The Imperatives of Progressive Islam

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Adis Duderija
  • New York, NY: 
    , February
     206 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Islam today is in crisis. Muslims around the world are doing some deep soul-searching to recapture, rethink, and perhaps reform the religion of Islam—partly as a collective response to Radical Islamism, which has problematized contemporary Islam. Others have a stake in this question—and in this quest—of reconceptualizing Islamic precept and praxis. To the extent that current events, as understandably sensationalized by the press, are filled with reportage on the so-called “Islamic State” (which has fanned the flames of Islamophobia), those impacted by Radical Islamism are part of the wider audience. Adis Duderija’s The Imperatives of Progressive Islam is a summit conference, by proxy, of leading “progressive” Muslim scholars who have served as leaders of this collective, yet largely unorchestrated movement.

What, then, is “Progressive Islam”? Author Adis Duderija is coy in response: “Therefore, this study does not offer a fixed and final definition of progressive Muslim thought” (3, my emphasis added). What this book does offer is a set of “imperatives”—an agenda and methodology for the exploration and development of Islamic reform. Each of these “imperatives” constitutes a chapter, to wit: (1) the poiesis imperative; (2) the epistemological imperative; (3) the religious pluralism imperative; (4) the Islamic liberation theology imperative; (5) the human rights imperative; (6) the ethical imperative in Islamic jurisprudence/law; (7) the gender-justice imperative; and (8) the imperative of non-patriarchal Islamic hermeneutics.

These chapters may be briefly and sequentially described as follows: Chapter 1 exclusively focuses on the work of Ebrahim Moosa, a major progressive Muslim theoretician who also contributed the book’s “Foreword.” Chapter 2 presents the views of several progressive Muslim thinkers—primarily Muhammad Shahrur, Khaled Abou El Fadl, and Abdolkarim Soroush—on Islamic epistemology, especially by engaging with contemporary “epistemological cosmopolitanism.” Chapter 3 highlights the views of Abdolkarim Soroush and Tariq Ramadan as to the ethics of religious pluralism and the question of the salvation of non-Muslims. Chapter 4 features the views of Ali Ashgar Engineer Farid Esack, Hasan Hanafi, and Shabbir Akhtar, who are leading progressive Muslim liberation theologians. Chapter 5 focuses on the works of Muhammad Abed Al-Jabiri, Abdulaziz Sachedina, Khaled Abou El Fadl, and Ebrahim Moosa, with respect to resonances between modern human rights discourses and progressive Muslim perspectives. Chapter 6 showcases the scholarship of two progressive Muslim scholars, Abdullah Saeed and Hashim Kamali, and as to the ethical dimension of Islamic jurisprudence. Chapter 7 illustrates “gender-justice” by privileging the scholarship and social work of three progressive Muslim scholars: Ziba-Mir Hosseini, Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, and Farid Esack. Chapter 8 discusses the work of progressive Muslim feminists—Amina Wudud, Asthma Barlas, Nasr Abu Zayd, Mohsen Kadivar, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Sa’diyya Shaikh, and the author himself—in formulating a “non-patriarchal” Islamic hermeneutics.

So what’s the take-away? Is the reader any closer to an understanding and appreciation of the core values and tenets—if definable—of “progressive Islam”? If I may, this much can be said: as a manifesto in pursuit of Islamic reform, “progressive Islam” stands for the following propositions (“imperatives”) that, together, cohere and synergize as models for reconceptualizing Islam, by privileging quintessential Islamic values over unblinkingly strict adherence to the letter of Islamic law. Progressive Muslims are encouraged to: (1) “fruitfully engage with the Islamic tradition” (30); (2) pursue “a much-needed ‘reform’ of Islam … premised on not only the possibility but desirability and necessity of epistemological progressivism” (54); (3) legitimize “the idea of divinely willed religious pluralism in the context of the late modern episteme” (56); (4) find “inspiration in movements and schools of thought that are not necessarily part of the historical experience of Islam’s concrete historical trajectory but which are considered as being in accordance with its overall ideals, values, objectives, and, therefore, imperatives” especially as exemplified by “Christian (or more precisely Catholic) liberation theology” (75); (5) “theoretically affirm the conceptual compatibility between Islamic doctrine and the modern human rights scheme” (99); (6) engage in “discovering or recovering the ethical (and the rational) in Islamic ethics and jurisprudence” using “approaches” that are “accommodative of and exist in harmony with contemporary conceptualizations of ethico-moral values such as contemporary conceptualizations of justice and equality” (146); (7) offer a “critique of gender ideologies embedded in classical Muslim family laws and in the engendering of alternative views on normative gender relations which are receptive to international human rights understandings of justice and fairness as concepts, and which are seen to be more in tune with the values underpinning the normative Qur’an-Sunna teachings” (166); and (8) develop “systematic and sophisticated non-patriarchal Qur’an-Sunna/hadith hermeneutical models which affirm gender-just interpretations of Islam … characterized by rationalist, contextualist-driven, and holistic hermeneutics which privilege the purposive and values-based approach to the Islamic tradition, as embodied in certain values considered to form the very core and spirit of Islam such as justice, fairness, and mercy” (190).

The strength of this book is its close attention paid to “progressive” Muslim models that creatively yet systematically facilitate rethinking all things Islamic. What remains to be done is to “translate” these theoretical paradigms into discrete, real-world applications so that readers may move from the abstract to the concrete “real” in developing pragmatic proposals for Islamic reform that conserve and preserve the spirit of Islamic principles, while reformulating Islamic practices in contemporary contexts.

Although the “intended readership” is the “non-specialist” (ix), Duderija’s The Imperatives of Progressive Islam is as technical as it is articulate. It is recommended for university libraries with graduate programs in Islamic studies, and for readers seriously intrigued by the grand project of “Islamic reform.”

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Buck is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
May 29, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Adis Duderija is lecturer, Study of Islam and Society, Griffith University, Australia. His research focuses on Islamic, interfaith and gender issues.



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