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Tradition and Innovation

Your text identifies particular challenges raised by a pluralistic society.  Several important and weighty examples are provided in your text.  A challenge that receives less attention, however, demonstrates both the challenges to religion and society as well as the way that society can change in response to religious traditions.  It also demonstrates how both religion and society creatively meet these challenges. 
First, there is the challenge to religious communities - especially if those communities are not part of the dominant religious tradition. How can a Muslim be faithful to his/her religious tradition in a country such as the United States?  For example, Islamic law prohibits borrowing or lending money at interest. How can one honor that law and also be a part of a capitalistic society?  Home ownership, purchasing automobiles and even funding a college education in the United States are all based upon borrowing and lending money at interest. 
Three solutions are possible. 
  • First, Muslims in capitalistic countries could renounce the values of  those societies and withdraw from larger society. In other words, they could simply do without those things that can only be obtained by borrowing money at interest.  This solution is undesirable for obvious reasons. Education, housing and transportation are essential to modern life. Choosing to do without any of these has serious negative consequences. 
  • Second, Muslims may surrender this part of their tradition as a "necessary evil."  In other words, the religious community adopts the prevailing values of the society in which it finds itself. For many, this solution is also undesirable because it is seen as  compromising  their beliefs.
  • Third, Muslims may organize a "parallel" social structure to meet their needs.  In  several cases, Muslims have established financial  institutions to help Muslims to home ownership without resorting to borrowing money at interest; rather, they offer what are referred to as "Islamic Mortgages." How does this work?  Basically, with Islamic mortgages, the bank might buy a 90% share of the home while the homebuyer buys 10%. In other words, the  homebuyer borrows nothing: he owns 10% of the house and pays the bank rent on the other 90%.  In addition to the rent, a portion of the monthly payment is applied to gradually buying the bank out of its share of the property. 

It is important to realize that an Islamic mortgage differs in a very significant way from traditional mortgages in capitalistic societies. In a traditional mortgage, the homebuyer actually has no claim to ownership on the house until the mortgage is completely paid off.  Thus, even if the homeowner has paid 90% of the mortgage, the bank still owns 100% of the house!  Consequently, if the homebuyer is unable to pay the last 10% of the mortgage, the bank still gets 100% of the house.  In contrast, in an Islamic mortgage, the owner actually owns a percentage of the house.  Consequently, if the homebuyer is unable to make a payment, the bank cannot simply take possession of the house; it only owns a percentage of the house.  If the house must be sold, the homebuyer and the bank must work together.

The second challenge is to society.  How will society include or exclude religious communities whose traditions may be at odds with those of society?   Society itself has several options.
  • First, it can simply ignore the challenge.  In other words, society can take the attitude of "take it or leave it." In some cases, this may not affect society negatively.  However, there are some situations when this attitude will hurt society in tangible or intangible ways. On the one hand, exclusion often creates tension, animosity and ill-will. How much tension a society can tolerate can become an issue.  On the other hand, such an attitude may hurt society in tangible ways.  In the case of Islamic mortgages, for example, lack of a solution may hurt financial institutions as well as the real estate market because segments of the population are being excluded. 
  • A second option for society is to adjust to meet the challenge. While The Sacred Quest cites dramatic examples that are often worked out in the legal system, one must also acknowledge simple and creative ways that society can and does meet this challenge.  In the case above, an increasing number of lending institutions in America and Britain are now offering Islamic mortgages as an option to their Muslim customers.  Recently, Great Britain has altered its tax code to eliminate what was essentially a higher tax on such mortgages. In the United States, an increasing number of lending institutions are beginning to offer such mortgages.  Thus, society finds itself being shaped by religion even as religion finds innovative ways to be a part of society.

The above example is not meant to gloss over the very serious examples in the text. You need to be aware of the legal and ethical issues raised by a religious community's need to maintain its tradition in the midst of a culture that challenges those values. It is important, however, to realize that such challenges are being worked out in ways that do not always make for sensational news stories. The interplay between society and religious communities is sometimes dramatic, but often subtle, creative and civil!