"The World's Most Wanted: A 'Moderate Islam'"

Idiot of the month: Juan Williams:

We Don’t Want To Antagonize Moderate Islam By Using the Terms ‘Jihad’ or ‘Muslim Radicals’

Robert Spencer:

I recently participated in a FrontPage Symposium, “The World’s Most Wanted: A ‘Moderate Islam,'” about that great unicorn in which everyone believes and depends upon but which no one has ever actually seen, moderate Islam.

In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have invited four distinguished guests to discuss the question: Is there a moderate Islam? Our guests today are:

Timothy Furnish, a former U.S. Army Arabic interrogator, he is a consultant and author with a Ph.D. in Islamic History. He is currently working on a book on modern Muslim plans to resurrect the caliphate. His website, dedicated to Islamic eschatology, is www.mahdiwatch.org [1]

Tawfik Hamid, an Islamic thinker and reformer who is the author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam. A one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt, he was a member of Jemaah Islamiya, a terrorist Islamic organization, with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who later became the second in command of al-Qaeda. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D. is the President and Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). [2] A devout Muslim, he served 11 years as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. He is a nationally recognized expert in the contest of ideas against political Islam, American Islamist organizations, and the Muslim Brotherhood. He regularly briefs members of the House and Senate congressional anti-terror caucuses and has served as a guest lecturer on Islam to deploying officers at the Joint Forces Staff College. Dr. Jasser was presented with the 2007 Director’s Community Leadership Award by the Phoenix office of the FBI and was recognized as a “Defender of the Home Front” by the Center for Security Policy. He recently narrated the documentary The Third Jihad [3], produced by PublicScope Films. His chapter, Americanism vs. Islamism is featured in the recently released book, The Other Muslims [4] (Palgrave-Macmillan) edited by Zeyno Baran.


Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of ten books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, is available now from Regnery Publishing, and he is coauthor (with Pamela Geller) of the forthcoming book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America (Simon and Schuster).

FP: Timothy Furnish, Tawfik Hamid, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser and Robert Spencer, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Dr. Furnish, let me begin with you. Robert Spencer recently entered a debate at NewsReal Blog [5] where he argued that there is no moderate Islam. What is your perspective on his argument?

Furnish: I find myself in the curious (and somewhat uncomfortable) position of disagreeing with my friend Robert Spencer, for whom I have the utmost respect and with whom I almost always totally agree. However, on this issue of whether moderate Islam exists, I think Robert may be missing something.

He is exactly right that Sunni Islam-whence comes directly Salafism, Wahhabism and jihadism-promotes violence against non-Muslims in order to make Islam paramount over the entire planet. I have no quarrel with that stance. But I would argue that this is largely because within this majority branch of Islam the only acceptable exegetical paradigm regarding the Qur’an is a literalist one: and of course when passages such as “behead the unbeliever” [Suras 47:3 and 8:12] are read literally the good Muslim had better reach for his sword-or be rightly accused of infidelity to Allah’s Word.

However, perhaps because Robert is so well-versed in the theology of Islam, as opposed to the historical record of how that religious theory has been acted out on the stage of history, he seems to overlook the key fact on the ground that certain minorities within Islam have developed a non-literalist, even allegorical, approach to reading the Qur’an. Foremost among these moderates are the Isma`ilis, the Sevener Shi`is, whose global head is the philanthropical Aga Khan. Isma’ilis may number only in the tens of millions (out of the total Muslim community of some 1.3 billion, second only to Christianity’s 2+ billion), but they do exist and they define, for example, jihad not as killing or conquering unbelievers, but as economic development and charity work.

In general, all branches of Shi`ism (which makes up perhaps 15% of the world’s Muslims), including the Twelvers of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, allow the practice of ijtihad, “independent theological-legal judgment”-which is decidedly not the case for Sunnism. And while this has allowed for the ayatollahs to come up with negative novelties such as vilayet-i faqih (Khomeini’s “rule of the jurisconsult”), it also leaves the door open to non-literal exegesis of the anachronistic passages of the Qur’an.

Even within Sunnism, many of the Sufi (Islamic mystic) orders are more akin to the Shi`i than the woodenly literalist Sunnis in their exegesis. (Yet I would not go as far as Stephen Schwartz, who in his book The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony thinks Sufis are basically “Quakers with beards” and sees them as the antidote to jihadists. This rosy view overlooks the historical facts of the many jihads led by Sufi shaykhs and fought by Sufi adherents over the centuries.)

Today, many Sufis are non-literalists and focus on the batini, “inner” or “esoteric” meaning of the Qur’anic verses rather than on the zahiri, “outward” or “exoteric”-i.e., literal-meaning as Bin Ladin and his ilk do. Another sect of Islam that is rather moderate in its approach to the Qur’an is the Barelwi (or Barelvi) one in India and the U.K.

In fact, the recent 600-page “anti-terrorism” fatwa [6] that received much media adoration was written by Muhammad Tahir al-Qadri, a Barelwi. As I observe in the “Washington Times” article, al-Qadri’s adherence to what is essentially a sect of Islam makes it very problematic that his fatwa will have any major effect on the jihadists in the short term-but, over time, if enough sectarian Muslims keep condemning the purely literalist approach to Islam’s holy book, perhaps Islam might enter into its own much needed Enlightenment, or at least Reformation. But it’s clear from these examples that moderate Islam, not just moderate Muslims, truly does exist-even if often in a minority, often persecuted, status.”

Spencer: In all this my friend Timothy Furnish, whose work I admire, is entirely correct. That is why I am always careful to say that there is no “mainstream” sect of Islam, or one that is generally recognized as orthodox by Muslim sects in general, that does not teach the necessity to make war against and subjugate unbelievers. But I am not sure that the existence of Muslims who are generally considered heretics and persecuted for their heresy, which often consists precisely of their rejection or reconstitution of the jihad doctrine, constitutes the existence of a “moderate Islam” upon which Westerners should place any hope. The likelihood that these groups are going to stop being persecuted minorities and eventually attain mainstream status without abjuring exactly the elements of their beliefs that make them appealing to Westerners is slim at best.

3 thoughts on “"The World's Most Wanted: A 'Moderate Islam'"”

  1. Just waiting for the issue of the”MODERATE” Koran and the ‘MODERATE” aHadith and the ‘MODERATE Fatwa’s and the ‘MODERATE” antisemitic Friday Prayer Imam speeches and for ALL the many many MISUNDERSTANDERS to tell us just where they got their MISUNDERSTANDING from.

  2. Senator ?Vitter called this a “man-made disaster”.
    Um, does that mean it was a terrorist act of sabotage?
    Didn’t the President and Janet Lapolitano come up with that as another term for terrorist attacks? MAN-MADE DISASTERS?

  3. Until the quran is deconstructed, mohammed shown for the criminal he was, and muslims are brave enough to accept the responsibility for the numerous crimes that have been committed through history in the name of their religion …. nothing will change.

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