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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam ( 26 May 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Attempts To Reform Muslim Thought Have Always Faced Fierce Resistance From Fundamentalists: Iraqi Thinker Mahdi Qassem Cites Examples Of Naguib Mahfouz, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Husayn Muruwa, Faragh Foda, All Of Whom Suffered At The Hands Of Traditional Islam

Many Reformists And Thinkers Were Assassinated By Extremists.

Main Points:

1. Extremist interpretation of Quranic verses turn young Muslims into terrorists.

2. Secularists and liberal thinkers are branded apostates and enemies of Islam.

3.Muslims have a very rigid notion of religion that prevents them from reform.


New Age Islam Staff Writer

26 May 2021

The stagnation in Muslim thought across the Muslim world has always been a cause of concern for Muslim intellectuals, liberal Islamic scholars and reformers. But their attempts have always faced fierce resistance from the fundamentalists who are so much obsessed with the puritanical Islam that they think that any reform in the Muslim thought will corrupt the faith. Therefore, these reformers were either assassinated or declared apostates and had to go into self-exile. Moreover, every such attempt is believed to be a conspiracy of the West and the reformers are considered agents of the enemies of Islam. The result is that all such attempts to bring reform among Muslims have failed in the past and will fail in future as well.

These were the observations of a renowned Iraqi writer Mahdi Qassem which he made in his article published in Sawt-al-Iraq on March 10, 2021.

His observations reflect the frustration of a large number of Muslim intellectuals and liberal Islamic scholars, especially of the Arab world. The stagnation in the religious thought has reached such a degree that any attempt at reform is seen with suspicion.

This stagnation in Islamic thought of the modern age has caused immense and irreparable damage to Muslims. The two major problems facing Muslims today ---Sectarianism and Terrorism --- are the result of this intellectual stagnation and the refusal to adapt to needs and requirements of the modern age.

Mahdi Qassem cites the examples of some prominent Muslim academicians, scholars and thinkers who were declared apostates or assassinated or there were attempts at their life. He cites the example of Husayn Muruwa (1910-1987) who was assassinated at his home in Beirut. Muruwa was a Lebanese philosopher and a senior member of Lebanese Communist Party. He wrote a number of books. His most outstanding work was Materialist Tendencies in Arabic Islamic Philosophy. In this book he interpreted traditional Arabic texts from the Marxist point of view.

Another writer and thinker who was assassinated because of his reformist thought was Faragh Foda (1946-1992). He was a prominent writer and human rights activist of Egypt. Foda became an eyesore for the radical Islamists of Egypt for his critical writings on Muslim religious thought. The titles of his books give a hint of his critical attitude. Some of his books are Pleasure Marriage, Sectarianism to Where?, Dialogue about Shariah etc. Obviously he was critical of Sectarianism in Islam, the general concept of Sharia and corrupt practices in the name of temporary marriages. Al Azhar declared him and other secularist writers enemies of Islam. Foda advocated separation of religion from state. The Gama'a Islamiyya accused him of blasphemy and declared him an apostate. The members of Gama'a Islamiyya assassinated him on June 8, 1992.

However, Faragh Foda's daughter Samar refuted the allegation that her father was an apostate . She said that he was a thinker and defended moderate Islam. She claimed that not a single text in his father's writings was against Islam.

Another prominent writer of Egypt who became the target of the extremists was the Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. He was also critical of cultural censorship and advocated freedom of expression. He denounced what he called cultural terrorism. The Islamists regarded Naguib Mahfouz's novels as blasphemous and Al Azhar had banned his novel "Children of Gabalawi". In 1992, he along with hundreds of Egyptian intellectuals had signed a letter denouncing cultural terrorism. In October 1994, an extremist attacked him with a knife and severely injured his neck. But he survived the attack.

Apart from these thinkers and liberal scholars there are dozens of other philosophers and thinkers who were victimised for their unconventional views on Islam and the Quran.

One such thinker was Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd who was also a victim of intolerant religious attitude. He was the Professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies in Cairo University. He was an advocate of freedom of thought and scientific research and a critic of contemporary Islamic discourse. He had his own views on the Quran. He accepted Quran as a divine book but was of the view that the Quran was a cultural product which had to be read and interpreted in context of the language and culture of the seventh century Arabs and could be interpreted in many ways.

For his views, a court of Egypt declared him apostate and ordered his separation from his wife. He went into self-exile in Europe but later returned to Egypt and died a natural death.

Mahdi Qassem also blames the growth of terrorism and extremism among the third generation of Muslims born and brought up in Europe on the extremist interpretation of certain verses of the Quran. He wonders how the young Muslims who were born in liberal European society and were educated in the colleges and universities of Europe turned terrorists and joined Al Qaida and ISIS. He blames this on the refusal of Muslims to bring any kind of reform. He writes:

"Many third generation descendants of Muslim (immigrants) were born in western welfare states and studied in their best schools and universities. Moreover, they grew up in real democracies and open societies that promote the values of tolerance and of giving every individual a chance to develop his personal skills and abilities and that punish every kind of racism and hate-mongering. But it is young men and women of third generation of all people who joined terrorist organisations like Al Qaida and ISIS and others... and perpetrated horrible and barbaric crimes of murder, massacre and burning people alive."

He also observes that any reform in Muslim thought and behaviour is not possible because Muslims have developed a very rigid concept of religion. He writes:

"I believe that any future attempt ( at reform) will fail as well, for Islam is the only religion in the world that resists reform and will never be reformed neither by force nor through a flexible (approach). Not only because it requires changing or omitting many Quranic verses that call for violent jihad and for forceful coercion, but also because the Salafis and their sheikhs believe that any enlightened reform of this kind will empty Islam of its content and essence, and lead to its distortion and annulment, turning it into what they see as a fake religion like Christianity and Judaism."(English translation by MEMRI)

The irony is that many old and new Islamic scholars believe in the theory of abrogation that calls for abrogation of certain verses of the Quran but only those verses that advocate peace and harmony with non-Muslims. They call the war verses that ask believers to keep fighting all non-Muslims in all times and in all circumstances universally applicable.

Therefore, sectarianism and terrorism cannot be fought and eliminated as long as Quranic verses are not interpreted in the light of modern social and political requirements.


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