Raheel Raza argues that there is a battle underway for the soul of Islam, and that reform must defeat the ideology of violent Islamism.
The past few months have seen a slew of terror attacks worldwide. From the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, to an attack on Istanbul airport, to hostage taking in Bangladesh, terrorists seem to have spread their net of violence globally.
The terrorists in these attacks were followers of the Islamic faith.
For the more progressive and peace-loving followers of the Islamic faith, if there was anything positive that could ever come out of the darkness of death and destruction, is the fact that the discussion and debate about the dreaded “R” word has been initiated. Reform is not an idea that has been openly embraced by Muslims in the past, but when secular Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Islam needs a reform, it started a buzz.
In the past, when some liberal Muslims tried to speak of reform in parts of the Muslim world that are theocracies, they were quickly and violently silenced. Therefore, the reform movement has to be started from the free world where Muslims have the luxury of freedom of speech and individual thinking. Once it takes root and a model is established, with hope others will follow.
Today, there is only one choice: Muslims can either follow the Islam of the Mullah, which is corrupt, or the Islam of Allah – which is compassionate and merciful and what this reform should strive toward.
The rise of a global jihadi insurgency has been the tipping point for many Western Muslims. Its twisted and mutated interpretation of the scripture is causing mayhem and havoc throughout the Muslim world and beyond. Muslims have begun openly embracing the first seeds of change toward reform. This reform is not to change the Quran but to reform the way in which Muslims interpret and implement the faith.
There is a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. Reform is necessary to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the seventh century and to fast forward it into the 21st century. Islam must support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948, with the understanding that we, as Muslims, must stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam.
Through a reformed understanding, Muslims must reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, Muslims must reflect on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance.
There are some key issues that are imperative to bring about change in the Muslim world.
Gender equality is one of them. In parts of the Muslim world, 50 percent of their citizens – i.e. women – are treated as second-class citizens. They are denied basic human rights to education, employment and freedom of movement. Islamic reform must address this gender parity, so that with education, enlightenment and equal rights, Muslim women will be among the leaders of the movement.
Pluralism and respect for those following a different path are also essential components of reform. This is especially important for Muslims living in the West where they interact with people from all faiths, races, and sexual orientations.
Another key aspect of Islamic reform is to learn from other faiths. How have they reformed by putting aside some notions from centuries ago, that are no longer compatible with the 21st century? In Islam, there is the idea of “armed jihad,” which was valid in seventh-century Arabia because there were no nation states, borders or the United Nations. Tribes only knew how to deal with other through armed warfare (which is essentially the meaning of armed jihad). The reform movement asks for Islamic leaders to delete the notion of armed jihad from the understanding of Islam today.
An Islamic reform would also clarify the concept of Sharia. Reformed Islam differentiates between personal Sharia (ethical and moral guidance as mentioned in the Quran), which is acceptable, and Sharia as a form of governance, which is not acceptable.
A movement toward reform has already been initiated in North America. In December 2015, a group of 14 Muslim organizations and individuals launched the Muslim Reform Movement in Washington D.C., with a declaration posted on their website. That declaration was also pinned on the door of the Saudi Mosque in Washington as a symbolic beginning.
The Islamic reform movement is a work in progress and as time will show, every idea begins with the seeds of change being planted.