Changing with time is common wisdom. Any person or institution that does not adjust to the needs of the hour is likely to become obsolete and obsolescence is preliminary to death. The early leaders of Islam had provided for ijtihad or rethinking, re-interpretation, reform. Incidentally, this common wisdom was abolished with the passage of centuries. It is about a thousand years since the leaders of the same religion opted for taqlid or orthodoxy, changelessness. The freedom to rethink or change was suspected to be a threat to the safety or even survival of the faith. Christianity underwent reformation. The first one took place in the 4th century when King Constantine migrated from Rome and before long the eastern orthodox church was established in contradistinction from the church of Rome. Thereafter major split took place led by Martin Luther and John Calvin. Their differences with the church of Rome were canonical but in the prevailing confusion King Henry VIII of England led the church of England out of Rome for an entirely personal reason, that was to be able to divorce his first Queen Catherine of Aragon. In course of time Christianity was scattered further and represented by thousands of denominations.
Perhaps the leaders of Islam wanted to ensure that such a fate should not overtake their religion. Whenever there was any significant difference of opinion Mecca/Medina distanced themselves more and more from those who differed. Be they the Mandaens, Yazidis, Druze, Samaritans, Copts, Kalasha and Shias, to the extent that the Ahmedias were expelled from Islam. With the advent of the 21st century, considerable turbulence has afflicted the religion. The last one century has been extraordinary in changes taking place and yet the Muslims hold themselves back from moving an inch forward. In the past, Muslims have fought kafirs. Not often have Muslims fought Muslims. But that has all changed. The Sunnis are at the throats of Shias whether in Iraq or in Yemen or even in Pakistan. On the other hand, the Alawites (Shias although believers in 11 Imams) in Syria are doing their utmost to suppress the Sunnis. There are even proposals to expel Shias altogether from the religion of Prophet Mohammed.
Islam is under pressure from modernism in general and from information technology, the internet, the television and even the mobile cell phone. All these instruments help to break the barriers of communication. The denial of secular education, if not all education to women, is a policy which is becoming infructuous. Islam has no answer except that one hears of isolated attempts by the orthodox of preventing women from watching television. The faith has no answer to the growing assertion by women of their rights. Since most of the masjids do not permit the entry of women, they have begun to set up their own mosques with women Imams whether in Tamil Nadu or in New York.
Wither Islam is the question on the mind of many thinkers whether articulate or silent. Two recent articles by Hasan Suroor and J.S. Bandukwala reflect the stirring anxiety amongst Muslim thinkers. In between lines the fear expressed is ijtihad or qiyamat.