on: We Urgently Need Religious Reforms!, interview with Muhammad Shahrur
Dear Editor, The issue, often raised in the media and by scholars, is at times confused for a reinterpretation of the Qur'anic message in light with the present day realities. The present day realities are region specific: they greatly vary between an advanced urban setting (West), a backward rural setting (Somalia, Nigeria, rural Bangladesh) and a rugged and desolate mountainous terrain (Afghanistan) or desert wilderness (Arabian heartland). Thus, any notion to tailor the Islamic message to the ‘present era' will call for a multiple set of region specific interpretations, and we will come back to the square one: each Muslim community clinging to its own notions about Islam. If the Muslims are to hold firmly to the revelation, as the Qur'an demands, they must probe into its message using all the advanced tools available to them and then have the moral courage to accept the outcome of their exercise, even if it were antithetic to the present day realities.
Any effort to condition the interpretation to accommodate the ground realities will be tantamount to questioning the divinity and the infallibility of the revelation. A recent work, under the title, Essential Message of Islam, addresses the issue in exactly the above line. It attempts to interpret the critical words and phrases of the Qur'an from their usage across the text, and draws primarily on the Qur'anic illustrations to explain the verses that have been traditionally interpreted to support patriarchy, promote hatred with rival faith-communities and legislate laws under the behest of Sharia law that do not accord with the Qur'anic dictates (capital punishment for apostasy and rape for example). Among other things, the work shows the purely historical genesis of Islamic law and much of the theological disciplines including the Hadith literature, and calls upon the Muslims to draw guidance primarily from the Qur'an.
The work was approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo back in 2002 and finally after further refinement and restructuring, endorsed and introduced by Sheikh Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, California. The concluding paragraph of Dr. Fadl's Introduction, quoted below, speaks for itself. "For those who have the moral will, the book I introduce here will prove to be an invaluable reference source on the Islamic faith. For those who do not wish to be participants in the perpetuation of religious bigotry and hate, this book will provide an accurate, thoughtful, and reliable introduction to Muslim beliefs and practices? I wish we lived in a world in which this book would become a standard reference source for students of religion who are interested in an accurate introduction to the religion of Islam. The best thing I can say about this book is that it is the product of a labor of love that lasted for more than a decade.
The authors do not offer a personalized view of their own religiosity; they explain in a very straightforward and accessible fashion what mainstream Muslims believe in and especially, what the Qur'an itself teaches. Non-Muslims will understand why well over a billion people call themselves Muslim and also how Islam inspires Muslims to deal with and improve upon the world in which they live. Indeed this book manages to translate the Muslim vision or the way that Islam heals the ailments of humanity in the current age and every age. Readers who wish to learn the theological and moral dogma of Islam will find this book indispensable. But this book is not just an informative tool for the fair-minded and interested reader.
This book is an educational tool for both Muslims and non-Muslims—it is an authoritatively reliable text to teach young Muslims, or even Muslims who never had the time to study the Qur'an, or the fundamentals of their religion. The book is written with the kind of balance and fair mindedness that makes it equally valuable for Muslim and non-Muslim students of Islam. The least I can say about this text is that it was written by two ethically conscientious and principled Muslims in order to share their religion with every ethically conscientious and principled reader in the world. They must be heard." In sum, the noted work deserves the attention of Islamic scholars and the world leaders keen on reforming the Muslims – who have now become an integral part of the global multi-religious community. Mohammed Yunus