For centenaries reformation within Islam has been impeded by several factors. This is clearly evident by the fact that many of the current leading Islamic scholars preach of today’s values such as stoning of adulteries, violent jihad, slavery, beating women, anti-Semitism, and many other inhumane teachings. Deep analysis of the factors that impeded reformation within Islam illustrates that the Internet can play a major role in making it a reality.
Previous failure of reformation efforts in Islam to bring the understanding of its text to modernity has been the result of numerous factors. These include killing those who dare to challenge some of its fundamental traditional values after considering those who challenge them as apostates. This has made many reformers unable to express their views and opinions for fear of losing their life. Failure to express these views has caused more stagnation of thoughts within the Muslim world.
Furthermore, critical thinking within the religion was suppressed in the Muslim world since criticizing the religious teaching is considered a taboo that makes the person feel that he will become and “infidel” for doing so. Stopping ijtihad (new interpretations) within the religion as what happened in the Sunni world further complicated this problem. Lack of exposure to other views and opinions either due to suppression by the religious authority or because of lack of proper communication channels also contributed to stagnation in the thinking process in many Islamic societies. Reformers who think differently used to feel weak and lonely as communication with other reformers was much limited. Control of women by strict religious rules was another factor that limited the progress of many of these societies toward modernity. Surprisingly, the Internet challenged all these factors and therefore can contribute significantly to reforming Islam.
First, many Muslims can now express their opinions about religious issues without fear for their lives. They can simply critique the traditional teaching and provide alternative interpretations anonymously and remotely without fear on the Internet. This encouraged many reformers to speak out and forced the recipients of their views to listen without being able to harm them physically.
The Internet basically changed the ‘war within Islam’ from a physical one (where the reformer could be killed) to an intellectual one where reformers are relatively safe and able to continue their mission. This option was not available before the Internet era when reformers were physically threatened. In fact, the reformers can now communicate together to become more powerful and even find a larger audience.
Second, the Internet has allowed an exchange of ideas with the non-Muslim world as well. This has enriched the thinking process in Muslim communities and bypassed the barriers that have been created by the radicals to prevent such exposure. Now Muslims can listen to different views and ideas from other parts of the world.
Muslim women in the Internet era can no longer be imprisoned by man. They can communicate more freely with others even with men. They can take the hijab off and send their photo without the hijab to whoever they want. The physical barriers on Muslim women were simply shattered by the Internet.
The Internet can certainly be used by the radicals to promote radical views. However, the net outcome of using the Internet is more likely to be positive than negative as it overcomes most, if not all, of the obstacles of reformation in Islam that existed. Using the Internet to promote reformation and modernity within Islam rather than extremism is our next challenge and goal to modernize the Muslim world. This form of e-reformation can change the future of our world and can determine the future of Islam.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." He was a former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida) and currently he is a reformer of Islam. To know more about Hamid please visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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