Donkeys bray and elephants trumpet across acres of microphones manned by bobble heads masking a clash of ages inside Islam-reclamation and reformation. Demands to separate archaic cultures from the tenets of belief are rising. Voices of the Islamic faithful grow in volume as tales of personal and religious history unfold. These are the standard bearers of Islamic transformation through evolution or revolution. Human history is the record of such odysseys.
Asra Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love, is a woman of faith who came to the United States from India when she was four years old. According to a Fox News article published on April 14, 2015, “Nomani advocates a progressive, feminist interpretation of Islam, at odds not only with violent extremists in the Middle East and Africa but also with millions of non-violent fundamentalists around the world.” But, is this really the case?
Khurram Dara, a practicing attorney and author of The Crescent Directive and Contracting Fear, is an American Muslim whose parents came from Pakistan. During a January 11, 2012, interview with Relevancy 22 stated “… My understanding of Islam has always been one that puts everyone on equal footing.
I think you’ll find more of that here among American Muslims. It’s important to remember the role culture can play in behavior, and there is a tendency for culture to be confused with religion, which may explain the poor treatment of women in many of the Islamic regimes in the Arab world. In any case, my own belief and my understanding of Islam is that oppression of women should not be tolerated in any circumstances….”
Contracting Fear is an education in the history, evolution and implementation of Islamic Law in the Middle East and Middle America as compared to and contrasted with Law in the United States. Dara makes the point that ‘the sharia’, a law system that once protected the governed from potential excesses of rulers, is not what is practiced as Sharia or Islamic Law today. In the Preface, Dara writes:
“…Recognizing the inconsistency between Islamic Law today and its function in the premodern world is not novel; most scholarship on Islamic Law is settled on this fact. But outside the academy, political rhetoric and public discourse in the Muslim world indicates this difference is neither understood not appreciated. In many majority-Muslim nations, governments use political propaganda to convince citizens that their administration of law is in accordance with Islamic principles—and that opposing this type of law is akin to opposing Islam. As a result, many in the region have contracted fear: they fail to challenge the administration of law because they fear doing so means challenging their faith. But, as I argue, they should feel no hesitation in criticizing or condemning Islamic Law as practiced today, nor should they feel any less pious for doing so, precisely because of the enormous differences between the classical sharia and its recent reinvention, neosharia law. The sharia as it originally existed also seems to be misunderstood. Despite its obvious religious connection, much of the sharia was the product of premodern Middle Eastern politics and culture. It was a pluralistic evolving, and dynamic mechanism for social order and political stability. These realities, I argue, should change the perception, especially among Muslims, that Islamic law is static, permanent, and incapable of change…”
Zuhdi Jasser, a practicing physician and author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam:
An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith, is the founder of The American Islamic Forum for Democracy’s (AIFD). According to AIFD, it’s “…mission is to advocate for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty, and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state.” Dr. Jasser is described as a devout Muslim who “…founded AIFD in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. Dr. Jasser is a first generation American Muslim whose parents fled the oppressive Baath regime of Syria in the mid-1960’s for American freedom. He is leading the fight to shake the hold that the Muslim Brotherhood and their network of American Islamist organizations and mosques seek to exert on organized Islam in America…”
The call for freedom is not confined to the United States. Irshad Manji, a
Canadian journalist and author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, was born in Uganda of Egyptian and Gujarati ancestry. Manji and her family moved to Canada when she was four following Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians. Her book, in the form of an open letter, “…unearths the troubling cornerstones of mainstream Islam today: tribal insularity, deep-seated anti-Semitism, and an uncritical acceptance of the Koran as the final, and therefore superior, manifesto of God’s will….” Manji’s core teaching is moral courage, which her website, Moral Courage, defines “…as doing the right thing in the face of your fears.”
At a February 2015 anti-terrorism conference attended by senior clerics from across the Islamic world, “…Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Cairo’s al-Azhar University said that a historical misreading of the Koran had led to intolerant interpretations of Islam….” according to a February 23, 2015, BBC article. The article goes on to say “…Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb condemned terrorism at the opening of a three-day counter-terrorism forum in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In his speech, he linked extremism to “bad interpretations” of the Koran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. “The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers,” he said.
For those familiar with the history of reformations within Western Civilization, there is a recognition of the incredible bravery of those working from within to change a terrible tide. Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, dedicates his book “To the courageous men and women throughout the Islamic world, here nameless for reasons of their own security, who are struggling for a reopening of the Muslim mind.”
Muslims contribute to about one percent of the population of the United States. That means 99 percent of Americans were raised and educated in Western culture and have a difficult time just putting the pieces of that culture together. Going forward remember that Muslims, Jews and Christians share a common ancestor, Abraham, the genesis of our respective belief systems. It is easy to get out the big brush and paint all of Islam the same color, but that would be very wrong. Islam has a golden age populated by brilliant thinkers and doers from whom we all benefit today—preservation of Greek manuscripts, algebra, advances in optics, hospital systems, and poetry are a few things that spring to mind. Interesting fact: During the Ottoman Caliphate (pre-WWI), many European Jews found refuge from Christian persecution there. Jews migrated and settled in the Ottoman Empire, bought land, and worshiped as they chose. Over the eons the Jews, who became doctors, farmers, and even politicians, thrived to a greater or lesser extend depending upon the ruler.
We can help the myriad men and women lighting a path for a better future by first doing no harm. As a culture we can label the ‘bad guys’ who have hijacked a religion for power so that they become distinguishable from the ‘good guys’. We may never be able to master either the broad strokes or the intricacies of Middle Eastern thought, but we can certainly take the time to acknowledge individuals as they practice their belief systems. The ‘arc’, the named and unnamed Muslims fighting to open minds travel, is difficult and treacherous. The least we can do is consider them as individuals.
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