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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Reforming Islam: The Forbidden Fruit

In the midst of all the talk about democracy and freedom in the Arab world, one crucial issue still remains an untouched hot potato which is the call to reform the religion Islam. I believe this issue remains the most central and supercedes the importance of democracy and political reform in the greater Middle East region.

If you looked at the world's great faith, you will realize that nearly all have undergone some sort of reform or attempts to marry old historical holy texts with the realities of our ever changing modern age. However, Islam still remains untouched and mired by those who believe that the societal laws of 660 AD could be applied today. In addition, the religion is still enslaved by religious leaders who demonize and persecute any voice calling for reform or a reinterpretation of the Quran or of what the prophet said over 1400 years old in the sun burned desert of Arabia.

With the current wave of Islamization in the greater Middle East countries and in hosts of large Muslim communities (i.e Europe), the issue of reforming Islam is still not taking the importance it requires. What makes matters worse is that many in the West, in their attempt to search for Muslim reformers, describe a person as "moderate" or "reformist" just because of the mere fact that he condemned violence or rebuked Bin Laden on September 11th.

For someone like me, a Muslim reformist is someone who calls for the reinterpretation of what the prophet Muhammad said 1400 years ago and who is not afraid to dismiss Shariah law as a set of laws that were promulgated in a period that was very different than the one we're living in today. Right after 911, many Islam haters started quoting the "violence verses" in the Quran in an attempt to prove that the 19 hijackers were carrying out Allah's orders. Muslims responded by saying that such verses should be taken "within their historical context." I am wondering why we can't take the saying of the prophet, the actions of his companions, and Shariah law in their "historical context" as well.

Islam is currently in a crisis and it is sad that very few Muslim thinkers and leaders are noticing it. They are busy hoping for the white people of the US and Europe to have a positive opinion of Islam while neglecting the root of the problem which is that Islam, in its current unreformed state, is not compatible with the values that Catholic Brazil and Buddhist Korea are trying to adopt. For example, I have a very dear friend who is a typical example of a "westernized" Egyptian youth. He graduated from the American University in Cairo, works in a well known multinational firm, speaks English better than many Americans, and plays jazz on his 6 guitars. In a recent conversation, we started talking about Shariah law and I was stunned when he told me that he believes Shariah is divine and Allah's answer to all our ills. He then started bombarding me with absurd justifications for stoning, whipping those who drank a bottle of beer, and executing those who converted out of Islam. When I cornered him by detailing how his current life will change if Egypt adopted full fledged Shariah law, all what he said was "I'll give it a try."

My friend is innocent. Nobody taught him better and he is not bold enough to search for himself and return to God with the conclusion he reached. Our mainstream religious leaders might not be calling for the implementation of Shariah law, yet very few are tackling the issue of reforming the Islamic way of life. My friend is their victim.

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