Top 10 Ways Islam Should Change to Fit into the Modern World
Of the three Abrahamic religions, none can claim to have a valiant history. Christianity, Judaism and Islam offer little but a few thousand years of bickering and fighting punctuated by pockets of peaceful coexistence.
But, Christianity and Judaism underwent reformations and transformations over the years. The leaders of the religions realized that they would need to fit into the modern world if they wanted to enjoy a continued hegemonic control over millions of people.
Islam, too, has changed over the years. The 20th century alone has seen enormous changes in the lives of Muslims and the religious and cultural practices of Islam. However, these changes have rarely been positive. In fact, parts of Islam have returned to a period of time before the 7th century.
Caught between Islam and the West, the leaders of Islam have felt threatened and responded accordingly. In the last hundred years, Islam has shifted further to the right than at almost any point in history.
These shifts include both the acceptance and perpetuation of terrorism, human rights abuses and gross inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as men and women.
While other schools of religion have had to keep up with Enlightenment era values and Civil Rights era equalities, Islam has opted to return to the Dark Ages. Some claim that it must do so for the protection of its identity against the secular West. But, in reality, the leaders of Islam want to maintain a firmer grip on its billions of followers for its own economic, social and political gain.
The results of this transition have been murder, rape, torture and gross abuses that are now spilling out of the Hijaz and into the secular world.
If Islam does not change to fit into the modern world, it risks alienating its followers and being systematically destroyed by the powerful Western society that it fears so much. Here are the top 10 reasons that Islam needs to change to fit into the modern world.
- Islam Needs to Accept Equality between Men and Women
The level of equality between men and women is inadequate throughout the world. It was only until recently that some women were allowed to go where they want, dress how they want and be educated how they like.
While Western countries have made great strides towards the destruction of institutional inequality between the two genders, Islamists and their governments have done little to admit that inequality even exists between men and women. Not only do they encourage this inequality but they insist that it is in the name of protection of women.
Women’s rights are grossly trampled upon across the Middle East and North Africa. The issues that Western women deal with everyday are magnified and institutionalized in these countries.
At the heart of it all is a patriarchy that seems to believe that women are at the root of all evil. As a result, it works overtime to ensure that not only do women not have any political or social rights, but that they do not even have rights over their own bodies.
These laws are infamous in Saudi Arabia. The monarchy and the clerics in this country have ensured that women should never be alone long enough to realize that they are repressed, oppressed and outright abused.
In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot do anything without the permission of a man. Whether the man is a father, brother, husband or uncle, grown women are infantilized because they cannot leave the house without the permission of a man. They cannot go to school, go to the doctor, travel or even breathe without first asking permission.
In reality, these basic rights are petty compared to the laws that allow grown men to marry children, husbands to rape, beat and even murder their wives and the laws that allow men to be acquitted of rape if they marry their victim.
This repression is hidden behind a system that says that women need to be protected. However, what the people behind these laws and social norms mean is that these men fear a woman’s intellect, her sexuality and everything about her that would dramatically challenge their rule. These men want only women who will never question or challenge them. That is why it is acceptable for a 50 year old man to marry an 8 year old child not only in poor countries like Yemen but in rich countries like Saudi Arabia.
Islam will never become modern as long as it continues to repress its women. Equality is at the heart of a modern society and as long as Islam continues to repress its women under the guise of security, it will never transform itself into a modern and competent culture.
- Islam Needs to Stop Preaching Things That Are Not In the Quran
Many religions are guilty of preaching things that are not in their holy books. The Catholics teach purgatory and other constructs that are used for social control. But, the things that some imams teach Muslims are not only not in the Quran, they are dangerous.
One of the things that some factions of Islam teach that is not mentioned in the Quran is female genital mutilation (FGM). Some use the Quran as justification for this practice because it encourages women to willingly participate in this gruesome and dangerous ritual.
Using the Quran to justify this practice also works well for conservative branches of Islam who want to be left alone by both local and global authorities. For a long time, Britain politicians had no idea what to do about the Muslim communities in Britain that insisted that FGM was a religious tradition that must be protected.
Instead of fighting against this abusive and destructive practice, members of Parliament sat on their hands in their own country as thousands of girls were mutilated at the hands of their parents and clerics.
Not only is there no specific reference to FGM in the Quran, but there is not even casual reference to female circumcision in the Quran. In fact, this is a complete distortion of the Quran because Mohamed says that sex is something to be enjoyed by both the husband and the wife.
Instead, FGM is used to abuse, mutilate and control girls as young as six or seven years old. It is designed to control the sex drive of girls to prevent them from engaging in sex before they are married or from enjoying sex once they are.
When Islam uses the Quran to justify these non-Quranic practices, they manipulate people into participating into cruel practices that have no basis in religion or reality. This is dangerous on several levels and it permits them from joining modern society.
- Islam Needs to Stop Using Religion to Justify Political Actions
One of the biggest criticisms of Israel today is that it uses religion to justify its actions. Many people, especially Islamic leaders, condemn this practice heartily.
Yet, Islam is constantly dragged into politics across the Middle East. The precarious nature of colonialism and identity has not helped matters. One of the reasons that Middle Eastern governments have taken such a hard right turn is because they are trying to reestablish their identities after a period of British and French colonialism.
At some point, Muslim countries need to stop playing the victim. Certainly, colonialism is at the heart of many hardships faced in the region in the 20th century. However, continuing to point fingers is not helping it progress.
Middle Eastern countries need to take back their identities and their lands through legitimate political actions. Attaching a religious commandment does not justify their cause; it only weakens it. That Islam allows itself to be manipulated by politicians is even weaker.
- Islam Needs to Ostracize Extremists
Most Muslims reject terrorism and its subscribers. The number of extremists that carry out terrorist attacks in the name of Islam is incredibly small compared to the number of practicing Muslims.
However, condemning terrorist attacks is not enough to do their part to stop extremism within Islam. These imams, believers and secular citizens must be ostracized from Islam.
This is a very effective method that has been proven to work in other religions like Christianity. In modern Christianity, those who adhere to extreme versions of Biblical or Christian law are considered to be social outcasts.
The Westboro Baptist Church is the perfect example of an ostracized group of extremists. Although they take their inspiration and instruction from interpretations of the Christian Bible, many Christians consider them to be right-wing social pariahs. They have been mocked and ridiculed relentlessly by Christians and by secular people.
Ostracizing extremists will not stop terrorism. It has certainly not stopped the Westboro Baptist Church. However, by mocking them and making them social pariahs, it stops their influence from gaining traction and taking on new followers. It also tells those who may sympathize with them that they run the risk of being ostracized as well.
The fear of excommunication is a strong social motivator. There is no room for religious extremism in modern society. If Islam wants to become more modern, it must take a strong stance to control its own extremists. Those who are most interested in terrorism are not the poor people in the refugee camps in Jordan; they are often rich and powerful. By threatening them with the idea of becoming social pariahs rather than leaders, Islam can take their power away.
- Islam Needs to Separate the Church and the State
Islam is a religion. The religion worships Allah and comes closer to Allah through the human prophet Mohamed. It is a monotheistic faith that arose in the Levant after the 7th century. It has around 1.5 billion practicing followers scattered around the world.
Islamism is the political system. It is a political ideology that attempts to conflate Islam with politics. Islamism is characterized by intolerance and violence of anyone or anything that dissents from its opinions.
Islamism is fascist. It employs the use of totalitarian methodologies both in theory and in practice. Islam advocates peace, justice and understanding.
Islamism is the same sort of extreme political system that Europe saw during the early 20th century. Fascism and authoritarianism in Germany, Spain and the Soviet Union provide hints to what Islamist parties are like. They have one thing in common: the desire to hold power.
Islamism is about power. It is not about trying to live as a good or faithful Muslim. In fact, it has little to do with the doctrines of the Quran. It has nothing to do with Muslims preparing themselves for the Day of Reckoning in which a person will be judged in front of God.
Islamism is about controlling people, territories, resources and money. It is a top down system where power is concentrated at the top while the rest of society languishes in its wake.
The fact that Islamism claims to have any basis in the Quran or in Islam manipulates people into accepting this totalitarian system of rule. If Islam wants to survive and wants to flourish in the modern world, it must tear itself away from the hands of the Islamists who want to do nothing but conflate it with racist politics according to their own agenda.
- Islam Needs to Argue Against Essentialism
One of the biggest reasons that Islam needs to change is because of its belief in its own essence. Essentialism is the belief that there are necessary constructs that must be met for a group to have an identity.
Just the fact that there are so many different schools of Islam is an argument against essentialism in itself. Islam as a whole must recognize that and embrace the divides rather than pitting them against one another.
The right to a personal opinion and a challenge in interpretation is an essential right in modern society. Muslims who are allowed to read, interpret and abide by the Quran according to a modern context are not trying to degrade the essence of Islam.
Islam is already a divided religion. These divisions can be mended not by the forced realignment of beliefs but by the acceptance that Islam can be a modern, functioning religion that embraces differences in its followers.
- Islam Needs to Listen to Its Modern Scholars
Unlike other religions, Islam has had a long tradition of participating in and accepting the merits of science. However, right-wing factions of Islam have started to move away from these traditions and reject the work of its own scholars.
The reason they reject the work of their scholars is because this work does not always fall in line with their personal and political beliefs. Islamists and other right wing leaders do not want to be undermined by the factual history.
One of the most vocal groups to dismiss the work of Muslim scholars is ISIS. ISIS has a very specific goal and purpose. It uses Islam to support its ideology in order to gain followers and try to establish legitimacy.
Hundreds of scholars from around the world published an online letter to ISIS detailing just how far away from scholarly justification the group is. In fact, the scholars informed ISIS that not only do they not have scholarly justification for their action but many of their actions are completely forbidden in Islam.
The letter railed against ISIS for committing war crimes as well as crimes against Islam. The number of scholars who are speaking up to publically condemn these crimes is important. It means that public Islam is one step closer to reaching a consensus to join modern society. But, what is needed now is for the clerics, politicians and public to participate in the conversation and support the scholarly work that is being done by modern academics around the world.
- Islam Needs to Reject the Pre-Islamic Cultural Traits
Islam was founded in the 7th century. But, the Arabs who lived in the area worshiped another god before Mohamed was born. The Arabian culture is an old one filled with a rich history and many different religions.
However, Islam has recently adopted some of the cultural traits that pre-dated it. This is not unheard of. Many religions adapt systems to include some of the traits of the past culture.
However, Islam has been reverting back to these pre-7th century laws. Before they lived in cities, the area was ruled by nomadic Bedouin tribes. One of the ancient customs that has come back into fashion is veiling.
For much of the 20th century, many Arab and Muslim women didn’t veil themselves. Parts of the veil are a complex part of identity. However, there is no law about the niqab or the abaya in the Quran. These were constructs that existed before Islam.
Then, around the 1980s and 1990s, Muslim women began to cover themselves head to toe. The political situation behind this is difficult; the religious one is ambiguous. Regardless, it is worry that Islam has started to pick up cultural traits from an era that was forgotten about many hundreds of years ago by the rest of the world. This is certainly not modern.
- Islam Needs to Reject Sharia Law
Sharia law is a concept that is feared in countries like America and Britain. Most of what Western citizens know of it includes torture and murder for crimes that modern society would impose a fine for.
Sharia law, known also as Islamic law, is the not the whole legal code in most Muslim countries. Rather, Sharia law governs personal status laws. Personal status laws regulate what happens in the home between families.
Sharia law is not Quranic. It is never mentioned in the Quran. In fact, Islamic law was not developed until several hundred years after the Prophet’s death. Sharia law is also not uniform. It is practiced according to many different interpretations that vary regionally and through different schools of thought.
Parts of Sharia law have been rejected. For example, the government no longer chops off the hand of a petty thief. The classic punishments prescribed hundreds of years ago are mostly abandoned except by the ultra-conservative groups. When they are performed, they gather a lot of media attention.
The problem with Sharia law is that it has not been updated to fit in the 21st century. In fact, much of it does not even fit within the 19th century. Some interpretations of Sharia law allow men to kill their wives. They also allow families to murder their daughters should she be the source of dishonor for the family. This dishonor may come from another man attacking and raping her. Sharia law also ensures that men are the guardians of all women and that no woman can make a decision without a relative’s permission.
Scholars debate about which parts of Sharia law are pulled from laws that pre-date the 7th century. Certainly, a modern society cannot be run on a set of pseudo-religious rules that were developed 1,500 years ago.
- Islam Needs to Adhere to Global Human Rights Requirements
Ultimately, Islam needs to adhere to the standards set out by global organizations on human rights. If Muslim countries want to trade, do business with or interact with the rest of the world, they cannot continue to be allowed to ignore basic human rights on an institutional or societal level.
Rich or poor, Muslim countries are some of the worst offenders when it comes to global human rights. Beyond imprisoning journalists and having shocking rates of domestic abuse, the laws that are supported by Islamic texts prevent any real shift in societal changes.
That a girl could be allowed to drown while on the beaches of Dubai while her father prevented her rescue is beyond reproach. That a portion of Islam agreed with the man’s actions is unfathomable. The Dubai police said the situation was sad because it cost a man the life of his daughter. What so much of Islam does not seem to recognize is that it was not a piece of property that was lost that day. The young girl was a person all her own.
Religion and politics have been reforming for many centuries to meet the new system of values put forth by modern society. Islam can reform to fit in as well.
World organizations can put as much pressure as they like on Islam and its governments. But without the acquiescence of Muslims to change and move forward, these laws and protections are hollow.
In many cases, the greatest injustices suffered under Islam are the ones Muslims force on each other. When parents force their daughters to marry their rapists, there is no outside force that makes them do it. It is also often mothers who insist on their daughters FGM.
Men watch in complete ignorance of the controlling forces around them. The veil of Islam does not represent modesty but silence and it covers not women but all of Islamic society.
If Islam will ever reach out to the modern age, it will be because the force of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims want it to. The revolution is slowly beginning but Islam has a long way to go.