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ISLAM in the 21st CENTURY

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Islam in the 21st Century

The diversity among Muslims is obvious and includes contempt by Muslim clerics for other Muslim clerics and contempt by non-clerics for clerics. There are Muslims who take the Koran seriously and Muslims who focus their lives around the Koran as little as some nominal Christians focus their lives around the Bible. There are Muslims who distance themselves from particular imams and ayatollahs just as there are Christians who have distanced themselves from a local priest or preacher.

The Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a European Muslim and Oxford University professor, proclaims the right of Muslims to interpret the word of God as they choose and to ignore those exhortations in the Koran that he believes should not be applied in today's world.

A young Muslim woman from Ohio, Zeba Khan, joins Tariq Ramadan in interpreting the Koran in accordance with her values. Speaking at a debate on October 6, 2010, she said of her parents: "They lived out the Koranic commandments that there is no compulsion in religion... They urged their children, all three of us, to question, to have critical minds, and to doubt."

The concept of democracy is a part of the fragmentation. Iran is called an Islamic democracy. Iran has elections which they view as compatible with the authority of the ayatollahs making decisions that they deem are in accordance with the will of God.

Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

Benazir Bhutto, a Shia Muslim and Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1993 to 1996, addressed the Islam-democracy controversy in a book titled Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. She wrote of Islam as committed "to the principles of democracy," that the Koran "says that Islamic society is contingent on 'mutual advice through mutual discussions on an equal footing'."

Dr. Sayed Khatab, a Sunni Muslim, in his book Democracy in Islam (2007) , compared modern democracy with the practices of Islam's early caliphs. These caliphs, he held, appealed to popular consent. His argument is not acceptable to the Shia, who view the first three caliphs as usurpers.

Geography and cultural tradition were involved in the differences in interpreting what was proper for Islam. The Supreme Leader Khomeini grew up in Iran. Bhutto was a Pakistani and influenced to an extent by Western tradition inherited from the British. Khatab was an Egyptian. And at least some US citizens who were Muslims had absorbed the notion that secular law, democracy and pluralism were legitimate aspects of being a Muslim.

Bernard Lewis on Government and Terrorism

Bernard Lewis (1916-  ), professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, had his critics – among them Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said. Nevertheless, Lewis was considered the best of scholars on Islam. With distortion of Islam in mind, in his book Islam the Religion and the People (2008) he and his collaborator, Buntzie Churchill, wrote,

At no time did the classical [Muslim] jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays. (p. 151)

The emergence of the now widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century. It has no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition. It is a pity that those who practice this form of terrorism are not better acquainted with their own religion, and with the culture that grew up under the auspices of that religion.

The fanatical warrior offering his victims the choice of the Koran or the sword is not only untrue. (p. 146)

Islam as a religion and as a culture should not not be blamed for the tribal customs of some of the peoples who adopted it. A good example is the genital mutilation of young females, widely practiced in Africa and, to a lesser extent, in some other places, but without any foundation whatsoever in Islamic scripture, tradition, or law. Another example is the practice of honor killing. (p.118)

On Islam and government Lewis writes: "In classical Muslim perception, there is no human legislative function... The legal function of the state is to apply and enforce the divinely given law." According to Lewis, the first attempts by Muslims to compile and promulgate codes of law began in the mid-19th century, and this was "clearly under European influence." (Islam: the Religion and its People, pages 34-35)

Out of the Past

In her book Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes the Islam of her maternal grandmother, a woman who grew up among pastoralists on the Somali Peninsula without the concept of a nation state. Her grandmother identified herself as belonging to a clan and to Islam, not a nation-state. In the mind of Ayaan's grandmother were legends of desert warriors and the superiority of males and sharaf, sharaf, sharaf. Honor, honor, honor. Her grandmother, writes Ayaan, said that "through trick and magic illusions... the infidel convinced people... to accept silly fences and imaginary borders." Her grandmother insisted on remaining "loyal first and foremost to God and the bloodline." (Nomad, p. 87)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes of her father telling her "never to be loyal to a secular state." According to the Koran, only God has the right to make laws, as in the translation:

Do they then seek the legislation of the Days of Ignorance? And who is better in legislating than God for a people who have Faith?  (Holy Koran, 5:50)

And whoever rules not by what God has revealed, those are the wrongdoers." (Holy Koran, 5:45)

Eventually rule went to Muslim conquerors who were not caliphs, and Muslim societies became nation-states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, et cetera.

Peace, Law and Order

Among those describing Islam as peaceful are the Sufi Muslims who see in the Koran the expression of peace and of a noble cause. But Sufis have been described by Sunni Muslims as apostates. The Sufi shrine in Karachi, Pakistan, was bombed on 7 October 2010, killing what was reported on that day to be 9 and wounding 55.

And there is the issue of death to apostates. Sharia law according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, by Brill Academic Publishers, states:

In Islamic law (sharia), the consensus view is that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shia scholars. (Wikipedia's quote)

On the other hand, as the Harvard scholar Noah Feldman points out,

By tradition and logic, the shari'a was an uncodified body of legal doctrines, principles, values, and opinions. It was the province of the scholarly class to use interpretation and discern the requirements of the law.

Across human history societies and religions have changed. Consciously and less than consciously people have made of the religion they inherited what they will, and with that change has come ideological and sometimes violent conflict.


Islam the Religion and the People, by Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Churchill, 2008

A summary of Who Speaks for Muslims: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, 2007

Islam: Beliefs and Observations, by Caesar E Farah, 2003

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, by Noah Feldman, 2010

"Noah Feldman Muslim and Western Views of Sharia" – YouTube, 2012

"English translations of the Quran," Wikipedia

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