Islam in the Modern World
Contemporary Issues
Islam: Contemporary Issues
Read the material, watch the videos, and then respond to the questions at the bottom of the page.
Islam: Religion of Peace
Islam & Violence
At present, the facet of Islam that is of greatest concern around the world to both Muslims and non-Muslims is the nature of the relationship between Islam and politics, and especially the political use of Islam by extremist groups. The roots of this trend lie in recent history. From the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, European powers asserted control of parts of northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, areas with substantial Muslim populations, many of which had been under the rule of Muslim leaders. At the end of World War I, European powers set up protectorates and mandates in states that had been part of the Ottoman Empire, even though they had promised those states full independence in exchange for their co-operation with the Allies during the war. As a result, many Muslim populations felt betrayed, and this led to a period of instability during which people resorted to political and armed struggle to achieve full independence for their nations. (Living Religions, 417)
[Three years after his first revelation] Muhammad was instructed by the revelations to preach publicly. He was ridiculed and defamed by the Qurayshites, who operated the Ka’bah as a polytheistic pilgrimage center and organized profitable trading caravans through Mecca. ... Finally, according to some accounts, Muhammad and his followers were banished for three years to a desolate place where they struggled to survive .... The band of Muslims was asked to return to Mecca, but the persecution by the Qurayshites continued. ... Pilgrims to Mecca from Yathrib, an oasis to the north, recognized Muhammad as a prophet. They invited him to come to their city to help solve its social and political problems. Still despised by the Qurayshites as a potential threat, Muhammad and his followers left Mecca secretly. Their move to Yathrib, later called al-Medina (The City [of the Prophet]), was not easy. ... This hijrah (migration) of Muslims from Mecca to Medina took place in 622 CE. ... The departure of Muslims from Mecca was viewed with hostility and suspicion by the leaders of Mecca. Their assumption was that Medina had become a rallying point for enemies of the Meccans who, under Muhammad’s leadership, would eventually attack and destroy Mecca. To forestall this, Mecca declared war on Medina, and a period of open conflict between the two cities followed. ...
Mecca: Conquest
In 630 CE the Prophet returned triumphant to Mecca with such a large band of followers that the Meccans did not resist. Reportedly, only thirty people were killed in the historic conquest of Mecca. The Ka’bah was purged of its idols, and from that time it has been the center of Muslim piety. Acquiescing to Muhammad’s political power and the Qur’anic warnings about the dire fate of those who tried to thwart God’s prophets, many Meccans converted to Islam. Muhammad declared a general amnesty. Contrary to tribal customs of revenge, the Prophet showed his unusual gentleness by forgiving those who had been his opponents. (Living Religions, 378-80)
There have been many situations in recent history in which Muslim leaders ... have stereotyped the West as a source of evil and moral decline, while at the same time many people in the West have stereotyped Islam as advocating and promoting violence, a dynamic exemplified by varied understandings and misinterpretations of the concept of jihad. Western media accounts of Islam have often mistranslated jihad as “holy war,” thereby suggesting that Muslims are encouraged to wage war against others.

All Muslims are indeed enjoined by the Qur’an to carry on jihad, but it means “striving,” not “holy war.” The Prophet Muhammad is said to have distinguished between two types of jihad. Of these, he said, the Greater Jihad is the struggle against one’s lower self. It is the internal fight between wrong and right, error and truth, selfishness and selflessness, hardness of heart and all-embracing love. This inner struggle to maintain peaceful equilibrium is then reflected in outer attempts to keep society in a state of harmonious order, as the earthly manifestation of Divine Justice. The Lesser Jihad is an external effort to protect the Way of God against the forces of evil. This jihad is the safeguarding of one’s life, faith, livelihood, honor, and the integrity of the Muslim community. The Prophet Muhammad reportedly said that “the preferred jihad is a truth spoken in the presence of a tyrant.”
Jihad: Sixth Pillar?
       Jihad is not to be undertaken for personal gain. The Qur’anic revelations that apparently date from the Medina period when the faithful were being attacked by Mecca make it clear that believers have the right to resist oppression:
To those against whom
War is made, permission
Is given (to fight) because
They are wronged;
— and verily,
God is most Powerful
For their aid;
(They are) those who have
Been expelled from their homes
In defiance of right,
(For no cause) except
t they say, “Our Lord
Is God.”
The Qur’an gives permission to fight back under such circumstances, and Islamic shari’ah gives detailed limitations on the conduct of war and the treatment of captives, to prevent atrocities. (Living Religions, 418)
Holy Qur’an 29:46
The Quran permits the jihad of violence only under very specific conditions. To fight, people must have been deprived of their right to live and support themselves. The action must be undertaken not by individuals but by the collective wisdom of the Muslim community. Jihadis are never allowed to harm women, children, or unarmed civilians. They cannot willfully destroy property. The tactics of terrorists are therefore not permitted by the Quran. In general, relations with people of other religions are to be as tolerant as possible. It is written in the Quran:
Do not argue with the followers of the earlier revelations otherwise than in a most kindly manner — unless it be such of them as are bent on evil-doing — and say: We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you; for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto Him that we all surrender ourselves. (Living Religions, 424)
In terms of the Lesser Jihad, support can be found in the Qur’an both for a pacifist approach and for active opposition to unbelievers. The Qur’an asserts that believers have the responsibility to defend their own faith as well as to remind unbelievers of the truth of God and of the necessity of moral behavior. In some passages, Muslims are enjoined simply to stand firm against aggression. For example, “fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not be aggressive. Allah does not love the aggressors.” Some Islamic groups, however, have seen the world situation as so dire that they have advocated for an understanding of jihad that may involve violent struggle against those seen as enemies of Islam. (Living Religions, 419)

Today many Islamic fundamentalist movements have declared war on their own people and are trying to transform their states on the model of the First Islamic state. But the conditions of the seventh century do not obtain today. A new model of the Islamic state has to be devised. The dominating civilization of the present day is Western and its models control the Third World, including the Muslim world. Islamic movements have revolted against this but their strategies have not been well thought out. They do not have to dominate Western civilization but create a parallel which excels it. This will be a long, arduous task but the struggle has just begun. (Professor Asaf Hussain, Living Religions, 425)

Watch "Indepenent Reasoning" (ijtihad) @ 3:10-6:00

and "Dogma vs. Faith" @ 12:40-20:00
Khadjia: The Prophet's Wife
Women are given many legal rights, including the right to own property, to divorce (according to certain schools of law), to inherit, and to make a will. These rights, divinely decreed during the time of the Prophet, 1,400 years ago, were not available to women in the West until the nineteenth century. (Living Religions, 397)
[T]o honor the Qur’anic encouragement of physical modesty to protect women from being molested, many Muslim women have adopted hijab (veiling), covering their bodies except for hands, face, and feet, as they had not done for decades. In Saudi Arabia, where women have been ordered to be “properly covered” outside their homes, some wear not only head-to-toe black cloaks but also full veils over their faces without even slits for their eyes. Some Muslim women assert that they like dressing more modestly so that men will not stare at them. ... Muslim women scholars are now carefully re-examining the Qur’an and Hadith to determine the historical realities and principles of women’s issues that have long been hidden behind an exclusively male interpretation of the traditions. African American Muslim and Qur’anic scholar Amina Wadud, for instance, asserts that the Qur’an is potentially a “world-altering force” that offers universal moral guidance for all believers, be they male or female:
The more research I did into the Qur’an, ... the more affirmed I was that in Islam a female person was intended to be primordially, cosmologically, eschatologically, spiritually, and morally a full human being, equal to all who accepted Allah as Lord, Muhammad as Prophet, and Islam as din [religious way]. ... Conservative thinkers read explicit Qur’anic reforms of existing historical and cultural practices as the literal and definitive statement on these practices for all times and places. What I am calling for is a reading that regards those reforms as establishing precedent for continual development toward a just social order. (Living Religions, 412-3)

Reflection Paper Icon
Reflection Paper 12
Contemporary Issues

Choose one of the following two topics:
  1. Explain the distinction between “greater jihad and “lesser jihad”. Do you think that Muhammad would support the use of terrorism to “protect the Way of God against the forces of evil” (Living Religions, 423)? Why or why not?
  1. Discuss the status of women in Islam. Do you think that the essential principles of Islam preclude the development of feminism within the tradition, or is feminism consistent with the Qur’an and the sunnah of Muhammad?
PollEverywhere: Islam