The 8 Things I Keep Hearing From Muslims
As a Muslim Reformer, I get to hear from a patchwork of Muslims, especially in response to the more challenging public statements I make. Most recently, the statement that rattled many was the testimony and Q/A segment of a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Radical Islam.
This is all part of the process, as Shirin Taber, Director of the Middle East Women’s Leadership Network reminds me. And because I never can get to all of you – as much as I would love to have a dialogue with each and every person – I’m responding to the top 8 most common questions and comments I get to hear.
THEY SAY: “Your quarrel should not be with Islam, but rather with those who call themselves Muslims yet defile the words of the Koran and wrap the religion in their cultural doctrines and beliefs.”
I SAY: I agree. You’ll see my tone and rhetoric shift depending on the audience and issue, but this is the key point. We have to all become critical thinkers, and that’s a tough conversation to birth, especially with how complex and layered the national (and global) dialogue is. I understand your issue with the testimony, but a 10 or 12 page paper directed to politicians is going to be very specific to a political audience that needs to be spoken with in a certain tone. This is different from how one would speak to Muslims or another audience. The tone changes but the message is the same.
I have also studied – and continue to study – both the theology and the history. Push past the Quran, and think about why there is a system of Islam now rather than a religion of Islam or even better still, just a faith. To understand this – and use this to drive the conversation – we have to have uncomfortable conversations and start educating ourselves and being a little more open-minded.
THEY SAY: “As a psychologist I have this sense, based on your writing, that there is a raging inferno within.”
I SAY: What else is a person who is awake supposed to feel when there are Yazidi girls being sold as slaves in Saudi Arabia? How much should I calm my heart when I see a little boy – who looks just like my little boy – sitting there stunned and cloaked in dust from a bombed building? What’s the proper reaction when I see children drowning in the sea? If someone sees this and isn’t deeply moved with emotion, I question that person’s empathy and interest in human dignity. But it’s not anger. I have a storm within me.
THEY SAY: “Why do you feel you have to take on the battle of exposing what you call ‘political system’ when Islam cannot be changed to meet the 21 century standards. Allah has perfected our religion; what he has perfected cannot be changed.
I SAY: Asking me why I feel I have to take this on is like me asking you why you’re breathing.
There is a political system of Islam that has nothing to do with the core faith. This is based on history. If we look at Islam in the years after Prophet Muhammad’s death and through the early Caliphate and dynasties, it would be clear to you as well. But unfortunately, Muslims think reading Quran is a sufficient education on Islam. It is not; it is just scratching the surface.
When Allah says “And your faith is complete,” then why do we see 200 years of Islamic scholarship codify scholarship into law? What is original Islam and what is invented Islam? I am not changing Islam. I am changing it back to what it was meant to be. That is reform.
When you denounce critical thinking, is it not a perversion of faith? Are you not denying the many favors of Allah, the most gracious of which is our ability to think and feel? Is it not true blasphemy against the will of God to turn a blind eye and harden your heart when we witness the world of Muslims today and how far that world has fallen from what Islam was meant to be? When you say “It is not my battle,” or that “I have my own problems to deal with,” then why bother calling yourself a Muslim? Why stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the prayer mat when you cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with humanity?
THEY SAY: “To equate Islam with the Constitution is sad. You see those white boys sitting there in Congress, with the stroke of their pens they make and change laws. The Koran cannot be changed by anyone nor will it change to fit societies of today. Remember this, America loves you when she feels you drink from the cup she aspires, and will discard you when she needs no more from you.”
I SAY: No one has ever said to change the Quran – not I nor any of my colleagues. With respect, you are not deeply immersed in the cultural and political battlefield with Islamists who do make Islam political. Their goal is to place the Quran as a higher legal and political authority than the Constitution. Again, these are facts. It might not be your agenda but it is naive to tell someone who has studied this for over a decade – and continues to commit to it fully – that they are mistaken because you personally feel it couldn’t be true. There is what you feel and then there is the truth. We can continue to live our life based on how we feel, or we can live it based on how it is.
I am curious what you think our course of action should be if the Quran cannot change to fit the societies of today. Does that mean we as Muslims must adapt to the 21st century by leaving some of the Quran behind? Or should we leave the 21st century behind and adapt to the Quran? Because in your specific case, that means you’d need to dispossess the fortune you inherited as a widow – because according to the Quran, a Muslim woman cannot marry a Jew. However, if you’d like to keep your millions, that means you’ll need to adhere to modern interpretations of what constitutes a valid marriage. So which is it going to be?
As for America, the America you speak of isn’t a nation or an idea. You’re talking about directors. Elected officials change. America the idea is an unshakable constant. Many people believe in that even if you don’t see that anymore.
THEY SAY: “How Can You Say Prophet Muhammad was a war monger?”
I SAY: My point is we need to understand how radical Muslims are using that behavior to justify their savagery. And to also understand how while our prophet has a special place in the faith, others will see him differently. This is simply a matter of perspectives, and for Muslims it’s key to realize there are many perspectives in this world other than our own.
THEY SAY: “Why Did You Say the Quran Needs Changing?”
I SAY: I’ve never said that. Ever. In fact, I don’t know of any Muslim who has ever proposed the idea. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way with, let’s explore what has changed the Quran: hundreds of years of scholarship and interpretation codified into law, along with modern day Islamists who try and create a monolith out of a faith that was meant to be personal and pluralistic. If you’re so outraged at what you think I’m saying, why aren’t you outraged at the people actually changing the faith for their own power and gain?
THEY SAY: “So-called ‘Muslims Reformers’ act like Muslims are defective cogs in the West.”
I SAY: The Muslim Reformer movement isn’t based on some “defective cog” theory. You’re a liberal Muslim woman in America and I’m surprised to hear you have the same complaints as the fundies – that somehow we’re out to get all Muslims. That’s just ridiculous. Reform is chiefly targeted toward the fundamentalists and radicals we all have a problem with. At least get those facts straight before doing exactly what Islamists do by saying “Muslim,” and that somehow we’re less Muslim for choosing to stand up to regressive political ideology that had nothing to do with the best of Islam. You have a son coming into the world in the next couple months. Now is a good time to recognize the world we live in rather than your la-dee-dah version of it.
THEY SAY: “The reformer movement has some serious PR issues – and aligning itself with a failed business man, misogynist, serial liar and racist troll like Trump is clearly one of them.”
I SAY: The Muslim Reform Movement (MRM) is also not exactly a movement as it appears. There isn’t a monopoly on it nor does the group that started it control the movement. There are many religious conservatives but socially liberal Muslims and even trained scholars and imams who agree on the message but haven’t come out as “reformers” yet. This goes a lot deeper. I’d encourage anyone not to just trust how the media packages it – or even how people with most media attention present it. It is far more complex than that. Each person you see adds a different layer to the full picture.
The movement – specifically MRM – hasn’t aligned itself with Trump at all. The group doesn’t take unilateral action like that without the consent of all members. Individual members also don’t presume to speak for the group as a whole. In fact, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who co-organized MRM is vehemently opposed to Trump. Last week we had lunch together with a discussion on this year’s election cycle without feeling the need to judge each other’s political opinions. For example, I’m not judging your choice to vote for Hillary Clinton, a well-polished war criminal.
In that, the reformer movement at large represents the most pluralistic – and not necessarily most secular – group of Muslims in North America. And I think that’s a fantastic example of what we can be. We would never shame you for your choices or question your status as a Muslim – as you have just questioned ours – simply because of a difference of opinion.