Towards Muslim Theology: Programmatic Areas

The following nine programmatic areas were at the focus of the Ifrane conference, and constitute the working plan for the coming years of the Towards a Contemporary Muslim Theology of World Religions project.  Their relevance may extend from the Muslim case, under discussion, to other religious traditions, working through similar issues.

1. Reason and Scripture

This issue hold the key to a new hermeneutics. Can reason be the middle ground in interpretation, considering Gods word and the traditions of the Prophet It also holds an important key to the acceptance of the religious legitimacy of the other, and to the others ability to make independent choices with regard to truth. Much recent Sharia discourse has been dominated by the suppression of reason, unlike what we find in the Quran and in the historical tradition of Islam. The balance of reason and revelation touches upon the very sources and legitimacy of religious authority. The crucial question of the place of ijtihad is related to this issue. The role of practice as bridging Reason and Scripture.

2. Sovereignty and loyalty

The sources of authority of the state play into broader issues of recognition of the other and of participation of Muslims in other forms of culture and governance. Issues of authority in relation to other religious groups appeal to notions of sovereignty. The question of divine vs. human sovereignty affects our attitude to state bodies. The question of the ideal and just state plays into the very goals of religion and the ability to practice it, again having implications for how Islam interacts with forms of government, in the Muslim world and outside it. Is the state living up to its obligations to religious minorities and does it corrupt the view of other religions Issues of the status of minority religious groups within modern states, both Muslim and non-Muslim are also relevant, as is the question of Shari’a adherence and loyalty in secular states based on a notion of social contract.

3. Providence and free choice

These issues provide the theological background to the questions of Islam and democracy and Islam and liberalism. Does God allow Muslims to freely chose the kind of society they live in Does God demand uniformity of religious expression both within and outside of Islam or are individuals allowed to exercise free choice in their beliefs Is religious diversity part of God’s plan How does the answer to this question affect Muslim/Non-Muslim relations How does it affect the issue of religious diversity within Islam

4. Law and rights

Ways in which the Law has become the central issue in approaches to Islamic reform. Methods of legislation in relation to other groups. Broad range of law-related issues that are impacting Islam in general. Notion of rights of different groups within Muslim society and of Muslims within non-Muslim societies. Including right to dissent and right for religious dissent, both within Islam and beyond it.

5. Justice and power

Assessment of situation of contemporary Islam in terms of power and justice. The scope of divine justice as a yardstick for judging other traditions. This issue conditions many contemporary situations in which Muslims are embroiled in conflict with others. Are relations between communities based on power or on universal laws Viewing Islam in colonial and post-colonial settings. Impacts upon Islam of sense of new wave of Western hegemony, as manifested in a variety of contemporary political situations. Understanding theological questions of theodicy and justice in Islam. Justice and power are the praxis issues related to the theoretical attitude of Muslims toward others. Also related are issues of oppression within Muslim world, limitations on media, etc.

6. Universalism and particularism

How far is the Umma universal and and what does this mean for religious dissent Do different monotheistic religions worship the “same” God Is Islam part of broader phenomenon of religion and does it share roots with others, or is it isolated and unique The nature of universal knowledge vs. Islamic knowledge.

7. Spirituality and morality

Can common views of spirituality and morality provide grounds for recognition of others Do these questions help us go beyond the range of religions traditionally understood in Islamic thought Can they serve as yardsticks for critiquing contemporary forms of Islam Are there aspects of our spiritual and moral traditions that can be shared with others Does a heightened sense of spirituality lead to greater acceptance of others

8. Self image and image of other

How does the image of oneself as a Muslim affect one’s approach to the religious other Role of difference or similarity when comparing religious perspectives. Concept of the kafir (rejecter of Islam) as unbeliever. Relationship between theological difference and moral judgment. Problem of proper knowledge of others. Distortion in image of Muslims in world.

9. Education and attitudes to others

Education within Muslim society. Knowledge of earlier sources. Recovery of older positions accepting of diversity that have been lost. Dealing with harmful and problematic attitudes.