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Reform is to confront institutions, not to distort Muslims

Ezzedine Fischer, a lecturer at Dartmouth College in the US state of New Hampshire, commented on what French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month about plans to organize Islam in France and crack down on what he called “Islamic isolationism.” In his article in the Washington Post, he stated that Macron’s statement immediately sparked criticism, leading to obscuring a deeper point.

The writer considered that recent events confirm the need for a reformist reading of Islam, but such reform will not be done by denigrating Islam or Islamic societies, as the French president did. He said that what is required is to confront Islamic institutions to take a clear position on Islamic jurisprudence that justifies violence.

He added that Macron’s speech on October 2 was not supposed to be a criticism of Islam, explaining that the speech was a political statement about suppressing “radical Islamic” influence among French Muslims to prevent them from turning into a “anti-republican” society.

However – the writer adds – Macron’s strange remark that Islam “is going through a crisis all over the world today” suddenly received the bulk of the attention in the Middle East, and the response was swift.

What was supposed to be a discussion about fighting “Islamic extremists” in France turned into a protest against “Macron’s distortion of Islam,” and the sober Muslim voices were lost in this noise.

Macron’s utter failure did not overshadow the problem of violence in the name of Islam for long until the beheading of teacher Samuel Patty on October 16 – after he showed his students caricatures offensive to the Prophet of Islam (may God bless him and grant him peace) – came as a crude reminder of the problem.

Real problem
The researcher considered the problem of violence motivated by a specific interpretation of Islam as a real problem, referring to a similar incident 26 years ago in which novelist Naguib Mahfouz almost met Bati’s fate under the pretext that he “insulted Islam” in one of his novels when the attacker stabbed him.

The writer commented that Mahfouz and Patti are neither the first nor the last victims of this interpretation of Islam. He went on to mention the interpretations adopted by some of the followers of the Salafi school that these interpretations of Islam reinforce most of the violence committed in his name.

The researcher believes that those interested in promoting a reformist vision of Islam must challenge the foundations of a misinterpretation, as Islam is within those institutions and movements and not “Islam” as a whole, as Macron did, nor the already stigmatized Muslim minorities who are fighting racism and discrimination in Western countries.

Instead, the Islamic institutions and movements should be pressured to come up with unambiguous answers to the main questions in this regard: Does the interpretation of “true Islam” allow Muslims to use violence against others, is it permissible for Muslims to support modern political institutions and their laws, and then is Muslims allowed to live in Peace with those whom some consider apostates or infidels?

He concluded his article that confronting these institutions and movements will help, and will not undermine, the debate among Muslims about what Islam is, that debate that will shape the future of Islam.

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