August 18, 2010

The False Hope for "Reform Islam"

I came across a recent comment in which a person at Street Prophets wrote about their hope for a "reform" Islam that would be on a par with reform Judaism. the following is my response to that comment:

I hate to break this to you, but there will be no "reform" Islam anytime in the foreseeable future, insha'allah. The so-called "progressive" Muslim movement reached its peak in the early 2000s before self-imploding; their leaders were too full of ego to be able to work with each other, and they were never taken seriously (in fact, completely rejected by) the orthodox Muslim community. No group has ever taken their place, and they have no significant web presence.

A few weeks ago, in a report by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (Jordan), entitled "The 500 Most Influential Muslims - 2010," the authors broke down the worldwide Muslim population by both doctrine and ideology. The ideological divisions are as follows: Traditional Islam, Islamic Fundamentalism, and Islamic Modernism. The authors described Islamic Modernism as follows:

Islamic modernism is a reform movement started by politically-minded urbanites with scant knowledge of traditional Islam. These people had witnessed and studied Western technology and socio-political ideas, and realized that the Islamic world was being left behind technologically by the West and had become too weak to stand up to it. They blamed this weakness on what they saw as ‘traditional Islam,’ which they thought held them back and was not ‘progressive’ enough. They thus called for a complete overhaul of Islam, including — or rather in particular — Islamic law (sharia) and doctrine (aqida). Islamic modernism remains popularly an object of derision and ridicule, and is scorned by traditional Muslims and fundamentalists alike.

Of the three groups, Islamic Modernists make up the smallest percentage worldwide, at 1%. Traditional Islam come in at 96%, and Islamic Fundamentalists at 3%. (The Sufis, called "Mystic Brotherhoods" in the report, are classified (correctly) under Traditional Islam.) The Modernists have no standing to influence the Muslim community, whether in the US or any other country.

If you want to encourage the positive aspects of Islam, you must deal with orthodox Muslims. This is not simply a case of conceit or real politik, it is simple fact as verified through academic studies. A recent study (January 2010) by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina (Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans [pdf]) found that, rather than increasing radicalization, mosque membership actually helped to reduce radicalization by working on community building. Moreover, that

"This research reinforces the generally accepted observation that Muslim-Americans with a strong, traditional religious training are far less likely to radicalize than those without such training."

Likewise, a 2008 study published by the Harvard Kennedy School (Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam's Global Gathering ) found that:

...participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.

So don't waste your time pining away for "reform" Islam; it is we orthodox Muslims whom you must talk with.


bambam said...

Allow me to disagree with the majority of what you are mentioning and offer a varying view of where i see things heading towards. Keep in mind is that at the end time will tell.
The reformist movement hasn't died out at all, actually it is healthier now more so than ever with people like tariq ramadan at the helm helping to address real social needs for muslims rather than dealing with the hypothetical.
The report that you quote, is just a bias piece of propaganda by a Salifi misguided counsel.
The major crux of argument is that islam is a monolithic culture so that an opinion in Amman, jordan, a study of American muslims and a study about pakistani hajis can be used to form a solid opinion. Me and you both know that this absolute bull.
Actually the usage of traditional muslims is misleading and the more appropriate term is cultural muslims. Those who are muslims because they were born in it and still associate themselves with it.
This group might have gotten more and more religious since the 70's but it's quickly reaching a climax because for the general public they are getting more and more liberal in their way of life and they are synthesizing their new life styles with muslim life styles and reforming what is acceptable in a muslim society just by pure popularism.
with time this will create a more milder social islam that will contrast that of political islam. At least that is the direction that things are heading towards in the Arabic world because they are just disillusioned by fundamentalist islam.

Yana said...

Hi, are you an American Muslim expat who lives in Singapore with your family? If yes, I'm interested to interview you for a TV prog.

JDsg said...

@ Yana: Yes, I am. You can contact me through my e-mail address in my profile.