This week's positive posting is – surprise, surprise – about Islam. As readers may have gathered from other postings, I like many others in the west, have recently had an increasingly negative image of Islam – quite understandably, I would say, in the light of recent events. However, I have been looking around to try to find some Muslim voices who seem to be saying something fresh, and challenging the 'traditional' version. One of those is Irshad Manji; another is Afshin Ellian. And now a Channel 4 programme by Tariq Ramadan called 'The Muslim Reformation' was genuinely impressive and courageous in its espousal of the concept of 'itjihad' ( a concept I first heard of from Irshad Manji – 'mental struggle/re-interpretation'). Ramadan is arguing (like the other two) that there needs to be a new interpretation of Islam to fit the modern world, and he is convinced that it will come from European Muslims – which makes a lot of sense, as Muslims in the Islamic world are, as he put it, 'trapped by corrupt governments and reactionary clerics'. The sort of things he was saying were genuinely encouraging, like challenging the 'traditional' interpretations of passages from the Koran justifying the killing of non-Muslims and brutal punishments like mutilation and beheading, etc. Also it was particularly encouraging to see groups of Muslim women in Europe challenging their routine second-class status (I had no idea that more than half British mosques completely exclude women!) and demanding the right to re-interpret religious teachings themselves. On the other hand, the majority of the (male and self-proclaimed) Islamic scholars he spoke to had the usual inflexible and intolerant views, and one particular guy (with a very British accent) actually informed Ramadan that his desire for reformation was the sign of 'a colonised mind' and 'cultural imperialism' (so much for the influence of the idiocies of so-called 'post-colonial' and 'cultural' studies). The best answer to him was that of the Muslim M.P., Mr. Malik, who said Muslims in Britain should stop 'wallowing in victim mentality' and saying that voting was 'against their religion' and get engaged with the political, democratic process. I admire Ramadan's optimism and obvious sincerity, and the programme was a rare and refreshing example of a Muslim for once not blaming the rest of the world for all Muslims' troubles. But I have to say I think he and the tiny number of other Muslim reformers have a titanic mountain to climb. Still, at least they've started the attempt.
The Muslim Reformation?