Tawfik Hamid is looking to reinterpret the Koran. Hamid, who holds degrees in medicine and cognitive psychology, is visiting Israel with a group of moderate Muslim leaders from the US on a trip sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Project Interchange institute of the American Jewish Committee, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry.
[..] He said that what President Bush needs to understand – “and I think he does largely understand this – is that defeating Islamic terrorism has to include a variety of integrated tactics.” These comprise everything from the use of military force when necessary, to a commitment to alternative energy that will financially weaken the Islamic fundamentalist regimes, to conditioning any concessions by Israel to the Palestinians on the “demonstrable, sustained abandonment of incitement in the media, the mosques and the education system.”
But what is most crucial, stressed Hamid, a former preacher who quoted long verses from the Koran at will throughout the interview, is defeating Islamic fundamentalism at the ideological level. This requires formulating and providing an alternative interpretation of the Koran to the violent interpretation to which he was exposed and that he says is so uniformly taught to Muslim youngsters in this region and in Muslim education frameworks throughout the West. Hamid is deep into the compilation of such an alternate reading of key sections of the Koran, he said, to be published in book form in both Arabic and English.
“Practically speaking,” he said, if young Muslims “don’t have an alternative interpretation of the Koran, it’s going to be impossible” to foster a more moderate approach. And without it, “we’re essentially asking them to leave their religion. That won’t happen.”
Asked whether his claim is that Islam is an essentially peaceful religion whose teachings have been skewed by the fundamentalists, Hamid responded carefully: “Islam could be followed and interpreted in a peaceful way,” he said, “but the current dominant way of interpretation has many violent areas that need addressing. To say Islam today is peaceful? It is not. But it can be taught peacefully. The texts can allow you to do this.”
For instance, he said, Muslims ought to be “incredibly respectful of Jews – on the basis of the Koran.” He cited quotations where the Old Testament is described as “a light,” said that there is repeated support in the Koran for the Children of Israel as the “preferred” and “chosen” people, and stated that even Zionism finds resonance in the Koran. There are several references, he said, to “the land God promised” to the Jews, the land as a “permanent inheritance,” and the return “when the end days are near” of the Children of Israel “to your homeland.”
As for the fundamentalist Islamic insult of all Jews as “pigs and monkeys,” Hamid argued that is a willful misinterpretation of Koranic text, noting that to follow that thinking is to “insult most of the prophets of Islam – including Moses, Aharon, David and Solomon. You are insulting the brothers of Muhammad.”
Where Jews are clearly branded as “monkeys” in the Koran, he said, the description applies to a specific group of Jews who are criticized for resisting Moses’s Jewish teachings and for mimicking unholy cultures. He quoted as follows: “Ask them about the group of the Jews who were disobeying God on the Sabbath.” This is the group,” said Hamid, “who are described as monkeys – the Jews who were resisting Judaism!”
Moshe Maoz, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University, said the relevant texts did indeed lend themselves to this kind of interpretation, as well as to various far less palatable counter-interpretations. “What’s critical, of course,” said Maoz, “is what other Muslims make of it.”