Toward an Islamic Reformation

In her latest book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali offers solutions to some of the problems facing the Islamic world today. Her intended audience is Western liberals and the Islamic umma (community). She proposes five core concepts in Islam that are fundamentally incompatible with modernity and therefore are in need of reform.

1. The status of the Quran as the last and immutable word of God and the infallibility of Muhammad as the last divinely inspired messenger. Ali argues that because the Quran is the eternal word of Allah and Muhammad is the ideal Muslim there is no allowance for debate, criticism or new interpretations. The more violent passages in the Quran from the Medinan period quoted by Islamic extremists to defend their actions take precedence over the more peaceful passages from the Meccan period. Thus, Medinan Muslims (as Ali brands them) have only to defend their position by quoting these passages. There is no room for what is called itijihad, or reasoning in Arabic. But itijihad is very much needed if Islam is to be truly peaceful.

2. Islam’s emphasis on the afterlife over the here-and-now. The Islamic concept of paradise as compared to the eternal torture of hell leads to a tradition of martyrdom. Further, earth is a place of punishment and testing. Ali proposes that Muslims adopt a focus on this world and life here in the present. If Imams preached more about making this world a paradise it might give young Muslims more of a reason to live than to die.

3. The claims of sharia to be a comprehensive system of law governing both the spiritual and temporal realms. Muhammad, in his Medinan period, was both a spiritual leader and a political leader. Thus in Islam there is no separation of church and state, so to speak. Ali, along with other Muslim and non- Muslim dissidents, are calling for such a separation in Islam. Where sharia and civil laws clash, Muslims claim sharia takes precedence because it is the divine way of Allah handed down through the Quran and the Hadith. Western civil laws have come through reason and debate. As a student of the Enlightenment, Ali often looks to the Western liberal tradition for the progress made in Western societies to protect individual rights and freedoms. Only when Muslims protect such rights by allowing civil laws to override sharia laws will women, gays, lesbians, and other minorities have guaranteed protections.

4. The obligation on ordinary Muslims to command right and forbid wrong. Ali tells the story of questioning the number of prayer times when she was a young girl. Her sister was immediately alarmed by such questioning and proceeded to lecture her for hours. While this may sound innocent such an obligation to do right leads to much more violent reactions such as honour killings. Much of this form of social control begins in the home. Ali makes the point that when life is dominated by the fear of serious punishment for small infractions, one cannot think about bigger issues such as rights, education or economics.

5. The concept of jihad or holy war. Ali admits that as a 16 or 17-year-old girl in Kenya she had the same enthusiasm for jihad that idealistic young Americans have for the Peace Corps. It gave her something to aspire to that was bigger than her dreaded math class. Many who are radicalized are looking for “a sense of sacred mission.” Ali compares the doctrine of jihad with Soviet totalitarianism. Military might did not bring down the Berlin Wall. Rather it was the battle of ideologies fought through the sixties, seventies and eighties that weakened Soviet communism to the point of disintegration. Ali sees the same principle working here. It will only be when Imams and other Islamic preachers “decommission jihad,” that we will see a reduction in violent radical Islam. Following the Sufi tradition, jihad needs to become a purely spiritual activity. Ali concludes that holy war must be labeled haram (forbidden).

While not a Christian, Ali clearly appreciates Reformed Christianity’s influence on Western society. She notes that this journey was not without extreme conflict and violence at times, but that we have arrived at a better place. Now she is compelling Muslims to embark on this journey. Her call to support dissidents in their call for reform is one we in the West need to hear.

  • Greg Sinclair is a pastor and missionary who is passionate about engaging with Muslims in our communities. Greg is married to Nelly. They have four children and attend New Hope Church in Hamilton, Ontario.

You just read something for free.

But it didn’t appear out of thin air. Writers, editors and designers at Christian Courier worked behind the scenes to bring hope-filled, faith-based journalism to you.

As an independent publication, we simply cannot produce award-winning, Christ-centred material without support from readers like you. And we are truly grateful for any amount you can give!

CC is a registered charity, which is good news for you! Every contribution ($10+) is tax-deductible.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *