The answer to the extremism prevalent in Muslim communities around the world will not come from any allegedly “enlightened” or “moderate” set of religious scholars, but from the average Muslims’ changing attitude towards religiosity. Historical precedents have indeed shown that the religious establishment has often to play catchup with the people in this matter. In the meantime, however, establishment figures, motivated by a variety of ideological and parochial considerations, will often lead the fight against modernization using the pulpits and whatever social, economic and political institutions under their control.
- All so-called Abrahamic religions have an embedded element of disdain towards all other faith systems, one that has been clearly and unambiguously articulated in their various holy books as well as by a huge assortment of their favorite scholars and clerics, one that colors popular attitudes and feeds popular stereotypes, even among the self-declared secular segments, and inspires rejection, condescension and downright hate among a select few.
Most existing works by Muslims on the early sources and history of Islam, including the Qur’an, the Hadith (reports on life and teachings of the Prophet), the Sirah (story of the Prophet’s life) and the history of the early Islamic period, were written more than a century after the purported death of the Prophet and the beginning of the Islamic conquests. None of these works have reached us in their original forms. Moreover, the works themselves suggest that different versions of certain works, including the Qur’an, had existed at different times, and attest to the turbulent nature of the times in which the works were collected, to the haphazard nature of the collection process itself, and to widespread ideological motivations on part of the collectors and their sponsors. Therefore, the authenticity of these works, in the sense that they actually relate factual accounts of the times and events they purport to cover, is as dubious as that of the Christian gospels and the Old Testament.
Why only a handful of Muslims seem willing to speak out in a clear and unapologetic manner against extremism, for reform of their faith, and in defense of the right to free speech and expression of figures deemed controversial on account of some of their intellectual output or public views?
Indeed, no modern reformation can be said to be the real thing unless it tackled the thorny issue of holy texts and infallible figures, and came to terms at one point with their historicity and fallibility. Presently, there are only few works by Muslim authors that have gone down that road, which is why we need to examine the Islamic Reformation as a phenomenon that is still in its preliminary phase.