July 30, 2005


Coming together: The men of learning against the men of violence (The Economist, Jul 28th 2005)

OVER the few days before the attack on London of July 7th, something historic was happening in the world of Muslim theology. After some careful deliberations in the air-conditioned comfort of a hotel in Jordan's capital, Amman, the world's leading Muslim scholars—over 170 of them from 35-odd countries—made a series of pronouncements designed to affirm their own authority, soften differences and deal a blow to advocates of terror.

The things these august gentlemen decided on may sound arcane to non-Muslims. But for the hosts, including Jordan's King Abdullah, the agreement was an encouraging first success in what will have to be a long ideological war against readings of Islam that lend support to violence.

In several ways, the muftis and professors agreed to minimise their own (previously sharp) differences and work together to promote what they regard as “good theology” over some superficial, violence-promoting interpretations of Islam that have circulated, electronically and in print, all over the world. Among the scholars' main conclusions is that nobody who accepts Islam's basic beliefs should be denied the label of Muslim. A statement of the obvious? Far from it, because a hallmark of virtually all the shrillest voices in Islam is that they reject the Muslim credentials of anybody who disagrees with them. As an example of a Muslim thinker who rejects anybody less extreme than himself as an apostate, many would cite Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is one of the leaders of al-Qaeda.

Equally important, the scholars announced a sort of “mutual recognition” agreement between Islam's eight main schools of legal interpretation: four Sunni ones, the two main Shia traditions, the Ibadis of Oman and the small but prestigious Zahiri school. While these schools' leaders will never concur on everything, they recognised each other's authority in their respective communities—and resolved to deny authority to anybody who purports to be a scholar but lacks the training.

At least in theory, this implies a degree of mutual respect between rival versions of Islam that has not been seen since the Fatimid empire a millennium ago. More practically, the pronouncement should act as a restraining influence in Iraq, by denying Sunni Muslims any right to attack their Shia compatriots as heretics.

One of the keys to the End of History is such small "p" protestantism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2005 5:29 PM

Does small "p" protestantism equate to religious relativism? It is odd that religion has to take itself less seriously in order to stop being a threat to humanity.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 31, 2005 1:41 PM

A genuine religion of peace could not hold such a meeting. It would make no sense

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 1, 2005 10:03 PM


In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.
-St. Augustine

Posted by: oj at August 1, 2005 11:09 PM

Who gets to define the essentials?

How do they enforce their diktats?

If there were essentials, then the meeting would also have been impossible.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 2, 2005 8:35 PM

The essentials are obvious enough. If meetings were only held when they were necessary there'd be none.

Posted by: oj at August 2, 2005 8:43 PM