Encouraging Islamic Reform

In 2010, Ayaan Hirsi Ali participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate on whether Islam is a religion of peace. In it, she made the argument that while Islam is not currently peaceful, it can become peaceful if it reforms.

More recently, her latest book, Heretic, lists specific recommendations for an Islamic reformation. Things like accepting non-literal interpretations of the Quran.

So I was heartened when I listened to the Intelligence Squared US debate, and heard the the two pro-Islam debators argue that certain verses needed to be “contextualized”, or understood within the culture that Mohammed lived in. To my ears, this sounded an awful lot like “you’re taking it out of context” and “oh, but that’s the Old Testament!”

These are, of course, two of the rationales that Christians love to use to explain away those passages of the Bible that they don’t like. Those two will do the trick 90% of the time, even when “that’s not in my Bible!” won’t.

The problem is that these excuses are, well, excuses. Don’t get me wrong: they allow Christians to get along with other people in the 21st century. It’s bad enough that there are any people left who still believe in witchcraft; let’s not encourage them to believe that “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” is still accepted as mainstream.

Clearly, we want to encourage people to ignore, downplay, or reinterpet the less-savory parts of their holy books. The problem is, how to sell this without being too obvious that that’s what’s going on?

Christianity benefits from the fact that most Christians don’t bother to read the Bible. That means that they tend to be unaware of passages advocating slavery or genocide, unless their pastor chooses to mention them, which I think most pastors are loath to do. For those who do want to read the Bible, there are Bible study materials and ready-made apologetics to explain away the inconvenient passages.

I’m guessing that similar interpretations and apologetics exist for the Quran as well. But how widely are they used? And how can we encourage more people to gravitate toward the hip-and-groovy interpretations?

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