Before we begin this dialogue, it essential to clarify my intent. I am neither a theologian nor a History scholar. So what follows is a friendly initiative to dialogue with like minded individuals, without “holier than though” attitude or any pretense of high moral ground. To begin with I wish to quote the following three news items which offend sensibilities of any modern liberal minded person be of any religious pursuit.
2016: Pakistan’s all powerful Council of Islamic Ideology opposed a legislation passed by Punjab state assembly, said it was “un-islamic” for women to leave abusive relationships as husbands should be allowed to “lightly beat” their wives if she defies his commands.
2014: Issam Abuanza, British citizen of Palestinian heritage and endocrinologist working with NHS left Britain to join ISIS. In February 2015, he wrote about the Jordanian pilot who was burnt alive and released a video of his painful death. Abuanza said he would have tried to keep the pilot alive longer to prolong his torture.
2011: Indonesian city of Jember introduced compulsory virginity test for female high school students so that they can be barred from receiving diplomas. If found to have had sex outside of wedlock. Apparently the decision was proposed by municipal government of the town whose lawyers felt that the girls have sex several times and with different partners. After much uproar the verdict was overturned.
This is not a selective collection by an islamophobic with devilish design. In fact, every religion has streams of pluralism and its share of absolutism at fringes.
Christens conducted crusades under papal authority to kill any non christen or non believer in the holy land and a share of loot in mortal life and passport to heaven as incentive. If this is ancient history, then as recent as in 1996 , in an interview , the then secretary of state Madeleine Albright claimed that death of over half million children in Iraq invasion was worth it.
Hindus have their oppressive and inhuman Caste system to answer for. And if that be the history, which it is not, there has been instances of wife beating/burning, honour killing and the recent instance where in UP, Hindu mob dragged a Muslim person out of his house and stabbed him to death under suspicion that he was relishing meet of holy cow.
But in my opinion, while every religion has some heavy lifting to be done and a continuous struggle is always between its various interpretations in every religion, Islam has lot of catching up to do. Given the fact that it is the second largest religion and which happens to be the fastest growing one spread almost all over the word, the problem of its predicament with modernity concerns entire humanity.
According to Jurgen Habermas culture of modernity is based on norms, values and a rational secular world view. This critical thinking and primacy of reason are the basis of modernity. All societies would have converged on such common platform had they not been subjugated by gun powder, in Egypt by Napoleon and in India by British. In that sense the appropriation of modernity as European project has been product of mythical claim to superiority of white world which suits certain obscurantist elements in Islamic society. Because once stamped as western concept, modernity can easily be associated all evils that one sees in so called God less societies in the white world. Then, Veil, Hijab and banning Valentine day seems logical and desirable.
To begin with the right thinking Muslims may have to accept that the religious literature needs to be read in its socio temporal context when it was first written. The rapid developments in science have proved that our planet is a living system and nothing here is permanent or immutable. Not even the rocks as commonsense may make us believe. Kenneth Lacovara on of his TED Talk stated that “the Earth is alive, pulsating and creative and destructive forces that power its geological metabolism. Lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts date back to about the age of the solar system. Moon rocks are forever. Earth rocks on the other hand face perils of a living lithosphere.”
This principle of change is not new to Islam. As Mohammed Al Jabri, the Moroccan Islamic scholar pointed out that, this principle of non-immutability has already been accepted and expanded upon by the 13th century Muslim scholar Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Further endorsed in the Qua’ranic edict, “Allah does not change people unless they change themselves”. This only shows that change or adaptation is not un-Islamic and Muslims can and should change themselves without guilt, in fact as sign of modernity.It is true that such change should be borne out of critical thinking which is also provided for by the idea of “Ijtihad” pointed out by the famous Canadian Muslim activist Irshad Manji in her book “The Trouble With Islam Today” in which she has extensively dealt with Islam’s own tradition of independent & critical thinking. Be it in Islamic country or on global level, reformation can begin as stated by extremist turned progressive British Muslim Scholar Maajid Nawaz;
“what can unite us is a set of religion – neutral values. By focusing on the universality of human, democratic and secular values we can arrive at some common ground.”
In my opinion, the best chance for such reform process to sprout and grow is among the Muslim diaspora living all over the world in the democratic societies. Once such changes become visible to the global society world over, then extremists will really be isolated and start appearing as the fringe elements. No longer then the present ritualistic sounding denial after any terrorist attack, that “this does not represent Islam” will be required or to those still doubting Harries it will sound more responsive and responsible.