Between Liberal and Conservative Islam

Back home in Malaysia, there appears to be some growing consensus towards opposing liberal Islam, maybe it isn’t that bad a growth, but Malaysia is far from having people with a sense of individuality, chucking their favour for “the winning team” or just someone strong enough to hold everyone’s hand. What I do worry here is the possibility that any religion does not have the capability to evolve with the times and instead holds itself as the judge, jury and if necessary, the executioner of all moral standings within the society.

But what exactly is liberal Islam? Well, there is a site that does define that. But since it’s in malay, someone else has taken the liberty of translating it for us, which goes like this:

  • Destroying the meaning of Islam, Faith, Believers and Infidels (Merosak makna Islam, Iman, mukmin dan kafir)
  • Deligitimizing the Uthmani-compiled Quran, and promoting the Critical Edition Quran (Mendelegitimasi (menyah-sahkan) Mushaf Uthmani dan menawarkan al-Quran Edisi Kritis)
  • Equating the Quran with religious texts of other religions (Mempersamakan al-Quran dan Kitab Agama lain)
  • Deligitimizing the (generally accepted) interpretation of the Quran (Mendelegitimasi (menyah-sahkan) tafsir al-Quran)
  • Destroying Islamic law (Meruntuhkan syariat Islam)
  • Destroying the authority of Prophet Muhammad, his companions and the ulama (Meruntuhkan otoriti Nabi Muhammad saw, sahabat dan ulama)
  • Supporting moral decay (Menyokong kerosakan akhlak)

By that right, I think I pretty much took the idea of being a liberal muslim and threw it out the window becoming something else entirely. But in all seriousness, if this is indeed the definition that conservative muslims define the rest of the liberals, then we might be looking at the inevitable divide all along. Although my history may be a little sketchy, let me give you an example why we’re looking at a possible inevitable.

A few hundred years ago, there was only one church. They were the Roman Catholics and they were headed by the Pope. It was so powerful in fact that even ruling royalties at the time feared them. They were in essence the right hand of God, carrying out inquisitions to weed out heretics and either pulling the lost sheep back into the flock…or killing them in the name of God.

I could go on, but to cut a long story short, there came a guy named Martin Luther who jump started the Reformation and eventually after some religious wrestle, caused other christians to brake away from the Roman Church and form the Protestants. Of course, it didn’t stop there. Such a division spawned countless conflicts between both sides such as between the Elizabethan state and Northern Ireland. Even until today, while on the surface is widely accepted, there still is a sense of Anti-Protestantism which still bears old hatreds and prejudices within the religion.

Now, if you’re smart enough, I don’t think I have to spell out what significance this story has over the deal between conservative Islam and liberal Islam. It just appears to me that the evolution of a religion to deal with the current era would have in essence reached its zenith right about now after Islam is no longer just another religion in the background. We have to make that choice where we stand not just as people in the religion but as modern people living in the modern world. We are in the 21st century and while conservative purists might say such liberalism corrupts the essence of being in a religion, I doubt you would buy an old castle and not fit it with modern fixtures such as plumbing, electricity and gas. That’s just plan sensible.

I can’t argue for any side what should be done because I’m don’t think I’m qualified to define what religion is for another person. I may be muslim on paper, but I am a man of science at heart and as such I can only say that religion is between a person and their maker. I can only say that for the most part, it is time for every muslim to define for themselves what your religion means for yourself and how you think it’s best to serve God. If the underlying essence of our religion is to serve God then let us serve God, not by the watchful eye of people who can’t trust you to run your own moral judgements, but by carrying out the individual responsibility that everyone has to pay for the deeds they accomplish in life and in death.

At the end of it, such divisions in life, while spawning conflicts that shouldn’t have been does have the ability to reach out to people, focing them to make a choice. It isn’t such a bad thing for both sides, between Catholicism and Protestanitism the people now had a choice and the Church was no longer in monopoly of power and was forced wake up and take a good look at themselves at what they had become.

Maybe in time, if done right with a clear and solid purpose, such actions of those deemed heretics to conservative Islam will be remembered in history as those that redefined Islam to the new generation and a new era. I’m not saying that it will be easy and I’m not saying that what goes in between will be pretty as well. I’m just saying that there are some things in life that are inevitable to mankind’s social evolution. Beliefs of any kind are just not one that escapes this simple truth of things.

14 thoughts on “Between Liberal and Conservative Islam

  1. There is no such thing as liberal Islam. Islam is Islam. Full stop. Either you are or you are not. Where in the Quran does it say about liberal or Conservative Islam.
    Of course there are the Mukmins and those who are born into Islam. But if you dont follow the tenets of Islam, and choose to follow you logic thinking, you cannot call yourself a Mukmin.

  2. true, i could say the same for Christianity too, there is no such thing as libral christianity or the different denominations, ideally, but human beings don’t seem too happy to peaceful and respectful of each other, hence the lines have been drawn, by us ourselves.

    so hence the battle to have one’s voice heard over the other, and this silly battle really, takes away the essence of religion itself. by being so vindictive and one-track-minded on the course of religious battles (not necessary the ones involving physical weapons), the true teachings of religion have been neglected.

    then of course again, hardcore religionists will say, ‘Shut up you, you’re not even Muslim and you are not qualified to comment.’

    but think about it. really. religion has always been a personal choice, a personal decision. i’d feel very violated if a fellow christian were to come up to me and condemn me for the ways i choose to practise my allegiance to God.

  3. The proper interpretation of the Quran seems to be a big challenge to all Muslims. Even our DPM recently made a comment about it. Why can’t Muslims scholars from the world over meet together and lock themselves up in discussion, say for 6 months, and come up with an acceptable standard interpretation for all? We are already in the 21st century and I don’t believe we lack the capability to do this. We people of the book are always told to read our respective book in the context of when it was written in order to better understand the content. If context is important in understanding, it is equally important in application. Applying everything from the book without recognising modern day realities may not always be appropriate!

  4. Black and white thinking contributes to the divisions within Islam. No human being is perfect, we can only strive daily to follow Allah’s will for us to the best of our ability. No one would need to be Muslim if we were able to perfectly adhere to Allah’s will. We wouldn’t even need Allah if we were so perfect. So to pass judgment on a fellow Muslim, saying that they are not Muslim because they do not appear to practice Islam ‘fully’, only causes divide within the faith. As difficult as these times are, unity is far more beneficial, liberalism and conservatism aside.

    I am in full agreement that one’s faith is between them and their concept of God. Everyone has different perceptions, because everyone is unique in their life experience. It is far more beneficial to focus on one’s own spiritual condition and adherence to God’s will than to that of others. We’re powerless over how other’s choose to practice (or not practice) their varying degrees and perceptions of faith.

    I found it interesting that you used the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. These are terms typically used for politics rather than faith. When I think of the degrees to which a Muslim practices their faith, I think more in terms of contemporary and fundamental Islam. Maybe you chose those terms because the definition of fundamental Islam has become so misunderstood, to the point where it is equated with extremism? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  5. Wow, and you’re agnostic, I didn’t realize that until I read your ‘about’ section. 🙂 Knowing that now in retrospect, I probably would have read and commented on this entry a bit differently and taken that into consideration. But I’d still like to hear your thoughts. 🙂

  6. You know… of everyone here, I think Curious has the best idea of all.

    Being humans and idiots though, the declaration will then be followed by bloodshed.

    Hey, I’m not saying that Islam’s the only religion that caused this. Read Herbert’s ChapterHouse Dune.

  7. Hi there!

    First off, thanks for linking to my post – yes, I am that someone. I agree with what your first commenter, Masrul hadi sez – there is no such thing as liberal, conservative or whatever, Islam. But by the same token, there should also not be any mazhab or sects, as none of these are mentioned in the Quran.

    In my personal view, the problem lies in the fact that what many Muslims practice today is a result of interpretations made many, many centuries ago, based on conditions prevalent then. What is happening is a realization to return to the Quran and apply its rules, without any convolution from centuries of “tradition”. Since this goes against said “tradition”, hence the term liberal comes about. But the Quran is very clear about following tradition blindly – not wishing to proselytize here, I’ll leave it at that. But feel free to mail me if you want to know more.

    Again, thanks for the plug!


  8. Masrul: You are right though, there is no such thing as liberal and conservative Islam. It’s just the way we choose to interpret the tenents and they are subjected to interpretation. That would be the problem, there is just too many ways to interpret and at the end of it, you’d get what you call conservative and liberal views of the same book. Who’s right? Again…that is completely subjected to intepretation.

    Minishorts: Too many rules and everyone forgets what it’s all about in the first place. Until we start understanding that we first have to be responsible to ourselves, we’re going to see this a whole lot more.

    Curious: You have a very good point though that not everything can be modernised. Though…it can’t be lax for trying. Why can’t we all sit down and standardise everything? Same reason why we have this problem in the first place, it’s just too subjected to intepretation and understanding. What more the application of it?

    Lindsay: Agnostic in thinking, not on paper and in culture. It’s a little complicated there in my country. You are right about the usage of words though, that liberalism and conservative are words most familiar with that of politics. That fundamentalistic and contemporary views are much more suited for the case. I do equate certain aspects of fundamentalistic Islam to be extreme, to a point where you can compare it views found in the middle ages when Roman Catholicism had absolute power. It is a sentiment that I disagree on, though my use of liberal and conservative Islam was merely echoing that of what others have used in this matter. Your point on perfection and our need to adhere to God is more philosophical in ideal, one I share and best left for a different topic altogether. Unity of course, is what we all would want to strive for, but like you said, everyone has different ways of interpreting the same concept of God and as such is a little hard to unify the belief. I would like to talk to you further on this. Perhaps something a little more personal than just leaving it on comments. It’s late and my thoughts are all over the place. 🙂

    Pat: You do know Dune is…fiction right? As realistic and smiliar as it sounds, in reality the situation can be very much different.

    Walski: Tradition is what drives much of religion and culture, not just that of Islam. My take on this divide or at least my understanding of it comes pretty much from that of history as I have pointed out. Islam might repeat the same events as that of Christianity in the past. Taking that into account, there isn’t such a thing as Lutherian, Methodist, Roman Catholicism, Seventh Adventist…and so on so forth in the Bible either, but they are as they are. Divisions of the same belief subjected to different intepretations. Could this happen in Islam, it’s not impossible to consider the same possibility.

  9. I just thought I’d point out another type of divide that is present within Islam that you haven’t mentioned here; Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, Ismaeli, etc. This would be the Islamic equivalence of Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Jehovah Witness, etc. in Christianity. Division in Christianity occured due to political power struggles and also differences in dogmatic interpretation. I know a Baptist would say that a Jehovah Witness ‘isn’t really Christian’, although Jehovah Witnesses call themselves Christians without question. Same goes for within Islam, a Sunni Muslim may say that a Sufi Muslim ‘isn’t really Muslim’. This is probably a more accurate parallel when comparing the divisions within the two faiths rather than the degree to which someone practices their faith.

  10. By Jove, you’re right. I knew I forgot to point something out from all this. The divisions have been at war at each other for a long time as well, taking the Iraq/Iran war into consideration. Though, the degree in which someone practices their faith is also reason for segregation among the same belief as well as shown in this case. The intepretation of dogmatic beliefs however overshadows any political agenda (at least for now).

  11. Good post. I never really knew there was liberal muslims and conservative muslims, but this makes sense. Lately all I’ve been doing is labeling all muslims as terrorists, now I’ll just label liberal muslims as terrorists.


  12. I strongly appreciate the fact that this topic can be open to the public’s eye. I’m not well verse in terms of interpretation in Islam but it seems that we muslims have different views upon it that now exist liberal and conservative. I viewed Islam as the connection between GOD and people. Islam is for everlasting and i believe that as long as we follow the basic tennets we will not sin. But the reality is we cannot take a “direct interpretation of Islam” because that will destroy many culture and inheritance of the world. My view is liberal and that is we must take account when interpreting Islam the world during the first time it came to the world ( and i mean the times of the beloved prophet p.b.u.h.) and the world today. And i believe that the conservative will put me down because of this but if we look closely even the conservative had made changes in terms of interpreting Islam. I will not show where because it can be seen clearly. Through history and knowledge will we grow out of the cumbersome of this problem. I believed (and just my opinion) that one day when things “changed drastically in the world” the conservative will have a hard time dealing it and the result will be “traumatic” just (saying this without any religious offends) as the fall of the “Church”. Salam and peace to every viewer.

    #Side note: Liberal muslims are open minded and do not wish for any violence to happen. Please do not view liberal muslim as the one who wanted wars and bloodshed. We wanted what Islam truly stands for that is PEACE! thank you….

  13. @ Chris, I think you were making a purposefully, tongue-in-cheek ignorant statement. But it still probably should have been said the other way around. Terrorists take conservative Islam to a new level…..

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