Saturday, 2 July 2011
Do moderate Muslims = moderate Islam?
Can there be moderate Muslims when their faith, Islam, is immoderate? Can you have moderate Muslims when Islam itself is fundamentalist and extreme?
Were there moderate Nazis or moderate Stalinists? There were, of course, many people who were called Nazis and Stalinists who were moderate. They were moderate people who just happened to be Nazis or Stalinists. As Nazis or Stalinists, they couldn't be moderate. They could escape this by being nominal Nazis or Stalinists only. Alternatively, perhaps they were only 34% Nazis or Stalinists, if such a thing can be quantified at all. If they were 100% Nazis or Stalinists, then there would have been no possibility of calling them ‘moderate’. Even in this case, perhaps they were moderate when they got home to their families, etc. This would not have been Nazi or Stalinist moderation. It would have been an example of someone who just happened to be a Nazi or Stalinist being moderate.
The same is true of Muslims and Islam. As Muslims it is the case that Muslims can't be moderate. Muslims can escape this by being nominal Muslims. Alternatively, perhaps they're only 34% Muslim, if such a thing can be quantified at all. If they were 100% Muslim, or 100% Islamic, then there would be no possibility of their being moderate. Even in this case perhaps they are moderate when they get home from the mosque, or meeting, or riot, or conflict, and attend to their families and friends. This would not be Muslim or Islamic moderation. It would be an example of someone who just happened to be a Muslim being moderate.
So when the Sun's Anila Baig, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the Muslim characters in EastEnders, etc. are nice or moderate, this is not necessarily a case of their being nice and moderate as their being Muslim. Of course they are Muslims and they are nice or moderate. But it is not Islam or the Koran itself that is making them moderate or nice. These people are nice or moderate anyway. Even if a nice or moderate Muslim can cite passages in the Koran, etc. that he or she says have made him or her nice or moderate, this says more about him or her than it does about the passages in the Koran. Thus there may not be a single nice or moderate passage in the Koran. Any niceness or moderation that is extracted from the Koran, by these nice or moderate Muslims, is just a case of a nice or moderate person interpreting the Koran nicely or moderately. In any case, can a few nice or moderate passages in the Koran really sustain a lifetime’s worth of niceness or moderation? Surely nice or moderate Muslims need more than a handful of Koranic passages to sustain themselves in their niceness or moderation.
Many of the Muslims who are genuinely against militancy and terrorism are not so because of their Islamic beliefs but because they are naturally nice or moderate Muslims. That niceness or moderation is a point for them as individuals who happen to be Muslim, not for them as followers of Islam or the Koran.
This is like the ‘Islamic science’ case. During the early Middle Ages there were indeed many great scientists in Islamic countries. But that was all in spite - not because - of Islam or the Koran. They were scientists who just happened to be Muslims as well, just as in our example of nice and moderate Muslims that they are moderate or nice Muslims in spite of Islam, not because of it. Their niceness or intrinsic moderation tells us about them as individuals, and little or nothing about Islam or the Koran itself.
What we say about ‘Islamic science’, or nice or moderate Muslims, can be taken to its conclusion.
Say that a person is a Quaker. Does he fix the cooker as a Quaker or does he fit the cooker as someone who just happens to be a Quaker?
The same is true of Muslim scientists and nice or moderate Muslims. We are learning about individual Muslim scientists not about Islam or the Koran. We are also learning about Muslims who happen to be nice or moderate. We are learning little, or nothing, about Islam or the Koran. Why should science, or the states of being nice or moderate, be singled out as the concrete instantiations, as it were, of Islam or the Koran? What is true of a Muslim cooker fixer is also true of nice or moderate Muslims. Fixing cookers, being nice or moderate, and science, have nothing to do with Islam or the Koran. What they are to do with is individual scientists who happen to be Muslim or nice or moderate persons who happen to be Muslims.
So just as it is the case that cooker fixing, or even camel training, have nothing to do with Islam or the Koran, so we can say that science, when practised by a Muslim, has nothing to do with Islam or the Koran. Even the oft-quoted passage in the Koran about ‘searching out knowledge as far as China’ does not lead directly, or even indirectly, to science and knowledge. Not only that, they are exclusively about religious knowledge anyway. It would be silly to say that there is even a smidgen or genuine science or even philosophy in the Koran.
It may also be the case that the psychological traits of niceness or moderation can be extracted from the Koran or Islam. Even if there were a couple of passages that do order moderation, it may well be the case that nice or moderate Muslims don’t get their moderation from the Koran itself but from their own genetic or psychological niceness or moderation. Thus a nice or moderate Muslim may simply interpret a passage which many other Muslims see as X, but he or she may see it as Y. Her interpretations and readings of the nice or moderate passages in the Koran come from her, not from the Koran. Even if there are the odd few passages of niceness or moderation, or the encouraging of niceness or moderation in this case, there simply cannot be enough to sustain an individual Muslim’s niceness or moderation. Above all, the few passages of niceness or moderation are not argumentative anyway. They could not sustain moderation or niceness on their own because they are so intellectually light and too few and far between.