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IslamQA: Is it wrong to not be a traditionalist Muslim?

Is it wrong to not be a traditionalist Muslim? I am a Muslim and I value Islamic tradition and history, but we are now living in a different era and probably there are things that is irrelevant to us now, like hand-cutting or stone-throwing.

Every generation of Muslims faces the challenge of reconciling Islamic tradition with the needs of the current age. So our Islam should be derived from a living tradition that constantly goes back to the sources, questions past assumptions, and tries to come to new conclusions and answers where necessary.

The proper way to do that is to understand the difference between what is essential and unchangeable in Islam and what is changeable. The Quran is our unchanging foundation, although as our knowledge increases we may understand it better and change some of our opinions about it. When it comes to hadith, things are different because new research constantly helps us differentiate between the different levels of authenticity that different narrations have. While the generation of scholars in the year 1500 CE may have considered a particular set of hadiths to be reliable, 500 years later, due to new discoveries we may be able to judge those hadiths differently.

The cutting of the hands of thieves and the throwing of stones during the pilgrimage are parts of Islam that do not seem questionable and in need of change. But if you meant the stoning of adulterers, then in the 20th century opinions developed that questioned it, as described in this essay.

Being skeptical is a good thing, and every scholar and intellectual should always approach past assumptions with skepticism. But we must also avoid the arrogance of thinking that the present age we live in is somehow the most enlightened and that our assumptions today are the best possible ones. We must be willing to be just as skeptical toward the present age as we are toward past ages, rather than trying to interpret everything in the past in light of the present as if the present provides us with an unshakable foundation to build on. So our task is to doubt both the past and the present, to hold onto the spirit of the Quran, and to constantly seek God’s guidance with sincerity and humility.

And God knows best.

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