Reclaiming Islam

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Islam, Islamic Law (Sharia) Values: Compassion, Knowledge Channel: Opinion Views: 5660

It is hardly any surprise that a recently released poll in US finds that Americans are more than twice as likely to express prejudice against Muslims than they are against Christians, Jews or Buddhists. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. Still, a majority dislikes the faith.

Day after day news regarding Islam and Muslims bring new fears to the world. The daily episodes of suicide bombers killing themselves and scores of innocent people have become a staple of the headline news. Recently in Malaysia churches have been firebombed allegedly by angry Muslims who have assumed sole proprietorship of the Arabic word Allah; their violent objection to the use of the Arabic word for God by the local Christians in their liturgy is causing tensions and also headache for the Malaysian government and their judiciary. From Egypt the news of the killing of Egyptian Copts - one of the oldest Christian communities going back to St. Mark - by the Muslims for the usual excuse that we see in similar episodes of periodic violence against minorities in many majority Muslim countries, that of desecrating the Qur'an or insulting Prophet Muhammad. Violent protests in Kenya by Muslim youth over detention of a fiery preacher from Britain, riots between Muslims and others in Nigeria over imposition of Shariah law, is yet another example of how deep the confusion among Muslims themselves about Islam is. This reflects a profound lack of confidence among Muslims who having fallen from ascendancy 200 years back have continued in a downward spiral without the end in sight. It is being increasingly argued that Muslims when they are a majority are oppressive to others and when they are a minority they are troublemakers.

It is no surprise that in the dialectics of history Muslims and Islam have replaced communism as the arch villain against which the battle must be won by an increasingly globalized world community.

The idea that Islamic extremism is rooted in Islamic doctrine is gaining wide currency among non-Muslims and is a constant topic of discussion in the news and in blogsphere.

The fear of Islam is being instrumentalized by different populist parties and "anti-Islamization politics" which are finding resonance within the silent majority of Western countries where Muslims have migrated. This fear of Islam and Muslims is affecting official policies of Western governments. The growing antipathy to Muslims living in the pluralistic West is evident from the recent vote against the minarets in Switzerland and the demand to outlaw the burqa in France, increased air travel scrutiny between the West and a list of countries, mainly Muslim. Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether all Arab Muslims should be profiled.

The binary world view of Muslim masses generated due to many festering historical political and social causes is the driving force leading to violence and extremism in the name of Islam; the Muslim males between ages 17 and 40 seem specially to be affected by this attitude of "Us vs. Them". This idea of "Us vs. Them" by no means is the exclusive domain of the Muslims, but remains a dominant way of how many Muslims understand this world. Muslim especially the Arab societies for long have remained closed to outside influences. It is no surprise that these societies remain least influenced by liberal and secular values and thus least open to new ideas and change. Although the "backwardness" or lack of development of Muslim societies has many historical, political and social reasons, Islam is easily scapegoated by all - the Muslim extremists by their violent actions in the name of Islam and the non-Muslims.

Muslims seem afraid about survival in a secular world; they are afraid of assimilation. Many see "a radical otherness" to their own self-understanding in the world they now live in. From statecraft to aspects of individual daily life, Muslims must live under the pail of Shariah or Islamic law. All rules of conduct, transactions and policies are derived directly from the Qur'an, the example of the Prophet, and interpretive precedents established by the consensus of recognized scholars. Most of the Islamic texts on law, penal codes, civil codes, etc., are based on 14th century law at best - it could be 11th or 12th century. The word of God quite often needs explanation. So far, the explanation comes only from a small group of men who are certainly competent to provide it. The scholars of Islam, the ulema, who claim the rights to say what God means are trained in Islamic methodology rooted in the Qur'an and the Prophet's example codified in Hadith, yet their interpretive or cognitive deliberations suffer because of a lack of understanding of the complexities of modernity. Hence the corporal punishment, the severing of hands for theft, the stoning of women for violation of marital laws, the law of apostasy and other legal formulations in the treatment of minorities, which still are a part of law in many Muslim countries.

All this points to the fact that the religious law hasn't been reformed or advanced to bring it into human rights framework with fresh insights and interpretations of the Shariah. It is interesting to note that Shariah or Islamic law can be applied and enforced only in Muslim majority states. Ironically the control of power in most Muslim states by the rulers, as one sees now, has not been acquired through any Islamic principle or Shariah besides being inconsistent with democratic principles. This has remained a source of persistent unrest and strife throughout Islam's history.

A major issue adding to the present-day problems of Muslims is the fact that Shariah or its rules have hardly been formulated to apply to growing communities of Muslims living as minorities in different parts of an increasingly secular world; also the issue of the rights of the minorities living in Muslim countries needs urgent attention.

It is clear that as a religion formulated during an era of political ascendancy, the mainstream tradition of Islam is struggling to find comfortable moorings in an increasingly globalized world which functions in a secular, pluralistic framework. To find satisfactory ways of institutionalizing Islam within their national polities under the guidance of Shariah but also to make it consistent with the demands of modernity is a task that has remained largely unattended. The argument or the fear expressed by Muslims in this regard is that "God's law or Shariah" would then be subverted to "Human law". This kind of reasoning has narrowed the range of allowable discourse within Islam. The ulema and the state authorities in control of the masses will contend that any compromise with the absolute truth of the Qur'an will lead to the slippery slope to unbelief that so many Christians have taken.

Also part of the confusion is due to the fragmentary and contested nature of Islamic spiritual authority after the dismantling of the Caliphate, in which (with the partial exception of Shiism) no formal priesthood stands between the individual and a God who reveals himself in texts that are subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Historically the concept of Ummah or community has remained fissured on account of the multiple attachments - to languages, ethnic groups, nationalities, and sects - which Muslims have among them. All of these factors have allowed the extremist elements among Muslims to propagate hatred and act out against those who reject their narrow and dangerous worldview.

Unquestionably there is now an urgent need for Muslims to look at the "inclusive" message of the Qur'an, which demands respect and tolerance for others. The dominant literalist understanding of the Qur'an through which extremists like of all other religions make the argument for violence must be rejected in favor of fresh insights and understanding. Muslims must raise their voices and demand that Muslim governments and those in authority act responsibly in bringing about the necessary changes which will ensure that the understanding and ruling based on Shariah is consistent with accepted standards of human rights and civil society. This is also the intent of the Shariah. It need not be pointed out that Islam itself encourages balance between Reason and Theology; the process of Ijtehad - an essential tool in the exercise of reason in seeking solutions to ongoing problem must now be reactivated and vigorously pursued. New educational policies and curricula for schools and also for the imams in control of mosques and large constituencies of people must lead to new hermeneutics. The challenge is to work diligently toward narrowing that gap between the promise of Qur'anic ideals and the reality of the time. Recasting defense of human dignity and upholding civil rights in the Qur'anic framework is an urgent requirement.

For an individual Muslim, the challenge remains - to seek a balance in the struggle between an investment in this life and a longing for the next. Adhering to and performing the five "pillars" or duties in Islam must be coupled with the discharge of higher obligation of doing duty to God by serving humanity. This they can only do with fresh attitude and insights into the challenges they face. A broader understanding of the Qur'anic message without a literalist orientation, and without fear and coercion is necessary.

Islam can reclaim its position within the world community of religions only if Muslims would show their capacity to reclaim Islam for themselves. The Qur'an has the last word on this.

Dr. Nazir Khaja is chairman of Los Angeles-based Islamic Information Service. He can be contacted at: nazir.khaja [at] gmail [dot] com

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
  Topics: Islam, Islamic Law (Sharia)  Values: Compassion, Knowledge  Channel: Opinion
Views: 5660

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Older Comments:
A'udhu bil-lahis-sami'ul alim minash-shaytanir rajiim... Al'hamdulilla ya muslimi... I appriciate u all including the sight management... I want us all to say Al'hamdulilla 4 our health and our well being as muslim.. Islamis not only a deen but its affect our daily lives.. Jama muslimi itakullah aesumakumta... Islam is abt peace dats why we muslim are different in our society. In other way our deen has prohibit us from all false act, coz he who purifies himself is indeed successful. That words goes a long way affecting our daily reaction... I wil drop here 4 d now. As'salam-alaikhum

I agree a 100 percent with Dr.Nazir Khaja - I think more Muslims need to read this article and spread the awareness and realise the importance of and high regard for Ijtehad ("exercise of reason in seeking solutions to ongoing problem") in our religion - it is the one and only way we can stop ourselves from going back to the days of the jahiliya and gain respect, trust, dignity and love in the eyes of the entire world, InshaAllah.

Alhamdulillah.Islam is the true and best religion and it is the only way of living. Muslims are the people who follow the islam.Islam is the religion and the muslims are the people. We all muslims need to implement islam in our lives so implementation is lacking due to which we muslims are weak .

To Brother Yohan Yishai: Please dont get me wrong. I respect every muslim brother and sister. What I against is the idea of condeming Muslims in other part of the world that they dont know better than those in the West or vis-a-vis. I only disagreed with the author because he did not come clean from some of his statements in terms of Islam itself. Take for instance, the brother that first left a comment by name Floris. People like him would get confused on this article because this article sounds like reforming Islam to meet Western or civilzed World. Am sorry if you found something too extreme but I do not regret it if there is any.

It is ok. But there are certain things we must not compromised. Really we need to teach more on tolerance as the Quran advocate peaceful co-existence.

To my limited understanding, Islam basically provided a framework for good (sustainable) life here on earth and the hearafter. The Qur'an, in so many places warn mankind not to go beyond the boundaries of this framework. It also provided a lot of past events on the consequences of operating within and outside the framework. The boundaries of the framework are made very clear in both the Qur'an and the Hadith.

Since Islam is the religion of all times and all places, I believe that as long as we are within the boundaries of the framework, things will have to be changing according to the dictates of the times and circumstances. However, the boundaries should not be tempered with, else there would be unpleasant consequencies.

The problem is that quite a number of Muslims, including some Ulamas, are yet to comprehend the basic principles and spirit of Islam as a religion (a way of life) of all times; that necessitates continuous development and changes in interpretations and ways things are done as long as they are within the boundaries of the Framework.

Allah knows best.

This is a big issue to uphold. Millions of proclaimed muslims know very little about islam. Millions pretend they understand and know for sure about Allah and islam, and do nothing to understand the concept of islam. Allah and islam is unchangeably TRUE of course, but if not understood by the so-called followers, Satan might have penetrated the islamic compound and that's the issue. Muslim responsibles HAVE to do something about it. Support teachers like Yusuf Estes; Hamza Yusuf; Zaeed Shakir to go around the world and change heal the hearts of muslims, maybe Allah will help get the cure.

Jose has gone very wordy against the sound reason of the author. I respect Muslims with heads on them. The world would seek to know Islam with more Muslims that are like the author of this article. God bless the author Dr. Nazir Khaja for His Own Glory. He exalts those that humble and submit to His Authority.

We should not change the unchangeable Divine Rules for the changing times. One of the ancient Islamic texts (letter to the Corinthians) directs us to rule over everything that exalts against the knowledge of God. The things that change are temporal but the Islamic Principles as depicted in the Holy Bible are unchangeable. The ISLAM I mention here is the Original form, not the later and the deform... the works of counterfeiting and falsehood to confuse with the original.

Most part of the article seem right, but I wish to mention that ALLAH SUBHANAHU WA TAALA has already the way of life of a muslim in the Quran and the hadith of the Prophet(SAW) has also examplified that way of life.
Now, the system of governments, rulers, societies,communities etc in respect of democracies,humanrights, code of practices etc should instead conformed,reforbished or maintained to the above two books or principal ways of administering the muslim ummah.
Yes , I would agree for the rulers of muslim majority countries, Islamic Scholars...etc to keep themselves uptodate with the changing world(which I think is already a pre-requisit of any leader according to the hadith)in order to maintain the rules of governing their respective societies, countries, communities or families.

What is this writer trying to advocate?. Depicting your fellow muslims as the real problems of the world?. You want to change interpretation of Quran to fit the so called mordern World?. Before anyone condems the incidents in either Nigeria or Malaysia, it is very important to seek the truth from a reliable sources. What the writer said so far is not something new. It resembles kind of news derived from CNN or BBC. Blaming Muslims while ignoring the root of all problems. So you have just forgotten illegal,unjust invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan?, State terrorism against our brothers in palestine?. Am used to Nigerian history. Opinion of this writer regarding the issue is vague. Anytime violent breaks up in Northern part of Nigeria, the BBC and Routers only interview the christians while ignoring the Muslims. What do you expect them to tell you, you want them to say they are guilty?. Fear Allah in what you report. Same in Malaysia, offcourse I dislike the approach of some muslims by destroying churches while there are many other options left to tackle the matters. Christians have been in Malaysia for centuries and now decided to use the word "Allah" why they know well the consequences?. I disagree with this writer by saying Malay muslims kind of claiming monopoly of 'Allah'. Christians there knew what they doing. There mission is very simply (to bring confusion and convert muslims by using the word Allah). Please talk the reality and stop these unneccessary prejudices against Muslims. Muslims have to slow down or even backoff from what the writer called tolerance. Tolerant is now becoming mixing Islam with polytheism and not just relatioinship anymore.The truth is many muslims are angry for seeing their brothers and sisters getting killed in Iraq & Afghanistan and other muslim nations. What does this write has to say about a palestianian that got raped 9 times/day everyday by Isrealis until she commited sucide because the Ummah wouldnt do anything about it?Fear Allah

Totally agree, times have changed and so should interpretation.

"The ulema and the state authorities in control of the masses will contend that any compromise with the absolute truth of the Qur'an will lead to the slippery slope to unbelief that so many Christians have taken." Dr. Nazir Khaja

The author has carefully balanced the observations and views in the article. There are problems in liberalizing laws as human tend to derive pleasure in doing his own delight while enjoying his rights (human rights) carnally than delighting the heart of God by submitting to and doing His Laws and Ordinances. Christians have fallen in the slippery slope and are become apostates advocating the causes of devil whose works Christ destroyed as per the New Testament of the Bible. We are given the highest of moral codes of conduct to live in peace with fellow mankind and wait for the Son of God from heaven. But ...

But as Adam lost the delegated authority to rule over the earth, so are we Christians (true followers of Original Islam) weaving the aprons of this right and that liberty in breaking away from the Law of Liberty to do the Will of our Heavenly Father. On arrival from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ will find many Christians naked and unjustified in His sight and suffer denial and shame. But neither will the Mohammedan stoics with religious fervor stand to share glory with the blessed Messiah having denied the Son of God by their religion. The way has to be discovered between denial of the Messiah in conducts (indulging in pleasures of the flesh the Christians are slipping) and denial of the Messiah in principles (abiding with the stoic doctrine that is departure from the original Scriptures that points to the so called Muslims) to meet the Lord clothed and to partake in His glory as His Bride... It is thus the responsibility of the Christians with knowledge of entrusted principles to turn back to their Lord in repentance and reclaim their Islam although the Mohammedans are also welcomed to join the body before the Last Day.