Understand: what is liberal Islam?

Understand: what is liberal Islam?

► What are the specificities of liberal Islam compared to traditional orthodoxy?

This theology brings about two major reversals compared to a classic conception of Islam, widespread as much in the majority Sunni current as in the Shiite current.

First reversal, liberal Islam emphasizes the importance of the freedom of the individual in his relationship with God, whereas it is rather respect for Islamic norms which traditionally occupies a major place in the life of faith. Muslims. Liberal Islam thus encourages believers to build their relationship with God over time, without giving in to conformism which would be imposed from the outset.

“A liberal Muslim will not feel trapped in a pre-established framework, telling himself that he is committing a sin if he does not respect to the letter the dogma set by religious institutions. The question is no longer of this order, it is a constant quest for the very meaning of the relationship with God.summarizes Omero Marongiu-Perria, Muslim theologian and sociologist, who edited the work What is liberal Islam? (read below).

Liberal theology thus recognizes the pre-eminence of values ​​inherited from the Enlightenment, while conservative Islam can come into conflict with some of them. For example, against the ideal of equality, classic Muslim law authorizes the hierarchy between Muslims and non-Muslims. On the contrary, the liberal approach tends to integrate the achievements of modernity, and opens the way to the imamate of women. Kahina Bahloul, Eva Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay, the three French women imams, claim this theology.

Second major change introduced by liberal Islam: the historicization of religious texts, including the Koran. Liberal theologians are interested in the context in which the Prophet Mohammed evolved. The objective? Try to understand how dogmas, considered today as intangible, were gradually established.

This approach goes against the idea that the Koran is a divine dictation, the most widespread conception in Islam since it was adopted by the Sunnis in the 13th century. On the contrary, liberal theologians consider that the Prophet Mohammed is more than a simple receiver of the divine message. “Most liberals consider that the Koran is of divine source, but that the prophet translated the word of God to make it understandable to his contemporaries”details the philosopher and theologian Faker Korchane.

► What is the genealogy of this theology?

It is difficult to precisely date its appearance. If we stick to its contemporary form of questioning dogmas and rites, the liberal approach dates back to the turn of the 20th century. “The Ottoman Empire was in decline at that time, explains Omero Marongiu-Perria. Muslim theologians attempt to understand the causes of this decadence, and to outline avenues of renewal for Islam in modernity. Two movements then emerged: one would become the liberal and secular matrix, and the other the Islamist matrix, advocating from that time a return to the foundations. » Figures like the theologian and imam Amin Al Khuli, precursor of literary criticism of the Koran, will then open the way to historical criticism of Islamic texts, dear to most liberal theologians.

But for intellectuals who believe that liberal theology is mainly due to the freedom of interpretation granted to Muslims, this approach would be almost contemporary with Islam. Faker Korchane thus believes that it was born with the Mutazilite school, also known as the school of rationality. “If the liberal approach is defined as we understand it among the Mutazilites, in the sense of empowering believers and emphasizing the freedom of interpretation of texts, it was born not even a century after the death of the prophet, in the 8th century »underlines the theologian and co-founder of the Association for the Revival of Mutazilite Islam.

► How does liberal Islam translate into religious practice?

For liberal Muslims, dogmas and rites remain important, but they are not immediately imposed on every believer. Religious practice being based on the understanding of the texts specific to each believer, and on their responsibility, it can be very eclectic.

Some liberal Muslims respect the traditional normative framework, while others free themselves from it completely. For example, they can pray once instead of five a day, because that is what makes sense to them. “Other liberal believers follow the dogmas set by institutions, but retranslate them so that they are compatible with the demands of current society, describes Omero Marongiu-Perria. The two French liberal mosques, Simorgh and Fatima, celebrate Friday prayers at the end of the day instead of at the beginning of the afternoon, because this is the time which best allows for meditation after work time. »

► What does this approach represent in Islam today?

The liberal attitude is very much in the minority among practicing Muslims in France. Of the 3,000 mosques registered in the country, none claim to follow this theology. “Many Muslims are de facto liberal, but detached from the religious environment, because it is not able to offer them a space in which they can flourish. It’s the same as for Catholics who don’t find themselves in mass »underlines Omero Marongiu-Perria.

Initiatives have emerged in recent years to allow the liberal faithful to share their life of faith. The liberal Fatima and Simorgh mosques are an example. These are not physical places, due to lack of funding, but rooms are rented every Friday to allow the faithful to pray together.


The book. The origins of a minority current

What is liberal Islam?

by Omero Marongiu-Perria (dir.), Baudouin Heuninckx, Faker Korchane, Michaël Privot

Atlande, 174 p., €19

What is liberal Islam? opens with the evocation of the history of a Jewish movement. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Haskala strongly challenged Jewish rites deemed obsolete in the era of modernity. Taking this example and that of liberal Protestantism, Omero Marongiu-Perria draws the main lines of a liberal approach to the study of religious texts and dogmas. The objective? Show the specificities of this approach in the Muslim religion, where it has always been in an extremely minority. This work thus makes it possible to bring together in a single place a variety of Muslim intellectuals whose work has nourished liberal Islamic theology, without necessarily claiming to do so. But also to pay tribute to the theologians who paid with their lives for their unconventional approach to Islam.


Freedom and responsibility in the relationship with God

Liberal Islam makes two major reversals from traditional orthodoxy. Inspired by the values ​​of the Enlightenment, the proponents of this approach insist on the importance of the freedom and responsibility of the believer in his relationship with God, even if it means calling into question established dogmas. Liberal theologians are also interested in the history of the Koran, to understand how Islamic norms, considered today as intangible, were gradually put in place.

The contemporary liberal approach appeared at the turn of the 20th century. But some theologians consider her to be almost contemporary with the Prophet Mohammed. Indeed, from the 8th century, the Mutazilite school insisted on the importance of the rationality of the believer in his relationship to religious texts.

None of the 3,000 French mosques claim to follow liberal theology. This approach is very much in the minority, even if small groups of liberal Muslims are beginning to organize themselves.

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