As a male person of Muslim background ( Bosnian Muslim by birth) and as someone who became of age around the time of 9/11, I have sought ways to understand my faith that is affirmative of Goodness and Love as well as open to potential goodness and love in every human being. This search set me off on a journey that eventually saw me embark upon a career in academia and eventually dedicate much of it to theorising of progressive Islam. The fruits of this labour (of love) include two books the second of which, the Imperatives of Progressive Islam was published in early 2017. In no small measure was my journey inspired by and greatly benefited from the wonderful work done by Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives that I became acquainted with some ten years ago while researching on progressive Islam.
In this article, by drawing on this scholarship of mine, I will provide an overview of the worldview underpinning progressive Islam, its approach to conceptualising and interpreting the Islamic tradition, its theology and its normative imperatives. In doing so, I wish to present a less well known but no less authentic understanding of Islam that hopefully will challenge what many non-Muslims and Muslims think about what Islam was, is or can ever be.
Introduction and Overview:
Progressive Islam is an umbrella term covering approaches to the Islamic tradition and (late) modernity, which, employ the words “progressive” or at times “critical” (e.g., the magazine Critical Muslim published in the United Kingdom) when self-labelling themselves or which fall into Progressive Islam as defined herein. The main theoreticians behind this contemporary Muslim thought are academics and public intellectuals from both Muslim majority and Muslim minority contexts and include scholars like Hassan Hanafi from Egypt, Enes Karic from Bosnia, Ali Ashghar Engineer from India, Nurkolich Majid from Indonesia, Sadiyya Shaikh, Ebrahim Moosa and Farid Esack from South Africa, Ziba Mir Hosseini and Mohsen Kadivar from Iran, Muhammad Abed Al-Jabiri from Morocco, Jasmin Zine from Canada, Hashim Kamali from Afghanistan/Malaysia, Kecia Ali from the United States, Abdulaziz Sachedina from Tanzania/USA, Abdullahi An’Naim for Sudan, Khalid Masud from Pakistan, Khaled Abou El Fadl (Egypt /USA) to name but prominent few. Importantly, progressive Muslim academics and intellectuals include a significant number of females. Progressive Muslim thought has also a global grassroots activist presence associated with Muslims for Progressive Values , Musawah and like-minded movements.
In terms of its overall worldview, Progressive Islam is best characterized by its commitment and fidelity to certain ideals, values, practices, and objectives that are expressed and take form in a number of different themes. These themes primarily concern issues pertaining to progressive Muslims’ critical positioning in relation to (1) the hegemonic economic, political, social, and cultural forces from the Global North, (2) hegemonic patriarchal, exclusivist, and ethically ossified interpretations of their own inherited Islamic tradition, and (3) both the values underpinning the Age of Enlightenment modernity as well as radical forms of postmodern thought. This critique, therefore, simultaneously challenges both (neo-)traditional and puritan Islamic hegemonic discourses on many issues (including the debates on modernity, human rights, gender equality and justice, democracy, and the place and role of religion in society and politics) and their Western-centric conceptualizations and interpretations, embedded as they are in the values and worldview assumptions underpinning the Enlightenment.
One of the main concepts permeating progressive Muslim thought is the centrality of spirituality and the nurturing of interpersonal relationships based on Sufi-like ethico-moral philosophy. By this I mean an intellectualised form Sufism and without the accompanying misogynist and highly hierarchical elements present in much of the pre-modern Sufi tradition. Moreover, progressive Muslims emphasise God’s universal nature and the universality of the faith itself through demonstrating God’s concern for humanity in general which as, I will outline below, leads to them to embracing religious pluralism.
Bringing about and strengthening the multifaceted and dynamic aspects of the inherited Islamic tradition and resisting its reductionism and exclusivist interpretation founded on patriarchy, misogyny, and religious bigotry is an important additional trait underpinning the worldview of Progressive Islam.
Progressive Muslims are also very critical of the hegemony of the modern free market–based economics and political and social structures, institutions and powers (“The Empire”) that support, maintain or are not critical of the (unjust) status quo. This is so because The Empire is considered to have brought about the transformation and the reduction of a human, a carrier of God’s spirit, into a primarily economic consumer producing great economic disparities between the majority world of the poor South and the minority world of the rich North.
Progressive Muslims also wish to shift the current discourses on jihad from being primarily embedded in overly geopolitical and security and terrorist related analytical and conceptual matrixes to that of inner intellectual and ethical and principally non-violent struggle and resistance to forces that conflict with their overall worldview.
Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 1/2:73-76