Crypto Reformist: Someone who pretends like he is a traditional scholar but actually believes that Islam needs to be reformed to bring it in line with modern values of liberalism, secularism, feminism, etc.
Basically, a Reformist who dresses up like a traditional Muslim.
Here are two big strategies Crypto Reformists use in their project to trick the Muslim community into reforming their deen.
1. Word Games
This just involves taking the words and positions in traditional Islam and affirming them but then redefining them to represent modern values.
For example, the word qawwam in the Quran. In ayah 4:34, Allah says that men are qawwam over women.
ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٰمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنْ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ ۚ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلْمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ ۖ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا۟ عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them [lightly]. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
Qawwam means to be an authority, so the ayah is clearly stating the general principle that men have authority over women. This contradicts the feminist principle of equality.
Reformists like Amina Wadud will outright reject this ayah and say “No!” to the Quran, as she discusses in her books. But the Crypto Reformists are more subtle. They will affirm the word qawwam, but redefine it to mean “caretaker” or “protector,” a meaning that is acceptable to feminism. Yes, qawwam can imply being a caretaker/protector, but a maid or a security guard are also caretakers and protectors, but they are not qawwam. Qawwam primarily means authority, and the Crypto Reformists have obscured that.
Or consider the Crypto Reformist who said that Muslims should accept gay marriage. Then when he was criticized for this, he explained that he didn’t mean support for gay marriage. Rather, he meant Muslims should support marriage rights for gay people!
These are nothing but cheap word games.
Or consider another Crypto Reformist who claimed that jihad is only defensive and there is no such thing as “offensive jihad.” When he was refuted and it was established that, yes, jihad according to traditional Islamic doctrine can extend beyond defense, he backtracked and claimed that he also accepts “offensive jihad.” But then he defined “offensive jihad” as preemptive strike only for the sake of fighting an oppressor who is preventing religious freedom! This is obviously not what Islam defines as “offensive jihad” and countless examples from the sirah prove it. But the point is that the Crypto Reformist has created plausible deniability for naïve onlookers. He has redefined a traditional Islamic concept in order to align it with modern liberal sensibilities.
This Crypto Reformist trick is most effective when the Crypto Reformist is speaking to a non-Arabic speaking audience. It can work for native Arabic speakers too, but the added complexity of translation makes it easier for the Crypto Reformist to cover his tracks and generate plausible deniability for his distortions.
2. Being Unequivocal vs. Being Nuanced
Everything in Islam that contradicts liberal sensibilities becomes “complex” and “nuanced” according to the Crypto Reformist. But whatever in Islam that affirms liberal sensibilities becomes an unequivocal, clear-cut pillar of the deen, even when it is not.
The reality is that EVERY issue within Islam is nuanced and technical. Even saying Bismillah is nuanced! The word “nuanced” means something that involves many fine details and technical complexities. There are thousands of chapters in the traditional books of Islam just on Bismillah! So to say the Bismillah is nuanced is a true statement in that sense.
But the word “nuance” can also have the connotation of being disputed or being uncertain. Does Islam really teach that wives must obey their husbands? The Reformist will say, “No!” despite all the evidence from the Quran, Sunnah, and scholarly tradition. But the Crypto Reformist is more sophisticated. He will say, “Well, it is a nuanced issue!”
The Crypto Reformist has said something technically true. It is a nuanced issue in the sense that there are a lot of conditions and details. But what the Crypto Reformist is signaling to a trusting and naïve audience is that there is a difference of opinion on this issue or that there is no fact of the matter. It all just depends on one opinion or another. “Who really knows?” is the message.
This, of course, creates confusion and doubt in the audience. And that is the whole purpose! The Crypto Reformist intends to create confusion and doubt about those aspects of Islam that are illiberal and anti-feminist. He wants to cloud those issues as much as possible without saying something that will definitively “out” him as a Reformist. It is a precarious tightrope walk.
But what about, for example, the fact that the Prophet’s masjid ﷺ did not have a partition between the men’s and women’s sections? According to the Crypto Reformist, that is a clear-cut issue and it means that any masjid that separates the men and women’s prayer sections with a barrier (or doesn’t have a women’s section at all) is violating the Sunnah. Suddenly, there is no nuance. There is no extensive discussion of ikhtilaf or ijtihad or context.
Using the “nuanced” approach of Crypto Reformists also means that, if there is a legitimate scholarly ikhtilaf on an issue, the positions that contradict liberalism and feminism are not taught. Those positions are non-existent in the minds of the religious Muslim community who, sadly, rely on Crypto Reformists to learn their deen.
For example, how many in the Muslim community realize that, according to the Maliki school, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques? It is not a problem that lay Muslims are not aware of this, since the position of permissibility is well represented in the other schools. But what is more worrisome is that it seems a large portion of Western students of knowledge are not aware of this ikhtilaf. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other issues like this.
Are the Crypto Reformists any better than the Reformists? Arguably they are worse! Because they are engaged in deception. They have still rejected the Quran, Sunnah, or the Islamic tradition, but they have done it through trickery and deception. This puts them in a position to misguide many more Muslims and non-Muslims than the average Reformist.
As Muslim laymen, we need to sharpen our ability to see through the tricks so that we are not thrown into destruction.