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WHO ARE MODERATE MUSLIMS?
Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.


The term moderate Muslims is not only becoming important in the post  September 11 discussion of Islam and the West, it is also becoming  highly contested. What do we really mean when we brand someone as a  moderate Muslim? Indeed the more interesting question is what does the  word mean to Westerns, looking-in to Islam, and to Muslims, looking out  from within Islam?
As one who identifies himself strongly with the idea of a liberal Islam  and also advocates moderation in the manifestation and expression of  Islamic politics, I believe it is important that we flush out this  political identity. In an era when who we are determines what we  do politically, it is imperative that we clarify the we in politics.


American media uses the term moderate Muslim to indicate a Muslim who is either pro-western in her politics or is being self-critical in her  discourse. Therefore both President Karzai of Afghanistan and Professor  Kahlid Abul Fadl of UCLA wear the cap with felicity, the former for his  politics the latter for his ideas.


Muslims in general do not like using the term, understanding it to  indicate an individual who has politically sold out to the other  side. In some internal intellectual debates, the term moderate Muslim is  used pejoratively to indicate a Muslim who is more secular and less  Islamic than the norm, which varies across communities. In America, a  moderate Muslim is one who peddles a softer form of Islam  the Islam  of John Esposito and Karen Arm Strong  is willing to co-exist  peacefully with peoples of other faiths and is comfortable with  democracy and the separation of politics and religion.


Both, Western media and Muslims, do a disservice by branding some  Muslims as moderate on the basis of their politics. These people should  general be understood as opportunists and self-serving. Most of the  moderate regimes in the Muslim World are neither democratic nor manifest  the softer side of Islam. That leaves intellectual positions as the  criteria for determining who is a moderate Muslim, and especially in  comparison to whom, since moderate is a relative term.


Both Muslims and the media are generally on the mark when they identify  moderate Muslims as reflective, self-critical, pro-democracy and  human-rights and closet secularists. But who are they different from and  how?


I believe that moderate Muslims are different from militant Muslims even  though both of them advocate the establishment of societies whose  organizing principle is Islam. The difference between moderate and  militant Muslims is in their methodological orientation and in the  primordial normative preferences which shape their interpretation of Islam.


For moderate Muslims Ijtihad is the preferred method of choice for  social and political change and military /Jihad/ the last option. For  militant Muslims, military /Jihad/ is the first option and Ijtihad is  not an option at all.


Ijtihad narrowly understood is a juristic tool that allows independent  reasoning to articulate Islamic law on issues where textual sources are
silent. The unstated assumption being when texts have spoken reason must  be silent. But increasingly moderate Muslim intellectuals see /Ijtihad/  as the spirit of Islamic thought that is necessary for the vitality of  Islamic ideas and Islamic civilization. Without /Ijtihad/, Islamic  thought and Islamic civilization fall into decay.


For moderate Muslims, /Ijtihad/ is a way of life, which simultaneously  allows Islam to reign supreme in the heart and the mind to experience  unfettered freedom of thought. A moderate Muslim is therefore one who  cherishes freedom of thought while recognizing the existential necessity  of faith. She aspires for change, but through the power of mind and not
through planting mines.

Moderate Muslims aspire for a society as a city of virtue -- that will  treat all people with dignity and respect. There will be no room for  political or normative intimidation. Individuals will aspire to live an  ethical life because they recognize its desirability. Communities will  compete in doing good and politics will seek to encourage good and  forbid evil. They believe that the internalization of the message of  Islam can bring about the social transformation necessary for the  establishment of the virtuous city. The only arena in which Moderate  Muslims permit excess is in idealism.


Today, the relationship between Islam and the rest is getting  increasingly worse. Muslim militants are sowing seeds of poison and  hatred between Muslims and the rest of humanity by committing egregious  acts of violence in the name of Islam. In this precarious environment,  it is important that everyone finds and nurtures the many wonderful  examples of moderate Muslims one can still find.


Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, Tarik Ramadan in Europe, Maulana  Waheeduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer in India, Khalid Abul Fadl and  Louay Safi in the US, Karim Soroush and Muhammad Khatami in Iran and  many many more who are committed to their /Jihad/ (struggle) to revive  the spirit of /Ijtihad/. Fortunately the tradition is alive globally; it  needs the support and the attention of all who aspire for peace and  understanding.

 

 

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