The Islamic Reformation Required**
|Wednesday, April 18,2007 00:00|
|By Jamal alBanna*, Shahbaz Center|
The opinions of writers and intellectuals have differed over how Islamic society should be reformed.
There are also three other aspects of Islamic culture which indicate a preference for religious over political and economic reformation.
First, any policy that is guided by religious principles receives respect and appreciation, even to the extent of sacredness.
Therefore, the followers of that religion, who are made fully aware of good and evil, feel impelled to abide by its religious values.
These values were very well known before religion came to play a role in human society.
Even when religion did appear, it was not the only institution dealing with morality.
Great philosophers – from both East and West – referred to the importance of moral principles.
However, when guidance comes from God or His prophets on their implementation, it attains a special status and far greater importance, surpassing any concepts and philosophical statements contributed by Kant, Hegel, Descartes, or even the ancient philosophers, Socrates and Plato.
Although this view might disturb some people, yet it is the truth, for the prophets have been the philosophers of the public. Indeed, they have clarified and simplified for humankind the moral principles sought by philosophers. It is clear that religion is for everyone, not only for the minority élite.
Hence, the argument that “religions ought to be clear, simple, direct, avoiding ambiguity and containing a high degree of certainty” is tautological. On the other hand, it can be difficult for many people to understand the arguments, assumptions and debates of philosophers.
If the public has simply followed the basic teachings of religions and adhered to the Sunnah of the prophets, then philosophers have only themselves to blame for not expressing their deep and sophisticated ideas in a manner more accessible to lay people.
In this sense, religious reformation attracts wide public support from enthusiastic minds that are ready and willing to adopt its new ideals.
However, this situation should not prevent Muslims from researching the views of philosophers, although they are still adhering to Islam by using it as evidence for the authenticity of religion. In some cases, research can also act as an explanation of and justification for particular aspects of religion.
From this point of view, if the aim is to resist dictatorship and tyrannical leadership, then the Islamic terms, such as oppression, injustice and Pharaonic behaviour, are the most appropriate to describe the social context of the twenty-first century.
It will be found that many Muslims are far more willing to adopt the model of the Islamic ideals of justice and fairness than foreign imports, such as
the citation of the French Revolution or Voltaire’s insistence on freedom.
European models have very little relevance for Arab/Muslim society.
In this sense, neither the words of philosophers nor the Western politicians’ views of democracy are favoured.
The Qur’anic approach is clear when it mentions instances of injustice, oppression and tyrannical government, which is why it is preferred to non-Islamic methods of dealing with these problems. In following a Western approach, one would be opting for adversity instead of ease, the strange instead of the familiar, and the incomprehensible instead of the comprehensible.
This is a criticism of those who reject the concept of shūrā (consultation) in favour of democracy.
They also reject the concept of bay‘ah (swearing allegiance to God), welcoming instead the electoral system, although shūrā and bay‘ah are far more acceptable to ordinary Muslim citizens than democracy and elections. Nevertheless, shūrā and bay‘ah should be reviewed so that they correspond to the needs of present-day society and are in accordance with certain aspects of democratic concepts.
In this way, the support from the majority of Muslims who acknowledge shūrā and bay‘ah will not be lost.
Second, the quest for religious reformation does not directly oppose the government.
Although the implementation of religious reformation leads to political and economic reformation, yet this is achieved only indirectly and without affecting those people who have a particular interest in the status quo.
In addition, since religious reformation is objective, then it is likely that there are members of the government or the élite who also believe in religious ideals. Therefore, religious reformation is opposed not to the individuals themselves, but the system that they advocate. There are the examples of two famous infidels who converted to Islam at around the same time. Khalid ibn Walid was the leader of the Pagan army at the Battle of Uhud, which was lost by the Muslims.
‘Amru ibn al‑‘Ās followed the Muslims when they emigrated to Habasha, where he tried to persuade al‑Najashah to reject their plea for asylum. When Makkah surrendered, the Prophet declared that he forgave his enemies, who had oppressed him and fought against Islam.
Both Khalid ibn Walid and ‘Amru ibn al‑‘Ās accepted Islam and joined the Muslim army.
The attitude of the Prophet is, of course, alien to the leaders of European revolutions and the movements of constitutional reform, since they do not acknowledge systems other than their own, nor the idea of conversion and redemption by God.
Be they capitalists or communists, when they attain power, their rule is characterized by violence, terrorism and the complete destruction of any opposing groups.
Third, and finally, religious reformation is aimed at both the individual and society, though priority is given to the individual.
This is a rational approach. Although it is acknowledged that the political and economic aspects of reformation have a strong influence, it remains a
fact that the personality of the individual is the seed from which sprouts the structure of society.
Therefore, as far as the individual can be reformed, so also can the structure of society.
When the political and economic situation is deteriorating, the reformation of the individual is not an easy task.
Despite that, it can be very successful, since it uses what religion has to offer as an influential and powerful platform.
Indeed, difficult circumstances might provide a good reason for people to consider the objectives of reformation and persuade them to accept change.
In addition, when the insistence on religious reformation coincides with the call for individual as well as social reformation, then change will follow the right path.
Even if religious reformation is aimed only at the individual, nevertheless, it will create a fruitful and worthwhile project, which might indirectly effect the desired political and economic reformation.
It should not be forgotten that religions achieved the most important revolutions in human history and that they were the bases of illustrious civilizations before their ideals fell into the hands of corrupt individuals.
Religions, however, have remained influential and well grounded, even after corruption has found its way to their core.
No matter how much they are criticized, they continue to represent strong values and morals, upheld in principle by the majority of the populace, for they address humankind as a whole.
These ideals are not found in many other reformation systems and philosophies, nor even in human creativity or any secular system.
*Jamal alBanna is a thinker and researcher based in Cairo, Egypt.
Al-`Awwa on the need to reinvestigate Objectives (Maqasid)