and religion as a free
Dec. 10, 2001
A group of modern Muslims are gathering in Toronto,
Canada, where they will propose a modern worldview of
Islam; the time now, just after the collapse of the
fundamentalist Taliban, is most apt for an exercise of this
kind. In this context, Tahir Aslam Gora writes about the
modern concerns that Islamic societies must address
Islamic scholars are seriously concerned about the
disconnection between Islam on the one hand, and the evolving
realities of the modern world on the other. Some modern
scholars, therefore, suggest that Muslims need to rethink their
religion and their worldview. In making this suggestion, we as
Muslims, cannot adopt any religious identity other than Islam.
This being so, however, we can reform Islam in order to bring it
into harmony with the modern world. I suggest the following
outline for the "new Islam":
1. The adoption of democratic values: It is very
important to understand the real form of democratic values. Most
Muslims reject democracy as an invention of the West, whereas
democracy is the common heritage of all human beings. Most
Muslim nations believe democracy consists of elections, or a
particular system of government. In fact, democracy, in addition
to elections and a system of government, involves recognition of
the principle "live and let live". It is this kind of
tolerant and flexible behaviour that allows people to live
together and respect all human beings, in spite of differences
of religion, colour and race.
2. Complete freedom of expression: Freedom of expression
has always been non-existent in the Islamic world. This is due
to the Muslim's need to impose the Quran and Hadith on
every walk of life, whereas most daily affairs have no concern
with religious scriptures. Although religious books do wield
some influence in every religion; this influence is usually
limited to the clergy, and has no concern with State law. The
prevailing religious rigidity does not allow a Muslim to express
his/her ideas. There are even orders that writers and
journalists be beheaded for having written about certain topics.
The prohibition on studying the books of famous and important
writers, such as Salman Rushdie, is a typical example in this
A lack of dialogue is another major problem in Muslim societies.
Creative ideas are strictly prohibited in our societies. We have
now reached a point where all the hard work put in by a writer
is wasted due to his/her own "self censorship". Most
of our writers have become so engrossed in religious faith that
they are ready to hang anyone arguing in favour of freedom of
expression. It is a fact that nations adopting the way of
drubbing instead of dialogue can never enjoy the magnificence of
liberty. Muslim societies cannot find the track of reality and
truth without the adoption of real freedom of expression.
3. Implementation of international human rights:
International human rights are also rejected as they are
considered an invention of the West, whereas millions of Muslims
living in the West are way better off than in their own Islamic
societies due to these very human rights. The principle of human
rights is actually a great gift for mankind, and Islamic
societies should try to make it better instead of rejecting it.
4. End to polygamy and holy war (jihad): Polygamy
can never be an appreciable practice. It is normally argued by
Muslims that the prophet allowed it for the betterment of widows
and the destitute women's marital life, whereas most of the
Prophet's marriages were not with such women. Here, we can only
say in soft words that it happened, for whatever reason. This
inhuman practice should now be abandoned. "Jihad",
the second name for the dominance of Islam, should also be
5. Equality of men and women: I have repeatedly written
that Muslim societies provide the status of a mother, sister,
daughter and wife to a woman, but are not ready to accept her
status as a human being and a woman. The modern world provides
equal rights to all human beings, without discrimination based
6. Ending the superiority complex among Muslims with regard
to other nations: We, Muslims, consider other nations
inferior because we think that we are on the right path, and
uniquely entitled to heaven. The other nations are considered to
be destined for hell. We ought to be able to understand the
realities of life and the universe. Not only the Western world,
but also the Chinese, Japanese, and other nations of the Far
East and liberal nations of East India, including Hindus, are on
the way of understanding the beauties of life, adopting liberal
ways. Muslims believe Islam is the only religion from God, and
so we consider ourselves a "chosen nation". Although
most of religions have the same ownership claim about God, the
rigidity of other communities in this respect has already
decreased, whereas Muslims are not ready to accept the reality
that God is not a religious embodiment. God is actually the name
of the Universe we are all part of.
7. Establishing a practical environment of love towards all
human beings: Muslims will have to give a message of love to
all human beings. This should be exhibited practically.
8. Participating in all types of arts, like dance, music, and
paintings etc: The importance of art in Muslim society was
felt during "Khalafat-e-Osmania" at the State level.
But afterwards, Muslim States started to become a factor in the
abolition of the arts. During the 21st century, most Muslim
societies consider the arts as an uncivilised activity, and a
serious crime according to religion. This attitude prevents an
understanding of the beauty of life. Muslim societies should
adopt an attitude of participation in all art, including dance,
music and painting, without any feeling of religious sin.
Education of these arts should be arranged and popularised, and
art academies established.
9. Formulation of modern liberal societies in the Muslim
countries: Modern liberal societies should be established in
all Muslim countries. Gays and Lesbians should be provided with
their rightful space and liberty, as is internationally
10. Frank discussion regarding historical Islamic
personalities: A friendly and frank attitude should be
adopted in the discussion of historical Islamic personalities,
instead of expressing an emotional attitude. We should stop
concealment of facts regarding the lives of our religious
personalities. For instance, while studying the life of the
prophet of Islam, it should be kept in mind that being a great
leader of his era, he was a human being like us. His historical
greatness can also be explained in the fact that he formulated
the best human principals of his time. But being a human being,
he had human instincts as well. His love for women, for
instance, was a manifestation of his human instinct. He
practiced politics and recognised the fact that a society could
not be established without political strategies.
We do have the same emotions about the "Poise
Caliphs". They also continue the political struggle, and as
a matter of fact, some of them were involved in conspiracies
killing the other. There is no harm in accepting these realities
as historical facts. The Imams used all the available
sources of knowledge to understand their religion better. A true
saint is not actually restricted to any religion; s/he
represents all of humanity. All the sufis of the Muslim world
will no doubt be a part of the same category. Prophets were the
leaders of their nations. The present intellectuals, writers,
scientists, thinkers, philosophers, sincere social workers and
saints, who provide guidance to their nations are no less than
11. Rejecting the concept of religious sin: It is
necessary to reject the concept of religious sin according to
the "new Islam" to save human energies from rusting
with the burden of guilt. This is also important to free one's
mind. A sense of responsibility is preferable to a fear of sin.
The sense of sin about dance, singing and drinking is far too
great in Islam, and causes Muslims to become hypocrites. Such
feelings are in no way relevant to today's life and universe.
Muslims have now come to the point where a boy and girl cannot
"date" each other without this sense of sin.
12. Consideration of prayers as symbolic, ritual and personal
matters: There is no harm in traditional prayers and
worship, but these should not be considered as the be-all and
end-all of life. It is sufficient to consider these practices a
matter of personal consolation. Some practices, like the
sacrifice of animals, should be stopped immediately.
13. An end to taboos on alcohol and halaal meat:
The prohibition of alcohol and pork is meaningless today.
Alcohol drinking nations have proved themselves to be better in
moral and human values. The use of alcohol will be a personal
matter in the "new Islam", in no way concerned with
religious principles. The theory of "halaal
meat" is also a ridiculous thing today.
14. Considering the Quran as a symbolic, religious,
and spiritual book: The Quran should be considered a
symbolic, religious and, to an extent, spiritual book. The Quran
cannot be implemented in every walk of life. It is evident
that no economic and social system could be developed in the
light of the Quran or any other religious book. This is
the reason that Canada and several European countries have
developed systems that could never have been developed in any
Islamic country. At present , no Muslim country is even 10 per
cent as advanced in humanitarian principles and studies as these
15. Ultimate objective the "new Islam": The
ultimate objective of the "new Islam" should only be
peace for all of humanity.
16. Concept of sharing the world: The world is a shared
global society today. It cannot be made a shared living place
for all the human beings without any intellectual struggle, as
all demonstrated human rights declared until now result from the
continuation of the intellectual struggle. Western intellectuals
brought the West out of the pre-20th century religious rigidity,
and separated religion from daily life. They tried to make the
human mind so vast that religion could make slaves of them.
Muslims should not face up to the realities of the modern world
and walk shoulder to shoulder with other nations of the world.
17. Concept of the "universal god" instead of the
"religious god": According to "new
Islam", god is a universal phenomenon - a part of humanity
and all religions and systems. It is not a specific concept, but
a universal unit to which everything in the universe belongs.
18. Use of the term "intellectuals" and
"leaders" instead of "prophets": The
terms "intellectuals and leaders" will be used instead
of the old term "prophet" in "new Islam".
There is no need for prophets, gurus or leaders; the "new
Islam" will be put forward as an intellectual movement. I
do understand that those addicted to Islamic ethics will use
arguments of "Aya and Hadith", and an
abundance of questions in burdensome religious language. It is,
however, a fact that these terminologies carry no weight today.
References from imams also have no justification at
present. The realities of life and the universe are simple and
evident, and sufficient to understand life, afterlife, the
universe and everything beyond. The "new Islam" is
necessary in the struggle to bring the life of nations bound by
religious rigidity on the road to liberation.
In addition to these basic points, new points and details will
continue to be added as required. In an ever-changing universe,
the constant evolution of an intellectual system is the only
(The author is a Canada based Islamic scholar)