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Reformation of Islam; a new Islam

Salman Choudhry ( 29-01-2011

The predictions of a revolution in a far off land have proved to be right and the people have
spoken at last. The people have shown that they have the courage and the will to shake of the
cloak of ignorance and apathy when there is no way out. The question of a leader matters little to
these unsung heroes who need no messiah to come forward for deliverance. Theological answer
to such a question would be difficult in the current setting when people come out feeling almost
the same levels of disgust over the way the situation is going. The collective deprivation of the
generation is a stark reminder that few cannot hold sway over a majority for too long as the end
is always there. History is replete with such examples when courageous people changed the
course of time and destiny. Then why it is the few ignore the lessons of history.

As I was watching people marching on the streets of Cairo, I realized that the time has come for
Egyptians who have come out to do the same. They have no leadership and no organistaion and
they don’t care as long as they rid themselves of the tyrannical rule of a despot. The other
interesting element is that the religious zealots cannot make a profit out of this development. The
people know the dangers of the extremism and absence of sustainability of the ideas these people
have. Yet it is ironic that this is happening in a land which is thought to be the philosophical
playground of theologians in all forms. This country has a long history which is so long that one
has to travel almost seven thousand years back in time and the only uprising recorded was
conducted by a Prophet Moses who had the temerity to challenge the might of the Pharaoh and
lead his people to deliverance. The difference is that he did it for his people the Israelites not for
ordinary Egyptians who formed the bulk of the people. After 3000 years the people have again
spoken but this time they are without the likes of Moses and they have no land promised for

Would it work is the big question ahead of us and an answer is really difficult. When people
have a long connection with the land it is almost impossible to rise against conformity which is
as long as the land itself. Now religion can be of some assistance here and one must keep in mind
the Christianity spread here forming the Eastern Orthodox Church as the Coptic Church which is
the creation of the challenge to the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Similarly Islam also has a
dominant role in shaping the Egypt as we know it now. The Islamic Empire which was created in
the aftermath of the Conquests in early part of Islam was sustained largely by Egyptians. The
higher places of learning were in abundance here and have remained unmolested during the last
two thousand for both the monotheist religions. So it can be said Egypt has survived in a
continuum for at least the last eighteen hundred years and that is too long.

Now the hope is there, that for the first time the people will have the revolution which is missing
from their history and they will tell the world that it is not only the West which can have
revolutions. This situation also puts a case for a Reformation of Islam in the same way which

happened in Christianity in the sixteenth century. Islam is now more than fourteen hundred years
old and it would also undergo the same reformation. The point of writing this essay is to
emphasise this issue and call for a realization at large that case for reformation has come upon
us. The people are coming out and they want better conditions both economic and social. The
underlying message is that they need better Islam which otherwise does not satisfy their thinking.
It should not be confused with western ideals of freedom which cannot work here. So if the
argument holds and the people win in the end I think the reformation process would be unleashed
and this larger upheaval would engulf the entire Arab Peninsula. In a short time it would also
reach us in Pakistan. We should be prepared for this and dust the thinking of Iqbal when he said
that Islam cannot be adopted in the form of Arabian Imperialism but it has to conform to the
local customs.

The natural leadership for Islam can only come about form three countries; Turkey, Egypt and
Pakistan. In this trio Pakistan fits this role better than anyone. As our experiments with Islam are
continuing they are shaking the very foundations of this country and the belief system. Now it is
time when words of sages like Azad and Jinnah make sense even though they were standing at
opposite ends. These experiments would ultimately set a new Islam which could be distasteful to
the existing religious vicars. However it demands blood and hardships from us; are we prepared
to give without complaining about the absence of a leader. In the end it would be prudent on my
part if I say that there is one such leader and he happens to be Hussein grandson of the Prophet
Muhammad. He challenged the tyranny and religious extremism almost fourteen hundred years
ago. Had he succeeded he would have unleashed a crushing blow to the ruling class and religious
bigots. I think he would succeed now and he would be happy to see his brethrens rise and
achieve what eluded him then.