Debating the Reformability of Islam

If you’ve ever wondered about the “reformability” of Islam, Andy McCarthy and Mansoor Ijaz are debating over at Opinion Duel. McCarthy is taking the “no” position and Ijaz, an American Muslim, is taking the affirmative. Well, it’s sort of affirmative. Well, maybe not. Ijaz’s perspective – not surprising for a Muslim – is that Islam has no need of reform. What we need, he says, is not a better Islam but better Muslims.

McCarthy continually returns to the problem texts in the Koran (being a charitable fellow, he is staying away from the Hadith) – the ones that command killing and subjecting infidels. How, he asks, can a completely literal religion like Islam relativize these texts?

Evidently there are some within Islam – folks like bin Laden – who think relativizing these texts is exactly the problem. Instead of relegating these passages to the initial conditions of Islam (as Ijaz – and likely many other Muslims – suggests), he and his friends would like to make them current reality. In spite of dueling for several rounds, they don’t seem to be making much headway.

The question McCarthy might want to ask (not knowing him, I can’t speak for him), is something like: “What reasons, internal to Islam, might we offer bin Laden and crew to show them that their interpretation of Islam is wrong? In a similar way, what reasons, again internal to Islam, might be offered to show that your peaceful Islam is the correct interpretation?”

McCarthy is a Christian, and while rather well educated about Islam remains an outsider. By asking about reasons internal to Islam, he can put himself in a place to see how Muslims reason with each other. If the issue remains framed as a debate, McCarthy would win the debate if Ijaz fails to find some reasons internal to Islam to defeat the Wahhabist interpretation of bin Laden. Ijaz can win two ways. He can win weakly if he offers some reasons internal to Islam that are truly internal to Islam – that is, not hijacked from western modernism or liberalism – yet too weak or inconsequential to actually convince or refute bin Laden, et al.. Of course it’s possible bin Laden is a perverse fellow who refuses to be convinced by good reasons, so this would count as a win even if the position doesn’t win out in the long run. He can win strongly is he can offer some reasons under the same conditions that actually do convince bin Laden and his co-religionists. Obviously such a strong victory would go beyond the bounds of the current debate.

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