Please Stop Telling Us to Abandon Islam: An Open Letter From a Muslim Reformer
In the last two weeks, I’ve twice come across conversations where I’m either directly or indirectly encouraged toward apostasy. The first was two weeks ago, when I bumped into the fiery Nonie Darwish, and a second more sincere outcry today on Facebook from a dear lady with whom I’m in the midst of cultivating a unique friendship. She asks of moderates and reformists:
“What do you do with the truth of Islam that exists in the Quran? How can you re-interpret what it says to make yourself feel better (deceived) about Islam? No enlightenment will come to Islam. The emerging leaders will grow more militant OR leave Islam. That’s an absolute you can count on. One or the other….but, the reformists/moderates will need to make a choice sooner than later. You are not a favored or accepted category any longer. Your mantra is growing old and stale…and, no evidence of change because you are a laughing stock (sadly) to your religion/Muslim world.”
Despite looming deadlines and a toddler who’s overdue for some outdoor play, I feel compelled to respond, not out of anger or some futile need for word wars…but out of heartbreak. You see, I completely get what you’re saying here and understand where you’re coming from. I share your frustration and have my own frustration that stems from your comment. When it comes to our faith, there are three issues:
1) Some verses in the Quran have layered meanings…not two meanings, but three sometimes four. It took me ten years of study to get to that point and I’m still a novice here. I would have gotten there sooner, as would many others, if Muslims were more open to actually dissecting the Quran instead of paying blind homage to it. Personally I got to this point through pushing reform, from taking the hard path that made life a living hell for a while, that separated me from family or convenience. I know plenty of other Muslims recognizing something isn’t right but not knowing where to look or how to see.
2) There are plenty of verses in the Quran that we can’t make excuses for because there are no excuses to be had. A spade is spade. We have to recognize what’s wrong here, which brings on a greater challenge of first recognizing that the Quran is not without imperfection. There is a process and it’s in place. I’ve seen it done, I’ve done it myself, and I’ve led other people through it in conversations. I know for a fact that we can change, because I’ve lived it and seen it. The goal is getting it to a global stage…and we’re looking at 50+ years for that conservatively at this rate where reformers are vastly under-supported and worked against from all sides.
3) As Muslims, we need to recognize Prophet Muhammad was human – and not divine. And we need to stop treating him as some infallible demi god. Believe it or not, this is the biggest challenge, but again I’ve lived it, seen it, done it, and gotten other Muslims to realize it as well – the staunchest of the staunch. So it is possible.
Just like the Quran has many layers, the reform movement has multiple layers as well…we’ve got conflicting personalities, people interpreting reform in their own way – there’s a struggle within Islam and a struggle within the reform movement. Real religious reform already happened in Islam centuries ago and the progressives lost. This is round two and this time the climate is ripe for us to come out on top.
For anyone invested in Islam and its effect on a civilization, I say this: I applaud you. I applaud you for taking the time to learn and advocate awareness for something that isn’t your own. I was born into this, but you weren’t. That isn’t an easy undertaking and in so many ways you show more compassion, interest, and in some cases even an understanding beyond Muslims themselves. I wish more Muslims had your passion. That said, I implore you to apply the impossibility, the absolutely imperceptible reality that millions of Muslims will somehow magically abandon Islam. They will never abandon Islam. Don’t think of the moderate, the progressive, or even the fundamentalist. Think of the family in the villages remote from warfare, for whom Islam is a deeply rooted part of their identity – the family that has no access to education, no interest in politics, no part in any war. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of such Muslims, whether they live a village with huts and dirt floors or a modern 1st world village with picket fences, play dates, and mortgages; these two still live in a village of the mind and you will never get them to abandon Islam. To impose a precept that involves leaving Islam shows a frustratingly pinhole understanding of Muslims, while at the same time completely undermining the few reformers who are essentially the only solution we have to what’s ultimately a shared concern and goal.
Give us a chance. We’re working class people who don’t get a paycheck for reform work. We do it in addition to earning a living, raising our families, and trying to live our lives with some normality while battling a Goliath of a problem. We don’t have the House of Saud, the USG, or any other entity funding our aims. We’re an army of a handful of Martin Luthers all banging on Kaaba doors in our own way.