By Imam Tawhidi
January 13th, 2019
In recent years, reform in the Middle East has developed in an interesting fashion. It is important to acknowledge the two types of reform: The reform of religious laws and the reform of government laws. For example: Saudi Arabia may have allowed women to drive, but their religious laws still rule for the beheading of its citizens.
Reform on a political level should be achieved by politicians, and reform on a religious level should be achieved by faith leaders. Faith leaders must not involve themselves in politics, and politicians must not involve themselves in religion. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that some terminologies might be misleading, in Iran for example, the Islamist opposition made of clerics refer to themselves as ‘reformists’, when they are simply Islamists with a slightly different political view; one that doesn’t reject the fundamentals of the current theocracy, but might have other economic policies. Basically, radicals of a different flavour.
Cultural reform on the other hand is a lot easier and more realistic than religious reform. While religious reform involves the participation of all religious heads and faith leaders, cultural reform is a development that occurs locally or nationally; because not all Muslims have the same culture.
There are basic methods of progress that could be applied instantly, while we work on other areas of our cultures that require improvement. School uniforms are a key place to start. Having colourful uniforms are better than black dress codes which create a depressing atmosphere within the educational systems. School text-books should be reviewed to contain better educational versions, ones that rely upon scientific facts rather than religious stories. The media can also play a vital role in broadcasting the efforts of cultural reform to encourage other cultures within the same country and geographic region.
Last December, Malaysia’s Muslim Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said his country’s educational curriculums will be overhauled. He condemned the fact that Islamic subjects are given heavy emphasis, rather than encouraging students to master subjects such as the English language, that could result in them having a brighter future. He also added that "when you have too many clerics, they always differ from each other, and they mislead their followers and they quarrel with each other.”
Reformists need a clear vision of what they are dealing with. Islam is a sophisticated religion, and relevant training is required in order to have influence on lawmakers and theologians. It must always be kept in mind that Islam although is a religion, is divided into four aspects: values, rituals, legislation and politics. Thus, it is wrong for reformists to focus on political reform while ignoring the need for intellectual and cultural reforms. Reforms must take place together, and at the same time.
The notion of reform, although not new, is still foreign to the mind of the Muslim individual; even for many of the intellectuals and professors. Therefore, it is necessary for Muslim societies to understand the goals behind every reformist movement, in order to avoid clashes and feelings of isolation. The mechanisms and stages of reform need to be as transparent as possible as well as giving the opportunity for opposition and difference of opinion among the reformist community.
It is necessary of Muslim reformists to know their roles in society, and to make their main mission: spreading intellectual awareness. The Middle East is in dire need of understanding the importance of freedom, justice and equality. We must then establish institutes that transform and deliver these values to the people.
Alongside the reformation of culture and religious thought, efforts must be made towards judicial reform. One of the common dilemmas Muslim judges within Islamic nations face is being subjected to a religious teaching or Quranic verse that provides only one legitimate form of sentencing, regardless of what the nation believes. In most cases, barbaric sentencing is justified for doctrinal, sectarian and authoritarian purposes in order to legitimize the rule of the tyrant. A clear example of this is the Islamist movement within Islam that interprets Quran in a method that suits their agendas and desires.
Our critical problems remain in the legislative and political aspects. Traditional jurisprudence has become a tool of religious and political tyranny within Muslim societies, and has elevated fallible humans to become the link between the individual Muslim and God, making it seem as though God cannot be reached except through the ruler. Perhaps this explains the failures of previous reformists, as they had ignored the influence of Sharia law on the judicial system, with many of them eventually sentenced to execution by it.
Imam Tawhidi is a Muslim Faith leader and the former Imam of the Islamic Association of South Australia.