The other day I was reading a bit in the Quran and I stopped at a sura, namely: [3.67] Ibrahim was not a Jew nor a Christian but he was an upright man, a Muslim, and he was not one of the polytheists.
I started thinking. Ibrahim was way before Islam, but still he was called as a Muslim. It is just one word. Muslim! That was enough to encompass everything and include the whole lot of values and principles Islam was known for. Just one word; and it was good enough for him! It was also good enough for Mohamed and all the Sahaba. And it was sufficient. That lead me to think about all the different classifications and adjectives we have today defining, explaining or rather setting apart one Muslim from another. Any article we read in any newspaper today will definitely have a few adjectives before the word Muslim. I went back and checked a few on various newspapers and I ended up with a long list of those I found. I found a nice collection which I am listing here: rationalist, secularist, apologist, feminist, progressive, moderate, jihadist, militant, talebanist, islamist, liberal, modernist, fundamentalist, revivalist, ikhwangist, ijtihadist, mullahist, quranist, pluralist, reformist and activist.
I started thinking about it and trying out the sound of them, rolling them around. A rationalist Muslim is someone who relies on reason as the best guide for his beliefs and actions. Yes, true! But then so should a Muslim as per [13.3] And He it is Who spread the earth and made in it firm mountains and rivers, and of all fruits He has made in it two kinds; He makes the night cover the day; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect. As well as per: [3.190] Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. So why the redundancy and repetition? Why the need to stress on the usage of the mind? An implicit defence perhaps?
A secularist Muslim is a bit of an oxymoron for me, since Islam is not just a religion but a way of life, but then again everyone is free to define themselves as they like. An apologist Muslim, is someone who would argue in defence of or to justify something. I never knew that Islam was under attack and needed to be defended. Kind of a funny adjective to choose really, if you ask me. I would think it would be used in inter-faith debates and then by the other side! I wouldn’t think a Muslim would describe himself as an apologist. Whatever does anyone like that feel the need to apologise for?
Then we also have a feminist Muslim. Usually this adjective has recently been used in conjunction with women writers advocating equal rights for women, or those who are interpreting or even re-interpreting the Quran with an emphasis on the Suras dealing with women and offering their perspective. I remember reading a book which claimed that the Prophet was the first feminist in the World, yet he was only called as a Muslim. Simply a Muslim.
Then we have the progressive Muslims, quite an impressive sounding adjective, yet a bit strange when applied to Islam. Progressive is to move forward and to advance in some positive direction, the dictionary told me. Yet Islam is a progressive religion in itself and adaptable to all times in all places for all the people. Why do they need to add this repetitive adjective? Is it perhaps because they are promoting modern values that were not really Islamic and need a cover for that? What then sets them apart from the modernist Muslims? The modernists are defined, again by the dictionary, as those deliberately departing from tradition and applying innovative ideas and practices. So I don’t really get the distinction between them and the progressive.
Then we have the moderate Muslims, who stay between reasonable limits, aren’t violent or excessive, but are defined by being temperate and calm. In my readings of the Quran, this is exactly how a Muslim should be, avoiding extremes and walking the middle path, which is said to be the best, so again it is a redundancy in terms. Perhaps the need for this one came about to distinguish them from the militant Muslims, who are aggressive fighters, combative and destructive. But then again this in itself contradicts Islam, so how can they call themselves Muslims in the first place and then use a contradictory and conflicting adjective to distinguish themselves?
What is the difference then between them and the jihadist Muslims? I thought about it and then came up with a possible explanation that the jihadists consider themselves freedom fighters and not rebels. They think they are fighting for the right side, but then again someone’s freedom fighter is someone else’s terrorist, depending on which side we are looking from. So where does that leave us with the adjectives? And what again distinguishes these two from the fundamentalist Muslims? The word fundamentalists formerly used to mean those who advocate a return to the fundamental core principles. Sadly today it means being intolerant and downright cruel to a great extent. So in today’s language there is not much difference between all of them, the fundamentalist or militant Muslims and the jihadists. But then why do we need three adjectives to describe more or less the same thing?
We also have the liberal Muslims, namely those who are not limited to traditional views as per definition. They are not strict nor do they take anything literal. Well, I thought about it and didn’t find that much difference between them and the progressive Muslims, who also don’t take the traditional views and do not restrict themselves to literal readings of the scriptures. So what distinguishes those then?
Then we have the revivalist Muslims, who promote the return to practices of earlier times. I suppose those have replaced the term fundamentalists, since that word has now acquired a negative connotation, but again there isn’t much difference between them. The ijtihadist Muslims promote ijtihad and innovations, totally disregarding the fact that ijtihad has rules and can’t be just engaged in by any Ahmed, Mohamed or Hussein. To do ijtihad, one has to have a solid background of the primary sources of Islamic law by means of studying them, namely the Quran, Hadith and the Sunna. The definition of ijtihad states clearly that the primary sources should be used to arrive at an interpretation. But today everybody who wants to promote something or other terms it as ijtihad, even if it clearly contradicts the primary sources. So in other words the ijtihadist Muslims are more or less progressive or modernist, as well as liberal, so why again do we need yet another adjective?
I shouldn’t forget the activists, who are also viewed by some as militant reformers, as they try to change things by the use of force or generally by forceful means. And I shouldn’t forget the pluralist Muslims either, those who, according to my dictionary, hold and defend philosophical views claiming that any existing phenomenon has no single explanation. In my own opinion, this is also an oxymoron, because as Muslims we are told [36.82] His command, when He intends anything, is only to say to it: Be, so it is. How can there be more than one reason or explanation?
I shall not get into the various adjectives relating to certain sects, because then this wouldn’t be an article but rather a book. The adjectives like ikhwangist, talebanist, wahhabist, alawist etc are self explanatory in any case and don’t really deserve more space here, which will only complicate things. So before I come to an end with my list I just have to mention the quranist Muslims. They are also called as Quran-Only Muslims. They do not take the various collections of Hadiths as a primary source and stick to the Quran. Many regard them as unbelievers. And this is why I saved the best for last, as it is the point which I want to address.
Don’t all these adjectives just create more differences between Muslims? Don’t they just create more reasons for the Muslims to fight amongst themselves? Don’t these differences result in each group using them to differentiate themselves from the others and set themselves apart? Don’t these adjectives just encourage each group to argue that their path is the better one? What happened to the feeling of an Ummah, where all Muslims are the same and belong together? Why do we need all those adjectives when they really serve no purpose other than to complicate things and when [29.11] And most certainly Allah will know those who believe and most certainly He will know the hypocrites. Why do we need all these distinctions when Islam is one religion as per [21.92] Surely this Islam is your religion, one religion (only), and I am your Lord, therefore serve Me. Isn’t it deeds rather than words which set the Muslims apart? [9.105] And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did. Then why do we need so many words instead of focusing on the deeds that bring us together as Muslims rather than adjectivising Islam which will only set us apart? I know that I am a Muslim, and I am proud to be a Muslim, with no added adjective needed.