The Islamist Consensus

“My people will never agree upon an error.” (Hadith; Abu Daud, Al-Tirmidhi)

How do you determine what a religion actually is? For instance, what is ‘true Islam’ and how do you determine that? “From the scriptures, of course” is not an adequate answer, because the scriptures don’t mean anything per se. They are always in need of interpretation, and they only mean something in the background of a theology. It is only a theology that links various portions of scripture in a coherent manner, resolves apparent contradictions, and provides a legal and moral framework for that religion. Interpretations vary, and so do theologies, and furthermore, these evolve with time. So, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a ‘true religion’ or ‘actual religion’; there are only different theologies, all based on the same scripture, interpreting it and relating to it in different ways, none of which is “true” or “false” in any objective sense.

This does put us in a practical dilemma: how can we speak about a particular religion, when that religion is actually just an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ideologies? For instance, any statement you make about Christianity wouldn’t hold up if you began to analyze it with reference to all its individual sects, from Catholicism to Gnostic Christianity. Somewhere, some sect would be an exception. The same is the case with other religions and Islam. Any statement you make about Islam would likely not apply to all of its varieties, from orthodox Sunni to Perwezi Islam. So what do we do?

The practical solution (and I repeat, the practical solution) to this we all apply, consciously or subconsciously, is that when we refer to a religion, we refer to the theological variety/sect that is the most dominant socially and politically, and which has the widest consensus of the followers and scholars of that religion. And when we have to refer to a non-dominant theology, we refer to it with a qualification. For example, when we refer to Christianity, we refer to Catholicism, and if we have to talk about some other sect, we have to qualify it, like Gnostic Christianity.

The varieties of Islam that are being used in discourse these days are “Fundamentalist/Orthodox Islam” and “Liberal/Moderate/Progressive Islam”. Whenever Western thinkers criticize Islam at any point, the objection came up “Oh, no, the fundamentalists are just a minority. There is also the Moderate Islam. Talk about us; we are nice people.” And that was what was assumed by most, and which even West had to concede to in the name of political correctness. However, the current circumstances in Pakistan surrounding the murder of Salman Taseer have revealed something entirely different. Turns out, the silent majority, when it has spoken, doesn’t belong to Liberal Islam. Surprise, surprise, they all uphold fundamentalist ideology. The Fundamentalist Islam not only has a sweeping consensus of followers, it also has a well-developed theology, with all the references to Koran and Hadith & Sunnah worked out in detail. The Liberal Islam, in contrast, is not only in an exceeding small minority, it also lacks any consensus, it has barely any prominent scholars to point to, and it has no well-developed theology. Most of the proponents of Liberal Islam are actually young kids, who barely have an adequate knowledge of theology to compete in the religious discourse. One single properly referenced Hadith from a Fundamentalist can deflate a Liberal’s case. Yes, it’s that easy.

Anyway, my point is, Fundamentalist Islam has demonstrated such wide-spread consensus and domination that they are now the current representatives of Islam. Liberal Muslims who are reading this will no doubt protest, but the facts are in front of all of us. Liberal Islam has failed. Liberal Islam has no consensus, has no scholars, has no properly worked out theology. It is all just a bunch of individual voices, shouting “No, this isn’t Islam.”

It is also time that Western thinkers realize that this consensus in the favor of Fundamentalists has taken place. Fundamentalists are no longer in minority; Islam is no longer benign. It has become the current successor in the dynasty of fascists, nazis and communists, and it must be dealt with accordingly. Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.

[Published at Pak Tea House.]


Butters said…
Great post. It really needs to be said, that the majority of Muslims are not 'liberal' Muslims.

There are problems inherent within Islam as well. Although a person can interpret some scriptures in a few ways, they cannot interpret it in absolutely any way. There aren't an infinite number of possible interpretations.

I think it is possible to talk of Islam in itself, as it is to talk of Christianity in itself. We can boil it down to its bare minimum principles -- universal among all the sects, otherwise they would not be known as sects of that religion at all --, and then be more specific when need be.

For example, all Muslims believe that Muhammad was a prophet, that he was the perfect example, and that the Quran is the revealed word of God. Similarly, all Christians must love Christ in some way, usually by accepting his deity and his savior-ship.

Islam is inherently problematic and inherently political in a way that Christianity isn't. Judaism is political to some degree, but its case is different.

I have to go now but I might elaborate on these points later.
aneeqa_idrees87 said…
its true that the fundamentalist islamists are the overwhelming majority, contrary to all my previous assumptions. its not about sects this time; people with different ideas about performing the same duty, but its about endorsement of all the ayat and hadith related to war/jehad and killing, substracting the context of their revelation and forgoing all the divine text instructing about practicing tolerence and peace as far as possible. this is probably because i somehow felt our islamiyat text book of 9th, 10th is edited in way that it propels the idea of jehad more than what God said about peace and other good virtues, hence succeeding in tuning the minds of the educated lot that a good muslim fights and kills otherwise moulvi's much talked about azaab sees one's way! but the truth is religion is a very personal thing and it comes from within, you know when you did wrong, its an inbuilt sensor that God gifts us and a Divine Book to provide us with a system to plan our lives which is nobody's authority!
saud said…
religion stops being a personal thing when u come out n shoot someone else based on your religious beliefs. actually it stops being a personal thing a lot earlier than that; when you judge people based on how religiously right or wrong they are, when you endorse certain social habits and condemn others based on religious grounds, and especially when a minority feels suffocated because they dont feel safe expressing their views in a 'religious' society..
Malang said…
Odd as it may sound the reason Liberal Islam is failing or has failed (depending on how one looks at it) has a lot to do with the fact that most of its adherents are essentially non-practicing muslims.
the term itself is ironic. the large mass that cannot stomach the holy book and hadith in its entirety; that cannot or chooses not to pray five times a day; fast the whole month of ramazan or go on pilgrimages ends up calling itself 'liberal'. that is why there can be no consensus. The consensus is merely "we're not THEM. Those weird crazy devotees".
Largely, it comprises, (as you said) of young boys and girls who cant really stomach a religious existence but need to feel connected to a religious premise and culture by fidelity to their parents, their culture etc.

i often wonder, if you could swipe the slate clean and put this mass of humanity in a vacum would they choose this? The honest answer is no. If un-indoctrinated children were shown all the holy books and asked to choose they would choose none. They would choose the freedom to choose, which is the first thing religion takes away from you.
Lorenzo said…
A thoughtful post: I have taken the liberty of citing and quoting from it in my own response.
An interesting post, which I accessed by way of Maverick Philosopher. I blogged on your views.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *