Maajid Nawaz and his Call to Deform Islam


Unfortunately, it has become something of a regular occurrence to erroneously attack Islamic principles for the self-declared “reformist” deformist Maajid Nawaz. My prayer has always been for him to forsake the attention of the ephemeral for the pleasure of the One. I will continue with this prayer. Nevertheless, his points need to be exposed.

Maajid Nawaz has been making frequent comments on Twitter and Facebook on the need to “reform” Islam, standing in “solidarity” with the likes of Irshad Manji, Tarek Fatah and even Ayaan Hirsi.  In one comment he declares quite clearly his intentions: to remould Islam concordant with a source which is external to Islam itself, as opposed to allowing it to sprout forth from the sources themselves. His post-modernist, deconstructionist outlook can be witnessed clearly in his statement: “there is no ‘correct’ Islam,” apparently, “it is all interpretation”. Quite.

Recently, in a Facebook update Nawaz wrote about a “problematic hadith”, which, according to him demonstrated the need for reform.  The status itself was marketing for his contribution to a panel discussion held in a London Synagogue, entitled “Europe and Anti-Semitism: Are we at a civilisational crisis point?”  On the panel are Douglas Murray and Alan Mendoza, directors of the Henry Jackson Society.

Indeed this fatigable, “vacuous” call for reform is liable to collapse on the most rudimentary of inquiry.  Who, indeed are the reformers? Where are the licenses to teach?  From whom were these licenses granted? Reading deformist works like Khaled Abou El Fadl’s Reasoning with God, or passing the buck to a tainted Imam who implies the Qur’an is somehow incomplete does not exactly render one a Mujtahid fit to discern the reconciliation of hadith.  Common between deformists is the fact that their own statements work against them.  Admittedly, when I first encountered Maajid Nawaz’s comment I skimmed through it very lightly and was prepared to delve into the Islamic texts and systematically break down his futility.  Upon closer examination I realised there was no need to. The statement is wrought with so many internal conflicts, they put the Middle East to shame.

Stoking anti-Muslim Hate?

This pathological jihadist obsession with “the Jooz” in Europe isn’t born from lack of religiously justified sanction. Here’s an example of a piece of scripture that is problematic:
Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”
Saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Sahih of al-Bukhari.

I understand Maajid Nawaz tries to differentiate between Jihad and “Jihadism”, however the hadith itself is being referred to as “problematic”.  No amount of mantiq (logic) or semantic gymnastics can escape from this point.  The hadith cannot be taken as “religiously justified sanction” because it is a prophesy. The text is eschatological, not a juristic basis to kill. There are other prophesies which inform the Muslims about there being much bloodshed towards the end of world, however this is not a proof for “sanctioning” bloodshed – to claim otherwise is rational absurdity. If someone is using this as justification to take the law into their own hands, then the blame is upon the individual for not seeking traditional scholarly comprehension, not the fault of the text. This in fact exemplifies the very problem with making unfettered calls for “reform” and “re-interpretation”. Surely if someone as unqualified and agenda-driven as Nawaz feels he can “interpret” text as he sees fit, then why not everyone, including a lunatic with a violent disposition?

For Maajid Nawaz himself to categorise such a hadith as “justified sanction” is disingenuous at the least and outright deceitful at the most. I gather it is the latter given this Tweet of his where he acknowledges the hadith is informative. Such an acknowledgement whilst declaring the hadith as a command, is frankly disgusting, and gives the perception that Nawaz is deliberately stoking the flames of Muslim hatred.

This, among many others, is a problematic religious text. With texts such as this, there exists juristic (أصولي) tools of reconciliation of scriptural conflict (جمع), examination of authenticity (تحقيق), prioritising moral aims (مقاصد) over legal means (وسائل), abrogation (نسخ), restriction (تقييد), specificity (تخصيص), blocking harm (سد الذرائع), classification as informative not prescriptive (أدلة خبرية ليست أدلة شرعية) and many other such juristic instruments.

Rattling off selected usul across sciences (Qur’an, hadith, jurisprudence) to deal with “problematic religious text” may make one sound intelligent before the unwary, Islamophobes or liberal cheerleaders, but it isn’t seriously going to wash with the Islamic scholarly milieu. There is a difference in the “maqaasid” (aims) of juristic effort (ijtihad). And this is evident in the final part of his roadmap of Islamic deformation.

Islamic clerics should not only accept openly the need to reform the way Islam is read today, and the way its tradition is seen to be finalised after the medieval period without further scrutiny – but they must also actively encourage such reform. The doors of re-interpretation (اجتهاد) must remain open.

We reach the endpoint of Nawaz’s convoluted, not to mention deceptively erroneous, set of premises: let’s deform Islam! Given the base premise is wrong, I needn’t have continued. Yet continuing the analysis further reveals the straw man in the argument. Ijtihad (اجتهاد), beyond the reductionist, misleading translation of “re-interpretation” given by Nawaz, is the struggle of an expert, both intellectually and spiritually, to ultimately achieve the pleasure of Allah. In this pursuit, the “doors of ijtihad” have always remained open in new matters, whilst a continual process of tahqiq (investigative verification) of traditional rulings has continued over the centuries by scholars of impeccable piety, character and knowledge. The vast number of jurisprudential texts are evidence of this. When exactly did the “doors of ijtihad” close?

Usul is being deconstructed and reconstructed to fit the whims and ideologies of the people around him – or above him – and in this process, the ultimate aim has been lost. A Muslim referring to Nawaz’s post-modernist, deconstructionist “Islam” is like a patient with an illness referring him or herself to a murderous enemy: the aspect being killed off is Iman (faith) itself.

An Agenda

Compound the above spin with the fact that his co-addressor, Douglas Murray, is amongst the foremost rabid anti-Muslim neocons in Britain, is an associate director of a think-tank funded by one of the darkest financiers of the Islamophobia industry, then the irony of speaking against discrimination becomes apparent. The acuteness of this point becomes augmented when one realises that the neoconservatism which Mendoza and Murray adhere to has a domestic policy which actively scapegoats Muslims, rendering them second-class citizens, while looking to Mussolini for inspiration, and a foreign policy which justifies torture and violations of international law.

There is a concerted effort to posit Muslims as intrinsically anti-Semitic in propensity, which fits into a broader agenda. This can be seen in the frequent playing of Muslims against Jews. David Cameron sought it fit to discuss “Islamist extremism” at his Chanuka Speech, which was then followed by Theresa May, who promised to increase efforts to tackle the “chilling” rise in anti-Semitism, while Eric Pickles, at the same time, lectured the Muslim minority about “doing more” to tackle “extremism”. This was further buttered with spin-doctor Andrew Gilligan’s PREVENT-infused journalism, which used anti-Semitic incident statistics stitched with the politicised discourse of “extremism” to suggest Muslims are behind the rise in attacks. As ever, the greatest contributor to anti-Semitic incidents, the far-right motivations, is being whitewashed (excuse the pun) at everyone level.  It seems like another PR campaign to deflect Zionist crimes is being waged by assigning the Muslim community as the aggressor and the Jewish community as the victim.

I would recommend Nawaz to address Talmudic texts, which have been invoked by Rabbis to justify the killing of non-Jews and innocent civilians, before his Jewish audience where he is set to give his lecture. After all, such “problematic” texts may explain the atrocious violence used in Gaza against civilian populations. He should also talk of “Jewishist extremism” and call on the Jewish orthodoxy to “reform”. This is paramount given that, prior to the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza in 2014, Benjamin Netanyahu told a fellow ultra-orthodox member of the Likud party that, as part of proposed legislation to enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state, the Israeli court system would be based on Talmudic law. A further topic of importance would be the Biblical invocation by “millions” of Zionist Christians who support Israel, and want World War III so that they can fast-track the second coming of Jesus.

Will Nawaz pontificate about these points?

Nawaz’s exercise serves the purpose of those he outwardly differs with (the neocons) and perfectly suits the protection of Zionist interests. Strip away one hadith today for being erroneously regarded as “problematic”, then the reference to Masjid al-Aqsa and al-Quds in the Qur’an, and therefore their centrality and significance in Islam, is next.


An Addendum

The insinuation that Islam is intrinsically racist/anti-Semitic through eschatological hadith is, upon closer inspection, baseless. Race is a modern Western construct strengthened during the colonialist era which is alien to the Islamic world view[1]. The argument that hadith such as the aforementioned correlate to anti-Semitism, is illogical given how it was framed by Nawaz (as a juristic basis for sanction), however even in content, conveniently made devoid of its context (السياق), the hadith is being made out to target Jews purely for being Jews, which is patently false. The hadith refers to a future where the anti-Christ will be causing havoc in the earth. Jesus peace be upon will have descended and will fight alongside the Muslims against the anti-Christ and his army, amongst whom will be Jews who have chosen to follow him. In his commentary of this hadith in his authoritative, seminal work, Fath al-Bari, Imam Ibn Hajjar al-Asqalani explains,

And it [the hadith] is informing what will occur of a future time… And in it is an indication to the remaining of the religion of Islam until the descending of Prophet Jesus, upon him be peace, for indeed he is the one who will fight the Dajjal (anti-Christ) and kill the Jews, those of them who followed Dajjal…”[2]

The “anti-Semitic” misinterpretation further falls by the wayside when one understands that similar Hadith regarding the Ummah (nation) of the Prophet, are also found, for instance.

“Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him relates that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him said, ’Seventy thousand from my Ummah who will be wearing a Seejaan, will follow Dajjal.”[3]

There are many incidents which refer to tolerance and protection afforded to Jews by the Prophet peace be upon himself as well as his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, tore down any notion of racial bias, in his farewell pilgrimage where he unequivocally stated,

“O humankind, your Lord is one and your ancestors are one. You are from Adam and Adam is from dust. Behold, neither the Arab has superiority to the non-Arab, not the red to the black nor the black to the red except by virtue of piety (taqwa).”

Please note, in discussing the above, no recourse to deformist “interpretations” was required.



[1] Paul Hardy, “Islam and the Race Question”, Cambridge: The M.A.T, (2002) p.1-2

[2] ذكر فيه حديثي ابن عمر وأبي هريرة في ذلك ، وهو إخبار بما يقع في مستقبل الزمان … وفيه إشارة إلى بقاء دين الإسلام إلى أن ينزل عيسى عليه السلام ، فإنه الذي يقاتل الدجال ، ويستأصل اليهود الذين هم تبع الدجال على ما ورد من طريق أخرى . وسيأتي بيانها مستوفى في علامات النبوة إن شاء الله تعالى

(فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري كتاب الجهاد والسير حديث ٢٧٦٧)


[3] وَعَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «يَتْبَعُ الدَّجَّالَ مِنْ أُمَّتِي سَبْعُونَ أَلْفًا عَلَيْهِمُ السِّيجَانُ

(مشكاة المصابيح، رقم الحديث ٥٤٩٠)

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