What about the Moderates?

September 1, 2006 at 4:53 pm (Islam, Islamism)

Dex brings up a number of good points here. I also see Eteraz would not completely agree with what I had written.

So, when considering the problem of Islamism versus the West, where do moderate Muslims fall in? Are they to be included in the problem portion, solution portion, or somewhere else? How do their existence validate or invalidate arguments that Islam itself may be the threat?

The issue boils down to a question that vexes the Muslim community/Muslim communities: who and what is a Muslim?

Literally, ٌٌٌمسلمٌ “muslimun” (nominative indefinite, from the word إسلام “islām” (“submission”) from the root سلم “s-l-m”; nominative definite would be ألمسلمُ“al-muslimu,” without case ending, مسلم “muslim”) means “a male thing that submits”; the female equivalent would be مسلمةٌ “muslimatun” (nominative indefinite), ألمسلمةُ “al-muslimatu” (nominative definite), مسلمة “muslimah” (without case ending). So the important word is “submit.” But to whom or to what? The Qur’an talks about submitting to God. What does this entail? This entails obeying God. What does it mean to obey God? It means to accept and obey the rules, laws, and beliefs He has revealed. Where are these rules, laws, and beliefs found? In the fundamental sources of Islam (Qur’ān, ahadīth, sunnah, sharī’ah).

According to some Muslims, a Muslim is he or she who has submitted to God by submitting to Islam, and doing so by proclaiming الشھادتان ash-shahādatān or الشھادتین ash-shahādatayn (the Two Testifications of faith, namely, “I testify that there is no god but God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, although this must be said in Arabic, which I won’t provide right now). So, in a sense, anyone who says this or believes this is a Muslim. Others might take is a bit further: a Muslim is he or she who accepts and believes in the Five Pillars of Islam, which are:
1. ألشھادتان ash-shahādatān, the Two Testifications of faith mentioned above;
2. ألصلوۃ or ألصلاۃ aS-Salāh (pronounced salāt by Persian- and Urdu-speakers), prayer;
3. ألزکوۃ or ألزکاۃ az-zakāh (pronounced zakāt by Persian- and Urdu-speakers), paying the religious taxes;
4. ألحخ al-Hajj, making the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime if one is able to; and
5. ألصوم aS-Sawm (also known as روزہ rozah by Persian- and Urdu-speakers, fasting (especially in the Islamic month of Ramadan).

But here comes the tricky part: what about someone who believes in them but doesn’t practice them? Most Muslims would hold them to be Muslims but unfaithful ones. The more fundamentalist would say that they are apostates.

Here’s why. Fundamentalists are known for emphasizing توحید tawhīd (“one-ness,” referring to monotheism). There’s a reason and a logic behind this: If a Muslim accepts the shahādatān, he or she believes God is one. He or she would also believe in the attributes (often called “names”) of God. So, he or she would believe that God is the sole sovereign ruler (“sovereign ruler” is one of His attributes, and since He is one, He is the sole sovereign ruler), and therefore he or she would have to believe that only God can make laws and rules and those laws and rules sent down by Him must be obeyed. A break in any line of this logic would mean the person does not accept tawhīd, which means one engages in شرک shirk (polytheism, usually defined as “associating partners with God”) and, thereby, کفر kufr (“infidelity” in a religious sense), making one an apostate and a non-Muslim (and thus an enemy of God and Islam). Fundamentalists then use such logic to make is practically mandatory for all Muslims to reject the West: embracing the West is claimed by them to be rejecting Islam (which means one is committing shirk and kufr).

Unfortunately, the fundamentlists find support in tjhe fundamental sources of Islam. (This is so because Islam developed this way so that the Muslims would be motivated and obligated to completely overthrow the extant non-Islamic systems in Arabia in favor of the Islamic system. Unfortunately, this was then applied to the rest of the world.)

So, where do the moderates stand? From the perspective of the fundamental sources of Islam, on quite shaky ground. The fundamentalists would say that there are no moderate Muslims: one is either a faithful Muslim or a non-Muslim; there is no room for compromise or laxity or moderation. They would allege that this idea is a Western ploy to weaken Islam. (Were it that this were true.) The major problem is that the fundamentalists are, as mentioned, justified and justifiable by the fundamental sources of Islam. It is difficult for a Muslim, wishing to be faithful to Islam, to set aside their arguments. From the perspective of these key sources, it is very difficult to claim that fundamentalists are not faithful or more faithful to Islam; it is very difficult to claim that moderates are faithful to Islam. The only way the latter may be claimed is if one is willing to set aside the fundamental sources of Islam or parts of it.

Moderate Muslims–whether they are right or wrong according to Islam is irrelevant when all is said and done–have their part to play. All that needs to happen is for moderate Muslims to organize in sufficient numbers and efficiently in opposition to fundamentalists (which some, such as Eteraz, seem to be doing) so that over time the moderates will prevail and the fundamentalists will recede in influence. The key issue now is not who is right or wrong but who will prevail. But this battle will not be easy, because while the issue for us may be one of battling ideologies or interpretations, for Muslims this is a matter of salvation, of Heaven or Hell, of truth and lies.



  1. Christopher Taylor said,

    Another excellent, informative, and useful essay, Muslihoon. Thank you again for your priceless service.

  2. JS said,

    Definition, if correct, impossible for a moderate to consider?

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