Which Muslim country is more liberal?

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

In the usually very charged debate about Islam and its significance for the world today, two positions emerge sharply: the one fundamentally critical of Islam, which considers Muslims to be incapable of adopting a human rights-acceptable stance due to their religious affiliation, and a rigidly Islamic one, that of enforcement unchangeable Islamic principles all salvation awaits. Despite all the contradictions, both positions have something in common: the idea, the Islamic ideology, crystallized in the Koran, dominates the practice of Muslims totally or almost totally.

The mere appearance of this teaches us how wrong this idea is. The majority of Muslims do not even think of following the instructions of the Koran in their entire behavior. The strict Muslims regret this and try - sometimes by force - to change it; the fundamental critics of Islam do not take note of it, because it takes their ideas to the point of absurdity. Most Muslims do not adhere closely to the Koran, but usually do not make it loud and publicly clear; sometimes they don't even make it clear to themselves. In doing so, they give the aforementioned idea the appearance of truth.

This is where the book intervenes. It introduces a current in Islam that describes itself as liberal. The 20 contributors to the book, all of them believing Muslims according to their self-image, understand their religion as being compatible with reason and human rights. The editor Lamya Kaddor is the founding chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Federation, which was founded in 2010. The book approaches its subject in two ways: in a reading of the Koran, which sees it as a lesson in philanthropy, and in a look at the reality of Muslims, which shows that such a liberal understanding of Islam is justified.

Liberal Islam: Much needs to be reinvented

Some contributions justify liberal-Islamic conceptions with the direct reference to the Koran or certain parts of the Koran. That is quite possible: There are very philanthropic passages in the Koran. If you want to use them to justify human rights in a modern way, you get on thin ice. You then have to deal with the completely different passages that also exist in the Koran, and you have to explain that the mainstream of Islamic ideology promotes a rather rigid, narrow understanding of religion. That only happens to a rudimentary degree here.

The contribution by Hakan Turan goes the furthest. He also deals with the "usul al-fiqh", the traditional Islamic legal hermeneutics, and takes into account the fact that the reality of life of Muslims strongly influences the development of Islamic ideology and that too already did when the Qur'an was written. This allows him to understand certain Koran texts (the offensive concept of war, positions that discriminate against women, demarcation between Jews and Christians) as due to circumstances and thus to override them as instructions for our time.

When Marwan Hassan argues against the view that Jews and Christians as such are exempt from the Islamic promise of salvation and invokes the Koran, this is not only welcome but also plausible. However, the persuasiveness of his argument is undermined by the fact that he adds a few things that are completely unnecessary for them, for example an interpretation of passages from the Koran, which suggests serious linguistic misunderstandings.

Other attempts at a liberal interpretation of the Koran contained in this book also lead to very idiosyncratic interpretations. You can do that; Such a thing is common in religious thinking. It remains to be seen whether they will convince someone who is not already convinced in their interests. However, these articles clearly show one thing: it is possible to interpret the Koran liberally.

Even more interesting than these interpretations, however, is the view of the reality of Muslims, which this book also contains and which underlines the legitimacy of a liberal Islam. This view takes place under the most varied of aspects: gender equality, the justification of “deviating” sexual preferences, anti-Semitism among Muslims, veganism and Islam, compulsory headscarves and so on. On the one hand it is pointed out which platforms, organizations and initiatives exist in this area, on the other hand it is said how urgent it is for more to happen - for example the formation of an “Islamic Left”, the absence of which is surprising when you consider that 65 percent of people of Turkish origin in Germany vote for left-wing parties (SPD, Greens, Die Linke).

In many cases, Islam in this country is considered to be the Middle Ages protruding into our time. So this book is welcome. It documents both the energetic attempt by Muslims to make the basic document of their religion compatible with our time and modern ideas of human rights, as well as initiatives that draw practical conclusions from this attitude.

These attempts did not just begin in 2010. Premodern Islam also knew mechanisms for adapting religious regulations to the well-understood interests of the people. And in the modern age there has long been a broad current of Muslims who endeavor to establish a modern - "liberal", if you will - reading of Islam. The contributors to this volume could have relied on this. The fact that they did not do it, or only partially, shows that a lot has to be reinvented in religion too, even if it was already there. So much the better that it happens. We hope that this book will have a broad response.

Alexander Flores

© FAZ 2021

Lamya Kaddor (Ed.): Muslim and Liberal! What constitutes a contemporary Islam. Piper Verlag, Munich 2020. 320 pp., 22, -

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