Islam and the Muslim world: the need for reform, Gökhan Bacık
Muslim scholars have been critical of the term “reform.” They propose alternatives like “renewal.” However, it is pointless to be swamped by such linguistic games. Reform is needed in the whole of the Muslim world. It should be a reform that includes the theological interpretation of the major texts, including the Quran.

Rejecting this need for reform for years, Muslim scholars have adopted two very problematic strategies to defend the catastrophic situations of Muslims.

The first is the Orientalist or cultural-relativist game: Muslim scholars and intellectuals have rejected Western criticism, condemning it as Orientalism. Indeed, Edward Said's “Orientalism” and cultural-relativism are both important. However, it is no longer possible to shelter under them since the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was the key turning point where the Arabs themselves confessed the problems of their societies. Millions shouted that the Arab order has collapsed. If a Westerner says that some cities are dirty in the Middle East, a typical reaction is to reject this observation as an Orientalist approach. Why? Wasn't it Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who gave several dumpster trucks to the regime of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi during his visit to Egypt?

The second method is more interesting: If Muslims are criticized for some major violation of human rights, like beheading people in public, the typical reaction is to argue, “No, this is not the real Islam.” And so it follows that what we have in Iran is not the real Islam, what we have in Pakistan is not the real Islam, what we have in Afghanistan is not the real Islam… So what is Islam? Is there a Muslim community on earth that presents the real Islam? Muslims should realize that this method is becoming ever less convincing.

It is up to Muslim scholars to carry out a reformist agenda within the rules of Islam. However, as a political scientist, I humbly underline three points:

First, a civil interpretation of Islam is a “must.” The current Islam is state-based. The licit and the illicit are defined not according to God's book only, but also according to the state's priorities. The state has replaced Islam as the decision-maker on what is or is not sacred. Metaphorically, the state has become the new “idol” of Muslims. This is a kind of modern-day shirk (the deification of anyone or anything other than God, literally placing “partners” alongside God). State-based thinking has become an unquestioned pattern for many Muslim scholars. Muslims are proud of saying that there is no clergy in Islam. However, the state has filled this gap. The state is now the church of the Muslims. All Muslim states around the globe push for their own interpretations of Islam and that kills Islam's universality. Unfortunately, it is Islam that is subservient to states today.

Secondly, the Islamic sciences should not be the only source of methods used for interpreting Islamic texts. The secular social sciences should be invited. The clash between Muslim “clergy” and the natural sciences like biology has partially ended, but the clash with the social sciences is ongoing. Many Muslim scholars are obsessed with methodology, mainly grammar. The companions of the Prophet, who are seen as the best Muslims, gave no thought to these methodological debates. Method is important. However, the purpose is equally vital. Muslim social scientists who apply secular methods can contribute greatly to the contemporary understanding of Islam.

Finally, the difference between reproof and prohibition should be underlined. There is no need to prohibit everything that is reproached by Islam. Wrongly, many contemporary Muslims believe that “all bad/reproved things” should be prohibited altogether. No. Islam does not ask for everything it declares to be wrong be forbidden. This point is enormously important, for it is not clear to reductionist radicals. Drinking alcohol may be “bad” in Islam, but that does not require that it be banned in all forms. The average Muslim scholar would say that “being gay is bad,” but that does not require the denial of gays' voting rights or other basic human rights.

Today's Zaman 15 December 2013

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