Islamic Studies Reformist Muslims in Contemporary America
by
Serhan Tanriverdi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0270

Introduction

In the last two centuries, Muslims have made efforts to reform Islamic tradition and thought. Reform attempts have often focused on the advancement of the Islamic tradition and reconfiguration of Muslim thought and practices in light of changing sociopolitical circumstances and human knowledge. Reforming Islam has been a particularly central focus since Muslims’ direct encounters with modernity in the early 20th century. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (b. 1838–d. 1897), Muhammad Abduh (b. 1849–d. 1905), Muhammad Rashid Rida (b. 1865–d. 1935), and Fazlur Rahman (b. 1919–d. 1988) are the prominent figures of the reformist trend in recent history. Since the 1990s, an increasing number of Muslims have migrated to the United States, and rising Muslim populations have led to the emergence of reformist Muslim intellectuals there. Many of these reformists are professors or public intellectuals working at American institutions, and they come from different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. Reformist American Muslim intellectuals should not be considered as an entirely and internally homogenous group; instead, it should be seen as an umbrella term covering various critical reconstructivist approaches to the Islamic tradition and modernity in the context of the United States and globalization in the last three decades. These thinkers call themselves “reformists,” “progressives,” or “critical Muslims” in their works. Referring to them as “reformist American Muslim intellectuals” was preferred for this article because they live and work in the United States and want change, but they are not advocating for revolution or radical social upheaval. Instead, reformist Muslims mainly focus on building democratic, pluralist, and ethical theories or practices from a Muslim perspective while prioritizing the development of indigenous Islamic arguments for their agendas and ideas. Thus, their intellectual projects often simultaneously challenge (a) apologetic, exclusivist, premodern socio-legalistic thoughts, and epistemologies promoted by Muslim fundamentalists, Islamists, and traditionalists; and (b) Western-centric, secularized, reductionist views found in some popular Western discourses. Ultimately, reformists attempt to deconstruct the hegemonic assumptions of (neo)orientalist perspectives and dogmatic discourses about Muslims in order to reconstruct democratic, pluralists, and just interpretations of the Islamic tradition for the sake of contemporary Muslims. The themes of reformists’ writings reveal a correspondence to the sociopolitical issues of contemporary Muslims in the West and the global scene. For example, reformist Muslims’ writings have focused on themes such as the critique of traditional Islam in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 and the resurgence of radical groups, extremist ideas, and authoritarianism in Muslim communities. Thus, reformist Muslims often focus on debates about Islam’s compatibility with modernity and democracy, the role of religion in public life, human rights, religious freedom, pluralism, and gender justice. As a result, reformist Muslims in the United States can be seen as a continuation of Islamic modernism that started in the 19th century in the Islamic world but has been significantly shaped by the conditions of the modern American society and circumstances of Muslims. In other words, it is reasonable to say that reformist Muslim discourses do not emerge or exist in a vacuum. Thus, their writings can be seen as the production of a dialectical engagement between Islamic tradition and modernity at large.

General Overviews and Introductory Theoretical Resources

The following list demonstrates the range of topics generated by reformist or progressive Muslims in the contemporary era, and it shows the multiplicity of ways authors define this reform quest. The terms “reformist” and “progressive” are used interchangeably, despite their differing connotations, in some texts, because both concepts have very similar meanings in the overall analysis. In other words, all the work listed here, in a larger perspective, discusses the compatibility of Islam with modernity and its various manifestations in different aspects of social life. Safi 2003 and Safi 2006 discuss the main concerns, themes, and approaches of reformist/progressive Muslims. Moosa 2003 analyzes the challenges and responsibilities of critically reforming Islam in the modern world without leaving the Islamic tradition. Moosa 2007 provides further conceptualizations in the definition of progressive Islam, reformist thinking, and its theoretical differences from traditional perspectives. Abou El Fadl 2014 comprehensively addresses the reconciliation of Islamic ethics and morality with modern democratic, pluralistic values, and reasoning. Afsaruddin 2015 presents multiple interpretations of Islam through a sociohistorical perspective and their compatibility with modernity.

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

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    Abou El Fadl writes from his personal Muslim perspective. He deals with the major sociopolitical, moral, and theological problems Muslim societies face in the contemporary age. He particularly focuses on how to reconcile Islamic ethical teaching with modern sensibilities, including reasonableness, goodness, justice, human rights, and democratic culture. He also calls for a new methodology to reinterpret scriptural sources of Islam and understanding of the modern world.

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  • Afsaruddin, Asma. Contemporary Issues in Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

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    Afsaruddin analyzes key controversial issues of contemporary Islam within a larger historical context and presents the complexities of Islamic tradition in modern times. She challenges the notion that the Islamic tradition is unchangeable and unable to respond to the modern world. Instead, she shows multiple interpretations of Islam that are compatible with modernity, democracy, gender justice, religious freedom, and interfaith relations. This text would be useful for graduate and undergraduate teaching.

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  • Moosa, Ebrahim. “The Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam.” In Progressive Muslims on Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. Edited by Omid Safi, 111–127. Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 2003.

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    Moosa examines major contemporary intellectual challenges that Muslims face today. He proposes a dialectical engagement between the Islamic tradition and modern human knowledge and experiences to reconceptualize Islamic intellectual thought and Muslim culture in the modern world.

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  • Moosa, Ebrahim. “Transitions in the ‘Progress’ of Civilization: Theorizing History, Practice, and Tradition.” In Voices of Islam: Voices of Change. Edited by Vincent J. Cornell and Omid Safi, 115–130. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007.

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    Moosa critically discusses and conceptualizes what progressive Islam is, the ways it differs from Islamic orthodoxy, and the challenges it faces today. He also discusses the importance of Islamic tradition and history, and the notion of progress in the formation of progressive Islam.

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  • Safi, Omid. “Progressive Islam in America.” In A Nation of Religions. Edited by Stephen R. Prothero, 43–60. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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    Safi discusses the main premises of progressive Islam and conceptualizes it. Then he analyzes the emergence of progressive Islam in the context of America, its sociopolitical dynamics, and its challenges.

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  • Safi, Omid, ed. Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003.

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    This edited volume emerged in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. Its introduction is a good overview of the basic themes and approaches of progressive/reformist Muslims. It reexamines key contemporary and controversial issues Muslims face today. It also develops an internal criticism toward apologetic and fundamentalist views and practices within Muslim culture and promotes a new understanding of Islam that is rooted in social justice, pluralism, and gender equality.

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Islam, Politics, and Democracy

The complex relationship between Islam and political systems, particularly democracy, has been the subject of widespread debate both in Muslim and Western societies in recent decades. The dominant traditionalist and fundamentalist discourses have claimed that Islam and democracy are incompatible. However, a small group of reformist thinkers, mostly residing in the United States, have developed Islamic arguments that would be appealing to mainstream Muslims in favor of democracy and even tolerant of secularism. Sachedina 2001 looks for foundations of democratic pluralism in Islam through a critical examination of Islamic history and the Qurʾanic verses. Abou El Fadl 2003 and Abou El Fadl 2004 argue that Islamic moral teaching has important potential to support democracy, and thus supports the compatibility of Islam and democratic norms. Afsaruddin 2006 questions the legitimacy of the so-called Islamic State and argues that Islamic teaching resonates with modern democratic norms and values. An-Naʿim 2008 advocates for a natural secular state in Muslim politics in order to create a peaceful and free society. By the same line of reasoning, Hashemi 2009 supports the development of liberal democracy through homegrown secularism in Muslim societies. The chapters of Afsaruddin 2015 provide historical evidence and hermeneutical tools to prove Islam’s compatibility with democracy. Khan 2019 conceptualizes a new form of Islamic political philosophy to support fundamental moral virtues supporting democracy in Muslim politics.

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. “Islam and the Challenge of Democratic Commitment.” Fordham International Law Journal 27 (2003): 4–71.

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    Abou El Fadl questions whether Islamic moral values and democratic commitments are compatible. He has an optimistic perspective about that question and argues that Islam has certain values and resources that support a form of the democratic political system.

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  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy. Edited by Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400873203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Abou El Fadl’s introductory and concluding essays discuss whether Islam can support democracy. He argues that Islam contains practical and interpretive resources that can be developed into a democratic political system. He also provides religious rationales to convince Muslims to see constitutional democracy as the most ethical and appropriate system for today’s Muslims.

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  • Afsaruddin, Asma. “‘The Islamic State’: Genealogy, Facts, and Myths.” Journal of Church and State 48 (2006): 153–173.

    DOI: 10.1093/jcs/48.1.153Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Afsaruddin argues that the notion of the so-called Islamic State does not have a historical or scriptural basis, and that it has mostly emerged as a consequence of Muslims’ sociopolitical experiences and encounters with other nations or cultures. Instead, she says that Qurʾanic teaching resonates with political consultation, accountability, and democratic culture.

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  • Afsaruddin, Asma. Contemporary Issues in Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

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    Afsaruddin analyzes the contemporary sociopolitical and religious issues of Muslims within a larger historical perspective. She pays especially close attention to how modern reformist Muslim thinkers use discursive strategies and hermeneutical tools to negotiate Islam’s relationships with politics, democracy, jihad, and the caliphate in chapters 3 and 5. She openly presents liberal arguments regarding Islam’s compatibility with democratic politics and values.

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  • An-Naʿim, Abdullahi Ahmed. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shariʿa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674033764Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An-Naʿim provides powerful theological arguments for abandoning the idea of establishing the so-called Islamic State in Muslim societies. He claims the state’s enforcement of Sharia on all citizens violates their freedom of conscience and their human rights, both of which Islam supports. He calls for an institutional separation of religion and state. He analyzes the complex relationships between Islam and the state in India, Turkey, and Indonesia.

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  • Hashemi, Nader. Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195321241.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hashemi examines the complex relationships between liberal democracy, religion, and secularism through theoretical and historical perspectives in the contemporary Muslim world. He challenges the idea that liberal democracy requires secularism. Instead, Hashemi argues that Muslims can develop indigenous forms of secularism to recognize the role of religion in public life and to support liberal democracy.

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  • Khan, M. A. Muqtedar. Islam and Good Governance: A Political Philosophy of Ihsan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-54832-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Khan develops a new form of Islamic political thought through the notion of Ihsan. He pushes Muslims to think beyond the popular and oppressive models of Islamic governances and states prevalent today. Instead, he defends virtues such as good deeds, love, forgiveness, and mercy in politics. Those values also support a form of Muslim politics that is more compatible with democracy, human rights, and pluralism.

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  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195139914.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sachedina reexamines Islam’s potential for religious tolerance and pluralism through a Qurʾanic perspective. He seeks to demonstrate that many verses of the Qurʾan and practices of the Prophet Muhammed support religious pluralism and democratic culture. He questions the validity of exclusivist interpretations within Islam, which see other faith traditions in unequal terms. He also proposes the reinterpretation of scriptural resources to respond to modern sociological circumstances.

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Gender Justice, Sexuality, and Islamic Feminism

Gender justice has been a central theme of many reformists’ scholarly works due to the widespread injustices Muslim women face in many aspects of social life. Thus, reformist thinkers have supported gender-egalitarian interpretations of the Qurʾan, Sunnah, and Islamic jurisprudence. They often advocate for a holistic and contextual reading of the Qurʾan rather than atomistic exegesis, and they point out several male-dominant interpretations of Islamic resources. In order to unsettle these interpretations, reformists have tried to reconstruct the male perspective with a more balanced view. Al-Hibri 1997 is an early scholarly study that questions the patriarchal culture in Muslim societies and attempts to develop the rights of women. Wadud 1999 is another early pioneering study on feminist interpretation of the Qurʾan. Wadud 2006 extends and clarifies the author’s ideas on gender justice and reform with personal anecdotes from her life. Abou El Fadl 2001 questions the authority in Islamic resources and the dominant, unjust discourses regarding the rights of women. Barlas 2019 uses a woman’s perspective to criticize certain patriarchal readings of the Qurʾan and focuses on egalitarian interpretations of it. Ali 2016 criticizes and reconstructs the legacy of Islamic jurisprudence and the Qurʾan on the rights of women to respond to the sensibilities of modern sexuality. Hidayatullah 2014 systematically and critically analyzes the views, methodologies, and findings of modern Muslim feminist scholars in the United States. Kugle 2010 questions whether the Islamic tradition recognizes the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people.

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority, and Women. Oxford: Oneworld, 2001.

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    Abou El Fadl calls for a comprehensive reform of Islamic juridical authority (Sharia) in line with modern universal and Islamic ethical values rather than narrow sectarian doctrines. He argues that various Islamic laws and resources have been misinterpreted by certain groups, which has led to injustice toward women. Chapters 6 and 7 critically analyze controversial Islamic views on the status of women in Muslim communities.

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  • Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qurʾan, Hadith, and Jurisprudence. Exp. and rev. ed. Oxford: Oneworld, 2016.

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    First published in 2006, this work provides constructive critical engagement with Islamic jurisprudence, Qurʾan, and the Hadiths in response to the challenges of contemporary sexuality and Muslim ethics. It also discusses the possibilities of renewing Muslim ethical thought in modern societies. The book covers crucial topics such as marriage, divorce, concubinage, illicit sex, same-sex intimacy, female circumcision, and modern Muslim sensibilities. An ideal text for graduate and advanced undergraduate readers.

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  • Barlas, Asma. “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qurʾan. Rev. ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019.

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    The book was first published in 2002. It is a prominent text for gender-egalitarian and feminist readings of the Qurʾan. It not only challenges patriarchal and fundamentalist interpretations of the Qurʾan, but also offers a possibility of creating Islamic frameworks to establish gender justice from the Qurʾanic perspective. The book analyzes many topics, including marriage, divorce, men’s presumed role as an authority, sexuality, and polygamy from a Muslim perspective.

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  • al-Hibri, Azizah. “Islam, Law and Custom: Redefining Muslim Women’s Rights.” American University International Law Review 12.1 (1997): 1–44.

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    As one of the earliest American scholarly studies in Islamic women’s rights, al-Hibri examines whether patriarchy is an inherent part of Islamic law or a reflection of the cultural context in which Islamic jurisprudence has developed. She calls for a holistic reading of the Qurʾan to eliminate the consequences of cultural patriarchy and focuses on a reinterpretation of Islamic laws regarding women’s rights, including men’s authority over women’s bodies, divorces, and education.

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  • Hidayatullah, Aysha. Feminist Edges of the Qurʾan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199359561.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hidayatullah critically synthesizes the works of prominent self-identified contemporary Muslim feminist scholars who reside in the United States and propose feminist interpretations of the Qurʾan. Hidayatullah deeply engages with these scholars’ works and analyzes their sociopolitical and historical context. She provides an important critique of their methods, approaches, and conclusions on the production of feminist exegeses of the Qurʾan. It is a useful text for graduate readers.

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  • Kugle, Scott Siraj al-Haqq. Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. Oxford: Oneworld, 2010.

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    Kugle has a reformist approach regarding the widespread perception that Islam is incompatible with homosexuality. He challenges traditional negative perceptions on the status of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in the Islamic tradition through the support of religious resources and rationales from history, reinterpretation of Islamic law (fiqh), and critical scriptural sources. The arguments of the book eventually accommodate homosexuality in Islam.

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  • Wadud, Amina. Qurʾan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    The book is an early prominent example of a feminist commentary on the Qurʾan and a critique of patriarchal interpretations on the status of women in Muslim societies and the West. It promotes a holistic understanding of the Qurʾan, and analyzes several controversial verses from this perspective. The book also investigates the intention of the Qurʾan on the position of women in society and family life.

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  • Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

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    Wadud criticizes male-dominant interpretations of the Qurʾan and the Hadiths. She aims to reconstruct the Islamic tradition from within to promote gender inclusivity through indigenous religious ideas. She also promotes the alignment of Islamic thought and practices with universal values and human rights. The book also has an autobiographical aspect and includes many details of Wadud’s struggles related to gender justice.

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Religious Freedom, Pluralism, and Interfaith Dialogue

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, one of the most pressing issues in modern societies has been whether Islam supports religious pluralism and freedom. The emergence of radical groups, the existence of apostasy laws, and various social restrictions in the Muslim world have also created reservations about Islam’s ability to support pluralistic public life and religious freedom. Many scholars, journalists, and politicians have criticized the Islamic tradition and Muslim societies for their lack of religious freedom. Relatively speaking, many Muslim-majority countries appear less free than Western countries today. Consequently, reformist scholars have reexamined the Islamic tradition and sought out the root causes of the lack of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and examined the ethical possibility of pluralistic cultures. Reformists argued that apostasy laws and policies, as well as discourses restricting religious pluralism, are contrary to the ethos of modern human rights standards and the spirit of Islamic teaching. In this context, Sachedina 2001 argues that the Islamic tradition has important potential to facilitate pluralistic public order and religious freedom in society, but such developments would require a reinterpretation of the text. Abou El Fadl 2002 argues that Islam has a rich tradition of religious tolerance, but many existing extremist thoughts and actions have emerged from sociopolitical conflicts. Sachedina 2010 discusses the significance of religious pluralism today and reinterprets Islamic legacy to advance pluralism in Muslim societies. Afsaruddin 2011 analyzes various verses from the Qurʾan to advocate religious pluralism, freedom, and mutual understanding between different faith traditions and communities. Lamptey 2014 promotes a new understanding of Islamic discourses to have a more inclusive framework on religious pluralism and freedom.

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. “The Place of Tolerance in Islam.” In The Place of Tolerance in Islam. Edited by Khaled Abou El Fadl, Joshua Cohen, and Ian Lague, 3–26. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002.

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    Abou El Fadl’s introductory and closing essays argue that Islam has a strong tradition of religious tolerance. He also claims that the so-called holy war called jihad doesn’t have a basis in the Qurʾan. Instead, he claims that violence and injustices against non-Muslims stem from a misinterpretation of the Qurʾan. These injustices come into existence due to sociopolitical conflicts rather than religious readings.

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  • Afsaruddin, Asma. “Finding Common Ground: ‘Mutual Knowing,’ Moderation, and the Fostering of Religious Pluralism.” In Learned Ignorance: Intellectual Humility among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Edited by James L. Heft, Reuven Firestone, and Omid Safi, 67–88. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199769308.003.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Afsaruddin writes her article in the aftermath of 9/11 and analyzes various verses from the Qurʾan. She analyzes the intellectual legacy of reformist Muslims in recent history to construct universal ethical principles that may help to build respect for (a) religious diversity, (b) commonality of human beings based on ethical behaviors rather than religious orientations, and (c) moderation for key aspects of righteous believers.

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  • Lamptey, Jerusha Tanner. Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199362783.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lamptey proposes alternative hermeneutical and theoretical perspectives through the works of contemporary American Muslim feminist scholars to reinterpret Qurʾanic discourses on religious pluralism, difference, and other faiths. She also challenges traditional Islamic discourses that have an exclusivist approach to other believers. Instead, she articulates a more integrated understanding of religious pluralism for a new Muslim theology.

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  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195139914.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sachedina questions whether Islam supports religious freedom and pluralism through a Qurʾanic perspective. He argues that many verses of the Qurʾan and the legacy of the Prophet Muhammed can be interpreted in favor of religious pluralism and democratization. He questions the legitimacy of exclusivist discourses within Islamic traditions that consider other faith traditions as unequally valid. He also proposes the reinterpretation of Islamic law to respond to modern sociological transformations.

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  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. “Advancing Religious Pluralism in Islam.” Religion Compass 4.4 (2010): 221–233.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00207.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sachedina emphasizes the importance of religious pluralism for today’s societies and criticizes traditionalists’ lack of engagement with it. He also explains how the Muslims’ sociohistorical experiences led to exclusivist discourses and practices regarding pluralism. He then reinterprets Islamic resources to advance pluralism in Muslim discourse and practices.

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Human Rights

According to reformist Muslims, the Islamic world faces a deep human rights crisis today. Some injustices, especially against women and religious minorities, have often been legitimized by religious rationales and justifications. Thus, reformists have developed their ideas through indigenous Islamic arguments to convince mainstream traditional Muslims to eliminate the existing injustices. Another major debate has been whether Islam is compatible with modern secular human rights discourses and theories, because many Muslims still perceive modern human rights as a production of Western values, individualism, and secularism. Therefore, many Muslims think that modern human rights are inherently incompatible with Islamic faith and worldviews. However, reformists believe that Muslims can receive substantial insights into modern human rights to advance the conditions of human rights in the Muslim world. Thus, reformists advocate for a critical engagement with modern theories and practices to improve human rights in Muslim societies. The works listed here present the critical and dialectical engagements of reformist Muslims with modern human rights theories and practices. An-Naʿim 1990 is based on early scholarly studies on reforming the practices and theories of human rights in the Islamic tradition. Moosa 2004 analyzes major challenges Muslims face to adapt modern human rights into Muslim societies. Abou El Fadl 2009 discusses the possibilities of reconciling Islamic traditions with commitments to modern human rights. Sachedina 2009a offers a systematic and theoretically rich analysis of the issues surrounding the compatibility of the Islamic tradition with modern secular human rights discourses. Sachedina 2009b emphasizes overlapping concerns between moral principles originating in the Islamic tradition and ethical values of modern secular bioethics; it also responds to modern medical and ethical challenges. An-Naʿim 2011 offers faith-based theoretical perspectives on the development of human rights in the global context and particularly in Muslim societies.

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. “The Human Rights Commitment in Modern Islam.” In WANTED: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family. Edited by Zainah Anwar, 113–178. Selangor, Malaysia: Musawah, 2009.

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    Abou El Fadl analyzes the major tensions between the Islamic juristic legacy and modern human rights systems. He also critically explores the capacity of Islamic moral tradition to reconcile it with the sensibilities of modern human rights discourses.

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  • An-Naʿim, Abdullahi Ahmed. Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990.

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    This book is a good example of early reformist works. An-Naʿim undertakes the intellectual challenges of modern sociopolitical and legal developments and seeks a radical reassessment of Islamic law using a new methodology to reconcile it with the demands of modern human rights, international law, criminal justice, and constitutionalism. He eschews merely secularist or fundamentalist perspectives, building instead on religious resources and indigenous rationales to convince Muslim communities.

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  • An-Naʿim, Abdullahi Ahmed. Muslims and Global Justice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

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    The book comprises eleven edited essays written in the last two decades. An-Naʿim reconciles his Muslim identity with his strong commitment to the development of human rights in the global context. He provides various theoretical approaches to advance global justice from an Islamic perspective. He also critically analyzes the role of Muslims and Islamic scripture in the development of global justice.

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  • Moosa, Ebrahim. “The Dilemma of Islamic Rights Schemes.” Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise 1.1 (2004): 1–25.

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    Moose examines the modern challenges and dilemmas of establishing a working system for human rights in Muslim communities. He also critically analyzes traditional Islamic thought and discourses on human rights. He proposes a reconstructionist approach toward the legacy of Islamic jurisprudence to create more just and inclusive human rights theories and practices for Muslims.

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  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009a.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388428.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sachedina discusses whether Muslims should support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and analyzes how Muslims can accommodate it in their societies through the pluralist tradition of Islam. He also advocates for an ethical-theological overlapping consensus and dialogue between secular Western and Islamic worldviews to establish a working human rights system in modern societies. He examines women’s rights, individual and collective rights, and religious freedom from the abovementioned perspective. An ideal text for graduate and advanced undergraduate readers.

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  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. Islamic Biomedical Ethics: Principles and Application. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009b.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195378504.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sachedina links the moral principles derived from Islamic theology and jurisprudence with the ethical practices of modern secular bioethics. He argues that many religious principles of Islam share common values with secular and other religiously oriented traditions. He responds to the critical challenges Muslims face today in medicine, including organ transplant, euthanasia, abortion, and technically assisted reproduction.

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Scholarly Studies Examining the Works of Reformist American Muslims

The studies mentioned here are scholarly resources that examine the works of reformist Muslims through various methodological and theoretical perspectives in different disciplines. Duderija 2017 defines the meaning of progressive Islam and its major themes through an analysis of the writings produced by prominent reformist thinkers primarily located in Europe and the United States. Hidayatullah 2014 critically assesses the works of contemporary Muslim feminist scholars residing in the United States. Rahemtulla 2017 analyzes how reformist Muslims framed the Qurʾan as a source of liberation to deal with major social injustices in modern societies. Tanriverdi 2019 examines the works of American reformist Muslim intellectuals and analyzes their dialectical engagement with modernity.

  • Duderija, Adis. The Imperatives of Progressive Islam. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315438849Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Duderija synthesizes the works of leading progressive and reformist thinkers mostly living in the West, and particularly in the United States. The book provides various definitions and theoretical discussions about progressive/reformist Islam. It also introduces its major themes, including epistemological reform, gender justice, pluralism, human rights, new hermeneutics, and liberation theology. It is recommended for graduate-level readers who want to study the contemporary Muslim reformist thinkers.

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  • Hidayatullah, Aysha. Feminist Edges of the Qurʾan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199359561.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hidayatullah offers a critical, comprehensive reassessment of the views, approaches, and context of the leading feminist and reformist American Muslim scholars, including Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Kecia Ali, Azizah al-Hibri, and Riffat Hassan. Hidayatullah asks critical questions about their methodological strengths and identifies the limitations of the Islamic feminism produced by these scholars. It is recommended for graduate level studies.

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  • Rahemtulla, Shadaab. Qurʾan of the Oppressed Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198796480.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rahemtulla provides an in-depth, comparative reading of prominent reformist thinkers Farid Esack, Asghar Ali Engineer, Amina Wadud, and Asma Barlas. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on American scholars Wadud and Barlas. Rahemtulla critically analyzes and conceptualizes how these thinkers framed the Qurʾan as a text of liberation to confront major challenges of modern societies, including racism, lack of interreligious dialogue, gender injustice, and patriarchy. A good introduction to contemporary Islamic thought concerning social justice.

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  • Tanriverdi, Serhan. “New Reformer Voices of Islam: American Muslim Intellectuals’ Pursuit of Justice, Liberty, and Equality.” PhD diss., Loyola University Chicago, 2019.

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    Tanriverdi examines the works of prominent reformist Muslim intellectuals through close readings of their works and interviews. He analyzes how and to what extent reformist American Muslim intellectuals reform Muslims’ social thoughts in the areas of democracy, religious freedom, and gender justice, and how they critically engage with modernity. He argues that endeavors of reformist Muslims build Islamic modernism, but it takes a different form and orientation than Western modernity.

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