Questions for a Friend

Return to main article:

Adapted from an article by Pipes that ran in the Jerusalem Post on November 26, 2003

If militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution, as I often argue, how does one differentiate between these two forms of Islam?

It is often useful to ask questions. Such questions might include:

Violence: Do you condone or condemn the Palestinians, Chechens, and Kashmiris who give up their lives to kill enemy civilians? Will you condemn by name as terrorist groups such organizations as Abu Sayyaf, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, Group Islamique Armée, Hamas, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and al-Qaida?

Modernity: Should Muslim women have equal rights with men (for example, in inheritance shares or court testimony)? Is jihad, meaning a form of warfare, acceptable in today's world? Do you accept the validity of other religions? Do Muslims have anything to learn from the West?

Secularism: Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims? May Muslims convert to other religions? May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men? Do you accept the laws of a majority non-Muslim government and unreservedly pledge allegiance to that government? Should the state impose religious observance, such as banning food service during Ramadan? When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws...which should give way?

Islamic Pluralism: Are Sufis and Shi'ites fully legitimate Muslims? Do you see Muslims who disagree with you as having fallen into unbelief? Is takfir (condemning fellow Muslims with whom one has disagreements as unbelievers) an acceptable practice?

Self-criticism: Do you accept the legitimacy of scholarly inquiry into the origins of Islam? Who was responsible for the 9/11 suicide hijackings?

Defense against militant Islam: Do you accept enhanced security measures to fight militant Islam, even if this means extra scrutiny of yourself? Do you agree that institutions accused of funding terrorism should be shut down?

Goals in the West: Do you accept that Western countries are majority-Christian and secular or do you seek to transform them into majority-Muslim countries ruled by Islamic law?

These questions offer a good start to the vexing issue of separating enemy from friend.  

You might also like

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Most popular

Murphy Time

Harvard’s greatest football coach—and one of the best anywhere

Harvard Files Amicus Brief in Graduate Student Unionization Case

The University argues that the relationship between graduate students and universities should remain academic, not managerial, and student labor unions would “damage private sector graduate education.”

Labor Litigator

Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan takes on the app economy.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults