Like Christianity in the 15th and 16th Centuries, Islam has entered its reformation and Tomorrow’s Islam meets leading Muslim thinkers and intellectuals living in the West who are trying to find a constructive way forward for the development of their religion.
By visiting devout yet progressive Muslims in America, Turkey, Britain and France, we aim to find out if Muslims living in the West can fit into a pluralist Western secular society. Can the separation of church and state, religion and government fit into their beliefs and lifestyle? Is reform possible in Islam?
Meet some of the movers and thinkers in this feature from ABC TV’s Compass program.
Totalitarianism is not a function of religion or theology, it is a function of human attitude… What we need is a pluralistic regime and I would argue (that) a pluralistic idea is in fact what the Qur’an commands. Because God says in the Qur’an, ‘there shall be no coercion in religion’. Had God willed, he would have made you all believing in one faith/ tradition, but this is part of the divine plan…
Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf
You can also read a full transcript of Tomorrow’s Islam.
In New York City we meet Dr Faiz Khan and Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf. Both men are trying to establish an American-Muslim identity – a local version of their faith at home in the modern world. Dr Khan treated many victims of 9/11 and we are with him as he makes his first return visit to Ground Zero. He is overwhelmed with a sense of despair at how people treat each other and resents the fact that ‘Islam was hijacked that day’.
Having grown up in the US he feels he can ‘speak the language of Islam in English’ and works with Rauf as assistant Imam at the Al-Farah Mosque in lower Manhattan. The horror of 9/11 has inspired him to help communicate between the Islamic and Western worlds.
Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf continually aims to update and adapt his religion. A cleric in the liberal Sufic (Muslim mystical) tradition, and co-founder with Faiz Khan of the American Sufic Muslim Association (ASMA) which was designed to foster an American expression of Islam based on tolerance and religious harmony within a pluralistic society.
As an American Muslim I’m pained by what the West has done to Islam and what Islam has done to the West. And I’m particularly pained because paradoxically, Islamic values and American values are really one and the same…the American ideas of pluralism, of a nation under God – all these are Islamic ideas’.
Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf
Turkey can be regarded as the longest running experiment in trying to combine Islam and modern Western society. Since Kemal Ataturk set Turkey on the road to becoming a secular Western-style democracy in 1923, people in this predominantly Muslim country have struggled to reconcile Islam and modernity.
Islam is highly regulated here and women in public roles are not allowed to wear the veil. Professor Ayse Oncu is concerned about the rise of the Islamist movement as a threat to a secular free democratic Turkey, and as a threat to the freedom that women have gained in this Muslim country. Of all the traditional Muslim countries, Turkey has made the most gains for women – legally, in education, in the workplace and in politics.
This is all now being challenged by a new generation of women, like TV host and founding member of the Islamist Refah party, Ayse Bohurler who are seeking the freedom of a secular democratic society to express their religious views. In Britain, long a haven for people seeking refuge from persecution, Shi’ite Muslims have found the freedom that was lacking in their own country (Iran) to practice their religion. Despite making up 60% of the Iraqi population, Shias were regularly persecuted under Saddam’s regime.
Ridwan Al-Killidar is a director of the Al Khoei Foundation, a Muslim welfare and cultural organisation that helps Shia refugees in many Western countries. He recently returned to Iraq to take up the custodianship of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, burial place of the son-in-law of the Prophet and the holiest shrine for Shi’ite Muslims. After experiencing the freedom of democratic Britain, he hopes to help rebuild a new Iraq as a free and tolerant democracy.
Baroness Pola Manzila Uddin is a campaigner for the rights of Bengali women and a youth and community worker in London’s East End. An activist who has pioneered Islam’s move into the heart of British society and rose to the peerage as one of Tony Blair’s ‘working peers’, Uddin became the first Muslim woman to sit in the House of Lords.
We have a great responsibility to speak and to use this freedom… to try to promote Islam. For the first time in our history, the thoughts are not coming from there (Islamic countries). Now, Western Muslims are producing thoughts (that) are going there now, helping Muslims… I am not more Muslim when I am against the West… this perception we have is wrong and who is going to change this vision? The Western Muslims’.
France has the largest population of Muslims in Europe and they make up 10% of the population, about 6 million people. It is here that the ‘Muslim Martin Luther’, Tariq Ramadan lives and works. Nominated by Time magazine as one of the Top 100 Innovators of the 21st Century, Tariq is championing a European form of Islam.
Ramadan has controversial roots – his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic revival movement that spread from Egypt throughout the Arab world, criticising Western decadence and advocating a return to Muslim values. Many commentators say the Brotherhood was the beginning and inspiration for present day Islamist fanatics. But Ramadan is heading in the opposite direction – he is a leading activist for Islamic reform and says Europeans need to develop their own version of Islam independent of traditional Muslim influences, embracing all that is good in Europe and the West.
When I speak about being a European Muslim, it means being faithful to the universal Islamic principals and at the same time to integrate what is the essence of the Western culture which does not contradict my principals.
And finally, in Washington DC, academic and fiery public intellectual, Muqtedar Khan argues Islam is in dire need of a global reformation, and a reinterpretation of Muslim sacred texts and way of life. He believes that Muslims in America are ideally situated to not only spread Islamic values in the West, but also reshape the destiny of traditional Muslim societies.
American Muslims are demonstrating that Islam and democracy, Islam and modernity are compatible. They’re also demonstrating that secular life and sacred life are compatible. They are demonstrating that in a secular society, in and extremely modern society you can live a religious life and still be productive.
These people are devout Muslims, strongly anti extremist and believe that the way forward is for Islam to embrace the traditional Muslim concept of ‘Ijtihad’ (individual reformist thinking) if it is going to adapt and survive in the modern world.