Mahmoud Muhammad Taha

The New Yorker has a very good article entitled “The Moderate Martyr: A radically peaceful vision of Islam”, by George Packer. The article is about Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, a, Sudanese scholar who put forward a vision of Islam in its original, uncorrupted form, in which women and people of other faiths were accorded equal status and which the Quranic concepts of compassion, mercy, justice, and beauty, supersede some of the less tolerant passages of the Sunna.

The Pope’s statements on Islam . The statement provoked the usual reaction of: How dare he call us intolerant. We must kill him. “Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence,” Foreign Ministry of Pakistand spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said of the Pope’s comments. Muslim press reaction to the Pope’s statements. The Pope should address the scandals and crisis in the Church. Let George W sort out us damn Muslims.

Finished reading “The Great Theft” and hated it. Too bad, because I enjoyed “The Conference of the Books”. Abou El Fadl makes some basic assumptions which are simplistic and frankly wrong. He divides the Ummah into Puritans and Moderates. He then goes on for chapters to tell us what moderates believe and what puritans believe. And, thus, you get statements such as this: “All moderate scholars object to the Western cultural practice of dating.” I actually know some ‘moderate’ scholars who not only support dating, but have even grasped the concept of breasts.

14 thoughts on “Mahmoud Muhammad Taha

  1. Ghostdog,
    Thanks for the link on Taha — I’ve been following Professor Na’im’s work on Taha for some time.
    The pope’s comments were plainly deliberate and fully considered. He knew what he was saying, so I don’t accept the Vatican’s expression of shock or sorrow on being “misunderstood.” This pope is not an ecumenical guy, even among Christian denominations. Having said that, it was sadly predictable that Muslims would again demonstrate by word and deed that there is something rotten in Dar al-Islam. My personal favorite is the declaration (can’t find the link at the moment) by some takfiris in Iraq that they will start killing Christians in three days unless the Pope personally apologizes for slandering Islam as a violent religion. Hilarious, even if pathetic — can’t A-rabs get anything right?
    Sorry to hear that you didn’t like the Great Theft. I thought its good points outweighed the bad. In my view, the “ummah” is already divided in multiple parts — always was. However, like you, I thought el Fadl’s descriptions of “moderate” were unusually broad. I certainly could identify with his description of the “puritan” (go to any mosque), but I was hard-pressed to identify any “moderates” as he described them (present company excepted, of course). As a discussion of a great divide, el Fadl is probably on track. However, the lives of Muslims, as individuals trying to find their way in the world, is obviously more nuanced.

  2. Tony,
    I agree with you on the Pope. I am as “moderate’ as they come and I found his statements and subsequent non-apology offensive. I am not sure what point he was trying to make, but whatever it was, I am sure that many Muslims will help him make it. We are baited and manipulated so easily. It is so predictable.
    Abou El Fadl’s description of puritan ideology was on target, however is generalizations, made it seem that the book was written by Irshad Manji. For instance, he regurgitates the same falsehoods about the “Assasins”, which have been proven false by notable scholars such as Farhad Daftary and Paul Walker. I suspect that the vast majority of the Ummah falls in neither camp, they are too busy surviving. To be a so-called moderate, requires that at some level, one has to have an intellectual engagement with the faith. Is the Ummah really in the position to have this engagement? Books not bombs.

  3. I read through the Popes lecture.
    A few things to bear in mind though. This was not a public address but a lecture and it had to be taken in conext of his lecture. That said it seems a little odd to quote that particular piece at this particular time.
    I don’t think the Pope is too keen on his priests being killed by extremists who suppose themselves to be representing Islam. One was only shot last week.
    But you guys are right, look at the reaction, Threats of violence and violence itself. Violence unless you apologise about Islam being violent! Where is the tolerance and peace that people keep telling that Islam is all about..guys i’m really sorry I keep looking but just don’t see it.
    What are the principles of peace?
    Could you explain why Muslims are the brothers and sisters of Christians and why a follower of Jesus should embrace Islam – I don’t understand?

  4. Marc,

    The two questions you pose are related to Irving’s comments. I did not make them, however, I will aim to address your queries.

    What are the principles of peace?
    If you follow Irvings URL it leads to a blog entitled Darvish, there, he lists various sayings of the Prophet.

    The main message of the Qur’an is the compassion, mercy, benevolence, and beauty of God (not a Muslim God, but the same God as that of the Christains and Jews). Islam teaches us that we are all part of God’s creation and that creation is sacred. It is up to all peoples to unite to pursue virtue and achieve that which is Good. As Muslims, and part of this divine creation we are enjoined to achieve Godliness on earth. Thus, the traits we must promote are those of justice, compassion, understanding, mercy, forgiveness, and truth. The Qur’an does not call for merely tolerance for us other, but rather, calls for cooperation and brotherhood to achieve the these ideals.

    The Qur’an recognizes the differences in peoples, cultures, and religions and even states that these differences were by design and for a purpose. It states: “To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God had willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what He has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all matters in which you disagree.”

    In another passage, the Qur’an states: “Do not argue with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) unless in a kind and fair way. Tell them that we believe in what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is one and to Him we submit”.

    Finally, I want to include a part of a longer sura titled ‘The Feast”, in which, addressing the Prophet, it states: “But why should they make you judge (between them) when the Torah is in their midst and it contains the Law of God?..We sent down the Torah containing guidance and light, and in accordance with the Torah the prophets who were obedient (to God) gave instructions to the Jews, as did the rabbis and priests, for they were the custodians and witnesses of God’s writ…After that We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah, which had been sent down before him, and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, as an affirmation of what We revealed in the Torah, and as a guidance and warning for those who are pious…And to you We have revealed the Book containing truth, confirming the earlier revelations, and preserving them…”

    Guys I’m really sorry I keep looking but just don’t see it.
    This is because you are not looking. Have you read books on Islam? I think what you might be doing is transposing a Christian understanding of the structure of the Church onto Islam. There is no hierarchy in Islam and nothing like the moral authority of the Church, Vatican, Pope, Bishops, or priests to speak for Muslims. You have to look for the individual voices and to the revelation itself. I highly recommend the following two books to get you started:

    Approaching the Qur’an, by Michael Sells
    No God but God, by Reza Aslan

    Juan Cole on his blog, Informed Comment, offers and list of
    ( condemnations of 9-11 and terrorism. He also offers ( Peace and Love in the Qur’an

    Could you explain why Muslims are the brothers and sisters of Christians and why a follower of Jesus should embrace Islam – I don’t understand?
    Muslims believe in the miracle of the birth of Jesus and consider him a Prophet of God. We believe in the revelations of the Torah and the New Testament and that we are all part of God’s creation. Muslims do not have the right to decide who is righteous and deserving of God’s mercy. Even the Prophet himself did not have this right. This is the domain of God. “You (Prophet Mohammad) have no say in the matter; it is up to God to pardon them or punish them for they have been unjust. To God belongs all that is in the Heavens and earth. God may pardon whom God pleases and punish whom He pleases. And God is the most forgiving and merciful.” . I certainly don’t believe that you as a Christian you have to embrace Islam.

    I hope this helps. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can jump in and answer Marc’s questions

  5. Thanks for taking the time to answer. What you say about Quran sounds good.
    It’s really confusing for those of us who want to live peacably with the muslim faith when some are screaming for the capital punishment for the pope or churches are burnt down and even an 80 year old nun was sadly murdered. I know this isn’t all Islam but how do I tell the difference between those who would kill me as a Christian and those who would embrace me as a follower of the book?
    I have watched your site for along time now, you make rationale debates and reasoning for your faith and it is here where I come to escape what seems to me exteemists insanity.
    I would like to see the voice of Islam on the world stage preaeching peace, distancing themselves from extreemists but it never seems to happen. Why is this – is it media manipulation. Even al-jazeera seems to be in cahoots with the extreemists by showing disturbing videos of beheadings,?
    I can read the books but it is Islam in practice that will make a difference to people, how can that be achieved?

  6. Marc,
    Thank you for reading this site. There are some others which are worthwhile on the right hand column of islamicate under ‘Moslemesque”. I understand your frustration. Believe me, if you have read my postings going back for the past two years, I have raised the same questions. As the tagline of islamicate says, ‘Islam does not speak, Muslims do”.
    There are voices, but the shouts of extremists are louder. Please check out the following link (http;// The Aga Khan is a Muslim leader who is doing and saying the right things. (Bear in mind that I am an Ismaili, and thus, I my opinion may be biased.) Islam has been appropriated by ill-educated and misguided individuals and groups. The history of this misappropriation is long and complex, however, it is much like the perfect storm. It took the confluence of a series of historic and political events to get us to this point. Some of these are:
    Breakup of the Ottoman empire
    Coming together of the House of Saud and the Wahhabi movement
    The Cold War
    Petrodollars funding a particular harsh and ahistorical ideology
    Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistani and American involvement
    Support for despotic regimes and CIA interference in Muslim countries
    Cultural domination
    By far, however, Muslims have been responsible for their own willingness to forget the basic tenets of their faith and for turning their backs on the humanistic traditions of Islam which gave rise to a flowering in the arts, architecture, literature, philosophy, and the sciences. Promoted pluralism, human rights, and the search for beauty and truth and placed primacy on the role of the intellect in interpreting the Book. The only way to combat this situation is education.
    Lets not forget that the history of Christianity has been full of wars. At one time, Muslims were looking at the Christian world as uncivilised barbarians. Even though the teaching of Christ promoted peace and brotherhood. While we claim to love our prophets, we seldom understand or uphold their message.
    The following is a passage of a posting I found on ( in reponse to a question stating:
    Q: What about all the wars that have been caused in the name of Christianity?
    A: When responding to this question, we need to remember that we should not judge the teachings or the truth of a religion or philosophy by the conduct or behaviour of those who are not following those teachings.

    This being the case, we need to be clear that many of the wars and other atrocities which have been committed in the name of Christ were carried out by people who either were not really Christians or who were genuine Christians but were not following the teachings of Jesus. Such conflicts were often motivated by political or economic concerns but were given religious overtones in order to convince the masses it was in their best eternal interest to get involved.

    So rather than judging Christianity by the actions of these people, we should judge it by the teachings of its founder and leader, Jesus Christ. If you read through Jesus’ teachings in the Bible, you will come across such sayings as “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also” (Luke 6:29), “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). Hardly the sayings of a war-mongering leader.”

    Subsitute Muslim for Christian or Islam for Christianity and you see what I am getting at. We are repeating history, and sadly, it will get much worse, people will die, and wars will be fought. Education is the only way. Most Muslims just want to survive, eat, raise their children, and improve their lot in life. They are overwhelmed with the changes taken place around them. Their cultures and beliefs are under threat, they face poverty, lack of jobs, lack of freedoms, and have felt humiliation for hundreds of years. This was a powderkeg waiting to be lit.
    Keep coming back, you are welcome here.

  7. Christianity has indeed caused many wars and killed in the name of Christ. I think most faiths have, even Budhists in Bhutan persecute Christians and I thought you couldn’t get anymore peacful than Budhism!
    Being in the UK the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland were very much part of my life, bombs going off here there and everywhere. Between Catholics and Protestants, these troubles may have started off as religious but were without a doubt political. The various terrorist groups (some funded by the Americans especially the IRA) have realised that violence has solved nothing, they have to talk to each other – it is the only way.
    The pope I think was trying to open the debate about violence and faith, to get people talking about. He could’ve mentioned the christian violence as well for a bit of balance.
    Here in the UK 70% say they are Christian and yet only 5% go to a church or are part of a church community. I wonder if that holds true in many muslim countries – What do you think?
    There is a growing movmement in Christianity called the ’emerging church’ We are evangelicals who have moved forward from the modern evangelical church and our thought are for the future of our faith, how do we do church now and in the future. We have had some very nasty comments from other parts of the body of Christ.
    Do you think Islam is ready to try to think about its future? It seems to need its great thinkers and intellectuals in the forefront.

  8. Marc,
    Muslims have to think about their future. Islam, as a system of beliefs, can provide spiritual nourishment, upliftment, social justice, and improve our relationships with ourselves and with each other. I think we need to shift the paradigm of standing in the present and thinking about the possibilities of the future. We should, in my opinion, stand in the future we want, and then think about how we can change things in the present to get there.
    As I said before education is the key. The Muslim world is under-educated and ill-prepared for the challenges facing it. Freedom to think and freedom of opinion are limited. The vast majority of books on Islam today are written by non-Muslims. We have abdicated our responsibilty and amputed ourselves from our intellectual traditions. The number of books published in the Arab world today is miniscule. Original thought and research is minor. This is a virus. It is active and proving to be resistant.
    Muslim thinkers and intellectuals do exist, but mostly in the West, where they are free to use their minds. Ironic that hope for Muslims will come from those in the West. I also believe that there will be great sea change in the decades ahead, and that this change will come from Muslim women. What has been missing from Islam, the way it is practiced today, is both the beauty and also the feminine aspect. Islam today is full of beligerence and testosterone. The feminine aspects of Godliness have been wiped away in all but a few Sufi sects.

  9. ‘What has been missing from Islam, the way it is practiced today, is both the beauty and also the feminine aspect.’
    I agree. It’s only really in the few decades that women have come to the fore in churches, but it is still mainly men.
    ‘We have abdicated our responsibilty and amputed ourselves from our intellectual traditions. The number of books published in the Arab world today is miniscule. Original thought and research is minor.’
    One more question?
    Who or what has caused this?

  10. There have been plenty of causes. (Keep in mind I am not a historian, nor a scholar of Islam, but just a ordinary architect.) I listed some of them in one of my previous responses. Let me be very clear as I dont want to come across as making excuses, Muslims have brought this upon themselves. Historical events and Western hegemony have excerbated and compounded these problems, but Osama would have been Osama even without the CIA training.
    The causes are less important than the solutions, which are education, human rights, and the rule of law. Anyone else want to jump in?

  11. Marc,
    Thanks for joining us. I want to echo Ghostdog’s comments, and say that we could spend a lot of time talking about how we got here. Depending on your stand it’s politcal, economic, theological, gender driven, etc..
    I would suggest two good books on our sidebar that are fairly easy reads, and I think cover much of the ground you have been discussing here:
    Carl Ernst, “Following Muhammad”
    Richard Bulliet, “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization”
    Both are writeen by top scholars of Islam, one from a religion perspective, and one from a historian’s perspective. Both are non-polemical, and as non-Muslims they are both as critical as they are supportive of Islam.

  12. Thanks Guys. I’ll keep reading, keep posting your stuff it’s sound.
    Do you think that the extreemism is a danger to your faith?

  13. Blessed are the peacemakers…

    After the furore caused by the recent comments by the Pope I have seen some challenging counter views put forward by Muslims about their faith which reveal a common heart searching for love and a desire for peace, for example:Blessed are the peacemaker…

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