The Islamic Reformation Unfolds!

The subject of Islamic Reformation is one that I have breached on several occasions during my years as an activist and a blogger. Below is a few highlights of what I have argued, coupled with a few new thoughts on this critical development in our human experience. 

June 25, 2004

“There will be no one Martin Luther in the Islamic Reformation, no one Calvin, no one “Here I Stand, but a sea of them, and they will seem mediocre, medieval and downright vile, at occasions, by contemporary standards. Islam is having its reformation in a practically united world and at a time when reformations make no sense anymore. Islam is a few centuries late in carrying out its reformation (but then, it is a few centuries younger than Christianity), as such, the ire, that necessary component or reformations, will be directed against the world, but it will appear incomprehensible and downright medievalistic, which it is.”

July 30, 2006

“Indeed, the most hoped for Islamic Reformation could not have assumed any other guise than the current confusion taking place at this stage. New loyalties, identities, patterns of belonging will continue to emerge and interact with older ones in the variety of ways, ranging from the most accommodative and pragmatic to the most puritan and rejectionist, in a desperate attempt to root themselves in this rough terrain. (Was the situation really that different in Europe during the heydays of its reformation?)

In this, issues such as the Arab-Israeli Conflict, US intervention, globalization, energy politics, developmental issues, etc., and concepts such as resistance, integration, modernization, democratization, human rights, civil society, transparency, accountability, good governance and of course, Islam, will play both the role of catalysts and of measuring sticks for how much advance or retreat is made. Uncertainty with regard to the final outcome will color our lives for the next few decades, albeit we are already moving as though on a hyper-drive.”

As the Reformation unfolds, I have argued for Islamic Renewal, saying

“Muslims do not need reformation, but a renewal, and though this last term has been used by several Muslim scholars in the early 20th century, very few of its very authors have understood the full implication of it, and fewer still have been the ones to have continued to advocate it. This is the nature of the failure of Muslim intellectuals so far in addressing the problems of their societies.” (

The problem that complicated the renewal of our system of thought and the modernization of our society stem in no small part from the fact that these concepts came to us coupled with Western colonial efforts and duplicitous behavior. For this reason,

“When people speak nowadays in term of human rights, women’s rights, freedom of choice and free market economics, the average Muslim would feel threatened, because in the very name of these ideals, his culture was trashed and homeland colonized. The ideals have lost their credibility somehow.”

In order to help these ideals regain their credibility, I proposed that Muslims should

examine these ideals, not in terms where they come from and whether they harmonize or not with the traditional understanding of Islam, but in terms of the logic inherent in them and in terms of their viability and their ability to unleash the creative powers of their adherents.

Admittedly, this is an daunting task and not too tenable for many Muslims whose life is but a constant strife for the very modicum of human dignity, for mere survival: when day after day they are shaken to the roots by events at home and elsewhere in the world. When life seems to be out of your control, it becomes quite difficult for one to focus on objective analysis of the historical heritage and human values as such. One is more likely to react out of anger, out of frustration, and, at time, out of sheer and unbridled hate towards everything different, everything challenging and disquieting.

On December 1, 2003, I had written a paper titled “Few Secular Observations Regarding Islamic Reformation” in which I proposed some basic principles for an Islamic Renewal, even as I admitted that, personally, I no longer consider myself an adherent of the faith. But, then, since my life, and the life of every human being on this earth in fact, will be heavily impacted by the course of events, I believed that all people have a right to have a say in this matter and to try to influence the course of events.

The notes below represent my contribution in this regard:

* The Qur’an is God’s created word, created for purposes more sublime than the literal and even literary qualities of the text. As such, many of its pronouncements and guidelines regarding temporal (and, occasionally, spiritual) affairs, could indeed be considered as dated and outmoded.

* The end of the prophecy, which Muhammad seems to have declared before his death, means that the prophecy, in the historical process, was no longer tenable through the individual but through the collective, in other words, vox populi vox dei.

* But, seeing that whatever consensus to be reached needs to start with an opinion or a variety of opinions expressed by individuals, the basic individual freedoms of conscience, speech and expression, are sacrosanct. Indeed, spiritual affairs are outside the realm of state and societal consensus.

* The end of prophecy does not denote the perfection of the faith. As God continues to speak through the people, the message of Islam itself should be viewed as a process. As such, historical Islam is improvable, or perfectible.

* Justice is the basis upon which states are founded, and since religions are always contentious issues, the protection of the freedom of religion is sacrosanct. Any state that protects the basic rights of its citizens and upholds the principles of equality in front of the law is, by definition, Islamic.

* Jihad is the struggle for liberty and justice, its means should conform to its ends. The early Islamic conquests had nothing to do with this Jihad, since they were more about spreading the hegemony of the Arabs and collecting booty than anything else.

* All the World is Dar al-Islam. Dar Al-Harb could only emerge as a temporary state of affairs involving an infringement of the basic principles of “liberty and justice to all,” that could not be redressed without recourse to war.

But the main tool that remains a part of my arsenal today is the admonition I noted above: the need to examine ideas “in terms of the logic inherent in them and in terms of their viability and their ability to unleash the creative powers of their adherents.” This does not necessarily call for divorcing ideas from the overall sociopolitical and economic context in which they developed, but to underscore that ideas are malleable and could adjust to new contexts and environments if properly treated. Ideas that are posited as universal emanate from our own sense of humanity and should fit in any society. Slavery is evil and women and men are equal not because the West said so, but because the sum total of our human experiences throughout history have paved the way to this point. These ideas did not emerge as a result of contributions from Western scholars only, and they did not emerge out of an examination of Western history only, there was a global convergence here that allowed for them to emerge on the scene. The leading role that western scholars and scientists have played to facilitate this emergence over the last few centuries cannot be denied, nor can the previous periods of intellectual and psychological fermentation by scholars and philosophers from all over the world.

The fact that many people still problem accepting these ideas, or some of them does not invalidate these ideas, it just shows how much work we still have to do before these ideas acquire global reach.