• Dr. Mark A. Gabriel


To keep a weed from growing back, you must pull it up from the root. The root of Islamic terrorism is the fundamentalist application of the Quran and the life of the prophet Muhammad. Other factors—such as a poor economy and corrupt governments—are food and water that help the weed grow, and Islamic radicalism can be weakened by addressing those issues. But radicalism will not be kept under complete control until traditional Muslim society changes the way it interprets the Quran.

Seventh-Century Islam

When Muslims read the Quran literally and apply it to their lives, they are going backward into the seventh century. For some parts of the Quran, this method is fine. But there are many differences between the seventh century and the twenty-first century. The world today is not the world of the prophet Muhammad. The application of the Quran’s teachings needs to take into account these differences.

Muslims need to interpret the Quran to fit with the twenty-first century. They need to make Islam a blessing to humanity, not destruction and disaster. Islam must build up human beings, not slaughter them.

If Muslims keep the classical interpretation of the Quran, they will never reconcile Islam with the rest of the world. The world will forever look at Islam with suspicious eyes and a lack of trust.

The new interpretation of the Quran needs to look at the teachings of Islam in light of the circumstances of the time of the revelation. If the circumstances that created the need for a particular ruling have changed, then the application of that teaching in the twenty-first century needs to change.

Just as Hamdi Abdul Rahman said, “Shariah gives us the right to change legal opinions according to the time and position of Muslims.”

Let’s look at some areas where circumstances have changed for Muslims.

Jihad Is No Longer Needed.

The Islamic world needs to challenge the way radical Muslims apply the teaching of jihad in Surahs 2, 5, 8, and 9. The fighting in these chapters needs to be seen as something done in the seventh century and no longer needed in modern times because Islam is in a totally different position than it was in the seventh century.

In the seventh century, Islam started as a small group of people that was ridiculed by those with power. Now Islam is practiced freely all over the world. There is a Muslim World League with fifty-Seven nations as members. Even in most non-Muslim countries, Muslims are free to build mosques and worship and preach to nonbelievers.

The message of Islam no longer needs to be carried on the point of a sword because it can be published on the Internet, broadcast on television and radio, printed in books, and preached on the street corner.

The purpose of jihad was to preserve and advance Islam. But jihad in the twenty-first century does not preserve and advance Islam. Instead, it has put Islamic radicals in the crosshairs of the world military and police forces. Jihad has damaged the reputation of Islam worldwide. For the survival of Islam, jihad must be left in the past.

Preachers, Not Judges

From the beginning, radical groups have justified their policies by declaring that Muslim society in general had become apostate. Muslim scholars have finally united against this accusation. Following is a quote from Newsweek regarding an historic meeting of sheikhs who issued a statement forbidding that any Muslim be declared kfir (apostate).

The day before the London bombs, a conference of 180 top Muslim sheiks and imams, brought together under the auspices of Jordan’s King Abdullah, issued a statement forbidding that any Muslim be declared kfir—an apostate.

This is a frontal attack on ISIS and Al‑Qaeda’s theological methods. Declaring someone kfir—and thus sanctioning his or her death—is a favorite tactic of the radicals.

The conference’s statement was endorsed by 10 fatwas from such big conservative scholars as Tantawi; Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; Egypt’s mufti, Ali Jumaa, and the influential Al-Jazeera TV-sheik, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Signed by adherents of all schools of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), it also allows only qualified Muslim scholars to issue edicts.

The Islamic Conference’s statement, the first of its kind, is a rare show of unity among the religious establishment against terrorists and their scholarly allies.1

This kind of declaration is exactly what is needed. Muslims themselves are the best ones to challenge the ideology of the radicals.

Support the Voices of Moderation

Non-Muslims cannot try to tell the Muslim world how to interpret the Quran. Muslims who want to live peacefully with the world need to be at the forefront of this new interpretation. Too many Muslim Web sites are posting books by Hasan al‑Banna, Mawdudi, and Sayyid Qutb. Instead, Muslim groups need to post materials by moderate Muslim scholars who write about tolerance of other people and beliefs.

For example, they should post the books by Dr. Farag Foda, who was assassinated by radicals in Cairo for exposing the evil of radicalism and writing books to try to change their minds.

Moderate Muslims should help Muslim society grasp a clearer worldview. A good example is the writing of Anise Mansour, a liberal Muslim, who traveled around the world as a journalist and wrote many books. He served to connect Egyptian and Arab leaders with the rest of the world community. He did cultural exchange without judgment.

Leave Religious Education to the Family

The Muslim world has allowed its children to be indoctrinated through religious teaching that is far more fundamentalist and conservative than Muslim society in general. To help prevent the next generation of Muslim children from becoming radical, education in Muslim countries should be totally secular. Let the parents guide their children’s religious education.

Let the religious education belong to the family, and let the government schools be secular. The religious schools can’t be shut down, but they need to be under watch.

Liberate the Muslim Woman

Women make up half of a society. When women are suppressed, it’s like a body with only one leg functioning. The body is crippled and cannot accomplish as much as if both legs functioned. It is the same when Muslim women are not liberated. The Muslim society will not accomplish as much without their contribution.

The Quran’s picture of women is based upon seventh-century circumstances. The Quran says the position of a woman is to stay in submission to her husband (Surah 2:223; 4:34). And the prophet Muhammad taught that the duty of the wife is to care for her husband’s children, home, and wealth. She will be judged by how well she performs these duties.2

In the twenty-first century, a woman can fulfill the duties of Islam while at the same time pursuing an education, working at a job, or participating in politics. These options were not a possibility in the prophet Muhammad’s time.

What keeps Muslim women trapped in their homes and hidden behind the hijab (the covering used to conceal a woman’s body) is the literal application of some specific teachings in the Quran, such as:

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies . . . That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed.

—Surah 33:59 (see also Surah 24:31, 58ff)

And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance.

—Surah 33:33

And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen: that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts.—Surah 33:53

A twenty-first-century interpretation of the Quran would say that Allah asked women to do these things in the seventh century, but the circumstances of the twenty-first century are different, and women need not follow the seventh-century restrictions.

How will liberated women help stop radicalism? There are a few ways.

When women are confined to their houses by Islamic law, their contribution is lost for the economy, scholarship, and leadership. Society is weaker and more vulnerable to radical groups. When women are educated, participate in the work force, and have the right to vote in an election, they influence society for the better.

Women shape the next generation. Muslim women with little or no education do not have an accurate picture of the world to pass on to their children. This leaves children vulnerable to the intolerance and prejudice taught by radicals. Educated women pass on a more accurate picture of the world to their children.


The power of a new interpretation of the Quran lies in the fact that a Muslim can demonstrate commitment to his faith without destroying society. In other words, the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam requires Muslims to commit crimes to prove their commitment to Allah. The purpose of a new interpretation of the Quran is to show Muslims how to demonstrate full devotion to Islam while building up society instead of tearing it down.

Unfortunately, a fundamentalist Muslim is unlikely to accept a new interpretation of the Quran. He is only reasoned with by force. The benefit of a twenty-first-century interpretation of the Quran is to discourage new recruits from joining the radicals and to stop new radical groups from forming.

However, the Muslim understanding of his faith is not the only matter of religion to contend with. The world must also confront the Muslim understanding of other people’s faiths. We need to “take religion out of the fight.”


. 1. Fareed Zakaria, “How We Can Prevail,” Newsweek, July 18, 2005, 38–41.

. 2. Sahih al-Bukhari [The Correct Books of Bukhari], Volume 9, Book 89, No. 252, narrated ’Abdullah bin ’Umar, (accessed September 30, 2005).

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