Progress via a Muslim Spong?

Driving back from the North Carolina mountains tonight, I heard an amazing commentary on NPR that fits into our discussion of the MSM’s heated search for a “moderate” version of Islam that it can hold up as some kind of majority viewpoint. This is part of the whole template that there are “fundamentalists” in all faiths who are equally dangerous in their often violent quest for the illusion of certainty and moral absolutes and then there are “moderates” who, if they all had their way, would all get along as they search for the Eternal Other.

Here is the NPR link for those who want to hear the commentary and the brief summary:

July 8, 2005 — Commentator Irshad Manji, who is a practicing Muslim, would like Muslims around the world to publicly reject some of the violent messages that she says are inherent in the Koran.

There’s a lot of valid content in this piece, and let me stress that I am not suggesting, for a moment, that moderate Islamic voices are unimportant or that they should be marginalized. No way. I am saying that the press, at the moment, needs to be covering the who, what, when, where, why and how of how most Muslims are responding to the events in London.

Manji is, in a way, calling for the same thing. In particular she urges mainstream Muslims to take a tough look at the actual contents of the Koran and, in particular, how it is being parsed and preached by those who approve of violence against Jews, Christians, moderate Muslims, etc.

So far, so good. Then she suggests it is time for all religious leaders to be equally honest in dealing with their own scriptures and histories. So far, so good. Then she holds up, as the model for these exchanges, the work of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark. This is where the train comes off the tracks.

The last thing in the world we need right now is for Western leaders — religious or political — to find and promote the views of some Islamic version of Spong, someone who is no longer even a theist. You want a clash of civilizations? Let the mainstream Muslim world see America praising the work of those who do to Islam what Spong does to Christian faith. Heaven forbid. Here, for example, is a link to Spong’s 12 Theses for the new reformation of Christianity. Here’s the first half of the list.

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

Come to think of it, mainstream Muslims have a higher view of Christianity than Spong.

I realize this was a commentary, not an NPR news piece. But I still think its contents reflect the worldview of many in the MSM. Check it out.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • David Adrian

    If Bishop Spong were as intellectually and morally rigorous as he pretends to be, he would have renounced his ordinations to the priesthood and the episcopacy. Of course, such rigor also would have required him to renounce his pension and perhaps to have gotten a real job as well.

  • Terry Tee

    Today’s (LOndon) Daily Telegraph has a juxtaposition of two whole-page articles. The juxtaposition cannot be accidental. On page 18 there is a painful, graphic reminder of the genocidal murder of 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebenica exactly 10 years ago. Their killers were Serbian Orthodox Christians. On page 19 Charles Moore (himself a Catholic) asks: ‘Where is the Ghandi of Islam?’ and calls for the violent passages of the Koran to be renounced by Muslim leaders. This will never happen, of course, because the Koran is regarded by Muslims as the literal word of God way beyond Christian or Jewish understandings of scripture. The real problem, it seems to me, is that Islamic culture has never undergone an Enlightenment and thus has never had to integrate faith and rational inquiry. Scholars of Islam tell me that there is nothing in Koranic scholarship comparable to Judaeo-Christian scrutiny of the scriptures, where, for example, different styles can be traced and different authorships detected, with different agendas. However: to say that Islam needs an Enlightenment is not to say that it needs a Spong. No, it needs more a Desmond Tutu, a Mother Teresa, an Erasmus.

  • Terry Tee

    Again, I apologise for not giving URLs, because of my dislike of registering (it always seems to increase spam). However, readers of this site can find the articles if they start on the following URL: the Srebenica article is indicated, the Moore piece can be found if you click on Opinion in Full.;jsessionid=325DD5QHO0HDVQFIQMFSM5WAVCBQ0JVC?view=HOME&grid=P13&menuId=-1&menuItemId=-1&_requestid=7575

  • Carl

    I’m always confused by what people like Spong get from calling themselves “Christians” when they reject all of the historic doctrines of Christianity. Why not just say, “I’m a Spongist, which a view that is tinted by a secular interpretations of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc., etc.” Using the term “Christian” while denying the traditional sin-qua-non’s of Christian doctrine (eg. the Niceene Creed) is just misleading. It seems like these people just want to get the “not a cult” vibe that comes from using the term “Christian,” without actually agreeing with traditional Christianity in any substantive way.

  • Terry Tee

    Oops. In my posting for Ghandi read Gandhi. And in Carl’s posting for Niceene read Nicene.

  • Maryam

    I’m a Muslim who’s actually read a number of Spong’s books, and the first few pages of Irshad Manji’s work (it was all I could stomach). I’m also a modernist/progressive/feminist Muslim who works in the academic field of Islamic studies. There is so much I could say to this post, but I’ll try and restrict myself in the comments.

    a) Bishop Spong certainly has a very radical notion of Christianity, and I’m not sure its one that would translate easily into the Muslim paradigm. But what he does call for – which I would support – is serious questioning of some of the most fundamental myths that propagate exclusionary religion.

    b) the Qur’an is a different genre of scripture than is the Bible. While there have been some efforts to approach it from a literary critical angle, the vast majority of Muslim scholars reject the ideas of Crone, Cook, Wansborough et. al. For better or worse, every verse has to be dealt with, and *can* be read in a pluralistic or moderate way, without exorcising large chunks. Manji is thoroughly wrong when she buys the traditionalist/fundamentalist argument that violence is inherent in the Qur’an. Both the eminent Fazlur Rahman and the inspiring Farid Esack have managed to approach the central Islamic text in a progressive or modernist manner, without simply chucking out the bits they don’t like. Hence, moderate Muslims who can present such a message have a much larger chance of their message being accepted, than Manji will *ever* have. If she’d clean up her book and remove the copious mistakes, it might go a way to making her more presentable to the Muslim mind.

    c) We have our pluralistic and peace-minded Muslims (eg. the South African social-justice activist Farid Esack is a sterling example) it would be nice, however, if they got a bit of airplay once and a while.

  • Terry Tee

    Well, let’s take Maryam at her word. Take, for example the essay on Islam and Pluralism by Farid Esack. In his conclusion he writes as follows:

    The basis for the recognition of the other was clearly not the acceptance of reified Islam and Muhammad’s prophethood with all its implications; nor was it the absence of any principles. The fact that it was Muhammad and the Muslims who defined the basis of co-existence and who determined which form of submission was appropriate for which community clearly implies a qur’anic insistence on an ideological leadership role for itself. This was explicit in the qur’anic approach to relationships with other religious groups. This is a significant departure from the liberal position which equates co-existence and freedom with absolute equality for all.

    He goes on to ask how this can be reconciled with pluralism and justice. I have read his answer several times over; I have four university degrees; and I cannot make sense of it. Is it possible that his anguished prose represents the impossibility of reconciling Islam with the freedoms of modern society? After all, as he himself notes, it was the Prophet and Muslims ‘who determined which form of submission was appropriate for which community’ ie other religious groups.

    You can find his essay here:

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  • Maryam

    Isn’t he simply (and rather honestly) pointing out that the Qur’an reserved the right for itself to *judge* religious communities. For example, it often refers to *some* of the People of the Book who were bad or did bad things and at times it praised *some* of the People of the Book for being good or doing good things. Jesus is recorded as doing the very same thing with his own religious community. Remember, the Qur’an saw itself as a continuity of the Abrahamic message.

    It’s been a while since I read that particular essay, but as I recall, Esack pointed out the Qur’an’s censure of religious groups was on the basis of activity in the arena social justice.

    Some of the “People of the Book” were censured by the Qur’an because their theologies were tied to social injustice and oppression. “Much of the qur’anic opprobrium is directed at the way doctrine was used to justify exploitative practices and tribal chauvinism. It was not as if the Qur’an avoided the discourse on power or denounced the exercise of political power; it was concerned about whom political power served and who suffered as a consequence of it.”

    The Qur’an, for Esack, is not proposing a uniformly pluralistic paradigm (in the sense of all roads *equally* leading to Rome; no religion or ideology is better or worse than another). There is an objective right and an objective wrong, which the Qur’an firmly acknowledges.

    However, and this is Esack’s big caveat, it is a mistake to use the Qur’anic censure of particular Jews and Christians (and more commonly Arab Polytheists) as referring generically to any and all religious communities bearing those names. Even though, this has certainly been the traditional response. As a progressive Muslim he is questioning this exclusionary myth.

    The Qur’an holds diverse religious communities to a moral code. Where members of *any* religious community (pre- or post-Muhammadan) live up to that moral code, they are to be affirmed. Where they fail it, the Qur’an says God will hold them to account.

    So, taking Esack’s line of thinking, pluralism means believers of diverse faith communities and ideologies (Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Whoever) would have more in common living up to a moral code (which the Qur’an sees as being universalistic: justice, truth, mercy, looking after the disadvantaged etc.) than by dividing ourselves on the basis of religious identity.

  • Terry Tee

    Maryam, while I thank you for a considered reply, I think you are avoiding the point. The point made in this blog originally above by tmatt, and ensuing entries, is this: must scripture be treated as beyond question? More pointedly, can we disagree with it? What you avoid is Esack’s conclusion that plural religions can co-exist ONLY if Islam is the primary religious mediator in society. Or, to use his words, ‘defines the basis of co-existence’. This is the kind of thing that worries commentators in the West. It seems that Islam is based on a conjunction of political and religious power, and cannot adjust easily to a separation of church and state, or to a position where it is one faith among many. It must always, in terms of its own history and scripture, seek domination and control.

    Disturbing texts referring to domination and violence are not, of course, confined to Islam. Take, for example, the words attributed to Jesus in the gospel according to John, where Jesus tells the Jews that the devil is their father (8.44). Historically this kind of text has done terrible damage. But today most churches have been freed by realising that this kind of passage represents the concerns of the writer and his church, and not those of Jesus. Islam seems at present incapable of an approach like this. Indeed, I have yet to find a Muslim who will publicly criticize the Islamic teaching which says that an apostate from Islam must be put to death. Muslims will agree privately, but publicly, no, not even in the West. Solidarity? Fear? What do you think about this?

  • tmatt


    I don’t think that religions have to change their truth claims. That is not a true civil tolerance. The issue is whether THE PRESS can actually write about the contents of this debate within Islam and how large the various groups are in given cultures.

    Let’s assume, for example, that W and the White House are totally sold out on the Saudis. Now, the Saudis are the funders of much of the evangelism on behalf of, well, very non-moderate forms of Islam.

    That is a story. That is a story that is much larger than these Western-driven tiny moderate movements.

    What is the story on the Muslim left? Assimilation, perhaps. What is the actual shape of assimilation in, let’s say, London and how has it helped create a backlash among the devout?

  • Terry Tee

    I am duly rebuked, although I am not sure that I follow tmatt’s thinking here.

    Regarding assimilation: until some articles appear (and I will keep my eyes peeled) all I can offer is some personal observations. One big difference between London and major US conurbations is the degree of interracial marriage. We are not only a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan city, but increasingly mixed in our personal racial and religious heritage. The exception is Muslims, who much more than Jews do not marry out. Most Muslims in the UK are either of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, and from the poorer social strata of those countries. Their communities tend to stick close together in every sense. This has produced, for example, state schools which are almost entirely composed of Muslim children, because whole neighbourhoods are Muslim. (One of the paradoxes is that Muslim parents are often keen to get their children into church schools, especially Catholic, because of the values taught there.)

    Younger Muslims are therefore in a difficult position. On the one hand they belong to very conservative families, often with the conservative outlook that comes from a rural, impoverished background in Asia. On the other hand they have been educated in British schools and have imbibed some Western thinking. They live in this tension, neither completely at home in their traditional family nor completely at home in contemporary Britain. They may blame racism for this. Very few of them solve the tension by becoming very secular. More of them resolve the tension by becoming more seriously Muslim – I am tempted to say ‘born-again’ Muslim. If you doubt this, look at the disconcerting number of young women fleeing arranged marriages into which they were forced not only by parents but by brothers. Also, look at the ‘honour’ killings, where brothers murder their sisters because they have ‘disgraced’ their family. Assimilation has taken place only at the top level, where certain leaders move smoothly in the higher echelons of society. In the process they tend to lose their credibility with their fellow Muslims. Assimilation? It has hardly begun.

  • tmatt


    No rebuke intended. You raise many of the questions that most interest me. The larger media point is this: The rise of moderate Islam is a two-edged sword. It raises issues of tolerance and how Muslims can fit into the legal structures of the West. At the same time, this assimilation will anger the defenders of more traditional or even radical forms of Islam. We must make peace, if that is possible, with real Islam, not with moderates in Western college faculty clubs. Is that possible? That is the question.

  • Jeff Carroll

    Spong’s well known in the ECUSA for not being as smart as he’d like you to think he is, but his inconsistency in not following through to the logical consequences of his ideas shouldn’t be used to dismiss the ideas themselves. If the strongest argument you can make against a criticism of traditional Christianity is that Jack Spong is for it, you’ve got a pretty weak position.

    Spong’s primary distinction is not in standing out from the rest of the church, but in remaining behind to continue to speak truth to power long after many people (like myself) have bailed on the church altogether.

    I find it a little sad that someone who lives in the civilized world would think that the openness of discourse that permits rather than suppresses a career such as Spong’s would be a bad thing. And when it gets right down to it, it’s not (or at least shouldn’t be) Muslim Spongs we as Westerners – theist or atheist – want to promote, but the kind of civilization that tolerates them.

    And I wouldn’t go painting NPR as an atheist cabal. The evangelical enthusiasm of their religion correspondent, Barbara Bradley-Haggerty, is well-known and well-documented.

  • tmatt


    I haven’t heard anyone saying that a Spong should be supressed. I have always cheered his candor.

    My point was that there is no path forward in talks with believing Muslims if our goal is to find and promote those who relate to their faith in the manner with which Spong relates to his former faith.

    Did anyone else see my post as a knock on NPR? I merely wanted to note the implications of that commentary, although I do think many MSM folks share that view of what constitutes tolerance and “moderate” faith.

  • Victim Soul On Ice

    Mother Teresa was an ideologically-obsessed extremist and she adored death. Had she been raised muslim, she would have founded an order of suicide bombers.

    Bishop Spong, on the other hand, has had the courage to denounce the passage in Matthew that has jews demanding that the blood of Jesus be on them and their descendants. That passage provided the ideology needed nearly two thousand years of Christian anti-semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

  • Maryam

    Hi Terry,

    My apologies for the belated reply, but being in Oz my timings are a little different. I think you’re a little unfair to Farid Esack. His paper was on how Muslims should position themselves in relation to “the Other” within the *religious belief* system, not the mechanics of constructing a state political structure. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read Esack argue for a theocratic-style Islamic state, giving Muslims primacy of position. He served as Commissioner for Gender Equality under Nelson Mandela’s government, so he has had actual experience working in the governing structures of a multi-faith society.

    Simon Dagut has an interesting article that gives a perspective on his personal politics. “In contrast to most of those South African Muslims who romanticise Islamic states as ideal societies, Esack has actually lived for a long period in a country ruled by Islamic principles. He knows from personal experience that this is no better for people than sticking to any other excessively narrow ideology.”

    “It seems that Islam is based on a conjunction of political and religious power, and cannot adjust easily to a separation of church and state, or to a position where it is one faith among many.”

    The problem as I see it, is that the classical resources from which Muslims have traditionally drawn their ideas about governance, only dealt with the notion of societies in which Islam played the primary or most powerful role. Given that they were writing in a time and context when this was historically correct, it is no small wonder. The modern nation-state is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the very real and lasting effects of colonialism and occupation in must of the Muslim world, has inhibited Muslim attempts to draw new conceptions of how their societies should function. This is not the same as saying that Islam can only produce a society in which Muslims play the dominant role.

    At the moment the only secular or pluralistic models that are on offer to Muslims are extremely unpaletable ones, which is why fundamentalist/Islamist Islam is *so* attractive. When you have corrupt dictatorships, backed by Western powers, that do not solve the urgent social and economic problems – of course you are going to be canon fodder for the Islamist that comes along and says “all your problems will be solved with this utopian ideal”.

    Nevertheless, it is my contention that Islam does not promote a single form of governance as God’s design. Rather, Muslims adapted those forms of governance with which they were familiar ie. the tribal model during the time of the Prophet and for a short period afterwards, or came into contact with ie. the dynastic model which drew its inspiration from the older Byzantine and Persian examples. That means there is indeed every possibility of developing models based on democracy and pluralism, if Muslims are given half the chance. Imposing pseudo-democracy that suits the hegemonic interests of the U.S., however, is not the way to win the hearts and minds of Muslims.

    You wrote: “Indeed, I have yet to find a Muslim who will publicly criticize the Islamic teaching which says that an apostate from Islam must be put to death.”

    I am delighted, Terry, to recommend to you Abdullah Saeed’s Freedom of Religion and Apostasy in Islam, in which he argues that apostasy-capital punishment has been used as a tool of political oppression. He calls for a reinterpretation of the source texts on the basis that if we look closely, the death penalty was originally *only* instituted for crimes of apostasy when it functioned as state treason. That is, when a soldier fighting in the Muslim army went and joined the other side in the middle of a battle, for example. Furthermore, there is not a consensus on apostasy being a cause for enacting capital punishment as popularly believed (a simple example is that the Hanafis do not impose the death penalty on female apostates, for example). Saeed argues, there are precedents from the life of the Prophet and his companions in which they treated apostasy in the form of the religious choice to leave the religion, as a matter of individual conscience. Hence, it is possible for Muslims to rethink this particular interpretation of classical fiqh.

  • Maryam

    “They [second / third generation young Muslims living in the West] live in this tension, neither completely at home in their traditional family nor completely at home in contemporary Britain.”

    I think this is fairly reflective of a major problem facing Muslim youth born and bred in the Western world. The choices have been assimilation, in which the cultural and religious identity is abandoned in order to facilitate movement within a disapproving host society – and this was common certainly in the sixties and seventies in Australia, or isolation in attempting to assert a strongly cultural and religious identity that rejects the host community’s various values and cultural markers. There has also been some success with integration, however, speaking for the Australian experience. One in which the young Muslim preserves aspects of his or her cultural and religious identity but not at the expense of hating/rejecting/de-valuing their emerging Western identity. My hope is that prejudice and the current ‘war on terror’ will not drive the Muslim youth into assimilation or isolation, cutting out the middle path.

  • Terry Tee

    Thank you, Maryam, again for a careful reply and for the Saeed reference. Reading you it struck me that there have been some successes with the middle way, for example certain sportsmen in Britain (eg Prince Naseem) who have combined faith and full participation in civil society.

  • Arlan

    As far as Islam’s compatiblity with a pluralistic society goes, I don’t think that it is in much different circumstances than the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has learned how to get along, but separating church from state was (at first) a common Protestant cause. Then as the Protestants organized they became more fond of state power. (This loosely recalled from Leonard Verduin’s The Reformers and Their Stepchildren.) In the end, the separation between church and state was imposed by secular government more than religious reform.

    Arlan Purdy

  • dan doyle

    I think a lot of people fail to see tmatt’s point. The MSM has sought to define what a Muslim “moderate” is, basically a Muslim on the verge of apostasy. In wanting a Muslim Spong, secularists are asking for someone with beliefs (and necessarily a lifestyle) that are anathema to most Muslims.

    The historically fallacious “separation of church and state” argument does not apply to Islamic cultures (would that be mosque and state?). Muslim civil order and religious authorities are not structured in the same way as previous Catholic states like Castille or Imperial Austria, or Protestant states like Prussia or Cromwell’s England. You don’t need an Inquisitor or religious court to suppress non-orthodox thinking. Instead you have individuals who can act to suppress violations of ortho-praxis, failure to behave in accordance with Muslim morality.

    The concept that religious belief should be divorced from civil law is also a uniquely Western concept, and originates in the anti-Christian legislation stemming from the French Revolution. That non-Westerners do not share an uncritical devotion to post-Revolution secularism should come as no surprise.

  • dan doyle

    I find the term “moderate” as extrememly ambiguous, and therefore troubling. It begs the question: moderate in comparison to what? Or to whom?

    What is the difference between a radical and a moderate? Is a moderate someone who diminishes their religious beliefs, or someone who maintains their religious beliefs but doesn’t act on them if they conflict with secular expectations or secular intellectual fashions?

    Is a radical someone who acts as if their religion were (gasp!) true? Or is a “radical” just a code word for “bad guy” or “crazy person”?

    Does moderate mean the type of Muslim who is in the majority or mainstream of their religion? Or does moderate refer to the type of Muslim who is comfortable with secularism, or rather should I say the type of Muslim that secularism is comfortable with?

  • tmatt

    I think a lot of people fail to see tmatt’s point. The MSM has sought to define what a Muslim “moderate” is, basically a Muslim on the verge of apostasy. In wanting a Muslim Spong, secularists are asking for someone with beliefs (and necessarily a lifestyle) that are anathema to most Muslims.


    Yes, this demand that Islam be redefined is, to a devout Muslim, just as much an attack — or a greater attack — than discussions of conversion to another religion.

    The MSM thinks of its views as pro-Islam. This is not how the majority of Muslims would view this. It is ESPECIALLY heretical to the small percentage, we assume, of Muslims who back the more radical forms of the faith that get exported from places such as Saudi Arabia.

  • Maryam

    “Yes, this demand that Islam be redefined is, to a devout Muslim, just as much an attack — or a greater attack — than discussions of conversion to another religion. ”

    But that makes Islam sound like a static set of beliefs and practices that haven’t changed in 1400 years, which is patently untrue.

    But I think Dan’s question is a good one. What is a ‘moderate’. It’s sort of become a code word for someone who isn’t a ‘fundamentalist’. Both terms need serious unpacking.

  • Maryam

    Terry – yes, what I fear is that this fledgling middle community might be forced to either extreme. Maybe not so much to worry about those who simply assimilate (although the Serbian/Croat/Bosnian experience is a timely reminder, that religious and ethnic heritage can be suffocated but not abolished completely) but those who gravitate to the other end of the spectrum. I’ve enjoyed this comment thread, grazie.

  • Molly

    I’ve always defined “moderate” as “calm”.

  • dan doyle

    Do you mean like a moderate breeze?

  • dan doyle

    I see your point for the need to “unpack” terms. Language can be so tricky and if we pack meaning into little words it can be misleading and even manipulative. Like a brand name cereal with the table of ingredients always changing. The label remains the same, but the substance is in constant flux, or better yet the substance is open to constant manipulation. What was “moderate” ten years ago may now be labeled with a straight face as “radical”. This is absurd when considering that we may be talking about a religion that maintains beliefs through millenia, where nuance accretes organically over generations.

    That I think is the danger of labels like “conservative” or “progressive” or “moderate” or “radical”. The labels themselves are laden with value or emotional charge, and may not at all reflect the substance and nuance of what they are labeling.

  • Donna Bowman

    In a quick read through the comments, I haven’t seen anyone raise the key factor here — and it’s elided in the original post as well. I heard this commentary on NPR when it aired. The author did not say that Islam needed a Spong. She said that Islam needed to own up to what Spong called in his recent work “the sins of scripture.” She was not endorsing a non-theist version of Islam or any other wacky revisionism. She was approving of Spong’s public acknowledgement and discussion of the parts of the Bible that advocate violence, discrimination, and hate.

    She cited particularly an American Islamic cleric’s quotation of the Koran after the London bombings. He said that the Koran teaches that whoever kills a man is guilty of the murder of all mankind. But the author pointed out that a key exception had managed to slip out of the quotation: Whoever kills a man *except for murder or mischief in the land* is guilty etc. When one argues about what Islam really believes, one should say (even when it is inconvient) what the Koran really says. Islamist terrorists seem to believe that there has been murder and mischief in the land — that the exception applies to them. *That’s* where the debate needs to begin, not with some whitewashing crap about how “Islam” means “peace,” which we heard over and over again with nary a peep of correction from the media after 9/11.

    Seems pretty simple — and defensible — to me, unless one goes off the rails at the very mention of Spong’s name.

  • dan doyle

    The problem with moderate as “calm”.
    I think the problem with MSM application of the label “moderate” is that it doesn’t describe what is usual or average in Islam. It describes “calm”. It is meant to describe someone who is normal, nice, calm in the secular context. But it is really more about the calmness of the observer than the person observed.

  • Maryam

    I know this particular post and comment thread is getting old, but I wanted to point out that the ‘except for murder or [spreading] mischief in the land’ bit in the quote. The Qur’an referring to a command originally given to the Children of Israel, uses an Arabic word that means not just mischief. “Fasaad” means committing corruption and violence. It’s seriousness is indicated in 5:33 where the hadd (ultimate) punishment for the crime of committing fasaad in the land is “execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.”

    There has *never* been any permission in the Qur’an, sunnah or Islamic jurisprudence for an individual or group of individuals to impose this punishment as retribution or on their own recognisance. It requires the trial and judgement in a state that is under shari’a law.

    Thus the essential meaning, excluding where a state is enacting divinely permitted punishments, is preserved – if any person kills another, it is as if he or she has killed all of humankind.

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