Liberalism and progressivism within Islam
For modernist reform movements in Islam, see Islamic Modernism.
Their work is sometimes characterized as "progressive Islam" (Arabic: الإسلام التقدمي al-Islām at-taqaddumī); some scholars, such as Omid Safi, regard progressive Islam and liberal Islam as two distinct movements.
This can vary from the slight to the most liberal, where only the meaning of the Quran is considered to be a revelation, with its expression in words seen as the work of the prophet Muhammad in his particular time and context.
Liberal Muslims see themselves as returning to the principles of the early Ummah ethical and pluralistic intent of the Quran.
They distance themselves from some traditional and less liberal interpretations of Islamic law which they regard as culturally based and without universal applicability.
The reform movement uses monotheism (tawhid) "as an organizing principle for human society and the basis of religious knowledge, history, metaphysics, aesthetics, and ethics, as well as social, economic and world order".
Liberal Islam values reinterpretations of the Islamic scriptures in order to preserve their relevance in the 21st century.
Background in Islamic philosophy
Early Islamic philosophy emphasized an inexorable link between science and religion, and the process of ijtihad to find truth—in effect all philosophy was "political" as it had real implications for governance.
This view was challenged by the "rationalist" Mutazilite philosophers, who held a more Hellenic view, reason above revelation, and as such are known to modern scholars as the first speculative theologians of Islam; they were supported by a secular aristocracy who sought freedom of action independent of the Caliphate.
By the late ancient period, however, the "traditionalist" Asharite view of Islam had in general triumphed.
According to the Asharites, reason must be subordinate to the Quran and the Sunnah.
Being described as "founding father of secular thought in Western Europe", he was known by the nickname the Commentator for his precious commentaries on Aristotle's works.
His other works were the Fasl al-Maqal and the Kitab al-Kashf.
Ibn Rushd presented an argument in Fasl al-Maqal (Decisive Treatise) providing a justification for the emancipation of science and philosophy from official Ash'ari theology and that there is no inherent contradiction between philosophy and religion; thus Averroism has been considered a precursor to modern secularism.
Ibn Rushd accepts the principle of women's equality.
According to him they should be educated and allowed to serve in the military; the best among them might be tomorrow's philosophers or rulers.
Ibn Rushd became something of a symbolic figure in the debate over the decline and proposed revitalization of Islamic thought and Islamic society in the later 20th century.
A notable proponent of such a revival of Averroist thought in Islamic society was Mohammed Abed al-Jabri with his Critique de la Raison Arabe (1982).
They introduced his Egyptian audience to Enlightenment ideas such as secular authority and political rights and liberty; his ideas regarding how a modern civilized society ought to be and what constituted by extension a civilized or "good Egyptian"; and his ideas on public interest and public good.
Tahtawi's work was the first effort in what became an Egyptian renaissance (nahda) that flourished in the years between 1860–1940.
Tahtawi is considered one of the early adapters to Islamic Modernism.
Islamic Modernists attempted to integrate Islamic principles with European social theories.
In 1826, Al-Tahtawi was sent to Paris by Mehmet Ali.
Tahtawi studied at an educational mission for five years, returning in 1831.
Tahtawi was appointed director of the School of Languages.
At the school, he worked translating European books into Arabic.
Tahtawi was instrumental in translating military manuals, geography, and European history.
In total, al-Tahtawi supervised the translation of over 2,000 foreign works into Arabic.
Al-Tahtawi even made favorable comments about French society in some of his books.
Tahtawi stressed that the Principles of Islam are compatible with those of European Modernity.
In his piece, The Extraction of Gold or an Overview of Paris, Tahtawi discusses the patriotic responsibility of citizenship.
Tahtawi uses Roman civilization as an example for what could become of Islamic civilizations.
At one point all Romans are united under one Caesar but split into East and West.
After splitting, the two nations see “all its wars ended in defeat, and it retreated from a perfect existence to nonexistence.” Tahtawi understands that if Egypt is unable to remain united, it could fall prey to outside invaders.
Tahtawi stresses the importance of citizens defending the patriotic duty of their country.
One way to protect one's country according to Tahtawi, is to accept the changes that come with a modern society.
Egyptian Islamic jurist and religious scholar Muhammad Abduh, regarded as one of the key founding figures of Islamic Modernism or sometimes called Neo-Mu’tazilism, broke the rigidity of the Muslim ritual, dogma, and family ties.
Abduh argued that Muslims could not simply rely on the interpretations of texts provided by medieval clerics, they needed to use reason to keep up with changing times.
He said that in Islam man was not created to be led by a bridle, man was given intelligence so that he could be guided by knowledge.
According to Abduh, a teacher’s role was to direct men towards study.
He believed that Islam encouraged men to detach from the world of their ancestors and that Islam reproved the slavish imitation of tradition.
He said that the two greatest possessions relating to religion that man was graced with were independence of will and independence of thought and opinion.
It was with the help of these tools that he could attain happiness.
He believed that the growth of western civilization in Europe was based on these two principles.
He thought that Europeans were roused to act after a large number of them were able to exercise their choice and to seek out facts with their minds.
In his works, he portrays God as educating humanity from its childhood through its youth and then on to adulthood.
According to him, Islam is the only religion whose dogmas can be proven by reasoning.
He was against polygamy and thought that it was an archaic custom.
He believed in a form of Islam that would liberate men from enslavement, provide equal rights for all human beings, abolish the religious scholar’s monopoly on exegesis and abolish racial discrimination and religious compulsion.
Muhammad Abduh claimed in his book "Al-Idtihad fi Al-Nasraniyya wa Al-Islam" that no one had exclusive religious authority in the Islamic world.
He argued that the Caliph did not represent religious authority, because he was not infallible nor was the Caliph the person whom the revelation was given to; therefore, according to Abduh, the Caliph and other Muslims are equal.
Broadly speaking, he preached brotherhood between all schools of thought in Islam.
Abduh regularly called for better friendship between religious communities.
As Christianity was the second biggest religion in Egypt, he devoted special efforts towards friendship between Muslims and Christians.
He had many Christian friends and many a time he stood up to defend Copts.
While not denying that the Qur'an was of divine origin, Zayd argued that it was a "cultural product" that had to be read in the context of the language and culture of seventh century Arabs, and could be interpreted in more than one way.
He also criticized the use of religion to exert political power.
(He later "quietly" returned to Egypt where he died.)
According to scholar Navid Kermani "three key themes" emerge from Abu Zayd's work:
- to trace the various interpretations and historical settings of the single Qur'anic text from the early days of Islam up to the present;
- to demonstrate the "interpretational diversity" (al-ta 'addud alta 'wili) that exists within the Islamic tradition;
- and to show how this diversity has been "increasingly neglected" across Islamic history.
Abu Zayd saw himself as an heir to the Muʿtazila, "particularly their idea of the created Qurʿān and their tendency toward metaphorical interpretation."
Abu Zayd strongly opposed the belief in a "single, precise and valid interpretation of the Qur'an handed down by the Prophet for all times".
In his view, the Quran made Islamic Arab culture a `culture of the text` (hadarat al-nass) par excellence, but because the language of the Quran is not self-explanatory, this implied Islamic Arab culture was also a culture of interpretation (hadarat al-ta'wil).
Abu Zayd emphasized "intellect" (`aql) in understanding the Quran, as opposed to "a hermeneutical approach which gives priority to the narrated traditions [ hadith ]" (naql).
As a reflection of this Abu Zaid used the term ta'wil (interpretation) for efforts to understand the Quran, while in the Islamic sciences, the literature that explained the Quran was referred to as tafsir (commentary, explanation).
For Abu Zaid, interpretation goes beyond explanation or commentary, "for without" the Qur'an would not have meaning:
From the beginning of his academic career, Abu Zaid developed a renewed hermeneutic view (the theory and methodology of text interpretation) of the Qur'an and further Islamic holy texts, arguing that they should be interpreted in the historical and cultural context of their time.
The mistake of many Muslim scholars was "to see the Qur'an only as a text, which led conservatives as well as liberals to a battle of quotations, each group seeing clear verses (when on their side) and ambiguous ones (when in contradiction with their vision)".
But this type of controversy led both conservatives and liberals to produce authoritative hermeneutics.
This vision of the Qur'an as a text was the vision of the elites of Muslim societies, whereas, at the same time, the Qur'an as "an oral discourse" played the most important part in the understanding of the masses.
Abu Zayd called for another reading of the holy book through a "humanistic hermeneutics", an interpretation which sees the Qur'an as a living phenomenon, a discourse.
Hence, the Qur'an can be "the outcome of dialogue, debate, despite argument, acceptance and rejection".
This liberal interpretation of Islam should open space for new perspectives on the religion and social change in Muslim societies.
His analysis finds several "insistent calls for social justice" in the Qur'an .
The Quran strongly criticizes Muhammad's attitude.
Abu Zayd also argued that while the Qur'anic discourse was built in a patriarchal society, and therefore the addressees were naturally males, who received permission to marry, divorce, and marry off their female relatives, it is "possible to imagine that Muslim women receive the same rights", and so the Quran had a "tendency to improve women's rights".
The classical position of the modern ‘ulamā’ about that issue is understandable as "they still believe in superiority of the male in the family".
Abu Zayd's critical approach to classical and contemporary Islamic discourse in the fields of theology, philosophy, law, politics, and humanism, promoted modern Islamic thought that might enable Muslims to build a bridge between their own tradition and the modern world of freedom of speech, equality (minority rights, women's rights, social justice), human rights, democracy and globalisation.
Main article: Ijtihad
effort, physical or mental, expended in a particular activity) is an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question.
It is contrasted with taqlid (imitation, conformity to legal precedent).
According to classical Sunni theory, ijtihad requires expertise in the Arabic language, theology, revealed texts, and principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), and is not employed where authentic and authoritative texts (Qur'an and hadith) are considered unambiguous with regard to the question, or where there is an existing scholarly consensus (ijma).
Ijtihad is considered to be a religious duty for those qualified to perform it.
An Islamic scholar who is qualified to perform ijtihad is called a mujtahid.
Starting from the 18th century, some Muslim reformers began calling for abandonment of taqlid and emphasis on ijtihad, which they saw as a return to Islamic origins.
Public debates in the Muslim world surrounding ijtihad continue to the present day.
The advocacy of ijtihad has been particularly associated with Islamic modernists.
Among contemporary Muslims in the West there have emerged new visions of ijtihad which emphasize substantive moral values over traditional juridical methodology.
A combination of Islam and feminism has been advocated as "a feminist discourse and practice articulated within an Islamic paradigm" by Margot Badran in 2002.
Islamic feminists ground their arguments in Islam and its teachings, seek the full equality of women and men in the personal and public sphere, and can include non-Muslims in the discourse and debate.
During recent times, the concept of Islamic feminism has grown further with Islamic groups looking to garner support from many aspects of society.
In addition, educated Muslim women are striving to articulate their role in society.
Examples of Islamic feminist groups are the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, founded by Meena Keshwar Kamal, Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality from India, and Sisters in Islam from Malaysia, founded by Zainah Anwar and Amina Wadud among other five women.
In 2014, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) issued a fatwa declaring that Sisters In Islam, as well as any other organisation promoting religious liberalism and pluralism, deviate from the teachings of Islam.
According to the edict, publications that are deemed to promote liberal and pluralistic religious thinking are to be declared unlawful and confiscated, while social media is also to be monitored and restricted.
As fatwas are legally binding in Malaysia, SIS is challenging it on constitutional grounds.
Moderate Islamic political thought contends that the nurturing of the Muslim identity and the propagation of values such as democracy and human rights are not mutually exclusive, but rather should be promoted together.
Most liberal Muslims believe that Islam promotes the notion of absolute equality of all humanity, and that it is one of its central concepts.
Therefore, a breach of human rights has become a source of great concern to most liberal Muslims.
Liberal Muslims differ with their culturally conservative counterparts in that they believe that all humanity is represented under the umbrella of human rights.
Many Muslim majority countries have signed international human rights treaties, but the impact of these largely remains to be seen in local legal systems.
They say that slavery opposed Islamic principles which they believe to be based on justice and equality and some say that verses relating to slavery or "Ma malakat aymanukum" now can not be applied due to the fact that the world has changed, while others say that those verses are totally misinterpreted and twisted to legitimize slavery.
When some called for reinstatement of slavery in Pakistan upon its independence from the British colonial rule, Pervez argued that the past tense of this expression means that the Quran had imposed "an unqualified ban" on slavery.
Liberal Muslims have argued against death penalty for apostasy based on the Quranic verse that "There shall be no compulsion in religion."
Main articles: LGBT in Islam § LGBT-related movements within Islam, Al-Fatiha Foundation, and Gay Muslims
In January 2013, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) was launched.
The organization was formed by members of the Queer Muslim Working Group, with the support of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The Safra Project for women is based in the UK.
It supports and works on issues relating to prejudice LGBTQ Muslim women.
It was founded in October 2001 by Muslim LBT women.
The Safra Project’s “ethos is one of inclusiveness and diversity.”
In Canada, Salaam was founded as the first gay Muslim organization in Canada and the second in the world.
Salaam was found in 1993 by El-Farouk Khaki, who organized the Salaam/Al-Fateha International Conference in 2003.
In May 2009, the Toronto Unity Mosque / el-Tawhid Juma Circle was founded by Laury Silvers, a University of Toronto religious studies scholar, alongside Muslim gay-rights activists El-Farouk Khaki and Troy Jackson.
Unity Mosque/ETJC is a gender-equal, LGBT+ affirming, mosque.
It was described by the press as the first gay-friendly mosque in Europe.
The reaction from the rest of the Muslim community in France has been mixed, the opening has been condemned by the Grand Mosque of Paris.
Examples of Muslim LGBT media works are the 2006 Channel 4's documentary Gay Muslims, the film production company Unity Productions Foundation, the 2007 and 2015 documentary films A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca, both produced by Parvez Sharma, and the Jordanian LGBT publication My.Kali.
Main article: Islam and secularism
The definition and application of secularism, especially the place of religion in society, varies among Muslim countries as it does among non-Muslim countries.
As the concept of secularism varies among secularists in the Muslim world, reactions of Muslim intellectuals to the pressure of secularization also varies.
On the one hand, secularism is condemned by some Muslim intellectuals who do not feel that religious influence should be removed from the public sphere.
On the other hand, secularism is claimed by others to be compatible with Islam.
For example, the quest for secularism has inspired some Muslim scholars who argue that secular government is the best way to observe sharia; "enforcing [sharia] through coercive power of the state negates its religious nature, because Muslims would be observing the law of the state and not freely performing their religious obligation as Muslims" says Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a professor of law at Emory University and author of Islam and the secular state : negotiating the future of Shariʻa.
Moreover, some scholars argue that secular states have existed in the Muslim world since the Middle Ages.
Sayyid supremacism and caste system in Islam
Sayyids have special privileges in Islam, notably of tax exemptions and a share in Khums.
Discrimination also exists in regards of intermarriage between persons of Arab and non-Arab lineages with the following ruling being relevant according to Hanafi school:
South Asian Muslims have a complex system of castes heavily influenced by Hindu caste system but scholars have opined that Islamic influence had an independent contribution to it.
Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, in accordance with their increasingly modern societies and outlooks, liberal Muslims have tended to reinterpret many aspects of the application of their religion in their life in an attempt to reconnect.
This is particularly true of Muslims who now find themselves living in non-Muslim countries.
At least one observer (Max Rodenbeck) has noted several challenges to "reform"—i.e. accommodation with the enlightenment, reason and science, the separation of religion and politics—that the other two Abrahamic faiths did not have to grapple with:
In addition, traditional sharia law has been shaped in all its complexity by serving for centuries as "the backbone" of legal systems of Muslim states, while millions of Muslim now live in non-Muslim states.
Islam also lacks a "widely recognized religious hierarchy to explain doctrinal changes or to enforce them" because it has no [central] church.
Main article: Islamic Modernism
Islamic Modernism, also sometimes referred to as Modernist Salafism, is a movement that has been described as "the first Muslim ideological response" attempting to reconcile Islamic faith with modern Western values such as nationalism, democracy, civil rights, rationality, equality, and progress.
It featured a "critical reexamination of the classical conceptions and methods of jurisprudence" and a new approach to Islamic theology and Quranic exegesis (Tafsir).
It was the first of several Islamic movements – including secularism, Islamism and Salafism – that emerged in the middle of the 19th century in reaction to the rapid changes of the time, especially the perceived onslaught of Western Civilization and colonialism on the Muslim world.
The early Islamic Modernists (al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu) used the term "salafiyya" to refer to their attempt at renovation of Islamic thought, and this "salafiyya movement" is often known in the West as "Islamic modernism," although it is very different from what is currently called the Salafi movement, which generally signifies "ideologies such as wahhabism".
Since its inception, Modernism has suffered from co-option of its original reformism by both secularist rulers and by "the official ulama" whose "task it is to legitimise" rulers' actions in religious terms.
Modernism differs from secularism in that it insists on the importance of religious faith in public life, and from Salafism or Islamism in that it embraces contemporary European institutions, social processes, and values.
Main article: Quranism
See also: Criticism of Hadith
Quranists reject the hadith and follow the Quran only.
The extent to which Quranists reject the authenticity of the Sunnah varies, but the more established groups have thoroughly criticised the authenticity of the hadith and refused it for many reasons, the most prevalent being the Quranist claim that hadith is not mentioned in the Quran as a source of Islamic theology and practice, was not recorded in written form until more than two centuries after the death of the Muhammed, and contain perceived internal errors and contradictions.
Main article: Tolu-e-Islam
Ghulam Ahmed Pervez did not reject all hadiths; however, he only accepted hadiths which "are in accordance with the Quran or do not stain the character of the Prophet or his companions".
The organization publishes and distributes books, pamphlets, and recordings of Pervez's teachings.
Tolu-e-Islam does not belong to any political party, nor does it belong to any religious group or sect.
- Cultural Muslim
- Islam and modernity
- Islam and secularism
- Islamic revival
- Modern Islamic philosophy
- Muslims for Progressive Values
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism and progressivism within Islam.