Religions are often associated with ‘tradition’ because they represent a heritage that can be thousands of years old. Naturally then, an important challenge to people that follow such traditions is how to remain faithful to that heritage and yet live, breathe and speak to the modern environment that one is present in, here and now.
Islam regards itself as eternal, it is the body of teachings (from God) from the beginning of time, known by different names to different peoples – it sees itself as relevant not only to the past, but also the present and future. However, for this to be real there must be a sense of dynamism, transformation and flexibility to move and adapt with time.
Many have criticised Muslims today for ‘living in the past’ and this is not always without good reason. Perhaps it is because many Muslims have underplayed the role of ijtihad (scholarly reasoning) in recent times and instead have relied on simply following age-old precedence. Especially if we are to consider issues such as gender relations, the pace of change is so rapid in today’s world that some scholars have found it difficult to keep up, even though the Islamic instinct is to look to the future as Imam Ali (an early successor to Muhammad) said: “Do not mould your children’s ethics according to yours, for they are of a different time than yours.” (Nahj al-Balagha).
But we can now see various movements and intellectuals that are calling for more critical thinking and also for contextualising traditional values and ideas in light of our modern situation.