Saturday, November 12, 2005

Can Islam be Reformed?

Since 9/11 I have been convinced that if there is ever going to be a reformation in Islam it will be Western Muslims who will lead the way. There is something innately powerful and empowering about living in secular societies like the United States, Canada and (to a lesser extent) western Europe that allows the common man to question the established order.

Even educated Muslims are brought up to respect the traditional scholarship in their reliegion and therefore their opinions with respect to Islam, have always counted for less. Therefore ivory tower mullahs have set the tone for discourse and it is almost always conservative. Popular discussion and debate is frowned upon because one runs the risk of being termed an apostate or a kaffir. Once these labels are attached to the Muslim asking the question, he ends up having the same status as a Jew, Christian or worse an idolator. Anything he subsequently says can be safely ignored. He immediately loses all credibility. We have seen this time and again with folks like Ibn-Waraq, Salman Rushdie and most recently Irshad Manji.
Difficult questions like whether Islam is compatible with democracy, the equality of the sexes, the literality of the Koran etc are given short shrift. Please reference the "logical" arguments made by the Islamic Studies department of the University of Southern California to dispel misconceptions about Islam if you still have any doubt about the point I am trying to make. If this is the state of scholarship in Islam on the difficult questions...Islam is in deep trouble.
Islam will be reformed when Muslims start to read the Koran as the beautiful poetry that it is and not as prose. The same thing happened in the West (with respect to the Bible) during the Enlightenment and the world has improved greatly because of this mind shift. Once this key mindset is changed one can apply the rules of metaphor to the subject matter. It allows flexibility in interpretation specifically towards a more moderate and obviously less literal interpretation.
The hardest ideas to explain in Islam like the inhumane punishments (for minor infractions like stealing ie cutting off of hands or stoning to death for adultery) from a supposedly merciful God can be addressed metaphorically in that human actions have consequences. One must be moral and pure or risk the wrath of God and the pain that naturally comes with it. The authorites do not need to literally action these inhumane punishments but need to provide some punishment under the law for these infractions. This can be as per established penalties provided for in the common law and there is no need to sink into the medieval punishments that a literal reading would call for.
The other change in mindset may be to take on a relative reading of the Koran vs an absolutist reading. This would introduce the temporal parameter into the argument. We could read certain verses in the "time" in which they were written and not apply them to all time. This would get rid of the silliness that a womans testimony is worth half as much as a mans for example. This may have been a good metric when the prophet was riding camels and fighting the Meccans but certainly not at a time when half of western university graduates are women.

2 Comments:

Blogger ajsuhail said...

2 of the 3 usual suspects you have quoted are self confessed apostates;hardly the kind of people that Muslims are enthused by!

Secondly the suggestion made by you that the Quran should be viewed as poetry is ludicrous. The Quran is a Divine book of revelation and anyone who believes otherwise is not a Muslim. Plain and simple.So if you are trying to address the issue of Muslim reformation you are way off track .If you are really sincere, te first thing that you need to do is to accept that Muslims regard the Quran as having been authored by God and then work around that.The fact that you disagree with this basic premise is irrelevant. It is only then that your suggestions can be taken seriously.Attempting to impose an idea that will only meet with wholesale rejection is not the way to initiate a meaning ful dialogue

10:54 PM  
Blogger Dr. Reason said...

It doesnt really matter what you think Suhail....most Christians believed the Bible was literally true till the Enlightemnent...Then they started chipping away at it till it became harmless. Only then could we make progress. That is why western civilization is where it is today adn Islamic civilization is where it is. The Koran if read literally is a harmful document, full of paradoxes and inconsistencies and is not conducive to modernity, tolerance or peace. Continuing to believe it as the inerrant word of a Divine God will ensure that Muslims live under darkness and opression and outside the light of reason for all eternity

1:59 PM  

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