Apart from Koranic literalism, there is the all-encompassing nature of Islam that is to some extent separate from its literalism.
Islam informs all life, at least if one is a good Muslim (rather than tribal or nominal Muslim). Islam must inform every aspect of one’s life. That means everything. We are talking about the private as well as the public. We are taking about law and politics as well as community and culture. As one commentator put it (to paraphrase): ‘Islam follows you into the bathroom; and then into the bedroom.’
It is also important to realise that this is not an outsider’s or a non-Muslim’s view of Islam. What has just been said, every Muslim would, and should, agree to. Indeed many Muslims often say that Islam is a ‘total religion’ themselves. It is precisely this totalism that Muslims think distinguishes Islam from so many, or all, other religions.
Koranic literalism is partly responsible for this because there are, after all, roughly 80,000 words in the Koran to take literally. Thus it is hardly surprising that Islam pervades every aspect of life, especially if we also consider that hadiths, Islamic jurisprudence, etc. which have been piled on top of the originating Koran.
Let’s not mess about here. Many Muslims, not just members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Islam4UK, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc., laugh about how weak, undemanding and impotent Christianity is today. And if they think that of Christianity generally, what would they think about the special case of a Church of England which has effectively ‘erased God from the equation’ and whose only true faith is Inter-Faith?
Now we must say that it is Koranic literalism, along with Islamic totalism, that makes the ‘extremist’ Muslims the extremists that they are. To put it simply. The Islamists, fundamentalists and the militants have got it right and the moderates, or modernisers, have got it wrong. Or at least it is more likely to be the case that the former have got it right, even if not in every respect. If someone is a nominal Muslim, or a tribal Muslim, it is not surprising that they have got much of Islam wrong – perhaps all of it. If they weren’t only tribal or nominal Muslims, then moderate Muslims would become Islamists or militants over night. It is precisely because of the rejection of Koranic literalism and totalism that the Anila Baigs of this world are nice or moderate. They are nice or moderate precisely because they aren’t Koranic literalists; or because they do not accept the totality of Islam (or Islam’s totalist demands). What’s more, I would bet that the Muslim moderates know that they would not stand a chance, theologically, against the average Islamist or militant. And because of this, you can bet that there must be very few, if any at all, face to face debates (on the true nature of Islam) between moderates and Islamists. Any debates which do occur will almost always be ones which moderate Muslims want the non-Muslim world to see. (So it knows that there is a debate going on between fundamentalists and moderate Muslims.) Outside the TV studio or the public forum, I would guess that there are very few genuine debates between the Islamists and the moderates. If there are, the Islamists will almost invariably win such debates. It is probably also the case that most moderate Muslims know this too. There is simply not enough material, argumentation and analysis to help moderate Muslims outwit the Islamists. There is not enough material to defend the moderate Islam cause. Quite simply, there couldn’t be that much moderate material to use or work upon. Most examples of Islamic or Muslim moderation which I have seen have been very poor in terms of the defences of moderate Islam. The examples of Ed Hussein and Ziauddin Sardar clearly show this. They are very good on the history of moderate Islam and on the Islamists they have experienced in their lives. But when it comes to clear analytic arguments in favour of moderate Islam, they are on very thin ground. In any case, in most of these examples there is very little argument for moderate Islam in the first place. It is not even the case that the arguments don’t work. Most of the stuff in Sardar and Hussein, again, is mere anecdote or small examples from history which show that Islamic moderation sometimes won the day in some parts of the Islamic world. In any case, doesn’t it just prove how bad the moderate-Islam case is when moderate Muslims have to go all the way back to the 13th century (or earlier) in order to show non-Muslims that Islam is moderate (as is also is the case with ‘Islamic science’). This would be like relying exclusively on Roger Bacon or Aquinas to prove how scientific the West is or how moderate Christianity is. Even the golden examples of the ‘Islamic golden age’ were often persecuted, killed, imprisoned, or their books were burned. This is true of all the greats, including Avicenna, Averroes and Al-Farabi. So it is odd that Tariq Ramadan, for example, should think he has scored a point against anti-Islamists by bringing in the case of Averroes, as he does (‘Have you even heard of Averroes?’ he asked one non-Muslim critic.) The thing that is worth mentioning, and Ramadan should have also added, is that Averroes, and many other great ‘Islamic philosophers’, did not have a big effect on Islamic civilisation after the 14th century or so. They were basically forgotten. They are known to us because they were made known to the West and often by non-Muslims. So just as Muslims tell us, truthfully, that Muslims, or ‘Islamic civilisation’, passed on to Europe the great scientific and philosophical works of the Greeks and Romans, so Western non-Muslims passed on Averroes and Co. to Europeans.