Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reforming Islam

MEMRI reported Dr. Soheib Bencheikh was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1961, studied Islamic theology at Al-Azhar University and received his doctorate from the prestigious Parisian Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). Formerly the mufti of Marseilles, France, he is a member of the French Council for the Muslim Religion and head of the French Institute for Islamic Science. Recently, he announced his candidacy for the April 2007 French presidential election

If he wants to be President of France, I can see why he proposing reforming Islam. Should he be elected, I wonder whether he would continue to push those reforms, or is it like Hillary pretending to move to the center?
, and launched his election website. In addition, one of his supporters maintains a blog that includes interviews he has given to the press, as well as links to other French Muslim reformist websites.

Bencheikh believes that French-style secularism is a necessary precondition for the reform of Islam, and he calls on both Muslims and non-Muslims to participate in critiquing Islam, reinterpreting its holy texts, combating fundamentalism, and helping Islam adapt to the modern era.
I don't know how secularism is going to reform Islam. I would think that a better environment would be one of faith, but tolerant of other faiths.
The following are excerpts from interviews Bencheikh gave to French and Algerian newspapers that were posted on his official website:

Bencheikh says that Islam came into being in tribal societies and is still focused on the tribal lifestyle.
That is true. Mohammad invented Islam, but his tribe would not accept it, and he left and went to Medina and persuaded some there to accept it, then he lead an army to attack his own tribe in Mecca and force them to accept the new religion. He then went on to spread his new religion by conquering other tribes and countries.
Thus, he says, it should be reformed to address the needs of modern life: "
Like equal rights for women???
...Religious teachings were developed and formulated between the eighth and 12th centuries, and have not undergone any reform or updating since that time... In the 60s, most Muslim countries chose political modernity. Most of them became either republics or constitutional monarchies. But these choices remained completely theoretical. [There] was no reform to [adapt] Muslim theology to this historical transformation. Consequently, [Muslims today] experience a dangerous discrepancy between their status as citizens and their status as believers...

"This static theology we inherited was conceived for an Islam that was the religion of the majority and had sovereignty over its lands. Moreover, it was conceived for tribal societies. This theology was meant for times when nations hardly came into contact [with each other] - and if they did, it was in a spirit of rivalry for dominance. This theology could not care less about living in harmony with other cultures, and knows nothing of pluralism based on universal principals like secularism and religious freedom - [principles that are] applicable to all religions and granted to all." Bencheikh also explains that Islamic jurisprudence was aimed at managing Muslim life in a tribal society and must therefore be reformed: "[To take] Islamic jurisprudence - which was inherited from [tribal] societies - and turn it into a kind of universal jurisprudence applicable to all periods means to 'bedouinize' Islam and prevent Islamic societies from evolving... In Algeria, for example, fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is still applied... If I divorce my wife, she will have to leave our apartment with her children.
In America you would probably be the one to have to leave, and pay her child support besides.
Why is it like that? Because at a time when life was organized into tribes - and not into city blocks [as in modern times] - the divorced wife had to leave her husband's clan in order to go back to her father's clan. [In fiqh,] nothing has changed, even though the social framework has changed completely."

Bencheikh states that political Islam is a heresy promoted by the Arab states: "The first heresy in Islam in the 20th century was the politicization of Islam. As soon as Muslim countries became independent came the birth of political Islam - i.e. a kind of Islam that is dictated by the state, obeys only the state, and is merely an organ of the state - since it helps the state to increase its power and oppress the people... We are all familiar with the failures and the bloody [inclinations] of political Islam.
Who blame everything on the west, hoping its people will not rebell against the true oppressors, the government of their own country.
"In the Muslim countries, the state still pays the imams' salaries. It is the state that promotes Islam - but what kind of Islam? The kind of Islam that is not familiar with [the concept of] citizenship, but only [the concept of] subjects; the kind of Islam that is not familiar with [the concept of] a state [based on citizens'] rights, but only with the rights of the prince; the kind of Islam that is not familiar with democratic elections or with the free expression of a sovereign people, but only with the oath of allegiance [to the ruler].

"I am convinced that the Islamic state promotes its own destruction by teaching a kind of Islam that does not reform itself, and that still relates to traditional, patriarchal and tribal societies."
From your lips to Allah's ear.
Bencheikh draws a distinction between Islam as a humanist religion and Islam as a political tool, stating that Muslim theologians have a responsibility to promote humanistic Islam: "It is up to us Muslims who are versed in religious science to make the distinction, in the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, between a religion based on spirituality, humanism, and civilization [on the one hand], and a purely instrumental use [of religion], which aims at seizing worldly, material power [on the other]..."
Good luck
....Bencheikh draws another distinction: between the Koran's eternal message and its violent aspect - which, he says, is derived from the historical context of conflict in which it was revealed. He writes: "The Koran contains approximately 10 verses that encourage Muslims to carry weapons for the purpose of self-defense...
And a lot more that urge spreading Islam by force of the sword.
There are verses promoting respect for Jews and Christians, along with verses advocating the use of unrestrained violence against polytheists. However, most of these verses must be... seen in [the light of] their historical context... I will not be so cruel as to remind [readers] that the Old Testament also... includes verses loaded with violence.
But they either reported that it happened, or in the few cases where God ordered violence, it was against a particular group of people. The Holy Bible never said (Surah 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.
However, this does not lead me to say that the Bible encourages a theology of conquest and domination. It only means that sacred texts must always be seen in [the light of] the context in which they were revealed and passed on [to the next generations]. We must reinterpret them in order to extract their eternal, universal value - instead of [using them to] legitimize political and personal agendas.".... He adds that not criticizing Islam is tantamount to contemptuous dismissal of it: "Islam must be criticized, just as Christianity was [criticized] during the Enlightenment. Islam is a message for all humanity. Therefore, it is not the property of Muslims [alone]. Everyone has the right to be fascinated by this religion, to adhere to it, to be critical of it, and even to be hostile to it... To avoid criticizing Islam is a form of segregation. We must admit that Muhammad was a human being. [As such] he was fallible, and his message is open to interpretation."
I wish you luck.
Bencheikh adds that "the majority of Muslims - the ordinary people - want an open, moderate Islam. They want to hear innovative, modern discourse. This is [the trend] I want to promote... Moderate [Muslims] are the majority, but they do not take action. This is always the case with silent majorities. Radical movements, on the other hand, benefit from groups of activists [organized in] parties... There is a need for a thoroughly new organization [that will promote moderate Islam]."

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