The Islamic Reformation and the issue of historical sources

A miniature showing the destruction of idols at the Kaaba. Muhammad (top left and mounted at right) is represented as a flaming aureole. From Hamla-i haydarî (“Haydar’s Battle”), Kashmir, 1808.
A miniature showing the destruction of idols at the Kaaba. Muhammad (top left and mounted at right) is represented as a flaming aureole. From Hamla-i haydarî (“Haydar’s Battle”), Kashmir, 1808.

Most existing works by Muslims on the early sources and history of Islam, including the Qur’an, the Hadith (reports on life and teachings of the Prophet), the Sirah (story of the Prophet’s life) and the history of the early Islamic period, were written more than a century after the purported death of the Prophet and the beginning of the Islamic conquests. None of these works have reached us in their original forms. Moreover, the works themselves suggest that different versions of certain works, including the Qur’an, had existed at different times, and attest to the turbulent nature of the times in which the works were collected, to the haphazard nature of the collection process itself, and to widespread ideological motivations on part of the collectors and their sponsors. Therefore, the authenticity of these works, in the sense that they actually relate factual accounts of the times and events they purport to cover, is as dubious as that of the Christian gospels and the Old Testament.

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The Modernist Reformation & the Price of Heresy in Muslim Societies

Syrian philosopher and intellectual, Sadiq J. Al-Azm, (left) is seen here giving a lecture at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities, July 3, 2012.
Syrian philosopher and intellectual, Sadiq J. Al-Azm, (left) is seen here giving a lecture at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities, July 3, 2012.

Why only a handful of Muslims seem willing to speak out in a clear and unapologetic manner against extremism, for reform of their faith, and in defense of the right to free speech and expression of figures deemed controversial on account of some of their intellectual output or public views?

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The Islamic Reformation & the role of Muslim communities in the West

Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan
Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan

Indeed, no modern reformation can be said to be the real thing unless it tackled the thorny issue of holy texts and infallible figures, and came to terms at one point with their historicity and fallibility. Presently, there are only few works by Muslim authors that have gone down that road, which is why we need to examine the Islamic Reformation as a phenomenon that is still in its preliminary phase.

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On Heresy & Apostasy in Politics and Religion

The burning of adherents of the pantheistic Amalrician sect in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. (Wikipedia)
The burning of adherents of the pantheistic Amalrician sect in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. (Wikipedia)

It is not easy for me to criticize an American president, irrespective of his ideological background, because when I do, my criticism often get used by all sorts of anti-American forces in the Arab World, and beyond, in their attack against America and American values, that is, the very values which I long came to embrace, albeit always critically. For, to me, America is an idea, a worthy idea, whose advancement requires critical adherence not blind faith, and armies of analysts and scientists not militias and informants.

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