What Would ‘Good’ Islamic Reform Look Like?

Tokyo Ghoul

Adil returns with his latest and greatest article – simply essential reading!

Does Islam need reform or not? Is the affirmative a self-evident truth or is ‘reform’ something antithetical to Islam? If the latter, is this because Islam is so prefect or so intrinsically flawed that the notion of reforming it is absurd? If Islam does need reforming what does it need to reform into? In this essay I will discuss perspectives on the hotly debated reform question, and what principles reform might be expected to consist of.

With many, this discussion fails to depart from the starting blocks because the term ‘reform’ carries different connotations. The definition we shall use here is:

”An improvement or amendment to something which is currently unsatisfactory.”

Thus in the context of Islam, reform would entail significant changes in the way that Islam is understood and practiced for a significant proportion of its followers.

It could be argued that all religions change in their paradigms over time and thus ‘reform’ is a ceaseless and inescapable process anyway. It is fashionable amongst politically active Muslims to argue that Islam has already largely been reformed by colonial powers to become a redundant and irrelevant apolitical doctrine, and that the much vilified ‘Islamism’ is simply Islam being practised as it should be, with a political dimension as well as a spiritual one. Another view in circulation is that the ultraconservative Wahabbi school of thought itself is a reform movement, analogous to hard-line Protestantism, and that secular liberals who are anxious to see Islam ‘reformed,’ should be careful what they wish for.

In contemporary debate however, reform usually means something different. Reform carries connotations of changing what is considered orthodox into something, for want of a better term ‘nicer.’ Advocates of Islamic reform generally claim that Muslims need to look anew at issues including but not limited to: attitudes to women’s rights, dress codes, literalism of scripture, credence given to hadiths, Islamic law, and salvation and claims of exclusivity. Typically, such advocates will claim that the above need to be changed in order to provide more scope for autonomy of interpretation and freedom from religious authority.

So what stances on reform generally do the rounds, whether from mainstream media, social media or lay people? Below I have paraphrased some common perspectives on whether Islam does or does not require a reformation.

Hardline Islamophobe: No. Islam is fundamentally incompatible with any functional human society and only absolute eradication is politically and intellectually acceptable.

Any attempts to make Islam tolerable would clearly and obviously be incompatible with the fundamental principles of Islam. Therefore, any peaceful, tolerant and intellectual Muslims are either not true Muslims, or secret ‘stealth jihadists’ masquerading as being peaceful whilst in a position of weakness, only to become belligerent when stronger as per the actions of their Prophet.

Pragmatic Islamophobe: Yes, Islam needs reform. However this reform must entail admission from Muslims that Islam contains numerous central doctrines that need removing. Therefore, Muslims who claim that Islam is inherently intellectually, politically and spiritually compatible with humanity are ‘part of the problem.’ The mark of a ‘moderate’ Muslim is not whether they are violent or peaceful but rather the extent to which they admit to and then denounce the belligerence or traditional Islamic teachings.

Muslim reformists usually cited in Western media: Yes, Islam needs reform. However, we must first acknowledge that extremists have a reasonably plausible and consistent understanding of Islam, and are motivated by that understanding. Any claims from Western academics that other factors such as Western foreign policy are a central cause of extremism are examples of ‘regressive leftism,’ and being apologists for extremists.

Most Muslims: No. Islam does not need reform. Muslims need to change but Islam does not. We have many problems but most of these are cultural and nothing to do with Islam. Most of our problems arise because Muslims have not received a suitable Islamic education and because of other issues such as Western foreign policy.

Fundamentalist Muslims: No. Reform is synonymous with apostasy. Reforming Islam means saying that God and his messenger are wrong. There is nothing wrong with the way the classical scholars understood Islam. Our ‘Islamic’ problems are only due to colonialism, the disbelieving media, modernism and Muslims becoming westernised.

Not all ideologues fit discretely into one category. Some hard-line Islamophobes will demand that Muslims reform Islam to sound broadly pragmatic, though on closer inspection, a mass apostasy is the only acceptable solution to them. Some popularist Muslim reformists will edge towards the stance of the pragmatic Islamophobe, and say provocateur statements that non-Muslim Islamophobes would struggle to get away with without being labelled racist. Other Muslim reformists will be more sympathetic to the view that Islam has been hijacked, rather than sincerely practised by extremists.

I believe that the common perspectives paraphrased above are deficient. True, there are many obscene behaviours common in Muslim societies which genuinely have nothing to do with Islam. Vicious and Machiavellian family politics, the insatiable obsession with materialistic growth of the Gulf Arab states, racism towards other communities, and the slovenly attitude that is commonly embodied in ‘Asian timing’, have nothing to do with Islam. I would even include oft cited honour killings and forced marriages which Islamophobes cite as being ‘Islamic’ as having nothing to do with Islam, but being cultural phenomenon.

But can we say that same for punishments for women who dress immodestly? Or blasphemy laws (so what if they were originally British laws? No one forced Pakistan to keep theirs)? Or vigilantism against people who ‘commit blasphemy’ and the mass support for such degenerates? To say this is ‘nothing’ to do with Islam is delusional. If an idea has some theological acceptance or justification from figures in religious authority, it has something to do with Islam whether we like it or not. If Daesh cite classical scholars and hadith when executing defenceless prisoners and taking female sex slaves, we cannot claim this is ‘nothing’ to do with Islam. We need not join the popular charlatans who style themselves as reformists by suggesting that Islam is the initial motivator, or even that such interpretations are reasonable. We do however have to accept that such ideas have made their way into parts of Islamic tradition, and that it is inevitable that classical scholars and Hadith collectors (like all humans) made critical or even malicious ‘mistakes.’

Of course, most Muslims do not condone the aforementioned crimes against humanity, so even with such crimes being defended or perpetrated in the name of Islam, where is the necessity to reform religion practised by a fifth of the people in the world? A few (proportionally speaking) criminal acts, even if Islamically defended are not grounds for the reform of a world religion. However, there exist other ‘Islamic’ traditions which pose intellectual and spiritual problems and are not so niche as the barbarities already mentioned. Below are ten common paradigms which are not held by marginal clique of extremists or illiterate vigilantes, but a large body of scholars across different denominations and a very large portion of lay Muslims.

1) Parts of the Qur’an are abrogated by the Hadith and now no longer ‘count.’ (Positive verses about Jews and Christians are often cited as examples here)

2) The Qur’an was not created actually created by God, but is a completely uncreated and co-eternal entity, down to the very contingent Arabic verses which detail issues such as manners in the Prophets home. (Though this raises problems such as the eternality of the Holy Trinity; how can we now argue that this is logically incoherent)

3) Islam says people who commit adultery should be stoned to death. When the Qur’an says that the punishment for adultery is corporal punishment, it doesn’t really mean adultery but rather fornication. Therefore, the Qur’an only mentions the lesser crime but God decides to omit what to do with people who commit the greater crime and let us be confused with debatable secondary sources.

4) People who leave Islam should be killed, even though the Qur’an never mentions this. When the Qur’an says ‘There is no compulsion in religion,’ (2:256) and many similar verses which clearly advocate religious freedom (18:29, 3:20, 10:99, 13:40), this only refers to people converting to Islam, not from it.

5) Music is not allowed, even though the Qur’an never mentions this. This is a clear cut issue with no debate (the only exceptions are from ‘Sufi grave worshippers’ and ‘modernists’).

6) There is no secondary causation or indeterminacy in the Universe. God makes people believers or disbelievers and then arbitrarily punishes them accordingly.

7) When determining an Islamic issue, you have to go with the ‘majority’ opinion aka ‘Ijma,’ or rather, what people tell you is ‘Ijma,’ devoid of any statistical data or reference to the specialism’s of scholars with given viewpoints. When the Qur’an says that the majority of people can be, and are often wrong, it must only be talking about non-Muslims.

8) There are many conditions not mentioned or even hinted in the Qur’an which invalidate your declaration of faith and make your salvation impossible.

9) Interaction between men and women should be kept to an absolute minimum and preferably non-existent. If men and women are allowed to ‘free mix’ this will invariably lead to fornication. The inevitable lack of social development and resultant inability to interact with the opposite sex in most social settings can’t be helped.

10) Most, if not all non-Muslims will be punished eternally in hell with the exception of those who never heard of Islam at all. Despite the now insurmountable problem that spreading Islam will actually result in more damnation then salvation, Muslims still have a duty to tell others about Islam.

Whilst these views are not ‘terroristic’ per-se (even the scholars who advocate apostasy killing usually assert that this is only permissible in an Islamic state following a trial and the chance to repent), they raise moral and intellectual problems to say the least. Indicative of the fact that these viewpoints are tough to reconcile with human conscience and intellect is how cagey ‘Dawah carriers’ are with these ideas to non-Muslim audiences; even when they themselves hold these views. Such apologists will happily emphasise Islamic values of kindness and charity, but when confronted with issues like apostasy killing will usually put up a smokescreen. A typical reply will be that ‘they don’t want to kill anyone’, or see anyone in Britain (or wherever) killed for leaving their faith. Sure, they do not believe in vigilantism, but they still believe that in the ‘right’ circumstances, killing people who cease to be Muslim is a good idea (even if unaccompanied by high treason in any material way). The same is observable when it comes to difficult questions of reason, intellect and philosophical problems. Salafist apologists, will try to win over their non-Muslim audience using the same philosophical arguments (like the Kalaam cosmological argument) that the founding fathers of their tradition believed utterly heretical.

So what happens to lay Muslims under intellectual and spiritual pressure, whether from higher education, or popular media or secular literature? They usually start to depart from the listed paradigms. Some investigate further and deduce that Islam does not necessarily condone what is often touted, and practice Islam with renewed fulfilment. Others simply apostasise, believing that the self proclaimed orthodox views they know are the most feasible interpretations of Islam, and that those interpretations are not consistent with human nature and the world around them.

Due to the widespread and problematic nature of the views I have mentioned (and others), I have agreement and sympathy with some (not all) ‘pro-reform’ voices, and believe that we seriously need to re-evaluate some of the allegedly mainstream teachings of our faith. Any successful interpretation of Islam must remain consistent with the nature of the texts, lest it be Islam ‘in name’ only. It would also have to provide spiritual fulfilment to its adherents, be intellectually defensible, and provide purpose as well as meaning in the lives of its followers.

So what would successful reform look like in practice? As a complete non-scholar, rather than focus on specific rulings, fatwas, hadiths and verses which need re-examination, I have outlined principles which I believe a successful Islamic movement (whether consciously done collectively or on an individual level) would utilise in order to make Islam more relevant and fulfilling to its followers, relatable for followers of other traditions (or none) and consistent to the texts and what we believe our creator wants for us.

  1. A successful movement would not be lead by many celebrity ‘reformists’

Whilst I believe that we need to scrutinise the way in which we approach Islam, and thus favour some sort of reform/revitalisation/renaissance or whichever term sounds the least loaded, many of the populist ‘reform’ voices are simply famous and well paid provocateurs who have little or no substance.

Take Ayaan Hirsi Ali for instance, author of Why Islam needs a reformation now. In her book she gives ‘pointers’ for reforming Islam which essentially constitute leaving the faith, perhaps retaining the title of ‘Muslim’ in a cultural and irrelevant sense. Her position as a New Atheist and Islamic reformer is also somewhat inconsistent as a matter of logic; who gives guidelines about reforming a system idea which they loathe and have personally left? This is rather like Richard Dawkins claiming to be a reformer for Christianity. In an excellent article entitled What Really Radicalises Muslims, a colleague very articulately points out that:

”An entirely consistent rejoinder to Ayan Hirsan Ali would be finding a young English girl who was horribly sexually abused by her family and then ran away to Pakistan, embraced Fundamentalist Islam, studied at a Russian university (where Vladimir Putin personally paid her tuition and gave her Judo lessons) and then married an Afghan mullah at a ceremony officiated by Kim Jong Un. In Iran. And then getting her to do the speaking circuit around the world, lecturing about how hard Western Civilization sucked because she was abused by her uncle and did not get over it until she accepted Islam and ran away from the civilization that was indifferent to her suffering, in fact facilitated it, in fact facilitated the suffering of all women, and then saying offensive stuff about the Holocaust to offend Europeans as much as possible (as Hirsan Ali and her supporters go out of their way to do with Islam, the Prophet SAW and the Quran).

We would be rightly incandescent with rage at such a performance. But yet this is exactly what we expect young European Muslims to put up with.”

(A critique of Hirsi Ali’s latest book can be found here)

Perhaps Hirsi Ali, who also considers General Sisi a hero and Benjamin Netanyahu a Nobel Peace Prize candidate is too easy a target. Slightly less belligerent, in the UK is Maajid Nawaz, the chairman of the ‘anti extremism’ Quilliam foundation. Unlike Hirsi Ali who flaunts her apostasy, Nawaz instead asserts his ‘non devout’ status almost as often as his urgency for a reformed Islam. Nawaz frequently gives cynical implications that he is not a believer himself (such as ‘liking’ statuses of people proclaiming their apostasy, referring to the importance of his Muslim identity being a thing of the past, and equating deradicalision of extremists with either liberalism or apostasy), and then complains that he is not considered Muslim enough for the extremists. Whilst I do not believe it appropriate to comment on Nawaz’ faith status as we cannot read anyone’s heart, many who ‘accuse’ Nawaz of being a fake Muslim are not extremists but rather Nawaz’ own fanbase, though they give such ‘allegations’ as compliments! The typical response by Nawaz is that he cannot leave Islam because he has the burden of carrying people with him, though he always insists that there is no real Islam, but ISIS have a plausible interpretation of it.

On the other side of the pond, popular Muslim ‘reformers’ include Asra Nomani who supports spying programs specifically directed against Muslims, states that Muslims should tear some pages out of the Qur’an (which she says include verses about apostasy killing; though none actually exist in the Qur’an), and has vehemently defended anti-Muslim bigots who advocate profiling Muslims. Then there’s fellow American Muslim reformist Zudhi Jasser, the republican who supported the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Israeli apartheid policies, the NYPD spying program to profile Muslims, and banning Muslims in the military from having beards (whilst insisting that Sikhs should still be allowed to).

These reformists and several others share the common view that violence, extremism and intolerance from Muslims are primarily motivated by interpretations of Islam, and that genuine academics (like Noam Choamsky, Scott Atran and Robert Pape) who argue otherwise, are essentially sympathetic to ‘Islamism,’ and part of the problem. Meanwhile, outright Islamophobes will be vehemently defended; Jasser and Nomani for instance are regularly given airtime on ‘Fox News’, and held in great esteem by figures on the American far right, who can vindicate their bigotry by claiming that: ‘Even Muslims say Islam condones violence and oppression.’

Moral and informed voices for change do exist, some of them are associated with reform movements, while others are considered fairly mainstream. My point here is simply that while we need to scrutinise what we are told our faith teaches, we should not be lulled into the world view of provocateurs and popularisers.

2) It would put justice over Muslim identity politics

Where does the common dislike of dislike Israel from Muslims come from? Is it because apartheid politics are inherently wrong? Is it because of the discrimination that Arabs and Blacks in Israel face? Is it because they are sticklers for international law and cannot tolerate its repeated violations? Is it because they are pacifists who morally disagree with a militarised state? Or is it simply because the people on the receiving end of Israel’s misdemeanours are predominantly Muslim? I suggest that amongst otherwise apolitical Muslims, the case is the almost always the latter, and that whilst Israel is guilty of the behaviours above and more, the absence of even handed condemnation of barbaric and belligerent states who don’t match the ‘non-Muslim oppressing Muslim’ profile, only suggests inconsistency motivated by identity politics. Why do we (generally) dislike Israel over Saudi Arabia? Both states indiscriminately murder civilians, both states are guilty of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and both states are at least partially extensions of Western foreign policy.

Whilst the right wing generally exaggerates and sometimes outright lies about the ‘victim mentality’ displayed by Muslims (whilst ironically claiming that the West is under siege by Muslims and that the most Muslim communities are brimming with extremists and fanatics) it is true, that like most groups of people, the ‘identity’ of people involved in a given conflict largely shapes our conclusions. Whilst Muslims are happy to complain about the obnoxious neo-conservative foreign policies of America and Britain, vitriol for Muslim despots (apart from obviously secular politicians like Sisi and Asad), is conspicuously absent by comparison. For instance, the ‘Muslim lives matter’ slogans are surprisingly sparse in light of the bombings of Yemen at the hands of Saudi Arabia, or the rejection of refugees from the Gulf States.

A fundamental teaching of the Qur’an is justice as opposed to tribalism and identity politics. Therefore any successful Islamic movement would have to have justice at its core. We could start by using Islam to (metaphorically) demolish some of our own cultural practices instead of being indifferent to them (see point 7). Let us join Malcolm X in agreeing that we should be:

”For truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against”

3) It would accept that some of the classical scholars made grave and serious mistakes

A problematic paradigm in current Muslim discourse is the near impossibility of critiquing the work of classical scholars, and some ultraconservative contemporary ones. Why have many scholars said that there is to be a token or non-existent punishment for a Muslim who kills a non Muslim? Why did Ibn Taymiyya give a fatwa that seemed to indicate the permissibility of burning people alive? Why did Ibn Baz say that people who did not believe in his fantasy cosmology were disbelievers? Why do some contemporary ‘scholars’ say that as female slaves have no sexual agencies over their body, or that their owners can have non-consensual sex with them without it being rape? We can toe the line with some mumbo-jumbo about the applicability of these fatwas or that the ‘conditions’ for them aren’t currently being met, or we could just concede that it is at least possible that they colossally messed up. As it stands, there is more chance of circumnavigating the rings of Saturn on a space hopper then hearing a most Muslim apologists considering the latter. An anonymous Imam expresses this problem quite well:

”I have been teaching in mosques in and around the Northwest for nearly twenty years now and I often find students asking me (or worse, discussing amongst themselves) hadith and fatwas which are problematic. I confront the problems head on. Why did Imam Bukhari narrate that hadith? Because he messed up. He made a serious error. And why did Imams follow suit? They likewise messed up. God never promised that any of these people are protected from gaffes and even the most serious errors.

In issues as serious as rape or killing it is already alarming that some of our youth lack the moral compass to tell them what is right and wrong and instead have to be guided by ‘scholars opinions’ or ‘ijma’ (consensus) rather than by glaringly obvious moral imperatives and the Quran. But it is even more alarming that for the sake of sparing the reputations of these Imams we are unwilling to say ‘Yes, the scholars did narrate what ISIS claim they did but it is rejected because it is wrong. Those scholars are not infallible and Islam is not a personality cult but a religion’. For that is what actually works. But Muslim scholars are too busy worrying about being labelled modernists or ‘soft’ on the West to say what needs to be said.

We never hear this: in convoluted and weakly constructed glosses and apologia for quite frankly nonsensical opinions attributed to the scholars, the strong denial that is needed is lost and the Islamophobes are left empowered and the children confused.”

Intra-Muslim criticism today generally consists of either criticising outright murderous terrorists (a good start) or, at least as frequently, Muslims deemed to be ‘modernists.’ I have no problem with critiques of modernist interpretations of Islam, but how often do the Muslim Debate Initiative, iERA et al also critique ultraconservatives who believe that any woman who shows an inch of skin will burn in hell? Or that female genital mutilation is a virtue? Or that men and women even being in the same room is a first order sin? Or that Muslims who simply become ‘non-practising’ should be killed for apostasy? Some of them believe this anyway, but even the ones who don’t will refuse to give even the mildest critiques. Muslims deemed to be too modern or liberal however, will receive criticism in the most scathing and vicious terms, usually with at least the implication that they are not Muslim at all.

Whilst I consider reformists who think we should ‘bin everything because its outdated’ are childish, we have to concede that some of what they said (and that includes the ‘four Imams,’ they weren’t all as cosy a bunch as some Muslims seem to think; nor are they promised paradise or immunity from errors) is mistaken, and in some cases unethical.

4) The Mutazila had some good points

Already I can anticipate the thinly veiled takfirs and accusations of heresy and deviance, but at least I am consistent; unlike certain Salafist apologists will use philosophical arguments used by the Mutazila when the going gets tough, whilst ironically maintaining that the Mutazila are all deviants and heretics.

I suggest that the rationalist school of thought known as the Mutazila actually had many ideas which many Muslims (particularly philosophically literate ones) would sympathise with, if not already believe. For instance: Which perspective is more defensible? That God is a large ‘chap’ with actual hands and digits like anthropomorphists claim or that God is timeless and spaceless like the ‘heretical’ Mutazila say? Is the Qur’an created by God or is the Qur’an a co-eternal and timeless entity that exists alongside God. If you prefer the ‘orthodox’ latter, instead of the ‘heretical’ former, on what grounds can we claim that the Holy Trinity is incoherent? Should reason be used when approaching scripture? For many Muslims, the answer is obvious: ”No. Unless you aren’t a Muslim, in which case you deserve to go to Hell for not using your intellect to come to the conclusion that Islam is true. Once you’re a Muslim, though reason should go out of the window.” According to the Mutazila, reason should continue to be used, which addresses tricky problems like ‘does God forget things?’ A completely literal reading of scripture would say yes (and thus deprive God of omniscience), God actually forgets people who forget him, but a reasonable view, and the spirit of the text suggests that ‘forget’ is simply a metaphor for ‘ignore.’

Now, I am not saying the Mutazila got everything right, or that a successful movement of Islamic though has to be a neo-Mutazila movement either. Rather, that there are certain doctrines associated with the rationalist Mutazila which many educated Muslims would be sympathetic to, (especially if unaware of their origins), and that when put under enough intellectual pressure, will probably subscribe to anyway. Over and over again the Qur’an exhorts its followers to use their intellect, a God given gift which many Muslims seem bent on replacing with blind obedience to authority.

5) It wouldn’t be theocratic or militantly secular in its political outlook

A common argument from ‘muscular liberals,’ is that any form of Islamic governance is a theocracy (where God rules the society through an elect group of humans), and that Muslims who have any sympathy with the concept of say, a Caliphate are one step away from joining ISIS. Whilst this is technically false (a caliph is an elected leader who is not infallible and can be removed from office), the fear is not wholly invalid. A close inspection of the utopia envisioned by Hizb ut Tahir (HT), iERA and other dawah carriers is clearly a de facto theocracy and apartheid state with very little religious freedom whatsoever, though it may have some social justice in terms of welfare and resources. Muslims from groups like HT can be very cagey with the ‘freedom’ point; saying that Islam promotes discussion and debate and that anyone is permitted to debate. However, as they don’t believe other religions should be allowed to publicly proselytise, these ‘debates’ would be no more than academic exchanges with a limited audience. Furthermore, the leadership of HT believe that apostasy killing is an Islamic necessity. Associates of HT such as Haitham Haddad clarify their position that even ‘secret’ apostates should be killed; you do not have to be treasonous or even ostentatious in your apostasy to deserve a death sentence! But of course, the French banning of the face veil is an unprecedented and brutal oppression…

Just as idealising previous Muslim societies as complete utopias, the militant secularism of many modern liberals is likewise self defeating. Muslims should continue to oppose the secular demand of making religious perspectives irrelevant to life’s affairs. This is consistency, not extremism; a world-view which does not influence a persons life’s affairs is pointless and impotent. Whilst I believe many politically active Muslims greatly neglect the spiritual aspects of Islam, Islam is not merely a spiritual doctrine (nor are the other religions for that matter but many of their followers in the West have been secularised enough to believe such), and to render it as one is to make it devoid of point and purpose.

I believe that Islam is more descriptive then prescriptive in terms of how its followers should live (hence the low proportion of legalistic verses in the Qur’an), and that Muslims should engage with the political process of their country regardless of the model of government. If the Prophet Joseph could work in the government of the Pharaoh who considered himself a God, Muslims today should be able to work for non Islamic governments without allegations of ‘disbelief’.

By applying Islamic values to worldly affairs i.e. politics, Muslims can work against issues such as climate change, water injustice, food insecurity and wealth disparity. Many Muslims will respond to this with fatalistic apathy disguised by the claim that ‘you can’t change the system so there’s no point trying,’ but how many Muslims have really tried beyond being keyboard warriors? Would two hundred Muslim Members of Parliament, all of whom were devoted to mitigating the above problems really make literally zero difference? Whilst I believe that Muslims should not serve in a role that necessarily entails going against a clear cut Islamic ruling, we can engage with, and improve whatever systems are in our country of residence without compromising our values. This is not some covert stealth jihad Islamofascist Sharia law smuggling mission, nor is it a way to just look after Muslim interests, but to leave the world in a better place than it was when we arrived as per what Islam actually says. Just about every Muslim ‘knows’ that Islam says this (by way of enjoining charity, fairness, social justice, even animal welfare etc), but how many of us really believe it and how many of us genuinely think it warrants significant attention? In practice, for most Muslims, the whole ‘improving the world’ bit is rather like a sprinkle of cinnamon on the apple crumble; a nice little touch, but not necessary by any means. This needs to change, for Islam to become meaningful and relevant for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

6) It would successfully engage with culture

Currently, there is little suitable engagement in Muslim circles with cultural issues whether ‘Muslim’ culture or ‘Western culture.’

It is undeniable that there are many vile cultural practices carried out by Muslims which receive little resistance from religious leaders. How many khutbas (sermons) does one hear saying ‘yes it’s okay for your Pakistani daughter to marry a black man,’ or that sons are no more valuable then daughters, or that contemporary marriage culture is vile and should be utterly disregarded? What about the permissibility or the desirability of pursuing helpful but non ‘Asian friendly’ careers like teaching, social work, academia or environmentalism? How about a talk on the harm that continuous cousin marriage causes, or honour based violence, or the ‘my family right or wrong’ nationalism that many Muslims embody today?

Whilst even the most ‘red-neck’ Imams don’t necessarily condone the above, there is a disproportionately small amount of attention given to counteracting it. Khutbas in mosques will usually consist of far more irrelevant and pointless topics and fail to address cultural problems, either because of tacit approval, fear of shaking up the apple cart or being completely out of touch.

Muslims can be equally dire when it comes to engaging in Western culture. Muslims often either secularise themselves with a ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’ approach, embodying the worst stereotypes associated with Western culture, or do the polar opposite; becoming isolated from their non- Muslim neighbours and holding the society in contempt.

Many Islamic spokespeople embody, and often advocate the latter, spreading paranoia to their flock about ‘mimicking the kuffar,’ often characterised by grave warnings about ‘kuffar festivals’ and the hideous sins of phrases like ‘merry Christmas,’ which apparently means that you have asserted a belief that Jesus is God. Other western customs such as shaking hands are likewise condemned if done with a member of the opposite sex. The fact that by refusing to shake someone’s hand might alienate them from you and Islam, tends to be brushed under the carpet or used as evidence for how depraved the kuffar are and how we cannot mimic them.

Different cultures have different things to offer. Sure, it could be argued that Western secular liberal culture takes individualism to an extreme (and thus creates a society where people think of fewer goals beyond their individual rights and pleasures). Meanwhile, the culture of many Muslim majority countries represses most forms of individual wellbeing which is evident looking at miserable marriages (don’t let the comparatively low divorce rate fool you; there is far more pressure to stay married then in Western culture, despite the Islamic permissibility of divorce) and unhappy family politics. I have yet to see a large and interdependent Muslim family which is not dysfunctional on some level and is devoid of abuse, Machiavellian politics or resentment. Islam provides us with the approach to be rid of our cultural baggage, but the ‘Islam’ most of us are raised with has been gut filleted to make it compatible with the unjust, dogmatic, even racist ‘Muslim culture,’ which we see from Muslims in the East and West. Hence, in this respect, Islam as many of us know it needs whatever ‘r’ word sounds most comfortable.

7) It wouldn’t regard Salafism as the ‘default’ position, nor consider Puritanism as a mark of authenticity

Many, perhaps most practising Muslims in the West, and virtually all institutions, have knowingly or unknowingly embraced many Salafist paradigms, mostly as a result of Saudi ‘petro-dollar’ influence. Go to almost any mosque or Islamic bookshop and virtually all the literature will be overtly Salafist. Even the most ‘regular’ books giving advice on how to pray and how families should function will be ultraconservative at best, and often downright misogynistic and intolerant.

We are now following a very puritanical hadith centric Islam masquerading as orthodoxy. Whilst drafting this part of the essay I was at a meeting which began with a short session of hadith spamming…and nothing whatsoever from the Qur’an. Hadith spamming (or carpet bombing) essentially entails arbitrarily reciting hadiths and putting whatever spin on them you want in order to illustrate just about anything. Complementing our hadith-centricity, we have anti-intellectualism and implicit anthropomorphism. Even reasonably educated Muslims will often think of God as terms of a contingent being with parts, who actually ‘sits’ on a throne, and has eyes and hands etc. Unfortunately, scientific or philosophical education, combined with the conception of God as a contingent being with a body usually leads to one place: atheism. After all, if God is any sort of ‘chap,’ why is he any more plausible then the idols worshipped prior to Muhammad (pbuh).

Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism is not the extent of our current problems. We also have a widespread belief that the harder or less forgiving any sort of Islamic ruling is, the more authentic it actually is. To quote a more articulate colleague then myself from an excellent article on fasting:

”I am not of course suggesting that most lay Muslims are puritans – they obviously are not. Rather, the idea that something which is ‘easy’ or lenient, cannot be at the same time genuinely Islamic, is very widespread amongst practising Muslims. This extends to matters far beyond just prayer, to issues such as dress code, gender segregation, listening to music, keeping the beard and interacting with non-Muslims or voting in elections. In each case, those presenting a ‘lenient’ view, albeit from the Salaf (early generations of Muslims) and classical Islam, are presented as ‘sell-outs’, modernists or simply licentious liberals. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the ease with which these accusations stick is an indication of the extent to which the modern Muslim mind has been conditioned to believe that the hardest way is the most ‘Islamic’ – and that is a very good definition of puritanism, which at its heart is nothing more than the suspicion of ease, a mind-set shared by many Muslims today.”

I ask Muslim readers how you would automatically perceive a ruling making say, fasting times shorter, as opposed to one making fasting times longer. I suggest that we will virtually always give the latter more credence, and demand a much higher level of evidence before coming close to considering the former. Unfortunately, Qur’anic verses emphasising the ease that God intends for us (2:185, 5:06, 2:286) are forgotten or used as hollow disclaimers that Islam is easy, despite all the efforts to make the contrary true.


In this essay I have outlined some general ideals that would be conducive to successful practice of Islam. Unlike the staunch modernist, I have not claimed that we need to delete bits of the Qur’an and change Islam according to the desires of secular liberals; but I also refuse to be satisfied by claims of our problems being simply products of culture or solely the fault of the Western world.

We live in an age of war, cruelty, environmental destruction, climate change and inequality both secular and religious. Islam has solutions and principles, which can change the sorry state that humanity finds itself in today. Sadly, Islam as many of us know it is almost silent on such issues, and is even used to justify the worst aspects of humanity.

Therefore, however we dress it up, the way we approach Islam has to change in order to become, as stated earlier: spiritually fulfilling, intellectually defensible, and providing purpose as well as meaning in the lives of its followers.

Whether you want to call that reformation, restoration, renaissance, re-enlightenment, re-interpretation, re-invigoration or any other synonyms, the conclusion remains the same. Things have to change. I hope this article raises important questions to readers and as always I anticipate constructive criticism and discussion.

As-salamu alaykum to all.


57 thoughts on “What Would ‘Good’ Islamic Reform Look Like?

  1. Wonderful work Adil. Very cogent points. A must share. I echo the words ///”Islam is more descriptive then prescriptive in terms of how its followers should live (hence the low proportion of legalistic verses in the Qur’an”

  2. I think we are living in a dangerous time where Muslims are repeatedly made to rethink and evaluate their religion. With little intellectual, honest and fair Muslim leaders, the next generation will be left to battle their way through peace and conviction. The recently released study of ‘what British Muslims really think’ (whether accurate or not) definitely highlights a truly segregated community; little to do with the outside world. So for me, I do believe that it’s about time that Muslims in the West start honestly debating theological aspects of Islam with intellect, not sectarianism and name calling.

    Touching on some of the points you have mentioned.

    It has become normal for Muslims to believe that fear of Allah to the max is absolutely essential. Those that keep their ‘deen’ are always dreaming of the seerah and how Allah’s wrath will be of great importance.

    A hadith goes as follows:

    That news distressed the companions of the Prophet too much, and they said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who amongst us will be that man (the lucky one out of one-thousand who will be saved from the Fire)?” He said, “Have the good news that one-thousand will be from Gog and Magog, and the one (to be saved will be) from you.” The Prophet added, “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, I Hope that you (Muslims) will be one third of the people of Paradise.” On that, we glorified and praised Allah and said, “Allahu Akbar.” The Prophet then said, “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, I hope that you will be one half of the people of Paradise, as your (Muslims) example in comparison to the other people (non-Muslims), is like that of a white hair on the skin of a black ox, or a round hairless spot on the foreleg of a donkey.” – Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76, Hadith 537

    Now you can rest assure from that hadith that no one is going paradise. The fact that a lot of Muslim preachers even here in the West emphasis the punishment of the grave and so on really emphasis a lack of understanding and that is where I think the reform should come in. We should stop seeing god through a lens of fear but rather appreciate the most merciful.

    Your other point about admitting that the sahabah were wrong in some issues (that are very huge like apostates, abrogation and adulterers) is going to be the hardest to challenge. Saying Mu’awiyah (ra) was a respectable man who made ijtihad but wronged is going against the very essence of history (this man did a lot of damage that can’t go unattended). Why can’t we critique our history just like we critique christian history. Obvious mistakes and unbelievable sayings are repeatedly defended but why?

    Because if you are going to admit that the sahabah were wrong, then you enter a very dangerous area because you may deduce from that, that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) commanded these very rulings. If the problem was that easy, it would have been solved long ago, who are we to come now to fix things that were agreed by Muslims for all that time. Doesn’t that imply a reform?

    With all do respect to the author
    A fantastic analysis

  3. In the list of “ten common paradigms which are not held by marginal clique of extremists or illiterate vigilantes, but a large body of scholars across different denominations and a very large portion of lay Muslims”, I think point number 6 (“no secondary causation, no indeterminacy”) is the one who is most well-known to non-Muslims, and often appears to them as a sort of definition of Islam or of “Tawheed”.

  4. With all due respect also to the author also : the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not incoherent. May I ask you what you mean exactly by that ? Which authors/texts expressing this doctrine are you referring to ?

    • I agree with the author, so in place of the author, I will ask you something: what does “person” and “essence” mean in the Athanasian creed as these terms relate to the Trinity?

  5. started out wonderful. digressed to western versus muslim sensibilities. why do muslims assign so little value to other muslims, that reform must be within the context of non-muslim sensibilities? as things stand, there are several countries that, should they loose their strongman containment, would tear themselves apart, Iraq and Libya style, over what Islam means. The question is more important than east versus west, and there is a clock ticking.

    • I didnt say that reform/renaissance/revival or whatever has to be done a certain way to go hand in hand with non muslim sensibilities; in fact one of the biggest problems I have with many popular Muslim reformists is that they want to gut fillet Islam until it becomes secular liberalism for brown people. In other words, an irrelevant and pointless set of optional and unimportant rituals, and no political or ‘action based’ dimension whatsoever.

      I believe that Islam should address and be consistent with human nature; therefore most people should be able to resonate with it, whether born Muslim on not. Common Muslim discourse today often fails in this regard. In many of the khutbas and talks I have been to I’ve cringed at how the central ‘messages’ are often petty, puritanical and impossible to relate to for many Muslims, let alone non Muslims. This isnt the ‘fault of the kuffar,’ for being so tainted that they can’t comprehend the beauty of Islam, its the fault of the Muslims for systematically obscuring it.

      • I heard that Adam Deen is your BOYfriend? Can you confirm or deny William Shatner?

        Also, are you still pissed about being left out of the ‘Star Trek’ remake?
        I thought that was cold – they could have at least had you in flash-forward or alternative universe like Spock.

  6. @neuralminstrel

    The essence or nature of a being is an absolute, unchangeable law governing that being and making it what it is. The essence or nature of God (also “divinity”) is what is referred to in the first part of the shahadah.

    The trinitarian “person” is any one of Father, Son or Holy Spirit. The earliest known occurences of those concepts are found in old Judaism (and noticeable traces still survive in post-Christian Judaism despite the massive censorship and book burning entrepise carried out by the Jewish leaders). In the Gospels we see Jesus Christ using those terms (Father,Son, Holy Spirit) freely without needing to explain them (and without being asked to). When Christian culture morphed into a mostly non-semitic culture (a Greek-Roman culture) it became inevitable to translate those semitic terms. Thus, in modern English we rather say “The second person of the Trinity” rather than “The Son” which is much less precise, or “The human nature of Jesus Christ” rather than “The son of man” which is a rather imperfect and strange translation of a Hebrew construct.

    There are also philosophical elaborations on the notion of “person”, of course. According to the classical definition of Boethius “a person is an individual substance of a rational nature”. In a less technical language, a person is that which exists by itself, has free will, and intelligence/knowledge (be careful though that God’s intelligence knows everything immediately, not by stages and deduction as we humans do). For example we say that the Holy Spirit is a person and not just a “force”.

    Quoting Muhamad Asad’s commentary on the Qur’an :

    “Western critics of the Qur’an frequently point to the allegedly “incoherent” references to God – often in one and the same phrase – as “He”, “God”, “We” or “I”, with
    the corresponding changes of the pronoun from “His” to “Ours” or “My”, or from “Him” to “Us” or “Me”. They seem to be unaware of the fact that these changes are not accidental, and not even what one might describe as “poetic licence”, but are obviously deliberate, a linguistic device meant to stress the idea that God is not a “person” and cannot, therefore, be really circumscribed by the pronouns applicable to finite beings.”

    Contrary to the common Muslim misconception on the subject, the Trinitarian person concept is a protection against antropomorhism, not an invitation to it. If you speak of three persons in God, then you are claiming God is something completely different from human beings, as each human being is obviously just one person.

  7. I have some problems with the article. I tried to post this comment under different details but it seems it was not getting approved or something because I can’t see it.

    “Which perspective is more defensible? That God is a large ‘chap’ with actual hands and digits like anthropomorphists claim? Or that God is timeless and spaceless like the ‘heretical’ Mu’tazila say?”

    What a nonsensical false dichotomy.

    You make it seem like if you aren’t a Mutazilite, you are a anthropromorphist when in fact Sunni orthodoxy is Asharis and Maturidis. Anything but anthropomorphist.


    “Is the Qur’an created by God or is the Qur’an a co eternal and timeless entity that exists alongside God. If you prefer the ‘orthodox’ latter, instead of the ‘heretical’ former, on what grounds can we claim that the Holy Trinity is incoherent?”

    I like how you put ‘orthodox’ in quote as if we can question how orthodox it is. This doctrine is affirmed by Abu Hanifa himself in Al-Fiqh Al Akbar.

    Also by “qur’an” obviously we aren’t talking about our speech or the paper books.

    From Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar:

    “He has eternally been attributed with Power, by His Power, and His power is an eternal attribute. ”

    “He has eternally been attributed with Al-Kalam, by His Speech and His Speech is an eternal attribute.”

    “Allah Ta’ala is attributed with Kalam which is unlike our speech, as it is neither by means of organs , parts, limbs, sounds, nor letters (alphabets).”


    “His attributes existed in eternity; they did not exist after being non – existent, nor were they created. Whoever says that they are created, existed after being non – existent, or is uncertain about the attributes and doubts them, is a dis believer in Allah Ta’ala.

    The Qur’an is the Kalam of Allah Ta’ala , written on books (masahif), preserved in the hearts, recited on the tongues, and revealed to the Prophet, sallal lahu alahi wa aalihi wa sallam. Our utter ance of the Qur’an is created, and our recitation of the Qur’an is created, but the Qur’an (as the attribute of Kalam of Allah) is not created.”

    This is also affirmed in Imam Tahawi’s aqidah so there is no need to doubt it’s orthodox status.

    By Qur’an, we are talking about the attribute of God, his speech. Allah’s speech (kalam) is not a “separate” entity that can exist separate from him.

    Let us for the sake of argument say Allah’s Speech is created. Now what happens to the other attributes? Is his justice created? Is his mercy created? Did he acquire them at some point? This hasn’t actually resolved your problem.

    Regardless this is not comparable to the trinity. In the trinity:

    The Trinity is composed of three persons. They are the Son (Jesus), the father and the holy spirit.

    The Son, is not The Father and is not The Holy Spirit.

    The Holy spirit is not The Father and is not The Son.

    The Father is not The Son and is not The Holy Spirit.

    The Father is fully God.

    The Son is fully God.

    The Holy Spirit is fully God.

    Yet there is one God, not three Gods. Not three entities that are 1/3 God each, each is 100% God. But still one God. That is the main incoherence.

    The Kalam of Allah is of course *not* God, so these are not comparable situations.

    “There is no secondary causation or indeterminacy in the Universe. God makes people believers or disbelievers and then arbitrarily punishes them accordingly. ”

    I don’t see anyone denying free will, even salafis. Perhaps they do some very strange gymnastics to reconcile it with certain views of Qadr, but in principle they all accept free will.


    You seem to think to be a rationalist (and correct me if my assumption is erroneous), you need to go look at Mutazilites. When in fact Sunni Islam has its own tradition of rationalism. See: Imam Maturidi and his school. Although Maturidis today (*cough* deobandis *cough*) aren’t very good at this.

    In fact I’d call Sh Sulaiman Ahmed and Sh Atabek “rationalist” but they certainly aren’t mutazilites. Neither is Wajahat Hussain al-Hanafi, who I am sure you are all familiar with if you are familiar with Sh Atabek and Sh Sulaiman.

    • Thank you for your response. please can you give a specific statement made by Abu Hanifa asserting that the Qur’an is uncreated and reference it?

      Uh no, I don’t think anyone who isn’t a mutazilite is an anthropomorphist. My point is that anthropomorphist conceptions of God have become very common amongst Sunni Muslims, which is problematic.

      • For some reason I can’t recomment with the same account/email as before.

        The quotes from Abu Hanifa are from Al Fiqh Al Akbar.

        Here is a translation by Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahya Ninowy along with original text, the quotes I posted from Abu Hanifa can all be found there: http://www.central-mosque.com/aqeedah/fiqakbar.pdf

        Imam Abu Hanifa also affirms uncreatedness again in Kitab al wasiyya: http://www.marifah.net/articles/wasiyya-abuhanifa.pdf

        “Uh no, I don’t think anyone who isn’t a mutazilite is an anthropomorphist. ”

        Well you might want to reword since:

        “Which perspective is more defensible? That God is a large ‘chap’ with actual hands and digits like anthropomorphists claim? Or that God is timeless and spaceless like the ‘heretical’ Mu’tazila say?”

        Has a very strong implication that if you do not want to hold the “God is a chap” view you must adopt a Mutazilite view when this view is actually standard Sunni orthodoxy of the Ashari/Maturidi schools.

      • You probably can’t comment because you keep changing your name. Last time you couldn’t understand what ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’ meant.

        I suggest you figure out the basics of the internet.

      • @mmmclmru

        To be fair, “your comment is awaiting moderation” no longer shows. After pressing “POST COMMENT” the comment just disappears.

      • @mmmclmru

        “You probably can’t comment because you keep changing your name”

        All my comments on this site use the same name (n3wu53r) and the same email.

        Yes I did post it on Paul’s site (although I think I may have used a different name over on his site, but not here), I don’t see why this would be an issue? Besides, at the time the article was not yet on this website. I thought reposting it here would be a good idea since there is actual discussion taking place here were as Paul’s site only has one other comment on the article.

        “Last time you couldn’t understand what ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’ meant.”

        I understand exactly what it means, I never received such message. I hit “post comment” and then nothing happens. My comment simply does not appear with no indication as to why. I assumed awaiting moderation/approval was the likely reason as it eventually appeared.

        “I suggest you figure out the basics of the internet.”

        Really, the first time I try to comment here and you assume I’m stupid or can’t use a computer or something?

        Adab game strong I see.

      • Adhab really is a ‘game’ for idiots like you so apt.

        You posted as ‘Anon’ before you lying dirtbag. You even SAID that you posted under a different name and couldn’t get approved.

        Also, please do humanity a favour and go and find whoever taught you Kalaam and Aqeeda and slap them for doing such a poor job. Putting whole books as ‘references’. Moronic.

        So you are stupid, a liar and banned!

      • Of course now he will say he learnt from Shukurov or God or something to make a drama.

        But we saw who you learnt from on Williams site when you gave Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyam as ‘references’ along with the WHOLE of Maturidis ‘Kitab ut Tawhid’.

        Also dumbo, Ibn Taymiyya never said Non-Muslims will be taken out of Hell as you were claiming there (*you cleverly removed the Salafi/anthropomorphist references from the comment when posting here – like a proper ‘Ash-Salafi’).

        Show me where he says that. Ignoramus.
        He said Hell will be destroyed.
        Along with the people.
        So dumb.

        We have a word for people like you: ‘Ash-Salafis’

  8. About your point on the Quran being created or not. This seems to be very complicated issue. Can u recommend me some books that addresses this issue throughly?

    • Sorry for replying late. I had so many emails to reply to and because of the structure of WordPress it is easy to forget unless you reply straight away.

      As for books, they mainly suck. Muslim scholars study hadith only nowadays and they have no knowledge of Kalaam and these types of issues. Books from the past go untranslated or with ‘commentary’ to hide what they were actually saying. Atabek Shukurov is the only guy I have come across who has adequate understanding of these issues (especially since Ramadhan Al Bouti was murdered by Salafis).

      The issue is that Muslims keep claiming that ‘Kalaam’ (attribute of ‘speech’ of God) = Quran. But that does not make any sense, since yes, ‘speech’ of God must be uncreated as God cannot change or be contingent in any way, so he can’t suddenly decide to talk or stop talking. So it is something which is outside of time and without beginning or end. But if Kalaam = Quran then all and everything God ever says is in Quran, which is nonsense. So the book that is the Quran is not that attribute of God called ‘kalaam’. You are not holding God in your hands when you hold Quran. On top of this, whole issue of the attributes of God is very confused anyway.

      So the issue of Quran being created or not is one of the most covered up issues by Muslim scholars. Speech of God is an attribute which is not really like speech at all but like knowledge of God. If it is recorded in a book that exists in time, then obviously that is created. Problems occurs when people try to make Allah’s attribute of speech equivalent with the Quran.

      Also, the problem is due to all the dramas and lying by Muslims on this issue – especially making an issue about Imam Ahmad being a hero and standing up for orthodoxy in the Minha by Al Mamoun (or whoever it was that started the Inquisition where they asked everyone to admit that the Quran was created and enforce Mu’tazzilism). But Ahmad and Hanbalis were not orthodox either – they believed that the paper book and recitation of the Quran by people were were ALSO uncreated, which is wrong. So Muslim scholars play these games and confuse people to demonise the Mu’tazzilites as much as possible. and usualy by ‘Mu’tazzila’ they mean Hanafis as most Mu’tazzila were Hanafis. but that is another story.

      Also, the fight was not between Ahmad and Mu’tazzila but rather Hanbalis and Imam Bukhari – they caused him to die in exile because he said that the pages of the Quran as a book were created. Scholars cover this all up or don’t know it.

      Basically, the Mu’tazzila are the enemies of the Muhaditheen. Muhaditheen are on a pedestal nowadays, so people lay it on thick about the Mutazzila and cause confusion.

      I probably did not make that very clear – so please message back if you want to know more but you seem like a smart person, so I would recommend the following article:


      which talks about this and a lot of other issues as well as this history of the Mu’tazzila: ‘Defenders of Reason In Islam’ By Martin, Woodward and Atmaja. I haven’t finished it yet but it seems really good up to about 120 pages or so. The article by Crow is a must.

      If you have trouble getting a hold of them, email me and I will send them to you.

  9. @Hubert John The way i see it is that Speech is not the creation of its speaker, but an attribute of the speakers knowledge.
    If the speakers knowledge is eternal then the speakers speech can be “eternal”
    though there can be a beginning to when the speaker speaks, the speech itself is un(invented/created) since creation is an invention; something coming to, prior to which that something did not exist.

  10. @Hubert John The way i see it is that Speech is not the creation of its speaker, but an attribute of the speakers knowledge.
    If the speakers knowledge is eternal then the speakers speech can be “eternal”
    though there can be a beginning to when the speaker speaks, the speech itself is un(invented/created) since creation is an invention; something coming to, prior to which that something did not exist.

  11. @n3wu53r

    “Regardless this is not comparable to the trinity. In the trinity: The Trinity is composed of three persons.”

    No it is not. God is not composed of anything. Any detailed treatise on the Trinity will mention this point. For example St. Athanasius’ creed mentioned above says “nor diving the essence”

    ” Allah’s speech (kalam) is not a “separate” entity that can exist separate from him.”

    Then why do you insist that the Word of God, the Trinitarian Son, is a “separate” entity than can exist separate from him ?
    This is the main Muslim double standard.

    ” in principle they all accept free will”

    In principle they’re also perfect Muslims who make no mistakes, I guess …
    “In principle” = Please don’t charge them with that they say/do in practice because they should say/do the correct thing in theory …

    • “No it is not. God is not composed of anything. Any detailed treatise on the Trinity will mention this point. For example St. Athanasius’ creed mentioned above says “nor diving the essence””

      Yes it is. The trinity is of three persons. I did not say “God is composed of three persons”, but the doctrine of the trinity is about three persons. Again I merely stated a fact, that there are three persons in the trinity, which there are. Are there two persons? Or one person? Or four? No the trinity has three persons. I have not made any inaccurate statement. I am well aware Christians don’t believe God is made up of parts and that the persons aren’t components or parts, but they nonetheless believe in the existence three persons, were each person is fully God. You seems to be nitpicking at nothing.

      “In principle they’re also perfect Muslims who make no mistakes, I guess …”

      What? When did I imply anything even related?

      “Please don’t charge them with that they say/do in practice because they should say/do the correct thing in theory ”

      Umm what? What kind of strawman is this?

      I merely stated all Muslim groups, yeah even salafis, will say and believe we choose are actions and that we have free will. Even if saying that causes contradictions in their positions, they nonetheless generally believe free will exists.

    • “Then why do you insist that the Word of God, the Trinitarian Son, is a “separate” entity than can exist separate from him ?
      This is the main Muslim double standard.”

      I didn’t do that in my post? Another strawman. I only mentioned it to make it clear we aren’t talking about our recitation or paper mushaf.

      It’s not even close to comparable to the trinity because each person is fully God. The Son is God, not 1/3 of God, but on his own is fully God. The same goes for the Father and Holy Spirit. The Son Is not the Father ect. I don’t need to tell you. yet there aren’t three Gods but one God in the trinity.

      While the kalam, or any attribute, while not being a “part” or “entity” that could exist separately, ends any kind of commonality with the trinity here. The kalam, the justice, the mercy of God are his attributes. They are not God at all. Nor are they “persons” that can speak in any sense of the word. Eg. Jesus speaks in the NT, while in other points the Father is speaking not Jesus (eg. “This is my son with who I am well pleased…” is the Father speaking, no? If not the Father then who?) . In Christian belief God is speaking in both places and there is one God, but nonetheless there are places were the father speaks and places were Jesus does.

  12. best article in the field so far. thank you for sharing your ideas. greetings from Hungary. Csilla/شيلا

  13. @n3wu53r

    So you accuse (“In the trinity: The Trinity is composed of three persons”) and then pretend you didn’t accuse (“I am well aware Christians don’t believe God is made up of parts and that the persons aren’t components or parts”). Typical cowardly waffler

    • Um what?

      I never stated Christians believe God has parts anywhere. You’re just reading that in to the statement “The Trinity is composed of three persons” and putting words in my mouth.

      The trinity is made of three persons. This is an objective fact.

      How many persons are there if not three? Are there 2 persons, or four? No, there is the Father, son and holy spirit.

      All I said was that there are three persons in the doctrine of trinity, which there are, not that you believe god is made up of parts. So you can knock it off with the strawman.

  14. Regarding point number 1 (“Parts of the Qur’an are abrogated by the Hadith “) I think most Salafis would not describe their position this way. They prefer to speak about the Qur’an abrogating itself (some verses abrogating others) and allege examples such as the verses about the prohibition of wine, etc.
    They think they can somewhat hide their own weaknesses and inconsistencies behind the Qur’an this way, but all this achieves for non-Muslims is cast more doubt on the Qur’an.

    • They admit it because Hanbalis and Shafis do it too – so it is not a new problem actually. But you are right, they hide it with words like ‘specifying the Quran etc’

  15. I really like this article. Yes, we need to acknowledge the faults of our predecessors; yes, we need to engage with our tradition rationally; yes, we need to correct our theological views; yes, we need to dispel the common opinion of puritanism being the benchmark of Islamic authenticity.

    At the same time, I have to nitpick a bit.

    While a portion of Muslims have fallen into anthropomorphism today, I think that this is solely their own fault. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to realize that God isn’t a “man in the sky”, so I think people are just falling into their sectarian predilections when they think that. And the vast majority of Muslims (at least in the Occident) don’t even strike me as that sectarian – they just want to go on with their lives without arguing about religion, and I honestly think that most people aren’t anthropomorphists because that heresy is simply hard to fall into unless you’re sectarian. And even then, there are more Deobandis and Brelwis than Salafis in the UK, right? And they aren’t anthropomorphists, right? So I think the main problem here is people doing taqlid in aqidah, and not the specific heresies that are widespread.

    This brings me to my next point: I don’t think there was any really good reason to make a whole issue about the common Muslim opinion concerning the Mu’tazila. I think using their name as a rallying point of any sort is again falling into the same sort of sectarianism I mentioned above. There’s no harm in correcting our opinion about them, but at the same time, I don’t think there’s a widespread benefit in that either. The real goal is to correct our belief system, and to that end, the best method is to simply say “I’m going to be honest with myself and believe in what I think is correct after examining the evidence of each view on an issue”, and it is not to say “the Mu’tazila are less heretical than we once thought they were”. So let’s not base our manifesto around sects, but around ikhlas – that will really lead us somewhere.

    • I studied under Deobandis for years. You are totally wrong about them.
      Look at their most famous guys in UK – Akram Nadwi and Zahir Mahmoud, as well as in Pakistan, Taqi Usmanni.
      All of them Salafi and praising Ibn Taymiyya, most blatantly Mujassim/anthropomorphist guy you can think of.
      The first two even work for IERA. You saw the articles about Nadwi on this site.
      Deobandis are confused, but virtually none of them are properly Maturidi and many are anthropomorphists, like the above guys.
      Taqi Usmani is one of their top people, and he said aqeeda of Ibn Taymiyya is fine.
      Some of them are strongly against that, but there is a big strand of blatant Wahhabis in Deoband, and they are the majority now.

      • Well, colour me surprised. I knew about Akram Nadwi, but I had no idea about Taqi Usmani falling into the same boat. It seems so unlikely to me given the aversion that certain Deobandis have towards Salafis and tajsim. An example of the kind of Deobandis I’m talking about are Mohammad Yasir and his followers. Now, I’m no fan of him or Deobandis, nor do I think they’re proper Maturidis (I think many have just taken to calling themselves Ash’ari, but somehow I doubt they’re even that), but I’m just underscoring why I’m surprised: from an outsider’s perspective, there looks to be a huge war between Salafis and Deobandis in the UK. So I never thought there’d be Wahhabis in Deoband. But I suppose it’s easy for them to get confused when their scholars seem to make no sense with their statements, saying things like “he was an honourable scholar but he went against the consensus in certain regards” instead of saying “this guy screwed up big time and you shouldn’t take religion from him.” That and their Salafi-style fiqh.

      • There are different factions amongst them, that is why many are against Wahhabis as they are losing most of their students to them.
        The South African ones for example are very harsh on Wahhabis, they even wrote a beatdown of Albani etc.
        But any organisation that includes barn door Salafis like Usmani and Nadwi cannot be seen as a defence or bullwark against anthropomorphism, that was my point.
        But Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi – one of their top guys, well in with Saudi, lived there, taught there, so what more do you want!
        Even Shah Wali Allah, who they venerate, was a Taymiyyite.
        They are bent from the start.

  16. The problem with reforming a religion is that it might not be consistent with the reality of a religion. Now we know that Christianity has been reformed and it worked even though this Christianity has nothing to do with the Christianity that was practiced when it ruled over the societies. But nobody cares for this since the consequences of this reform are positive for the world.
    I would like if this reform would work in Islam but the big difference is that the Islamic sources are documented very well historically. The original Islamic traditions are so overwhelming that reforming Islam can only work by rejected these sources. By this every claim for scientific approach on historical sources is destroyed. So for reforming Islam you need to be extremely unscientific. For Christianity too but it is not to this extend like for Islam.

    For me Islam did not stand the tests it claimed to stand as the religion of truth. In general the concept of a monotheistic God is very disturbing and cynical for me. I rejected my Islamic faith but I know that many people need a religion and something to believe in. Therefore I hope that the reform of Islam will work so that these people have a moderate way in their born-in religion.

    Just in case that my last comment was not noticed. I asked what are examples of Muslims (Salafis I guess) saying that a hadith abrogates some ruling from the Quran? This sounds very weird from even a Salafi point of view.

    • How is the majority sect of Christianity – Catholicism – reformed though?
      Hadith abrogating Quran – it is the position of Shafis as well, not only Salafis. Though you are right – they like to cover this up and use words like ‘specifying’ as opposed to ‘abrogate’. Not only hadith can abrogate Quran – I think for Malikis the consensus of the seven Fuqaha (jurists) of Medina can do it too.

      So there are many examples – adultery is a good one, where Quran says lashing for Zina but this has been ‘specified’ to stoning from hadith. So matter is mentioned in the Quran and the hadith, information conflicts, so it is ‘reconciled’ (means, Quran is ignored). But there are many issues – most of Quran is abrogated according to Ibn Qayyum and these Salafi archfiends. Maybe you want some examples from fiqh such as divorce and stuff? Let me know!

      Now, I need to know what you mean by the Islamic sources being too well attested and which ones you think need to be removed by a scientific approach (and what constitutes a scientific approach for you)? What parts of the Quran need to be removed for examples? And why are the Ahad narrations canonised 200 years later too well attested to remove?

      People even opposed the canonisation of the whole of Bukhari for centuries until Ibn Salah and Co. came along so why do we have to accept that verbatim now?

      • I think that these are differences in understanding the verses. In the example of adultery I know that there is this verse announcing that there will be a new ruling. Now you can say the lashing-verse is this new ruling. But I do not see that it excludes stoning. This is a matter of interpretation and understanding of verses and not abrogation.

        Stoning is also a good example of a clearly attested ruling. There is overwhelming proof for Muslims practicing this ruling from the beginning. It was taken from the Torah.
        I know about the problems that many narrations about Muhammad have. The Sirah of Ibn Ishaq has many false reports without doubt. But you cannot take a minimalist approach to historical traditions like this. These strict verification rules cannot be applied realistically from this time. You have to take early historians, scholars, rulers in account too. Everything else is only convincing when having faith already.

        But in any way, I have to ask why does this all matter? If you believe in a God who created mankind with some reason, why can’t he order stoning or in general strict rules? Life is full of hardships anyway. What does it matter if God adds some additional?
        For me the first problem is Allah himself. Then the consistency claims of the Quran and Muhammad come. Strict rules and violence is only the last point which would not be the problem if the first point was not.

    • I’m not sure how the concept of 1 God (as opposed to several?) is in any way cynical. To me, intellectual cynicism is saying ”nah, instead of contemplating the possibility of a divine reality behind the universe I’m instead going to believe in an infinite number of unprovable and unfalsifiable number of universes with no spaciotemporal relation to our own,” or saying that ”theres nothing in the universe innit, because the sum of positive energy equals the sum of the negative energy, therefore nothing,” Most of the arguments for atheism I hear are pure cynicism and usually boil down to

      ”God does not exist and this is obvious, thus anyone who believes in God is stupid, thus any arguments given or reasons to support the concept of God are stupid”

      Oh and then all the pretentious claims of ‘I’m a skeptic, I’m a rationalist, I’m a freethinker, I prefer reason to fairy tales la la la’

      Personally I’m way too skeptical to be an athiest.

      • “Personally I’m way too skeptical to be an athiest.”

        Very well said! Ironically, for every thing believed by a religious person today there are 50 things disbelieved by him or her.
        Before even getting into religion you have to reject and disbelieve all the massive anti-religious propaganda.
        A priest once said, “The distinction should be made not between believers and non-believers, but between those who care about the truth and those who don’t.”
        In Catholic doctrine, faith is merely a tool not an end in itself. In paradise where people see God “face to face” faith will not be needed any more.
        I don’t know about the status of Iman in Islam ? Islam is generally more “agnostic” than Catholicism regarding Paradise (or Hell, come to that).

      • The problem is not necessarily one god but a god or gods creating with their own will and being seen as all-perfect and all-merciful. I do not think that supposing a God behind the universe is stupid from a rational point of view. Whether the cause for existence is a deity-like entity or something more naturalistic is not really different for me. Therefore I would call myself an agnostic here.
        The problem behind a god creating the universe by his own will is that it is an evil idea. A god who has done this by his free choice is not something I can pray to. When I first left Islam I did not really deny Allah and his prophet for being the truth. I was rather considering Allah or any God as evil and not deserving any worship. Only after I got more and more distanced from Islam I started to doubt the the Quran and the arguments for existence of God.

        And regarding your talk about the multiverse theory. The reason for this theory is that the probability for the universe and biological species evolving into exactly this form is low. An extremely low probability does not make something impossible.
        The multiverse theory still does not explain how the universe started to exist. It is just explaining why an extremely improbable put STILL POSSIBLE happening can occur with higher probability or when going to infinity with the probability 1. Therefore you have no proof for God here. Intelligent design and presenting the multiverse theory as absurd does not prove your God nor does it in any way disprove atheism.

  17. LOL. You are absolutely hilarious.

    You were mocking me as if I could not use a computer and I need to “learn the basics of the internet” yet you are the one who can’t tell the difference between two different people on Paul’s website.

    When you accused me of using Ibn al Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyyah as references and referencing the whole of Maturidis kitab at tawhid, It took me a few minutes to figure out what you were talking about. I had to go back to Paul’s site to realize that you couldn’t tell the difference between my comment (posted under the name as anon) and the other user on the website commenting (under the name ghazali with a different profile picture as well).


    I don’t know how stupid you could be to confuse two different comments. My comment on pauls site is what I copied out on to here (though I decided to I made some minor changes talking about about the trinity). I never mentioned Ibn Taymiyya or Maturidi’s kitab at tawhid on either website, so I think *you* should learn the basics of the internet and be able to tell the difference between multiple commentors before deciding to tell people “you suck and I hate you”.

    A real shame really, I loved your masterpiece, “Have You Been Blackmailed With Bukhari Yet?”. I’m quite saddened that the author of that wonderful piece turned out to be such an asshat to his readers.

    • My bad. I was replying to the wrong idiot.

      Good you showed how concerned you REALLY were with ‘adhab’. That’s why I always let you guys have a few insults. The real character comes out nicely.

      Yet again you posted from another email address.

      So you REALLY don’t get it.

      Comments about Kalaam etc still stand. Just spouting nonsense.

  18. @Zany

    ” I asked what are examples of Muslims (Salafis I guess) saying that a hadith abrogates some ruling from the Quran? This sounds very weird from even a Salafi point of view.”

    Some are discussed at http://www.ahlalhdeeth.com/vbe/showthread.php?t=192

    “In general the concept of a monotheistic God is very disturbing and cynical for me.”

    Really ? I am quite surprised that anybody should feel like that. To me and to many other people, the concept of a monotheistic God is quite rational and even harmless in a sense. And what’s disturbing about it ? You don’t have a problem with you being just one person, do you ? Then what problem do you have with God being just one God ?

  19. Huh? Since when has Adam Deen been my friend? I don’t even know him personally

    As it happens I think he has some good ideas as has been good at calling out some ‘orthodox’ scholars who are just extremist nutjobs, but like many other Muslim reformists can come across as petulant and generally in the camp of using the same tired Quilliamite soundbites about the regressive left (i.e. most non Muslim critics of Islamophobia), and that ‘Islamophobia doesnt exist’ etc etc, whilst all the while making excuses in favor of outright anti Muslim loons like Sam Harris, Aayan Hirsi Ali, Douglas Murray etcetc.

  20. I think #1 and #7 will make a certain group of Muslims particularly ecstatic to see admitted by Ahl as Sunnah, as it buttresses their view that our version of history is based on lies, mistakes and cover ups, while their version is the unchanged truth, no matter how small their numbers currently are in comparison. I think both of these points will cause a lot of violent resistance and mainstream Muslims’ brains will shut down. Now, is that enough of a reason to stop advocating for reform…no, I don’t think so. It is a frightening road to travel on, though, and not one I would recommend by choice.

  21. Mashallah.

    Spot. On. I could not agree more. We need more Brothers and Sisters that think like this and act on this.

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