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Can Islam Be Reformed?

History and human nature say yes.
flag of reformed islam

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All the while, individual reformers churn out ideas, if not yet for adoption then to stimulate thought. For example, Nadin al-Badir, a Saudi female journalist, provocatively suggested that Muslim women have the same right as men to marry up to four spouses. She prompted a thunderstorm, including threats of lawsuits and angry denunciations, but she spurred a needed debate, one unimaginable in prior times.

Like its medieval precursor, the modern synthesis will remain vulnerable to attack by purists, who can point to Muhammad’s example and insist on no deviation from it. But, having witnessed what Islamism, whether violent or not, has wrought, there is reason to hope that Muslims will reject the dream of reestablishing a medieval order and be open to compromise with modern ways. Islam need not be a fossilized medieval mentality; it is what today’s Muslims make of it.

Policy Implications

What can those, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who oppose Sharia, the caliphate, and the horrors of jihad, do to advance their aims?

For anti-Islamist Muslims, the great burden is to develop not just an alternative vision to the Islamist one but an alternative movement to Islamism. The Islamists reached their position of power and influence through dedication and hard work, through generosity and selflessness. Anti-Islamists must also labor, probably for decades, to develop an ideology as coherent and compelling as that of the Islamists, and then spread it. Scholars interpreting sacred scriptures and leaders mobilizing followers have central roles in this process.

Non-Muslims can help a modern Islam move forward in two ways: first, by resisting all forms of Islamism—not just the brutal extremism of an Osama bin Laden, but also the stealthy, lawful, political movements such as Turkey’s AKP. Erdoğan is less ferocious than Bin Laden, but he is more effective and no less dangerous. Whoever values free speech, equality before the law, and other human rights denied or diminished by Sharia must consistently oppose any hint of Islamism.

Second, non-Muslims should support moderate and Westernizing anti-Islamists. Such figures are weak and fractured today and face a daunting task, but they do exist, and they represent the only hope for defeating the menace of global jihad and Islamic supremacism, then replacing it with an Islam that does not threaten civilization.

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About the Author: Daniel Pipes is a world-renowned Middle East and Islam expert. He is President of the Middle East Forum. His articles appear in many newspapers. He received his A.B. (1971) and Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard University and has taught at Harvard, Pepperdine, the U.S. Naval War College, and the University of Chicago. He is a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace and other institutions. His website is DanielPipes.org.


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7 Responses to “Can Islam Be Reformed?”

  1. Jim Layes says:

    That’s a BIG NO!

  2. The religion which has been most dangerous and confrontational to Judaism has historically been Christianity and all Jews are threatened. In a distant second has been Islam.

  3. Talal Itani says:

    The Quran 2:62. Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously—will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
    quoted from http://www.ClearQuran.com.

  4. Pamela Kafir Farm Liner says:

    Daniel knows Islam can not and will never change..follow the Islamic trilogy as moslems do..there will never be peace…

  5. Ricky Martinez says:

    Islam, as evidenced by the likes of "Pamela Kafir Farm Liner" is sorely needed by Westerners, at least for the purposes of strengthening their own identities and self-definitions. If there is no "green menace" or "beast from the east," many Westerners lose meaning and purpose in their lives.

  6. Ricky Martinez says:

    A problem with your analysis Daniel is that while you make some intriguing points in your thesis it reeks of paternalism and condescension. Basic concepts such as Shariah need not be "opposed," for a believing Muslim that is anathema. One can be in fidelity with the spirit and values brought to the world by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and flourish in the modern world. You also suffer from the weakness of giving too much weight to such weak minded individuals as Ayaan H. Ali who have no real impact on the discussions going on in the Muslim world. She is basically eye candy to assuage the fragile egos of anti-Islam/Muslim activists.

  7. Quran (9:29) – "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." "People of the Book" refers to Christians and Jews.

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