Liberal movements within Islam

From Academic Kids

Template:IslamIn modern times there have been a number of liberal movements within Islam (sometimes called in Arabic: الإسلام الإجتهادية or 'interpretation-based Islam'; also الإسلام المتقدمة or 'progressive Islam'). These generally denote religious outlooks which depend mainly on ijtihad or re-interpretations of scriptures. Liberal Muslims interpret the Qur'an and Hadith from their personal perspective rather than the medievalist traditional Muslim point of view. Liberals generally claim that they are returning to the principles of the early Muslim community, arguing that the medievalists have diverged from true Islam through their focus on the literal word rather than the ethical intent of scripture.


Reform, not schism

It should be noted that these are movements within Islam, rather than an attempt at schism. As such, they believe in the basic tenets of Islam, such as the Six Elements of Belief and the Five Pillars of Islam. They consider their views to be fully compatible with the teachings of Islam. Their main difference with more conservative Islamic opinion is in differences of interpretation of how to apply the core Islamic values to modern life.

It should be further noted that the liberal Muslim's focus on individual interpretation and ethics, rather than on the literal word of scripture, may have an antecedent in the Sufi tradition of Islamic mysticism.

Contemporary and controversial Issues

Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, in accordance with their increasingly modern societies and outlooks, liberal Muslims have tended to reinterpret many aspects of their religion. This is particularly true of Muslims who now find themselves living in non-Muslim countries. Such people may describe themselves variously as liberal, progressive or reformist; but rather than implying a specific agenda, these terms tend to incorporate a broad spectrum of views which contest medievalist and traditional interpretations of Islam in many different ways. Although there is no full consensus amongst liberal Muslims on their views, they tend to agree on some or all of the following beliefs:

  • Most liberal Muslims consider Islam's notion of absolute equality of all humanity to be one of its central concepts. Human rights is thus a major concern for most liberals. Many Muslim majority countries have signed international human rights treaties, but the impact of these largely remains to be seen in local legal systems. The Qur'anic story of Adam is sometimes interpreted to support human rights.
  • Feminism is likewise a major issue. For this reason, liberal Muslims are often critical of traditional Islamic laws which allow polygamy for men but not women. It is also accepted by most liberal Muslims that a woman may lead the state, and that women should not be segregated from men in society or in mosques. Many liberal Muslims accept that a woman may lead group prayers, despite the custom for women to pray behind or in a balcony, able to see men but not be seen themselves. However, this issue remains controversial; see Women as imams. Some Muslim feminists are also opposed to the traditional requirements of the veil (commonly called hijab), claiming that any modest clothing is sufficiently Islamic for both men and women.
  • Many liberal Muslims favor the idea of modern democracy with separation of church and state, and thus support secular governments. The existence or applicability of Islamic law is thus questioned by liberals. Their argument often involves variants of the Mu'tazili theory that the Qur'an is created by God for the particular circumstances of the early Muslim community, and reason must be used to apply it to new contexts.
  • This means that liberal Muslims often drop traditional interpretations of the Qur'an which they find too conservative, preferring instead readings which are more adaptable to modern society. Most liberal Muslims reject derivation of Islamic laws from literal readings of single Qur'anic verses. They generally claim that a holistic view which takes into account the 7th century Arabian cultural context negates such literal interpretations. For example, some liberals may tolerate homosexuality even though conservatives forbid it. However, this topic remains highly controversial even amongst Muslim liberals; see Islamic views of homosexuality.
  • The reliability and applicability of Hadith literature is questioned by liberals, as much of traditional Islamic law derives from it.
  • Most liberal Muslims consequently do not believe in the authority of traditional scholars to issue a fatwa, since they generally favour the individual's ability to interpret Islamic sacred texts on their own.
  • Tolerance is another major issue. Liberal Muslims are generally open to interfaith dialogue and differences, particularly in the case of the Ahmadi and other controversies with Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc.
  • Liberal Muslims also tend to oppose the idea of jihad as armed struggle, and tend to prefer ideals such as non-violence. The Qur'anic figure of Abel seems to support the idea that anyone who dies as a result of refusing to commit violence is forgiven of their sins.
  • Liberal Muslims tend to be skeptical about the validity of Islamization of knowledge (including Islamic economics, Islamic science and Islamic philosophy) as separate from mainstream fields of enquiry. This is usually due to the often secular outlook of Muslim liberals, which makes them more disposed to trust mainstream secular scholarship. They may also regard the propagation of these fields as merely a propaganda move by Muslim conservatives.
  • Liberals are also less likely to treat Qur'anic narratives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jesus and other prophets of Islam as historical fact. Instead some liberals view these as moral stories meant to reinforce the ethical message of Islam. Such liberals tend to accept scientific ideas such as evolution and secular history, and are generally opposed to the idea of Islamic history.

In North America

The launch of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America ( (PMUNA) in October 2004 exposed fissures within the liberal and progressive movements. One the one hand, PMUNA has come under fire from Muslims on the left; they tended to believe the organization failed to sufficiently distance itself from a U.S.-centric and neoconservative-inspired imperialist agenda, which seeks to define an "acceptable" Muslim as a liberal, pro-American and uncritical of Israel. On the other progressive Muslims with more traditional leanings criticize links between PMUNA and the controversial Muslim Wake Up! ( website, which supported the French hijab ban and carries articles hostile to the conservative Muslim perspective.

These differences came to head in March 2005, when PMUNA/MWU sponsored a mixed-gender Jummah led by a woman, Professor Amina Wadud of Victoria Commonwealth University. Opponents of this heavily publicised event argue that reform should be restricted to social matters, and that matters of worship (ibadah)are not open to reform.

Islam and Anarchism.

In the last few years, there has been talk knocking about on the idea of Islamic Anarchism, primarily from the US-based punk Muslim Michael Knight ( But there has been sparse evidence of any coherent online presence of Muslim Anarchists, until June 20th, 2005, when Yakoub Islam, a British-based Muslim, published his online Muslim Anarchist Charter (

The charter asserted a set of basic principles for Anarchist thought and action founded on a Muslim perspective. These reaffirm some of the core principles of Islam, including a belief in God, the Prophecy of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the human soul, but assert the possibility that a Muslim's spiritual path might be achieved by refusing to compromise with institutional power in any form, be it judicial, religious, social, corporate or political. Muslims are thus challenged to establish a society where spiritual growth is "uninhibited by tyranny, poverty and ignorance". It is in the fervent assertion of the principle of no compromise, driven by a utopian vision of humanity living in peace and co-operation, that the faith of Islam and the politics of Anarchism are said to meet.

Yakoub, formerly Julian Anderson, originally discovered Anarchism in the 1980s through the works of the punk band CRASS, but distanced himself from the anti-religious, drug-enfeebled British punk Muslim scene in the late 1980s to explore academic learning, eventually converting to Islam in 1991. A lack of commitment and understanding saw him retreat from religious practice during 1990s, returning to Islam only at the turn of the Millennium when he began working with Muslim children in inner city schools. Over the last 18 months, Yakoub has become an increasingly visible cyber activist at the same time as caring for his 12 year old son, who is profoundly autistic.

Almost from the beginning of his journey into the Muslim faith, Yakoub was disturbed by the authoritarianism dogging much Islamic thought and practice. After discovering the writings of the radical progressive Muslim Farid Esack (, Yakoub began to explore anti-authoritarian interpretations of Islam, and consequently initiated an online project based on Carolyn Ellis's ( concept of autoethnography called TGP (

Yakoub is cautious in describing himself as a Muslim Anarchist (or an Anarchist Muslim), rather than talking about Islamic Anarchism, because the evidence from social research points to a considerable diversity within the Muslim community or ummah, with some anthropologists reluctant to talk about a single 'Islam'. Neither is there, of course, a single 'Anarchism', and the publication of the Muslim Anarchist charter marks the beginning of an intellectual and political discussion, rather than the creation of a new political or religious ideology, insha Allah.

See also

External links


  • Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism by Omid Safi. ISBN 185168316X
  • Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World by Anouar Majid
  • Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism by Farid Esack
  • The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought, by Mohammed Arkoun
  • Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook Edited by Charles Kurzman
  • Revival and Reform in Islam by Fazlur Rahman
  • American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom by M. A. Muqtedar Khan.

Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools