Murad Hofmann. Der Islam im 3. Jahrtausend. Eine Religion im Aufbruch. (Hugendubel/Diederichs: Kreuzlingen, 240 pp., 7.99 €)
This book by Murad Hofmann on “Islam in the Third Millennium – a Religion on the Rise” has been published in German only. Murad Wilfried Hofmann, a doctor of law and for many years a German ambassador, has his claim to fame as a cele29 brity. He converted to Islam over 20 years ago, made various pilgrimages to Mecca and has written some very well known promotional materials for Islam. Another unusual trait as a Westerner who is a convert but not an Islamic scholar is his attempt to revise the German translation of the Quran by Max Henning. Murad’s promotional materials on Islam are special in that they not only present Islam as the perfect religion and social order from a Western and Christian background, but also in adding a critical analysis of the West. This critical evaluation is the more pointed for being written by somebody with a Western and Christian cultural background who has distanced himself completely from the underlying values.
Hofmann gives much space to presenting the weaknesses of Western society. As there is plenty of scope for criticism in Western society (especially for turning away from religion, values, moral convictions and – last but not least – God himself), the author uses this as a basis for his appreciation of Islam and its superiority. In many ways Christians will have to agree with his analysis of the lack of orientation in Western society. However, it could be questioned whether it is fair to compare the lifestyle of one part of a secular society (drugs, alcohol addiction, homosexuality, abortion) with the ideal (and not the practice!) of a religion. As Hofmann addresses Westerners but not professing Christians, the dimension of Christians also questioning what their society does and outlining alternative solutions (e.g. in the area of matrimony and the family) goes widely without mentioning.
From a wide range of viewpoints Hofmann offers Islam as the answer to a “failed” Western world (30):
“Could Islam turn out to be the therapy that saves the West from itself? And would the West then be able to recognise Islam as being exactly the medicine this civilisation in crisis desperately needs for successful survival?” (11)
Considering this high ideal of Islam as a solution for social problems, the reader wonders whether Hofmann will address reality in Islamic countries where it deviates from the ideal and also communicate those contents of the Quran that are no doubt hard to accept for Westerners. Carefully and from a critical and yet positive viewpoint, Hofmann mentions some of the grievances of the Islamic world in passing (passiveness, status of women, alcohol addiction in spite of prohibition), but he does not take them up and discuss them. He admits that there are issues in the Islamic world that „deter and should be criticised harshly“ (32), yes even that the Muslim world, too, “has two sides” (57), but he does not question Islam as such.
When dealing with topics that are usually controversial in the West (status of women, stoning, human rights and the protection of minorities, capital punishment for apostasy, slavery), Hofman expounds the Quran himself and thus softens the blows of some of the verses considerably:
“I do not stand alone in decidedly being of the opinion that there is no justification of stoning in Islam” (102).
Perhaps he does not stand alone but he will be surely in a minority position with this viewpoint. In a very general way Hofmann calls for Islamic scholars to take up the ijtihad again, i.e. to reinterpret Islamic sources. In his opinion this is how new ways could be found to modify the sharia’s commands – still accepted by a majority of Islamic scholars – to stone offenders, persecute apostates or beat wives in such a way that differences to Western approaches would dwindle. But wouldn’t that mean to declare Islamic law to be null and void? To start out with the assumption that common Islamic practice is not in line with the real Islam is a knack of contextualisation which could of course also be applied to any Western and any other society.
However, there is no discussion of present practice and of the opinions of the majority of Muslim scholars. Hofmann will have to ask himself which of the major authorities of Islamic scholarship would possibly back his reinterpretation of major Islamic sources, and he himself states:
“However, there are close limits to this course of thought as actually the sharia being God’s law is not at our disposal even though changes might be in the interest of the public” (102/103)
It remains a mystery to the reader how Hofmann can assume that the permission for husbands to chastise their wives in Sura 4,34 has “never been understood as an exhortation to actual beating, not even by the prophet in person” (141) as there are traditions that report beyond doubt that Muhammad sanctioned the beating of wives. The reader may also be surprised by Hofmann’s conclusion that the “accusation of polygamy is practically void” in Islam as monogamy has prevailed anyway (138). Here the “better” practice is played off against the conviction of a majority of Islamic scholars who recognise that the Quran permits polygamy. The same majority of Muslim scholars does not doubt the superiority and right of command of the husband over his wife and her obligation to obey, which can – if necessary – be reinforced by beating her. Does beating really “lose all its significance in a marriage lived between equal partners”? (141). A marriage between equal partners is recommended nowhere in the Quran, rather the wife is submitted to the command of the husband. As long as the Quran, which is considered as divine revelation, sanctions beating according to most interpretations, a marriage between equal partners will depend on the benevolence of the husband and on that only.
Some of Hofmann’s comparisons are hard to understand for the Western reader. He draws a line of comparison between the unequal treatment of the woman in the Muslim world and maternity leave only taken by women and their being exempt from military service in the West. Another statement prone to being questioned is Hoffmann’s exasperation with non-Muslims daring to interpret the Quran – in the face of a 1400 year history of Islamic scholars filling entire libraries with interpretations as well as opinions on and criticism of Christianity. In the future there will be more competition in the Western world as a mission field. If secular contemporaries have grown used to religion having no part in public life and not being discussed any more, that will change as the proclamation of the “truth of Islam” grows ever louder. Christians should be prepared for being asked to defend their faith more often and more publicly.