A week ago, Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Muslim Brotherhood, featured the translation of an article by Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. It’s easy to see why the Muslim Brothers would like what Westerwelle wrote, because he urged his readers to carefully distinguish between moderate and fundamentalist Islamist forces, arguing:
The decisive issue for us has to be the attitude of Islamic political parties towards democracy. Are these Islamic democratic parties, in the sense in which the European political spectrum naturally includes Christian democratic parties? I am confident that an Islamic orientation can be linked with democratic convictions, that Islam can be compatible with democracy.
Unfortunately, there is little justification for viewing the Brotherhood as the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.
For starters, it should not be forgotten that – as Ayaan Hirsi Ali emphasized in a Wall Street op-ed a year ago – the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood remains what it has always been:
Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
For all I can tell, most of Europe’s Christian Democrats would shudder at the thought of a similar motto for their own parties. Let’s try it:
God is our objective; Jesus is our leader; the Bible is our law; crusading is our way; dying in the way of God is our highest hope.
One thing is for sure: if Germany’s Christian Democrats had such a motto, there would be no article with the headline: “Germany Has a Gay Minister — Yäwn! Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new vice-chancellor and foreign minister, is very popular and openly gay. And nobody in Germany cares.”
Furthermore, the attempt to understand the Brotherhood as the Muslim version of Christian Democrats also ignores the fact that the Bible and the Koran are viewed very differently by believers. A recent issue of The Economist featured a relevant article that included the somewhat misleading lede: “Muslims revere the Koran. But its study is not taboo—and is in some quarters increasingly daring.” However, as the article acknowledges:
But when it comes to parsing holy writ, there is one big difference between Islam and most other text-based faiths. Barring a brief interlude in the ninth and tenth centuries, and a few modern liberals, Muslims have mostly believed that the Koran is distinct from every other communication. As God’s final revelation to man, it belongs not to earthly, created things but to an eternal realm. That is a bigger claim than other faiths usually make for their holy writings.
The Koran may be interpreted but from a believer’s viewpoint, nothing in it can be set aside. Yet, at least in the calm, superficially courteous world of Western academia, debating the precise text of the Koran is increasingly common.
Indeed, in the West, there are scholars – mostly non-Muslims – “who study the text as they would any other written material—as prose whose evolution can be traced by comparing versions.” Yet, as The Economist acknowledges: “What can be debated in most Muslim countries differs hugely from what is discussed in the West.”
This subject was also tackled in a recent post by Peter Berger, who blogs at The American Interest. Under the title “Islamic Philosophy and the Future of the Arab Spring,” Berger surveyed last year’s developments and concluded that there was little prospect for the emergence of “secular regimes with some liberal credentials.” Therefore, he argued, “if one is to have hopes for liberal democracy in the Muslim world, one will have to pin these hopes on individuals and movements who define themselves within a decidedly Islamic discourse.”
But Berger then turned to the argument that “Muslims and others like to point out that the Bible contains enough bloodthirsty teachings to compete with any Salafist ideology.” In no uncertain terms, he responded to this point arguing [emphasis original]:
It is misleading to compare the Quran with the Bible. For most Muslims, the Quran is “inerrant” to a degree far beyond the understanding of this term by even very conservative Christians or Jews. It has been suggested that Christians, rather than comparing the Quran with the Bible, should compare the Quran with Christ […]The debates as to whether the Quran was eternal or created began at some time in the first century after Muhammad’s death. I think that the majority view ever since has favored the eternity of the Quran—it was with God from the beginning […] If the Quran is co-eternal with God, it has a higher degree of literal infallibility (“inerrancy”) than if it is a creation of God.
While Berger ultimately concludes that it “is important to understand that those who wish to combine their Muslim faith with aspirations toward liberal democracy have decidedly Islamic ideas to support their agenda,” his discussion also makes it very clear that it is only a tiny minority of Muslims that would regard these ideas as “decidedly Islamic.” In other words, it is a fringe phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to go mainstream any time soon – and that is another major reason why Islamists like the Muslim Brothers should not be mistaken for Christian Democrats.