Fifteen or so years ago I attended a workshop in the Washington, D.C., area that focused on how Muslims in the U.S. were negotiating their place in our society. This included Muslims who were African-American and were converts to Islam but the primary focus was on the stream of Muslim immigrants.
One of the questions we looked at was whether Islam is compatible with a political system based on democracy. The answer was a resounding yes, though some scholars and other speakers noted that some Muslims might have an approach to democracy that included a few wrinkles that normally wouldn't be found in how Christians, Jews and people of other religious traditions (and none) thought about how a democratic system is supposed to work.
For instance, some Muslims from such countries as Saudi Arabia might well be committed to a system of advisory councils that are used there to guide the government and might search for ways to use such councils in American democracy.
But just as followers of Islam were perfectly capable of living in a democratic political system, such as the American republic, so too are they capable of considering adjustments to the practice of their religion.
It's that latter idea that is at the heart of a new book I haven't yet had a chance to read but that I want to tell you about today by linking you to this interesting RNS story about it.
The book is called Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom and Tolerance, by Mustafa Akyol. The author gained fame as a columnist in his native Turkey. As the RNS story notes, "Today he is both a fellow of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., and a New York Times contributing opinion writer."
In essence, Akyol's new book argues that Islam should be open to less-rigid theological approaches than those often found in many of the more closed predominantly Muslim countries.
The RNS story quotes him this way: “This book, to some extent, grows out of disappointment with what happened in the Middle East over the past decade, including the failure of the Arab Spring, which saw an Islamic supremacist ideology gain prominence with groups like ISIS and at the same time an authoritarian retreatment such as in Egypt. This was unfortunate for those of us concerned about freedom in the Muslim world but, I also realized, there was a growing ethical gap within some puritan tradition of Islam in particular and wanted to look deeper into the sources.”
The RNS piece says that for Akyol the new book is "the latest in a career spent researching and making arguments for the compatibility of Islam with classical liberal values and the Enlightenment, following his previous works published in the West, Islam Without Extremes and The Islamic Jesus.
“One of the goals of the book is to make a case (that) ethical values come from human nature. Therefore those values exist beyond religious boundaries. Hence the book offers a deep criticism of the current parochialism in the world of Islam. And surely this is not a problem that is unique to Islam. Any community that rejects universal human dignity will breed intolerance and oppression.”
One of the things non-Muslims must approach with care is calling for what they might term a "Reformation" of Islam. One problem with using that term is that it draws a word that attempts to describe a particular historical development in Christianity and apply it to another faith tradition. Beyond that, of course, it's up to Muslims -- not Christians or followers of any other religion -- to suggest that Islam needs to adjust its thinking about this or that.
What I find encouraging about this new book (without, as I say, having read it yet) is that it demonstrates an intellectual vibrancy within Islam that avoids the destructive binary thinking found in such groups as al-Qaida and ISIS, which claim to be thoroughly Islamic but which violate many, if not most, of Islam's teachings.
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A MUSLIM OFFER OF HELP FOR INDIA
Further evidence of what a disaster Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been as the leader of India is that he's ignored Muslims from Pakistan who can and want to help with the Covid crisis in India. As the RNS story to which I've linked you reports, "44-year-old Sufi Muslim philanthropist Faisal Edhi is ready to move his fleet of 50 ambulances and medical supplies like oxygen to India." But he can't do it yet because of silence from the recalcitrant Modi. How sad.