Posted by: Dawud Israel | March 5, 2008

Dissecting the Progressive Muslim mind

Muslim Matters had an interesting article regarding the importance of Hadith in Islam. The critics of hadith are commonly dubbed “Progressive Muslims” and I wouldn’t be surprised if they enjoy being the object of hate for all Muslims. It’s strange because the battle between is often between the Muslim Activist and the Progressive Muslim.

In regards to discussion regarding hadith there are a few issues that come up and we can understand why the Progressives think the way they do:

Seeing the horrible condition of Muslims around the world and in the West it’s not hard to get frustrated. With the limitless variety of problems and causes of those problems–is there any one thing that can be blamed for everything? No and so it’s easy to get even more frustrated. So what do they blame it on? The one thing that they all have in common: Islam. It may be a cultural, political or something else altogether but they almost psychologically need something to blame it on and Islam to them seems the easiest answer.

Then they push it a little further. It is of no doubt to most Muslims that Islam is represented by the people who we can call Ahlul Hadith (the People of Hadith)–the Sunni scholars of Islam. And so most of the attacks that are made on Islam are against this group of leaders with the prime focus being attacks on Ahadith. And when they fail (which is all to often) their justification for blatantly haraam matters is little different than the 6 year-old Muslim boy who believes Rice Krispy squares are halaal (they contain gelatin so they actually aren’t) because his mother said, “Ohh don’t worry about it!”

These Progressives are usually not to different than devout Muslim Activists because they are very headstrong and rebellious but its an issue that relates to the nafs–the ego wishes to rise above Allah–that make them so problematic. They aren’t willing to submit before Allah but are all too willing to submit to themselves. But with this combination and the enemy of Ahlul Hadith before them certain things take place: Progressives make the mistake of trying to be like the people they dislike, the scholars of Islam–exactly who they are not and so their frustrations become even greater. Once more they think that the only way to solve the problems of the Ummah is to give their “reforming” viewpoints the same Absolute power that Islam has–so they try to be “Absolutist” in their arguments although by their very nature, this doesn’t work since they follow their own desires (and human desires change all the time).
All in all, Progressives are little more than sincere, well-to-do Muslims that try to be more than they are. Often times they don’t know the basics of Islam and think because they were born Muslim or because they simply say, “I believe I’m Muslim” they automatically know everything about Islam.

The thinking of the Progressive is little different from the non-Muslim or agnostic: What criteria do we have to understand the Divine when It manifests Itself physically? We have none except to recognize the overwhelming force that has come before us. But for Progressives, this is not what they envisioned the Divine force would look like and they still cannot accept it to their (lack of) criteria although they had no true criteria except the desires of their own nafs–their ego.

And without that basic understanding of Islam and learning from the scholars who have lived Islam in their lives–something that has been going on for 1400 years–these Progressives are totally helpless. We can accept that a Progressive may have a different point of view and that is fine–but when they are lying on their death-bed, what do these egotistical opinions matter before Allah? Will you argue with Allah that He has to be this-or-that because you said so? When we stand before Allah on Judgement Day, that’s it, there’s no return.

But on a more positive note there is one thing that all Muslims can learn from the Progressive Muslims:

They are known to be the most modern and yet the most “Islamically Active” Muslims today. That is to say, they are not immigrants but want to advance Muslims beyond the status quo so they use new methods that most Muslims would not think of.

Clear examples: sometimes funny, yet sometimes sacrilegious television programs such as: Little mosque on the Prairie or websites such as the HalalFire Media Network (I’m too hard-core to link to them). This is the one thing that all Muslims will respect about these Progressive groups: they want to do something good for Muslims!

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk. Ameen.


  1. AA- Dawud,

    I’m a bit troubled by your dichotomous presentation of the hadith debate. You present one side (Progressives) as mad egomaniacs with the rest of the Ummah (Ahl-Hadith) represented by scholarship.

    I don’t think its that black and white. There are many Muslims who adhere to the basic fundamentals of Islam, while constantly fighting the whisperings of the nafs, yet have trouble reconciling the troubling ahadith texts.

    Instead of corralling them in with the Progressive movement and writing them off, maybe their side of the argument should be heard and understood, no?

  2. No doubt, there is a section in the middle that some of us Muslims will be at–what I only discussed was how some moved from one end to the extreme other. The Progressives have their minds made up (or think they do) but some Muslims simply do not and are little more than undecided.

    The discussion re: practicing Muslims who have difficulty with certain ahadith (something that is natural and understandable in today’s all-too “modern” world) is something entirely different and requires serious study.

    But I am glad you mentioned this because the “Psychology of Hadith” is something I might write up on but not being a scholar it would be tricky. Jazaka Allahu khayran for the suggestion.

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