Monday, April 23, 2007

CSMonitor: "Why I am not a moderate Muslim"

This is an interesting document. The author, Asma Khalid, interprets the word "moderate" as implying "not orthodox." Similar associations come up in the Jewish world, but Khalid is mostly avoiding these issues in an exercise which probably elicits approval from the CSMonitor audience anyway:
Cambridge, England - Last month, three Muslim men were arrested in Britain in connection with the London bombings of July 2005. In light of such situations, a number of non-Muslims and Muslims alike yearn for "moderate," peace-loving Muslims to speak out against the violent acts sometimes perpetrated in the name of Islam. And to avoid association with terrorism, some Muslims adopt a "moderate" label to describe themselves.

I am a Muslim who embraces peace. But, if we must attach stereotypical tags, I'd rather be considered "orthodox" than "moderate."

"Moderate" implies that Muslims who are more orthodox are somehow backward and violent. And in our current cultural climate, progress and peace are restricted to "moderate" Muslims. To be a "moderate" Muslim is to be a "good," malleable Muslim in the eyes of Western society.
Whether "Moderate" implies all these things depends on your view of Islam, I suppose. The Left is very big on the idea of the Orthodox but nevertheless pacifistic Muslim. Most Muslims are what we would call Orthodox, I think, and a fair number of them condemn Al-Qaeda and other jihadists who target the West. How many condemn Hamas? What about the death penalty for apostates? Is asking such questions the same thing as demanding a " malleable Muslim"?
I recently attended a debate about Western liberalism and Islam at the University of Cambridge where I'm pursuing my master's degree. I expected debaters on one side to present a bigoted laundry list of complaints against Islam and its alleged incompatibility with liberalism, and they did.

But what was more disturbing was that those on the other side, in theory supported the harmony of Islam and Western liberalism, but they based their argument on spurious terms. While these debaters – including a former top government official and a Nobel peace prize winner – were well-intentioned, they in fact wrought more harm than good. Through implied references to moderate Muslims, they offered a simplistic, paternalistic discourse that suggested Muslims would one day catch up with Western civilization.

In the aftermath of September 11, much has been said about the need for "moderate Muslims." But to be a "moderate" Muslim also implies that Osama bin Laden and Co. must represent the pinnacle of orthodoxy; that a criterion of orthodox Islam somehow inherently entails violence; and, consequently, that if I espouse peace, I am not adhering to my full religious duties.

I refuse to live as a "moderate" Muslim if its side effect is an unintentional admission that suicide bombing is a religious obligation for the orthodox faithful. True orthodoxy is simply the attempt to adhere piously to a religion's tenets.

The public relations drive for "moderate Islam" is injurious to the entire international community. It may provisionally ease the pain when so-called Islamic extremists strike. But it really creates deeper wounds that will require thicker bandages because it indirectly labels the entire religion of Islam as violent.
Not if it assumes that the moderate Muslims are out there and that their voices might be getting stifled by Saudi-funded groups. The image of the bad "paternalistic" West, ready to label all Muslims as violent comes very readily to hand for this "Middle Eastern/Islamic studies" major. I don't know if those who are convinced that Islam is inherently and incorrigibly violent are calling that much for "moderate Islam."
The term moderate Muslim is actually a redundancy. In the Islamic tradition, the concept of the "middle way" is central. Muslims believe that Islam is a path of intrinsic moderation, wasatiyya. This concept is the namesake of a British Muslim grass-roots organization, the Radical Middle Way. It is an initiative to counter Islam's violent reputation with factual scholarship.

This was demonstrated through a day-long conference that the organization sponsored in February. The best speaker of the night was Abdallah bin Bayyah, an elderly Mauritanian sheikh dressed all in traditional white Arab garb, offset by a long gray beard.

The words coming out of the sheikh's mouth – all in Arabic – were remarkably progressive. He confronted inaccurate assumptions about Islam, spoke of tolerance, and told fellow Muslims an un­pleasant truth: "Perhaps much of this current crisis springs from us," he said, kindly admonishing them. He chastised Muslims for inadequately explaining their beliefs, thereby letting other, illiberal voices speak for them.

I was shocked by his blunt though nuanced analysis, given his traditional, religious appearance. And then I was troubled by my shock. To what extent had I, a hijabi Muslim woman studying Middle Eastern/Islamic studies, internalized the untruthful representations of my own fellow Muslims? For far too long, I had been fed a false snapshot of what Islamic orthodoxy really means. [...]
Isn't this taking an odd turn? She was already wearing a hijab, but she didn't have a true understanding of her religion until she attended a one-day conference? And what were her pre-conference beliefs exactly? And whose fault was the misunderstanding? Is that "Radical Middle Way" really something that we enlightened, post-paternalistic Westerners can get behind? This essay is a bit short on details.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.

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