Can Islam reform from within?

Is a movement to reform Islam from within already here and some of us don't even know it?

On October 27, 2009, the well-known Muslim peace activist from Bangladesh, Shoaib Choudhury, arrived in New York City to give talks on the problem of jihad at several prestigious institutions in the area. Shoaib, as he likes to be called, has gained the respect of much of the world, especially among Jews, for his heroic efforts to stop the Muslim persecution of Jews and other religious minorities in Muslim countries. For this he was accused of sedition, imprisoned, and tortured, and his life has been threatened several times since. He still is at risk of being hanged by the state for his supposed crimes.

Relaxing on a rainy evening after a long flight from his native Bangladesh, Shoaib met with several counter-jihad activists in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to see how mutual support and alliances could be developed.

However, that plan was aborted by the truculent attitude of some of the activists.

They tore into Shoaib as a supporter of Islamic intolerance regarding other religions, as a wife-abuser who forces his spouse to veil herself, and even as a liar. None of this was grounded in reality, but the "activists" deemed Shoaib untrustworthy. Why?  Because he would not join them in publicly bashing Mohammed and the text of the Qu'ran.

No, Shoaib has chosen not to do that. Instead, he spends his time and uses his journalistic skills to dig out buried information about al Qaeda's infiltration of his country's government and schools. He publishes his findings in his online journal and in his publishing house. One new piece of information, for example, is the discovery of wide-spread sexual abuse of children in the madrassas, resulting in an epidemic of venereal diseases among these unfortunate children.

Shoaib's goal is to expose evil to the light of day so that public outcry can bring about needed reforms. He attacks the broad central branches of self-serving and sadistic Islamic practices rather than taking an axe to what the American counter-jihadists consider to be the main problem: the trunk of the tree, or Islam itself.

Why does Shoaib do this? He reasons that if he were to criticize Islam per se, he would lose all credibility in the Muslim world. He would be seen as an outsider, an apostate, somebody to be automatically despised -- and his voice would be lost.  Since he is a native of his country and has taken life-threatening risks in it, why should he change his strategy to reflect the approach of his armchair counter-jihadist critics?

Moreover, Shoaib is not the only one disdained in this way. Other Muslim reformers work more or less undercover to bring Islam out of its convulsive cruelty and into a calmer, more peace-loving practice. In addition, there are some Muslim sects, like the Ahmadiyya movement, that make a point of turning their backs on all violence. They have been around for over 100 years.

The handful of critics noted here are part of a larger problem. Many American counter-jihadists become rigid, even fundamentalist, in their thinking. They demand a kind of theological purity from those they would describe as "not enemies."  In a way, this is understandable, since fellow Americans not in the counter-jihad movement have proven so dense about the core issues of jihad that frustration is bound to grow. Having the deceiving phrase "Islam is a religion of peace" bandaged over the national consciousness by presidents adds rage to the frustration.

However, it is my opinion that giving in to that rage and frustration will not help defeat jihad.  Instead, we must be flexible and committed to finding effective ways to drive back the twin devils of obvious terrorism and stealth infiltration. If that means emphasizing concrete practices of infiltration rather than the abstract theory/theology of Islam, so be it.  We may be better understood by our countrymen who have so far been somnolent.

In the interest of promoting a worldwide partnership of resistance to global jihad, it would help if we honored the work of freedom fighters in other cultural contexts without jumping to conclusions.

Madeline Brooks is the head of a counter-jihad group in New York City.  She writes occasionally about jihad and domestic politics, sometimes under the pen name of Brenda West.

Update from the author:
Fighting jihad has two fronts.  One is within the vast part of the American community that ignores and denies the stated intention of Islam to dominate the world, whether by violence or stealth jihad, as with CAIR.  It is indeed extremely important that the media, the public and especially our elected officials wake up to the dangers of radical Islam instead of continuing to allow the jihadists to gain a foothold through denial of their mandates.

The other front is within the Muslim world.  There actually ARE people within that broad range  who are as aware of the evils of Islam as we are.  At great risk to their personal safety, and sometimes losing their lives because of their efforts, they denounce the built in hatred for non-Muslims, the very idea of jihad and forced conversions, the oppression of women, and more.   

Think about it.  If you happened to be born into the Muslim world, would you accept it or would you seek ways to make it more humane?  If you would chose the latter course, then you can recognize that there are rebels of various kinds within the Muslim world.

Mr. Choudhury, for one, has been writing for years about these horrors in his newspaper, and has recently published a book called Inside Madrassa which exposes the numerous abuses inflicted on children in these jihad funded institutions.  The price he has had to pay, broken bones, imprisonment, near blindness, constant death threats, intimidation of his family - all that is well documented.  To overlook the efforts of persecuted reformers like him seems to me extremely short sighted.  If he and other Muslim reformers chose to work within the Muslim world, and to continue to call themselves Muslim for a variety of reasons, including strategic ones, that must be taken into account.

Strategically speaking, what is the advantage of Americans who know the intrinsic problems of Islam (as I do, and as I have written about in other places ( who simply rage against Islam to each other?

The choir has been preached to.  The job now, as I see it, is to spread that information to the naive AND also to support the efforts of genuine freedom fighters within the Muslim world.  Just who is a genuine freedom fighter is another story and does deserve careful and skeptical thinking.

However, to dismiss out of hand the idea that there can be freedom fighters within the Muslim world is anti-empirical and a strategic dead end.  If all of the 1.5 billion Muslims are assumed to be killers in waiting, then it would make sense to nuke them all.  Do you think that will happen?  Would you want it to?