What Our Readers Said About Muslim Reform

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Pakistanis demonstrate in favor of blasphemy law. (Photo: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project advisory board member Dr. Zudhi Jasser hit out at critics who feel his efforts to reform Islam are not possible in a segment of his podcast Reform This! In the segment he labeled specific individuals, including Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller as part of the #AltJihad (a term he coined) and as guilty of excommunicating him from his faith in the same way as jihadists do, branding him as not a real Muslim.

Robert Spencer, of Jihad Watch, wrote a response to the podcast in which he attacked Jasser’s efforts as doomed to failure.

The crux of the issue, whether or not it is possible for Muslims such Jasser to isolate and destroy the radical ideology from within, is of vital importance. Jasser himself said in his podcast that he has no desire to silence anyone from asking questions about his faith.

Clarion Project’s Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland wrote for Clarion Project supporting Jasser in his piece last week Is Muslim Reform Even Possible. He argued that Spencer is wrong and those who attempt to force Muslims to abandon Islam are making the problem worse not better and that this struggle is a generational one which will take time. Spencer has written a response to that also, accusing Clarion Project of being “fooled.”

The debate over whether the political problem of radical Islam can be extricated from an Islamic theological question is important. Bigotry against Muslims as people, however, is never acceptable. See Clarion Project’s statement on anti-Muslim bigotry.

We don’t want that to be the end of the conversation. We asked you for your views and you responded in force. We will be printing selected submissions in pairs over the next week, to show the diversity of opinions on this issue and bringing out some of the questions and issues you had.

Here are two letters we received, one taking each side:


March 20

When Will There Be Churches in Saudi Arabia?

A LOT of people could die waiting on Muslim Reform.

And who’s to say it won’t go downhill before improving significantly.

When the Sauds start allowing churches, I’ll give this article more attention.


Reform will Continue to be Difficult 

As former Muslim and former want-to-be Jihadist Al Fadi said, “It will take a generation” before Islam can reform.  Then he added, “If it ever will reform”.

Until more Muslims speak out against the jihadists, knowing that their very lives could be put on the line when they do so, it will continue to be difficult for many to believe that Islam is a religion of peace, even though the majority of Muslims just want to practice their religion and spend their lives in peace.

Unfortunately, until equality of the sexes becomes the norm in Islam I have doubt that it will ever be seen as a religion of peace.  Unless women are relieved of the restrictions put on them (including having to cover up the fact that they are women, have the right to drive, leave a marriage that is violent, and the list goes on), and Jihadism is no longer promoted, reform will be very difficult to achieve. 


March 19

Jasser Is Right: Islam Can Be Reformed

I am a strong believer that people like Dr. Jasser need to become more active in the slow process of changing the face of the Muslim religion.  It is a long process and key to it is education and elimination of the dominant role that the imams have in the Muslim religion.  The brainwashing that is carried out in many mosques is the root of the problem.  Furthermore modern educated Muslims need to accept their nationality and not “their sole allegiance to the Umma.”  One can never assimilate if one is intolerant of the “other” and his feelings are so full of hate making it impossible to live in harmony with other human beings.  Follow the Golden Rule and maybe you can see the results of intolerance.  In Western society, we do not handle Muslims as kafir or dhimmi and impose protection tax on them; they need to think a little about it.

Dr. Jasser should continue his good work and continue to be an example of the modern Muslim who can thrive in our free society and help make this world a better place for everyone.

— George Bendor



Jasser Is Wrong: Islam Most Likely Cannot Be Reformed

I read with some interest the article you posted written by Elliot Friedland in which he extols Dr. Zuhdi Jasser’s attempts to reform Islam, and criticizes Robert Spencer for being skeptical of the prospects for that reform.

I’m afraid while I respect and admire Dr. Jasser, I have to side with Mr. Spencer in trying to assess reality.

Mr. Friedland has three arguments, to wit:

  1. “Islam itself has changed a lot over the years, just like Christianity has.”  Well, OK.  But Islam hasn’t changed a lot since the “closing of the Muslim mind” in the 11th century, when (sorry, I forget the names of the players) the faction that believes the words in the Qur’an are TRUTH writ large, not subject to interpretation, won the in-house argument.  Since then, the Islamic world has stagnated in science, in human rights, in economics.  Islam has become a fetid pool of beliefs, unassailable from within Islam. That is why Dr. Jasser’s task is so enormous, he has to move an entire culture, not “just” a religion.  If Martin Luther had faced such a culture, he would have failed too.
  2. “Spencer does not appreciate the damage done to Islamic reform by rejecting Jasser.”  I think it is possible to “root” for Dr. Jasser while being skeptical of the chances for his success.  Contemporary Islam as it is practiced all across the Arab, Persian, African and Pacific worlds, is largely a theocratic and autocratic practice, as is defined in the Qur’an. That is why there is so little “democracy” in the Islamic world.   That this practice is utterly incompatible with modern, individualistic-centered democratic politics is obvious, as is the malign influence of Islam on gender equity, homosexual rights, religious liberty, modern banking, and all the rest.  For the time being, the individual Muslim has to decide where his or her loyalties lie: in Western modernity or in Islamic history.  It is very difficult to bridge the two, as seen in the absence of such mixed practice in most of the Islamic world.
  3. “Reform took a long time even within the Christian West.”  Well, yes, but the roots of Christianity are what, over time,  provided philosophical respect for the individual (which blossomed into modern democracy and the respect for individual liberty); for free economics, respect for free markets and science (because the Christian God WANTS his people to understand the world, not just submit to His authority), which created technology and the broad affluence that provides the lubrication for upward mobility; religious liberty, for which Islam has NO philosophical roots whatsoever, but Christianity does.

I find these arguments reasonable attempts to locate the truth, but I’m afraid I find them unconvincing.  I think this first round goes to Mr. Spencer.


— Ron Berti

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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