The 4th Berlin Forum for Progressive Muslims

Dr. Radwan A. Masmoud, President of CSID,participated in the 4th Berlin Forum for Progressive Muslims, organized the 16 – 18 October 2008 on
Political Thought in Islam: State, Religion and Governance“, at the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, in Berlin, Germany.

In his introductory comments, George Khoury mentioned that religions in general and Islam in particular are going to play an increasingly important role in world affairs in the 21st century. Progressive Muslims are trying to reconcile Islam with modernity and develop models for the future.

Christian Troll introduced Asghar Ali Engineer, from Mumbai, India, by saying that Engineer is an internationally-renown Muslim intellectual of libertarian and equalitarian theology, who has authored more than 40 books. Islam is more than mere performance of certain rituals, it is about fighting for justice and against oppression, exploitation, and injustice.

Asghar Engineer in BerlinAli Asghar Engineer stated that scripture is never revealed in a vacuum. It is always revealed in a historical context which can never be ignored. If you try to explain or understand texts without context, you always come to wrong conclusions. The Medina covenant was exceptionally revolutionary, and emphasized equality and justice between members of the same political community, regardless of their religion. Many Indian Muslim scholars opposed partition between India and Pakistan on this basis. There is concept of society in Qur’an but not of a state. Even in Medina, the prophet never set up structures of a state (army, police, administration, etc..), everything was voluntary and emphasis was on values. The prophet never inflicted any punishment for drinking. When Islam spread outside medina, it needed a state to enforce law and order. The concept of “Islamic state” came into existence after the death of prophet Muhammad.

Adl, Ihsan, Rahmat, and Hikmah are the main values for an Islamic society.

There cannot be genuine faith without freedom. Following “what I have inherited” is not real faith. To be a real Muslim, I must be free to understand my faith in my own way, depending on my own needs and conditions.

The theory for a state in Islam has always evolved and developed based on contexts and historical conditions. There can be a Muslim State, but not an Islamic state, because there is no model state in Islam, unless you have an administration-free state like the one we had at the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Radwan in BerlinNeed new and modern jurisprudence/Fiqh. Non-Muslims should have equal political rights and be able to contest elections, and hold offices based on qualifications not on their religion. Qur’an does take care and protect minority rights. Shariah laws were influenced by historical contexts, and were formulated by human beings based on their understanding of the Qur’an in their contextual pronouncements.

Secularism in Europe emerged as a fight against religion, but in India secularism was based on equal rights for all religions (co-existence). Nehru’s definition of secularism as a state that does not have a religion.

We need a modern interpretation of Shariah. For example, in India – a Muslim can divorce his wife with just saying a few words -Talaq-Talaq-Talaq, and that’s it. Shariah formulation is outdated. Religion is the same everywhere, but shariah is different because it has to take norms and cultures into consideration.

Some “Ulamas” in India defended “the right to beat our wives”, when India tried to ban wife-beating. Is religion or culture part of the problem? There are always different versions of interpretations of religion (any religion). Which values to you emphasize and support over others? Seven main principles/values of religion; Truth, love, compassion, justice, peace, human dignity, and consciousness about others’ suffering.

Qura’nic texts is ummutable, but our understanding of Qur’an can be different (tanzeel and taa’weel). There is a human-dimension (contextual situation) in the Qur’an – we must understand the concepts of asbaab al-nuzul and naskh.

More Information