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Major Religions & Spiritual Beliefs, Islam


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Islam In The Modern World

For more in depth information about the Qur'an see click here.

Although the dominant movement in Islam in recent times has been religious fundamentalism, there are a number of liberal movements within Islam which seek alternative ways to reconcile the Islamic faith with the modern world.

Islamic traditions have several sources: the Qur'an, the hadiths, and interpretations of both by scholars. Over the centuries, there has been a tendency towards fundamentalism, with interpretations being regarded as immutable, even those that consist of folk religion not directly traceable to the prophet Muhammad.

Early shariah had a much more flexible character than is currently associated with Islamic jurisprudence, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and the classical jurists should lose their special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamization of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context.

This movement does not aim to challenge the fundamentals of Islam; rather, it seeks to clear away misinterpretations and to free the way for the renewal of the previous status of the Islamic world as a center of modern thought and freedom. See Modern Islamic philosophy for more on this subject.

The claim that only liberalisation of the Islamic Shariah law can lead to distinguishing between tradition and Islam is countered by many Muslims by saying that 'fundamentalism' rejects the cultural inventions e.g. they will accept that men and women have God given rights and duties that no human can infringe on but it rejects riba (interest). Fundamentalism as referred to often means traditionalism which is a separate issue. A good example of a fundamentalist organisation is Hizb ut-Tahrir Hizb ut-Tahrir Web Site

Liberal movements within Islam

In modern times there have been a number of liberal movements within Islam (or 'interpretation-based Islam', also 'Progressive Islam'). These generally denote religious outlooks which depend mainly on ijtihad or re-interpretations of scriptures. Liberal Muslims interpret the Qur'an and Hadith from their personal perspective rather than the medievalist traditional Muslim point of view. Liberals generally claim that they are returning to the principals of the early Muslim community, arguing that the Medievalists have diverged from true Islam through their focus on the literal word rather than the ethical intent of scripture

It should be noted that these are movements within Islam, rather than an attempt at schism. As such, they believe in the basic tenets of Islam, such as the Six Elements of Belief and the Five Pillars of Islam. They consider their views to be fully compatible with the teachings of Islam. Their main difference with more conservative Islamic opinion is in differences of interpretation of how to apply the core Islamic values to modern life.

Contemporary and controversial Issues

Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal Muslims have tended to reinterpret and reapply many aspects of their religion in accordance with their increasingly modern societies and outlooks on one hand and re-examining their traditions. This is particularly true of Muslims who now find themselves living in non-Muslim countries. Such people may describe themselves variously as liberal, progressive or reformist; but rather than implying a specific agenda, these terms tend to incorporate a broad spectrum of views which contest medievalist and traditional interpretations of Islam in many different ways.

Although there is no full consensus amongst liberal Muslims on their views, they tend to agree on some or all of the following beliefs:

  • Most liberal Muslims oppose slavery and the associated practice of concubinage, or extra-marital sex between a man and his female slaves. This was not abolished during the time of Muhammad and is permitted in the Qur'an (although Islamic apologetics claim that the Qur'an does discourage slavery to and encourages its elimination, which was in itself a progressive attitude at the time). In fact, liberals see this point as a notable example of how religion inevitably changes over time, and in fact most Muslims have accepted that Qur'anic laws which implicitly allow slavery are outdated.
  • Human rights is a major concern for most liberals. Many Muslim majority countries have signed international human rights treaties, but the impact of these largely remains to be seen in local legal systems. The Qur'anic story of Adam is sometimes interpreted to support human rights. Prominant Muslim international lawyers such as Mohammad Zafrullah Khan claim that there is no contradiction between International Human Rights and Sharia.
  • Feminism is likewise a major issue. For this reason, non-liberal Muslims are often critical of polygamy. Some liberal Muslims accept that a women may lead group prayers, although this topic remains contraversial. It is also accepted by many liberal Muslims that a woman may lead the state, and that women should not be segregated from men in society or in mosques, although the custom is for women to pray behind men. Some Muslim feminists are also opposed to the traditional requirements of the veil, claiming that any modest clothing is sufficiently Islamic for both men and women.
  • Many liberal Muslims favor the idea of modern democracy with separation of church and state, and support secular governments. The existence or applicability of Islamic law is thus questioned by liberals. Their argument often involves variants of the Mu'tazili theory that the Qur'an is created by God for the particular circumstances of the early Muslim community, and reason must be used to apply it to new contexts.
  • This means that the majority of liberal Muslims have dropped literal or traditional interpretations of the Qur'an in favour of readings which they find more easily adaptable to modern society. For example, some liberals may tolerate homosexuality even though conservatives forbid it. However, this topic remains highly controversial even amongst Muslim liberals. (see Islamic views of homosexuality).
  • The reliability and applicability of Hadith literature is questioned by liberals, as much of traditional Islamic law derives from it.
  • Most liberal Muslims consequently do not believe in the authority of traditional scholars to issue a fatwa, since they generally favour the individual's ability to interpret Islamic sacred texts on their own. Tolerance is another major issue. Liberal Muslims are generally open to interfaith dialogue and differences, particularly in the case of the Ahmadi and other controversies with Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc.
  • Liberal Muslims also tend to oppose the idea of jihad as armed struggle, and tend to prefer ideals such as non-violence. The Qur'anic figure of Abel seems to support the idea that anyone who dies as a result of refusing to commit violence is forgiven of their sins.
  • Liberal Muslims tend to be skeptical about the validity of Islamization of knowledge (including Islamic economics, Islamic science and Islamic philosophy) as separate from mainstream fields of enquiry. This is usually due to the often secular outlook of Muslim liberals, which makes them more disposed to trust mainstream secular scholarship. They may also regard the propagation of these fields as merely a propaganda move by Muslim conservatives.
  • Liberals are also less likely to treat narratives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jesus and other prophets of Islam in the Qur'an as historical fact, viewing them instead as moral stories meant to reinforce the ethical message of Islam. As such liberals are more accepting of secular history and ideas such as evolution which they claim the Qur'an supports. As a result, liberals are generally opposed to the idea of Islamic history.

External Links, Liberal Movements within Islam

Progressive Muslim Union
of North America Muslim Wake Up!
(http://muslimwakeup.com/index.php)Online Progressive Muslim Magazine. LiberalIslam.net
(http://www.liberalislam.net/) by Zeeshan Hasan. Ijtihad.org
(http://www.ijtihad.org/) by Muqtedar Khan QALANDAR Islam and Interfaith Relations in South Asia
(http://www.islaminterfaith.org/) by Yoginder Sikand Islamic Liberal group
(http://www.islamlib.com/en/page.php) website from Indonesia. Charles Kurzman's Liberal Islam links
(http://www.unc.edu/~kurzman/LiberalIslamLinks.htm) compiled by the author of Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (published 1998 by Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0195116224). Muslim Refusenik
(http://www.muslim-refusenik.com) website of Irshad Manji, author of "The Trouble with Islam" and media-whore. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan
(http://www.cis-ca.org/voices/k/syydkhn.htm) Muhammad Ali of Egypt
(http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0834351.html) Al-Fatiha Foundation
(http://www.al-fatiha.net) dedicated to lesbian, gay and bisexual Muslims. Free Muslims Coalition Against Terrorism
(http://www.freemuslims.org) Tasneem Project
(http://www.bayyinat.org.uk/index.html) British Progressive Muslim website. Under the Cover of Islam
(http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/18/opinion/18manji.html?ex=1258520400&en=61d49ccf6bb1077f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland) - A New York Times op-ed by Irshad Manji about Liberal Islam in North America and Europe

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