We know that the Christian Reform movement is celebrating 500 years going back to 1517 when Martin Luther published a protest against the church as it then existed. Reform Hinduism is a movement also known as revivalism. There is reform in Judaism.
So why is it that we choke over the words Islamic reform? Muslims are now living in the 21st Century in the Western world so many questions come up when we speak of reform.
- How do we see reform and how will it come about?
- Can the religion be reformed? Is it a “Muslim” reform or “Islamic” reform?
- Can we put aside parts of the faith that don’t apply to us today?
- What role does the constitution of a country play in our Muslim reform?
- Where do we stand with the UN Declaration of Human Rights?
History tells us that Abdul Wahaab (founder of Wahaabism), Ayatolla Khomeni (founder of Khomenism) and Maulana Mawdudi (founder of the Pakistani brand of Muslim Brotherhood) called themselves “reformers.” They knew the religion and took full advantage to politicize it.
In the 21st century however, those who claim to be reformers are not reforming the religion per se, but providing a lens in which Muslims can look at their faith to become more pluralistic and leave aside the notion that we are in a perpetual state of war.
The fact is that reform can only come when we separate spiritual Islam (the faith) from political Islam (the ideology). In some ways, the reform is already underway in the way Muslims look at their faith.
For example, the sprouting of women-led mosques in the USA, UK and Europe. There is a project in Bangladesh sponsored by Muslims Facing Tomorrow, where 25 villages have been de-radicalized through education and 80 more are on the list. This is a much needed change.
However, there are some important actions that need to be taken if the reform is to be implemented in full. If this is not done now, then we will not be able to move ahead.
- The niqab (face covering) needs to be identified clearly as a tribal cultural practice and banned in the West. Belgium is the latest European country to do so.
- Politicians will need to be educated on the difference between identity politics and rewarding terrorists. Case in point: Omar Khadr in Canada.
- Mosques will have to be held to a higher standard. Not because we are Islamo-phobic but because we know that many problems stem from radical sermons preaching hate, which has to be stopped (as in the imam of the Islamic centre of Davis, California).
- Cultural practices that have attached themselves to the faith must be seen in the light of human rights. For example, female genital mutilation must be made into an international criminal offense.
- Interfaith is being used as an instrument by Islamists to gain legitimacy. There should be a litmus test for those claiming to want to have a “kumbaya” gathering but who will not address hard questions like “armed jihad,, separation of mosque and state and gender equality.
To move ahead with a reform, Muslims urgently need introspection and a spiritual renewal. They need to drop the left vs right dialogue and develop an honest vision for themselves, leaving aside fear mongering, smoke screens and victim mentality.
“If Islamism is to be defeated, anti-Islamist Muslims must develop an alternative vision of Islam and explanation for what it means to be a Muslim. In doing so, they can draw on the past, especially the reform efforts from the span of 1850 to 1950, to develop a “modern synthesis” comparable to the medieval model. This synthesis would choose among Shari precepts and render Islam compatible with modern values. It would accept gender equality, coexist peacefully with unbelievers, and reject the aspiration of a universal caliphate, among other steps.”