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Is Islam in need of reformation?



A common analysis and theme that is often made in the media and academic circles is that Islam is in need of reformation, and that Islam needs to moderate itself in order to flourish and survive in the 21st century. The problem with this analysis is that its premise is often flawed. The premise goes something like this: There is a Muslim in society, this Muslim is generally not productive for society, it’s bad, and has some backwardness tendencies within it.

What’s done next is that the analysts will judge Islam by the action of this bad person, the analysts and academics will say this bad Muslim is proof that Islam must be reformed in order to make Muslims become better people for society. However so as you can see, the premise is flawed since the academics are assuming that the behavior of the bad Muslim is indicative of the religion of Islam. 

The real premise should be the following: There is a bad Muslim in society; this Muslim is backward, and unproductive for society. The question we must ask ourselves is why the Muslim is like that, rather than automatically putting the blame on Islam’s doorstep. And this is precisely the point we are trying to make here, it is not Islam that is in need of reform, rather it is the Muslims themselves who are in need of reform, and that the reason for the Muslim backwardness is precisely because they have left Islamic principles and guidelines. So the solution is a return of the Islamic ideal.

Let us elaborate on this point and give some examples. In today’s world, there are many Muslims who are uneducated, and illiterate, they don’t make a meaningful contribution to science, and technology. Yet is Islam to blame for this? Anyone who studies Islam will know that the religion of Islam commands the Muslims to seek knowledge, to become educated, it is a religious obligation in the religion of Islam to seek education and knowledge. Therefore how can Islam be blamed for uneducated Muslims? Islam tells Muslims to educate themselves, to pursue knowledge, and yet Muslims decide to do the opposite, so is it Islam who is at fault, or is it the Muslim? The answer is quite clear, it’s the Muslim who is at fault, it is the Muslim who needs to be blamed for this, and it is the Muslim who needs to reform himself by returning back to the Islamic principle of seeking knowledge and education. The Islamic principle in this case is the solution, because we have uneducated Muslims, Islam calls for education and knowledge, hence Islamic guidelines are precisely the solution to get Muslims back to seeking knowledge and education.

The Muslims had a golden generation in the past, it was a generation in which Muslims excelled in all fields: science, astronomy, math’s, technology, biology, medicine, chemistry, and philosophy. The Muslims were the masters of these fields for centuries, living in a fruitful and progressive society. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Was Islam in need of reform during the Islamic golden age? If we have empirical evidence of a progressive Muslim society that was based on Islamic ideals, and a society that was living under an Islamic state as well, then what response do the critics have? If anything, the response of these critics should be that the Muslims need to reform themselves by returning back to the principles of the Islamic golden age, and the principles of the Islamic golden age were based on Islam itself.

The Muslim scientists and pioneers during the Islamic golden age got their motivation from Islam itself, from Islamic teachings that called on Muslims to pursue knowledge, and it was from these Islamic principles from which Muslim scientists and pioneers acted from.

Another example on the point of education, we have some Muslims who have the belief that females shouldn’t get an education, that the education system has no place for a female. Again we must ask ourselves, is this the fault of Islam, or the fault of the Muslim? No where in the religion of Islam does it teach that Muslim females have no right to an education, when the religion of Islam commanded Muslims to seek knowledge and education, this was a general command for all Muslims, male and female, it was not a command specific for men alone. So why should Islam get the blame for a foreign alien teaching that is not from its texts? In other words, how can Islam reform or change from something that doesn’t even exist in the first place? There is nothing to reform to because the problem doesn’t exist in Islam. Yes, it exists for the Muslim, and it is the Muslim who needs to fix themselves, but how is Islam to blame?

Another example we are often told about is that Muslims lack the concepts of freedom, human rights, and tolerance. The evidence that is used for this is once again the examples of bad Muslims who do exhibit traits of intolerance and an attitude that goes against human rights, so the solution we are told is that Islam needs to reform so that it can become a religion that has the concepts of freedom, human rights, and tolerance.

So what should we do with the empirical evidence that points to centuries of Islamic tolerance? I refer you back to the Islamic golden age, an age when the Muslim society was based on Islamic ideals, and principles. During this era, the Muslim state was not only compromised of Muslims, rather the Muslim state had a significant non-Muslim population living in the same state. Historians have recounted to us how non-Muslims living in the Muslim state were afforded their full rights, and when we say full rights, we do not simply mean they had a right to their faith, beliefs, and so forth. Rather when we say they had their full rights, we mean they also had the full right practice and live by their own law and culture.

This may come as a surprise to many, but under the Muslim state, the non-Muslims living there did not have to judge by the Islamic law, or the Islamic way. Rather they were more than free to use their own law systems, and that was based on their own traditional rules and customs. So we must ask ourselves again, was Islam in need of reform back then? The Islamic golden generation, which afforded non-Muslims their full rights, was under Islamic ideals and principles, so if anything, based on the empirical evidence, we must conclude that Muslim intolerance cannot be ascribed to Islam, but rather can be ascribed to the backward devolving nature of man’s attitude.

The Noble Quran has ample verses that talk about religious freedom, the right to choose, and follow what you will. The Quran also has ample verses about human rights, about how humans should respect the sanctity of life, how people have a right to be treated properly with respect and dignity, and how they have a right to be safe from harm, and how we as a community must help the weak and the oppressed. All of these principles are sometimes referred to as the bedrock of modern democratic western societies, yet these very same principles are within the Noble Quran, and not only are they in the Noble Quran, we have empirical evidence to show that these teachings and principles were put into practice during centuries of the Islamic golden age.

Even during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) we have many examples of his religious tolerance. When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) entered the city of Madinah as the leader of the new Muslim community, he set out a constitution-treaty with the city’s large Jewish population, and in this constitution the Jews were afforded their full right to religious freedom, and that they would be one with the Muslim community.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also made several treaties with Christian tribes, granting them their full rights to practice their faith in peace and safety. So again is Islam in need of reform when it comes to such matters as freedom of religion, tolerance, and human rights? Not really, rather it’s the Muslims who need to return themselves back to these teachings and examples as a proper way of reformation.

In conclusion, Islam is not in need of reformation, but yes, Muslims themselves are in definite need of reformation, and the source of that reformation is Islam itself, which has the solutions and remedies to many problems the Muslims face. 


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