Liberalism and progressivism within Islam

overview of the history of liberalism and progressivism within Islam and amongst Muslims
(Redirected from Moderate Muslims)

Liberalism and progressivism within Islam involve professed Muslims who have created a considerable body of liberal thought on the original interpretation of Islamic understanding and practice. Their work is sometimes characterized as "progressive Islam" (Arabic: الإسلام التقدمي‎ al-Islām at-taqaddumī); some regard progressive Islam and liberal Islam as two distinct movements.


  • ‘Indeed, in all great Muslim thinkers up to and including the eighteenth-century Shah Waliy Allah of Delhi, there is no dearth of revolutionary statements,’ writes Fazlur Rahman, the Pakistani modernist, in his Islam and Modernity. ‘But orthodoxy had developed an amazing shock-absorbing capacity: all these thinkers were held in high esteem by orthodox circles as great representatives of Islam, but such statements of theirs as had some radical import were invariably dismissed as “isolated” (shaadhdh) or idiosyncratic and were quietly buried.’
    • Fazlur Rahman, quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • Throughout, the fundamentalists have foreclosed all possibilities of any foundational critique of Islam by a standard ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ accusation: if the critique has been from a Muslim, they have dismissed it, maintaining, ‘But he is a murtad, an apostate; there is no reason to listen to him;’ if it has been from a non-Muslim, they have ruled it out of court, maintaining, ‘But he is a kafir, why should he be listened to?’... For ever so long Indian Muslims, and therefore Indians in general have suffered because of this amorousness of the Muslim liberal. For a brief moment it seemed that Ayodhya would spell a change. On the one hand, the Muslim community was brought face to face with the costs of the politics of Shahabuddin, Imam Bukhari and the rest: it seemed more willing to listen to the liberal voices within it. On the other, the Muslim liberal was reminded that it was not enough for him to be liberal. If the community continued to follow obscurantist leaders, there would be a reaction, and all, including the Muslim liberal would be sucked down in its tow. Several Muslim liberals therefore began taking a lead in defining what ought to be done on issues which had become the preserve of the obscurantists. On ‘Triple talaq’ itself, as we saw, several months before Justice Tilhari gave his judgment, the Muslim Intelligentsia Meet had passed a resolution condemning the practice as being in violation of the Quran and Hadis. It had drawn attention to the ‘extreme hardship and harshness’ to which the practice exposes women. So, there was an aperture of opportunity. But the moment passed: soon enough Ali Mian, the All India Milli Council and the rest were once again in the forefront; the Muslim liberal was once again back in his cubbyhole.
    • Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘The closing of the door of Ijtihad is pure fiction,’ he wrote, ‘suggested partly by the crystallization of legal thought in Islam, and partly by that intellectual laziness which, specially in the period of spiritual decay, turns great thinkers into idols. If some of the later doctors have upheld this fiction, modern Islam is not bound by this voluntary surrender of intellectual independence...’ ... ‘in India, these days in particular, one must proceed with care and due circumspection.’ ....‘We heartily welcome the liberal movement in Islam,’ ... but it must also be admitted that the appearance of liberal ideas in Islam constitutes also the most critical moment in the history of Islam. Liberalism has a tendency to act as a force of disintegration, and the race-idea which appears to be working in modern Islam with greater force than ever may ultimately wipe off the broad human outlook which Muslim people have imbibed from their religion. Further, our religious and political reformers in their zeal for liberalism may overstep the proper limits of reform in the absence of a check on their youthful fervour. We are today passing through a period similar to that of the Protestant revolution in Europe, and the lesson which the rise and outcome of Luther’s movement teaches should not be lost on us. A careful reading of history shows that the Reformation was essentially a political movement, and the net result of it in Europe was a gradual displacement of the universal ethics of Christianity by systems of national ethics.
    • M. Iqbal quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘When the Quran was delivered, the followers of the prevailing religions took the outward forms of religion for religion itself, and all enthusiasm for religion therefore was spent on ritual. Every group denied salvation to every other merely on the basis of ritual. But ritual was not religion, said the Quran, nor the criterion of truth. It was merely an outward aspect of religion. The spirit was something superior to it, and that alone was Din or religion.’ ‘Din,’ he continued, ‘in reality was devotion to God through righteous living, and was no exclusive heritage of any single group of people. On the other hand, it was the common heritage of all mankind, and knew no change. Actions and customs are but secondary to it. They have changed and are liable to change from time to time and vary from country to country under the exigencies of time and circumstance. Whatever differences one may notice between one religion and another, they relate particularly to this sphere of life.’...‘Look at the phrase, “To each among you (your groups) have We prescribed a law (Shar’d) and an open way (Minhajy)/” Maulana Azad wrote. ‘Mark that the term used here is not Din which should be the same for every one. That admits of no variation. Shar’a and Minhaj could not have been from the very nature of things uniformly the same for one and all. It was therefore inevitable that they should be different for different countries and different times. The differences of this type are not really differences in the basis of religion. They are so only in things subsidiary to it.’... ‘It is this truth,’ Maulana Azad stressed, ‘which the Quran aims to emphasize whenever it states: “Had God so wished, He would have made you all of but one pattern.” The statement takes cognizance of the differences in disposition of different sections of making a living in different countries, resulting in differences in manners, customs and ways of living. But differences of this character are incidental to the nature of man and should not form the criteria of truth and untruth, and result in mutual dislikes and hostilities. Only the basis of religion should not be disturbed viz., devotion to one God and righteous living. That is why the Quran lays such great stress on the need for tolerance...’ ...
    • Maulana Azad quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • To create a negative image, to manufacture stereotypes and biases against the minorities, a large network of trained people, owing allegiance to Hindu nationalism have spread far and wide, deep into the vitals of society. [...] The outcome was ghettoisation or seclusion of the minorities, among whom insecurity grew and threw its members further into the arms of maulanas with their rigid pronouncements about Islam. These maulanas and their teachings is what a section of the media uses to characterise the whole community. The moderate Muslims, the ones trying to articulate humane values, have been pushed to the margin. To add to this, social media was brought into operation with thousands of trolls, fake news and what have you. Today’s speed of hate-creation has only become possible because of the ground "work" done over decades. It is in this light that many Muslim intellectuals have come together as a think-tank, which they call Indian Muslims for Progress and Reforms. One hopes that they will be able to push for reform and open the pathways for jobs for the Muslim youth while countering the media that demonises them. Apart from these contemporary steps, one wishes to urge upon them to study and reflect upon the foundations on which the present hate-ethic is being spread.

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