and demonstrate that the Qur’an defines “villainy in the land” not as political warfare, but religious persecution (22:39-40). As the Iraq war is a political war, the Quran provides no “loophole for British [extremists]” as Manji would have us believe.

And to be sure, Ahmadi Muslims are not the only peaceful Muslims in the world. Indeed, the vast majority of the Muslim world is peaceful. I present them as one specific example that the aforementioned practical and peaceful Islam works. Consider that tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims reside peacefully in nearly 200 nations of the world, face vehement state-sanctioned persecution, but have never once instigated, nor retaliated with, violence. Instead, they publicly decry such violence, (including Muslim-on-Muslim violence) and advocate the Islam of self-restraint that Prophet Muhammad taught. United under a system of Khilafat, Ahmadi Muslims continue to advocate for self-reformation, and Muslim-reformation, as they have successfully for over a century. In doing so, they directly address the allegedly “awkward verses.” Thus, unlike defeatists like Manji who accomplish nothing by brushing such verses under the rug, Ahmadi Muslims effectively dismantle extremist’s violent ideology and bring true reformation to the Muslim world.

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