Quran, sacred book of Islam

Islam’s Path to Modernity

The clash between secular human-rights standards and Muslim religious doctrine mirrors the broader conflict between Islam and modernity. Fortunately, an emerging school of Muslim thought addresses the question in a new way, emphasizing that the Quran, like any religious text, must be reinterpreted over time.

UPPSALA – Many in the Muslim community have long taken issue with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration, these critics attest, was created by colonial powers with a long history of gross human-rights violations, and amounts to yet another attempt by a few Western players to impose their will upon Muslim countries. Islamic conservatives and fundamentalists go a step further, as they declare that no human invention can equal – much less supersede – sharia law, which amounts to the word of God.

This clash between the UN’s secular human-rights standards and Muslim religious doctrine mirrors the broader conflict between Islam and modernity – a conflict that has left some citizens of Muslim countries, including women and non-Muslims, highly vulnerable. Fortunately, an emerging school of Muslim thought addresses the question in a new way, emphasizing that the Quran, like any religious text, must be interpreted – and that those interpretations can change over time.

In fact, the Quran does defend principles like liberty, impartiality, and righteousness, which indicates a fundamental respect for justice and human dignity. The problem, as emphasized by the Iranian theologian Mohsen Kadivar, is that many parts of sharia law are linked to pre-modern social structures, which deny women or non-Muslims the same protections as Muslim men receive.

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