November 2010



Foreseeing reform:

Speaker hopeful about changes ahead for Islam 



By Bj Lewis




Islam is ripe for reform, a renowned Islamic scholar said Tuesday at Texas Woman’s University, but the impetus must be theological, not legal, and that poses many problems in the politically divided world in which potential reformers must operate.

Islamic scholar Abdulkarim Soroush spoke on “Reforming Islamic Societies: Problems and Prospects” to a standing-room-only audience at TWU, in the latest Public Affairs Forum hosted by the university.

The forums are designed to bring important public issues to the forefront and inspire student discussion, said Ann Staton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We believe it’s important for our students to be informed and aware of issues,” she said. “The forum covers issues important to all of us as citizens. We’re interested in informed, enlightened, educational and civil discourse.”

The discourse Tuesday afternoon was on reforming Islam.

Many people think the answer is to reform Islamic law, Soroush said, but it’s more important to reform theology.

“There is great change and reform on the way. It’s not as visible, but will be in the near future and will have an impact on law, life and lifestyle,” Soroush said after the presentation. Legal reform is the byproduct of theological reform, he said, but those interested in Islamic reform are thinking only about the former.

“This will not do; in order to have a real reform in law, a real legal reform in any issue, you have to have reform in theology,” he said.

There are people considering Islamic theology, Soroush said, revisiting every issue from top to bottom, reviewed in order, to make the appropriate change and reform.

But, he said later, the steps to help change and reform move along are hampered by language barriers and political barriers. Soroush said there are many reformers, but they’re scattered around the globe and unreachable because of political pressure.

“This is a tragic phenomenon in the modern world. There is no communication among the reformers,” he said. “It has nothing to do with ideas. It’s from the world of politics.”

Julie Pagitt, a sociology student who posed a question on the likelihood of an impending schism in Islam, said she was intrigued by the swiftness with which reform could come.

“The idea that by reforming theory you can reform the law, you’re talking about a whole change in society in 100 years,” she said, adding that she was glad the university brought Soroush in to speak.

“This is a speaker trying to reform a religion that’s being blamed for 75 percent of the attacks on the world,” Pagitt said. “To hear his ideas on reform are priceless.”

Soroush said tradition can be a treasure and a chain. As a chain, he said, some people are so satisfied with it they don’t think about change or reform — which can be a good thing to an extent, he said. There are positives to every tradition, including Muslim traditions, he said.

“There is always a struggle among the traditional societies, whether they have to keep intact or change and reform, to renew it and make it consistent and dynamic in the modern world.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address isblewis@dentonrc.com .







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