Does Islam Need A Reformation? Debate

Theo Hobson identifies that though there is a stronger secular liberalism, which he acknowledges as more aggressive, he does spell out the existence of a softer, more inclusive one too. He asks the Muslim panel if they recognise and acknowledge the latter, softer type. I sense it is this question that is perceived as being (apparently) ‘skirted’: an accusation from the non Muslim party. The way the Muslim panel respond is as though this softer type of secular liberalism either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter even if it existed. Presumably, this is because of soft liberalism’s perceived irrelevance given the current context of tighter measures around freedom and self autonomy ostensibly against terrorists but actually against mainstream practicing British Muslims. I sense the non Muslim cannot fathom the motivation for the Muslim panel’s defensiveness. They are accused of ‘playing the victim’. They respond: they’re merely representing reality.

The Muslim panel do respond rather brashly at first, as though the aggressive version of secular liberalism is actually the only one that is actively ‘out there’. The softer version is merely a token, a badge, a sign for show.

A question could be entertained as to what is the need for Hobson to have the soft side of liberalism acknowledged by the Muslim panel as a ‘real’ and therefore a ‘good’ thing. Do those that advocate liberalism require validation from ALL its subjects. What is this need? ”We rule you and you MUST like it.”

But Hobson mentions the fact that the Muslim panel can object to the workings of the state, its status quo and critique it (in Britain) is precisely the proof of the existence (and therefore the good) of the soft variety.

Zara Faris objects: Muslims must be good citizens no matter in which country they exist in. This is a normative Islamic ruling. She scoffs at the inference from Hobson’s point that: if you’re not happy with a state then you ought to leave it. He feels she is putting words into his mouth. Faris maintains that one can exist in a state, not like it (because they want it to be better) and therefore critique it to help make it better; this, she suggests, is a legitimate (good) thing to do. In this sense there is a project of social good/justice being entertained.

Tom Holland suggests that liberalism also has a project for social good/justice. And there is a competition between Islam and Christianity-that-has-secularised-into-secular-liberalism for that space. They both profess a universalism. This may explain the tension between them (and in the debate).

Holland agrees with Abdullah Andalusi’s notion that just as the dhimmis in the Muslim golden age had to pay jizya to be protected, that that is like the contract, nowadays, where everyone has to pay the ‘jizya’ to the secular state for protection.

That Muslims have to also pay a jizya of sorts, Holland suggests, might explain their complaint against secular liberalism. But I think that is a misreading. The Muslim complaint is that secular liberalism seeks to secularise Islam to make Muslims fit the secular reality of now, into a monoculture of easily manageable parts. I’m not sure the Muslim panel made this point fully clear. It wants Muslims to change (as well as others with a different perspective) to fit downing streets’/the elites’ need to have easily controlled entities (Andalusi’s point).

The Muslim panel indicate that in the Classical-Muslim period, dhimmis were self regulating; that they had their own spaces; they were not meddled with, so long as they paid the jizya. These were truly multicultural spaces.

Initially the non Muslim panel regarded this portrayal as a whitewash of history: the jizya was in fact set up merely to humiliate the Christians and Jews (Holland). Andalusi indicated robustly that it was not; rather, it was merely contractual in exchange for not doing military service and for being protected by the state. That is to say: “”We ruled you (justly) and you ought to like that we did.” But the non Muslim panel were not convinced.

I believe this is the heart of the debate. Whilst the Muslim-issue revolves around non Muslims accepting Muslim justice in history, secular liberalism’s failures in the recent past and present and Muslim self autonomy for the future, the issue for the non Muslims revolves around Muslims necessarily accepting by conforming (in essentials) to secular liberal’s sense of justice right now because the zeitgeist (perceived as ‘moral’, ideal, universal) is the secular liberalism of now.

What both sides must agree on is: ”We all want to be ruled justly and we all MUST like justice.” Muslims will be very happy with this. Secular Liberals ought to be very happy with this.

But what is justice? That is a question ‘the debate’ hadn’t the time to debate or question. The assumption underlying the title of the debate is that Islam may need updating. This assumption should have been more thoroughly switched. You see, we ought to have asked: does secular liberalism need a reformation? …





Filed under Islam

4 responses to “Does Islam Need A Reformation? Debate

  1. seditionsquare

    That’s an interesting debate. Although it clearly belongs to another place and time, I’m not quite sure why the ‘jizya’ tax is so reviled – in the Medieval Christian west, a more informal system alternately using and persecuting Jews allowed Christians to skirt usury laws.and clear debts. Before we get carried away with differences between the ‘secular Christian west’ and the ‘theocratic Islamic east’ we ought to re-examine just how much of a role Christianity played in creating tolerance in the first place – I’m of the opinion that it was actually very little.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. Good points.

      Where Christianity or Islam, actually is in modernity (modern states) is pretty difficult to assess – and differs nation to nation.

      The significance of secularity too, what this means and how it manifests (past and present) is an interesting topic.

      Also this apparent clash of west versus east? I’m not so sure about its inevitability.

      Thank you for your feedback 🙂


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