The impact of the Progressive Muslim movement has become a matter of substantial debate. This essay examines the methodology and tenants that put the Progressive movement at odds with the traditional establishment. The evidence presented in this essay illustrates the inclusive and adaptable nature of the Progressive movement which stands at odds with the conservative ranks. This essay will be of value to any researcher examining the Islamic faith.
As the world continues to grow closer together, the Muslim faith has become a major influence around the globe. The Progressive interpretation of the Islamic religion is gaining ground as well as gathering a substantial amount of debate. This essay will assess the key methodological, theological and intellectual assumptions that the Progressive Muslims utilize as a basis for their lives. Beginning with a brief overview of the Progressive movement this essay will illustrate the currant scenario. Following this section with an examination of the evolving tenants of the approach will demonstrate how this view impacts the modern world. The combination of the first sections will create an illustration of the potential for the Progressive approach to the Muslim faith in the future.
In the end, this essay will have examined past practice, modern interpretations and future potential for the Progressive movement of the Muslim faith with the stated goal of developing a better understanding of the approach.
2 Traditional and Progressive Islam
There is an emerging trend in the Islamic world of an increasingly Progressive interpretation of traditional Holy aspects of the religion (Benard 2003). As the Islamic religion continues to spread, the traditional interpretation of the Qur’an has changed and increasingly brought into question. This is a departure from the strict adherence to the traditional and more conservative readings of the sacred religious passages (Ibid). As new cultures find value in Islam, their individual and unique understanding of these religious elements continues to grow, which in turn creates the Progressive, or liberal form of Islam.
The modern generation has seen a division of interpretation as some factions call for Shari ’a in all facets of life, while others argue for the reinterpretation of long held passages in order to accommodate the needs of the new world (Ichwan 2013). These instances of change are characterized as movements within the larger religion as opposed to schisms (Benard 2003). Others characterize the emerging form of Progressive interpretation as entirely different sect that embodies a separate approach (Ichwan 2013). Yet, many of the elements that the tradition or conservative factions hold sacred are still revered within the evolving infrastructure. A stark difference in the form of interpretation exists between the traditional form of Islam and the Progressive method (Perez, Gue?ye and Yang 2005). The conservative tradition is typical of the literal interpretation of the religious text with heavy emphasis on the male dominated societal structure. In contrast, the Progressive Muslim has begun to reinterpret the same passages of the Qur’an within the context of independent thought (Ibid). There emerging trend is to tie these works to the modern age rather than adhere to a political and social system that can seem unbalanced in limiting in several respects.
Many scholars specify a difference in the liberal and Progressive factions within Islam (Safi 2013). The liberal form of Islam has existed for centuries, and the quest to adapt the faith to the modern times is not a new effort. However, Safi (2013) defines the key difference between the liberals and the Progressive trend as the concrete desire of the Progressive party to find a solution to societal issues that have a direct bearing on the quality of life in today’s world. A hallmark of the liberal Muslim lacks the base characteristic of fundamental transformation that the Progressive faction has been credited with (Ibid). Others contend that the Progressive branch of the Islamic faith is simply an extension of the liberal wing that has been active for generations (Perez et al 2005). The capacity to distinguish the two is only separated by dogma and the interpretation of method.
The current Progressive Muslim is an advocate of a balanced and pluralistic society through a positive engagement with Islam (Safi 2013). This pillar is central as the drive to increase the perception of a sense of social justice is a cornerstone of the Muslim faith.With a vision to reach out to even the most entrenched culture, the Progressive Muslim tenants call for the recognition of religious and ethnic pluralism (Perez et al 2005). This inclusive nature is allowing the practice to be accepted in areas and cultures that have longed shunned any form of the Muslim tradition. Progressive Islam is a departure from the traditional, yet, includes many of the sacred elements favoured by the conservatives.
2.1 In Summary
The traditional ranks of Islam commonly regard the reinterpretation of the Holy works as a mistake. Further, the movement to re-examine every element of the religion has sparked outrage in some instances. Yet, the increasingly inclusive nature of the Progressive Islamic traditions allows many new people to experience the faith every day.
3 Progressive Islam
There are several social and political issues that the Progressive faction of Islam has sought to reconcile with the modern world (Yilmaz 2008). The sect has defined themselves as possessing humanist interests assisting the downtrodden. Safi (2013:2) describes the Progressive Muslim as being advocate for those that through no fault of their own, have found themselves in perpetual poverty, oppression, pollution and general marginalization. The Progressive Muslim sees an opportunity to open the doors to new cultures and followers by finding a solution to many of the troubling social issues of the era.
The Muslim Progressive movement utilizes a very strong tradition of social justice that is at the heart of the Islam religion (Benard 2003). These traditions stem from the Qur’an and the hadith as well as several of the emerging Islamic scholars including Shari’ati (Ibid). A hallmark of these Progressive teachings is that the teacher employs sources from outside the tradition Islamic realm, incorporating an inherently adaptable and inclusive format (Husin 2012). Several of the external elements are drawn from Gustavo Gutierrez as well as humanism sources, which combine to call for ‘witnesses for God in Justice’ (Safi 2013:2). There is the perception of a shift away from the previous generations of Progressive Muslims in that there is a strong undercurrent of engagement in the movement. A central tenant of the Progressive movement is the need to reach out to those that have not traditionally been a part of the Islamic tradition (Ma?rtensson, Bailey, Ringrose and Dyrendal 2011).
Safi (2013) describes the Progressive Muslim as a person that holds the transformative interpretation of the Muslim Faith that says that every human, female or male, non-Muslim or Muslim, poor or rich has exactly the same value in the eyes of God. This is a departure from the once held view of separatism from the rest of the world that Islam once held. Further, the Progressive Muslim is expected to engage with the full range of material (Martensson et al 2011). No longer is any debate off limits or beyond the norm. This is a critical step in the drive to provide an inclusive infrastructure for the wider acceptance of the religion. Eshlkevari (2013) argues that the Progressive Muslim is marked by the need to experience the separate interpretations of Islam in order to fully understand the meanings of each unique practice.
Eshlkevari (2013) illustrates the concept that the Progressive Muslim has the belief that it is time to translate the Islamic social teachings in such a manner that encompasses the needs of the modern generation. There is an emergence of a trend for the Progressive Muslim to actively reach out to their poor neighbors in an effort to provide sustenance as demonstrated by the Prophet. This argument is further cemented by the Progressive Muslim belief that the Muslim community cannot achieve true justice without recognizing that the female members of their culture have the same consideration as the male members (Eshlkevari 2013). This perception of building gender equality is a hallmark of the Progressive movement, the effort to balance and meet the needs of the entire population and not just a fraction of it. Many Progressive Muslims measure progression by the gender free implementation of justice within their society (Ibid). This effort adds to the methods capacity to attract such a wide range of adherents in the modern age. The Progressive Muslim associates women’s rights with basic human rights (Safi 2103). This is a fundamental shift away from the previous interpretations of the Islamic faith.
A singular facet of the Progressive Muslim movement is the effort to seek out pluralism, inside and outside of the umma, or the Muslim religious community (M and Avilli 2003). It is the appreciation of the wider availability of knowledge and truth that allows the Progressive Muslim movement to grow beyond the traditional limitations. Further, the approach seeks to do more than simply engage with faiths and considerations not their own, there is a real need to fully experience true engagement that allows for the identification of both the similarities and the basic differences between the Muslim faith and others (Ibid). This effort to reach beyond the threshold of tolerance and enter into a true conversation that allows for growth is the criteria that the Progressive Muslim seeks to meet.
Progressive Muslims are taking advantage of technology in order to not only communicate but share ideas and beliefs (Eshkevari 2013). This is direct integration of the basic tenants of the Islamic faith and the emerging opportunities of the modern era. Safi (2003) describes the basic and central tenants that connect the Progressive Muslim society together:
A) A new approach to the old scriptures. There needs be a full reinterpretation of the traditional texts in an effort to fit them into modern life.
B) There must an open acceptance of modern culture, including customs and common practices. The often rigid expression of the Islamic society should be reexamined in order to achieve the best result.
C) The interpretation of the Holy works must be an individual experience, and not strictly regulated by those in power.
D) The unique and individual sense of right and wrong must not only be developed but utilized in a day to day effort to make life better.
E) Complete and unbiased gender equality must exist. This is a tenant that is necessary to fully address the social and cultural needs of the current generation.
These principles have served to set the Progressive movement apart from the more traditional interpretation of the Islam tradition (Safi 2013).With each new interpretation of traditional scripture, the Progressive movement has a hallmark of inclusive, nonviolent action.
3.1 In summary
The Progressive Muslim is marked by the clear preference for gender equality in all things. Indicative of this mind-set, the Progressive approach is also heralded by the inclusion of outside knowledge and wisdom into the traditionally closed debates. Further, this extension of equality reaches down into every element of Islamic life. Perhaps, the starkest shift away from the traditional Islam comes in the expectation of independent thought and evolution in the worship of God. No longer is it acceptable to simply and blindly follow a leader, the Progressive Muslim thinks and acts for themselves, in a just and open manner.
4 Future Potential
Safi (2003) cites many areas of potential conflict over the course of the developing era for the Progressive Muslim movement. With the reinterpretation of the religious pillars of Islam, will be the resistance from the conservative members of the faith. Others see this as the natural evolution of Islam (Benard 2003). Many of the most prominent and influential authorities within the Muslim world speak to the need for the further development and evolution of the faith so as to address pressing common issues (Mandaville 2013).In order to fully realize the potential inherent in the Progressive Muslim movement, there must be a full acceptance of the path forward through the inclusion of all elements, genders and faiths.
A primary area of concern as the Progressive movement goes forward will be the development of gender equality and the capacity to be judged without reference to gender by Islamic law (Benard 2003). Beginning by allowing women the basic human rights and ensuring that these are sustained will enable the Islamic outreach to impact a tremendous amount of females around the world. Further, this drive towards basic gender equality feeds into the Progressive components of ascribing human rights to all of humanity (M et al 2003). A critical element of the Progressive Muslim movement will rest on the capacity to not only enforce this pillar but recognize this within every culture. In many cases traditional bias and prejudice due to colour, sex or other element has driven a wedge in the effort to effectively reach out and communicate with new populations (Mandaville 2013).
In line with this development of human rights, equality among the genders is the increase of rights for the women in general (Mandaville 2013). Progressive Muslims are increasingly at odds with the traditional interpretation of Islamic law in that it allows the male many privileges over the female. Further, this view holds that not only should women be allowed an active role in society, but the female should be active in politics and guiding the nations (Ibid). These are fundamental differences form the conservative Muslim that sees the women as being subject to the male in nearly every aspect. Moving from the realm of feminism into the politics, the view held by the common Progressive Muslim that religion should be separate from the faith is a stark departure from past actions and interpretations (Safi 2003). Traditional views have argued for the religious establishment having firm influence over the entire political establishment. Yet, this system can lead to the perception of corruption and less tolerance of competing viewpoints (Benard 2003). Others see this as the surest way to safeguard the integrity of the judicial system (Mandaville 2003). In the drive to provide an inclusive setting the Islamic Progressive movement, must have the perception of honesty and integrity in all things.
As these initial tenants indicate, the view of the Progressive Muslim on violence and the utilization of force to achieve goals are as a negative interpretation of Islam (Safi 2003). There is a determined effort in the developing movement to diminish not only the expectation of violence but the use of the tactic in any form. As this form of tolerance is added to their basic human rights efforts, the potential for the Progressive Muslim to not only reach out but connect with many nations continues to grow.
4.1 In summary
The potential for the Progressive Muslim movement to connect to the world will continue to grow in relation to the capacity to be inclusive. With the presence of the pillars of gender equality, political Progressiveness and overall tolerance there is a real sense of movement and potential in the Islamic world. Alongside the drive to be inclusive the Progressive Muslim movement could reap equal reward as good intentions continue to build.
This essay has assessed the key methodological, theological and intellectual assumptions that the Progressive Muslims utilize as a basis for their lives. The evidence presented has illustrated interesting aspects of the Progressive Muslim movement. With an overriding drive to be inclusive the emerging Islam is making a fundamental effort to reach out to populations around the world and bring them the tenants of faith. This general inclusiveness is built around a growing sense of equality of every person in every manner. The departure away from the traditional interpretations of the Holy works is leading to recognition of further value to be found in the ranks of the women around them.
Accompanying the general openness of the Progressive Muslim, the departure away from the religious establishment having full control of the political establishment is building. This is a fact that serves to promote the tenant of equality, by creating a judicial system that does not recognize nor function on the premise of gender. This fundamental departure from tradition could be a turning point for many Islamic women and culture in general. With the turning away from violence and the embracing of the nonviolent, the Progressive Muslim is stepping away from the perception of fear and confrontation that has served to define Islam throughout modern memory.
Much like any religion of note, Islam is in a constant state of evolution, lending the faith the depth and credibility to serve the modern age. With the growing recognition of equal value and potential regardless of gender, the Progressive Muslim movement marks a new chapter in the drive to bring the world together. In the end it will not be one movement or reinterpretation that serves to bind the world closer, but the acceptance and tolerance of each and every faith that illustrates how close we already are.
Benard, C. 2003. Civil democratic Islam. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, National Security Research Division.
Carrese, H. and Carrase, D. 2011. Islamic Renaissance: Liberalism and Democracy in Turkey.
Eshkevari, H. Y., Mir-Hosseini, Z. and Tapper, R. 2006. Islam and democracy in Iran. London: I. B. Tauris.
Gulen, F., Movement, G. and Roads, H. 2008. Beyond Post-Islamism: A Critical Analysis of the Turkish Islamism’s Transformation toward Fethullah G”ulen’s Stateless Cosmopolitan Islam.
Haddad, Y. Y. 2011. Becoming American?. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press.
Husin, A. 2013. Educating for Islamic Pluralism: Lessons from Indonesia. Islam and Civilisational Renewal (ICR), 1 (1).
Ichwan, M. N. 2013. Alternatives to Shariatism: Progressive Muslim Intellectuals, Feminists, Queers and Sufis in Contemporary Aceh. Regime change, Democracy and Islam the case of Indonesia p. 137.
M and Avilli, P. 2003. What does Progressive Islam look like?. ISIM Newsletter, 12 p. 34.
Ma?rtensson, U., Bailey, J., Ringrose, P. and Dyrendal, A. 2011. Fundamentalism in the Modern World, Vol 1. I.B. Tauris.
Perez, A. F., Gue?ye, S. P. and Yang, F. 2005. Civil society as democratic practice. Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.
Safi, O. 2003. Progressive Muslims. Oxford: Oneworld.
Safi, O. 2003. What is Progressive Islam?. ISIM Newsletter, 13 p. 48.
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