Dr. Mike Ghouse has accomplished an amazing feat. He has become the final and perfect interpreter of Islam. At least he seems to feel that way. In his view, the essence of Islam is totally in keeping with liberal Western values. Islam has become a thoroughly American religion with scarcely any connection to the traditional interpretations of Islam.
Muslim-majority societies and Muslim extremists (his term), went wrong for easily discernible reasons. He writes, “Islam is not about governance,” but guidance. “Islam is not about establishing government…Indeed, Islam is about live and let live.” In one surgical rhetorical cut, he severs his American Islam from the history of Islamdom; from the days when Muhammad moved to Yathrib (Medina) until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. He jettisons all Arab-Islamic empire building since the death of Muhammad. The futuhat (conquests) from Spain to India are all un-Islamic, Ghouse claimed. Hurrah!
Dr. Ghouse does not dispute that there have been bad versions of Islamic society. But he has found the culprits.
First are the secondary authorities in Islam, all the traditional scholars who got Islam wrong in the main and in the details. Especially misleading have been ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Kathir, and Ibn Ishaq in the classical period of Islam, and Hassan al-Banna, Maududi, and Yusuf Qaradawi in contemporary Islamic society. He argues that if we want Islam to be Islam—a religion of peace—we must reject interpretations that are antithetical to the pluralistic nature of Islam.
Second is the Hadith collection and anything that placed within the mouth of their prophet unloving, intolerant and misogynist sentiments, or record him as engaging in less than pacifist behaviors. Dr. Ghouse insists, “We need to rehabilitate the hadith. A new compilation of hadiths is the need of the day; it will have two sections [sic] the first section will reflect those hadiths that are compatible with the attributes of God (Just and Merciful) and the Prophet Mohammed’s nature (merciful and kind to fellow beings).” The second section will include all the questionable hadiths and scholars must prove their authenticity. He has a litmus test to determine which hadith are true and which are spurious. If it is good for Islamic public relations among Westerners, then it is true. If it does not play well with his target audience, it is not authentic. Such an approach is obviously not legitimate historiography.
Dr. Ghouse believes that Muslims can be truly religious pluralists if they follow the Quran. “Let’s stick to the Koran. We just cannot go wrong [sic] I know this frightens many Muslims; it is as if pulling the rug from under their feet in reality, [sic] you can live a moral and conscious life by only following the Quran [sic] rejecting those other so-called Islamic books will not disorient you at all.” His only mention of Quranic ayat that call for violence against Jews, Christians, or pagans is to state that those passages are mistranslated.
He declares that if one reads something in the Quran is not in keeping with love, freedom, tolerance, and peace, it is a faulty translation. “It may be worth your while to see the list of the mistranslated verses and how fearmongers in the market have capitalized on those [sic] the best way to understand the Koran is to remember that if it’s not about justice mercy an creation of harmony and [sic] the translation is wrong.”
According to Dr. Ghouse, the mistakenly translated Quranic passages that Islamophobes interpret as encouraging violence and intolerance or inequality are not accidents. Ghouse said:
“The Koran has been deliberately mistranslated: The Quran is a book of guidance to live in peace with oneself and with what surrounds one — life and environment. It is designed to create cohesive societies where no human has to live in apprehension or fear of others. Most people get that right and a few don’t. If you don’t, that is the case with everything in life but Quran is never the problem [sic] it’s our understanding that is the problem. Way back in 1143 A.D. the first translation of the Quran the European leaders commissioned a hostile Koran translation to foster warfare against Muslim invaders [sic]. Later, Muslim leaders produced another translation to inflame Muslims against Christians and Jews.”
Dr. Ghouse expresses immoderate ire for Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, Ali Sina, Zuhdi Jasser, Wafa Sultan, and Tarek Fateh. For example, he recounts a public conflict with Tarek Fateh expressing how his intellectual depth entirely dominated Fateh in the dispute. Commenting on his victory, Dr. Ghouse wrote, “That completely shut Fatah’s a** up –sorry it was his mouth. Unfortunately, both are the same on his body they both release foul air.” “Are not cooking up things up. They are merely quoting what is written up in hadith, tafsir and Sira (Muhammad’s biography), even [sic] though they know it’s wrong, it suits them to malign Islam for bucks.”
Others he calls disgruntled former Muslims, “Who Have [sic] a personal axe to grind and take it out on Islam [sic] some organizations shamelessly pay them well for bashing Islam.” Concerning Dr. Wafa Sultan, Dr. Ghouse intolerantly wrote, ”When Wafa Sultan, another Islam basher, started to lie about Muslims, the audience not only spoke up [sic] they walked out, they did not want to hear her bull-crap and they were not gullible either.”
He does express some legitimately moderate and liberal views on individual issues. He supports interfaith marriages, even for Muslim women. He opposes punishing apostates for leaving Islam. And he opposes using Sharia outside of personal matters of faith.
In sum, Dr. Ghouse expresses some liberal ideals that Muslims need to embrace if they are to truly integrate into American society. However, his buffet of Islam and Islamic history is not a convincing approach to Islam, Islamic texts, or Islamic history. It appears that his agenda is do what it takes to get Islam accepted by some naïve well-wishers as a legitimate discussion about religious beliefs and practices in American society. His book is more promotional spin than a serious evaluation of what has made it difficult for self-identified Islamic nations and Muslim majority societies to allow true religious pluralism.
Darrell Pack is an Arabist and a member of Islamic Reform Forum.