Economist: IN GREAT spiritual traditions, followers are often presented with two distinct phenomena: a supreme moment of divine revelation, and a tradition spanning many centuries in which teachers or clerics have distilled the contents of that revelation and delivered it to their contemporaries. Most people think of Islam, especially in the form that is now resurgent across the world, as skewed towards the first kind of religion. That is because of Islam’s overwhelming stress on the unchanging text of the Koran which is believed to be God’s ultimate word.
Indeed, especially after 9/11, a new Western critique of Islam came into vogue. While other world religions, including Christianity, were said to have mellowed through generations of reflection and adaptation, it was argued that no such process had taken place among the Muslims. As part of this sceptical case, it was recalled that in the third century of Islam’s existence, it was widely proclaimed that the gates of ijtihad—the struggle to solve ethical or legal problems with the aid of human reasoning—had been closed; all outstanding issues were seen as settled. In other words, Islam might once have been on the brink of spawning an evolving, dynamic tradition, but instead it fossilised.