On Bakri Eid animals are sacrificed | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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With every terror attack, clamour for reform in Islam goes up as a crisis is alleged in the religion. The same happened after the beheadings in France in response to Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons. People say that since Islam has remained unreformed, its anachronistic understanding has been at the root of much of the bad publicity that its more zealous followers have been inviting to it.

Verses from the Quran are quoted to both arraign and absolve Islam. Defences are mounted arguing whether these are to be understood literally or metaphorically, and to be seen in their contextual terms or transcendental claims. Since much of the contestations centre around the meanings of the canonical literature, the Quran and the Hadith, it is hoped that if these were given a contemporaneous interpretation, Islam would become more compatible with the modern world, and it would cease to yield justifications for regressive practices and violent actions.

This optimism tends to forget that religions don’t change much, and that the words of scriptures can’t be erased and overwritten. Neither the verses can be changed, nor their conventional understanding. As for the interpretation, there is a limit to the point it can be stretched into yielding allegorical or contextual meanings. In any case, believers don’t have any problem with either the text or its age-old meaning. They try to mould their world in accordance with the precepts of the religion. To them, stretching the meaning to measure up to the present world may amount to a subversive reversal of order.

Calls for Reformation in Islam are fashionable, but miss a crucial point.


Also read: Muslims need to launch their own ‘Not in my name’ protests against cartoon beheadings


Islam needs ‘relocation’

The reform, if any, has to be in one’s attitude towards the religion, and not in how Islam is interpreted, understood and practiced. The shift in focus from the transcendent to mundane, divine to human, and religious to secular has to be the basis of reform. If people continue to depend on religion for inspiration and justification for their actions, and they don’t graduate to the higher morality of secularism and modernity, no matter how they reinterpret their religion, they would continue to regress. In any case, when it comes to religion, the orthodox position, being of classical vintage, commands better legitimacy.

Therefore, rather than reformation of Islam, its relocation and reformulation may be a better ideal. Like other religions in the modern age, Islam too should be relocated to where religions belong — the private sphere. The longer any religion remains part of the public sphere, higher the chances of its politicisation and radicalisation.

Religion, after all, is a way of worship. To say that one’s religion is a way of life is a statement with little meaning. A way of life is the culture, of which, religion is a constituent. However, little would change if the selfish motive of personal salvation continued to disregard the public welfare. Therefore, Islam has to be reformulated as a people friendly and welfare oriented religion that inspires its followers to do good to people here and now, rather than securing paradise for them after death. Such a secularisation would make people humane rather than dogmatic, and compassionate rather than fanatic.

It’s alright to say that the trajectory of European history can’t be the universal template for other societies, but if we were to learn from it, successive stages from renaissance’s humanism to religious reformation to enlightenment to the rise of liberal, secular and democratic world, would have many lessons for us. One of these could be that even the reformed religion was not good enough for the imperatives of the modern world, and it had to be sequestered to the private space in order to let reason have an unfettered movement which, in turn, would enable the rise of higher secular morality.

The Muslims were impelled into both reform and revival by the same impetus — the shock caused by the loss of political ascendancy. Both the trends had the same purpose — restoration of the lost glory. This could be one reason why reform gave way to revivalism so easily, and almost all the late 19th century reform movements from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s in India to Muhammad Abduh’s and Rashid Rida’s in Egypt petered out, making way for the militant Islamism.


Also read: Hindutva to Sachar report — What Syed Ahmad Khan would have done today


The unquestioned equation of religion with law, its origins

Unlike Christianity, Islam didn’t have to suffer prolonged persecution. It progressed from acquiring a chieftainship to a State to an empire with lightning rapidity, which turned it into a statist ideology. The religion-cum-ideology was further elaborated into the legal structure of the empire. This led to the unquestioned equation of religion with shariat, and of shariat with law. Therefore, any reform in Islam had to come through the legal route. Accordingly, a long forgotten tool called Ijtihad was brought into re-circulation. This terminology (coming from the same route as jihad) connotes intellectual exertion for deriving a religious ruling in such cases as the Quran and the Hadith are silent about. In contemporary Islamic discourses, Ijtihad is looked up as a noble ideal, but, for obvious reasons, there has been no substantial effort towards its realisation. Most of the Muslim States — from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey in Asia to Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in Africa — having adopted the modern legal system, pious platitudes notwithstanding, are not going back to the archaic shariah laws. And those which do — the likes of ISIS or Taliban — have no use for Ijtihad.

No wonder that the modern and scientific reinterpretation of Islam has not moved an inch beyond where Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98) left it. Even though it may be possible, it’s going to be a fruitless exercise and, therefore, undesirable for both the modern and the orthodox Muslims.

The poet Allama Iqbal’s biggest contribution, if his leads were followed, could be the prominence he gave to the word ‘Reconstruction’ in the title of his collection of essays published in 1930, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. This word underscored the dilapidation of religious thought in Islam. A lesser man couldn’t get away with such candour. But the orthodoxy was so mesmerised by Iqbal’s stature and erudition that the import of this proposition was lost on their not too acute perception. Be that as it may, nearly a century later, despite his iconic status, his proposed ‘reconstruction’ remains a pipe dream. The reason is same as in the case of Sir Syed. It will be a pointless exercise. The zeitgeist demands not the reformation but the relocation and reformulation; in fact, a veritable transcendence of religion.

Najmul Hoda is an IPS officer. Views are personal.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Reformation in Christianity was due to a desire to go BACK TO BIBLE and away from the bundles of traditions substituted by Roman Catholic (aka Babylonian) “church” — through guidance of Holy Spirit.

    With Islam (fyi, reading Revelation 13 in a poor translation is more informative on it than any number of readings of quran), the “worst” are the ones actually following its counterfeit book — and little chance of any contact with HS, as Isaiah 14:14 identifies “allah” whom Muslims worship…ergo, goose-egg chance of reform.

    It WILL be relocated after the Tribulation (to Hades) and 1,000 years later to the Lake of Fire!

  2. Islam is based upon two things one is Holi prophet may peace be upon him.
    And the other is the Din…. Where all Muslims reunite and stand against the terror that happens on Earth around the world on Muslims women… Without AZAN within the spur of the moment there won’t be any Islam on Earth to protect the innocence of the Allah and his belief on Earth.

    • What rubbish is this? Do you even understand what he has written?
      A perfect example of jahiliyat.

  3. Whether Islam needs a reform or not, I don’t know, but for sure, Muslims need to reform themselves. Here’s why. There was a time when even I thought it was wrong of Muslims to prevent others from illustrating the Prophet, until I thought, how would I feel if someone walked over a picture of Lord Krishna and said, “oh, I have a right to walk anywhere, in our country and in our culture walking on pictures of anybody is not prohibited and in any case, I didn’t mean to hurt you”. How would I feel? I’d feel extremely upset, of course. That’s when I corrected my thinking. I realized that if Muslims, for whatever reason, feel hurt if someone illustrates the Prophet, it is only good behavior not to illustrate the Prophet–especially, when there is no compelling reason to do so.
    But how would I react if someone walked on a picture of Lord Krishna? I’d talk to him, counsel him, make him see how I feel. I’d keep trying till I succeed. I’d pray for my success. But I wouldn’t cut his head–even if his head is worthy of being cut.
    That’s where Muslims need to reform themselves.

  4. Main paidaisi musalmàn hun . Isliye Islam mera deen hai . Aur ALHAMDOLILLAH main Islam ke faraiz ko anzam dene ki poori koshish karta hu .
    Aur deen ko samajhane ki koshish me har literature aur khayalat ka mutala bhi karta rahta hu .
    Sirf ek sawal sabhi se poochhna chahta hu . Islam poori qaynaat ke liye hai to ye arbi me hi kyo nazil hua ? Agar hua to RAB ne English ko aalmi jubaan kyon ban ne diya ?

  5. Islam is a scourge on modern civilization. It should have been a relic of the 10th century. Unfortunately, its part of the modern world.
    And who are its victims?
    Not just non-Muslims, Muslims themselves even more so.
    By closing the doors on rationality and reform, it has managed to ruin the lives of billions across the world. And has become a global nuisance.
    What is disappointing is that supposedly liberal intellectuals like Ms. Zainab Sikander actually support and propagate such hatred and violence targeting non-Muslims.

  6. Islam is unreformable because it self-claims perfection via its self-claimed prophet Mohammad.

    This is convenient crcular logic……. Islam is perfect because Mohammad said it’s in the Koran which said Mohammad is the prophet who is always right !!

  7. Very well written Najmul. You are an intellectual, no apologist for islam. When something spoiling falls into something very good, we throw out the bad and retain the bulk. When the whole thing is as rotten, evil, facist, misogynist, gnocidal, and bigoted as islam, quran, and sharia, then cure is to cut it off, i.e. throw islam away by renouncing it all together, jab puri daal hi kaali ho toh us mei sab kankar hi kankar hain us me se daal kya nikle gi, better to throw the whole rubbish out. Muslims are the biggest victims of islam, especially women and children. Islam has done untold horrible things to own followers, to other religions and cultures, all of this is enshrined in quran and hadith of pedo reapist genocidal misogynist founder. Such founders make evil leaders who care capable of creating only genocidal evil cults. There are good muslims, only because they do NOT COMPLETELY follow quran, hadith and mohammad. Core ideology of quran and mohammad is horrible. Only way to save muslims and world from the islam is to help muslims quit islam.

    • Ancient texts have to be interpreted, changed (if necessary) and adapted for the times.
      On the contrary if ancient texts and holy scriptures were to be banned based on a couple of “offending” phrases in them, I suppose we will not have any scriptures or holy texts that will pass.
      All religions should introspect and remove the offending phrases from its texts. The world can’t move forward in reverse gear. The onus lies with respective religious leaders and dispensations.
      The Q is, are RELIGIONS up to it? It requires real guts as against timidly resorting to killing each other.
      You see, change is the only constant.

  8. You cannot reform Islam. No one can reform it. Islam is full for everything. Justice, Economy, Politics, Personal life, Social life, constitution etc. If anyone try to change it/reform/relocate/change the meaning of Islam to adopt to secular world, the reformer will face the highest defense structure of ISLAM with call of JIHAD from every corner of the world. Not matter what we have to fight but it’s matter what they (reformer) have it’s enough to fight against them. Allah will help us.

  9. Following inferences can be drawn from the author’s article:
    – Islam is unreformable due to its inherent structure.
    – Sharia law has no place in modern society.
    – political Islam is the root cause of the problems faced by the religion and it’s followers.

    Are these inferences valid, or is my comment Islamophobic?

  10. Defending the indefensible!
    Reasoning the inherent irrationality!
    Love and enjoy all modernities but hate and kill the modern society by stone age mentality!
    Analyse, review and improve is need of hour but it happens never!
    Change is the inevitability of society, time, world and universe but it is anaethma to many dogmas!
    Golden hours of humanity to serve all creatures of God, wasted in coarse cruelities!
    Dubai Rajan

  11. The fundamental mistake that non-Muslims make is to treat Islam as a religion. It is actually, a political system or ideology, which poses as religion. Allah is not central to Islam, but Prophet Muhammad is. The concepts of Dar ul Islam and Dar ul Harb make it clear what Islam preaches. Every land not ruled according the tenets of Koran is Dar ul Harb, or the enemy country. The ayats which preach violence against the non-believers cannot be whitewashed. All of us know that Change is the only permanent feature of the world we live in. But, Islam has tried to stop the clock by treating Koran as immutable, as Prophet Muhammad as the Seal of Prophet – no more prophets after him. One needs to take cursory look at the world history to know that across countries, political borders and ethnic differences, all Muslims react the same way when they think that their Book or Prophet are insulted. Barring the blasphemy laws prevalent in some Europen countries and in Islamic countries, there is no concept of blasphemy in other religions, especially Indic religions. Contrary to what this writer says, religions have undergone change over longer stretch of time. Hundreds of sects in christianity is the proof. Hinduism too changed from being a ritualistic religion of vedic period to philosophical religion of Upanishadic times. Now, we worship different deities, and no longer worship the vedic deities. Buddhism also adapted itself to different regions and times by splitting into sects. But, Islam refuses to adapt to change. Unless the Muslims recognize the problem, how can there be any solution?

  12. Ancient texts have to be interpreted, changed (if necessary) and adapted for the times.
    On the contrary if ancient texts and holy scriptures were to be banned based on a couple of “offending” phrases in them, I suppose we will not have any scriptures or holy texts that will pass.
    All religions should introspect and remove the offending phrases from its texts. The world can’t move forward in reverse gear. The onus lies with respective religious leaders and dispensations.
    The Q is, are RELIGIONS up to it? It requires real guts as against timidly resorting to killing each other.
    You see, change is the only constant.

  13. Good one. But, please do not tell it to the general public. You need to tell this to the relevant religion followers & their leaders.

  14. Such a short visioned opinion. I wish you could have published the opinion of some one who has read understood and enact the Quran in day to day life. Islam is the way which gives an order to all personal, public, political cultural sectors.
    Only if people understand.

    As for this article the writer has very poor understanding .

  15. If we gathered all secular and liberal people and if they discuss morality among them , they will agree in single thing.
    Yet writer of this article blindly believe in secular morality like blind believer who doesn’t know any thing about yet he believes.
    Secular and liberal spreading venom, hatred , immorality , terrorism and other evil thing in the shadow of secularism.
    First critically question u r secular morality.
    If want to critically question islam and thing which is connected to we welcome but question knowledge person not ignorant mass.

  16. Nobody is born a religious fundamentalist.

    However if you are continually praying multiple times a day and you are fed religious sermons that IDOL WORSHIPPERS are against your faith .

    If you are promised GHAZWA E HIND.

    And then when you get out of your prayer hall and you see hundreds of temples. You obiviously feel ANGER AND HATE.

    THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.

    HINDUS BELIEVE IN EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND PROSPERITY.

    HINDUS WANT TO ENJOY LIFE NOW . NOT AFTER DEATH.

    HINDUS ARE NOT INTERESTED IN CONVERSIONS BUT WILL NOT ACCEPT CONVERSIONS BY USE OF FAKE NARRATIVE.

  17. It was the same Islam that brought about the Golden Era in Spain, that contributed to science and other fields of knowledge.
    Just because of misinterpretation by some, labelling whole Islam to be incorrect is ridiculous.
    The recent attacks on mosques by Christians, does not call for a change in Christianity. Why this bias when it comes to Islam?

    • You are way behind in understanding modern human thought after French revolution. Any human thought if it does not change with time will get stagnant. Like stagnant water, it starts to stink. Religion for spirituality is different than religion which guides modern human thought. Think, analyze not from Islam point of view but from modern human rights, pluralism, multiculturism, secularism, etc.

  18. Islam har daur k liye behtar h aur allah k nabi ne jo tariqa zindagi k liye bataya woh har aitbar se behtar h..jinhe shaq h woh pehle islam ko dhang se smjh len….na kabhi islam mai kisi kami baishi gunzaish thi na hogi…badlaaw ki zarurt wahan hoti jahan khaamiya ho…islaam har aitbaar se mukammal h…quraan k alfaaz kisi insaan k nhi jo badle….allah ki zabaan aur uske hukum hn…jisme badlaaw ki koi gunzaaish nhi h…hm bhi is mordern age se hn par hamen apni shariat mai koi khaami nzar nhi aati…jo apni marzi se gunaah mai zindagi ghuzarna chahte hn ghuzaare aur qayamat k din apne badtareen anjaam k liye taiyyar rahen..

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