May 30, 2003

Modernizing Islam in a Modern World

 Sometimes, us Muslims get an idea. We?re pleased with ourselves?it?s a ?modern?
idea. A modern idea for modern Muslims. We get excited about the future?modern
ideas manifest in a brighter existence for modern Muslims! We feel bitterness
about the past?it keeps haunting us with its backward, extremist ways?not
at all modern. And so, we modern Muslims, with our modern ideas set off on
a journey. Our mission? To change the ?old? Islam into a new, flashy, attractive
Islam!!!? We set about to mould Islam to fit this modern world, our modern
lifestyles, our modern ideas?to fit the modern Muslim!!!

Just one question?exactly what is a modern Muslim?

Ha! Ha! Ha! I tricked you?there is no modern Muslim!

It?s just us?dare I say pathetic Muslims pretending that Islam?a perfect
way of life?isn?t actually perfect, that it doesn?t fit the way we
live today in the Western world. We somehow think that Islam?a religion not
limited by time? is suddenly old, backward, and extreme in this day and age.
With this ?modern? idea, we claim we have the right to ?adjust? Islam to fit
our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to fit Islam.

This is done by
Muslims everyday in every aspect of our lives. There are the little
adjustments, say in high school. The Prom. The boys with their slickly gelled
hair loitering in the halls laughing, joking about who they?ll ask to be their
date. The girls applying lip-gloss in the bathroom, giggling about shoes, hair,
The Dress, and their dream dates. And then there?s the Muslim on their way to
Friday Prayer agonizing about what they?ll do.

?Are you going to the Prom Ahmed? There?s booze for the after party at my house!?

“Are you going to the Prom Fatima? We?re all renting a limo and posing
for pictures with our dates at my house!?

Oh, oh, oh, what?s a Muslim to do!! The party of a lifetime, the pinnacle
of everything high school was about! So tempting. And so we ?Islamicize? the

?Yeah, I?m going to the Prom!? After all, I won?t actually be drinking.
I?ll just watch the dancing. I won?t dance. I?m there to spend the last night
of high school with my friends. It?s okay.
Here?s the best part. I?ll
be doing Dawah by being there?they?ll ask me why I?m not drinking or dancing!!

And poor Fatima.

?Yup, I?m going to the Prom!!? I?m just going to have a good time with
my friends. I won?t really have a date. We?re all just friends having fun.
Islam doesn?t say you can?t have fun!!

And voila, Islam has been modernized to accommodate the Prom.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this modernization is when we Muslims
begin manipulating?yes manipulating? the actual Qur?an and the Sunnah
of the Prophet (pbuh). Though we?re slow to admit, many among us begin to
consider ourselves as superior to the Muslims, the Scholars, the Sahabi
and perhaps most devastating, even the Prophet (pbuh) who all came before
us. We?re modern Muslims remember, and they?re not. We may not consciously
say, ?I am better than them? but our actions, as the clich? goes speak far
louder than our futile words.

An ongoing debate
both within and beyond the Muslim community concerns commandments in the Qur?an
about hijab. There are many who question whether practicing hijab in the
literal sense?actually covering the hair and body with a piece of cloth?is
really a commandment in the Qur?an. Many claim fiercely that ?it [hijab] has
nothing to do with Islam? and is solely based on personal choice?a claim
perhaps instigated from an inferiority complex when facing the Western ideal of
?feminism? and ?liberation?. The number of women wearing the hijab is a
dominant, if not, the most dominant symbol of Islam in the world and for
anyone to claim that ?it has nothing to do with Islam? was beyond me.
Supporters of this argument will brandish many reasons to explain why Muslim
women wear the hijab since (in their view) it is not a commandment in the
Qur?an. First, Muslim women think it?s a commandment and are smothered
by male scholars who say it is. Secondly, they are smothered by male dominance
and are forced to wear it. Thirdly, Muslim women for some reason, choose to
wear it even if it isn?t a command.

Of course, they forgot the real reason?it is indeed a command clearly
stated in the Qur?an, and Muslim women choose to follow the command?not
because they?re male counterparts told them to, but because the reasoning
behind hijab makes perfect sense. Of course no one?s going to believe me just
because I want them to. So instead of fuming, I decided to go to the ultimate
source of proof?the Qur?an itself.?

Surah Ahzab (The
Confederates), verse 59 and Surah Nur (The Light) provide clear commandments
about hijab. A translation from Surah Nur follows:

And say to the believing
women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they
should not display their zeenah (charms, or beauty and ornaments) except what
(must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimar (veils)
over their bosoms and not display their zeenah except to their husbands, their
fathers …. and that they should not strike their feet so as to draw attention
to their hidden zeenah (ornaments)
. (24:31-32)

Now, I know what many ?modern?
Muslims are screaming. Nowhere in these verses does it say to literally take a
piece of cloth and wrap it around your head. Which means it doesn?t explain
things in an idiotically literal way?it for example does not say,
?Oh believing women thou shalt take a piece of cloth, tie it firmly around
your head and pin it with a good quality pin to guard your modesty.?
? But
guess what, it does say something just as clear?not as literal, but just
as clear.
In verse 24:31-32 above, the word khimar appears. Most
translators of the Qur?an believe that khimar refers to a loose scarf
worn by women during the Prophet?s (pbuh) that covered the head and neck. Verse
24:31 states that women are to also use the khimar to cover their
bosoms. This would not mean to only cover the bosoms since the khimar
already covers the head and neck.? The verses from the Qur?an give guidelines
for women to protect and guard their modesty?the verses are clear, definite and
precise?there is no arguing that women have indeed been commanded to practice
modesty in a very specific way.?

But, in
modern times, us modern Muslims pounce on any chance to justify our lifestyles
within the boundaries of Islam. If it?s easier to not practice hijab in
this day and age, then we seek moral justification for our actions. Hence if
anything in Islam just doesn?t ?fit? with the rest of Western society, we
constantly seek moral justification in Islam to allow us to act the way we do.
Many claim it is their right to interpret and practice Islam the way they see
it, the way they like it. So if that means making the Qur?an and Sunnah
and hence Islam a game of multiple choice, where we pick and choose the parts
we choose to obey and skim over the parts we would rather leave ?open to
interpretation? then our individual faith is in serious trouble.

The debate over hijab and the ?Islamicizing? of the Prom are just two examples
among many that shows how Muslims are increasingly attempting to make Islam
more ?attractive? and non-threatening in our Western world when in fact, if
we truly understand the essence and root of our own faith we would be blessed
to know that Islam never was and never will be ?unattractive? or ?out-of-date?
nor is it threatening when understood with a clear, open and intelligent mind.

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