Answers to Questions on Islam: Part V of VI

December 2, 2009 at 12:30 am (History, Islam)

Issue six:

And in the end, when all is said and done, does Islam have to be eradicated from the hearts and minds of one billion Muslims for them to live peacably? Or can Muslims modernize by critical reevaluation of texts and a mass movement to reject Islamic literalism?

To answer your question: it is the latter. One cannot solve a problem posed by a people by wiping them out. It never works. Christianity is almost 2,010 years old; Judaism is far older. Islam is just 1,430 years old. When Christianity was 1,430 years old, it was also crude and violent and uncouth, compared to today’s standards. Indeed, one may say Islam is further at 1,430 years than Christianity was at 1,430 years. So, on the one hand, one may say that we need to give Islam time to mature and thus become as open to change and reform as Christianity and Judaism have become (and in both, this openness came after a long time of existence). On the other hand, one can argue that internal forces in Islam will prevent any such openness.

I, personally, am of the opinion that no such mellowing will occur. I think it is a fallacy to believe that humanity will, of its own accord, evolve into peaceful beings. While this has happened to large degree in the West, outside the West the world hasn’t changed much. Consider the Hindus, for example: they have been around millennia more than Christianity, and yet their fundamentalists can be just as bad as Muslim fundamentalists. I don’t think it is realistic to expect that the world’s people will live in peace. War and violence and conflict are facts of life, and we should recognize this rather than anticipating some utopian vision of worldwide harmony. This isn’t to be negative but rather this should force us to focus on what matters: in a world full of evil and violence, we should embrace our differences and work on cooperating, respecting our differences.

That said, I do envision two forms of Islam. One influenced by the West, and one that is more extremist. The former will be far more compatible with the modern world, with a pluralistic society. The latter will not be. Both will exist side-by-side, with a tumultuous relationship. The more Muslims feel threatened by the modern world, the more they will cling to the fundamentalist interpretation. The more the fundamentalists disgust them and make like difficult for them, the more they will support the modernist interpretation.

People have been calling for a reform of Islam. Problem is that there is a reform in Islam: it’s the fundamentalist, Salafi movement (also known as the Wahhabi movement). What people need to call for is a modernizing of Islam. A reform works only if it makes Islam more extremist: a modernist reform will never catch on because it is viewed as perverting and rejecting Islam in favor of non-Islamic (if not anti-Islamic) ideas. What is needed is to reinterpret Islamic rules by Islamic experts on Islamic terms. There are some experts that are doing this, and doing a wonderful job of it.

I see it in my own family. Some relatives will speak in whispers about “real Islam” – simple, focused on good deeds, not ostentatious, independent of clerics, tolerant, rejecting fundamentalism and extremism. Other relatives will loudly denounce perversions in Islam, enemies of Islam, and call all Muslims to defend Islam by adhering to a more fundamentalist (if not extremist) interpretation. The argument can get very heated.

And this, I believe, is the future of Islam.

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