Islam's Future [Can Be Modern]
by Daniel Pipes
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'I am surprised at your lack of courage, Mr. Pipes," one reader scolded me. "Your point of view is for people who believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus," opined another. "You really dropped the ball on this one!" "I hope you are not beginning to lose your nerve." "Totally wrong." Or, more charitably: "Maybe your hope is overshadowing your understanding of the truth."
Those are a sampling of the many negative responses (found on the comments section of my Web site) to my column two weeks ago arguing that Islam is not evil. "Rather than rail on about Islam's alleged 'evil,' " I wrote, we all need to pitch in and "help modernize this civilization." By about a 5-to-1 margin, my readers disagree. Three main points emerge from their letters.
My response, however, is that no matter what Islam is now or was in the past, it will be something different in the future. The religion must adapt to modern mores.
This can be done. One recent example: In May, the Turkish religious authorities ruled - completely contrary to Islamic custom - to permit women to pray next to men and to attend mosque services while menstruating. The High Religious Affairs Board decided this on the (distinctly modern) basis that men and women are "equal and complementary beings." Next month, this same board takes up the extremely delicate topic of permitting Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, when it will perhaps again rule against centuries of practice.
If Turkish theologians can execute such changes, why not theologians in other countries, too? And if practices concerning women can be changed, why not those concerning jihad or the role of Islamic law as a whole? Islam can adjust to modernity no less than have other faiths.
Conversely, if one sees Islam as irredeemably evil, what comes next? This approach turns all Muslims - even moderates fleeing the horrors of militant Islam - into eternal enemies. And it leaves one with zero policy options. My approach has the benefit of offering a realistic policy to deal with a major global problem.
In conclusion, a reflection: Americans have acquired an impressive knowledge of Islam. Contrary to the incessant bleating by apologists for militant Islam about American ignorance of this topic, my readers know what they are talking about. Their critiques are sometimes erudite (for example, on the subject of Koranic abrogations), sometimes eloquent ("The next time you watch a film clip of the miniscule and microscopic body parts of Israeli citizens being scraped from the streets, sidewalks and buildings, just think about what is truly evil").
These readers, surely, are not typical of American opinion, but their informed antagonism to Islam bears remarking. It is likely to have a larger political role as Islam ever-more becomes central a topic of discussion in the West.
Mar. 8, 2009 update: The above text notes a change in Islamic law in Turkey. For a discussion of changes under Khomeini, see a comment by Sani on this website titled "Examples of re-interpretation of Islamic Sharia in modern times."
Also, today, Y. Admon of MEMRI writes in an article about "Rising Criticism of Child Bride Marriages in Saudi Arabia":
Admon is likewise hopeful that recent developments mean that "the religious law permitting child marriages may be amended."
Apr. 30, 2009 update: "Scholars hotly debate treatment of apostates" reads the title of an article in the Arab News, a Saudi paper, by Badea Abu Al-Naja. It points to some interesting ferment:
In other words, this is arch-Sunni establishment fare.
June 3, 2012 update: Darul Uloom Deoband, a key Indian Muslim institution, has delivered what MEMRI calls "a revolutionary fatwa (edict) against polygamy, advising Muslims in India not to contract a second marriage." Their fatwa reads, in the unedited English:
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