Increasingly in the Muslim world, voices calling for reform are standing out. A pointed theme is emerging where those calling for reform are pointedly criticizing phenomenon of “jurisprudence,” the current practice of sheikhs and imams issuing repressive fatwas based on Islamic texts (versus the Quran).
In an astonishing interview broadcast on Saudi TV, Professor Naila Selini, a researcher of Islamic thought from Tunisia, said, “The status of us women is worse today than it was in 2004 and 2005 … because of the nonsense uttered on a daily basis by preachers."
In the interview, Selini called for "a revolution in the religious texts." She recalled her progression of thought from which she drew these conclusions, which meant dismissing as inauthentic all sources except for the Quran.
“I can say that the status of women in the Quran is not the same as their status in Islamic jurisprudence,” she said. “[Allah] did not wait for one of his servants to come and interpret His message on His behalf.”
Bemoaning that the status of women is much worse in the Muslim world than it was a decade ago, she said, “This is because of the nonsense uttered on a daily basis by preachers … Every day, new sheikhs issue new fatwas from the mosque pulpits. This Muslim nation will not arise and the West will not change its position toward us unless we carry out a religious revolution. We must revolutionize our religious texts out of confidence that this will draw us closer to Allah from whom we have drifted.”
A similar message was recently heard by Kuwaiti Researcher Abdulazziz Al-Qattan, who maintained that the ideology being espoused by the Islamic State (ISIS) existed long before the terror group appeared on the scene and was a product of “Islamic heritage” – the hadiths, which are collections of stories and sayings attributed to Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
"All the books of Islamic heritage, without exception… have enough ISIS ideology to turn your hair white," said Al-Qattan earlier this month. “ISIS did not come out of nowhere, it’s not an aberration. ISIS adopts the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology of Al-Qaeda.”
Al-Qattan continued, “The problem with us Arabs is that we are not being honest with ourselves. Our Islamic heritage is a minefield of these deviant ideas … Therefore, what we need to do is sift through Islamic heritage, we must go back to the book of Allah for it gives guidance to humanity.”
Al-Qattan contends that the problem is that, “We have begun to worship people; we have begun to worship heritage. We have begun to worship books. It is the heritage of the jurisprudents, not of the Prophet Mohammed.”
Calling some of the writers who compiled the hadiths “liars” and “cheats,” he says that politics clearly played a role in formulating these stories. The hadiths, he says, need to be “sifted through in order to filter out all their blemishes.”
In a similar vein last January, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in a speech to the Armed Forces’ Department of Moral Affairs, “Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people, pointing to the need for a new vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam—rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”
In a subsequent speech given at Al-Azhar University, the world's most prominent Sunni school of learning, el-Sisi told the imams present that there needs to be a “religious revolution” to change Islamic “thinking.”
The momentous speech was given during the celebrations of the birthday of Mohammed. El-Sisi confronted Islamist propaganda which contends that changing Islamic doctrine is tantamount to blasphemy. He emphasized that there’s a difference between the interpretation of the religion and the religion itself. He argued that the ones who are actually hurting Islam are those who oppose the reformers.
“I say – and repeat again – that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move … because this ummah is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands,” he said.
At the same time, Tunisians elected Beji Caid Essebsi as president on an anti-Islamist platform. Essebsi’s intentions were out in the open during the campaign leading up to his election. The stated purpose of his political party was to build a “twenty-first century state, a progressive state” and promote a modernization of Islamic doctrine.
“What separates us from those [Islamist] people is 14 centuries,” he said. “They are for a religious state, and we are for a civil state… For example, they wanted to introduce sharia as the source of law. We are against that.”
Last month, the leading cleric in Egypt’s Al-Azhar University called for a reform in Islamic teaching in order to combat growing regional Islamic extremism. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar made the remarks on the first day of a three-day counter-terrorism conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Al-Tayeb connected extremism to “bad interpretations of the Koran and the sunna [the body of traditional social and legal custom and practices of Islam].”
In January, a fiery imam in New York called the Salafist ideology the “cancer” of Islam. Tareq Yousef Al-Masri, speaking at the Oulel-Albab Mosque in New York, said the source of Islamic terrorism is the ideology of hate of non-Muslims by Muslims, as preached by Salafist “thugs” (who are known to follow an extremist interpretation of the hadiths).
Last July, a British imam made headlines when he launched a nationwide campaign to ban the burqa and the niqab (face veil) in the UK. His campaign sought to ban the wearing of face coverings in all public places.
Dr. Taj Harge, the leader of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, and the head of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, argued, "This archaic tribal rag is pre-Islamic and non-Qur'anic, and ipso facto un-Muslim."
The campaign announcement states that it is completely untrue that the burqa is integral to Islam and that such an idea was the result of propaganda from hardline sects.
He noted that, "It is forbidden for Muslim women going on pilgrimages to Mecca to cover their faces. So if such a pre-Islamic practice is banned in Islam’s holiest site, why on earth would it be required on the streets of Britain?"