Islamic Reforms - Different Perspectives
Dr. Maher Hathout, December 10, 2006

Definition of reform

Reform is to be able to interpret text or ideological manifesto in a way that keeps it relevant to the people and time at certain historical context.

Islam is no exception to that. Islam is a creed documented in a text and modeled with a messenger 1400 years ago, which is to be pertinent to the different stages of its history where a process of continuous adaptation
took place.

For example, until twenty years ago no one thought that Muslims will go back to their text to look for organ transplantation, because organ transplantation did not exist before that.

Those who claim that organ transplantation is not allowed in Islam quote Imam Shafii who said, "Deforming human body is haram (unlawful)". But is organ transplantation considered as deforming human body? The answer is, No.

This is what reform is all about. The word "reform" is shocking for some Muslims because they think it is about changing the religion.

Reform is essential and mandatory for Islam because Islam is the last message from God. It should adapt to the changes until the Day of Judgment.

Islam is designed to deliver people from darkness to light.

"A. L. R. A Book which We have revealed unto thee, in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light - by the leave of their Lord - to the Way of (Him) the Exalted in power, worthy of all praise!" (Quran 14:1)

"For the scum disappears like forth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus doth Allah set forth parables." (Quran 13:17) Certain things in this world pass, certain things last & stay, these are what is good for humanity.

"You are the best community ever raised among the people." (Quran 3:110)


If there is no reform, we will fall into the black hole of irrelevance and Islam will become a part of ancient religions.

The momentum becomes a monument, it will not be chemically interacting with life to change it.

The question is, how should we reform?

When Islam was revealed by God, He put in it an apparatus or machine to reform without breaking the structure. One does not have to step out of Islam to do that.

Reform is supported by Quran, Hadith and history.

Reform in the Quran

"O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and let every soul look to what (provision) He has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear Allah. for Allah is well-acquainted with (all) that ye do.)" (Quran 59:18)

Tomorrow is the future from now until the Day of Judgment. Preparing for the future in this life and the day after is the instruction of the Quran.


Reform in the Hadith

Prophet (PBUH) allowed people to interpret things that are good for them. On one occasion, a man had to take ghusl (purifying bath) but wanted to do taymmum (symbolic cleaning by dust) because the water was too cold. Someone in the group objected that the man can not have taymum when water is available and hence the man took ghusl and died as a consequence. The Prophet (PBUH) reprimanded them after learning this incident. A hadith to the same effect is reported in Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah.

Reform in the Historical context

Umar (Ra) adjusted many things to suit the realities. Punishment for theft was suspended due to poverty. The spoils of war used to be distributed among fighters but when they opened Iraq, they did not divide the land of Iraq
based on this rule because it will create a feudal system and Umar interpreted this verse, "The wealth should not circulate only among the rich." (Quran 59:7)

Imam Shafii had two schools or legal theories during his life time. The Old one and the New one. Imam Shafii advised to discard the old one and learn the new one. He wrote the Old one in Iraq and later when he relocated to Egypt, he wrote the New one and changed the whole theory. He said the Old one was good for those people at that place and not suitable for the people in Egypt. Today, even some of his followers oppose to any kind of reform.

The different current proposals of reform

1. Western Hegemony reform

An effort demanded to make Islam accept certain norms or policies that are exercised by the western hegemony. This is the reform to exploit the masses.

For example, if someone asks us to re-look at Islam to see if Islam is compatible with democracy, then there is no problem in that but it becomes a problem when they say, "We want an Islam that does not oppose the way wealth is distributed in our country". In Unites States, can a poor man win an election? It is a government by the millionaires for the millionaires and NOT a government by the people for the people. It becomes a problem when
they say, "We want an Islam that does not oppose foreign policy that encourages oppression."

2. Issues of Definitions

Reform is to become moderate, but they define for us what moderate means. A moderate Muslim is the one who drinks alcohol in moderation. A moderate Muslim is the one who supports policies of the government of Israel.

They want the word "jihad" to be deleted from the text. But for Muslims, Jihad is a panorama including spiritual purification, spending money for goodness and if attacked, one has the right to defend himself/herself. This
is not acceptable in the West. The moment one defines jihad, he is deemed extremist.

A non-observant Muslim is considered a Progressive Muslim. A person who prays five times a day and does not have extra-marital relationship is termed as rigid or fundamentalist.

3. False Prophets of reform

Muslims who reject Islam and make their way to fame and wealth by denouncing Muslims, who bash Islam are considered as Muslim reformists. Those are people who have certain grudges but they neither represent Muslims nor do they have the credibility to lead a change.


Reform that we are talking about

Reform that will emanate from the apparatus of Islam itself.


1. The nature of Quran

Quran talks about spirit, attitude and talks proportionately little about rules, where it usually recommends basics of rule.

For example "their affairs should be conducted through consultation among themselves" (Quran 42:38)

It means no dictatorship, people should have a say (democracy) and it should be the form that is suitable for each context. It may take a parliamentary or congress or any other form that fits the time and place. This is a human effort and not divine. This is being flexible without breaking the structure of Islam.


2. The final objectives/goals of Sharia

To realize the five final objectives


- preservation of life
- freedom of religion
- right of family structure
- right of property
- intactness of mind and intellect


For example, if the family law in Pakistan is not suitable to realize justice for women, then change it. It is not sacred. The jurisprudence is to realize the benefits of the people.

So, in view of the goals and objectives of Islam, we can, as a matter of fact we must lead a movement of reform, from within Islam and based on its frame and spirit.


Excerpts from the Sunday lecture addressed by Dr. Maher Hathout at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles on December 10, 2006.