The Need To Reform And Modernize Islam In The Face Of Escalating Terror

istanbul sultan ahmet mosque mosque

By Boto Sanneh

Some call it a clash of cultures, or of civilizations, others say it is one between different faiths, but whatever it is, it looks like one that is going to have tremendous impact on how we and our offspring will live in the future.  If they, and us as well, are going to live to see the fulfillment of the promises of the technological advances of the twenty first century or if will be rolled back to take us to the stone-age.

Nothing since the rise and fall of Nazism seems to have threatened the human collective’s way of life and security as the current worldwide surge in Islamic militancy and its inevitable degeneration into terrorism and barbarism.  Nazism was born and bred in a single national and political soil, but militant Islam has no regard for political, national  or geopolitical boundaries . Its scourge is meant for all peoples, Muslims, the Peoples of Books included,  Hindis,  Buddhists and the peoples of all other faiths and its theatre. For these so-called Jihadists all human happiness is sin and its pursuit criminal, warranting execution, not by firing squad or hanging, but by the most horrific style thinkable.  Reminiscent of followers of one pre-Islamic deity who were of the belief that in performing human sacrifices to their gods, the more savage the form of killing for the rite, the likelier of it being appreciated and blessed by them.

World leaders are seriously alarmed by the spectacular turns of the events this wave of jihadist atrocities but are yet to find suitable response to it. The flames of this jihad keeps spreading from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, country to country and from continent to continent; and soon, life as known today, will soon be gone and forgotten.

The response to the threat and danger of global jihad has met world leaders appear to have been unprepared for this and therefore can now only resort to a sort of mechanical tit for tat response. Just two years ago, removing Syrian President Assad from was the center stage of world attention. A year earlier, it was the so called “Arab Spring,” and before that, Osama Bin Laden, and so on and so forth. Why was it that a specter so global in its spread, so fundamental in its threat to our way of life could have escaped our notice so totally? Was it due to the weakness of the intelligences services of world governments or the myopia of political leaders, especially Western political leaders? Western leaders, because it has been from their ventures in Ramallah against the late PLO leader that paved the way for Hamas in Palestine for instance;  or in Afghanistan, leading to Bin Laden and his  Al Qaeda; or in Iraq, Syria and now Yemen.  But despite this, not all blame should be put at the doors of Western leaders. In fact, in my opinion, more blame should be put on the shoulders of the leaders of the Arab and Muslim world, the Muslim ulema and clergy in general. Earlier this year, I had introduced the idea of this my postulation  on the pages of  the Kaironews online paper in polemics with a certain Gambian Islamic intellectual. Then I wrote that discord and violence appear to be endemic to the body of Islam as practiced since the death the Prophet of Islam 1, 368 years ago. It was only during his lifetime that he was able to make Islam the Da’arul Islam (Abode of Peace)  he aimed at but just after his death  Islam quickly degenerated into the Da’arul Harb ( Abode of War) it has since been . I remember many saw my contribution as somewhat heretical, but I do believe  that we are currently living in times when we must decide whether to march on forward towards a glorious future or a relapse to stone-age barbarism.  The tempo, spread and increasing ferocity of the current global jihad dictates that we speak out loud and clear, sooner rather than later, which way we want to follow, and this involves coming out clean and frank.

Many there have been who have said that the Muslim world’s problem is that it has not undergone a reformation like the Christian West.  Others have countered that Muslims, by retrieving the classics of Greek science and philosophy, dragged Europe out of the dark ages and made possible the Renaissance.

But unlike Christianity, Islam, even before the death of its Holy Prophet (SAW), had  grown to become a religion of the palace, just like the Hebrew king-prophets, like Moses and Solomon. After his death Islam became a religion of the court of the king and grew to be that of the palace-religion of a conqueror emperor, passed over from one feuding dynasty to the other until it ended up in the hands of first Egyptian Mamluks and then the Ottoman Turks. There seemed to have been a deliberate reluctance on the part of the royal custodians of Islam passed, down the line, from generation to generation, to accommodate changes to cope with the times. To make a long story short,  Islam needs modernization  because Islam,  as instructed by Allah and preached by his Prophet (SAW), is radically different from Islam as practiced now and since AD632 and its peaceful co-existence side by side with other orthodoxies is becoming more and more untenable as the magnetic power of globalization increases and humans and their cultures rub against each other closer. Al Qaeda, Al Sabah, Bokul Haram, ISIL,  are all but various offshoots of the same malignity.  One important cornerstone of this my call for modernization rests on is that while the Koran is held by Muslims to be the revealed word of God to the Prophet, the Hadith, initially an orally transmitted tradition of the Prophet’s time, of the sayings and deeds attributed to him are the origin of the majority of Sharia law and have shaped current Muslim way of thinking more. So perhaps the reinterpretation of the Hadith is where any successful reformation of Islam should start from.  They were not codified until two hundred years after the Prophet’s death and therefore more liable to distortion, omissions or misinterpretation.

Hadith is a saying of Muhammad or a report about something he did. Over time, during the first few centuries of Islam, it became obvious that many so-called Hadith were in fact bogus sayings that had been fabricated for various motives, at best to encourage believers to act righteously and at worse to corrupt believers’ understanding of Islam and to lead them astray. Since Islamic legal scholars were utilizing hadith as an adjunct to the Qur’an in their development of the Islamic legal system, it became critically important to have reliable collections of Hadith. While the early collections of Hadith often contained those that were of questionable origin, gradually collections of authenticated Hadith called sahih (lit. true, correct) were compiled and canonized. Such collections were made possible by the development of the studies of Hadith criticism, a tradition at the basis of which was a critical analysis of the chain of oral transmission ,isnad, of the Hadith claiming to be from the life and times of theProphet . The two most highly respected collections of Hadith are the “authenticated” collections the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. (Sahih literally means “correct and sound.”) In addition to these, four other collections came to be well-respected, although not to the degree of Bukhari and Muslim’s sahih collections. But it has been noted and said that initially Bukhari  had managed to collect close to 600 000 assortment of Hadith. Of these he only managed to have only a little more than 2 000 “authenticated” and selected.  This goes to show the ineligibility of the Hadith as a central manual for any religious faith, especially one seen as a world religion.

There are today many modern scholars who believe many of the canonized Hadith code betray cultural traditions of  pre-Islamic Arab despotism inspired by earlier Byzantine praxis and mechanisms of social control of despotic, patriarchic and slave-owning systems of ruler-ship alien to the original message of Islam and making the articulation of modern Islamic thinking difficult, if not impossible.  At times of great challenges and uncertainties the tendency always is to seek inspiration from the past and to shy away from any attempt at revisionism. It is from the precept of holding firmly to what is known however bad than risking all to reach out for what is unknown.

Practices such as decapitation, amputation for theft, stone-throwing for fornication, veiling of women are borrowings from the Byzantine era, many of the rituals, the fasting, ablution before prayers, female genital, belief in the oneness of God, were throw-backs from Egypt of the pharaohs, via the Hebrew religion and Christianity, while  many other elements, like the factionalism, clanism, tribalism  are locally bred Arab cultural elements unique to the Arabian peninsula.  It is perhaps in the nature of this mixture of diverse cultural and social traits that we can find that which helped to make violent discord endemic to Islam and why enlightened Muslims, who are able to identify and shake off the cultural and historical baggage that goes with it, must strive to reform and modernize Islam.

This call for reform and modernization of Islam is bound to be met with widespread skepticism and condemnation but most of it will be without any theological foundation and nearly all of them assuming ignorance of the realities in the Muslim world and the consequences of its contention with the non-Muslim world and adherence to established universal norms of cross national, cultural and faith-based divergences.

One other sector of this dichotomy is of a more political character, most especially the conflict over Zionism, the occupation of Palestine and the scramble over the ancient religious metropolis of Jerusalem. This issue is like a throwback from the crusade of over a thousand years ago. Islam has been like a centerpiece of this dichotomy and all Muslims have been made to see this as part of the religious struggle that is an important tenet of its belief system. Most Muslims, whether in Asia, Africa or elsewhere are expected to embrace the Palestinian cause as one of their own and this has become the root of both the contention with West and the Arabo-centric influence of current Islamic thought and approach to world current affairs.

But today about 40 countries, the world over, consider themselves Muslim nations and non-Arabs in Africa and Asia constitute the majority of followers of the Islamic faith and must therefore strive to shift the focus of Muslim international attention from the recovery of Palestinian lands from the hands of Zionism to the more universal questions of eliminating, or reducing, poverty, want and inequality among all mankind. Islam originated from Arabia  but it is not a property of the Arabs. Islam is not proprietary as the religion of the Jews is. It has universal appeal thus a universal liability to the concerns of all humans.

So any successful reform and modernization of Islam must be coupled with a deliberate concerted effort to strip it off its current excessive Arbo-centric taint and redirect it towards a universal fight against poverty, inequality and oppressive governance as the prophet of Islam taught during his lifetime.

It is through such a course of action that Muslims today can contribute most effectively towards the defeat of the extreme and barbarous crimes now being committed in the name of the religion of the prophet of peace, Da’rul Islam.

The Western alliance is again mobilized for a global fight against jihadist terror that threaten us all but the terrorists cannot be defeated through force alone, but through ideology as well, and this can only be done through revisiting Islam itself, Particularly its many Hadith. ISIL just like Al Qaeda can be defeated militarily but that will not stop a new generation of jihadists taking from where these were stopped.


Kairo News Culture and politics Editor’s comment: The articles on religion, culture and traditions are something Kairo News publishes to intrigue and foster intellectual dialogue. Our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters must always remember that, no material is published to malign or attack any faith. Hence, the article by Boto Sanneh is accepted as something of his opinion which he shares with some segment of the Gambian intelligentsia. This comment is necessary since a Gambian Christian brother took some dislike to the article last week on the Bible. We are students of knowledge and will always welcome materials that are geared towards testing our understanding of all aspects of our lives. Thank you.


  1. ansu badgie

    True. I agree with you . If Islam is to gain the respect and defeat the negative labelling it us getting it needs to be reformed with our modern ways if life. People cannot practice Islam as if we are in the middle ages for example amputatating people, flogging etc.

  2. Sankung Jammeh, Seattle

    Listen to Dr Lawrence Brown on how he came to islam. Some answers for Boto.

  3. Don’t hijack Islam for political power purposes
    The vast majority of human beings want to have a better and peaceful life. These includes the 1.6 billion Muslims. However, less advanced societies have many issues they are struggling with. The misfortune of having a political ruling elites, in Muslim countries and Africa lacking the interest of changing their societies to international progression standards.
    The rise of competition for resources and the wish to penetrating the elites class creates many kinds of tensions. Therefore, the rise among some Muslim men resorting to using violence is marking their presence and frustration is common in recent times. We may blame many conspiracy theories for this phenomenon, however, the reality is simple.
    Our responsibility as Muslim men and women is to speak out against anyone who want to highjack our religion for political gains. Hence, let those who want to solve their countries political problems not take religious reasons as their agenda. Islam and Muslims cannot be use by pseudo politicians for their power aims. Please use politics to solve political problems.

    Use religion to solve spiritual and moral problems. Although all religions stipulate laws and governance methodologies. This should not be confused and abuse.
    The military scientist, the political scientist and the global power structures and elites will always look for opponents to engage. This is why we have multi-trillion Dollars military weaponry complexes. Without the state of war, those industries will decline.
    My advice to our religious scholars is, please don’t dabble in political games you don’t understand. You will be punching way above your weight. The traps they will set for you will consume you too easy.
    To young men, please look at the future of your life. Don’t commit acts that will put you in jail for the rest of your life. You will be a waste to your family and society. Say no to anyone who want to brainwash you into violence. It is not cool. You will bring untold pains and hardship to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
    Be peaceful and pray for peace.

  4. If one believes that Islam is a religion of choice and not compulsion as mentioned in the Qur’an chapter 2:256, why do one has to harm others on the basis that they do not believe or follow it or act in a particular way.

    Muslims must first and foremost learn and believe what they learn and submit themselves to Allah who is watching over all our deeds and would judge us and reward or punish us for actions and inactions. Therefore, acts of violence and terror are unislamic and cannot represent the religion of peace and submission.

    However, that being said, if one believes that Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an were revealed by the All knowing all wise Allah, who are we to reform or revise that text or code of deeds. How can you revise what you didn’t author. Allah said in Chapter 5:3 that he had completed the religion. Who are we to change that.

    He said in chapter 18:28 that whosoever wants you believe and whosoever wants you disbelieve. These are simple important messages Muslims must know.

    The fundamental point to me is that, Muslims should return to their religion learn and understand it. With that, they would not be used or brainwashed by anyone to commit evil or harm others nor would they be agents of saitan on earth.

  5. Musa Bitaye

    Thanks Sankung, i enjoy this other clip more.

  6. Gambia, your concern about any attempt to change the word of ALLAH is understandable. But can you see the dilemma many muslims face when you wrote “The fundamental point to me is that, Muslims should return to their religion learn and understand it” This is precisely what ISIS thinks muslims should do and it is their duty to enforce that thinking, the Wahabis say the same thing, the Shias think similarly.

    Boto’s very well argued article is not about changing the text of the Quran, which, written in 7th century Arabic, is subject to interpretation if it is to be made available to other muslims in different languages.

    Jihadism and militant islam appear to dominate main stream thinking in many muslim communities. We see signs of this even in our little Gambia, where a new generation Middle Eastern trained students are criss crossing the length and breath of our small country condemning islamic practises we learned from our forefathers. These all in the name of returning Islam to its so called origins. The hate speech that has been present in many ” Khubaahs” is what has to stop.

  7. Modou, Isis is only recruiting people who don’t learn and understand the basis of the religion. Do you think anyone who knows that killing an innocent person is punished by hell, will go ahead and plant a bomb on himself to die in what others call jihad? Where did the prophet kill innocent women and children? Where did he fight the unbelievers except when attacked.

    Would someone who knows that there is no compulsion in religion kill or hate others for not being Muslim??

    Knowing that the prophet who went to Taif and was stoned asked God to forgive them would make Muslims patient and understanding towards those that differ.

    The last revealed verses of the Qur’an makes peace between Muslims and non Muslims even making it lawful to eat their food and marry their women. Where now is the basis for all this enmity between people of various religions??

    Evil acts committed by a Muslim must not be seen as a reflection of this religion but rather an actions of an individual.

    God’s words are universal and are timeless. Hence interpreting them on your own wish only leads you away from guidance.

    Know Allah, fear him and be mindful of your actions. It is this that matters to you not what others do. If we do this, we won’t be in this situation that makes Islam seem as evil instead of the glad tiding of worldly and eternal peace.

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