The Golden Mean: Why Progressive Islam

Islam was born as a progressive religion. This is shown through all the rules that have set Islam as a middle ground. Islam was not meant to be either too conservative or too liberal. Prophet Muhammad’s revelation provided rights to marginalized sectors of society such as slaves and women and regulated social interactions. It also emphasized moral values and good manners and developed a sense of community. Nonetheless, today we face a wave of conservativism that has interpreted the Qur’an and the Sunnah in specific ways and has undermined any other interpretations. Thus, the balance of Islam has lost its Golden Mean. In the face of a changing world Muslims are being left without options. We are drowning in a world that has seen the face of terrorism and conservative ideologies such as Wahabbism. However, there are options out there! As a progressive religion, Islam was meant to adapt to all times and suit the needs of millions of Muslims around the world. The fact that Prophet Muhammad was the Seal of the Prophets meant that Allah had given its final word to humanity and had provided us with all the tools to succeed. Although as Muslims our main guide is the Qur’an, the Qur’an itself refers to other revelations, to different Prophets and to various relevant stories. By the revelation of the Qur’an Allah gave humanity all what they needed to grow as individuals and as societies. Then, Islam as a religion had to be universal, its stories and teachings had to be interpreted and reinterpreted over and over again to fit a changing world. Islam was not meant to be static. Islam was not meant to imprison Muslims, but to liberate them. And Islam was definitely not meant to be a threat for other people. Muslims were not called to be the enemies of Christians or Jews. They were called for tolerance and respect. Muslims were not encouraged to attack innocent civilians, the proof is that Jihad rules specify that neither children, nor women or elders should be harmed during war. In addition, Islam considers all places of worship sacred and has encouraged us to respect all sacredness. It is true that conservativism within Islam has appeared in an age of fear and hate. We see our fellow Muslims dying in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, etc. In addition, we are harassed by those who see us as outsiders. Nonetheless, our pain does not justify the fact that within our communities there are men and women who perpetrate these crimes against other societies or, sometimes, within our own community. The main problem of the Ummah is its inability to deal with the issues that have arisen among its own people. We face famine, war, domestic abuse, violence, terrorism, poverty, etc. These issues are not unique of the Muslim community, but they shouldn’t exist. Prophet Muhammad strongly condemned those who perpetrated crimes against the Ummah, and he was even more strict when it came to those who belonged to the community and committed abuses. The Ummah was created to look after each other.  Zakat is just a proof of it; however,  it is also an example of how Muslims have failed to address other’s problems. Many of us are very concerned with issues that we consider ‘very important,’ such as what breaks the fast?, what is the correct kind of hijab?, should men have long beards?… Nonetheless, as Sheikh Mahmud Shaltut expressed in the 60’s, Muslims should not be so concerned about these issues until they have finally achieved higher ends. What Shaltut was talking about was the Golden Mean of Islam. Muslims should  be concerned about humanity, Muslims and non-Muslims, and they should engage in social projects for the Ummah. Islam will continue to fall from its middle ground, until we realize that there are bigger issues in the world that can be solved through the teachings not only of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, but from the Bible, the Torah, the Veddas, etc. Allah has put all the tools in front of us so we can put together the puzzle of peace, justice and love. Islam cannot be static because the puzzle is not static. Islam has transformative possibilities and can open many doors. Even though Qur’an has been used for the worse purposes at many points in time, it has the possibility to free us and contribute to the rest of humanity. The Qur’an is a miracle by it self, but one of its most stunning characteristics is its power to approach people of all cultures, backgrounds, religions and times. This means that Allah sent a revelation that is eternal and can be adapted to the different situations that we face. Islam cannot be restricted to Arab cultures and practices and we should not aim to transfer the Qur’an as a cultural asset. Islam is not cultural. Islam will provide different answers to different issues to various societies, and it enriches us all in different ways. That’s why the interpretative process is so important. Therefore, our duty as Muslims is to maintain the progressive spirit of Islam in order to keep it moving. If Islam becomes static, then it loses all its meaning and becomes worthless. Islam, as a progressive religion, was meant to advance and to lead us towards progress.