They’re taking bold steps, reinterpreting Islamic norms and re-examining taboos. While far from accepted by mainstream clerics, these worshippers feel that the future of the religion lies not solely with tradition but with them. Women are leading congregations in prayer, gay imams are performing Islamic marriages, and men and women are praying side by side.
This is not the norm for most of the 2.6 million-strong American Islamic community, accustomed to centuries-old traditions of gender relations and houses of worship that tend to draw primarily from a single ethnic group.
“We can’t move forward as a society, as a faith system, if we subscribe to these old draconian ways of practicing Islam,” says Ani Zonneveld, who is the president of Muslims for Progressive Values. A 49-year-old singer-songwriter who lives in Los Angeles, she leads prayers for men and women together and tells gay Muslims, often shunned in other mosques, that their religion welcomes them.
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A critique of some disparaging comments from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown about white converts:
…if, as Alibhai-Brown states, white converts are whimsies that Progressive Muslims have no time for, how can converts be blamed for seeking communities that will accept them? [ie, conservative communities]
Even when it blatantly conflicts with the values otherwise expressed, people still fall into the puritanical error, giving rise to stridency, narrow-mindedness and carping.
Tired of trying to co-opt moderate, liberal, and progressive Muslims, some rightwingers are now resorting to identity theft.
Richard Bartholomew writes that Gina Khan, a Muslim activist against extremism in the UK, is listed as an officer on the Facebook page of the group that calls itself the ‘The Cheerleaders’, a bunch of self-described anti-Islamist vigilantes, who have excelled at threatening mostly moderate and progressive Muslim bloggers, and especially liberal critics of conservative politicians in the UK, like blogger Tim Ireland. (Again, I see this theme of ‘Eurocon’ extremists using an anti-Muslim platform to attack a bigger ideological target, European liberalism – which has been done before).
After I published a mocking post about them last year, the Cheerleaders – or the individual who pretends to be the group – threatened several Talk Islam contributors and published their home addresses online. They (or he) also sent mail to at least one TI contributor’s house.
Umar reviles Knight as a fraud, a kafir and a white supremacist:
Knight stated ” I still identify as Muslim”. Maybe this is something he has got from Reformed Jews whose foundation is disbelief in Judaism while wanting to maintain an attachment to the community. This is what Progressive Islam seeks to be; a community with a foundation of disbelief still wanting to identify themselves in some way as Muslims. But, unlike Judaism which has a dual existence as a religion and ethnic tribe and once you are born to a Jewish woman you are a Jew even if you are an atheist, Islam is a community of belief. Cease believing and you cease being Muslim and all of the rights of a Muslim be it marriage, burial, and what not are no longer available to you. I can “identify as a Romanov” but the blood of Russian royalty does not run through my veins so my claim need not be taken seriously.
In closing I will also say that the sad tale of Mr. Knight whose life would have been much better if he would have went to jihad in Chechnya and died for the cause of Islam before leaving the deen is also a white story. There are a lot of white Muslims I love dearly and have known for years ; Ismail Royer, Imam Suhaib Webb, Brother Muadh, Abu Noor, etc. However, Mr. Knight does represent a certain kind of Muslim that has grown since 9-11 ( where a white guy can get liberal street cred for converting to the religion of the oppressed).
What’s needed is for people who are struggling with Islam as Knight has and does is to not give up on it.
The progressive Islamist position on homosexuality:
“As an Islamist I cannot condone homosexuality, and I cannot render halal that which is seen as haram in Islam, anymore than I can declare alcohol to be halal. But this I can say: when confronted by things like this, we have two choices: the hard choice or the soft choice. We can take the hard line and say that homosexuals are wrong and they ought to be punished. Or we can take the soft line and say that they are a gendered minority, and while they are practicing something we do not approve, we should defend them when they come under attack and we should counsel them. As an Islamist, I choose the latter, because for me Islam is still the religion of love, not hate.”
For Islamism to even remain relevant today, Islamists (like the ones I mentioned above) will have to understand that we live in modern democratic societies where laws and governance are measured in the public eye in terms of concrete long term results. All the hate-campaigns and pogroms of groups like Fron Pembela Islam in Indonesia have done nothing for Muslims there, but only worsened the prejudice against Islamists in toto. Rather than hot air and fiery rhetoric, Islamists need to demonstrate that they can govern justly in plural societies and learn to live with difference and diversity. Demonising gays, non-Muslims, women and other minorities is no longer a gimmick that works, and in fact is now counter-productive.
To this it should be added that the ’soft’ Islamist approach to dealing with real social issues should not be seen as the ‘weak’ approach neither. Just because an Islamist renounces violence and violent hateful rhetoric, doesnt make him/her a lame Islamist with no teeth. In fact, the reality is precisely the opposite: It is only when Islamists stop wasting our time with silly bans on concerts and movies, and stop scaring us with threats of demonstrations and pogroms, that they will be taken seriously. If Islamists really want power, then they ought to demonstrate an adult and rational ability to deal with power and its mechanics. Anything else is just empty sloganeering and posturing, and ought to be left on the soap-box with the other peddlers of nonsense and hype.
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The cost of leaving will be abandoning people like this
Parwiz Kambakhsh, the 20-year old student/journalist who was first sentenced to death, then secretly sentenced to 20 years in prison last December has been freed and has left Afghanistan. Sources told Kabul Press that Parwiz was released from prison several days ago to visit with his family, then was taken to an unknown destination outside Afghanistan. It is unlikely that he will return to Afghanistan any time soon due to threats against him and his family for his alleged “blasphemy” for distributing an article on women’s rights to a few friends at his university—which he firmly denies.
Source: Kabul Press
Something to bend Eliza’s mind a little…
Seeking Gender Equality in Quran
MANAMA, Aug 25 (IPS) – For the first time, feminists in Bahrain are seeking new Islamic perspectives on gender and women’s empowerment, and asking for modern interpretations of the Quran.
Through a series of four workshops, launched in May, the Bahrain Women Association for Development intends to engage the public in serious debate over the “true meaning” of Quranic verses that are used to assert male supremacy.
“We aren’t against Islam and don’t want to promote our perspective,” explains Asma Rajab, an activist and member of its board of directors. “We want to make our society consider women as complete humans.”
With the advances made by Muslim women in many countries including Bahrain, it is time to reinterpret the Quranic verses, she adds. “Islam is a renewable religion that fits all situations and periods, so its regulations should be re-interpreted to meet the advancements of Muslim women,” she says.
Social practices that violate women’s rights include the law of male guardianship, unequal inheritance, domestic violence and testimony in Shariah courts. Also, the widespread belief that Islam forbids women from becoming presidents, judges and parliamentarians.
These are against Islamic principles, the Association asserts, publicly throwing a challenge to religious scholars and others who insist that women are inferior to men.
The workshops on “Woman, a Renewable Perspective” have been organised to correct centuries of misunderstanding that gender discrimination has religious sanction. The second workshop in the series was held on Aug. 15. The third has been scheduled for December.
“To change the men-oriented societies, the Muslim world should accept the flexibility of the Quran and Islamic thoughts,” advises Rajab.
Samson Raphael Hirsch responds to the argument of Progressive
IslamJudaism in the 19th century.
Now what about the principle, the much-vaunted, world-redeeming principle of “religion allied to progress7 If it is to be a principle–something more than an empty phrase meant for show–it must have a definable content and we must be permitted to try to clarify it. In the expression “religion allied to progress,” progress is evidently intended to qualify religion. Indeed, this is the very essence of the “idea,” not religion by itself, but religion only to the extent and in so far as it can co-exist with progress, in so far as one does not have to sacrifice progress to religion. The claim of religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress.” What, then, is this higher authority to which religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress”? What, then, is this higher authority to which religion has to appeal in order to gain admission? What is this “progress”? Evidently not progress in the sphere of religion, for then the expression would amount to “religion allied to itself” which is nonsense. It means, then, progress in every sphere other than religion. Speaking frankly, therefore, it means: religion as long as it does not hinder progress, religion as long as it is not onerous or inconvenient.. ..
The subordination of religion to any other factor means the denial of religion: for if the Torah is to you the Law of God how dare you place another law above it and go along with God and His Law only as long as you thereby “progress” in other respects at the same time? You must admit it: it is only because “religion” does not mean to you the word of God, because in your heart you deny Divine Revelation, because you believe not in Revelation given to man but in Revelation from man, that you can give man the right to lay down conditions to religion.
“Religion allied to progress”–do you know, dear reader, what that means? Virtue allied to sensual enjoyment, rectitude allied to advancement, uprightness allied to success. It means a religion and a morality which can be preached also in the haunts of vice and iniquity. It means sacrificing religion and morality to every man’s momentary whim. It allows every man to fix his own goal and progress in any direction he pleases and to accept from religion only that part which does not hinder his “progress” or even assist it. It is the cardinal sin which Moses of old described as “a casual walking with God.” Civilisation and culture–we all treasure those glorious and inalienable possessions of mankind. We all desire that the good and the true, all that is attainable by human thought and human will-power, should be the common heritage of all men. But to make religion–which is the mother and father of all civilisation and culture–dependent upon the progress of this same civilisation and culture would mean throwing it into the melting-pot of civilisation; it would mean turning the root into the blossom; it would mean crowning the human edifice with that which should be its foundation and cornerstone.
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An article on reformist opposition to religious conservatism and extremism that alleges that such behavior devolves into an infringement on First Amendment rights has been posted at AltMuslim and City of Brass:
Such reformist approaches, in their quest for progress or even human rights, fail to recognize the effects of their actions on their co-religionist’s fundamental right to free religious expression. It is an infringement of free speech and free exercise rights when mosque leaders and sermon-givers do not voice their conservative views because of their fear of being equated with violent extremists by government authorities.
The author criticizes Nomani for providing no evidence of a link between conservatism and extremism, and yet provides no evidence herself for the assertion that there is a link between ‘reformist approaches’ and police persecution, or fear of police persecution.
This could be a new twist (and a very American one with its appeal to constitutional rights) on an old effort to suppress reform-minded Muslims. While I don’t believe Nomani holds ‘the’ answer, I believe she and her fellow travelers are part of it. Here are some words from a rabbi who is working against conservatives and extremists in her own community on behalf of Palestinian human rights:
Resistance is sometimes rowdy. Naturally, the side of privilege and status quo demand politeness from resisters in order to maintain decorum. Well, politeness isn’t always the best way to go in a situation where you have never been given a voice in the first place. While I am a proponent of compassionate listening, I learned from people of color that interrupting the language of hatred and racism also has a place.
Interrupting the language of hatred and racism also has a place.
Over at Muslim Matters, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi gives an “insider’s” perspective on participating in the Doha Debates.
Shaykh Yasir debated, among others, Asra Nomani, on the motion ‘This house believes that Muslim women should be free to marry anyone they choose’.
The debate itself will be aired June 6 and 7.
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