Friday, November 23, 2007

On Islam's Capacity to Evolve

I recently came across a January 2005 article in The Atlantic entitled "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Islam" by Sage Stossel. It is a flashback on whether "democracy [can] take root in a predominantly Islamic part of the world". It is an overview of Atlantic contributions on the topic from the early to the late twentieth century. The highlight of the article is the conclusion:
How democracy will fare in a region where the West is viewed by many with hostility and suspicion remains to be seen. But as [Toby] Lester points out, "Islam became one of the world's great religions in part because of its openness to social change and new ideas." If Islam can rediscover its innate capacity to evolve and adapt without losing its essential identity, then perhaps its followers may realize that Islam is in fact better equipped to encounter the West in a peaceful and enriching way than is currently imagined.

The best mechanism to revive the Muslim world is to rediscover this "openness to social change and new ideas". And in this paragraph, the point that is most interesting, is that to fight Islamic extremism, it is not necessary to fight Islam itself. By reviving an important, now forgotten, aspect of Islam (that of openness to change, and new ideas and challenges) "without loosing Islam's essential identity" is the easiest path to defeating extremism and making liberty and democracy of value among Muslims without offending their religious sensibilities.

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