There are some Muslims who identify with a progressive Muslim ideology. Some believe in the ideology without applying the label of “progressive”. So what is a progressive Muslim and is it a valid position?


It’s not easy to define something that is malleable and so subjective. Some progressives identify with the notion that we should uphold the principles and values of Islam, but done so on a subjective understanding of Islam and our times. 

Some of the common beliefs between progressive groups are the following :

  • Introduction of Women Imams.
  • Abandonment of traditional prayer.
  • Changing the traditional family values .
  • Abandoning of the fasting.

In summary, it is a reinterpretation of Islam based on ones opinions of what is sacred.


Rational basis for Progressives?

The argument that progressives put forward is this. Islam as a religion is not new, it is just the most recent application of sacred principles that underpin all revealed religions. So Judaism, Christianity must have the same principles but when applied to their time and conditions the application and rules are different.

With that in mind, have our communities and environment not changed since the time the Quran was revealed? If that is the case perhaps we should also try to re-apply the fundamental principles to our situation today.

The Catch

The above argument makes sense, but there are some caveats. Firstly, it would be necessarily to know the fundamental principles behind all revealed religions. Then it would be necessarily to create a system of laws and advice to enable society to uphold those principles. This is not a job for just anyone.

It seems the issue with many “progressives” is there is a gap in their logic.

They assume they know the fundamental principle, then assume they can apply the correct understanding to their situation. This type of assumption is known as an analogy. When someone does not know the the exact logical link from a general rule to a specific, so they go from one specific to another, this is known as inductive reasoning, or qiyas. 

An example will help clarify this.

Consider the daily prayer of Muslims. This is well documented in Muslim religious tradition and commentaries. There is little dispute about the format of the prayer. However now, some groups have said, we do not need to pray like that, it was only how the Arabs interpreted how to pray. In fact, they say, we may not need to pray at all. How have they reached such a conclusion? Is it based on Quran or hadith? Or is it just based on their opinion?

If a person says, “I do not need to pray, as I do not need the exercise”, they have assumed that the prayer is some form of exercise, and they abandon it.

Another may say “I do not need to pray as I do not Sin”, again this person has assumed the prayer is a way of repenting for sins. Now this maybe partially true, but is it the only reason?

Can we reach the true principle behind prayer by simply looking at it? Even if we could, could we then come back down from that principle and apply the understanding to our situation now? This is why Muslims have generally stuck to the Islam of the Prophet SAW, as we know that he knew the best way to apply the principles of religion. Any alteration of that laws established by the Prophet  SAW would need clear evidence and proof of the underlying principle, and then how to apply that principle in a new situation. 

Now, we agree that the principle is what is sacred, and the specific ruling can be changed, however there must be a sound and rational method applied to any changes of the law. It would have to be based on a known principle, and then applied in a way with deep understanding of the religion of Islam.


In Al Kafi we have the following hadiths ;

H 103, Ch. 11, h9 Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from Yunus from Dawud ibn Farqad from one he narrated from ibn Shubruma (a judge in al-Kufa during the rule of al-Mansur) who has said the following:  “I never heard anything like a statement I heard from Imam abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, and it almost pierced my heart. The Imam, recipient of divine supreme covenant, said, ‘My father narrated from my great-great-great great grandfather, the Holy Prophet, recipient of divine supreme covenant, who said, “Those who act on the basis of analogy will face their destruction and lead others to their destruction. Those who give fatwas (legal opinions) without knowing the abrogating and the abrogated (texts of the law), the clear text and that which requires interpretation, they will face destruction and lead others to their destruction.’” 

H 96, Ch. 11, h2 Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn ‘Ubayd from Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Hajjaj who has said the following: “Imam abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, once said to me, ‘Beware of two forms of behavior. It is such behaviors that have led many people to their destruction. Beware of giving fatwa to people on the basis of your own opinion and of following a religion without knowledge.’” 



Its true that principles are sacred, and rulings are subject to change. However, in order to change them, the person would need to know the details of the principle, how it should be applied and that the change is actually going to benefit them. This is normally the domain of God and the Prophets, this explains how all revealed religions have the same underlying principles. To say that someone can now just do the same thing, reinterpret everything and arrive at a new religion is something very speculative. One thing that is agreed upon both religiously and rationally is that speculation is not a reliable method to find the truth.


53|28|They have no knowledge of that. They only follow assumptions, and assumptions are no substitute for the truth.