Or “liberals” as they call it …
Most of these late 19th or early 20th century Muslim liberals — who are commonly known as “Islamic modernists” — looked back at the formative centuries of Islam, and discovered some liberal themes buried under the weight of stagnant traditions. First of all, they found tolerant references in the Quran — verses declaring, “there is no compulsion in religion.” Besides, they noticed that some of the troubling hadiths (sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad) might not be authentic, and could be representing only the misogyny and the bigotry of some medieval men.
Great! But what happened?
At the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire fell, giving rise to more than a dozen nation-states, almost all of which were colonized by European powers. Colonization inevitably led to anti-colonization, and replaced liberalism with a reactionary collectivism. The question, “How can we be like the West?” got replaced by “How can we resist the West?”
Here’s the good news:
Fortunately, though, we might be at the dawn of a new era, in which the vicious cycle can be broken. The Arab Spring, at least in Tunis and Egypt, offers an important ground, by bringing Islamist parties to power, making them responsible, and forcing them to abide by demands for more democracy and freedom that are gaining ground in the Arab world.