In the world, it is not uncommon for us to hear calls for an Islamic Reform. While some may mark the advent of Jamaluddin Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh as when Muslims first started thinking about reform, I personally would designate the time of Khawarij itself as the beginning of Islamic Reform. The Khawarij opposed the sectarian politics between Ali and Muawiya and called for a return to God’s laws. Islam has always needed reform because like an individual Muslim, it can easily get derailed from its agenda.
However, we need to ask, what is Islamic Reform exactly? A thorough analysis of this phrase is needed before we attempt to articulate of agenda of Islamic Reform. The word ‘reform’ means to ‘form again’, to re form. What is the form of Islam we see today? Well that form needs to be reformed into something else but what? Some may stare in disbelief when I say this but I believe on at least the level of intent, we reformists are the same as salafis in that both our agendas seek the same thing: the return to what Islam originally was at the time of the Prophet. Of course, what Islam was at the time of the Prophet is something we and the salafis would be unlikely to agree on! Anyway, this is why I believe the word ‘reform’ is better phrased as the word ‘originoform’, a word I coined to represent a reformation which seeks to form into the mould it originally was. To me, when I participate in agenda of Islamic Reform, I am seeking to originalise Islam, to take Islam back to its original mould.
Having answered what ‘reform’ is, we must now focus on what is often overlooked and taken for granted in the phrase ‘Islamic Reform’ and the word Islam itself. What do we mean exactly when we say Islam in this context? Do we mean the tenets of Islam, the concepts of Islam, the people of Islam? Are we seeking to rewrite the Quran? Are there things in Islam which are divine and therefore beyond the possibility or need for reform? This is the crucial question which we will explore below.
Before we do so, we must first ask what is the problem with Islam today? The problem of Islam today is not the same as it was during the colonial era where Muslims were almost completely colonised and powerless to chart their own destiny. In some ways, Islam today is embroiled in problems deeper than those of their colonised past and this is the problem of Islamic Fundamentalism.
In the context of this paper, Islamic Fundamentalism is a totalistic philosophy. It does not subscribe to the notion that Islamic Fundamentalism is about suicidal terrorist attacks nor even the vitriolic rhetoric practised by hate preachers. Rather, this paper proposes that Islamic Fundamentalism be seen as a totalistic philosophy because its project is total domination of the human race.
If we think about it, the various arms all seek to play their part in this dominionist project. There is the all powerful Islamic state which then enforces its aparthied based laws [apartheid because it favours Muslims over Dhimmis due to their profession (not even practise) of religion]. There is the notion of the Islamic peoples which seek to socially engineer itself through forced conversions (by using either marriage or finance as incentive). Islamic Fundamentalism is a totalistic philosophy which as we can see from above, is not unlike the project of the dreaded Third Reich.
The root of Islamic Fundamentalism is the mindset I call ‘Salvation Excluvism’. This mindset, as its name explains, is about believing that only one’s own religion or even sect within that religion is the right one and deserving of salvation on earth as well as in the afterlife. This mindset is found in much of Islamic literature and is what I hypothesise to be the root of Islamic Fundamentalism. For the record, I do not believe that this mindset is Quranic but that isn’t the point of this discussion although it should be stated that in every impulse to Islamic Reform, there is always a call for the role of the Quran to be maximised.
What I believe is needed to precipitate the Islamic Reformation to counter the mindset of Salvation Excluvism, by questioning the boundaries of divinity and humanity within Islam. How much of Islam is divine and how much of it is a human product? This takes us back to our question above, what is Islam? For the purposes of Islamic Reformation, I propose that Islam be thought of as a ‘collective culture which began with the advent of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the Prophet of Islam, and which continued to grow and absorb Arabic as well as neighbouring cultures thereby flowering into a civilisation from which Muslims acquire their Islamic identity’.
How much of this culture, civilisation and identity is a divine product? Some Muslims believe it is entirely divine but this begs the question as to why Muslims have faced great setbacks in their civilisational march. Muslims have been responsible for some of the greatest scientific and philosophical achievements yet also have been responsible for imperialist projects, wars, massacres, opposition to science and inquiry and is currently part of some of the most backward nations on earth. It is therefore impossible to claim that our culture, civilisation and identity are divine products.
That leaves us with our texts. Islam has a number of literary genres which Muslims believe to be divine. However, except the Quran, none of this literature has escaped revision. Muslims have been very accepting of this revision as long as the revising has been performed by the correct people. Even the Quran, whose text has remained exceptionally stable, cannot escape the fact that it is only divine when it doesn’t need interpretation. The very presence of a human interlocutor takes away that divinity. Even the Prophet was told in the Quran to keep seeking knowledge in order to expedite understanding of revelation which shows his understanding was never static and hence wasn’t divine.
If we accept the arguments above then what we are left with is the realisation that Islam as we know it is a human product. It is a culture, civilisation and identity which is part and parcel of the collection of cultures, civilisations and identities of the world. It is no less valuable than any of these but can certainly not claim the title of the Chosen People either. This is what I call the mentality of ‘Salvation Incluvism’, the opposite of the aforementioned Salvation Excluvism. This mentality is about accepting the infinite diversities of the human race as long as they are peaceful towards each other.
This mentality of Salvation Inclusivism is the mentality needed to realise the Islamic Reformation.
In history, there have been many instances where members of a given ideology have broken off from the majority due to its tyranny and formed a different approach to that ideology. One of these examples is Christianity. For 1500 years, Christianity was solely expressed by Catholicism whose very name implies universality. During this time, the Catholic church claimed sole rights to purvey Christianity and this lead to oppressive attitudes towards any kind of dissent. However, there emerged several thinkers who sought to democratise Christianity and eventually, Protestant Christianity emerged. With Protestant Christianity came a far greater lalitude of interpretation due to an increase in the the access to the Bible. The power of the Catholic Church was thus severely eroded and a greater level of freedom achieved.
It is time now for a Protestant Islam to be.
What is Protestant Islam? Protestant Islam is first an foremost a platform for those who reject Islamic Fundamentalism in the definition I detailed above. This would mean that Protestant Muslims do not believe that only their approach is eligible for salvation. Rather they believe that their approach is best suited for them and that other approaches are equally valid. They are believers of Salvation Inclusivism.
With this mentality, they do not seek to dominate over other people but rather hope to nurture individuality in religion. Every person must think and approach religion, if they choose to that is, for themselves. Protestant Muslims bitterly oppose any kind of domination of the religious classes over the people. Therefore any group which joins the platform of Protestant Islam must first declare themselves to be free of any prejudice towards other approaches.
Protestant Islam is also concerned with human affairs. They adamantly do not believe in insularity, that is the mentality which limits itself to thinking about Muslim affairs alone. While Protestant Muslims are concerned about Islam and the welfare of Muslims, it also believes that social justice must be a commodity which available to all human beings. In this sense, it recognises itself as a cultural group among the collective cultures of mankind.
How can the movement of Protestant Islam be realised? In my view, by first articulating a vision. For me, it is the vision that Islamic Fundamentalism be completely disempowered and eliminated from the theatre of global politics. In its place will be Protestant Islam which will be an umbrella underwhich are several approaches to Islam, all of which recognise each other as legitimate Muslim groups.
Next, by articulating a theory of Protestant Islam and proving that Protestant Islam is an indigenous idea to the Quran itself. It has also found expression in other genres of Islamic literature and so must be recovered and showcased for Muslims to see.
Further, Protestant Muslims should have their own designation or even uniforms which show their banner. With this banner, they should create chapters in all parts of the world starting with the major cities and to work together to instigage social justice. This may come in the form of charity work or even an economic network. With this comes the strengthening of human society as well as the Protestant Muslim itself.
To summarise, Protestant Islam is a concept which I believe will provide the solution for Islamic Reformation. It is the antidote to Islamic Fundamentalism which is fast becoming known thanks to the media as the normative form of Islam. Protestant Islam can show that Muslims are accepting of each other as well people of other faiths and that their social programs are for the benefit of all. Protestant Islam is also, most importantly, completely in line with the Quran. What is left right now is for us to bring it into reality.