Progressive Thinking in Contemporary Islam

Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll

It seems sensible to start by shedding light on the background context and then to define the broader framework within which theprogressive thinkingin contemporary Islam which we want to discuss is embedded. The movements and trends which are shaping the contemporary Islamic world can be analyzed and assessed in the light of two conflicting forces, namely the notions of authenticity on the one hand and modernity on the other.
Such an approach perceives contemporary Islam as being torn between the authenticity in matters of life and doctrine which it derives from its past and the modernity which refers it to a present (and a future) in which Muslims no longer hold the reins of power and are therefore no longer able to control the development of thought.
Islam is centred on a scripture which it holds in faith to be the revelation of God. This scripture, the Qur’an, is believed to be eternal and immutable in form and content and thus to be valid for every place and time, to contain a truth which obtains for ever. Modernity, by contrast, is characterized by the relativity and the progressive nature of all truth. For the modernists there is nothing, spoken or written, which cannot be construed and questioned, which cannot and indeed should not be further refined by the human mind.
Islam thus sees itself positioned between the authenticity of a truth – that of the Qur’an as a – so to speak – naked, irrefutable fact – and a modernity whose knowledge in all fields is constantly being reconstructed. Is the solution to be found in modernizing Islam or in Islamizing modernity? It is the task of the Muslims to answer this question.

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