Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 29 October 2009
Islam: at war within itself
I have been asked by a number of Barnabas supporters to try to look at how to make sense of what is currently happening in the Islamic world. I do hope the article below will be helpful.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Fund
Recent months have seen a number of unexpected and extremely encouraging statements coming out of the Muslim world. Respected, mainstream Muslim leaders in a variety of countries have voiced opinions which are at odds with traditional, conservative Islam. They have challenged aspects of shari‘a and are calling for a liberal, modernist, enlightened Islam compatible with Western norms. Perhaps the most significant of all is a comment by a group of British Muslims calling for an end to the apostasy law and for full freedom in all religious matters.
Since modernisation first impacted the Muslim world following the imposition of secular laws and education systems by Western colonial empires, there have been tensions between Muslim conservatives and liberal intellectuals. Islamic traditionalists and Islamists have on the whole gained the dominant voice within Islam, especially since the Islamic resurgence which began in the 1970s and has swept all before it. These conservatives saw shari‘a as divinely inspired and unchangeable, valid for all times and places, and attacked the few liberal voices seeking to reinterpret the Muslim sources in line with modern contexts and human rights.
A small minority of marginalised Muslim progressives has been bravely defying traditional and Islamist pressures by reinterpreting Islam in a way compatible with modern concepts of secularity, individual human rights, religious freedom and gender equality.
However, recently some significant cracks seem to be forming within the mainstream Islam. Important mainstream leaders are coming out against long-held key traditional views and Wahhabi-Salafi doctrines and practices, openly supporting ideas compatible with modernity. It would seem that the reformist teachings of Ahmad Khan (1817 - 1898) and Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849 -1905), which had been suppressed, are now resurfacing within mainstream Islam. As some experts on Islam have always been saying, "the really decisive battle is taking place within Muslim civilization, where ultraconservatives compete against moderates and democrats for the soul of the Muslim public."