“I went to the West, I saw Islam but no Muslims. I returned to the East and I saw Muslims but no Islam.”
Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)
Taking over Subway and Tesco (please mark food as Halal… otherwise we don’t know whether we can eat it!). Taking over schools (and taking them from special measures to the best rated schools in the Midlands but we’ll ignore that). Abusing young girls (yes I used the general term girls, brown Muslim girls were also abused but obviously that is not as newsworthy). ISIS (chopping off heads regardless of religion and race since 2013). It seems to be one thing after another with Muslims. If one was hearing everything they knew about Islam from, say, established, credible sources such as Fox News, Richard Dawkins (who told me, during my time at Oxford, that he knows little to nothing about Islam) and Bill Maher, one may be inclined to view Muslims as a monolithic block who froth at the mouth every time an “insult” is thrown their way. I am here to dispel this notion and to present something which Western readers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, for various politico-linguistic reasons, do not get to see. Running parallel with the Arab Spring was an intellectual revolution (which still continues unabated) the tenants of which I shall attempt to summarise in this post.
Islam, in its essence, is simply a collection of ethics and rules derived from the Quran. “I have been sent for nothing but the perfection of morals and manners” the Prophet is reported to have said. These ethics have been summarised in what is known as the Maqasid (objectives) and these are the protection of: life, faith, intellect, family and property. These five are the boundaries which any interpretation of Islam must not cross. Already, we are seeing problems with ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their ilk and this is only the first paragraph. The elevation of life over faith is given clearly in the Quran:
He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah . But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (2:173)
It is important to draw a distinction between these ethics and the “laws” we find most people refer to when trying to highlight the evils of Islam. Only these ethics are divine and universal. Any law derived from them is open to change according to the time and place in which we live. Together both the man-made laws and divine ethics make up what is known as the Sharia. It is therefore asserted that the vast majority of the Sharia is man-made and changeable.
Secularism, which many historians argue actually started in Islamic Spain with the ideas of “the Father of Secularism” Ibn Rushd, is also alluded to in the Quran. Of course these verses are ignored by both the ISIS’ and Spencer’s of this world. The following is a short list of verses which can be found in the Quran detailing the Prophet’s role as simply a warner and carrier of a message:
“Your duty is to convey the Message;…” (Chapter 3:20)
“If then they run away, We have not sent you as a guard over them. Your duty is but to convey (the Message).” (Chapter 42:48)
“But if they turn away, thy duty is only to preach the clear Message.” (Chapter 16:82)
“… and We have not sent you as being in charge of them.” (Chapter 17:54)
“Say: Obey Allah and obey the messenger. But if ye turn away, then (it is) for him (to do) only that wherewith he hath been charged, and for you (to do) only that wherewith ye have been charged. If ye obey him, ye will go aright. But the messenger hath no other charge than to convey (the message) plainly.” (Chapter 24:54)
“Surely We have revealed to you the Book with the truth for the sake of men; so whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul and whoever errs, he errs only to its detriment; and you are not a custodian over them.” (Chapter 39:41)
A more complete list can be found on my blog, Islam and Current Affairs. As can be seen, the Prophet himself was not sent to establish a state and simply offers a choice: believe or disbelieve. If the Prophet himself was not a custodian over the beliefs of his people, it is a bit presumptuous and, contrary to the example of the Prophet, of ISIS and certain other religious factions to implement apostasy/blasphemy laws and judge others based on belief. In a political situation, in order to reflect the choice that the Quran gives to people, many Muslim scholars have argued for the implementation of secularism which protects against both inter and intra-religious domination. This is borne out of the realisation that religion, like all participants in the public sphere, is enmeshed in power relations. In addition, the Quranic verse which states “There is no compulsion in religion” can only be fulfilled by a secular state which truly remains impartial.
I hope this very short post provides some information useful to you. This post is in no way exhaustive of the momentous changes which are ongoing within Islamic theology and political theory. If you have any questions, queries or wish to ask for my sources please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on this topic I would highly recommend “The Coming of a Post-Islamist Society” by Asef Bayat, “Post-Islamism: The Many Faces of Political Islam” edited by Asef Bayat and “Reason, Freedom and Democracy in Islam” by Abdolkarim Soroush.
Find out more about SON and the shoes that make up the network atSecular Outreach.com