woensdag 12 november 2014

'Moderate' is abusive language

Whoever tries, amidst gruesome images from the Middle East and Islam debates in ones own country, to get some grip on the phenomenon of ‘Islam’, may easily get discouraged. Because the conclusion is swiftly made that Islam is what ones interlocutor from that moment wants it to mean.

Do you speak with IS-supporters, or read their statements in the newspaper, then you hear that ‘Islam’ means Sharia in its most severe form, slavery and death to infidels. Do you speak with indigenous Muslims, you hear that ‘Islam’ means peace. And then you hear all the variations somewhere in between.

So, in the end you don’t get a fixed story, no clear picture of this religious tradition, but perhaps that’s too much to ask. Probably people like Nuweira Youskine are right, who say the Quran is not an Ikea instruction. There is no single interpretation of Islam which is thé right one, just as there are different views on Judaism and Christianity.

On the other hand, in the images that Muslims sketch of their tradition is quite a number of elements that keep returning. So that one could decide that these things belong inseparably together. Two of them I pick out here: first the idea that the Quran is the literal text of God and, secondly, that the word ‘moderate’ in broad Islamic circles seems to have a negative connotation.

According to tradition, the Quran came word by word and letter by letter directly from Allah and has been recorded by Muhammed without any modification or addition. That makes the idea unthinkable for Muslims that there could be several different versions of one described event comparable to the four Gospels in Christianity or the two creation stories in Judaism. It also makes, in Muslim eyes, the Quran superior to those other texts and explains why the Jewish and Christian traditions are burdened by revisions, reforms and dilution of their own doctrines. In them there’s noise on the line because of the ambiguity of their texts, and the Quran is free from them.

The second observation refers to the word ‘moderate’. Remarkably often I hear that word, which to me is known as having a fairly positive connotation, be used by Muslims in a negative sense. For example, in a letter to the editor in which Nabeel Siddiqie discusses the usual rejection by correct newsmedia of fundamentalists, extremists and jihadists. “Conversely”, he says, “ordinary, in my eyes real, Muslims are dismissed as moderate Muslims. As if you need to be moderate in your faith in order to fit into Dutch society. I cannot but conclude, given the definition of the word Islam, the conduct of the Prophet Muhammed and the teachings in the Quran, that I belong to the group of fundamentalists, extremists and jihadists”.

Another example is provided by the The Hague shop assistant Jamal Saïdi who puts his biggest complaint as follows: “They want everyone to be moderate”. Or Montasser al De’emeh of the Research Group Middle East from the University of Antwerp, who twitters about someone accused of crimping for the Jihad: “He interprets his religion in a radical way. That’s it!”. So, nothing special. Finally there is the response to the Dutch version of my blog post Alcoholism and Jihad: “There is only one Islam and that is Islam as stated in the Quran, hadiths and sirat. There are no muslims who call themselves “MODERATE”, this is an invention of Western politics. If moderate Muslims would exist there should also be something to MODERATE. What could that be?”

Frankly, I think the negative load of the word ‘moderate’ in Muslim circles is problematic. If only notions like ‘purity’, ‘absolute surrender’ and ‘complete submission’ may indicate the orientation of a Muslim, what to do then with the grubbiness and compromises out of which a free society is built?

Also see Alcohol