Please, Waleed, Clichés Won’t Suffice


ISIS says Islam is one thing and Waleed Aly insists it is nothing of the kind. Unless he is prepared to address and explain the if-and-why of Koranic literalism,  I’ll remain confused. Absent that, Aly’s latest sermon is an empty polemic, clarifying nothing.

Dear Waleed,
Anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in Australia, evidenced by the United Patriotic Front’s countrywide marches at the weekend. We learnt on this week’s Four Corners that de-radicalisation programs haven’t been very successful in Australia to date.  Meanwhile, the other night, Waleed, you caused a sensation with your impassioned call for unity in the wake of the latest Paris terror attacks. But while I share your moral outrage I can’t help feeling that you’re not really helping the situation.

I’m sure you’d agree that truth is the aim of serious discussion, but on a sensitive topic like the role of Islam in terrorism it’s very hard to come by. I’m no expert on Islam; but that’s just the point. I’m typical of Australians who are confused by extremist positions on all sides and trying to make sense of where the truth lies. Extremists, by definition, don’t suffer those who disagree with them, they’re intolerant of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their narrow view. And on that definition, I think you, too, are an extremist Waleed.

There are three vocal and extreme positions in this debate: the Islamic State, with its literal reading of the Koran and Prophet’s life; anti-Muslim groups such as the United Patriotic Front; and non-violent Muslim apologists like yourself. Common to all three is a narrow interpretation of Islam and intolerance for those who question their views.

Calling you an extremist is provocative, so I stress that I’m not referring to the actions you advocate; I’m questioning your attitude to those who disagree with you. While IS behead dissidents and the UPF picket mosques, you’re more likely to call nonconformists to your narrative “islamophobes” or “preachers of hate.” Like IS, you suggest that you speak the truth, to be representing the Islam, and shame on those who disagree.

Islamic State’s methods are cutthroat, but you ignore their appeal to the Koran and the example of Muhammad. In your viral video, you mentioned Dabiq, the ISIS propaganda magazine. What you didn’t mention was its frequent quoting of the Koran, the Hadith, and early Islamic jurists. That leaves a non-expert bewildered; how do I reconcile the widespread “IS has nothing to do with Islam” sentiment with Dabiq? (Below, a snippet from the Dabiq edition celebrating the destruction of Palmyra. Note the Koran is cited as instructing believers to turn against those, even parents and siblings, who reject Allah and his Prophet – editor).

koranic admonitionNo one can truthfully say that Islamic State has got nothing to do with Islam—whether a lot or a little, a misinterpretation or not. But for every “violent” quote from the Koran, you and other apologists have a “peaceful” interpretation that you claim is correct and supersedes the “violent” one. The result? I’m confused.

And it doesn’t matter how many times you or ISIS claim to speak the truth about Islam: I’m not convinced. Your well-intentioned, zealous monologue might cement the views of people who are unwilling to explore the depths and complexities of Islam for themselves, but to me it is more empty polemic on the public stage, clarifying nothing.

You make big claims about Islam and its Prophet, but rarely give the theological and historical evidence. The “Islam is peace” line that you imply, is not an argument, it’s a conclusion. Show us the evidence! Speaking of “Islam,” as if there is only one interpretation does no good. Educate us, by all means, but give us the whole picture. Tell us about Islams, not monophonic Islam.

Only the transparent truth will overcome the deceptive ideology of the Islamic State. Branding the one who questions Islam an “Islamophobe” is a ruse: there is no one Islam, not even the “moderate” one. Yes, “Islamaphobe” might aptly describe the UFP with their un-nuanced anti-Muslim convictions. But don’t put me in the same basket if I’m not comfortable taking your word that there is one Islam, and it’s yours. You wouldn’t expect me to accept the ISIS line that they represent trueIslam; why should I take yours? And no, appealing to what most Muslims believe isn’t enough. Show me from the primary texts why they believe it.

You’re right that unity is a powerful weapon against the ISIS message, but you haven’t convinced mewhy your interpretation of Islam is valid. Yes, it’s more peaceable, but provide the proof. You’ve clearly got a big following and consequently some authority. Don’t waste it.

Imagine I’m a young and idealistic Aussie—a prime candidate for ‘radicalisation’—and I only have access to two interpretations of Islam: the one you speak for and that of ISIS. I’d immediately see that yours doesn’t refer very often to the Koran. Your version doesn’t cite the life of the Prophet, not all of it anyway. Islamic State does.

Ignoring the less palatable bits in the Koran and the Prophet’s life doesn’t make them go away. So deal with them, Waleed; bring them out in the open for the sake of truth; for all our sakes. For the victims of the next Paris, or Beirut, or Sinai, and for peace-seeking Muslims in Bendigo who feel intimidated. Your purpose may be commendable, but your intolerant methods and unfounded views are divisive in their results: perhaps driving more people in the direction of the UPF, if not worse.

Don’t hide the difficult truths or trade in vacuous platitudes, Waleed. Just get on with it, talk about it, all of it, please.

Or have I misunderstood you?


This article first appeared on Quadrant Magazine Online.

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2 thoughts on “Please, Waleed, Clichés Won’t Suffice

  1. Hi Pete.

    I like and agree with most of what you write: Islam is not a unified whole. However, there’s a strand in Islam that you’ve overlooked: the later, most warlike, violent and oppressive parts of the Koran abrogate, and were expressly highlighted, where there are contradictions, to supersede any earlier, more peaceful ones. As you say, there is more than one kind of Islam, and Muslims themselves are violently divided on this issue.

    Mohammed began his life’s ministry at the age of 40 more as a peaceful mystic. However, once he entered into the Medina part of his life, his behaviour changed. He became more narcissistic, a pedophile, a mass murderer, a terrorist, a misogynist, a lecher, a cult leader, a madman, a rapist, a torturer, an assassin and a looter.who behaved much more like a cult leader and warrior.

    At the beginning, one day, at the age of 40, he told his wife that he had been visited by the angel Gabriel in a dream. Thus began a series of “revelations” which lasted almost until his death 23 years later. The Qur’an is a collection of words that Muhammad attributed to Allah. The Hadith is a collection of narrations of the life and deeds of Muhammad. The Sira is his recorded biography. The Sunnah is said to be Muhammad’s way of life, on which Islamic law (Sharia) is based.

    Those who wish, rightly so, to avoid back-lashing against Muslims overlook this.

    • Thanks Max,

      Yes: The ‘Medina Islam’ interpretation closely resembles the Salafi-Jihadist interpretation and what we are seeing in the actions of the Islamic State. Whether the historical evidence for this era, including the authenticity of the Hadith regarding the actions of Muhhamad are accurate, is of course, up for debate, and something in which I don’t have expertise.

      The fundamental question being argued and fought over is: what is the ‘real’ Islam? I think this is technically unanswerable considering the often conflicting interpretations of the Qur’an, Hadith, etc. My point is that mainstream society should at least be prepared to acknowledge the fact that there are multiple interpretations, and that the Salafi-jihadist one can’t be so quickly disregarded by Waleed Aly and the like.

      Wishful thinking is no substitute for rigorous thinking. It’s hard to know whether people are ‘overlooking’ the less palatable intepretations of Islam by mistake, or because they think by pretending they don’t exist, they can hope to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy (think Obama perhaps)…

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