Waiting for the Islamic Reformation

ReformNo matter what the proponents of Islam and Christianity believe, it is a challenge to call a faith peaceful when the good and evil receive sanction from the same scripture. Punishment for apostasy and homosexuality, curtailing the rights of women, and slavery – while the peaceful proponents of both faiths can identify religious tenets against them, there are others belonging to the same faith who can find religious authorization for them.

The reality is that despite the humanist teachings of various faiths, they cannot be cut out of the political sphere of human society. The difference emerges when we consider how the medieval practices sanctioned by faiths are implemented by political authorities. Islam is the only religion, which operates in countries as a theocracy. These nations, primarily in the Middle East, have dismal human rights records regarding minorities and the rights of women. There are 13 Muslim nations where apostasy is punishable by death. Even in democratic Islamic nations like Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death. In nations like Saudi Arabia, there are serious constraints on the freedom of expression. Women can’t drive, and face restrictions over employment and ownership rights. The tribal politics perpetuated by the Islamic faith, finds its most telling manifestation in ISIS, which aims to establish a Caliphate – a medieval Islamic state, to practice the same brand of religion the world is trying hard to subdue and sideline.

Those who propose that Islam is a peaceful faith, one that ensures social justice, tend to espouse the virtue when protected under liberal democracies. In the discussion surrounding multiculturalism, what gets missed many times, is that Muslims in liberal democracies are able to practice the positive elements of their faith under the protection of secular laws. These laws protect the same Muslims from the negative elements of their faith, something they cannot deny as multiple cases of discrimination and violence in Muslim nations are authorised by Islamic law.

shariaConsider female rights. If a woman is denied the right to seek out employment, if she is denied the right to choose whom to marry, what to wear, or when and how to move around in public, she can go to the police and achieve justice. But in a Muslim nation, where the Sharia is the law of the land, the authorities will be upholding the law in denying justice to the same woman. Similarly, if someone speaks up against a tenet of an ideology or faith in liberal democracies and receives threats, they can too seek protection of the law. In Muslim nations, the same authorities will be required by law to punish someone who criticises the Islamic faith. Regardless of their faith, being a citizen of a secular and democratic nation, a person is ensured human rights and social justice. Apathy can impede the implementation of laws and there are many cases to prove so, yet there are multiple avenues and authorities through which citizens can seek justice.

GospelReligionThe conundrum arises when peaceful Muslims claim that social justice ensured in secular democracies is also ensured by Islamic scripture. But those who commit human rights atrocities also back their actions with scripture. When the world witnesses how the word of God is implemented in Muslim states, it becomes difficult to understand the same faith as peaceful and progressive. Moreover, there is usually a ‘no comments’ retort when these peaceful Muslims in liberal democracies are asked if they if would ever live in the nations dominated by Islamic law.

Christianity was once considered a dogmatic political power in the Western world. The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the persecution of scientists are dark chapters in human history where a faith was used to divide and suppress, exercising political power emanating from the high seat of the Pope, and evil cardinals. But Christianity witnessed a reformation from within, where communities challenged the dogma, and overtime established a spiritual, and to a great extent, genuine form of faith, creating a more direct link between Man and God. The reformation created the Protestant faith and a series of other Christian sects, which understood faith as a celebration of life and God, not submission to a higher authority.

The contraction of religious authority in the West, laid the foundation for the establishment of secular laws. As God stepped back during the establishment of nation states, enshrining civil rights in laws became the calling card of humanists and revolutionaries around the world. Issues like slavery, ban on abortion and punishment for homosexuality, which claim sanction from biblical scripture, have been weakened and almost wiped out as God has taken a backseat, and humanist principles, universal rights, the human drive for freedom and secular doctrines continue to gain more legitimacy. They face challenges all the time when struggling to ensure rights to multiple communities, yet they gain new ground and achieve new feats everyday.

This internal reformation in Christian societies had the effect of a spiritual overhaul in Christianity. Same sex rights, which is the new civil rights struggle of the 21st century, has been championed by traditional Catholic communities, namely Ireland voting unanimously in favour of same sex marriage and even Pope Francis giving his blessing to same sex relationships, focusing on celebrating the universal human emotion of love. We seldom, if not never see, such a push towards universal human rights in Islamic nations or from Muslim leaders.

If the crusades were on today, Christianity would have a nefarious image in the world, but human society has come a long way in achieving and continuing the struggle for human rights, maintaining a strong winning streak. Religious-political authorities have relatively moved ahead with the times erasing restrictions on civil liberties, while in the Middle East these restrictions are alive and kicking as they are sanctioned by Islamic scripture. We must realise that elements like the Klu Klux Clan and White Supremist groups, which draw their ideology from scripture, cannot operate with impunity in the West, yet the world they imagine does exist in some regards in the Middle East and North Africa.reform 2

Islam needs its own Reformation to curtail the dogma that has tarnished the image of the faith in the 21st century. The Middle East witnessed an Arab spring calling for an end to dictatorships, but the world is waiting for an Arab spring for civil liberties to sweep the Middle East. Islamic societies must move ahead with the rest of the world, so theocracies and medieval ideas do not continue to restrict the progress of human development across the world.

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