By Mehdi Hasan
17 May 2015 15
In recent months, cliched calls for reform of Islam, a 1,400-year-old faith, have intensified. “We need a Muslim reformation,” announced Newsweek. “Islam needs reformation from within,” said the Huffington Post. Following January’s massacre in Paris, the Financial Times nodded to those in the west who believe the secular Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “could emerge as the Martin Luther of the Muslim world”. (That might be difficult, given Sisi, in the words of Human Rights Watch, approved “premeditated lethal attacks” on largely unarmed protesters which could amount to “crimes against humanity”.)
Then there is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-born author, atheist and ex-Muslim has a new book called Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She’s been popping up in TV studios and on op-ed pages to urge Muslims, both liberal and conservative, to abandon some of their core religious beliefs while uniting behind a Muslim Luther. Whether or not mainstream Muslims will respond positively to a call for reform from a woman who has described their faith as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that should be “crushed”, and suggested Benjamin Netanyahu be given the Nobel peace prize, is another matter.
This narrative isn’t new. The New York Times’s celebrity columnist Thomas Friedman called for an Islamic reformation back in 2002; US academics Charles Kurzer and Michaelle Browers traced the origins of this “Reformation analogy” to the early 20th century, noting that “conservative journalists have been as eager as liberal academics to search for Muslim Luthers”.
Apparently anyone who wants to win the war against violent extremism and save the soul of Islam, not to mention transform a stagnant Middle East, should be in favour of this process. After all, Christianity had the Reformation, so goes the argument, which was followed by the Enlightenment; by secularism, liberalism and modern European democracy. So why can’t Islam do the same? And shouldn’t the west be offering to help?
Yet the reality is that talk of a Christian-style reformation for Islam is so much cant. Let’s consider this idea of a “Muslim Luther”. Luther did not merely nail 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, denouncing clerical abuses within the Catholic church. He also demanded that German peasants revolting against their feudal overlords be “struck dead”, comparing them to “mad dogs”, and authored On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543, in which he referred to Jews as “the devil’s people” and called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues. As the US sociologist and Holocaust scholar Ronald Berger has observed, Luther helped establish antisemitism as “a key element of German culture and national identity”. Hardly a poster boy for reform and modernity for Muslims in 2015.
The Protestant Reformation also opened the door to blood-letting on an unprecedented, continent-wide scale. Have we forgotten the French wars of religion? Or the English civil war? Tens of millions of innocents died in Europe; up to 40% of Germany’s population is believed to have been killed in the thirty years’ war. Is this what we want a Muslim-majority world already plagued by sectarian conflicts, foreign occupations and the bitter legacy of colonialism to now endure, all in the name of reform, progress and even liberalism?
Islam isn’t Christianity. The two faiths aren’t analogous, and it is deeply ignorant, not to mention patronising, to pretend otherwise – or to try and impose a neatly linear, Eurocentric view of history on diverse Muslim-majority countries in Asia or Africa. Each religion has its own traditions and texts; each religion’s followers have been affected by geopolitics and socio-economic processes in a myriad of ways. The theologies of Islam and Christianity, in particular, are worlds apart: the former, for instance, has never had a Catholic-style clerical class answering to a divinely appointed pope. So against whom will the “Islamic reformation” be targeted? To whose door will the 95 fatwas be nailed?
The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation of sorts, in the sense of a stripping of cultural accretions and a process of supposed “purification”. And it didn’t produce a tolerant, pluralistic, multifaith utopia, a Scandinavia-on-the-Euphrates. Instead, it produced … the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Wasn’t reform exactly what was offered to the masses of the Hijaz by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities.
Some might argue that if anyone deserves the title of a Muslim Luther, it is Ibn Abdul Wahhab who, in the eyes of his critics, combined Luther’s puritanism with the German monk’s antipathy towards the Jews. Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s controversial stance on Muslim theology, writes his biographer Michael Crawford, “made him condemn much of the Islam of his own time” and led to him being dismissed as a heretic by his own family.
Don’t get me wrong. Reforms are of course needed across the crisis-ridden Muslim-majority world: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect – embodied in, say, the Prophet’s letter to the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, or the “convivencia” (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain.
What they don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.
Hirsi Ali, for instance, was treated to a series of encomiums and softball questions in her blizzard of US media interviews, from the New York Times to Fox News. (“A hero of our time,” read one gushing headline on Politico.) Frustratingly, only comedian Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, was willing to point out to Hirsi Ali that her reformist hero wanted a “purer form of Christianity” and helped create “a hundred years of violence and mayhem”.
With apologies to Luther, if anyone wants to do the same to the religion of Islam today, it is Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to rape and pillage in the name of a “purer form” of Islam – and who isn’t, incidentally, a fan of the Jews either. Those who cry so simplistically, and not a little inanely, for an Islamic reformation, should be careful what they wish for.
Mehdi Hasan is a presenter on Al-Jazeera English. The views expressed here are his own
Mohtaram Muhammad Yunus
I was not well, hence a little delay.
Actually I have always read your write-ups with great
admiration. I have wondered how much hard work you can put in the service of Islam. Of course this would
be impossible without tremendous love for the religion. Your interpretations
are uniquely modern and the amount of authentic references you can muster
speaks highly of the authenticity of your work. For me your work will always
remain a reference work. Please keep up your good work and I do recommend
everyone who is seeking to understand the religion of Islam with some
scriptural authority to read your book and write-ups.
There is no scope of debate in your work though a very minor
difference may remain here and there which should be entirely ignorable even
for a most hypercritical Muslim. For example I would like to deal with the
Ahmadiya issue with a little care. Of course I am totally against an iota of
violence against them in physical or emotional form. I do hope that in the interest
of unity and grandeur of Islam, the individual members of Ahmadiya community
will slide back to Islam. After all, amongst the mainstream Muslims, there are
so many varieties, some indulging in great degree of shirk and jahiliyat. A jahil
Muslim can easy question my Eiman as indeed on two occasions, it happened! Once, when I refused to say that a Hindu will go to
hell, my position remaining that that it is beyond my competence to identify a
person or a group, and pass a sentence dispatching them to hell. And then recently, when I demanded an impartial enquiry to fix responsibly
of human negligence, into the latest stampede in Kaaba on the occasion of Hajj-
2105, a youngster decaled me as an
atheist! On the question of monotheism, I have a bit of different view from those
Muslims who tend to take the view that God can be seen as part of every created
thing. Here again I will not fight with the Sufi types, who tend to confer divinity
a bit rather loosely. I have my reasons. This practice can lead to rampant polytheism,
with its consequences.
As for me, I am a broadminded Muslim, and I am attracted to
Islam even from an objective distance because of its sterling social messages,
even though, I find most Muslims, me included, falling well short of its high standards (but
that is expected). I care a dime for uncouth
abusers of Islam, who are nothing but a bunch of anarchists. I would like to give
them blow for a blow – but on second thought they don’t deserve even that.
I agree with each of the premises commented
in the foregoing:
1. "Islam does not need Reformation.
Muslims indeed need reformation." – Ghulam Ghous Sahab
2. There is a need for "Islamic
reformation based on common sense, learning and absorbing new and sensible ideas”
- GM sahab
3. Islamic reformation needs to concentrate
its efforts on the social, moral, religious and ethical revival of Muslim
society and polity." GRD Sahab.
The truth is Islamic Reformation is not the
same thing as a reform in Islam itself. It only means reform in Islamic
societies. It has to come not by challenging the fundamental doctrine of Islam
as in Christianity but by way of investigating, critiquing, restructuring,
correcting, broadening, clarifying various notions, customs and popular
concepts and laws in vogue today that conflict with the universal values of
Islam and have combined together to
create a widening social, cultural, political, educational and ideological
divide with the Muslim community communities at
national level and between Islam and the others at an international
I have done a fairly good number of
articles that can be used as basis to have fresh insights on a whole range of
Islamic issues - all within the ambit of Islam as preserved in the Qur'an and
drawn on my duly authenticated joint publication, Essential Message of Islam.
As GM Sahab has correctly said, and the Qur'an encourages, I have engaged Aql
(intellect), Fiqh (logical reasoning) and Tadabbur (cognitive faculty) to frame
the articles, have also delved into the secondary and external sources of
knowledge – as knowledge has no religious boundary and God alone is the
fountainhead of all knowledge. The relevant articles listed below can be used
as a starting point for an 'Islamic Reform' in specific areas as per their
captions, and all of them can be taken on board to initiate a process of all
Restructuring Madrasa education
An Open Reminder To Ulama-
Rejecting Universal Knowledge As Un-Islamic Is Brazenly Un-Islamic And Kufr
(Denial Of Truth).
The Opponents of the Right
to Universal Education (RTE) to the Muslims are the enemies of Indian
Ambivalence of Educated Indian Muslims: the RTE versus the Ridiculous Fatwas
of Hadith Sciences and Need for Major Paradigm Shift in Role of Hadith Corpus
and Scope of Madrasa Education
Correction of Gender Discriminatory
Notions and Laws
Medieval-Era-Rooted, Qur’an-Conflicting Muslim Personal Law (Sharia Law) Must
Be Reformed To Avoid Injustices to Muslim Women – An SOS to the Indian Ulema
Child Marriage Act 2006 Prescribing 18 as Women’s Legal Age for Marriage Is
Consistent with the Qur’an
Any Fatwa Imposing
Full/Face Veil (Burqa/Niqab), Headscarf On Muslim Women As A Religious
Requirement Is Anti-Qur’anic.
Notions of Male
Superiority, Domination And Beating Of Wife Stand Un-Islamic Today
Muslim Women In
The Non-Muslim / Western World May Relax On The Symbolic Veiling (Head-Ear-Chin
Cover) And Create A Socially Interactive Performance Oriented Identity As
Commanded By The Qur’an
Qur’anic Sharia (Laws) On
Divorce: Triple Divorce, Temporary Marriage, Halala Stand Forbidden (Haram)
Maintenance of Divorced Women for the Iddat Period is Brazenly Un-Islamic
The Qur’an Prescribes
Monogamy As The Social Norm For Humanity.
A Fresh Insight
into the Qur’anic Verses Quoted to Justify Unwedded Sexual Relation with Maids,
Call Girls etc
The Qur’an Offers Protection and
Coequal Personal Rights to Women and Those Who Deny Them Such Rights Today Are
the Deniers of the Message of the Qur’an – Though God Knows Best
of Slavery, Including Sex Slavery in Islam (The Qur’an)
Probing Criminal Laws
Blasphemy Law has NO Qur’anic Basis
of Women for Sex outside Marriage Stands Brutal and Un-Islamic Today
Punishment for Apostasy, Let Alone Capital Punishment, is Anti-Islamic
Broadening the horizon’s of Islamic
Spiritual Genocide of a Godly people: The Case of Ahmadis in Pakistan
The Zakat – A Pillar Of
Faith, As Actualized Today Is A Grand Mockery, If Not Fraudulent Realization Of
Qur’anic Message On Wealth Distribution And Social Justice.
Zakat Today Grossly Underplays the Qur’anic Emphasis on Zakat and Wealth
of Dawah in Islam: Islamic Dawah at This Moment Must Focus Inwards and Not
The Muslim Mind Anchored In The 2nd And 3rd Centuries Of Islam?
Expounding the different facets of the
Qur’anic message beyond the Pillars of Faith
Muslims’ ignorance /disregard of the Qur’anic guidance and its Colossal and
and Shed of Its Literary Glory in Translation, the Qur'an Offers Clear Clues to
Exploring Its Core Commandments - Now Obscured, Corrupted and Distorted By
Secondary Theological Sources
The Moral Trajectories Of The Juz ‘Amm (Last One Thirtieth Part) Of The Qur’an
Universal Dimensions of the Qur'an and
Historic Specificity of Islam's Theological Sciences
Of, And Exclusivist Dedication To The Pillars Of Faith Purports To Reduce Islam
To A Cult Of Five Pillars
The Broader Notion of Din Al-Islam
Is Inclusive Of All Monotheistic Faiths
Qur’an’s Broader Notion Of Taqwa – An Irrefutable Testimony To Its Universalism
was Never Edited and any Effort to Edit the Quran will be Self-Contradictory
Qur’anic Message Admits of Flexibility in the Shares of the Siblings / Heirs
Love, Sex and Marriage in
Darwinism is Consistent with
Qur’anic Insights on Man’s Origin
Qur’anic Perspective on Jihad and Greater jihad: SOS to Global Muslim Community
Francis Touches The Soul Of The Qur’an By Seeking An “Adequate Interpretation”
And Muslims And Their Ulema And Scholars Across The World Must Follow His
Suggestion To Avoid Growing Confusion In Religion.
Take A Hard Look At The Popular Islamic Theology Of The Era Focus On The
Essentials Of Their Din To Survive In This Progressive, Pluralistic, Humanistic
And Politically Volatile Era And Avoid Suicidal Collapse
Blue Print For
Restoring The Pristine Theology Of Islam Expounding The Huquq Al Ibad – Man’s
Duty To Man And His Right To Use His Intellectual Faculties As Enshrined In The
Clarifying gross misconceptions about
Islamic message and the Prophet
of the Satanic Verses Episode of the Classical Sira is Shirk and Kufr
The Episode On Satanic Verses And The Chapter On Muhammad/Islam Vilification
Some Gross Misconceptions about Islam and Its Prophet
Islam Incompatible with Democracy?
Noble Persona of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) As Mirrored In the Qur’an
Muslim Clerics Reduce Muslim Women To The Level Of Whore With Whom The Son, The
Father, The Brother And The Friend Can Have Sex Within The Ambit Of Islamic Law
The Notion of
Jizyah In The Light Of the Qur’an’s Holistic Message and Historical Context
The Benevolent Impact
Of Jizyah On The Vanquished In Early Islam: A Review Of Observations By Some Of
The Greatest Scholars Of Enlightenment And This Era
Refutation of Sheikh Yousuf
Al-Abeeri's fatwa supporting wanton killing of innocent civilians under
special circumstances and thus justifying the 9/11 attacks [in 8 parts]
‘Azan: A Call to Jihad - On the Road to Khilafah’: A
Comprehensive and Conclusive Refutation [of Taliban’s Fatwa] by an
authoritative Quranic exegete.
Call for international Fatwas to declare the
terrorists who advocate wanton killing of innocent people in the name of Islam
as ‘Terrorist Apostates’, like the Kharijites of early Islam.
Islam’s Pillars of faith as symbols of militant jihad is heresy - an intense
“kufr” and its willful Muslim followers stand as kafirin – let there be no
5. Declare The ISIS As The Kharijites
(Those Who Seceded From Islam) As This Article Demonstrates And Declares:
Global SOS To The Ulama, Muftis, Intellectuals And Scholars Of Islam.
6. Open warning of
dire perdition to the Neo Khwarijite (hatred inspiring and terror mongering)
Ulama of Pakistan – the ideologues of TTP, Jaishe Muhammad and their likes.
Significance of President Barrack Obama’s Declarations at the recent Summit to
combat Violent Extremism.
8. What Really ISIS Wants – Point by
Point Refutation of most of the key assumptions, statements, quotations and
charges made in Graeme Wood’s just posted essay.
9. The twin growing
menace: Petrifaction and Radicalization in Islam and Islamophobia – Are they
interconnected? How best they can be diffused? An SOS to the Muslim
Intelligentsia, Leadership and Ulama.
10. The ISIS and its
likes – the Muslim Violent Extremists of this era must be outlawed on historical
precedent to save the Middle East from a tsunami of bloodshed and the world
from a clash of civilizations.
Violent Extremism – Muslim Community leaders must warn youngsters against the
dangers of Radicalization
Violent Extremism – Muslim Ulama and Custodians of Faith must avert a potential
13. The Heinous Crimes That ISIS Is Perpetrating Totally Opposed To Islam And
Those Killed Fighting For ISIS May Earn Divine Wrath Instead Of Paradise And
‘Hurs’ – An SOS
14. Europe’s about turn in its stance of the Muslims from hatred
and exclusion to mercy, compassion and inclusion calls for expunging the
epitome of hatred – the ISIS and wanton terror from the domain of Islam – an
SOS to the Custodians of the Sacred Mosques.
Fresh Insights into Secondary Sources.
The Classical Islamic Law (Islamic
Sharia Law) is NOT a Word of God!
grievous impacts of Hadith sciences in the later centuries of Islam – a soul
searching exercise and a final call to the Muslim ulama and intellectual elite.
the Good and Forbidding the Evil’ (Amr Bil Ma‘Ruf Wa Nahi ‘Anil Munkar) By The
Traditional Institution Of Religious Police Stands Un-Islamic Today
is popularly known as the Sharia Law of Islam is actually the cumulative
rulings of Muslim jurists with a tag of Islam, and not any immutable word of
God or the laws of the Qur’an.
Hadith is not a divine scripture of
Islam – a la Qur’an.
Defending the Hadith and its Compilers – the Great
Imams who are sometimes misunderstood and even reviled.
The Classical biography (Sira) of the Prophet is
more of a story than a historical record – it is a highly embellished history.
Ambivalent Notion of Consensus of the Scholars (ijma) in Islam.
Promoting Inter-faith relations
1. The Qur’an espouses harmonious interfaith relations with the
Christians and the Jews and all other faith communities
2. The Qur’an’s
regard for the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and the believing
humanity– a living testimony.
The Hindus are not ‘the mushrikin’
mentioned in the Qur’an
all the mushrikin for all times “spiritually unclean” (najs) (literal reading of the verse 9:28 of the Qur’an)?
5. Muslims have NO Qur’anic basis for Religious Supremacism
Muslims have NO Qur’anic basis for Religious Supremacism
Human beings are equal, have the
same Rights, the human race is one, and we are all brothers – global call for
improving inter-faith relations and combatting religious supremacism and
7. Veneration of
Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an
the Internal Enemies of Islam.
1. A Call to Global
Muslim Communities – Inciters of sectarian or communal violence may stand
'kafr’ in the divine court and criminal on earth.
2. The Radical
Intelligentsia of Islam and Its Orthodox Ulema Are the ‘Hypocrites’ and
‘Nomadic Arabs Intense In Kufr’ Of This Era: They Are Its Twin Internal
Enemies, and Must Be Resisted.
3. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
– the literary queen of reformist Islam is not infallible: a critique of her
essay, “The Future of Islam in the Hands of Reformers” posted on March 30,
2015, on this website.
4. Indian Muslim Ulema Who Insist On Retaining the Anti-Qur’anic Triple
Talaq (Instant Divorce) In Muslim Personal Law Are Sinners, Haters of Their
Women-Folk and Criminals and Must Be Resisted
It is hoped that this exposition will set the ball rolling for an
all-round reform by creating a debate in the scholarly circle, such as the
major Muslims Islamic Universities in India or abroad. If, however, the
articles are simply read and the themes discussed are not debated and progressed,
this work will be lost to history and the Muslims will go on clamoring about
reform until eternity, and those with little of knowledge of Islam will table
proposals for its reform at the international level: