Reforming Islam

At least 12 people have been confirmed dead at the Parisian headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical magazine. This particular magazine has faced threat over its content in the past. Back in 2011, its editors printed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. Shortly thereafter, it was attacked with a petrol bomb. François Hollande has formally announced that it was a terrorist operation where journalists were cowardly targeted. The French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said that three gunmen perpetrated the attack. The video is above.

Video shown on French television shows two masked men firing with police outside the offices. One officer is injured before being shot in the face at point-blank range as he struggles. The men are yelling that the Prophet has been avenged. The gunmen then run back into a black vehicle to escape. Corinne Rey, a designer by the penname Coco, told L’Humanité that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She goes into detail:

I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us. They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.

Apparently the gunmen wanted to tell the media that they were apart of Al-Qaida in Yemen. To learn more about Al-Qaida in Yemen, watch my interview with Farea al-Muslimi below. He has been featured on John Oliver, Fareed Zakaria and al-Muslimi’s narrative on drone attacks in Yemen in front of the Senate went viral. I worked with him in Beirut, and because of him I understand Yemen, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other important issues in the southern Gulf like the drug khat or how terrorists pay and rebuild the homes of victims of American drones, thereby gaining their trust.

Jason Burke, the Guardian correspondent and an expert on Al-Qaida, explains that Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is actually the only functioning affiliate of the organization, which has been based in Yemen for about a decade,that is hell bent on striking the west. AQAP is the main offshoot being degraded by US drone strikes, but has proven to reorganize and strengthen itself despite the strikes. The thing that Burke is trying to say is that AQAP used to mainly be all about bomb-making and ingenuity. An armed assault like this one in Paris is a dramatic new development. What is the reason?

What I really want to talk about is what Islam has to do with all of this. I think I too frequently come to the defense of the concepts of identity and philosophy being the meat of the problem. Despite the fact that many of them condone and even issue violence, I believe the real argument lies in a materialistic perspective. That, ultimately, lacking food, safety, money or housing is what actually causes psychosis translating into terrorism. But, as Islam seems to shroud more and more of these violent outbursts on the one hand, and the rhetoric of powerful groups like ISIS on the other, I am starting to believe that Islam is aching for a reformation. Here are two important facts: 1) There are 1.6 billion Muslims, so there is no one narrative that really explains the Muslim experience; and 2) there are five jurisprudences or schools of Islam, so there is no one Islam in fact. Why, then, have many Muslims radicalized in the name of God, and is this the reformation of Islam occurring before our eyes? If there is one occurring, then there isn’t much of a split but rather several fragments under the parent religion.

I have worked with reformists like Irshad Manji whose written a book called The Trouble with Islam Today. This is her take:

The Trouble with Islam is an open letter from me, a Muslim voice of reform, to concerned citizens worldwide – Muslim and not. It’s about why my faith community needs to come to terms with the diversity of ideas, beliefs and people in our universe, and why non-Muslims have a pivotal role in helping us get there.” – “That doesn’t mean I refuse to be a Muslim, it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah.”

The fact of the matter is that Irshad and millions upon millions of others are starting to recognize the need to end tribal posturing, to bring the religion to modernity and to stand up to oppression embedded in an old world mentality. Islam just needs to be re-interpreted through the Quran and the Hadith, and this concept is called Ijtihad. This comes from the word jihad meaning “to struggle”. In the 8th form of the word in Arabic grammar ijtihad means “independent reasoning” or “diligence.” Many liberal Muslims claim that they are trying to return to the principles of the early Ummah and to the pluralistic intent of the Quran. These scholars distance themselves from traditional interpretations of Islamic law because they are culturally appropriated and therefore inapplicable universally.

Reformists believe in the basic tenets of Islam like the Six Elements of Belief or the Five Pillars, but they have two main differences in their interpretation from conservatives. The first is on how to apply the core Islamic values to modern life and the second includes a more dialectic engagement, which means that they criticize the obligation to follow traditional narratives. This means to interpret the Quran freely regardless of the Hadith. Although my arguments historically tend to prioritize materialism and economics as the basis of the woes of the Middle East and Islam, there seems to be a problem that is ideational. Islam is in need of a global reformation that internalizes modernity while also casting away cultural appropriations which have led to misogyny and oppression.

There are a few reforms that could specifically take hold in the global Muslim community. First, there needs to be greater emphasis on the autonomy of the individual when interpreting the Quran and the Hadith. Second, religious texts and Islamic precedents should be criticized and examined. Third, gender equality and human rights should be applied in all aspects including rituals, prayers and observance. Fourth, modernity needs to change the way customs, dressing and common practices are experienced and cultural appropriations need to be undone. Modesty amongst men and women are self-enforced and are not specifically described in the Quran. Fifth, and most important, the sense of independent reasoning or ijtihad and the natural sense of right and wrong or fitrah must be advocated. The issue is that a philosophy has been reinterpreted due to cultural influences that are manipulated by large disparities in access to material wealth. The primary problem, to me, is still economics, but the vehicle that this problem is driving around in is Islam. The primary problems, which have to do with material disparity, have caused the religious right to believe that radicalizing their connection to God can tangibly improve their earthly lives.

Why else would a criminal shout that his Prophet has been avenged?

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