WANTED: A Petition to Support Muslim Democrats

A few Jewish organizations, and several Christian radio and television broadcasts, are calling for thousands of their own sympathizers to sign its “Petition to Support Israel.” I share their call for the support of Israel’s democracy, especially at this time when the Iranian President is calling for the “annihilation” of the State of Israel, but I wish I had a petition to sign that was expanded to say “a petition in support of Israel AND Muslim democrats.” Such a rewording does not juxtapose either antithetic or synonymous categories, and these petitioning groups do not realize that “Muslim democrats” and “Israel” complement one another, and are both worthy of support. Both Israel and Muslim democrats support democracy and peaceful, non-coercive means—their common non-extremist traits.

The petitioners do not intend to discourage any sincere efforts of Muslims toward peace and democracy, even if the petitioners think that such Muslim views are anomalous, illusory, or even contradictory to the essence of Islam. But I say, to exclude these Muslim democrats from a petition of support for Israel is discouraging to them. Many Muslim democrats are in the Middle East, and are being squeezed between authoritarian secular regimes on their left and radical Islamist murderers on their right. To Islamic extremists, Muslim democrats, even those who oppose U.S. support of Israel, also are the enemy, and therefore, if for no other reason, deserve our support. Muslim democrats do not deserve to be ignored when petitions are taking sides.

What most of my fellow evangelical Christians do not realize is that the clash between Islam and the West is due mostly to the clash within Islam. This is at least a clash between Sunni and Shi’a, as the sectarian conflict between them in Iraq shows. But as the Shi’ite and Sunni groups in Lebanon coalesce for the annihilation of Israel, it shows there is a much deeper and more generative clash that exists within both the Sunni and Shi’ite communities, namely the clash between Muslim democrats and theocrats, moderates and militants, modernity and tradition, and, ultimately, between the national rule of law and the universal rule of Sharia—the coercive quest of Islamic extremists. As for the democratic side of this Islamic clash, a good source for examining their efforts and literature for democracy education, both in English and in Arabic, is the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Washington DC (Radwan Masmoudi, president). See their www.islam-democracy.org website.

What many do not realize is that Muslims differ greatly among themselves on the rationales they give for moderation or violence in Islamic politics. These rationales depend on their very different interpretive, or hermeneutical, methodologies in interpreting the Koran, which they then use to justify, or merely excuse, their chosen course of political action.

To clearly see the stark hermeneutical contrast within Islam in interpreting and applying the political theology of the Koran to modern realities, simply compare the English translation and commentary of the Koran by the Muslim democrat, Muhammad Asad (d. 1992), in The Message of the Qur’an (2003), with that of the anti-democratic Salafists-Wahhabists, Muhammad al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan, in The Noble Qur’an (especially the 15th revised edition of 1996 containing their Appendix-IV on Jihad). There are many peace verses and war verses in the Koran, and the democrats interpret the war verses in light of the peace verses, but the anti-democrats interpret the peace verses in the light of the war verses. Precisely put, the Hilali & Khan approach is a restrictivism, in which religious and political toleration is restricted by means of the earlier Meccan peace verses being abrogated by the later Medinan war verses. Conversely, the Asad approach is a moral foundationism, in which the moral and peace verses of the entire Koran not only remain normative by definition, such as their view that war must be defensive in nature, but such verses also help in understanding the historically and culturally conditioned verses.

Proponents of both of these antithetical starting points view their Koranic exposition as discovering the “essential” Islam.Some of us who are not Muslims either do not yet know which view of the Koran is the original or essential one, or do not feel qualified to evaluate what perhaps only believers in the Koran can. But we do know that we have a duty to be peacemakers now, a duty that is always current, cooperative, compassionate and patient. Yes, we should support Israel. And we should support Muslim democrats, who have been and will remain the only long-term entity that can lead the Muslim world into modernity, and the Middle East away from extremist remedies.