The Reformation or Restoration of Islam From Inside Out: Muslim Prescriptions for the Healing of the Ideological Cancer of Radical Islamic Terrorism

Ran Niehoff

Friday, 9:30 am – 11:00 am

1/12/2018- 1/26/2018

3 weeks: $80 members/$100 non-members

Islam carries 1400 years of history and claims more than 1.5 billion followers (“Muslims”). We will share a keen overview of the movement and its various expressions, focusing on the presence of “Salafism” which, when it arises, creates pockets of radical fundamentalism—the breeding ground of jihadist terror. We will look at this ideological and societal illness through Muslim eyes with the capacity to diagnose, prescribe, treat, and heal this hateful scourge.

Using Muslim resources we will define the shape of current Islam in terms of the relationship of religion vis a vis state. For example, if Islam were visualized as a simplistic set of 5 concentric circles (like the target on an archery range) it could be categorized as follows:
1) outer circle (@ 6% of total) consists of CULTURAL MUSLIMS where religion is separated from the state; 2) the largest circle, containing RITUAL MUSLIMS (@60 %) where religion informs the state; 3) in the 3rd circle are found fundamentalist THEOLOGICAL MUSLIMS (aka: “ISLAMISTS”) (@ 25%) where religious bureaucracy equals the state where we live (Sharia law enforced); 4) grouped here (@ 7%) are the RADICAL MUSLIMS where religion must equal the state for the whole globe (therefore, force and violence are promoted to convert or subjugate others); and, 5) the innermost, smallest circle (@ .01 %) where religion equals the state that we have declared to be the divine caliphate (hence, all means including terror are approved by Allah).

Salafism (salaf: “of the ancestors”) is the ideology of those in circles #3, #4, and #5. It is not a sect or formal organization but more of a force which seeks a return to the envisioned/imagined purity and perfection of early Islamic times. It strives for a strict and literal interpretation of the Quran (“recitation” or “book”) and it holds up the early leaders of Islam as examples for believers. Strictly fundamentalist, Salafists represent the largest philosophical sect among Muslims. Their teachings of hatred and violence function as the default doctrine in most Islamic mosques, schools, and universities today. Salafists believe that the world will not be acceptable to Allah until infidels and apostates are punished and Sharia law universally applied.

HOWEVER, there are other irenic strands of thought and practice in Islam that are older and whose adherents have competed and still struggle against fundamentalists for the minds and hearts of fellow Muslims. We will look over their shoulders as they reinterpret Islam in at least four ways:

l. Continuing the discipline of REASONED EXPLANATIONS (tatsir) of Scripture (Quran) and Traditions (Hadiths). Conscious of historical context they strive to continue the ancient method of determining the accuracy (sahih) of stories (who wrote it, when, and for what purpose). For example, moved by Muhammad’s trust in the eternal dignity of Allah-created life faithful Islamic scholars focus on the Prophet’s earliest and original teachings; they are then able to “guarantee” biographical stories and anecdotes and reclassify the intolerant vindictive references as culturally-determined additions by later editors.

2. Returning to the practice of INTERPRETING THE LAW BY INDIVIDUAL STUDY AND EFFORT (ijtihad). This manner of exercising jurisprudence (fiqh) was used in the first centuries after Muhammad’s death in order to apply his ethics to the situations of the changing world. Unfortunately as Caliphs become more royal than religious during Islam’s “Golden Age” (750—1258 CE) legal scholars began to organize schools of thought called madhhab (“doctrine”) and developed divine law or sharia (“the way”) to limit autonomy of thought and reinforce a return to apostolic custom and practice (Sunnah: “a path” or “manner of acting/way of life”). Such dogmatic schools have dominated Islamic teaching ever since, discouraging and even persecuting fellow Muslims who use deductive reasoning and attempt critical thought.

3. Modeling the HUMANE TEACHINGS and TOLERANT BEHAVIOR of Muhammad as reported in the Quran’s earliest passages and in selected readings from the Sira (yasiru: “to travel”or “be on a journey”), the name for the biographies of Prophet Muhammad.

4. Restoring the DIALOGUE BETWEEN THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY both: A) within Islam as originally practiced by the 8th CE Qadariyya scholars (quadar: “divine decree” enabling free will and the power to act;) and, B) between Muslims and non-Muslims as exemplified by the 9th-13th CE movement called Ahi al-Tawhid wa l-‘Adi (“people of monotheism and peace”). It became Islam’s first fully-developed theological school (which was later labeled by its Sunni fundamentalist adversaries as Mu’tazilites (“withdrawn from”).

Finally, we will turn our attention to contemporary Muslim thinkers and we will listen to their voices as they formulate a strategy and tactics for the reformation or restoration of their beloved Islam.

Instructor Academic Background and Bio:

Degrees: BA (Philosophy) from Washington University (St. Louis); M. Div and D. Min from Eden Theological Seminary (Webster Groves, MO). Sabbatical Studies: Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (Israel); American School of Classical Studies (Athens, Greece); American Academy of Rome (Rome, Italy); Westminster College/Cambridge University (Cambridge, England). Ordained in 1967 as a Minister in the United Church of Christ Ran has served as Pastor and Teacher in four congregations, the latest being the Sanibel Congregational UCC (1991—2008). He has presented numerous seminars, planned and led 11 Study-Tours overseas, and taught part-time in college and hospital settings. He has conducted Winter Academy workshops since 2011 and writes a regular column in the “Times of the Islands” Magazine. He and his wife, Marilyn, have been residents of Sanibel since 1991. He can be contacted by e-mail at: