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Why Islam is in Desperate Need of a Reformation

by Leslie J. Sacks

Rebecca Bynum writes a focused and timely, yet largely one-sided book entitled "Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion". Janet Levy's timely review of this book (see below) questions why parts of the left wing have taken up political commonality with the ACLU, CAIR, MAS and those who would advance Sharia law and Muslim religious expression in our schools, colleges and communities.

Yet these selfsame individuals and groups rail against any Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha'i or Hindu representation in the same institutions.

Two preeminent questions jump out at us:

1) Why do anti-religious elements choose to see Christianity et al. as a religion but Islam as a culture, the former worthy of denigration whilst the latter deserves understanding, empathy, support and expression? Surely Judaism for example is as much a culture, a way of life as Islam is.

2) Why has Islam been high-jacked by the fundamentalists, the literalists, the extremists, all seemingly in commanding control of the many "faces" of Islam's expressions, of Islam's visible personality?

At the same time, why have these supremacists fervently and successfully denied moderate voices, interspersed throughout the world of Islam, even a modest participation in the public persona, in the governmental personas, and ultimately in the voices of today's Islam?

If many multiculturalists, if many well-meaning albeit somewhat naive citizens of the West, insist on projecting their most optimistic and myopic visions onto Islam, in total indifference to the fatwas and intolerance everywhere evident, then support for the Muslim moderates will never spring forth, and the radicals will hold ground.

If there remains no allowance in the Muslim world for alternative interpretations of their scriptures, or tolerance for an evolving set of applications, lifestyles, beliefs and allowances, and if jihad is not replaced by an acceptance of other religions, cultures and peoples, then any reformation will remain, as it has for 1400 years, a dim fantasy.

And in those instances Rebecca Bynum's vision of Islam (or radical Islam in the view of many) will keep ringing true, and the one overarching face of medieval Islam in our modern age will remain all-powerful, omnipresent.

All the world's major religions except mainstream Islam (Wahabism, Iranian Shiism, and the many offshoots like the Taliban) have largely learnt over thousands of years to live and let live. 1 Moderates and apostates in the Islamic world still fear for their lives.

Bibles are banned in Saudi Arabia, as are women drivers. Honor killings and beheadings should have no place in a modern civilization; as should supremacist and exclusionary interpretations of any religion.

My hope and my prayers are for every moderate Muslim, every tolerant Muslim, every unequal woman in the Muslim world, to not lose hope, to retain their faith and keep chipping away at the unbending monolith surround them, until a reformation indeed arrives.2

Peace in the West depends on it, just as prosperity in the East will.

Note 1 The bible has for millennia established the concept that we are all indeed equal, a concept only now largely accepted by most religions. "You Shall not hate the Edomite because he is your brother; you shall not hate the Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land" (Deuteronomy 23:8).

"You shall love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:19). "... You shall love your neighbor (every human being) like yourself; I am the Lord" (Lev 19:18)

I enclose excerpts from Janet Levy's review which highlights questions that need answering and issues that desperately bear discussion. Some may argue as to how relevant Bynum's thesis is, however the mere existence of its application as a reality is an indictment of one of the world's great religions, and one desperately in need of modernization.

Allah is Dead: Why Islam Is Not a Religion

By Rebecca Bynum Published by New English Review Press, 2011

Reviewed by Janet Levy

In a July 29 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit essentially regulated the language of prayer by ruling that any mention of "Jesus" during public prayer constitutes sectarian and unconstitutional language.

But the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) brought the legal challenge seeking to end a traditional practice commonly used before public meetings in state and local legislative bodies across America.

Such attacks by the Left against religious expression are commonplace. In August, leftist groups roundly criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry's call for a day of prayer to "seek G-d's guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation."

In January, Hawaii caved in to ACLU demands and became the first state to eliminate daily prayer, although approval of a 2009 bill to celebrate "Islam Day" mysteriously escaped their censure.

Several state legislatures including Iowa, Texas, and Washington have opened their sessions with Islamic prayers invoking Allah, calling for "victory over those who disbelieve (i.e. all non-Muslims)" and soliciting "protection from the Great Satan."

These requests that Allah grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims are hardly prayers to bless the work of legislatures, but neither the ACLU or AU raised objections, even though the prayers excluded Christians and Jews and declared cultural war against American society.

In the past, the Left, which asked the nihilistic question "Is G-d Dead?," made common cause with communism (and Socialism) rejected religious faith in favor of "godless" secular humanism.

Today the connection between the totalitarianism of the Left - control of human activity and thought in the name of "social justice" - and the totalitarianism of Islam - control of every aspect of life through the shariah - is a bond fusing their efforts to pursue a common agenda: to undermine America's Judeo-Christian values and traditional institutions.

In her book Allah Is Dead: Why Islam Is Not A Religion, Rebecca Bynum (author and publisher of New English Review) adeptly explores the traditional role of religion, the G-d is dead posture of the left, and the nature of Islam.

She offers astute observations on the meaning and essence of religion as the very basis of reality for Western culture, extols its noble purpose of elevating man toward a path of righteousness, and contrasts this with the nihilistic ideologies presented as religion by the Left and Islam.

She describes the deleterious effects of the Left on the meaning, value, and practice of religion, and argues that Islam's fundamental characteristics deny it status as a religion.

Bynum identifies the critical role religion plays in fostering morality, anchoring society, buttressing the family, and promoting social harmony, public service, and charity. She makes important distinctions between the mechanical adherence to religious doctrine and the exalted, living experience of faith.

A transcendent reality, faith captures the human heart and spirit and imbues our lives with meaning, Bynum writes. Faith is not coercion through the recitation of Biblical passages.

Instead, scripture is a series of guidelines for human behavior which empower individuals to freely and creatively chart a path, constantly striving toward spiritual perfection. Bynum emphasizes that individual free will encouraged by faith is the pathway to understanding goodness, truth, and beauty, and ultimately the unique experience of discovering G-d and godliness.

The influence of the anti-religion Left has caused the church to abandon this traditional role and these values, Bynum asserts. For the most part, the church has turned away from spiritual ministry toward political and social causes with a focus on "works" over faith and religious practice.

Religion is used politically to bolster social reforms, she writes, rather than to nurture spiritual and moral development.

Religion emphasizes self-realization and sensual comfort, rather than attainment of the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness. Instead of helping individuals aspire to the virtues of self-reliance, self-control, and gratitude, religion fosters an infantile sense of entitlement, a victim mentality of blaming external factors, and an unwillingness to take personal responsibility.

For the Left, religion is the enemy, morality is non-existent, and actions relate to narcissistic wants. In this view, man's higher purpose, his ability for self-reflection, and his capacity for imagination are denied.

As human dignity has been debased, the human values of love, truth, and goodness, as well as religious experience, are dismissed as delusional. Bynum concludes that spiritual transcendence is impossible when free will is viewed as an illusion and morality is arbitrary.

Just as leftist-influenced Western religion has abandoned the search for spiritual transcendence, Islam similarly does not provide a path to spiritual transcendence, either, Bynum asserts.

Islam does not qualify as a religion, she argues, because it lacks the essential qualities and attributes of religion. Muslims are not free to establish a relationship with Allah but are required to recite prayers in a specific format and direct them to an object - the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building in Mecca that is the most sacred site in Islam.

In Islam, strict rules regulate all behavior and Islamic worship is merely unquestioned obedience. Lacking is any quest for truth, acknowledgment of reality, or historical verification. The goal of Islam is complete control over the mind and the physical body and its functions. Bodies and minds are controlled with no nourishment for the soul.

With no outlet for individual expression in Islam, creativity does not exist nor does anything that would capture the human heart or spirit. No quest to discover Allah is required because he exists merely to be obeyed.

Piety is enforced by conformity to Islamic doctrine with sinners severely punished or killed to uphold the community's purity. Islam's goal is complete submission, which stifles curiosity, creativity, motivation, and individuality, plus denies the truth.

In Islam, history begins with Mohammed. Nothing that occurred prior to his existence is of any value, thus history is revised and knowledge rendered meaningless. Islam requires cultural genocide because culture is an obstacle to establishing Allah's authority on Earth. No concept of G-d-given free will and tolerance exists. Individual thought makes no difference because only the decrees of Islamic doctrine have value.

Islam requires complete self-denial and robot-like functioning as part of a collective: the umma, or Islamic community. Behavior is mandated by the shariah, which makes law and morality one and the same. Islam does not recognize the state as a higher authority and requires ultimate jurisdiction in all worldly matters.

No explorations of and independent conclusions about justice and judgment exist as the shariah explicitly outlines every aspect of existence and sanctions forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, death for apostasy, dhimmi status for non-Muslims, and other rulings and actions outlawed in other societies.

Islam is the highest value, with no room for mercy or compassion. Islamic doctrine is immutable, unquestioned, and does not bend to any human circumstances.

Because of all these characteristics, Islam is not a religion, Bynum concludes, as it places ideology above life itself. It fails to advance individual morality, sacrificing the individual for the collective.

It is unable to preserve wisdom because it denies everything but Islamic beliefs. It fails to foster peace and social harmony and instead requires perpetual war with non-believers.

It weakens the family as the foundational unit of society by promoting polygamy. It is not transcendent in purpose, as its highest purpose is to perpetuate itself, and it has little meaning beyond rituals.

Islam cannot stand with the other religions of the world as a belief system that relates humanity to spirituality and to moral values and imbues life with meaning, Bynum writes. Instead, Islam is a supremacist, totalitarian, theo-political-legal ideology that engages in constant war with non-believers, controls the lives of its believers who are unable to question or relinquish its mandates, and fails to provide spiritual nourishment and to promote social harmony.

Just as the secular humanism of the Left diminishes man, Islam similarly diminishes man through its hatred of non-believers and its emulation of its brutal, murderous prophet as the ideal specimen of a man.

Thus, leftists who assert their nonreligious and non-spiritual agenda and diligently work to eliminate G-d from the public square - including prohibitions against religious observances, holidays, symbols, and prayer - are allying with Muslim efforts to demonize and supplant non-Muslim faiths.

Both represent a danger to Western society, and in particular the United States, which was founded on a core belief in G-d and the transcendent power of spirituality. Both Islam and the left's secular humanism are godless ideologies that undermine Western values and civilization.

Janet Levy, MBA, MSW, is an activist, world traveler, and freelance journalist who has contributed to American Thinker, Full Disclosure Network, FrontPage Magazine, Family Security Matters and other publications. She blogs at www.womenagainstshariah.com

Note 2 There is an exciting new venue in which to see what Arab reformers have to say - the website [may be found at http://almuslih.org/ (It is in both Arabic and English.) According to its mission statement, Almuslih.org "aims to maximize the exposure and distribution of journalism and analyses promoting progressive thought in the Arab Middle East and the Muslim world."

Go there to see how some of the most brilliant minds in the Arab world, like writer Sayyid al-Qimny, Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari, the former Dean of Islamic Law at Qatar University, and Hassan Mneimneh, director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, understand the situation today and what must be done to secure a democratic future. Invariably, they address the problem of the culture.

Contrary to al-Qaradawi's condemnation of secularism, Tunisian philosopher Latif Lakhdar, one of the brightest lights in the Muslim world, calls for "an acceptance of the division between the domains of faith and politics."

He also states that a reformed Islam "ends the conception of the world divided up into an Abode of Islam destined for expansion and an Abode of War destined for 'Jihad unto the end of time,' as al-Bukhari's Hadith has it." Lakhdar says forthrightly, "our faith today constitutes a part of the problem, and it is incumbent upon us to reform it, in the school of religious rationalism, so that we turn it into a part of the solution."

The most recent posting on Almuslih, is an article titled "Freedom and the Progress of Civilization," by Mohammed al-Sanduk. Al-Sanduk confirms the thesis in The Closing of the Muslim Mind that the greatest scientific and cultural achievements of the Arab Muslim world occurred during, and because of, the ascendancy of the rational theologians, the Mu'tazilites, whose thinking "laid emphasis on the freedom of choice and on the responsibilities that accompany this."

Likewise, its decline resulted because of their suppression. He even provides a chart which tracks the rise and fall of Muslim scientific achievement parallel to the rise and fall of Mu'tazilite thought.

One of the best essays on the website is "A Manifesto for Reform," by the eloquent Hasan Hanafi, chairman of the philosophy department at Cairo University. He writes that "no real change can take place if there is not a change in the mindset first."

This is the reason, he says, that prior efforts at reform have failed because they "started with social, political and economic structures rather than with inherited intellectual substructures, which remained unchanged even as liberal, western enlightenment-derived structure was superimposed over them."

This has not worked because "the imported freedom therefore perches on an infrastructure of inherited fatalism, while the imported Rights of Man sit atop a substructure of the inherited Rights of God, in the same way that the imported sciences are superimposed over an infrastructural legacy of miracles."

As this brilliantly insightful sentence implies, the real problem is theological, and it is at this level reform must take place.

Without a different theology, can one have democracy? Iranian philosopher, Dr Abdulkarim Soroush, explicitly answered this question: "You need some philosophical underpinning, even theological underpinning in order to have a real democratic system.

Your God cannot be a despotic God anymore. A despotic God would not be compatible with a democratic rule, with the idea of rights.

So you even have to change your idea of God." Can this be done? Can what seems to be the bedrock of Islam change? This seems a very tall order, though there is precedent for it in Muslim history. However, if it is going to be done, it will no doubt be accomplished by courageous Muslim thinkers such as those appearing on [the Almuslih website]. Through it, you will feel spring in the air.