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.]