Eboo Patel’s Washington Post Online post of today is nice. It resonates with some things I was thinking about since reading that odious article by Mr. Broder weeks ago and it, while replete with strange and invalid assumptions, makes an important point. I will quote the bulk of it here, just to raise the chances of it being read by those too lazy to follow up on the links
My wife was at a dinner party last week and someone asked about the English woman in the Sudan [...] My wife’s friend asked: “Does Islam really say that she should be punished?” “I don’t want to talk about it,” my wife responded.
[...] But her friend still wanted an answer to her question. And if my wife wasn’t going to provide one, then she would have to find someone who would. In this case, it was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote an OpEd in The New York Times effectively stating that Islam requires Muslims to severely punish teachers who name teddy bears Muhammad (Sudan), rape victims who are accused of being in the presence of a man who is not a family member (Saudi Arabia) and female writers who criticize Islam (India).
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is right on two important points. The first is that all of these punishments are appalling and brutal. The second is that moderate Muslims should be louder about these matters. There are some things that are true even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes them.
[...] Hirsi Ali and people like her are widely-read because they offer a theory of the problem: they tell the world a convincing story of why Muslims keep popping up on the front pages of newspapers in negative articles. Hirsi Ali’s theory, and the theory of other Islamophobes, is that Muslims have dirty laundry because the body and soul of Islam are dirty. [...]
A lesson for mainstream Muslims: Whenever you don’t offer a theory of the problem, someone else will. When there is a vacuum of information about a hot topic and you don’t fill it, other people will aggressively move in.
Too many mainstream Muslims believe they have only two options in the face of the current discourse on Islam: angry indignation or stony silence.
I believe there is a third way. It is what University of Michigan Professor Sherman Jackson, one of America’s leading scholars of Islam, calls ‘Islamic literacy’.
Here is how someone literate in Islam, Muslim or not, might have responded to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s contention that Islam and compassionate conscience are mutually exclusive. First, by saying that there should be no excuses made for those who sought the punishments in any of the three cases she named. They were indeed brutal, and as such, were in conflict with the core ethos of Islam – compassion and mercy, which are enshrined both in the Muslim tradition and in the human conscience.
Compassion and mercy are the two most repeated qualities of God in Islam, best illustrated by the most common Muslim prayer, “Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim” – In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the most Merciful. As they are qualities of God, they are attributes that Muslims are required to emulate.
Compassion and mercy are also enshrined in the first lesson that classical Muslim scholars would teach their students, what came to be known as the Tradition of Primacy in Islam: “If you are merciful to those on Earth, then He who is in Heaven will be merciful to you.”
Islam, like other traditions, has internal contradictions. The Qur’an and Muslim law say different things in different places. That is precisely why compassion and mercy play such an important role in Muslim interpretation and practice. When in doubt about how to deal with a particular situation, a Muslim should always be guided by compassion and mercy. [...]
Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of America’s most important scholars of Islamic thought and law, believes that people are required to bring their God-given compassion to the reading of the text of the Qur’an. “The text will morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the text.,” he writes in a remarkable essay called The Place of Tolerance in Islam.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the most prominent Muslim scholar and preacher in the West, wrote in a piece for this website, “Unfortunately, millions of Muslims all over the globe are humiliated and betrayed by the ignorance and lack of basic humanity that a small minority of Muslims too often exhibits.” [...]