Friday, August 22, 2003

Abu Aardvark has offered the General a kind word of instruction on liberal Islam. If you recall, last week the General opined,
Kristof is typical of those liberal atheists who want to imagine religion in a way which [1] makes it completely consonant to their own world view and [2] subsequently drains it of all meaning and power. In this article, Kristof does to Christianity what Tom Friedmann does every day to Islam. Friedmann want desperately to find the elusive "liberal Muslims." He routinely scours the Islamic world for them, champions the two or three he runs across and prescribes their amazingly unpopular and insincere religion for the millions who actually hold to the tenets of Islam -- all while Freidmann himself is not Muslim.
Now, the General knows a lot about Christianity, and not much at all about Islam. Here is what Abu says.
While the Good General is right about Friedman, I think he is on shakier ground with his dismissal of liberal Islam. There really is a strong intellectual trend of liberal Islam, and a strong popular trend of Islamists who hold views far, far from the rigid Salafi extremities of an Osama bin Laden. For a start, the General might check out the work of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is probably the single most popular and influential Islamist public intellectual today, in part due to his regular appearances on al-Jazeera. Al-Qaradawi is an Islamist who came out of the Muslim Brotherhood milieu, but has written and preached extensively for the values of tolerance and against extremism. Where Friedman goes wrong - and GG is right about this - is to assume that these liberal Islamists share the same beliefs and preferences as Western liberals. They don't. Many of the goals of a Qaradawi, or a Tariq al-Bishri, or an Abdelkarim Soroush, or many other luminaries I could name, are firmly grounded in a religious worldview and absolutely aim to propagate the faith and to improve the religious practice of Muslims. But they are also sympathetic to democratic political forms and have fought vigorously for a range of civil and political freedoms, preach tolerance and co-existence, and represent a centrist, moderate, and popular stream within societies otherwise trapped between intolerant Islamist radicals and repressive, authoritarian secular states.
I am happy to accept all these comments, although I think the Aardvark has a rather different definition of "liberal" than does the General. I was using the term theologically while Abu seems to be using it in a political sense -- linking it to "tolerance and against extremism" for example. I don't know if there are any "liberal Muslims" who deny that Gabriel delivered the Koran to Muhammed, deny the resurrection of the body, or claim that Muhammed did not in fact ascend into heaven. But there are lots of "liberal Christian" clergy even who deny similiar aspects of Christianity.

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