So how does someone like me decide which of the two schools of thinking is the true Islam? Both factions endeavour to portray the other one as extremist and as a fringe. I do understand your protestations that yours is the correct one but then the other lot would stress that they are. Maybe those of us who are just trying to do nothing more than to live decent peaceful lives and who look on in bewilderment at this phenomenon might find the entire discussion to be irrelevant and boring, were it not for the appallingly subhuman lifestyles of the more fundamental school which gives rise to the various outrages that I have mentioned and which are seen by ordinary people as being ‘Islam’.former What Would a Muslim Say visitor
In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Remember that Sunni Islam (and to a lesser degree Shia Islam) has legalistic pluralism. This means that all interpretations, so long as they can be tied to canonical texts and interpretive precedents, can be accepted as “true.” Now this may seem alarming, but you must remember that every scholar is colored by the environment that he or she is living in. So each interpretation comes with its own context that is appropriate for their age. . . this means that a person judges the validity of each interpretation based on the texts AND the context in which the interpretation was written. After all, these interpretations are nothing more than the best-efforts of fallible human beings.
For example, there were classical scholars (like ibn Kathir) who lived in a very war-torn time. Every non-Muslim polity was waging war against the Muslim community, and therefore they wrote in their tafsir that unbelief is the justification for war.That is one interpretation but it has been dismissed by all major scholars from the east to the west and from the conservative to the liberal. Unfortunately, the average Muslim (and non-Muslim) does not know this little fact, so based on ibn Kahtir’s book of tafsir, Islamophobes and extremist Muslims around the world conclude that the Qur’an tells Muslims to start aggression against non-Muslims and fight them until they die, convert, or submit to jizya.
However, there were classical scholars (for example, al-Tabari and ibn al-Qayyim) who lived in a time when some wars were being waged with other non-Muslim nations but there were other non-Muslim nations who were at peace and even did much trade with the Muslim nation. As a result, they wrote in their tafsir that aggression and intent to wage war is the justification for war, not unbelief. This is the interpretation that is accepted by the majority of the Muslim world, both conservative laity and liberal laity. This is not just a wishful-thinking exercise as ISIS may claim. Without going into the gory legal proofs, the Tabari interpretation is stronger. It is more logically consistent, it is more consistent with the life of the Prophet, and it is more consistent with the actions of the Prophet’s companions.
Now the point of how does one ascertain which is the “true” teaching? Remember that a religion is not just defined by its canonical or foundational texts; it is defined by how its followers live it. This is exactly your point, right? That the most vocal group of Muslims are the ones committing the atrocities. However, there is a larger majority of scholars who wrote long letters refuting the logic of extremist ideology (see the link from my last email). This in and of itself is the “voice of the majority” and the “voice of the scholars” that should inform all Muslims and even non-Muslims what Islam really teaches.
You know. . . it was only a hundred years ago that good, church-going Christians in Europe collectively accepted the idea that Jews were an enemy and should be persecuted. Verses from the Bible were quoted to justify this view, and those pogroms and discrimination policies eventually led to the Holocaust. It was only after WWII that Christians did some soul-searching and found themselves re-interpreting those verses in a way that did not mandate animosity and aggression against Jews. Also, it was only a few hundred years ago that good, church-going Christians in the US collectively accepted the idea that Africans were inherently inferior and that is it is good and proper that they should be enslaved. It was only after the US Civil War that Christians did some soul-searching and eventually found themselves re-interpreting those verses that were used to justify slavery. So my point is that if “true Christianity” was allowed to reinvent itself, even after decades of precedence, why not Islam? Why is it not sufficient for the leaders of the Muslim world to denounce and condemn extremism and proclaim with all their voice that this is not Islam. . . ?
May peace be with you,