The title of a new article by Qasim Rashid in Time magazine tells the tale: “A strong Muslim identity is the best defense against extremism.” Rashid, who has a history of denying the influence of Islam on terrorism, describes himself as follows;
I’m the Director of Civil Rights and Policy for KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Since the early 1990s KARAMAH has utilized authentic Islamic scholarship to advocate for worldwide gender equity from an Islamic lens. As a women-led organization, KARAMAH exemplifies a proven model of Islam by educating, training and inspiring a new generation of Muslim women leaders who have gone on to become prolific authors, journalists, academics and activists.
This is a bit confusing to me, because the only Qasim Rashid I can find on the internet is a man, but I’ve confirmed that it’s the same person. But no matter; the arguments are what matters. And his arguments are that neither New Atheism nor Muslim of ex-Muslim “moderates” like Maajid Nawaz or Ayaan Hirsi Ali can do anything to help end Islamic terrorism. Why?
The atheists, says Rashid, are useless because they are a) ignorant of “real” Islam, b) have promoted anti-Muslim acts like the Iraq War (he refers to Hitchens) and c) promote the destruction of Islam itself (Rashid quotes Hirsi Ali here, apparently not realizing that she’s backed off the “destruction” idea in her latest book Heretic). And, of course, there are plenty of atheists who opposed the Iraq war, and plenty of moderate Muslims or ex-Muslims, like Asra Nomani, Maajid Nawaz, Eiynah, and now Hirsi Ali, who are not calling for the destruction of Islam but for its “reformation.”
So Rashid gets that all wrong. Further, he sees parallels between atheists and moderate Muslims that make them doubly ineffective as a way to curb terrorism:
New Atheists, the Islamophobia industry, and so-called “Muslim reformers” (who meritlessly seek to change the Qur’an altogether) all share three significant characteristics. First, each is wholly ignorant of Islam as exemplified by their myopic insistence to ignore events like the Iraq War and instead claim that ISIS’s existence and approximately 30,000 members are a more valid example of Islam than Islam’s 1.6 billion Muslims and 1,400 years of non-ISIS existence. Second, each offers only an empty theory of Islamic “reformation.” Third, and perhaps most significant, each refuses to acknowledge the practical and proven models from Muslim organizations that have long existed well before 9/11 that analyze Islam from a position of honesty and scholarship, and demonstrate that it is not Islam that needs reformation—but Muslims themselves.
I seriously doubt that people like Hirsi Ali and Nawaz are “wholly ignorant of Islam”. What a thing to say! Further, that their own models of reformation, relying on leverage from moderate Muslims, are “empty” remains to be seen. In fact, to me that (Hirsi Ali, for example, calls for the Qur’an to be read less literally) seems a more rational way to defang fundamentalist Islam than, say, by going along with the “strong Muslim” position that the Qur’an must be read literally, word for word. When you do that, watch out, because the Qur’an, like the Old Testament (but worse) is a document filled with bloodshed and hatred of nonbelievers.
And what is Rashid’s “practical and proven model” for Islamic reformation? Just this:
Indeed, a stronger Muslim identity derived from a proven model is the best defense against extremism. This shouldn’t be surprising. A 2016 analysis on American Muslims from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding reports that “Muslims who regularly attend mosques are more likely to work with their neighbors to solve community problems, be registered to vote, and are more likely to plan to vote.” This echoes a 2008 British intelligence MI5 analysis that concluded: “[a] well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”
Moreover, for more than a century and across 209 nations, tens of millions of Muslims belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have stood united under an Islamic Caliphate. This Community of Muslims cites authentic Islamic scholarship—the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith—to exemplify a proven model of True Islam that teaches secular governance, gender equity, universal human rights and a categorical condemnation of terrorism.
I seriously doubt whether the “community problems” solved by American Muslims have anything to do with organizations like ISIS or other terrorist groups. And seriously: going to mosques helps you register to vote? Maybe, but is that going to stop terrorism?
As for the notion of the Caliphate and that of “authentic Islamic scholarship,” well, ISIS wants a Caliphate, too, and avows that it’s adhering to authentic Islamic scholarship, a claim that has more credibility than that of other Muslims who promulgate less violent forms of Islam as “authentic”. (Read the Qur’an!). Remember, too, that even many moderate Muslims, as in the recent Pew report, see sharia law as what they’d favor for everyone in their country. Rashid, in his insistence that he and his group are the only promulgators “true” Islam, is bucking considerable data showing otherwise.