Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Making the Connection: Darfur & the Lost Boys of Sudan

Darfur Alert Coalition and the Free Library of Philadelphia Show Award-winning Film: The Lost Boys of Sudan
to an Overflow Crowd

Friday, December 2nd,
The Darfur Alert Coalition partnered with The Free Library of Philadelphia to sponsor The Lost Boys of Sudan, the Award winning documentary that follows two Sudanese refugees on their extraordinary journey from Sudan to America.
This film offered people in the Philadelphia area a chance to make the connections between a number of key issues: refugee and immigrant rights issues, the effects of the war in Southern Sudan, and the on-going genocide in Darfur.

The Southern Sudanese Association, Western Sudanese Association and the Group Against Torture in Sudan (GATS) also co-sponsored this event and provided speakers for the panel discussion following the film.
The room for the viewing began filling up as people arrived early. By the 6 PM show time, the place was packed. As people continued arriving, we added new rows of extra seats and eventually squeezed dozens more in until people stood heel-to-toe from the last chair to the back wall. Even in this uncomfortable situation, the audience stayed, perhaps because as Jonathan Curiel said, the film was spellbinding. It humanized Sudan's continuing refugee problem.

Megan Mylan, the instigator of this opportunity and film's co-producer and her colleague sat outside the room with other organizers from DAC. We could hear the film playing and regularly hear the audience laugh at such scenes as when one of the Lost Boys fails his driving test and returns to the parking lot, smiles and gets in his car to drive off.

After the film, the overflow of the crowd cleared out, leaving a comfortably full room to participate in an open discussion with the panel. Dr. Mahdi Ibn Ziyad introduced the panel. People were riveted as Mohamed Ibrahim shook with passion while outlining the history of US involvement in Sudan and it's impact on Sudanese politics and his own life. Mohamed provided a context for understanding the cause of the refugee exodus that challenged the audience to dig deeper and learn more especially on the role of the Nixon/Reagan administrations in the current mess in Sudan .

Two Lost Boys, Michael Kuch and Joseph Deng spoke briefly about their experiences. They fielded questions from the audience about tribal conflicts and their efforts to lobby in Washington. They also pointedly addressed the value of Southern Sudanese joining with Darfur rights activists in working for a just, peaceful and unified Sudan.

Megan Mylan updated the audience on how the two Lost Boys in the film are doing now. She was also encouraged by someone in the audience to turn her attention and camera towards Mohamed Ibrahim and other survivors of torture and consider making a documentary about their harrowing and courageous experiences. Megan agreed and wrote down the man's contact information.
Fatima Haroun also made the connections between the suffering of the people from the war in Southern Sudan and her own people from Darfur. She was joined by another Darfurian voice from Philadelphia, Amira Teben who spoke very movingly about the importance of responding to the violence in Sudan as a human being and not allowing the twisted complications of politics to interfere with the urgency of attending to the humanitarian catastrophy that is causing so much anguish and suffering throughout the Darfur region.
Dr. Jerry Ehrlich looked as if he carried every one of the children who had died in his arms last year while he worked in Kalma Camp in Nyala, Darfur, Sudan. With remarkable humility and palpable anguish, he brought the depth of the human tragedy right into the room. He gave the audience a way to understand the necessity of each one of us doing all we can to stop the violence and get relief for the people of Darfur.
Dr. Ibn Ziyad addressed a question from the audience concerning the split among American Muslims' response to the genocide in Darfur.

Lou Ann Merkle thanked the audience for coming, the Free Library for hosting the event, the speakers for participating on the panel and the volunteers for helping make the evening a success. She particularly thanked Megan Mylan for using her creativity and skills to tell such important stories. She noted how invaluable the film is as tool for raising awareness, building community and helping heal the wounds of war. Merkle invited the audience to become actively involved in the work of the Darfur Alert Coalition including the upcoming Sudanese Speaking Tour.
Pat DeBrady brought letters urging our Congressional representatives to co-sponsor The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. People signed the letters that will be sent to key Congress people.

Sonya Springer helped promote the event and Martina Johnson-Allen helped hand out our DAC literature at the event. Tigani Abu Algasim and many other Sudanese were there, as were Suzannah Gund, Stephanie Nyambyire, Rita, Katie and a lot of other Swarthmore students.
Temple professors and students were there along with folks who had attended our first event a year ago at The Church of the Advocate or this past summer at The African American Museum.

Nearly 50 people signed up to be on our mailing list with some noting they wanted to volunteer with DAC. Our challenge will be to continue offering such programs and find a way to keep working together to advocate for an end to the violence in Darfur and help the people of Darfur reclaim their lives, livelihoods and land.

reported by Lou Ann Merkle

Monday, December 05, 2005


"Answers to Five 'Repulsive' Questions"
By Maher Hathout

ON NOV. 13, Current's Faith Front featured an essay by contributor Dennis Prager, "Five questions non-Muslims need answered." Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, replies: Prager's attempt to make America's more than 6 million Muslims feel like culprits was repulsive, but for the sake of argument, let's examine the questions to which he requested a response.

• "Why are you so quiet?"
Like an urban myth, the idea that Muslims have been mute since 9/11 plagues us. Prager knows that mainstream Muslims have issued condemnations of terrorism ad nauseam, and American Muslim scholars even issued a fatwa against terrorism this summer. The organization I advise (the Muslim Public Affairs Council) last year put together an integrated, grass-roots campaign to fight terrorism and extremism. The problem isn't how loud we are but how deaf some people can be.

• "Why are none of the Palestinian Christians terrorists?"
Beyond the seemingly deliberate tone of cynicism here, Prager seems to forget that the current spate of suicide attacks was initiated by the Munich Olympics tragedy, which was concocted by a non-Islamic group led by a Christian named George Habash. There is nothing about being Muslim that leads to terrorism. The premise is wrong; so is the conclusion.

• "Why is only one of the 47 Muslim majority countries a free country?"
Lest we forget, the good people of Germany were led to their defeat by Hitler. The same scenario is true of Mussolini in Italy, and is true of present-day North Korea. Likewise, some Islamic nations are not free because they are led by tyrants who suppress the will of their people. But let's not forget that the colonial powers that dominated these countries found it easier to deal with the dictators they installed than with masses intent on creating their own destiny. Our country is not completely innocent on this score.

• "Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?"
Yes, criminals are exploiting the grievances of depressed, oppressed and desperate masses in order to try to justify the unjustifiable. But finger-pointing won't get us anywhere. What we need now is to enable robust, mainstream Muslim organizations to expose this minority, isolate it and rid us of this scourge. Casting doubt about Muslims only adds to the haze and confusion that allow extremists international prominence. Innuendo only makes it less likely that any religion will be respected or its followers accepted.

• "Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?" What makes you so sure they're "religious Muslims"? The religiosity of any person or regime that does not respect human rights is dubious. You can't overlook the fact that these dictators direct the majority of their oppression toward active Muslim citizens who naturally pose a challenge to their religious and/or political authority.
Islam isn't the problem in these countries -- it would be the solution if moderate, inclusive leaders could gain international backing. These are the answers, but it seems that Prager has already drawn his own conclusions.
Rather than spreading doubts about the integrity of Muslims as Prager does here, countless other Jewish and Christian leaders have joined their Muslim colleagues in widespread campaigns to demystify Islam. As one of those Muslims with whom Prager has interacted, I had thought we could coordinate our efforts to spread the good word about Islam and Muslims for the sake of the harmony and safety of our society. Apparently, he's more interested in bigotry than progress.

Maher Hathout is senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California.

What is your take on this?

The Controversial 'liberal' LA writer challneges Muslims...

Five questions non-Muslims would like answered
By Dennis Prager,
He may be contacted through his website: www.dennisprager.com.
THE RIOTING IN France by primarily Muslim youths and the hotel bombings in Jordan are the latest events to prompt sincere questions that law-abiding Muslims need to answer for Islam's sake, as well as for the sake of worried non-Muslims. Here are five of them:

(1) Why are you so quiet?
Since the first Israelis were targeted for death by Muslim terrorists blowing themselves up in the name of your religion and Palestinian nationalism, I have been praying to see Muslim demonstrations against these atrocities. Last week's protests in Jordan against the bombings, while welcome, were a rarity.
What I have seen more often is mainstream Muslim spokesmen implicitly defending this terror on the grounds that Israel occupies Palestinian lands. We see torture and murder in the name of Allah, but we see no anti-torture and anti-murder demonstrations in the name of Allah.
There are a billion Muslims in the world. How is it possible that essentially none have demonstrated against evils perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam? This is true even of the millions of Muslims living in free Western societies. What are non-Muslims of goodwill supposed to conclude? When the Israeli government did not stop a Lebanese massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, great crowds of Israeli Jews gathered to protest their country's moral failing. Why has there been no comparable public demonstration by Palestinians or other Muslims to morally condemn Palestinian or other Muslim-committed terror?

(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?
If Israeli occupation is the reason for Muslim terror in Israel, why do no Christian Palestinians engage in terror? They are just as nationalistic and just as occupied as Muslim Palestinians.

(3) Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?
According to Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy, of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states. Why is this?

(4) Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?
Young girls in Indonesia were recently beheaded by Muslim murderers. Last year, Muslims — in the name of Islam — murdered hundreds of schoolchildren in Russia. While reciting Muslim prayers, Islamic terrorists take foreigners working to make Iraq free and slaughter them. Muslim daughters are murdered by their own families in the thousands in "honor killings." And the Muslim government in Iran has publicly called for the extermination of Israel.

(5) Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?
No church or synagogue is allowed in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban destroyed some of the greatest sculptures of the ancient world because they were Buddhist. Sudan's Islamic regime has murdered great numbers of Christians.
Instead of confronting these problems, too many of you deny them. Muslims call my radio show to tell me that even speaking of Muslim or Islamic terrorists is wrong.
After all, they argue, Timothy McVeigh is never labeled a "Christian terrorist." As if McVeigh committed his terror as a churchgoing Christian and in the name of Christ, and as if there were Christian-based terror groups around the world.As a member of the media for nearly 25 years, I have a long record of reaching out to Muslims.

Muslim leaders have invited me to speak at major mosques. In addition, I have studied Arabic and Islam, have visited most Arab and many other Muslim countries and conducted interfaith dialogues with Muslims in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the U.S. Politically, I have supported creation of a Palestinian state and supported (mistakenly, I now believe) the Oslo accords.

Hundreds of millions of non-Muslims want honest answers to these questions, even if the only answer you offer is, "Yes, we have real problems in Islam." Such an acknowledgment is infinitely better — for you and for the world — than dismissing us as anti-Muslim.
We await your response.

Monday, October 10, 2005

ٲول سودانية تقود الصلاة

Breaking News

Ramadan Mubarak to all of you and may the spiritual peace of this Holy month be with all of you…

On Sat 10/8/2005 another Muslim group broke the silence and joined the growing Muslim movement that is calling and implementing the equality of women and men in front of Allah.

The Amherst Progressive Muslims www.amherstmuslims.blogspot.com is a core group of concerned Muslims from different background ethnicities (immigrants and non-immigrants). They want to “bring the true social justice face of Islam that has been hijacked by right-wing conservatives for centuries”.

The pray was led by Haja Zeinab Omer, a 78 year woman of the indigenous African people of Nubia (Egypt and Sudan). Ten Muslims participated in this historical event for the Muslim community of Western Massachusetts while many could not make it because of the tropical storm.

I spoke to Haja Zeinab (Haja is a title given to women who went to pilgrimage in the Holy Muslim city Mecca) after the Mughrib (sunset) prayer. She told me that there is no single reason that prevents Muslim women of leading men, women, or mixed-gender prayer. She draws my attention to the fact that in Mecca, the holiest place for Muslims, men and women pray in one place side by side..

The Amherst Progressive Muslims (APM) took this step after hearing about the Progressive Masjid of Philadelphia, another group that took this emancipatory step before the first publicly announced prayer in NYC last March. APM did not announce the historic event in advance for the safety of the fledgling group.

For many people, this woman-led prayer may not be a big issue but actually it’s a breaking news for immigrant Muslims in this country. It’s one indicator of women empowerment and successful step in claiming their faith…
(see this link to know about the history of women-led prayers http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2232/context/archive)

Mohamed Elgadi
Reporting from Philadelphia, PA (USA)

Breaking News: Our First Woman-Led Prayer

Very soon our small group is going to have its first woman-led prayer in Amherst....!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Mainstream Muslim Orgs and Fear of Ijtihad

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is an umbrella of Muslim orgs that aim to be "an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America that contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large".

How "the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large" would be possible without equal rights for women and men in the Mosque?
Read ISNA statement here:


Position on Leading Salat (the Formal prayer)
by Women

03-21-05 01:49 ISNA
To understand the role of woman in Islamic society, it is not sufficient to consider the factual status of women in one society or another, but one must look at the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Rasulillah. The main sources of Islamic norms are the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet SAW. These sources contain regulations and commandments including some which relate to the role of women in Islamic society. Allah said: "O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His messenger, If you do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best and most suitable for final determination" ( 4:59 ). He also says, "Whoever obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah" (4:80). And Allah said:" By your Lord they will never attend faith till they make you judge in all their affairs and then they should find any difficulty in their heart to accept and submit to you" al Nisa' (4: ) Salat is an act of worship and all in acts of worship we have to follow what our Prophet (SAW) did and after him the Khulafa and Imams of the Ummah. The Prophet (SAW) said: "Pray as you see me praying." The salat has been a practice of the ummah through 1400 years and there is no room for modification of the Salat according to the "changing times."

Woman leading the congregation
The scholars have put requirements and qualifications for the Imam of the salat, as they saw Rasulillah and his companions praying. Those qualifications are:

1. To be a Muslim.
2. To be 'Aqil (have a sound mind).
3. To be Baliq (reach the age of puberty). If a minor should lead the prayer, Abu Hanifa says the prayer (whether Fard or Sunnah) is not valid. Malik and ibn Hanbal allow it though.
4. To be a man. Many fuqaha allow women to lead women in prayer (Hanafi, Hanbali and Shafi'e). Imam Malik did not allow her to lead the prayer (Ref: Jawahir Al Akil, vol 1, pg 78; Ibn Abdeen, vol 1 pg 388; Al Dosouqee, vol 1 pg 326).
5. To be pure (have Tahara and Wudu). If someone does not have wudu or breaks his wudu, he should not lead the prayer.
6. To know the Ahkam (rules) of salat and to be able to read the Qur'an properly.

In a hadith the Prophet (SAW) said: "The best line of salat for men are the front and worse are the last. The best lines of salat for women are the last, and the worst are the front." In a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah the Prophet said:" A woman should not lead men in prayer," (Ibn Majah Vol:1,P343). According to the general consensus of jurists and scholars of Hadith, a woman is not allowed to lead men in Fard or Sunnah prayer or in congregation. She is, however, allowed to lead a congregation consisting only of women.

In the latter case, it is not only permitted for women to do so, rather it may even be considered highly recommended according to Imam Sha'f'ee, because of the greater rewards of praying in congregation (jama'ah) as compared to praying individually. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never said that such rewards are solely applicable to men and that women are excluded. The authentic practice of the Mothers of the Faithful, such as `Ayesha and Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with them), also confirms this conclusion they lead women in fard prayer and they stood in the middle of the line( Al Muhalla Imam Ibn Hazem Vol 4 P 126,127). Ibn Umar (RA) he instructed his daughter to lead women in Ramadan, and Ayesha RA led women in Tarweeh prayer and in Maghrib prayer and she stood in the middle of line. Both of the esteemed wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who were highly regarded for their deep grasp of religion, used to lead women in Salah (Prayer). Although the vast majority of scholars are of the opinion that a woman may not lead men at all, there is a minority of them - including scholars such as Imam Ibn Jarir, and a jurists such as Abu Thawr and Al-Muzani - who consider it permissible for a woman to lead members of her own household in Salah.

The last mentioned group of scholars have based their ruling on the following report of Abu Dawud on the authority of Umm Waraqah: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to visit her in her own home; he appointed a mu'adhin (one who calls the adhan for Prayer) for her, and ordered her to lead the members of her household (in Salah)." Abu Daoud Hadith# 592)Umm Waraqah-as stated in the sources-was an esteemed woman of Al-Ansar who had memorized the Qur'an. `Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khalid, the narrator of the Hadith, further states: "I happened to see her mu'adhin, who was a person advanced in age."

Based on the above evidence, some scholars have concluded that a woman is allowed to lead her own family members in Salah especially in the following cases:

1. If she is exceptionally qualified and others are not so well versed in the rules of Salah and knowledge of the Qur'an.
2. If her husband is a new Muslim who is struggling to learn the rules of Salah and the Qur'an, while she herself is perfectly well versed in them;
3. If she is a mother of minors who are still learning the rules of Salah and the Qur'an

In the 1400 year history of Islam no scholar who knows and has studied fiqh and the rules of Rasulillah and the Sunnah has permitted the Friday prayer to be led by a woman. The main schools of thought (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'e, Hanbali, and Ja'fari) as well as the Zaydi's and the Zahari's consider this prayer invalid.

Allah knows the best
Shaikh M. Nour, President of ISNA
636-394-7878 Ext: 11
E-mail: mnur1366@yahoo.com

Thursday, September 29, 2005

originally Published: 12.11.2004

Are Sharia Laws and Human Rights Compatible?

In their correspondence, Emran Qureshi (journalist and expert for Islam and human rights) and Heba Raouf Ezzat (lecturer for political science and women’s' rights activist) discuss the role of the sharia in Islamic countries and in how far sharia laws are compatible with human rights.

Dear Heba,
The Sharia law, as is practiced in many Muslim countries today, is clearly incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today Sharia is a source of injustice that profanes Islam and shames Muslims who adhere to a compassionate and merciful interpretation of their faith. At the same time I cannot see why a more humane and gentler Sharia law that is confined to the personal realm could not emerge in the future.
Traditional Muslims - apart from Salafi and Wahhabi Muslims who are dominant in Saudi-Arabia - have long recognized the legitimacy of multiple schools of Islamic jurisprudence. This is in addition to latitudinarian Islamic juridical practices, e.g. the borrowing of more liberal practices from other schools of thought. It shows that there is a remarkable capacity in Islam for reinterpretation.
Nevertheless, I sadly think that a gentler Sharia is unlikely to emerge since today we are presented with the anti-intellectualism, authoritarianism, and moral depravity of these self-appointed Salafi guardians of Sharia.Instead one should ask the question: Why has Sharia become the marker of the Muslim state? Thus Islam as envisioned by Islamist intellectuals is simply a penal code, and an Islamic State, a penal colony, which enforces the "pure" Islam.
This is an extraordinary failure on the part of modern Muslim thinkers.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent Islamic intellectual reformer in the United States, has observed of contemporary Islamist intellectuals "Instead of Islam being a moral vision given to humanity, it becomes constructed into the antithesis of the West. In the world constructed by these groups, there is no Islam; there is only opposition to the West."
This is sadly true.These corrosive ideas do not spring from a vacuum. They arise instead from impoverished Salafi and Wahhabi discourses, which are corroding Islam from within. There is a straight line between the Salafi/Wahhabi interpretations - a puritanical, anti-rationalist, misogynistic Islam with a punitive, intolerant Sharia - and the violence, which now bloodstains our faith. Those who challenge this moral and ethical perversion of our faith are instead attacked as heretics as we can witness in Saudi-Arabia.
Emran Qureshi

Dear Emran,
The Sharia law is not only compatible with human rights but also the most effective way to achieve human rights. Human rights violations in Muslim countries - whose regimes are usually supported by Western allies - are not due to Sharia law.
The violence in Islamic countries is mainly exercised by the state and dates back to the post-colonial era. There was an attempt to secularize the different laws of the Islamic societies and to remove Sharia.
The legal systems of the late French and British colonial powers were seen as a model for the judicial reformation and as a basis for modernising the state. However, these new secular and socialist regimes were totalitarian.
They manipulated the up to then independent traditional religious institutions and appointed the heads of religious bodies and universities.
Islam, when reduced to a penal code, was used to violate human rights.Modern Islamic intellectuals were influenced by this. In their eyes the state was the means by which society and religion were being reshaped. In order to achieve an Islamic renaissance - and that is why Sharia has become the marker of the Muslim state – they tried to get their hands on the state. In the struggle against the totalitarian regimes they wanted and want to bring back the law of Sharia. For them it is only through the Sharia that the strength of Islam can be recaptured.
This struggle is a matter of power, with religion used and abused by both sides.
The Muslim Brotherhood that is banned in Egypt advocates Sharia and has been running for elections for more than a decade accepting the rule of law.

The word "Sharia" means path. The road of Islam encompasses belief and morality for an individual, as much as a legal, economic and social framework, to govern a society. Moreover, Sharia is a progressive platform which empowers the people and protects their rights against totalitarianism and utilitarian ultra-capitalism.
It can be an egalitarian force for democratic social justice, in the Muslim countries and globally. Islam’s central values are justice and personal freedom. However, they can also threaten Western economic interests when Muslim societies defend not only their cultural values but also aspire for economic independence.
Reducing Islam to the individual moral dimension, as you would suggest, means that Islam loses its core as a progressive socialist liberation theology with a vision of a just society. Ironically, the Islamic groups themselves are far from recognizing that and instead focus on penal codes and some outdated interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence. It is true though that some Islamic groups regard Islam as an anti-thesis of the West. However, this mainly results from Western support for some of the most despotic regimes in the Middle East.

Sincerely, Heba Raouf Ezzat

Dear Heba,
On the whole I agree with you though with a caveat: Sharia may one day in the distant future be a positive force for change. Though for me it is emblematic of what is profoundly and pathologically wrong with the Muslim world. It seems that existing reality does not filter into the consciousness of this discussion. Sharia as practised today illustrates injustice and denies human freedom. For example, in parts of the Muslim world like Pakistan and Nigeria, women who are raped are prosecuted under Sharia law for fornication. In Saudi-Arabia the amputation of limbs as a punishment still occurs. Is that an act that is morally defensible? Finally, women under the reign of the Taliban were denied basic human elementary freedoms such as mobility, education, and healthcare - all in the name of Islam.

To their everlasting shame, many Islamist intellectuals remained for the most part indifferent or silent to these crimes.The ideals of the existing Sharia are imbued with a Salafi and Wahhabi ideology. That’s why I do not only criticise Sharia as practised today, but also Salafism and Wahhabism, which provide the intellectual framework for the Sharia. I noticed that you could not bring yourself to say anything remotely critical or even mention these two ideologies by name.
Certainly there is no denying that colonialism was a disaster of epic proportions for Muslims - mostly because of the pathological reactive Islamist ideologies and despotic states that played a role in perpetrating violence that emerged. And I cannot at all disagree with you on Western state support for despotic regimes. However, it does not alone explain the violence in Muslim lands today or deny the fact that this violence is largely a result of a congealed globalized Salafi and Jihadi ideology. This Islamist globalisation must be resisted.

It is a violence that profanes past traditions of Islamic pluralism and tolerance (I know it is Ramadan in Pakistan because that is when Sunni Jihadi organisations best like to firebomb Shiite mosques).You define Islam as a political ideology and criticise Islam for being relegated to the realm of the personal moral dimension.

Islam should apparently not be viewed as a moral vision for humanity, but instead be received as a utopian political ideology one in which the state enforces virtue, and has a socialist inflection. Thus Islam for Islamists is nothing more than a utilitarian receptacle for their favourite ideologies de jour. I also sense a denigration of ideals that deal with personal liberties and freedoms, but I hasten to note that the human freedoms, which matter the most are those that are the closest to the individual.

Sincerely, Emran Qureshi
Dear Emran,
I do not limit the Sharia to a political ideology, but instead view it as a solution, one that encompasses the public and private spheres and centralizes around civil and individual values. Civil morality and civic virtues have been, and will continue to be, central to the future manifestation of Islam.
These are rooted in a solid system of socio-economic welfare advocated by Islamic jurists over centuries, in which the average citizen is empowered and in which the grass root politics of presence is stronger than the elitist politics of representation.If today there is an "over-legalization" of the concept of Sharia - I am referring to abuses in the name of the Sharia - one cannot only blame the Islamists.
The spread of global capitalism and its impact on human rights should be ignored in this discussion, because for many Islamists - apart from the Salafis and Wahhabis who defend a puritan and exclusive understanding of the Sharia which they want to impose on Muslims and non-Muslims alike - Sharia presents a form of resistance to the global capitalist order which they feel is infringing on their communal and national rights.
If some Islamists resort to violent means in order to impose Sharia we should also remember that for many other millions of civil activists Sharia remains a legitimate source of dignity and freedom and a trigger for global justice and equality.
In order to respect the right of Muslims to an alternative world view, a new vision needs to be established between how Muslims and the global civil society interact. Your reference to the misuse of Sharia in Nigeria or Pakistan is right, but in these cases Sharia was manipulated. Atrocities also occur in non-Muslim where there is no Sharia and where other cultural and religious values get abused.We need to understand in more depth why humans resort to violence. Otherwise we will continue to look at Muslims and their cultures as barbaric and view their Sharia as the root of all evil.
That would mean that Muslims can only hope for the future if they trivialize the role of Islam in their public life and restrict it to personal morality. This is simply not fair.

Sincerely, Heba Raouf Ezzat

Dear Heba,
A democracy offers intrinsic political, economic and social benefits and does not deserve the condescension that you offer by "elite representation".I have problems with the "civic virtue" that you describe. On the one hand, Islamists, especially Salafis, tend to generalize their interpretations and project it backward into history in order to enforce validity. On the other hand "civic virtue" has historical as well as geographical specificities.

In "Islamic" Indonesia civic virtue is shaped by different influences than in cosmopolitan centres of Islam or in agrarian and nomadic regions. Centuries ago, civic virtues denied women denied the right to education. However, enforcing "virtue" and Sharia are staples of Islamist discourse: Thus Pakistani mullahs obsess about their citizenry watching Indian "Hindu" Bollywood movies and music and this pattern repeats itself elsewhere. Notice how here aesthetic and artistic endeavours are restricted in the guise of "virtue".

I also sense Islamists continue to profoundly define their worldview reactively vis-à-vis the West. Thus Islamism today is both a by-product of globalization. Islamists, as the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are ideologically driven will fail. Against that Islamists parties as you find them in Turkey that attempt to meet the needs and aspirations of its citizenry will be successful. In effect, these Islamists will help to secularize their societies.

Thus, Islamists are the harbingers of globalization: democracy, secularization, and individual rights. So I must congratulate them for this. Iran is a perfect example. There the young people of that country put bluntly want freedom from the Mullahs. Who would but think that possibility would arise from within political Islam?You also disparage capitalism in the name of Islam, but I suspect would not deny the appeal of the latest capitalist gadgetry (e.g. the laptop computer, cell phone, television, and Hermes scarves).
Please remember that Prophet Mohammad and his wife were humane business people that engaged in commerce. Recall the Hadith: "He who accumulates earnings by honest trade is the beloved of God." Interestingly, it was thanks to mainly Muslim traders that Islam spread into India and South East Asia. That is a kind of Islamic globalization if you will that is not criticized by present-day Islamists.Finally, the intellectuals are responsible for criticizing their received traditions and practices.
But I do not know one - not one single Islamist intellectual that criticizes in a sustained manner Salafism or Wahhabism (a cancer corroding Islamic traditions from within), and is further willing also to acknowledge the corrosive effects of Jihadi "suicide" violence.
To mention this is to not demonize Muslims, as it should be apparent that no people have a monopoly on virtue or vice. I also note that when Islamist regimes engage in genocide or mass murder we see little internal condemnation - witness the reaction to the genocide campaign in Darfur against African Muslims by the fascist Sudanese regime.What we see today is nothing less than a profound anti-intellectualism and immorality that is corroding the soul of Islam by those that purport to unfurl and defend the banner of Islam.
Sincerely, Emran Qureshi
Dear Emran,
I support liberal as well as Islamic civic virtues as well as the celebration of human dignity and social welfare. But I do not believe that democracy necessitates a specific economic system. As Islam is more of a social democracy than an economically liberal one, it can be viewed as a democracy and platform to tame capitalism. If we enjoy the fruits of modernity, mainly science and technology as you pointed out, it does not mean that we should not be critical to the ultra utilitarian ideas some modernists advocated.

Capitalism is not what we are keen to defend but rather an egalitarian and humanist Islam.Darfur is a sad story if you wish to give an example of how a regime that advocates a narrow legal notion of Sharia can become so authoritarian and ignore equal distribution of national wealth and social justice as well as true power sharing. Yet allow me to ask: is this a problem of Islamic politics or rather a recurrent policy of African political elites?Iran is enjoying a dynamic political change and that we can only hope that other regimes in the region would allow the same transparency and openness. I do not advocate an Iran without Mullahs in the public sphere, as the grip of Shii doctrines is strong, but I do advocate a larger presence of progressive voices.

We should admit that an Islamic Iran has been relatively more democratic that the secular rule of the former "Shah of Persia" who was an ally of the "liberal" American administration.Moreover, many Muslims have raised their voice against atrocities committed in the name of Islam.

The Wahhabis and Salafis were subject to harsh criticism by Muslim intellectuals such as Yusuf Qaradawy and late Mohamed Ghazali. Both these intellectuals stressed democratic notions of women’s rights and minorities’ equality. Many other names can be mentioned in other contexts who had critical views regarding the practices of Wahhabis in the domestic politics of many regimes in the Arab peninsula.It is true there are those who abuse Islam.
In the same way we see liberals or socialists abusing the moral core of their respective ideologies, be it individual liberty or the primacy of social justice.

In a global age we need to unite across ideologies, religions and cultures to defend us of extremists of any kind. Through constructive debates we could come to democratic experience that, with time, sweeps away injustice, hegemony and arrogance in each and every corner of this small world and allows the heart of Islam to be recaptured as a message of mercy, justice and power sharing.

Sincerely, Heba Raouf Ezzat

The correspondence was conducted between June and August 2004. The letters were first published in the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau on 4 October 2004. The correspondence was initiated by free-lance journalist Monika Jung-Mounib, currently working in Switzerland.Emran Qureshi is a journalist and expert for Islam and human rights. He is currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. "The New Crusaded, Constructing the Muslim Enemy" is his most recent publication (Columbia University Press, 2003). He resides in Ottawa, where he is working on his next book, "A Study of Islam and Human Rights".Heba Raouf Ezzat teaches political theory at the Department of Political Science, Cairo University. She is co-ordinator of the Civil Society Program at the Center for Political Research and Studies at Cairo University and editor of the Global Civil Society Yearbook. She also works as womens' rights activist.
Published: 12.11.2004 - Last modified: 12.11.2004

Fatwas Against Religious Liberalism!

Islam in Indonesia
Fatwas against Religious Liberalism

Eleven new religious decrees have sparked off animated debates among the Indonesian public over the past few weeks. Moderate Muslims and representatives of liberal Islamic organisations in particular have lodged appeals and are calling for a review.
Bettina David reports

Eleven new fatwas (religious decrees) were formulated during the 7th Congress of the Indonesian ulemas council (MUI, "Majlis Ulama Indonesia"), which took place in Jakarta in late July 2005. Fatwas are not legally binding in Indonesia, but they are an important source of guidance for many devout Muslims.The decrees recently issued by MUI have aroused vigorous controversies and heated debates, and once again highlight the huge gap that exists between the liberal, moderate and the orthodox, neo-fundamentalist currents in contemporary Islam in Indonesia.

Ban on women leading Friday prayers
One of the fatwas bans women from leading Friday prayers. This fatwa is MUI's reaction to the taboo broken by Amina Wadud in New York in March of this year when she led Friday prayers that were attended by both men and women. Another fatwa deals with superstition and the associated shamanistic practices that are currently experiencing a boom in the Indonesian mass media and on television in particular.

The fatwa emphasises the danger of sliding into a polytheism that is supposedly caused by this phenomenon and that would make jinnees (spirits) objects of worship alongside God. However, the fatwa that brewed up the biggest storm was the one that categorised religious liberalism, secularism, and religious pluralism as haram (forbidden).

From the point of view of the MUI, a profession of these values equates with a break with Islam because these values are described as being incompatible with the true Islam. In its statement, the council defines religious liberalism as Islamic thought that is not based on a religious foundation, but which instead subscribes to the freedom of human intellectual capacity.

Secularism is defined as a view of the world according to which religion only regulates the relationship between individuals and God, while the relationship between humans is not regulated by any religious order at all, but must instead be negotiated by people themselves. Finally, pluralism is defined as the conviction that all religious are equal and their respective claims to the truth are ultimately only relative, and that no religion can claim to propagate the one and only truth. According to Ma'ruf Amin, the fatwa commission chairman of the council, "it is acceptable to have a pluralism that accepts the social reality that several different religious denominations exist side by side in Indonesia and that these religious should respect each other and maintain good relations with one another.

" A blow for liberal Muslim movements"

This fatwa is a definite blow for the growing influence of progressive and liberal Muslim movements like the Liberal Islam Network ("Jaringan Islam Liberal", JIL).

MUI considers religious liberalism, which speaks out against a literal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, to be a serious threat to the fundamental principles of the Islamic faith and something against which the faithful must be protected. The protests were not slow in coming: one such protest came from the former President and chairman of Indonesia's largest mass Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, loosely translates as the Awakening of Islamic Scholars), Abdurrahman Wahid, various Islamic intellectuals like the JIL coordinator, Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, and human rights activists.

Together, they issued a joint statement calling for a revision of the key points of the eleven religious decrees. Among other things, they accused MUI of propagating a one-sided, distorted definition of the concepts of religious liberalism, pluralism, and secularism, and issued a stout warning against an increase in authoritarianism in religious matters.

The second fatwa that triggered furious debates targeted Ahmadiyah. Ahmadiyah's teachings are condemned as being "deviant", "misleading", and beyond the Islamic pale in theological terms. In short, the MUI considers Ahmadiyah's followers to be apostates.

As far back as 1980, the MUI issued a fatwa that labelled Ahmadiyah as "deviant" and haram. MUI's repeated damnation of Ahmadiyah has a topical background: in July, a radical Islamic group of thugs attacked a meeting of the Ahmadiyah in Bogor, near Jakarta.

A signal for radical Islamic groups?

Critics now fear that the MUI fatwa could be interpreted by radical groups as a green light for more violent attacks on followers of Ahmadiyah.

The possible legitimation of attacks on unpopular religious groups and minorities on the basis of the fatwa is also, in the eyes of many critics, a threat to the already precarious relations between the religions in the archipelago. Officially, the MUI fatwas have the backing of 26 Islamic organisations. These have, however, issued statements calling on the people to take up the fatwas in a considered and calm way, and to resolve any differences of opinion in a "civilised" manner through dialogue and encounters.
In view of the highly charged atmosphere, both supporters and opponents of the fatwa warn against possible outbreaks of violence and call for an intense dialogue between all parties involved to resolve any possible differences.

It is worth noting that this is the first time the MUI's fatwas have aroused such emotional public debates. The MUI has long been renowned for its controversial fatwas, which have not, however, generated a comparable reaction at other times in the past.
The fact that its orthodox fatwas have caused such a rumpus this time is an illustration of a new awareness among the Indonesian public.

Different interpretations of religious matters are boldly stated and openly discussed in a way that has rarely been witnessed here in the past. The gulf that is growing between the supporters of a liberal, moderate interpretation of religion on the one hand, and a variety of orthodox, neo-fundamentalist, and radical Islamic currents on the other hints at the crucial test that Indonesia's Islam and, consequently, its democratic system will face in the future.

Bettina David© Qantara.de 2005Translation from German: Aingeal Flanagan
Qantara.deLuthfi Assyaukanie

Amina Wadud's Breakthrough The controversy continues to rage over Amina Wadud, a woman Muslim scholar, who recently led Friday prayer services in New York. Her case is ultimately not about gender and prayer, but about religious tolerance, says Luthfi AssyaukanieThe "Prosperous Justice Party" PKS in Indonesia

No Contradiction between Islam and Democracy The successful new centrist Islamic party PKS is a moderate alternative to radical Islamism and has won respect for its disciplined campaigns and a reputation for clean politics. Elizabeth Fuller Collins and Ihsan Ali Fauzi reportAnalysis Susan Blackburn
Indonesia - How Do Women Influence Political Islam? Efforts to influence political Islam are made by Indonesian women both within the Islamic movement and outside it. Which is more effective is difficult to say. However it is clear, that women in Indonesia have changed their political strategies considerably over the years. By Susan Blackburn

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Interesting Articles

Violence Is a Human, Not an Islamic Trait
Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 01, 2004.
By Hussein Ibish

The idea that Islam, and by extension Muslims, are inherently violent and irrational has become commonplace in our culture.

This misperception, with deep origins in the historical rivalry between Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East, was intensified by the Arab-Israeli conflict and a slew of bigoted Hollywood movies, and gained a solid foothold in the minds of many Americans after 9/11. Since 9/11, right-wing evangelical preachers such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and commentators such as Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes, have spared no effort to spread fear and hatred of Islam and the growing American Muslim community.

This defamation probably has its greatest parallel in the anti-Semitic ideas that took hold in American culture between the First and Second World Wars. The charges directed against the American Jewish community - now eerily echoed by anti-Muslim rhetoric - smeared a religious minority as dangerous and subversive aliens. The Father Coughlins and Henry Fords of that era, and ours, found the political space to promote prejudice yet remain "respectable."

Certainly the 19 hijackers responsible for the carnage of 9/11 saw themselves as Muslims. But so, of course, did about 300 of their victims. And it is true that the United States faces a threat from al-Qaeda and like-minded organizations. But so, of course, does the entire Arab and Islamic world, in which almost all governments and most people are committed to the war against al-Qaeda, and which is home to most of the victims of such fanaticism.

Some point to the glories of Muslim Spain, the notable tolerance and multiculturalism of the Ottoman Empire, or the relative peacefulness of the Islamic world over the past millennium compared to Christian Europe to make the case that Islam is essentially an agent of peace.
The more complex truth is that the Islamic world, at present and historically, is composed of a vast constellation of human beliefs, experiences and endeavors - a dizzying multiplicity, not a monolith. Like all great civilizations and cultures, those of the Islamic world have produced more than enough of the good to demand the highest respect, and enough of the bad to prohibit any complacency or chauvinism on the part of Muslims.

More than 1.3 billion people are Muslims, constituting about one fifth of humanity. Hence, the entire range of human experience and orientation can be readily found among them.
The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe said simply that "Africa is people." So is the Islamic world. Not better or worse, villain or victim, but simply people. Violence, extremism and intolerance are universal human failings. They certainly are not particular to any culture or faith.

Hussein Ibish is communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Posted on October 6, 2004 01:39 PM

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Progressive Muslim Union and CAIR

Press Statements http://www.pmuna.org/archives/2005/06/pmu_response_to.php

PMU Response to
"Women-Friendly Mosque Brochure"

The Progressive Muslim Union welcomes the release of the brochure, "Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage," written and distributed by several conservative North American Muslim organizations.
We are pleased by the realization that justice issues in the Muslim community are always linked to gender issues, and that Muslims from a wide range of backgrounds can work together to achieve gender-just communities.

The PMU feels that Mosques and community centers should adopt and implement these guidelines, however not as a final answer to the alienation and exclusion of women from these institutions, but as a first step towards complete gender equality. The brochure rightly calls for the full participation of women, but unfortunately the guidelines stop short of actually achieving this goal.

Until the right of women to give sermons and lead mixed-gender congregational prayers is recognized, their participation will, of a necessity, be less than complete. In sum, we welcome the release of the brochure, encourage its adoption, and yet simultaneously urge all Muslims to settle for no less than the complete gender equality in our mosques and community centers

Posted on June 24, 2005 12:13 PM

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The concept of Progressive Islam

Last Fri 4/8/05, I spoke to a crowd of more than 100 activists at the Unitarian Church of Providence, RI on the issue of Progressive Islam.
At the begining of the talk I focused on needed general information about Islam for non-Muslim activists before focusing the talk on Political Islam and how it has been hijacking our religion for the past 15 centuries. The role of Muslim, non-Muslim fanatics, and the western intelligence in distorting the image of Islam and Muslims took great part of the lecture.

I presented my argument that progressive Muslims should draw clear line between the ‘religious’ and the ‘political’ in Koran and Sunna. Fanatics Muslims do not get this clear message of Islam. For example, the Prophet Mohamed (and Koran) had been dealing with specific political situations when he (or the Holy Text) condemned some acts of Jewish tribes of Meddina. That condemnation should not be taken against/extended to all the Jews (or Christians) of the world in our time.

The same argument is to be used in any part of the Koran/Sunna that seems to be contradicting with any basic civil and human rights of our time. This especially in the case of women status in Islam. The conservative Muslims are disserving Islam when they arrogantly claim that one man equal to two women. When The Koran and Sunna advocated this 1500 years ago it was a very progressive thing for women who almost had no similar rights.

I would like to pursue this discussion more in our next meeting

Mohamed Elgadi

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Religion vs. Politics in Islam

Muhammad: Prophet and Politician
Published: 4/9/2004 http://islamlib.com/en/page.php?page=article&id=699

I am, here, using simple terminology. I want to call Muhammad a prophet and a politician as well. In his 23 year career, Muhammad showed a moral reformation through his prophetic career, and led a social and political reformation in Medina.
By: Ulil Abshar-Abdalla

This article was published in the daily Media Indonesia, Tuesday 4th May 2004The advantage of Islam as a religion is this: unlike Christianity, Islam found ‘Constantine” within itself. Muhammad was not merely a prophet, but also a figure who struggled hard to bring his teaching down to earth so that it would not be only a ‘white cloud’ drifting in the air. In Christianity, Jesus had three years to convey his message. Afterward, Jesus came into conflict with the ‘political structure’ of the great Roman Empire and was ultimately crucified. At that time, Christianity was exactly like plants that sprout after being cut. If Constantine the Great had not embraced Christianity in the third century and made it a religion of the state, what would have happened to this religion that now has the most disciples in the world. Without ‘political’ power, would this religion have progressed rapidly and become a universal religion? We’ll never know.

Islam, in sloppy comparison, is a case of Muhammad being Jesus and Constantine at once. Compare the history of Jesus and Muhammad. The years of Muhammad’s life in Mecca (610 AD when Muhammad attained first revelation up to 622 AD when he migrated to Medina) can be seen as the period of ‘The Sermon on the Mount’, the period when the prophet propagated his teachings. This period went on for 13 years. The Medina period, from 622 AD up to 632 AD when he died, was the period of political and social institutionalization. I want to call it the ‘Constantine period’.An important phase which is symbolically considered as reflecting the mission of Muhammad is his meditation in a cave outside Mecca. After he attained the revelation in 610 AD, in spite of staying in the cave, enjoying solitary meditation, and staying away from society, he returned to the city to propagate the teachings, and directed a ‘social transformation’.

In Islam there is a difference between a Nabi (prophet) and a Rasul (messenger). A Nabi is the one who attained revelation, and who is not required to disseminate it to society. While a Rasul, on the contrary, attained revelation and had to propagate it. Muhammad was both a Nabi (prophet) as well as a Rasul (messenger). I am, here, using simple terminology. I want to call Muhammad a prophet and a politician as well. In his 23 year career, Muhammad showed a moral reformation through his prophetic career, and led a social and political reformation in Medina.

One of the advantages of the Prophet was that he did not live in the Roman or in the Sassanian empires in Persia. This is a historical advantage which Christianity did not posses. Christianity was born in the Roman Empire and within the stable local ‘religious power’ of Judaism. Islam, on the contrary, was born within –let’s say— a ‘terra incognita,’ vacant space with no power. Mecca, where Muhammad was born and started his mission, was a distant city from the Roman and Persian Empires. Using Ben Anderson’s analysis about the concept of political rule in Java, I think what has been conveyed by Anderson is typical of pre-modern kingdoms in which power is declining which was the condition at that time. The influence of both great empires of the day was not great in Mecca. This condition benefited the new religion and community developed by the Prophet. If Islam had appeared in Turkey, the journey of this religion would have been different.

An Egyptian scholar, Ali Abdul Raziq, in his controversial message, al-Islam wa Ushul al-Hukm (Islam and principles of governance), conveyed that Muhammad was only a prophet and a messenger, not a leader of the state. Although I agree with his objective of writing this message – to repudiate the claim of Muslims to reestablish the caliphate, his illustration of Muhammad is unfair. Muhammad was truly a messenger, but he was also leader of a real community which was the ‘embryo’ of a state in Medina. Therefore, it is acceptable for modern Muslim intellectuals to search for inspiration for managing modern society through the example of the Prophet in Medina. One policy of Muhammad’s ('Abqariyyat Muhammad), was to initiate a ‘political contract’ between the Muslim community and other social groups in Medina.

In Islamic history, this contract is known as 'Mitsaq al-Madinah' or the Medina Concord or Charter. An Egyptian writer, Muhammad Husen Haikal, in Hayat Muhammad (The Life of Muhammad), considers this as a 'watsiqah siyasiyyah' or political document guaranteeing the freedom of faith, freedom of opinion, the protection of the country, the right to live, and the right to own property.I agree that Medina was an embryo state. The Prophet was the leader. As a politician leading a state, he succeeded in establishing the first political entity in Arabia. In that new entity, Arab society from various tribes and clans was united: a great achievement which never been achieved by an Arab leader before Muhammad. Like Constantine, the Prophet made Islam a ‘cement of civilization’ tying Arab and later non Arabs together.

What I don’t agree with is whether the Prophet’s entire policy in Medina must be copied for the current time because the example of the Prophet in Medina belonged to a specific social and historical context. The model of Medina can be an inspiration to search for forms of management of Muslim society, but it is not a ‘blueprint’ which must be copied in detail. Muslim society must formulate new models in accordance with current challenges.

Allahumma shalli 'ala sayyidina Muhammad wa 'ala ali Sayyidina Muhammad.***(Translated by Lanny Octavia, edited by Jonathan Zilberg)

African Americans and Progressive Islam

September/October 2004

An Africana View of Progressive American Islam
by A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad

The humanist and multicultural battle for the soul of Islam

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Sudanese scholar and Emory University professor of law, puts it very clearly: the need for peace in the global community is a humanist message that Muslims must recover as a banner under which modernist transformation can proceed (Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/13/2002).For Muslim Americans, the events of 9/11 contributed to heightened focus on the age-old tensions and political struggles within Islam between the forces of puritanical reaction, non-imaginative orthodoxy, and entrenched tradition and the more liberating tendencies in Muslim philosophical theology, theosophy, and religious practice—historical tendencies that have all along had a contentious relationship with both extremist and conventional variants in Islam.Yet black American Muslims have long formed a sturdy backbone of Islamic dissent.Non-indigenous, newly arrived, or second generation Muslim public intellectuals have just been waking up, over the past twenty-odd years, to a critical consciousness of American realities. Black American Muslims have been well aware of them for a long time. (It's estimated that upwards of thirty percent of the Native Africans whose bodies and labor were stolen to build this country were in fact Muslims.)

Thus while Africana Muslim intellectuals with a progressive bent join with their non-black Muslim counterparts in advancing a liberationist project to get free of the control mechanisms of a reactionary and all too frequently puritanical Islamic hegemony, it must never be forgotten that black American Islamic dissent is a lot more than two decades old, and much deeper than a knee-jerk response to the aftermath of 9/11.It is African-American Muslims who are historically situated as the moral voice of the voiceless and weak within the American system. It is this same cultural Islam that has been the vanguard of oppressed peoples' struggles for years—years in which Muslim immigrants in their collective and individual presence remained curiously quiet and reclusive, except when US policy positions affected their mother countries. Yet however early or late, progressive American Muslims as a group are now ascertaining how we can actively struggle against dangerous backwardness in religion using a historicist, liberation oriented and faith informed orthro-praxy and critical methodology. Let me summarize this project as follows.

Toward a Progressive Reformation of Faith

Progressive Islam:
* Understands that the Qur'anic message is essentially universalist regarding salvation, while it remains unitarian regarding the Oneness of God. The string of prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur'an up through Jesus and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) is a short list pointing toward thousands of others who have brought God's revelations to humankind. The divine message has remained essentially the same, with degrees of cosmetic modification fashioned for differing cultures, languages, needs, and times. And in the post-Muhammadan period, according to the experiential insights of the great illuminationist philosophers, Sufi saints, and mystics, God's infinite self-revealing continues in extra-scriptural forms.
* Distinguishes the unconditional faith in Allah's Oneness and the voluntary submission of self to God's sovereignty from historically- and politically-conditioned beliefs, and practices informed by such beliefs. These remain open to rational investigation and possible change in the context of hard-fought social struggles.
* Emphasizes free will as a gift to humankind from God, rather than fatalism in religion.
* Declares white supremacist ideology and its twin, Christian triumphalism, along with their strategies of violence-based domestic social control, imperialism, and militarism, as manifestations of spiritually darkened hearts in need of social and political repentance and a long process of religio-psychological rehabilitation. Reparations in some form are an essential element of this rehabilitation.
* Takes into thoughtful consideration the idea that religious experience has an ideological basis in material reality. The class-, race-, gender- and authority-based ideological underpinnings of all religions must constantly be exposed and assessed.
* Insists on a historically conscious praxis. For progressive African-American Muslim thinkers especially, it is never enough to merely project logically consistent religious thoughts, beautifully articulated in some abstract way. Critically informed and organized action is paramount for qualitative social change.
* Respects the Jeffersonian dictum of church-state separation as promoting religious pluralism, and liberal religious tolerance as in keeping with an authentic and liberative Qur'anic hermeneutic.
* Lifts up the meditative and theosophical Islamic sciences/practices. The works of the Muslim spiritual masters are voluminous and hold out much hope for religious universalism based on a grasp of the oneness of reality.
* Advocates nonviolent resistance to oppression as the morally superior equivalent of the militarist notion of jihad. Shaykh Amadou Bamba of Senegal and Abdul Ghaffar Khan of India have credentials equal to those of M. Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Malcolm X's politically righteous slogan of "by any means necessary" must be read in an ethically consistent way that does no violence to the exhortations and limits of sacred scripture.
* Advances the spirit of internationalism and regionalism by use of the ideas in human rights conventions.
* Enters into coalitions with other progressive religious and/or secular activists in support of civil liberties and qualitative social change.
* Uplifts Islamic philosophical inquiry and the unrestricted use of reason in the practice of ijtihad (personal judgment of religious matters). This point assumes that a narrowly conceived traditionalist orthodoxy is problematic.

Agenda: thinking outside the box
It follows from these principles that progressive Islamic thought must ever regard its doings in the world as tentative and subject to change. God's plan, and the guidance we receive as creatures of the Universal One, are not to be boxed into some neat and tidy or permanent explanation and practice. The only real and lasting thing is submission of self to divine guidance. This is unavoidable. All creation must, at some point in its journey or evolving, submit to its Creator's Will. But we, in our limitations, may not in this life ever comprehend that Will.
If this sounds heterodox, that's a function of history. Theological and jurisprudential orthodoxy in Islam were not established without protracted political and ideological struggles fairly similar to Christianity's own wars of establishment.. The only "Inquisition" in Islamic history was initiated, not by conservative traditionalists, but rather by "free-thinking" rationalists (the Mu'tazilah, encouraged by the 9th century caliph al-Ma'mun). However, at most other points in Islamic history it has been the puritans and/or traditionalists who have wielded the greater power.

The brute social power of organized traditionalist schools of thought and their influence on particular Muslim rulers were used to compel discipline in the rank and file. Rebel movements too, such as the very early Kharijites, set themselves up as judges and executioners of other Muslims who disagreed with their ideas on right governance and the political succession to the Prophet. Spiritually intoxicated Sufi mystics and critical Islamic philosophers alike have been hounded and killed (and after their deaths, often celebrated) as the power of "orthodoxy" grew or subsided.

This association of religious orthodoxy with brute force and frequently the police power of the caliphs is informative. Medieval Islamic history demonstrates that Muslims who get obsessed with "being right" are not above employing compulsion in religion, no matter what the Qur'an may teach. If we want to take Qur'anic teaching seriously, we have first of all got to let compulsion go. And that means there can be no enforceable orthodoxy.

Secondly, Muslim women leaders, many of whom are highly engaged in academic and professional discourse, must not be consigned to a religious space exclusively reserved for mothers and children: their expert voices are needed in the public square. The decades-old movement among African-American Muslims to elevate women to public religious leadership roles is exemplary, yet still unheard of in most other sects and/or schools of Islamic thought. Elsewhere, at the popular religious level, there has been a long tradition of Sufi women saints being venerated equally with male saints. And the contemporary liberationist writings of Fatima Mernissi, Niamo Mu'id and Riffat Hassan, among many others, are impressive here as counters to male domination.

Thirdly, we would do well to follow the examples of leaders like Imam W.D. Muhammad and Minister Louis Farrakhan: more interfaith dialogue with progressive partners in the other faith traditions is requisite for the success of our project.

Fourthly, we must embrace the findings of science, yet insist on its ethical and non-racist practice. An uncritical appropriation of modern science and technology would be a disaster for the faithful, who rely on Muslim thinkers to think and not merely react to Western gadgetry. Some forms of postmodern and deconstructionist philosophy are very well suited to progressive Muslim intellectual inquiry, while a deepened critical theory of the anti-democratic technocratic state, a là Herbert Marcuse and Jergen Habermas, also works well for the struggle to overcome the fetters of "scientifically generated forms of unfreedom."Finally, more emphasis is due on the arts, music, poetry, sport, play—and the spirituality of cooperative physical work as a unifying, self-affirming, and economically productive strategy. Black jazz masters like Pharoah Saunders can put our minds and hearts into a reflective mode and draw us toward a deeper apprehension of the sublime. Here, again, the masters in Islamic theosophy, gnosticism, and mysticism can be called upon to demonstrate that there is a different way for us to be.Jalaluddin Rumi said it: "Philosophers' legs are made of wood; legs of wood are infirm indeed."The progressive Muslim movement ought to be able to dance.

A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, Ph.D., is chair of the Africana Islamic Institute and co-chair of the Philadelphia Area Black Radical Congress. He is an ecumenist and longtime religio-political theorist, concerned about world peace and restorative justice. A former member of the executive committee of the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, disarmament coordinator of Clergy and Laity Concerned, and peace activist within the Rainbow Coalition, Ibn-Ziyad is currently an adjunct professor of Islamic and Africana philosophy and criminal justice at Rutgers University's Camden, New Jersey campus, and a world history teacher at the high school level.

Re-posted on www.azprogressives.blogspot.org
Monday, March 07, 2005

Welcome to the APM site

Amherst Progressive Muslims is a core group of concerned Muslims who want to bring up the true social justice face of Islam that has been hijacked by right-wing conservatives for centuries.

Islam has become on the hands of these people a symbol of oppression in our time. This was not the story when Islam revealed to the Prophet Mohamed in 610 A.D.

APM Committee will be posting more on its mission, goals and objectives on this site in the coming days...

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