Apart from seeing the occasional tweet from Imam Tawhidi (the Imam of Peace) I knew nothing really about him until recently when I watched him being interviewed by Tommy Robinson (I will include a link to the interview at the end). It’s a fascinating interview, I have never before heard anyone who still identifies as a Muslim speaking so frankly about the problems inherent in the Islamic religion.
About half way through the interview the imam reveals his views on the Koran and the Hadith (he doesn’t mention the Sira but I think we can assume his remarks about the Hadith can probably be taken to include the Sira as well). He says that in order to reform Islam, violent passages should be removed from the Hadith, but not the Koran – the Koran cannot be altered in the imam’s view. From what he says here I infer that he is what is called a Koranist (or Quranist), or at least he is something very similar – he speaks of throwing the Hadiths out of the window. A Koranist is a Muslim who rejects the Hadith and Sira and believes only what is written in the Koran.
Incidentally at one point Tommy and the imam discuss the question of Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha when she was only 6. The imam gives quite an astonishing explanation for this which I have never heard before, Tommy was equally surprised (I will let you listen to the interview to hear that, I don’t want to include too many spoilers here). Since Aisha’s exact age is not mentioned in the Koran however, this debate is not really so important to a debate about the Koranist point of view.
Unfortunately there is a fundamental problem with the Koranist viewpoint in general, which has been identified by Islamic scholars. According to verse 33:21 of the Koran, Mohammed’s life is a most beautiful example for Muslims to follow, but the Koran contains only a tiny number of fleeting mentions of Mohammed, there is simply not enough information in the Koran for Muslims to learn very much at all about Mohammed’s life. It is only by studying the Hadith and Sira that Muslims can learn much about Mohammed’s life, and thus learn properly about this “beautiful example” that they are supposed to follow. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the Koranist movement is relatively only a tiny movement, because their beliefs simply don’t make sense. As he states in the interview, there are probably only a few million Koranists worldwide. The exact numbers are hard to know as the Koranists are regarded as apostates by many mainstream Muslims and therefore tend not to be open about their beliefs.
Let’s leave this fundamental problem on one side for a moment though, and look at other aspects of the imam’s beliefs.
The imam speaks of the existence of many different interpretations of the Koran in the interview, and asks why he should not be able to reform the religion by making his own interpretation. He suggests that the violent passages (for example verse 8:12 that speaks of striking terror into the hearts of the disbelievers) can be interpreted as only applying in the time and place of Mohammed’s battles. Of course if we only refer to the Koran there is somewhat less certainty about everything, because the Koran is much less explicit than the Hadiths. If we look again at verse 33:21 of the Koran though, this context interpretation is hard to take seriously – Mohammed waged wars against the disbelievers to propagate his religion, so surely the Koran at the very least condones this kind of behaviour. In fact, violent acts of war are one of the few things about Mohammed’s life that actually are mentioned in the Koran. What’s more, verse 33:21 that states that Mohammed’s life is a “beautiful example” comes right in the midst of other verses describing a very violent period, including the reference at verse 33:26 to what is either the Banu Qurayza massacre or a very similar event:
“And He brought down those who supported them among the People of the Scripture from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts [so that] a party you killed, and you took captive a party“
Finally on this question of context, there is nothing in the passages that explicitly states that the violence is only justified in the particular context. The references are for example to “the disbelievers” rather than to “the disbelievers in this particular settlement at this particular time”. For example Koran 8:55 says that:
“the disbelievers are the vilest of animals”
Even if we were to accept this context driven interpretation of the Koran alone though (and given the above points I am not suggesting that we should), there is still a huge and inescapable problem with all attempts at a peaceful reformation of Islam. Let us imagine for a moment that at some point far into the future the majority of Muslims worldwide eventually accepted the imam’s interpretation of the Koran, and rejected the Hadith. As long as there are significant numbers of people in the world who believe that the Koran is the unquestionable word of Allah and that Mohammed was his last prophet, the door will be left ajar for any other interpretations of the Koran to return to prominence – including of course the violent interpretations. This is the reason I say that a peaceful reformation of Islam is not even a desirable goal, the religion must be rejected altogether.
There is simply nothing worth reforming or preserving about this religion, it is a belief system that must be defeated so that freedom of speech can flourish and human thought can progress unhampered by threats of violence. As the imam rightly points out, the texts cannot be physically destroyed, but there are many means available that should be used to persuade Muslims to reject their religion including reason and debate, economic pressure and social ostracism.
At one point the imam says to Tommy that we will never be able to stop the growth of Islam in the UK. He cites the demographic trend, which is indeed suggestive of the continuing growth of the Islamic population if all else stays the same. However Tommy responds with some perfectly plausible suggestions about government policy changes that would in fact help to slow (and possibly even halt) the growth of Islam in the UK. I have many additional ideas of my own but that is a subject for another time. What I do want to say here is that I found the imam’s insistence on this point a little bit irritating, and perhaps he is engaging in a little bit of propagandizing on behalf of his religion here, although he presents his arguments about this as simply a pragmatic view. Islam has been stopped and even reversed in Europe before, most notably of course in Spain and Austria, and it had advanced considerably further into Europe when this reversal took place as well (than is the case today). That’s not of course to suggest that we should revert to medieval methods of combating the religion.
At the moment the demographics do indeed seem to be working very much in Islam’s favour, but though there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world currently there are many more non-Muslims, some 5.8 billion. In his own country of origin Iran we seem to be seeing growing numbers of people prepared to rebel against the religion, not just discarding hijabs but also burning the Koran as well. Beliefs can change, they are not a fixed aspect of a human being.
We are also in a new age of mass communication now, a point that the imam may not have properly considered. Never before has this religion (or any other) been subjected to such an enormous amount of scrutiny all around the world. The internet is enabling a revolution in human thought, and I truly believe we are only just seeing the beginnings of this revolution today. We simply don’t know the full impact that this degree of almost instantaneous around the world communication, exchange and clashing of ideas will have in the longer term.
While it is indeed refreshing to come across an imam who has the courage to so frankly discuss all these issues with an unrestrained critic of Islam such as Tommy Robinson (others could take note), I feel it necessary to point out all these problems with his belief system nonetheless. What we certainly don’t want to do is start moderating our criticisms of Islam for fear of upsetting this and other (probably well-meaning) reform attempts. Let us boldly speak the truth as we see it, and may the best argument win – if the imam’s interpretation cannot stand up to rational scrutiny then it is unlikely to catch on in any case.
I spent some time trying to decide whether Imam Tawhidi is a force for good in the world or not, but I couldn’t reach any firm conclusion about it as I can see arguments on both sides of that debate. What I am certain of though is that my highest regard will continue to be reserved for those Muslims who, as it were, “go the whole hog” and throw not just the Hadith and Sira but also the Koran out of the window as well, and become EX Muslims.
Here is the interview, I recommend this video:
Meeting The World’s Most Notorious Imam