i) Active and Inactive Muslims
ii) Muslim Non-Action ≠ Muslim Moderation
Active and Inactive Muslims
What is the main reason for a Muslim, as a Muslim, or as someone who follows Islamic teachings and the Koran, being more fundamentalist than another person, whether a Christian or an atheist? It is this. Even a moderate Muslim, or a nice or moderate person who just happens also to be a Muslim, must believe that the Koran is the literal, everlasting and irrefutable word of the one and only true god, Allah. Think about that for a moment. Every single chapter, or paragraph, or sentence, or word, is the literal, everlasting and un-falsifiable word of the one true god, Allah. Even if a mountain can be made out of Koranic contexts, interpretations and translations, Koranic literalism is still an incredible thing. It is incredible thing that each and every single Muslim must believe absolutely. To not believe this is to not to be a Muslim. Simple as that. Even taking into account Koranic translations, contexts and interpretations, that Koranic literalism must be taken literally.
Now how can anyone who believes this be truly moderate? Perhaps a Muslim can be truly moderate to the extent that he or she does not take the command of Koranic literalism literally. Then she wouldn’t be a true Muslim. Perhaps instead she is moderate because she is only a nominal Muslim – just a Muslim in name or by tribe. That would be to say nothing about Islamic literalism, Islam and the Koran. It would be a judgment on a single person who just happens to be a Muslim –or who happens to be called a ‘Muslim’ (or be a Muslim only by tribe).
One way in which non-Muslims may distinguish moderate from immoderate Muslims is in terms of action. The moderate Muslim does not do anything which is too Islamic or too immoderate. The fundamentalist or Islamist does do things which are too Islamic and too immoderate. However, both the moderate and the fundamentalist believe exactly the same things about Islam, the Prophet and the Koran. The only difference is the extent of which they act on their faith. The fundamentalist acts on his faith in many immoderate ways. The moderate only goes to the mosque every now and again and spends the rest of his time at work or with his family. Again, both the moderate and the fundamentalist believe exactly the same things about Islam, the Koran and the Prophet. One frequently acts on his faith. The other rarely does so. Thus the moderate is moderate simply because he doesn’t act on his faith that much or he doesn’t act out his faith, as it were. That’s partly because at least some Muslims must spend nearly all of their time, say, driving taxis or teaching and the rest of the time with their families. Such Muslims do not have the time to act on their faith, never mind act immoderately or extremely.
Alternatively, a Muslim may be a fanatic qua his faith, but nice or moderate as a family man or as a pool partner. Osama bin Laden may be a nice man to have dinner with. (Indeed the Arabophile and Islamophile, Robert Fisk, once remarked on how gentle Osama bin Laden’s handshake was.)
Muslim Non-Action is Not Moderation
There is another way we can say that the differences between moderate Muslims and Islamists are often very superficial. For example, the extreme non-action, as it were, of the Muslim moderates is as bad as the actions of Muslim extremists. For example, not a single moderate Muslim, or moderate Muslim group, spoke out against the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Indeed this was the time when moderate Muslims discovered fundamentalist or Islamist Islam. For a short time, even moderate Muslims became extremist Muslims.
Again, how many demos have we seen by Muslims against suicide bombings? Against terrorist attacks? Or against general Muslim intolerance? Individual Muslims might have spoken out. Perhaps that was something many of them felt that they had to do to hoodwink non-Muslims or to guarantee the continued expansion of Islam. It was precisely because they were individuals, speaking out against fatwas or terrorism, which meant that they could not find enough Muslims to fill a demonstration or sign a petition against Islamic extremism or terrorism. Neither do most Muslims, as individuals rather than Muslim leaders or spokesmen, need to sell themselves to the press or to non-Muslims. Thus they don’t feel the need to demonstrate against Islamic extremism, or terrorism, because they will not loose their jobs for not doing so, or they don’t need to convince non-Muslim newspapers and individuals of their moderation. That is not their job, as individual Muslims with no official Islamic station. Indeed the moderates who do not demonstrate or sign petitions may not be against the terrorists or the Islamists in the first place!
This leads us back to the earlier point that those Muslims who do not demonstrate or speak out may be moderate only in the sense of their Islamic non-action. Their only point of difference with the Islamists is in the domain of action. The moderates may not preach, bomb, or bring about a ‘spontaneous’ Intifada, but they often share the same theological and political beliefs as the Muslims who do. The moderates are moderate simply because they don’t act. They don’t do Islamic things; certainly they do not plant bombs or speak out against various examples of ‘corrupt infidel behaviour’. In terms of belief and theology, many moderates may be the same as the militants. It is just the case that their Islamic literalism, or militancy (say, vis-à-vis Palestine), does not cause them to act on the Islamic issues of the day. They are either too busy or they are only tribal (or nominal) Muslims.