This is an interesting question I received from one of my students a few years ago. I am sharing this with you because I felt you may find it beneficial and thoughtful. . .
I was recently joined in discussion with several Hindu and Christian people both here and in England who are strongly of the opinion that Muslims are to quote “the world has moved on and the Muslims are stuck in a time warp.”
In part I interpreted this comment as suggesting the Koran has less relevance in modern life and at the very least needs to be interpreted for modern times … I would really appreciate, if you have a spare moment, to provide me with your much better informed opinion on the comment I quoted above …
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:
The real reason why Muslims seem to be in a time warp is NOT because they stick to their principles and practices. In fact, it has been argued that Islamic Law and strict adherence to it is actually the most progressive methodology to safeguard the life, wealth, honor, intellect, and religion of a community (Muslim or non-Muslim). That argument is in a separate essay if you want me to send it to you.
No, the real reason why Muslims seem to be in a time warp is because the Arab world in particular is stuck in a POLITICAL time warp, not a religious one. The proof of this is to simply look at Muslim majority nations/communities outside of Arabia and Africa. Malaysia and Indonesia are thriving Muslim-majority countries that have not relegated Islam to the backstage. The Gulf states like Qatar, Emirates, and Oman are also booming economically and socially. Morocco is having a Renaissance. Likewise, Muslims in America and Eastern and Northern Europe and China are vibrant minority communities. Western European Muslims seem a little more prone to inheriting the same dysfunctions of their homelands, but that can be explained by the conditions in those countries that encourage isolation instead of integration. Even that has improved much in the past decade in places like UK and France and Germany.
If you look at the the places where the time-warp effect is evident, you will always see that the government of that area is either repressive, non-representational, or corrupt (Africa, Saudi, and Afghanistan are prime examples of those). That is the real reason. Those Muslim nations are living in the equivalent of Europe’s high Middle Ages of the 15th and 16th century. Before the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, the European nation-states were petty, bickering with each other, and controlled by dynastic autocratic despots. This is similar to the Arab and North African world today.
The example of female drivers in Saudi Arabia is a red herring. There are many other Muslim nations which claim to apply Shariah that have no such driving restriction. That restriction is nothing more than Saudi culture. Before the automobile, it was considered a big shame (not to mention dangerous) to let a woman ride a horse or camel in the desert by herself. So the Saudi’s developed the culture of always escorting their women when they needed to travel. This custom evolved to what you see now when the automobile came. They simply applied the old custom of horse/camel travel to automobile travel. Obviously, this was shortsighted in that it failed to account for urbanization. It may have been a good idea when travel meant leaving village and venturing into the desert wastes, but now that there are highways, lamp posts, and cities are bigger than village clusters it is not so good anymore. There are voices speaking out against the restriction, but Saudi is a conservative society so any change will be slow. The conclusion is that this issue is a Saudi issue, not an Islam issue.