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    The battle for Islam

    by Sunny on 3rd September, 2005 at 5:31 am    

    I’ve always liked Ziauddin Sardar. He doesn’t sit around complaining of Zionist conspiracies and he says what he wants to - usually as a liberal commentator. It’s too bad he doesn’t get more involved in politics than the occasional cultural commentary and provide a more sensible alternative to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

    By the way, he has written over 40 books on science and technology and Islam, most recently co-authoring ‘Why do People hate America’ and ‘American Dream, Global Nightmare’.

    On Monday 5th Sept he will be presenting a primetime documentary on BBC2 - Battle for Islam - looking at how Islam is changing around the world and evolving with the people. He travels to five countries - Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, Indonesia and Malaysia - to see how changes there are affecting the lives of ordinary Muslims.

    In an article for the Guardian this week he said reform was Islam’s best kept secrets.

    Islam is changing. But if you want to notice this change, you have to turn your gaze away from the threat of terrorism, the horizon of Islamophobic nightmares, the illegal militarised regime change and the morass of enforced democracy building. Islam has actually changed radically.

    In Morocco, for example, women’s activism provoked the king to initiate a wholesale revision of Islamic law related to family affairs. A new sharia, derived from original sources by scholars and fitted for the 21st century, has been promulgated. Published editions of the new Islamic family code are best-sellers and a matter of earnest popular debate.

    A similar redrafting of the sharia has been undertaken by a group of reform-minded scholars in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. The end of Suharto’s 30-year military rule has seen an outpouring of debate. Groups like the Liberal Islam Network are challenging the most central prop of Muslim movements: the idea that Islam provides a set of ready-made answers for all times and circumstances.

    Ijtihad, it seems, is slowly coming back into fashion, which can only be a good thing.

    Conservative Asians have a bad habit of believing that changing religious practice is a bad thing because it is deviating away from the religion. What they don’t realise is that Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism have long traditions of theological debate that encourages re-interpretation of the religious scriptures. This needs to change.

    Update:RizwanD writes in to say that Channel 4 is showing a documentary tonight titled ‘The Road to 9/11′ at 8pm, “Examining the forces that have shaped the modern Middle East and yielded a crisis that now threatens global stability.”

    Sidenote: Mediawatchwatch points out that the MCB is complaining to Ofcom over the Panorama programme. Let’s see if they get anywhere.

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    8 Comments below   |  

    1. jamal — on 3rd September, 2005 at 8:24 am  

      Obviously the points regarding Islam depend on where the muslim is from. Islam is worldwide, and those points do not aply universally.

      Nevertheless, the greatest point made in the article you did not include! It is:

      It would be folly to suggest that terrorism fuelled by perverse interpretations of Islam is not a threat. It would be naive to argue the conditions do not exist that make such ideology seductive. But the greatest folly would be to base our response to the extremism of the few on the false proposition this is all the Muslim world offers as a vision of its future.

    2. Al-Hack — on 3rd September, 2005 at 8:39 pm  

      Hah! The MCB haven’t the vaguest chance in getting anywhere their accusation of a Zionist conspiracy. I don’t understand why these people don’t move and do something constructive. Why sit there and fester about something? Sheesh!

    3. James Hamilton — on 4th September, 2005 at 8:32 am  

      A good man to draw attention to. ‘Why do People hate America’ and ‘American Dream, Global Nightmare’ are both more than a little mad and paranoid, but “Desperately Seeking Paradise is an absolute masterpiece and the best book for westerners to get an essential taste of the sheer length, breadth and depth of Islam and Islamic history. He also treats the radicals on their own terms, not as patsies for western journalists with political axes to grind.

    4. Jagpal — on 4th September, 2005 at 11:53 pm  

      James Hamilton

      Good point - his books about America struck me as being similar in their intensity of hatred to some of the more rabid fundamentalists - but his writings on other issues are quite good.

    5. rizwand — on 5th September, 2005 at 10:41 pm  

      This was a very good show, highlighting an evolution around the world toward a more moderate Islam. Its been a while since I’ve seen a programme on Islam that doesn’t mention terrorism !

    6. Sunny — on 6th September, 2005 at 2:16 am  

      Yeah, the programme was really good… much better than I expected.


      As for his hatred for the American establishment - well, he can get in the queue behind me. It’s not just ‘rabid fundamentalists’ who are in that camp.

    7. Arif — on 7th September, 2005 at 7:49 pm  

      I was quite disappointed. He seemed to be arguing that all the good streams in Islam are the ones which believe in modernisation.

      The form of modernisation which he supports seems funnily similar to a form of western secularism.

      And somehow this means he can forget about the human rights abuses and oppressive policies in Turkey and Morocco etc. Do Kurdish and Western Saharan human rights matter so little to him? Like Clinton and Musharraf, he wants us to forget the violent cruelty of those regimes and feel the moderation.

    8. Sunny — on 8th September, 2005 at 1:14 am  

      Yeah but what country doesn’t have human rights abuses (apart from Switzerland say).
      Are the countries which say they are not modernising and following ‘traditional’ Islam any better at human rights?

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