There have been movements of reformation in all religions. Edicts and beliefs that are misogynous and contrary to human rights have been struck down and changes have been brought about by enacting laws. Even Islam has undergone much transformation over the years, although many Muslim women across the globe continue to be vocal about the need for far greater changes. They have been writing about it, debating over its ramifications. Some have stated that their love for Islam is so profound that they cannot bear the thought of not being allowed to keep the fasting during Ramadan in case they begin menstruating. Not only do they wish to fast while menstruating, they wish to pray too. Even though they are exempt from fasting and praying during these days, they do not wish to be left out. Such is their ardour for their faith that they cannot bear the thought of going a day without their customs. Besides they firmly believe that the prohibitions in Islam are simply there for the sake of personal hygiene. If that can be adequately taken care of then there remains no need for prohibitions against fasting or praying, or so they believe. They have declared that since nowhere in the Quran it is written explicitly that women cannot fast while menstruating, they are not going to follow such unfounded prohibitions. Many have also declared that they do not believe in the prohibition on sex during fasting in Ramadan. Nowhere in Islam has sex been called impure, especially sex between spouses. These women firmly believe that the purity of the union between a man and a woman can only have a positive influence on the fast. So they have ruled in favour of sexual intercourse during fasting. They have also questioned why vomiting should force someone to break the fast. According to them thoroughly rinsing one’s mouth afterwards should be enough to take care of the problem.
There will be many who will be livid on hearing these demands. That is hardly new information. People have always made demands; demands that have made some angry and made others pause and reflect. Some demands have been met, some haven’t been. Today, in many Muslim nations simply saying ‘talaq’ thrice does not necessarily guarantee a successful divorce. Child marriages have been prohibited, as have been hilla or halala (interim) marriages. The fasting during Ramadan is supposed to be observed from sunrise till sunset; many Muslims of northern Europe and America do not feel at ease fasting based on when the sun rises or sets. There’s usually daylight for a couple of hours in winter and an equally small stretch of night during summer. Islam has provided no specific directions for northern countries regarding the month of Ramzan. So Muslims there have figured out their own fasting schedules based simply on convenience. This is how things are reformed and this reformative impulse is necessary to be able to match steps with modern society.
There are mosques in England where women as well as homosexuals are allowed to serve as imams. In these mosques female imams lead the prayers with both men and women following her lead. Many wish to extricate themselves from age-old beliefs. This is the same for all religions, the need to expunge things that do not go with the tenets of modern society. Everyone, at least the ones who are freethinkers , know how much more excision Islam must undergo. It is the progressive Muslims who must come forward for this task. In this day and age, we make laws based on human rights and the women’s equality, we sing paeans to democracy, and we valorize the freedom of speech and expression. Religion too must learn to acknowledge human rights and equal rights of all. The more a certain faith can work in tandem with the epoch, the more the chance of its survival.
It’s not as if Islam is stuck in one place. It has undergone various changes at different times. The age of the Mu‘tazila had been a progressive one. Similarly one of the most glorious traditions of Islam is Sufism. Darkness usually resides very close to the light. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab of Arabia had dragged Islam into an abyss, all in the name of reformation. And today, fundamentalism is begetting terrorism. Of the numerous terrorist activities that go on across the world the most take place in countries where the majority population is Muslim. Even though the jihadist Muslims of the world are far lesser in number than the ordinary peace-loving ones, it’s the former who have become the symbol of Islam. Today most people conflate the ISIS, the Boko Haram, the Al-Qaeda with Muslims in general and the image of the ordinary, innocent Muslim has gradually become fuzzy. This, of course, is an alarming trend. Unless one can combat this jihadist ideology firmly, the future of the Muslim world is in dire straits. Jihadists ultimately hunt Muslims. The way they are slaughtering critics of Islam and freethinkers it is quite possible that one day soon the term Muslim will only denote the jihadists and their supporters. It is the duty of every progressive individual of the Muslim world to summarily separate religion from the state, law and education. No reformation is possible without this crucial amendment. And without any reformation it will not be possible to stake a claim to being a part of the civilized world, let alone demand respect.
My guileless mother used to read the same Quran that the murderers at ISIS read. My mother used to forgive, while the ISIS only kills. My mother did not accept many parts of the Quran literally; whichever part she failed to grasp she would usually fashion a workable explanation. The people at ISIS don’t do that, in that way they are quite like the Crusaders of the 7th Century. Despite there being many forward-thinking Muslims like my mother, the latter usually remain in the shadows in the background while the ones we see as vanguards are the relatively much smaller group of terrorists.
If this continues to persist then is it any wonder that the jihadists will continue to rule? The time has come to snatch away their weapons and turn Islam into a religion of peace. This is not the job for a government. We have never been lucky enough to have an entirely self-less government and it’s unlikely that will happen any time in the future. So this task rests on the modern, progressive individuals from Muslim societies who not only believe in human rights, women’s rights, queer rights, trans rights, and rights of all non-human creatures, they must also be able to acknowledge culture, civilization, science, evolution, and technological advancements. It will be possible to deal with the problem of jihad if one can understand the reasons that compel men and women to choose it in the first place. If these reasons can be eradicated then a solution to the problem ought not be too difficult to find.
Even the holy texts of monotheist faiths like Christianity and Judaism are replete with numerous instances of intolerance, misogyny and violation of human rights. But such things don’t usually bother most of the people of these faiths; they have mostly forgotten the finer details of what is there and what isn’t. Instead they have written laws foregrounding equal rights for all, devised policies on education premised on secular doctrines, formed their social structures based on individual autonomy, and espoused the ideals of democracy while building their nations. It will perhaps be the best outcome possible if all the Abrahamic faiths come to walk the same path, if Islam too can reform and remerge as a humanitarian faith in the twenty-first century.
Last year in Bangladesh, iftar has been distributed among the Muslims from the Iskon temples of the Hindus and prayer-halls of the Buddhists. Why can the Muslims not show a similar open-mindedness and generosity in spirit! They can give refuge to Hindus in need of aid in the mosques, even arrange for food and alms to be given to hungry Buddhists from there, and extend their support to any and every non-Muslim who might be in need. Let people know that Muslims are not only about hacking non-Muslims to death, that despite what might be written in a book Muslims can find it in themselves to be humane, generous, nonviolent and self-less.
Islam can only be reformed when Muslims agree to reform themselves.