Yes, Islam Can Be Reformed

Abdullah Sameer
5 min readNov 27, 2018

I often hear from people who say “Muslims are different. Islam is different. Islam can’t be reformed. Muslims can’t be reformed.”

To which my response is No. I see it all the time. Muslim are reforming. They are becoming more liberal, more tolerant, more accepting.

Take a look at my video for commentary on this:

Christianity and Judaism went through the same process. Most Christians today are proudly secular. Most of my Jewish friends are atheist.

What is Islam?

Is Islam an entity that lives in a cloud disconnected from what Muslims say and do? No. Islam is the practice of nearly two billion believers all over the world. From the deserts of Sudan to the bustling cities of Delhi. If Muslims change, that means Islam is changing. Comparing Islam to Nazism is unfair because Islam is not just one thing whereas Nazism is a singular and monolithic ideology of hatred. This does not deny that the Islamic texts do contain hateful statements, as they do, but rather that Muslims do not actively implement or even believe in all the terrible things found in them.

How are Muslims changing Islam?

Dina Tokio the famous hijabi instagrammer posted an article on her blog written by a guest author saying that Muslim women should be allowed to marry Non-Muslim men. This is considered forbidden in most interpretations of Islam. I even heard one sheikh state that such women are considered apostates!

EDIT: The above article was sadly taken down due to pressure Dina Tokio received from the Muslim community

The same article quotes Amina Wadud, a prominent progressive Muslim. This is a good thing because there is actually no good reason to prevent women from marrying non-Muslim men but allowing the opposite. The world is so different from the world that Islam was borne in. Most of classical Islamic fiqh (rulings) makes no sense today.

Muslim scholars on Islamic Reform

To many in the Muslim community, ‘reform’ is a four-letter word. Because Islam is considered ‘perfect’, many think it cannot be ‘reformed’, per say. These scholars would not call it reform, but it is.

Islamic law is being reformed. These scholars would not call it reform, but would say it’s a consideration to the larger goals of the shariah, or the context of modern life.

All of this would fall under usool-al-fiqh (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence). Scholars have to decide for Muslims which laws apply only to Muhammad’s time, and which are universal. There is no actual right and wrong answer, this is all up for interpretation.

Here are some questions scholars would ask:

  • This particular hadith or verse, should be taken as universal and for all times, or is it specific to Muhammad’s context?
  • Can this hadith or verse be ignored because of greater harm to Muslims that will be caused by implementing it?
  • Due to changes in our social conditions, does this particular ruling still apply?

For example the Moroccan Scholar Abdullah Bin Bayyah, who is the teacher of the American preacher Sheikh Hamza Yusuf stated that:

“Renewal is fundamental in the Islamic religion, which is based on constantly linking between religious texts, the purpose of these texts and the current living reality,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, president of the forum.

Hamza Yusuf also stated that hudood laws (punishments in shariah) should not be implemented today. For example chopping off hands, apostasy law, and that Islam is compatible with secularism.

Hamza Yusuf — Islamic State and Shariah Law are fantasies

Hamza Yusuf is not alone in this.

Mufti Abu Layth has also spoken about slavery is immoral and cannot be accepted:

Can Slavery by Moral by Mufti Abu Layth

He explained that by the method of ‘trajectory hermeneutics’ we can argue that Prophet Muhammad wanted to end slavery, because he restricted slaves to be only from one source (captives of war and no kidnapping etc), and also the encouragement to free slaves was very strong, so therefore eventually slavery would be haram. Whether or not you agree with this argument, you have to acknowledge that Muslim scholars are tackling these very difficult topics.

He has also gone on record saying that child marriage is ‘haram’ (forbidden), and that Aisha was actually NOT nine years old.

Aisha’s age by Mufti Abu Layth

These scholars are able to do this without being accused of changing Islam, because they look at the higher goals of shariah (maqasid al sharee) which are to preserve life, wealth, lineage, intellect rather than the specific rulings that Muhammad came up with. They say that these laws don’t make sense in the modern world so we can rework them.

Atheists and Islamic Reform

We in the atheist community often laugh at the idea of reforming Islam and progressive Muslims. A friend of mine even wrote in his book that Muslims should either join an extremist group or leave Islam! There’s no middle ground for these people. As another example the atheist blogger Lalo Dagach deleted my comments on his Facebook post blocked me for challenging him on his claim that Islam and Muslims can’t be reformed.

Many think that Islamic reform is a fool’s errand and that we need to insist that Muslims LEAVE Islam period. I disagree. The task of reforming Islam is not insurmountable. It can happen and it will happen. Muslims are tending towards liberalism and I for one will gladly support this.

The following poll shows that American Muslims are far more accepting of homosexuality like their American counterparts:

I will continue to support those who speak for a more liberal, tolerant progressive Islam, even if I don’t see it as consistent with the original texts or believe in it myself. It’s better for the world and it’s better for Muslims.

Do I believe in Islam? No

Do I believe Quranism (a form of Islam without hadith) is a viable interpretation of Islam? Nope.

Do I believe Muslims would be better off without Islam? Possibly yes. But it would be their choice to do so or not. Many of them would be happy keeping the Muslim label but not following the religion and I will defend their rights to do so.

Dina Tokio is speaking her mind despite the consequences. She spoke about the toxic hijabi culture and slutshaming; she is now speaking on behalf of equal rights for women. For that, I salute her.

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