Thursday, June 12, 2008

The New Face of Islam

6/12/2008--Newsweek Magazine reported in its June 9, 2008 issue on “The New Face of Islam”. The story states that there is a change within Islam regarding Osama bin Laden’s vision of permissible acts in the name of Jihad: “Important Muslim thinkers, including some on whom bin Laden depended for support , have rejected his vision of jihad. In addition, and somewhat separate, new work by Muslim thinkers, especially in Turkey, are reexamining tenets of Islam with an eye to reopening interpretation.

Is there anything here really new? Probably not. American media love to pronounce trends, even if there are no trends. This is especially true when the “trend” announces what the American audience wants to hear. But it is still good to see aspects of Islam emphasized that we don’t often read about.

The article refers to three changes. First, there is opposition to Al Qaeda’s interpretation of what is permissible under Islam. The story referred to a year old open letter by Saudi scholar, Sheik Salman al-Oudah, whom bin Laden had praised, that asked bin Laden “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed…in the name of Al Qaeda?” And there have been strong criticisms of indiscriminate killing by Sayyid Iman al-Sharif, who is considered a jihadist himself.

The second change is a kind of reforming interpretation within Islam. Most significant is a coming new edition of the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, being published by Turkish Muslim thinkers. The point is to contextualize the sayings. Although the authors say they are not reformers in the Protestant mold, the implications of the work can be striking. One example given in the story is about the Hadith forbidding women from travelling alone. In context, say the authors, this was not a religious command at all, but a safety precaution that could presumably be changed when conditions permitted. The authors read Islam against a background of democracy and human rights.

The third change was just hinted at. It concerns mullah Mohsen Kadivar of Iran, who has been criticizing, in Iran, the Iranian system of clerical control of government policy. This both suggests support for his views among ordinary people and a willingness by the regime to allow dissenting views some access to the public.

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