Tradition and Innovation
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
|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
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
- 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!