An Interview with a Sensible Muslim Scholar

by Kung Fu Zu  1/13/15

The Clueless and Dummies Are Teaching Islam

This is an interview which appeared in the German newspaper Die Zeit on January 12, 2015. Muhammad Murtaza, the interviewee, is an Islamic scholar at the “World Ethics Institution”. While the man’s sentiments are laudable, there is too much of the intellectual in them. In the end, political action is not brought about at a very high level. Most people are not terribly susceptible to reasoned discourse.

Europe has a Muslim problem because too many Muslims have not and will likely never assimilate into their new countries. I believe there is a significant possibility of major political problems, including large scale riots, taking place in European countries in the near future. Large percentages of the indigenous populations are reaching a boiling point as the elites not only ignore their problems, but because there are now so many Muslims living in Europe that the leaders really do have a tiger by the tail and don’t know how to let go.

Transcript Begins:

Die Zeit Online: Mr. Murtaza, more than half of Europeans are afraid of Islam, although these people are individually rather tolerant of different religious beliefs. Why is that so?

Murtaza: Islam is, after Christianity, the largest and additionally a very visible religious community. We see in city centers, mosques, women with head scarves and experience how canteens in schools and universities pay attention to Muslim dietary laws. The European openness in regards to religious freedom can therefore lead to people feeling foreign in their own land and fear of societal changes. But the community which (in harmony with its values) doesn’t change, is a dead society.

Die Zeit Online: Is that why the people believe Islam condones violence?

Murtaza: The second origin of Islamophobia is that since the attacks of September 11th, Islam appears to be a violent religion. People of the Muslim belief murder in the name of God, in the name of the prophet, in the name of the Koran. These violent people and those who idealize them are to blame for this negative picture of Islam. Fear of Islam is therefore justified. But thank God we have also learned since 2001 that these violent people are a deeply problematic minority inside of Islam who kill all, non-Muslims and Muslims. Therefore, they are everyone’s problem and we can only solve this problem together.

Die Zeit Online: Must Islam reform itself?

Murtaza: We do not need any reform of Islam, rather an ethically rational teaching of the Koran. It arose in the tribal culture of Arabia in the 7th century. Universal values had to take into consideration the Arabic language, to the culture, the way of thinking and socio-economic structure.  A literal teaching of the revelation today not only overlooks these universal values, but it offers the conditions for religious tyranny. Many Muslims comfort themselves and declare the past as a golden era, which should be recreated. That breeds “archeologists” whose spiritual powers are directed backwards, not forwards.

Die Zeit Online: Archeologists? You mean the Salafists and jihadiis?

Murtaza: Yes. They miss that all life is change. A rule which was just during the time of the Prophet, can be, in other societal contexts, wrapped in injustice. That is why compassion and love of one’s neighbor are the ethical foundations for interpretation of the Koran.

Die Zeit: How then should the Koran be read?

Murtaza: We should understand the revelation as a trusted asset. The human being does not find moral instruction through a mass reading culture, rather only through a scholarly reading culture which seeks, i.e. through investigation of the text.  Interpretation is certainly a part of the religious knowledge of a faith community. But it must not be considered the same as the religion. It is simply the attempt to come close to holy guidance. The result of this scholarly approach to the revelation is humility, simplicity and tolerance for other Islamic models and other religious models.

Die Zeit: Is violence a part of today’s usual interpretation of Islam?

Murtaza: Every religion and worldview contains a potential for peace and a potential for violence. Religious communities themselves decide, in which direction they go. After 3,000 years of Judaism, 2,000 years of Christianity and 1,400 years of Islam it is however clear, that the history of the Abrahamic religions is not dominated by murderers and criminals. But the essence of these three religions has been repeatedly perverted.

The origin of the unchained violence in the name of Islam lies in the results of the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and colonialism. Both led to the destruction of the Islamic infrastructure of scholarship and learning. During and after de-colonialization it was mainly amateurs/lay people, who influenced Islam. It was amateurs like Hasan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, who declared Jihad as an individual duty of every Muslim and styled it as a revolutionary romantic freedom fight.  We have this same crisis of Islamic learning in Europe where there is, till now, no infrastructure of Islamic learning. The worst sort of amateurs also dominate here, types such as Pierre Vogel, Sven Lau or Abou-Nagie, who are for who too many Muslims, what Islam is. Pierre Vogel explains Islam in 30 seconds. The Prophet Muhammad needed 13 years in Mecca. What does this say about Pierre Vogel and similar consorts? That they are clueless and that dummies teach Islam.

Die Zeit Online: But for Muslims it is insulting when Mohammed is caricatured?

Murtaza: The Prophet Muhammad is the living model for the Muslim. The polytheists in Mecca constantly made fun of him or cursed him, however he never let himself be provoked, he did not defend himself. Every Muslim knows the story of the Bedouin who came into the Prophet’s mosque and urinated in from of everyone. The Prophet’s companions were beside themselves, but Muhammad was peace itself and instructed a bucket of water to be poured on the site. Whoever is full of belief, reacts with relaxed equanimity on outer insults. The belief of those Muslims, who with every caricature breakout in a fit of anger, is not to be defined as a transcendental experience, but rather as only grievance.

And did the caricatures really make fun of the Prophet? I don’t believe it. More to the point, they pointed out a contradiction. How can it be that we Muslims portray Islam as the religion of peace, but Muslim criminals base their actions on this religion? That’s how I understand these caricatures.

Die Zeit Online: Many Muslims understand it differently.

Murtaza: We are having a global debate within the Muslim religious community about what should Islam be in the modern world. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. Should Islam be a nihilistic, human despising violent religion? Or should it have to do with belief, personal development, courage for freedom, democracy, openness, curiosity, brotherly love, creativity and oneness with humans. How long this debate will last, I don’t know. If we all take responsibility for this religious community, including for the horror which is done in the name of this religion, also for the blood which clings to this religion, then this religious community can come to itself and, emancipated, have a dialogue with today’s world, nations, religions and worldviews.

Zeit Online: Are the solidarity announcements, “Je suis Charlie” a good start to do something together?

Murtaza: Yes and other things are happening. In the Arabic press, the attack was condemned. The Egyptian paper Al-Shuruq, printed the caricatures on the front page. Muslim groups in Germany have also condemned the attack. In Facebook one sees on many profile pages of Muslims the banner, “Je suis Charlie.” Increasingly more Muslims are sorry that outsiders legitimize their violence with religion and thereby bring a world religion with over 1.5 billion adherents under suspicion.

After the terror in France, we are standing in front of a pile of rubble. Suspicion of Muslims will increase further. In the future, we will have more insults directed at us. And politics will necessarily promote security policies which the local Muslims will be seen first as a risk. What can we Muslims now do? More than ever, we must try everyday to impress the people that Islam is something else.

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4 Responses to An Interview with a Sensible Muslim Scholar

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    He has some very interesting points, but also some errors. Christianity has often had a violent history, but it wasn’t based on the Bible, or at least not the New Testament (a point Dostoevsky made in his “Grand Inquisitor” story-within-a-story in The Brothers Karamazov). The Old Testament is rather bloody, but Yahweh gave the Hebrews no general commandment to kill the infidels. In any case, Jewish scholars later created the Talmud to modernize Judaism (and in particular to deal with the fact that it could not, for the foreseeable future, rule the Land of Milk and Honey or any other such state). This is what Islam needs to do.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      He has some very interesting points, but also some errors. Christianity has often had a violent history, but it wasn’t based on the Bible, or at least not the New Testament

      I grow weary of the people who constantly conflate the violence perpetrated in the name of Christianity with that perpetrated in the name of Allah. I defy anyone to point out a verse in the New Testament which is anything like,

      Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. Allah knows, but you do not.

      Allah has given those that fight with their goods and their persons a higher rank than those who stay at home…..but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him

      Seek out your enemies relentlessly

      Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme. If they desist Allah is cognizant of all their actions; but if they give no heed, know then that Allah will protect you.

      When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and pay the alms-tax, let them go their way.

      I could go on for quite some time.

      Nowhere in the Koran is Mohammed shown to be a loving leader. Nowhere in the Koran does it say God is love. And having read the book three times, I do not recall having read, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

      No, Islam is based on a wholly different ethical foundation than that of Christianity. That humans have done evil in the name of Christianity is the fault of humans. The New Testament does not give cover for the sociopaths among us to rape and kill the way the Koran does, even if they have misinterpreted the Koran. The language is too violent.

      I will note that I have asked some Muslims about this problem and how the verses should be read, but have been met with silence.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        There are 2 interesting follow-ups to your comments. One is the saying, “The problem with capitalism is capitalists. The problem with socialism is socialism.” Another is an observation by C. S. Lewis: Submission aka Islam is the only religion that has no version of the Golden Rule.


        Yes, there’s no comparison between the relative moral statures of Mohammed (if he even existed) and Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus command anyone to kill the unbeliever or even to force him to pay some kind of tax for the privilege of remaining alive.

        Murtaza seems a decent fellow but rather uninformed about the realities we face. He seems to think Islam has already gone through a reformation, when in fact that is what it most urgently still needs.

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