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Islam in Transition

The behavior of different Muslims, either as individuals or societies, is the manifestation of their understanding of Islam. The inhumanity and infringement of human rights by Islamic extremists such as the ISIS does not portray Islam as the religion. Instead, it shows the understanding of the certain individuals pursuing personal interests imposed on the ignorant followers. Islam has suffered sectarianism for long, where the fanatical followers of different schools of thought have behaved with sheer hatred and intolerance towards others. However, such behavior and connotations are against the basic principles of Islam. The Islamic State is characterized by intolerance to other religions, and even discrepant opinions within the religion itself. The oppression of the religious minorities and the deprivation of women human rights became the face of Islam to the world. Nonetheless, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Muslim scholars and modernists have been working relentlessly to reveal and change the situation. The changes are gradual but they show the world a different face of Islam. The closure of the interpretation of Islam jurisprudence is the reason for the adoption of illogical and retrogressive Islamic practices which undermine democracy and human rights. In response to the world civilization and changes, Muslim scholars and modernists are continually engaging in ijtihad to provide the society with new interpretations and meanings of the Sharia law and the Quran, which fit the current world.


Ijtihad is crucial in Islam. Asaf Fyzee states that Islam is a religion and a way of life for Muslims. Therefore, it shapes how they behave, reason and understand life . Being an ancient religion, Islam does not account for some issues which came into existence after it; therefore there is a need for interpretation of different Quran and Sunnah provisions to solve current concern . To bring the Islamic laws to the twentieth and twenty-first-century context, it is important to re-interpret it. However, Islam is both the religion and the law, two ever conflicting perspectives of life. Religion is static and permanent, while the law is dynamic and always changing (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Therefore, it is paramount to separate these two parts of it, to allow the interpretation of the law and the adaptation of the religion as it should be. According to Subhi Mahmasani, even religion is a subject to interpretation, since the time of Prophet Muhammad is different from nowadays (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Earlier the Islam jurisprudence closed leaving a void, where Islam remains static in the dynamic world. Scholars are filling this void by interpreting the Quran, the Sunnah and the Islamic implications of different issues. Different scholars follow different paths of Ijtihad, arriving at different opinions and points of view (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). According to Muqtedar Khan, the scholars concentrate on interpreting different verses and portions of the Quran which have been misunderstood and misrepresented (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). The Quran is the baseline of Islam, and every other belief and practice originates from how people understand it. By interpreting the Quran, the scholars aim to reach the vast majority that has received the misguiding information which undermines other religions and human rights.

Most Muslim women have experienced the life only under the Sharia law, and they have the one knowledge passed down to them. Throughout their life, they only learn that Islam provides them with every right that they can ever need, discarding the importance of human rights. Therefore, they embrace this truth and are resistance to the idea of democracy, human rights or even freedoms which they do not get in their present lifestyles. As evident from the discussion between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hibaaq Osman in the article by Emma-Kate Symons, Muslim women significantly contribute to the injustice meted against them (Symons, 2016). Osman is opposed to the idea that human rights are fundamental and are primary to every other law. She outrightly states that Islam gives women all the rights they need (Symons, 2016). Such reasoning is a product of the Islamic lifestyle and orientation. Osman is influenced by the Islamic interpretation of women rights, and in turn, influences the interpretation by embracing them as undeniable facts.

However, such beliefs are changing and losing popularity, as more and more women start to realize they are entitled to different experiences in life. Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies, in her article Rights and Roles of Women, presents dissenting interpretations of the Quran concerning male superiority over women (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Against the Islamic popular belief and practice of male superiority and dominance over women, Wadud presents the Quran verses which refute that notion and assert that in the Quran, superiority comes with taqwa, not gender (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian NGO, also show how Muslim women are changing their interpretation of their rights (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). This NGO fights for the rights of women in polygamous marriage. It outlined conditions which should be followed before a man can marry another wife, insisting that the court should update the form to ensure compliance. They point out that women should have the option to leave the marriages if their husbands married again (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). They also highlight the need to ensure the economic security of the first wife and dependents, before a man can remarry (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Such activism approach among many others represents the changing perception and perspectives of Muslim women about their rights.

According to Muslim scholars, Islam has changed the status of women and minorities through the extremism behavior and upholding of the misinterpreted Sharia law. The status of Muslim women is that of men’s object, where a woman is under the guardianship of a male, either a father, a brother, a husband or even a son (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). By such terms, women are not considered as individuals with the capacity to be independent, make their decisions or choices. On the contrary, they are subjects of males, to be submissive and obedient. On that note, women can only do what their guardian males permit them to do, and even so, the occupation must be one conforming to their role as homemakers (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). As a result, women participation in politics is uncommon and always considered as defiance. In most cases, Muslim women have to make difficult choices between belonging to their families and pursuing careers as well as social and political lives (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Similarly, religious minorities do not have a voice in Muslim societies (Alami, 2016). They are subjects, and they must conform to the Islamic way of life. However, the scholars do not approve these treatments regarding women and minorities. Interestingly, although these scholars are unanimous in disapproving this behavior, they differ in the solutions they propose. For example, as Ahmed Zaki Yamani writes, some scholars consider the issue of women participation in politics with the Western perspective (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). Heba Raouf Ezzat presents the movement of the first ladies of Muslim nations, who propose a shift to the feminine authoritarianism (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). They view the issue from different perspectives and ideas. Change in the status of women and minorities in Islam will come, not by imposing theories exercised elsewhere but by slowly changing the systems that sustain the demeaning status.

Islam societies can be pluralistic and give women and minorities their fool voice regardless of the ISIS claim of the truth. Anthropologically, and by doctrine, Islam is a religion of tolerance, appreciating the oneness and humanity. According to Islam, it is the universal religion for all, yet no one should be forced and coerced to conversion (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007). The ISIS and other extremists groups insinuate the truth to be that Islam is the universal religion, and it should be the only religion. This misguided reasoning makes the members of such extremist groups expect everybody to convert to Islam, failure to which they should face the death penalty. Also, they expect to that non-Muslims living in Muslim societies should behave like Muslims, abandon their viewpoints, their freedom and conform to the Muslim society around them. In contradiction, they also expect that when they live in the non-Muslim societies, the non-Muslims should accord them Muslim treatment. What the ISIS term as the truth is a radicalization by individuals who interpret Islam with rigid minds and in most cases pursuing personal interests. Forcing people to convert to Islam is against the Islamic principles. Muslim societies can be and are pluralistic, accommodating religious minorities, and with the proper understanding of the religion can accord their voices as Nurcholish Madjid argues (Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, 2007).


In conclusion, Islam is neither barbaric, nor is the root of the inhumane actions of the ISIS; misinterpretation and rigidity of the individuals in interpreting the principles and teachings of Islam are the causes of the heinous crimes against women and religious minorities in the Muslim societies. Muslim scholars are actively practicing Ijtihad and encouraging other members of the Muslim communities to engage in individual reasoning and interpretation of the Islamic principles. By employing Ijtihad, these scholars present the facts about Islam which people hardly know and which the extremists contradict in every way. Some women are partakers and promoters of the deprivation of human rights of Muslim women. The lack of understanding or poor interpretation of the Quran and Sunna, make these women support the perpetration of violence against women. Owing to the different perspectives of individual scholars, they do not agree on a consistent solution for the human rights deprivation and oppression of women and minorities. The best thing to understand is that the Muslim societies can and do live with other religions harmoniously, and with improvement in the systems, through updated interpretation of Islam, they can give the minorities and women rights and voice.

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