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Liberal Islamic Reform And The Prospect For An Islamic Reformation :: Liberties Alliance

Liberal Islamic Reform And The Prospect For An Islamic Reformation

By • on January 27, 2012

We seem to be witnessing, at the present time, the emergence of a Liberal Islamic Reform Movement that could eventually lead to an Islamic Reformation.  Liberal Islam stands in direct contrast to Islamism, and an Islamist propaganda effort is undoubtedly already underway to ensure that such a reformation never succeeds.  The main strategy to achieve that seems to be a general attack on the principle of freedom of expression that had traditionally been enjoyed across the Western world and which makes dissent against established dogma possible.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Liberal movements within Islam’ identifies a number of characteristics which include embracing the concept of ijtihad, separation of mosque and state, opposition to political Islam, commitment to human rights, equality, and democracy, an outlook of tolerance and non-violence, and reliance on secular scholarship.  While basing their views on the early days of Islam the liberals, in contrast to the Islamists, adopt an interpretation that is flexible and progressive rather than inflexible and conservative.

Although there is no priesthood in Islam, human beings have made choices for the faithful following the death of Mohammad.  For instance hundreds of years ago the Ulama took it upon themselves to close the gates of ijtihad.  Whether the reason for this was one of protecting their own political power is a matter for debate, though it did have the effect of shutting down debate.  In this regard there are perhaps parallels between the closure of the gates of ijtihad and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s efforts to end freedom of expression in the world today.  If human agency can close the gates of ijtihad then surely it can reopen them?

Many liberal Muslims believe that individuals are empowered to interpret the Koran, an approach which plays a similar, though not the same, role in Islamic reform as the concept of a priesthood of all believers played in the Reformation in Europe that gave ordinary Christians a direct relationship with God.  They achieve this via the mechanism of a liberal interpretation of Ijtihad.  They believe that this allows a symbolic rather than a literal interpretation of verses of the Koran that are out of step with the principles of modern society.  Indeed many liberals argue that the Koran was revealed to deal specifically with the conditions prevailing at the time of revelation in 7th century Arabia which were dramatically different from the modern context.  This would mean that as society changed so should the way the Koran is interpreted.  Of course many orthodox Muslims would undoubtedly disagree with this and Islamic extremists may even regard Muslims who believed it as apostates.  However, the fact remains that many liberals do believe it.  Such a philosophy could possibly become the basis of an Islamic reformation that would be as fundamental and historically significant as that that took place in Europe in the 16th century and which launched it on the road to modernity.

The emergence of a modern Liberal Islamic Reform Movement suggests that an Islamic Reformation may already be in its very early stages, though it is nowhere near completion and success is by no means guaranteed.  The environment for such a spiritual reassessment is ripe, just as it was in 16th century Europe.  Just as the printing press influenced the Reformation in Europe, the Internet will undoubtedly play a role and be a key tool of Liberal Islamic Reformers.  The move to using the vernacular languages of Europe played a role in the past because they were different from the Latin of the religious elite.  Those same languages are now the languages of Muslims who have migrated to the West and who are therefore less influenced by their religious elites in the Islamic world.

By escaping the strictures and conventions of conservative Islamic societies, those in more open societies have the opportunity to reopen the gates of Ijtihad which the conservatives would otherwise have suppressed.  In addition migrants have benefitted from education systems that achieve much higher levels of literacy.  Again there are parallels with the improvements in literacy evident during the period of the European Reformation.  Perhaps an Islamic Reformation would result in improved literacy rates in the Islamic world with all the consequences that would have for material, personal, and societal improvement.

Many commentators today suggest that the European Renaissance was made possible because of the flow of lost ancient knowledge from the Islamic world into Europe.  Now we see a reverse of such a process as that ancient knowledge, preserved, nurtured and significantly developed and improved upon by the West enters the Islamic world – knowledge of course changes societies.  It must be remembered that the Renaissance was followed by and therefore may have had an influence on the Reformation.

The changes that the Renaissance and Reformation caused for Christianity were as radical to many Christians of that period as the Islamic Reformation currently is for many of the world’s Muslims.  During the Reformation in Western Europe, the deeply held beliefs of a great many people were overturned, and no doubt a great deal of offense was caused.  But in the end it is quite clear that the entire process of the Reformation eventually improved tolerance within Christianity and transformed Christendom into modern Europe.

The current efforts of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to prevent criticism of what they regard as the principles of their religion and perhaps the basis of the power of elites in the Islamic world seem to be similar to those of Popes and the religious elite during the Reformation who were also determined to maintain their power and influence.  By participating in the Istanbul Process, Western governments are encouraging Islamists and are effectively bringing the Islamic Renaissance to a grinding and perhaps permanent halt.  Will that ultimately mean that the Islamic world will not progress and that this will also cause the Western world to regress back into the superstition and darkness that it was freed from by the Renaissance and Reformation?



There are a growing number of what can be described (at least as far as the opinion of the author of this essay is concerned) as liberal Islamic reformers who, rather than take Islam back to the 7th century, want to bring it into the 21st.  Such an approach is consistent with the values and aims of Western Civilisation and democracy.  Of course it is very easy for anyone to claim to be a moderate Muslim and it is much easier to ‘talk the talk’ than it is to ‘walk the walk’.  However genuine liberal Islamic reformers certainly deserve to be regarded as moderate Muslims and their efforts should be applauded unreservadly.  Their courage is an inspiration and by even getting their message into the public domain they have achieved a degree of success.  However, the scope for their success is limited by the approach of policymakers in the West and by attitudes within orthodox Islam that appear to remain in thrall of Islamism and its message.

The American Islamic Leadership Coalition seems to provide good leadership in the field of liberal Islamic reform.  On its website (at the time of publication of this essay) it declares:

“The American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC) is a diverse coalition of liberty-minded, North American Muslim leaders and organizations. AILC’s mission advocates for defending the US Constitution, upholding religious pluralism, protecting American security and cherishing genuine diversity in the faith and practice of Islam. AILC provides a stark alternative to the Islamist organizations that claim to speak for what are diverse American Muslim communities. For more information on AILC, please visit our website at http://americanislamicleadership.org/.”

Liberal reformers even reach out to non-Muslims in the Western world.  Tawfik Hamid, puts forward a plan to end what has become known as ‘Islamophobia’:

“To bring an end to Islamophobia, we must employ a holistic approach that treats the core of the disease. It will not suffice to merely suppress the symptoms. It is imperative to adopt new Islamic teachings that do not allow killing apostates (Redda Law). Islamic authorities must provide mainstream Islamic books that forbid polygamy and beating women. Accepted Islamic doctrine should take a strong stand against slavery and the raping of female war prisoners, as happens in Darfur under the explicit canons of Shariah (“Ma Malakat Aimanikum”). Muslims should teach, everywhere and universally, that a woman’s testimony in court counts as much as a man’s, that women should not be punished if they marry whom they please or dress as they wish.” “How to End ‘Islamophobia'” – By Tawfik Hamid Source: Wall Street Journal , quoted from http://www.wluml.org/ru/node/3741

The tenets of orthodox Islam criticised in the above quote clearly demonstrates the direction that policymakers should be taking when developing initiatives and legislation.  Governments have been unwilling to embrace realities, preferring to pretend that these issues do not exist and should not be spoken of aloud.  They prefer to undermine the very values, such as freedom of expression, that are critical to dispel fears and misunderstandings.  It seems that many people in positions of power actually want to raise tensions and undermine community cohesion.  Governments show willingness to empower and legitimise the self-appointed representatives of the Muslim community, rather than liberal reformers who are willing to address fundamental issues.  It is no wonder that this policy has failed to end radicalisation and the growing support for the Islamist message.

As a reformer Tawfik Hamid takes responsibility for ending Islamophobia onto his own shoulders and recommends that the Muslim community as a whole adopt the same approach.  He expresses concern about the method, currently in wide usage, which involves demonising those who criticise aspects of Islamic teaching:

“It is well past time that Muslims cease using the charge of “Islamophobia” as a tool to intimidate and blackmail those who speak up against suspicious passengers and against those who rightly criticize current Islamic practices and preachings. Instead, Muslims must engage in honest and humble introspection. Muslims should–must–develop strategies to rescue our religion by combating the tyranny of Salafi Islam and its dreadful consequences.

Islamophobia could end when masses of Muslims demonstrate in the streets against videos displaying innocent people being beheaded with the same vigor we employ against airlines, Israel and cartoons of Muhammad. It might cease when Muslims unambiguously and publicly insist that Shariah law should have no binding legal status in free, democratic societies.” “How to End ‘Islamophobia'” – By Tawfik Hamid Source: Wall Street Journal , quoted from http://www.wluml.org/ru/node/3741

It seems to be a common trait amongst liberal reformers to take personal responsibility for criticising Islamism in order to marginalise it and clearly demonstrate that many of its attributes have no place in a democratic society.  Rather than wallowing in self pity, making excuses, and alleging marginalisation at the hands of non-Muslim society, they address the issues and the facts directly.  Such reformers see a clear separation between political and non-political Islam and tend to see its political form as the source of the discord visible in the world today.  Another liberal reformer, M Zuhdi Jasser, addresses this issue as follows:

“Sadly, many of my co-religionists called on by media to speak for American Muslims too often wallow in denial simply deflecting any responsibility by distancing themselves from radicals or myopically equating Muslim radicals to those of other faiths. They willfully ignore the main ideological conveyor belt towards radicalism – political Islam.

We need to take the offense in ending the ideas of jihad, the “ummah” as nation, and the “salafi” dream of returning everything to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Until we Muslims take on the responsibility of separating history from religion and mosque from state, the threat will not dissipate.” What the Muslims in America can do by M. Zuhdi Jasser Des Moines Register October 6, 2010

Also, like other liberal reformers he makes suggestions that could inform and enhance the policy-making process.

“We believe that the only way to defeat Islamism is by Muslims advocating for the reforms necessary to separate mosque and state.

While this effort is often criticized as Islamophobic and I am routinely labelled an Uncle Tom or traitor to Muslims by those who adhere to the ideology of political Islam, I have taken the Islamic tradition of ijtihad (modern, critical interpretation of scripture and tradition) to heart as a personal responsibility as an American Muslim as it should be for every Muslim.”  M. Zuhdi Jasser, The Center for American Progress Fear, Inc. Report, Family Security Matters November 16, 2011

The more liberal view of Ijtihad sees it as a non-legal principle and that it can be undertaken by any Muslim.  In its more traditional context it is part of the Islamic legal milieu, but nevertheless provides a specific area where real dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim communities can take place.  In this way it is possible that it represents a credible tool for Muslims to make efforts towards community cohesion on their own cultural terms.  An interesting article on ijtihad by Claude Salhani can be found HERE.

M Zuhdi Jasser goes on to say:

“I believe we American Muslims have a major crisis in leadership with most organizations in the United States coming out of the Muslim Brotherhood legacy tree and ideology.” M. Zuhdi Jasser, The Center for American Progress Fear, Inc. Report, Family Security Matters – November 16, 2011

The same could probably also be said of other countries around the world.  Again, there are many things that Western governments can do on a policy making level to ensure that Islam in Western countries get the leadership that it needs and deserves for the 21st century.  This means that Government needs to support the genuine progressives and disassociate themselves from non-progressive individuals and groups.

If governments back these liberal reformers rather than the more ‘orthodox’ groups, then progress could be made towards a successful Islamic Reformation. As things stand Western governments are assisting with the Islamist agenda.  Erosion of freedom of expression, the very freedom that guarantees all other freedoms, and censorship of those who talk critically about Islam provides a victory to Islamism and this success perhaps encourages even more radicalisation.

It is vital that those who are concerned about the rise of Islamism warmly embrace these liberal reformers.  Such reformers are courageous, as they can find themselves victimised by Islamic radicals who want to maintain the ‘purity’ of their doctrine.   This growing group of Muslim progressives are not practicing taqiyya, though many Muslims who just pay lip service to challenging Islamism probably do so regularly as a way to push forward their ambitions for political dominance.  There are many Muslims who certainly seem to play the ‘taqiyya game’ and that is certainly something that it is vital to be vigilant about.

It is not necessarily inconsistent for a Muslim to be a liberal Islamic reformer and devout.  Being devout within this context does not make a person extreme if they are genuinely opposed Islamism and its illiberal agenda.  Moderate Muslims can therefore be devout Muslims, even though they repudiate sharia-based forms of government.

A recent example of the clash between Islamism and liberal Islam was visible at the Amsterdam book launch of Allah, Liberty & Love by Irshad Manji which was disrupted by Islamists.  The author of that book has provided a report about the incident on her website where she states the following:

“In Amsterdam, 22 jihadis stormed my book launch, ordered my execution and threatened to break my neck. Police arrested two men and found a third with a loaded machine gun at home.”

The sickening scenes can be seen in a video clip HERE.

This shows the kind of intimidation that any perceived opponent of Islamic orthodoxy receives when they speak out.  Would Irshad Manji be accused of ‘defamation of religion’ under proposals from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that will be discussed as part of the ‘Istanbul Process’?  The Islamist aggression at the book launch not only demonstrates their opposition to freedom of expression, but also clearly shows their opposition to freedom of religion.  Which high priests of righteousness get to decide what ‘defamation of religion’ actually is – the leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation?  Is the Organization of Isalmic Cooperation’s motivation with regard to defamation of religion motivated by a sincere belief in protecting religious freedom or is it a means to protect religious dogma?  The plight of minority religious opinion in Oraganization of Islamic Cooperation member states perhaps is an indication that the motivation is the latter.

Governments of Western nations urgently need to radically reform their policy making with regard to Islamism.  They need to engage with real moderates – the Liberal Islamic Reformer Movement referred to in this essay, they need to rigorously oppose political Islam, they need to reverse the entrenchment of sharia principles in Western societies, and they need to look to ijtihad as a possible way to engage with the Islamic community in order to generate meaningful community cohesion.  They also need to resist the cynical efforts of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to bring down the one thing that allows proper dialogue between all people – freedom of expression.


By C-J on January 27th, 2012 at 19:00

Excellent article; thank you – sharing.
V for Liberty

By Aeneas on January 27th, 2012 at 19:12

Many thanks C-J

By ABBIE on January 27th, 2012 at 23:53

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By Yonderthehill on March 13th, 2014 at 14:19

Get real. Islam is 1000% unreformable. My advice to those liberal Muslims is to WALK AWAY from Islam. They will never get anything out of Islam as long as the Saudis and the Iranians have the complete control of the Sunni and Shia Islam in their places.

By Tournois on June 23rd, 2014 at 03:02

Very interesting article. Yet, I am pessimist as Yonderthehill: in France we tried to promote an “Islam of France”, tolerant and democrat, with a peacful guy at its head, Dalil Boubaker. Most muslims despise him and the organization, CFCM, they don’t recognize themself in it, and rather refer to UIOF, which is embedded with the Muslims Brothers, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation…

By Paul Maher on August 25th, 2014 at 04:08

I have been trying to get at the substantive difference between todays Christianity and todays Islam. Here’s the first thing. Christianity accepts the place of government, ….”render unto caesar that which is caesars and unto God that which is Gods”. According to many there is nothing in Islam pointing to different responsibilities for church and state.

The second thing lies in the different observations about the Qualities of Love.

First Islams 8 points concerning Love.

8 Definition of Love In the Quran

8 Pengertian Cinta Dalam Al-Qur’an

In the Qur’anic notion of love has 8 the following explanation:

1. Love mengebu Mawaddah is the kind of love-passionate, burning and “nggemesi”.

People who have a love type mawaddah, the wish was always alone, reluctant to part

and always wanted to quench the thirst of love. He wants to monopolize her love,

and the other could barely think.

2. Rahmah love is kind love loving, gentle, ready to sacrifice,

and ready to protect. People who have a love more attention to this kind of mercy

their loved ones than to yourself. For him the important thing is

happiness of his beloved though he had to suffer. He was very understand

deficiency boyfriend and girlfriend always forgive mistakes. Included in

love mercy is the love between blood-borne persons, especially parents love

on his son, and vice versa. From that then in the Qur’an, a relative called

al Arham, dzawi al Arham, namely the people who have a love relationship

in fitri, which comes from Garba affectionate mother, called the womb (from the mercy of the word.)

Since the fetus a child has been overwhelmed by the psychological atmosphere of affection in

one chamber called the womb. Furthermore, among those who have

blood ties are encouraged to always silaturrahim, or silaturrahmi means

connecting cords of affection. Husband and wife are bound by love and mawaddah

rahmah at once usually faithful to each other physically and spiritually-world hereafter.

3. Love Mail, is the kind of love that for a while very hot,

so suck up all the attention to other things tend to be less attention.

Love this type of mail in the Qur’an is mentioned in the context of polygamy in which when

‘m falling in love with a young (an tamilu kulla al mail), tends to ignore

to the old.

4. Love Syaghaf. It is a very deep love, natural, original and intoxicating.

People who develop type syaghaf love (qad syaghafaha Hubba) can be like a madman,

forget themselves and hardly realize what was done. Qur’an use

syaghaf term as amazing but how loved Zulaikha, wife of the Egyptian authorities

to his servant, Joseph.

5. Love Ra’fah, namely a sense of deep love to beat the norms of truth,

such pity on the child so it does not have the heart to wake him for prayer,

defend him even if wrong. The Qur’an calls when reminded that this term

Do not love ra `Fah cause people to not enforce the law of God, in this case

cases of punishment for adulterers (Q/24: 2).

6. Love Shobwah, that love is blind, in love perverts who encourage behavior without

able to dodge. The Qur’an calls ni term as amazing but how

The Prophet Joseph pray for separated by teasing Zulaiha that every day

(Please put in jail only), because if not, over time Joseph slip

also in the act stupid, illa wa `Anni kaidahunna tashrif ashbu ilaihinna

wa min al jahilin account (Q/12: 33)

7. Love Syauq (miss). Term is not from the Qur’an but from the interpretation of hadith

Qur’an. In surat al `Ankabut paragraph 5 to say that anyone missed seeing

God surely the time will come. The sentence was later disclosed in the longing

prayer from the Hadith narrated ma’tsur Ahmad; wa ila as’aluka ladzzata an nadzori wajhika

as syauqa ila wa liqa’ika, I beg to feel the pleasure of looking at

face Mu and pleasure of longing to meet you.

According to Ibn al Qayyim al Jawzi in the book Raudlat al Muhibbin wa Nuzhat al Musytaqin,

Syauq (miss) is the odyssey heart to the lover (traveling al qalb ila al mahbub)

and love that the fire was blazing in the hearts of the lovers,

il wa al mahabbah hurqat tihab naruha qalb fi al muhibbi.

8. Love Kulfah, which is accompanied by feelings of love to educate awareness

positive things even harder, like a parent who sent his son sweep,

clean their own rooms, although there are helpers. This type of love is called the Qur’an

when it states that God does not burden a person except in accordance with

ability, He yukallifullah nafsan illa wus `aha (Q / 2:286)


The Christian view of what love is. Noting, as we must just how much this was ignored in Medieval times.

Bible Love Verses from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

These words of love, have defined love, as well as explained God’s love for us and how to love God and others.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are many other components of these 2 faiths that are at odds with one another.

Judgement for example. Christianity says, “Judgement is mine saith the Lord”

It appears that the average Muslim is making all the Judgements. You can see examples of this kind of thing contained in the 8 Islamic point concerning Love.

Well, I think I’ve said enough. If you read the 8 points I think you’ll get my drift.