Deceptively Simplistic – Analysing the Agnostics’ Critique Of The Quran

In our current socio-political milieu, the world of Islam is coming under close scrutiny by the rest of the humanity .especially the West. Islamophobia is a veritable industry and immoral individuals make their fortunes by generating racial hatred towards Muslims. In this current climate, one can only expect there to be criticism towards sources of the Islamic tradition. Rather than this being a source of despair, I think one should welcome it, especially by those who have insider’s experiences, namely Dissident Muslims.

Dissident Muslims are atheists or agnostics who still identify as Muslims as well as ExMuslims who identify as having left the faith. They are certainly not a new phenomenon although they are now gaining greater visibility? Why? In my opinion, because the current socio-political climate requires a critique of Islam in order to push it along the same evolutionary (or devolutionary, some would say) path as Christianity – into post-religiousness. Islam is destined to become as relevant as Christianity to the West, given enough time.

Please don’t get me wrong. I warmly welcome the critique of Islam. I do believe that if one intends to commit oneself to any spiritual or philosophical path, one should thoroughly determine its validity. I also am very vehemently against the horrible treatment of Dissident Muslims in the Muslim world and even in the liberal West. They are ostracized, threatened and even harmed. This should not happen. If Muslims truly follow the tenets of the Quran, they should be the first protect dissent.

Having said all the above, this does not automatically validate the dissident’s critique. The fact that it feeds into the dominant narrative of the day  – that ancient ideologies produce barbarities from which man must move away makes it a lot more media friendly. I read an article recently by my friend, Hassan Radwan in the Guardian, UK. Hassan shares similar concerns with me about the rise of Islamofascism. Yet, the solutions he offers are deeply problematic.

Hassan’s primary manoeuvre lies in disclaiming the value of reinterpretation performed by reformists and liberals and ‘forcing new meanings’ onto the Quran. In his opinion, this is simply playing into the hands of Islamofascists who are given some ‘legitimacy’ by this act and who will then counter it. His own answer is to simply declare the Quran to be fallible and thus we do not need to concern ourselves debating the issue but rather to simply dismiss the verses entirely.

This tactic seems to me to be born of intellectual laziness. After all, the Quran is open for use by anyone, Muslim or otherwise. The fact that Islamofascists use some parts of the Quran to justify their violence should not mean that other Muslims are ‘forcing new meanings’ onto them. Why does Hassan give the privilege of default interpretations to the Islamofascists?

Islamofascist discourse is not substantiated much by the Quran but when it is, it relies on atomistic readings. A primary example of this is the ‘verse of the sword’ which is said by Islamofascists to ‘abrogate all the peaceful verses’. How they derived the authority for this abrogation is up for grabs but Hassan seems to accept their interpretation and thus call for the verse to be declared fallible. Ironically, this is agreeing to the very same ‘hardline literalism’ he denounces in this article. If literalism is bad, then why give automatic privilege of interpretation to those who practise it?

Hassan claims that this manoeuvre – to declare the Quran as fallible – to be the essential to side stepping the Islamofascists’ claim that ‘God said it’ and thus their interpretation is valid. One wonders then about other, admittedly human, texts like the Nietzsche’s Also Spoke Zarathustra, for example. That text inspired its adherents to commit evil also through misreadings. These texts were never taken to be divinely inspired as such yet they were taken as (pardon the pun) gospel truth. Islamofascists themselves do this very thing to their scholars’ opinions yet they never claim them to be divinely inspired. How does divine infallibility automatically relate to blind fanaticism?

No, the answer does not lie in this fallibility claim. Divine inspiration, authorship and infallibility does not preclude one important factor – interpretation. Hassan conveniently forgets that the Islamofascists read the Quran atomistically (they rip verses out from their textual positions) in order to justify their positions. In fact, Hassan does the very same thing when claiming the Quran is contradictory and has once claimed he is tired of the argument that some verses are metaphorical which he sees as escape clauses. He thus needs to make up his mind – literalism or holistic readings? Of course he is not obliged to follow any of the above but lets not pretend objectivity where there is none.

I will be the first to admit that the Quran has some rather difficult verses. But rather throwing them out, I was fortunate enough to discover that the arguments which Islamofascists used to justify their interpretations were non-existent. They did not even quote the verses in full, let alone pay attention to context or even connect this to the theme of the entire text. Why anyone would give them default authority and deem others as ‘forced’ is beyond me.

The answer lies in reading the Quran as a whole. When one does this, one can clearly see that there are rules for conflict and these rules are very fair. For example, the first rule given is to only fight in self-defence and never overstep that mark. If Islamic extremists paid attention to this rule alone, all acts of terrorism would stop immediately. However, they chose to follow their scholars manipulation of those verses for imperialist gain. And in Hassan Radwan’s fallibility manoeuvre, he has done precisely the same.



About Farouk A. Peru

I am a human being in the world, blogging my existence. My thought systems may be found in my website:
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