The 13 September edition of the New Statesman has a cover story by Ziauddin Sardar on reformation in the Muslim world, starting from the peripheries.
The Muslim world is changing. Three years after the atrocity of 9/11, it may be in the early stages of a reformation, albeit with a small “r”. From Morocco to Indonesia, people are trying to develop a more contemporary and humane interpretation of Islam, and some countries are undergoing major transformations….
[I]n July, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board declared that triple talaq [‘I divorce thee’] was wrong, promised to prepare a model marriage contract (which would require both husband and wife not to seek divorce without due legal process) and asked Muslim men to ensure that women get a share in agricultural property….
For the vast majority of Muslims, changes to Islamic law have to be made within the boundaries of the Koran’s teachings if they are to be legitimate. Without the co-operation of the religious scholars, who bestow this legitimacy, the masses will not embrace change.
This is where Morocco has provided an essential lead. Its new Islamic family law, introduced in February, sweeps away centuries of bigotry and bias against women. It was produced with the full co-operation of religious scholars as well as the active participation of women….
Elsewhere, the focus is not so much on Islamic law as on Islam as a whole. In a general election last March, the Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, argued that Islam was almost totally associated with violence and extremism and needed to be formulated anew. He called his new concept “Islam Hadhari”, or progressive Islam. It was pitted against the “conservative Islam” of the main opposition party, the Islamic Pas. For the first time, the governing coalition won more than 90 per cent of federal parliamentary seats. Pas, and its version of Islam (full implementation of the sharia, without modification; a leading role in the state for religious scholars; and so on), were routed….
While Malaysia has a top-down model, Indonesia has opted for the bottom-up route. The reformist agenda is being promoted by Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the two largest and most influential Muslim organisations. Established at the dawn of the 20th century, they command between 60 and 80 million followers in mosques, schools and universities throughout Indonesia.
NU, essentially an organisation of religious scholars, is usually described as traditionalist, while Muhammadiyah, dominated by intellectuals, is seen as modernist. Since 9/11, however, the two organisations have acted, in some respects, as one. Both are committed to promoting civic society and reformulating sharia. They are campaigning jointly against corruption in public life and in favour of accountable, open democracy. The newly formed Liberal Islam Network – intended to resist radical groups such as Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which was implicated in the October 2002 Bali bombings – follows a similar programme. Its membership consists largely of young Muslims.
All three organisations promote a model of Islamic reform that they call “deformalisation”….
Both Malaysia’s Islam Hadhari and Indonesia’s deformalisation emphasise tolerance and pluralism, civic society and open democracy. Both are likely to spread. Malaysia is trying to export Islam Hadhari to Muslim communities in Thailand and the Philippines. Meanwhile, Morocco is trying to persuade Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to adopt its model of family law.
Macam-macam also offers a lengthy backgrounder Islam in Indonesia in the wake of the recent bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta.