Is There Place for Review and Renewal in Islam?

Is There Place for Review and Renewal in Islam?
Stories | 10 Nov 2015

By: Tarek Aziza

There has been a plethora of analyses on the causes of the recent terrorist attacks carried out by Islamists in France. The phenomenon has been placed in a variety of different contexts: The stymied Middle Eastern conflict and the prosperity of terrorism in its midst, such as the ongoing conflicts in Syria and the Palestinian question. Others link it to the socio-economic problems experienced the French Muslim community, and the failure of successive governments to address these problems. Not to mention, finally, thsoe "consipracy theory" addicts, who accused either Israel or the French extreme right of fabricating events in an attempt to "distort Islam."

While there it is possible that these opinions have a certain validity; What remains remarkable is the consensus among those who hold them upon rejecting any linkage between the Islamic doctrines and these eventsconsidering such linkage a mere "superficial explanation." They, thus, seem to elegantly forget that whatever the truth concerning those who masterminded these attacks; the repetitive "coincidence" of them being perpetrated by Muslims, as well as the omnipresence of the usual suspect—i.e. a radical politico-jihadi Islamcreates an urgent need to blithely ignore the fact: Terrorism finds a ready recourse in rusty Islamic teachings, as a result of the reluctance of the custodians of Islam, and their deflection of any criticism or review that may affect the "holy" character of Islamic texts; or even to touch the accretion of explanations and interpretations that incite hate and contempt for the "other" and his expiation, and that produce extremism and terrorism.

The question now is, what type of reform will help bring Islam out of its current predicament?

There is a belief among Muslims, ulema [scholars] and commoners alike thatunlike Christianity—Islam does not limit itself to helping Man achieve his salvation only; but that intervenes in all intricate details of the life of both the individual and the community, and sets the foundations for its organization politically, socially, and economically.

This intervention into the details of a Muslim's life is not limited to mere "transactions," over which differences can exist within the Islamic framework; it rather finds place within the very heart of the religious belief, undeniably, as in the verse: (Say, "Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds") [Qur'an, 6162]. The Qur'an makes no distinction between that which is religious, enmeshed in the spitrual and, therefore absolute; and that which is temporal, earthly and, therefore, secular. Man's actions in either which of these two dimensions cannot be separated from their final causality"servitude to God." A Muslim's very "enjoyment" of life itself, thereby becomes a "divine ordainment" as per the Qur'anic text: (Say, "Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?" Say, "They are for those who believe during the worldly life [but] exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection." Thus do We detail the verses for a people who know) [Qur'an, 732].

This intimate relation between the religious and secular in Islam prompted many Western thinkers such as Voltaire, Mercia Iliad, and Nietzsche to view Islam as a model for intensive natural religion contrary to the Christian ascetic. Islam has, therefore, been linked in Christians' minds with the image of a materialistic religion that encourages its followers to turn to the pleasures of life, contrary to what they consider as "true" religion—the Christian concept of chastity and ascetic. The papacyamidst its struggle with Protestants who at the time advocated the abandoning of the "pretentious" asceticism imposed by the papacy in contravention with the teachings of Christ, such as forbidding the marriage of priests and clerics—actually resorted to condescendingly given those Protestants holding such views "Mohammedans."

The facts of modern history and peoples' experiences have reached such heights in human civilization, to confirm the actual possibility of religious renewal/reform has only emerged under secularism, which stimulated religions to review their doctrines, adapting them to become more amenable with the requirements of the times, and to abstain from attempting to skew the realities contemporary life to conform to inflexible religious dogma. Thus, secularism prompts "religion to re-establish itself within an immanence with this-worldly systems, rather than relying upon the desire to ​​transcend or overtake them" as the French secular theorist Marcel Gaucher puts it. Public social system are, therefore, based on the modern secular laws, rather upon outdated religious references.

Secularism is, in no way, a call to abandon or combat religion, as much propagated by its opponents. This is reflected in the freedom of religion without coercion or interference, and ensuring the freedom of religion—as long as it remains in the "religious-spiritual" realm. This is a fundamental principle of secularism, one that has found practical implementation in the neutrality of the state towards religions and respect for religious and secular pluralism. The Church has, therefore, held a positive position on secularim; so much so, that Pope Pius XII declared "sound secularism" as a fundamental Catholic principle—based on the maxim of (render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's) [Matthew 22:21]—that respects all creeds, and guarantees freedom of belief and practice of religious rituals. This greatly contributed to the inclusion of the Church into modern society and its adaptation to its requirements, without collision with individuals or groups.

The insistence of Islam's custodians to continue in their rejection of secularism, based on its "separation of church and state;" their insistence on saying Islam is "both: religion and state;" and the continued admixture of the relgious and the worldly; makes it quite difficult to engage in serious revisions that may lead a modern and different interpretation of Islam .

The current predicament of both Muslims and Islam in the light of insistence upon this logic, indicates that it is high time for enlightened Muslims to come forward and bear the responsibility of taking on the challenging task of secularizing the Islamic faith and its teachings and convert them into a kind of "social morality." For, if religions—most notably Islamattribute to themselves an essentially moral role; such transformation will not cause religion to forfeit either its spiritual or moral stature or function, nor is it supposed to be contrary to its purported mission. Is Islam is already to undergo such reform or renewal?


* Opinion Do not necesseraliy reflect the opinions of Radio Rozana.

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