Islam Is An Evolving Religion
By Sultan Shahin
18 March, 2008
I happened to use the phrase 'evolution of Islam' in one of my article sometimes ago. This "raised the blood-pressure", (as one of my callers put it), of several people. This is sad because many of those who took the trouble of calling to remonstrate with me were highly educated Muslims. Successful professionals though they were, none of them was prepared to cool down and think for a moment.
Evolution may be anathema to many Muslims, but Islam is indeed an evolving religion. It is indeed much easier for a Muslim to evolve with the changing times than for other religions, though all of them have been trying to cope with demands of modernity in their own way and at their own pace. This is so because Islam has prescribed a clear methodology for adapting to the needs of changing times.
One of the basic postulates of Islam is that it is the Eternal Deen (Sanatan Dharma). Prophet Mohammad comes at the end of a long list of prophets, according to one tradition, 124,000 of them. The Holy Quran says that all of these prophets of God who came to all corners of earth brought with them revelations of God apparently according to the needs of their times and according to the ability of the human beings to understand these instructions. If this doesn't make Islam evolutionary, what else would?
Then the Holy Quran and Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet) give us a clear methodology of evolution. As no more prophets are to come bringing revelations from God, we are given certain devices like Ijtihad, Ijma and Qeyas to continue to adapt to the demands of changing times. We need not go here into details of how these instruments are supposed to work. The important fact is that despite persistent and virulent attacks on these Quranic institutions by certain so-called Ulema-e-Deen (scholars of Islam), Islam has continued to evolve.
Take, for instance, the question of slavery. It was an integral part of the social structure at the time of Prophet Mohammad. The Holy Quran did all it could to discourage the practice, but it didn't ban it. Yet, there is not one Muslim nation that allows slavery and perhaps not a single Muslim individual who would demand that the system of slavery should continue. This is quite in keeping with the spirit of the Quran, but it does violate the letter of the Quran. If you don't have a market for slaves, how would a devout Muslim buy one to free him or her in order to earn merit in the eyes of God as he has been asked to do in the Holy Book?
Take another example. Muslims in India, the ulema and politicians at any rate, have continued to chant for the last 50 years: No change in Muslim Personal Law. But these people are careful to confine their demands to Muslim family laws, and do not demand to be treated according to the Muslim criminal laws and methods of punishment. I very much doubt if there would be many takers for a Muslim Personal Law that included its methods of punishment. (Sangh Pariwar, please note: the best way of ensuring a large number of 'home-coming' shuddhi ceremonies would be to promulgate former Pakistan Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif's Shariat Laws in this country, only for Muslims, naturally!)
The obscurantists have left no stone unturned to keep Islamic practices mired in backwardness. There is no new technology, for instance, that has not been opposed tooth and nail. Take loud-speaker. When it first came on the scene, the ulema were appalled at the idea of the word of God, the verses of the Holy Quran passing through the dirty wire made of mere copper and then come out of this speaker many times louder than the original sound. After all, the Quran had been sent on earth to be read only by the human voice box. This was blasphemy. It is quite amusing really to see the Mullas guarding zealously, or should it be jealously, their right to call the faithful for Nimaz on the loudspeaker. They are insensitive enough even to disturb non-Muslims' sleep, provoking them to legitimately abuse Islamic practices, while trying to awaken the potential roza-dars in the month of fasting, Ramazan.
Radio and Television have met the same fate -- violent opposition, followed by its intensely possessive adoption.
The only medium that continues to face opposition till today is film. And yet I know some Mullas who have watched and appreciated the film on Islam, The Message, made with the help of Libyan finance. They realise it is a powerful medium and it will be no surprise at all if they soon make it mandatory in Muslim countries to use this medium for the purposes of Tabligh, the spread of Islam, and become producers and directors and actors themselves. With initial hesitation and opposition, they have now accepted internet too, at least for purposes of propagation of Islam.
Thus, Islam has changed and evolved almost imperceptibly. Most Muslims are not even aware of this evolution. They may still consider all talk of change as blasphemy. This is partly because of the hold the No-changer Ulema have over them, and partly because even the educated and intelligent among them do not pause to think, even though the Holy Quran asks them umpteen times to do so.
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