Both in the Muslim world and in the West, intellectuals are raising questions and launching debates which may be the starting point of a reform movement within Islam, writes journalist and anthropologist Nadia Khouri-Dagher in a report published in Le Monde 2 magazine (June 9).
While it is true that many reformers face strong opposition, and possibly even persecution or exile, there are signs of a willingness to listen. French-Moroccan academic Rachid Benzine observes that when he delivers a lecture on the topic “Is the Quran the word of God?” in a Moroccan university, 50 students leave the room, while 650 remain and are eager to ask questions, which Benzine sees as a sign of finding other ways to look at Islam.
A significant aspect of these current developments is the international nature of movements toward modernization: works by Islamic reformists are translated into other languages, and they often interact with each other. Pressure in native countries contributes to internationalization too: reform-oriented intellectuals sometimes need to leave, or to have their essays published abroad. Muslim reformists would like to emphasize the context of the emergence of the Quranic text as well as to develop the same type of historical-critical approach that was used by Christian exegetes for the Bible.
Their goal is not to promote unbelief, but to reach the essence of the Islamic message. Their aspiration is to go beyond a legal interpretation of the Quran, while often putting into question the weight of hadith (statements attributed to Prophet Muhammad). The status of women is an important issue: in Morocco, a League for the rights of women has now started to promote women’s rights through the same means as Islamist activists, i.e. tape recorded messages with references to Islamic sources in order to support pro-women viewpoints.–By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Le Monde 2, 80 boulevard Auguste-Blanqui, 75707 Paris Cedex 13, France)