Can Islam Change?


We have recently seen an attempt, by Muslim hard-line clerics in Afghanistan, to have a man condemned and executed because of his conversion to Christianity. And we have also seen the success of the Karzai government to extricate itself from having to carry out such a sentence.  All this illustrates a fact that is often overlooked — that while people like most everything else in nature change, still, traditions and the institutions they create change only with great difficulty.


We see this in our own society, where because of major changes in the make up of our population, in the way various groups of people think, and the changed circumstance of modern life, serious conflict erupts as to how the Constitution of the USA should now be interpreted and applied to the realities of contemporary living. So a great deal of energy is expended, maybe even wasted, either by conservatives trying to force people back into literal compliance with the laws, or by liberals trying to reinterpret the laws to mean something that was never intended.


Now if this is a problem with a tradition that took form only two-hundred years ago, can we expect it will be any less a problem with a religion that took form was formed thirteen -hundred years ago?  One would hardly think so.


Yet if we go back another thousand to two-thousand years before that, to the millennium during which the Hebrew scriptures were written, we find that major changes did take place, not just in the Jewish people and in the way they lived their lives, but even in the way they understood their religion.  In fact, at the end of that period, approximately two-thousand years ago, so radical was the change that what amounts to two almost entirely new religions emerged.  One— which might be called the "conservative" reaction — is what we now think of as "Judaism".  The other, a much more liberal movement, was the beginning of what we now call "Christianity".  And, as we well know, there has been an on-going struggle between those who keep trying to change things and those who want to keep things always the same within both these descendants from the ancient Hebrew religion.


Now we see a similar struggle going on within the third descendent of this ancient Hebrew faith, which is, in fact, Islam.  However, many today seem to think that Islam, unlike Judaism and Christianity, can never change or adjust itself to modern life. They point out that Judaism and Christianity both have "constitutions" (their Holy Scriptures) made up of many books compiled by different writers expressing various interpretations of God's ways and God's will.  Instead, Muslims have largely rejected their own historical religious roots — claiming that both Jews and Christians got it wrong — and substituted a single book, The Koran (Qur’an), which they believe was dictated directly by God and in fact involved no human "author". 


Of course, if this were really true, then there seems there can be hardly any room for varied interpretations. But in fact, it never works out quite that way, even within Islam. What happened recently in Afghanistan is in fact happening every day, perhaps in less dramatic ways, within the Muslim world over many other issues.  So while change may be much more difficult for them because of the seeming inflexibility of their beliefs, the fact is that deep down human nature remains pretty much the same and that change is inevitable.  In the meantime, instead of threatening them with sanctions, invasions, or worse — which only stiffens their resolve to never change — we in the West, even while we protect ourselves, most of all need to be patient.


R W Kropf  4/1/06                                            


File:Change.doc  (626 words) 06-04-01.html