The False Dichotomy: Moderate Muslims vs. Radicals
By Majid Rafizadeh
Danish translation: Den falske modsætning: Moderate muslimer versus radikale
Source:, April 4, 2014
Published on April 17, 2014

The liberal mainstream media has long portrayed a picture of moderate (“good”) Muslims versus extremist Muslims. This narrative has been institutionalized in the thinking of Western Muslim scholars, who advocate for Islam as well. This has led to the thought that Islam is an ideology and religion of peace, because a majority of Muslims fall in the category of moderate or good Muslims.

If we analyze this dichotomy in depth, we can see how this understanding of Islam develops. Besides analytical and theoretical frameworks, I will also draw on my own experience growing up in the Muslim world.

We were taught in school that the Qur’an has descended, word for word, from the creator Allah, through Muhammad. This is accepted throughout the entirety of the Islamic world. If we take this speculation as accurate information of Islam, then every Muslim is supposed to follow Allah’s verses exactly in order to be a good Muslim and to be considered a representative of the real ideology and religion of Islam.

Secondly, if we take the assertion that the Qur’an is made up of Allah’s words as being true, then Qur’anic verses should be followed for eternity, as long as human beings exist in this universe. No changes are allowed to Allah’s rules and words because Allah, as Muslims say, is perfect and his knowledge is absolute. As a result, his words cannot be relative and every word he utters or reveals should apply in any time of human history.

In fact, even Muhammad himself repeatedly said that two things a Muslim should follow are the Qur’an (words of Allah) and the Hadith (Muhammad’s teachings).

Considering this information and based on these standards, a true Muslim, who represent the real Islam, should be the one who follows and obeys Allah’s words (from the Qur’an) completely. As a result, anyone who ignores some of the rules is not, and cannot be, considered a reflection of Islam, a good Muslim, or even a Muslim. Accordingly, Allah’s words and rules are not a basket of vegetable to choose from, meaning that one cannot obey some orders and disregard others.

Following this reasoning, it is clear that the whole dichotomy of good Muslims vs. extremist Muslims, as portrayed by the mainstream media, must be altered. By this definition, real, true, and good Muslims who represent Islam are people such as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of Iran’s political theocracy), Osama Bin Laden, Hassan Nasrullah (the leader of Hezbollah), Ayman Alzawaheri, Hasib Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinjead, and the like, because they follow the Qur’an and Allah’s social and legal rules word for word. All these people, who have committed crimes against humanity, will be considered to be the real Muslims, representing the actual ideology of Islam, the Qur’an, Allah’s words, and Muhammad’s teachings, because they follow the rules of Islam.

To give you a concrete example, during a speech I gave that criticized the underlying philosophy and ideology of Islam and that argued that Islam is not a religion of peace, a young American-British Muslim man stood up and responded by interrupting. Some of his points, which echoed what other Western Muslims usually state, were that Islam is the religion of peace, millions of Muslims like him do not commit those violent acts, and that they represent Islam.

When he finished, I asked him if he believed that he should beat his wife after she disobeys him one time, two times or three times. He said no. Then I conveyed to him that one cannot be representative of the true philosophy and ideology of Islam, a good or real Muslim, if he or she doesn’t follow Allah’s words stated in Qur’an.

Allah specifically says, ”Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (Qur’an 4:34)

A real and “good” Muslim, who represent the ideology of Islam, would follow Allah’s words in Qur’an regarding this specific rule. Therefore, he or other Muslims like this young British-American man cannot introduce themselves as a real reflection and representation of Islamic ideology or speak on behalf of Islam.

This verse is not open to interpretation. It clearly says what a man must do with a disobedient wife. I cannot imagine that this verse can have another meaning than what it exactly states. Many Muslims use the interpretation card to legitimize and defend Islam and call themselves the real reflection of Islamic ideology. Growing up in Islamic societies, I am aware that many Muslims in the West or East have not even read Allah’s words in the Qur’an completely, and are not following the real Islam. (A blessing that they have not read it and that they are not following the real Islam!)

The underlying reason for considering people such as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama Bin Laden, Hassan Nasrullah, Ayman Alzawaheri, Hasib Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinjead, and others as the real image of Islam is that these people follow Allah’s verses and orders word for word. They also have hundreds of thousands of followers who consider them as the true Muslims. If Muhammad was alive, these people would be considered the real spokespeople for Islam, the best, true, and real Muslims, for following Allah’s rules exactly. So what about other Muslims?

Other Muslims who obey some of the verses and disregard others cannot be called good Muslims, representatives of Islamic ideology, or even true followers of Islam, based on the Qur’an and Muhammad’s teachings. Therefore, they cannot in fact, represent any categories. Every word of Allah should be obeyed.

These people who call themselves the representatives of real Islam are in fact a representative and reflection of certain socio-political, socio-economic and cultural traditions mixed with some glimpses of Islamic teachings, not the real truth of Islam. Their identity and character is a mixture of these aforementioned qualities rather than the actual ideology of Islam.

This means that those Western Muslim scholars — who claim that Islam is a religion of peace and that people like Khamenei, Khomeini, Bin Laden and the like, are not true Muslims— cannot introduce themselves as representatives of real Islam.

Usually, when a terrorist or suicide attack by a Muslim occurs, a women is raped and forced to marry the rapist, a woman is stoned for having sex with another man (namahram), a woman is beaten for disobeying her husband or father, the Western Muslim scholars who were born, raised, or educated in the West excitedly point out that the majority of “Muslims” do not conduct these acts and people who carry out these acts are minimal. As a result, they argue that those few people cannot represent Islam.

But the paradox is that those people who commit such inhumane and brutal acts are the actual Muslims who represent the real Islam because they follow Islam, Allah’s words, the Qur’an, and Muhammad’s principles word for word. The rest of Muslims are the ones who do not represent real Islam and its truth. In other words, for Muhammad and Allah, those Muslims who commit such criminal acts will be considered totally good Muslims because they obey the rules stated in Qur’an in full detail.

Muslims argue that Allah’s words in the Qur’an are open to interpretation. Below are some samples of Allah’s words that are not open to any interpretation. A real Muslim, and a representative and reflection of real ideology of Islam, should follow and full-heartedly accept these social rules word for word. Otherwise, he or she cannot claim that they represent the truth of the ideology of Islam, Muhammad, and Allah.

Execute Those Who Wage War Against Allah and His Messenger:

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter” (Qur’an 5:33).

Men Can Marry Four Wives:

“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (Qur’an 4:3).

Men Can Have Sex with Captives:

“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Qur’an 33:50).

A Man Can Marry Wife of Adopted Son:

“Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him; nor has He made your wives whose backs you liken to the backs of your mothers as your mothers, nor has He made those whom you assert to be your sons your real sons; these are the words of your mouths; and Allah speaks the truth and He guides to the way” (Qur’an 33:4).

A Woman Inherits Only Half as Much as a Man Does:

“Allah enjoins you concerning your children: The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females; then if they are more than two females, they shall have two-thirds of what the deceased has left, and if there is one, she shall have the half; and as for his parents, each of them shall have the sixth of what he has left if he has a child, but if he has no child and (only) his two parents inherit him, then his mother shall have the third; but if he has brothers, then his mother shall have the sixth after (the payment of) a bequest he may have bequeathed or a debt; your parents and your children, you know not which of them is the nearer to you in usefulness; this is an ordinance from Allah: Surely Allah is Knowing, Wise” (Qur’an 4:11).

Fight with Those Who Do not Believe in Islam

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (Qur’an 9:29)

Witness Testimony of a Woman Is Half of That of a Man in Court:

“O you who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things” (Qur’an 2:282).

A Man Can Marry Girls Who Have Reached Puberty Age or Have Not Reached Yet. (As Muhammad married Aisha before puberty age):

“Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same): for those who carry (life within their wombs), their period “is until they deliver their burdens: and for those who fear Allah, He will make their path easy.” (Qur’an 65:4)

These are only a few examples of Allah’s words, which are not open to interpretation, according to the definition of the religion and its explicitly set eternal rules.

In sum, my argument is that those real and good Muslims and representatives of the philosophy of the religion are those who follow the Qur’an, Allah’s words. If they do not agree with some of these rules and do not wholly follow them, they are not good Muslims and they cannot represent the real truth of Islam. In fact, based on Muhammad’s teachings and the Qur’an, if a person does not believe in one of the previous verses or any of Allah’s words, he cannot call himself a Muslim.

And finally, as long as the ideology of Islam, as long as the Qur’an exists and is considered to be the words of Allah, people like Osama Bin Laden will resurface in human history and ideology of Islam, Allah’s words in the Qur’an will create such criminals, real and good Muslims, who represent the true ideology and philosophy of Islam.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at