Islam: Between Relativity and Reality
By Dr. Tawfik Hamid
In the years since 9/11, there have been countless pontifications, analyses, discussions and arguments about the true nature of Islam. But is it a religion of peace or a religion of violence?
According to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, there is no absolute reality in the physical and temporal universe. The interpretation of every occurrence in time and space depends entirely on the frame of reference from which it is viewed.
Regarding the physical universe, Einstein has been proven right through repeated experiments. In the moral universe, however, relativity is a recipe for unmitigated disaster. And the question of whether Islam is fundamentally peaceful or violent shows why.
As with physical reality, ideas are subject to interpretation based on frame of reference. They are, in a sense, dependent on the position of the observer. If Islam is viewed from the traditional (and currently mainstream) perspective, which includes a combination of teachings from the Quran, Sunna, Jurisprudence, Sira (Biography of Muhammad), and approved commentaries on these sources, then Muslims have an unambiguous religious obligation to declare war on non-Muslims to subjugate them to Islam and to take female prisoners from these wars as sex slaves.
Likewise from this traditional (and currently mainstream) point of view, Islam promotes killing apostates, stoning of women to death for adultery and killing gays. Furthermore, from this same vantage point, Islamic theology teaches that the peaceful (earlier) verses of the Quran have been abrogated by the violent (later) ones. And according to the Hadith books of al-Buchary, the Prophet Muhammad took his wife Aisha when he was over age 50 and she was seven. The same book states that he began having sex with her when she was nine.
To an outside observer, this form of Islam-let's call it Type A Islam-is a barbaric belief system that promotes violence, rape and wars. Critics of Islam describe the prophet's described behavior as "perverted" and "pedophile." And as long as these teachings remain unopposed by the leading, mainstream Islamic institutions and Muslim leaders, such criticism is understandable.
Now, let's view Islam from a different frame of reference and call it Type B Islam. This strain depends primarily on the Quran alone. It rejects the other authoritative sources of the religion mentioned above, all of which were written at least 200 years after the revelation of the Quran. Type B Islam focuses on the book's peaceful verses while contextualizing the violent ones. It does not promote killing apostates, stoning women or killing gays. In fact, it prohibits these barbaric behaviors. Type B Islam also rejects the story that Muhammad married Aisha when she was nine years old-because it is not mentioned in the Quran. Therefore, outside observers might reasonably conclude that Islam is peaceful.
Allow me to illustrate. From the Type A Islam frame of reference, the following verse justifies declaring war on all Non-Muslims: "Slaughter the infidels wherever you may find them." (Quran 9:5) and abrogates such peaceful verses as "Do not commit aggression-for, verily, God does not love aggressors." (Quran 2:190) Type B Islam, in contrast, contextualizes the first verse in time and place by concentrating on the defining article "the" before the word "infidels." Doing so allows the verse to refer to a particular tribe of enemies. (Consider the difference between "a" white house and "the" White House).
All well and good. But when the first verse is viewed in the light of the general concepts and principles of the Quran as laid out in the second verse, the inherent peacefulness or violence of Islam can (and will) be argued forever without hope of consensus, because observers are limited to their own frames of reference.
Believing and promoting Type A Islam A while expecting the world to judge you as Type B Islam is dishonest, hypocritical and really quite absurd.
What we need are concrete facts that cannot easily be ignored and that might help to frame a more fruitful debate:
1. All leading Islamic institutions believe in Type A Islam and regard those who believe in Type B Islam as apostates.
2. The teachings of Type A Islam are not opposed by any leading Islamic scholars or any Islamic books approved by the recognized Islamic authorities (al-Azhar University in Cairo and the leading imams in Saudi Arabia).
3. Most terrorist attacks in the world today, and nearly all suicide bombings, are perpetrated by devout Muslims and by Islamic groups such as ISIS.
4. Sheik al-Azhar (the Grand Imam of the top educational institution in Sunni Islam) has refused to consider ISIS (strict practitioners of Type A Islam) as non-Muslims.
5. Killing apostates, stoning women to death for adultery, and brutal killing of gays is practiced in all Islamic countries that apply Sharia.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims demonstrated worldwide against banning the hijab in France and against the cartoon issue of prophet Mohamed; but there have been exactly zero mass international Muslim demonstrations against killing apostates, stoning women, killing gays, or against any of the ISIS atrocities.
These are undisputed facts. They are neither subjective nor subject to relativism. They can be liked or disliked, wanted or unwanted, but they are not in question. They represent painful realities that can be measured in absolute terms and defined in numbers.
Until Type B Islam dominates Islamic theology and teaching, and until the Muslim world shows clear and unequivocal opposition to atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam, attempting to view the religion relativistically is dangerous and improper. Objective reality is the true measure, and only the Muslim world can change it.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It