Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Monday, November 28, 2005

Suicide And Euthanasia In Islam

A somber topic, but I came across this article by Dr Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia, on the 'right to die' in Islam, which I found very interesting. Whilst not downplaying the importance of debates on foreign policy or social integration in Western societies, the focus on the above issues has led to a lack of discussion on cutting edge ethical problems such as Euthanasia.

On this particular issue, if one goes along with the conclusion reached by Dr Sachedina that Islam permits the withdrawal of treatment, (provided there is proper consultation between doctor and patient) but forbids the direct taking of life, then there is not much of a problem as most countries have laws which correspond to this. However, the Netherlands has already legalised Euthanasia, the state of Oregon in the U.S has passed right to die legislation and it is not inconceivable that similar laws will be passed in other countries, especially in Europe.

If such a situation arises, there seems to me to be no where for an ordinary Muslim to go to seek ethical guidance on this. Apart from the fact that there is very little debate, even if there was debate, it is not clear that there are enough qualified scholars who have the scientific wherewithal to deal effectively with such problems. Passing judgment on things such as stem-cell research, therapeutic cloning and genetic engineering, without the requisite scientific knowledge is going to lead to to seriously distorted outcomes which may have huge implications for future generations of Muslim.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Muslims At Hogwarts???

So it turns out that Padma and Parvati Patel in the new Harry Potter movie are played by two, second generation, Bengali-British girls (Read more here). Surprisingly, considering the fact that their part sees them accompanying Harry and Ron to the 'Yule Ball', there has been no fuss, no fatwas and definitely no burning effigies by anyone in the Muslim community.

This leaves the following possibilities;
a) Muslims don't read/watch Harry Potter (I think we can safely discount this one)

b) Muslim parents who have taken their kids to see the film heard the names Padma and Parvati and have assumed that the actresses playing them are Hindus. (Again implausible, but you never know)

c) This just isn't a big issue for most Muslims in this country. Muslim kids like Harry Potter just as much as the next child and most Muslim parents if told that their children were offered parts in a film of this magnitude, rather than considering this sinful would be proud of their children just as I'm sure that Shefali's and Afshan's are. (For those who are wondering it says somewhere that one of their father's is quite conservative but this didn't get in the way of participating in the film)

I'm going for option (c) and while not trying to paint an overly rosy picture, I think that it suggests that while there may be problems, Muslims are integrating and figuring out how to live in today's Britain just like all other immigrants have in the past and are doing so today. As for the fear-mongerers on both sides - there is no 'clash of civilisations', let's be proud of our individual heritage and cultures but more importantly unite in our common humanity.

Dealing With Iran

Timothy Garton Ash has an excellent analysis of how to deal with Iran based on his own travels to that country. The first point if followed should prevent any future American administration even trying to use the idea of humanitarian intervention in invading Iran.

"I love George Bush," one young woman told me as we sat in the Tehran Kentucky Chicken restaurant, "but I would hate him if he bombed my country." I think that this quote nicely demonstrates, that even the most pro-American Iranians would not like their country to be bombed as part of an American invasion.

At the same time, Garton Ash does not under-estimate the potential problem of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. His solution though is not to use force but to engage with Iran while holding a 'big stick', for Europe and America to work together on the matter and to apply standards in restricting nuclear proliferation consistently.

Perhaps the most important point though is this, that the west must be,
"Consistent, too, in recognising that our policy must be addressed as much to the people as the regime. For every step we take to slow down the nuclearisation of Iran, we need another to speed up the democratisation of Iran."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Polemic Against Islamophobes

DA at Crimes of Aquinas has posted an excellent polemic, in which he rails against some ignorant but worryingly popular conceptions of Islam in America. As I've said in some of my earlier comments, The silent Muslim majority facing up to problems within our own societies, needs to be accompanied by commentators in the West arguing against their own reactionaries as David Aaronovitch did in the column which I linked to a couple of days ago.

One particular piece of propaganda which I've come across on the web is the book Islam Undressed by Vernon Richards(who I couldn't find more information on). Someone (preferably an American Religious Conservative) needs to do a thorough fisking of this book as running a google search on it suggests that it is quite influential in conservative circles and may influence those who have defended the Bush administration's authorisation of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Message of Fazlur Rahman

Thought I'd link to this piece from 2001 in the Free Republic, on the life and work of Fazlur Rahman, who was without a doubt one of the great Muslim thinkers of the twentieth century. The piece itself is slightly long and academic in nature but if you can get through it it's very rewarding.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Reza Aslan In The LA Times

I've mentioned before how Reza Aslan is potentially a very important Muslim thinker as he does not have the baggage carried by the likes of Irshad Manji and Salman Rushdie and because his views are rather sensible and likely to appeal to a majority of Muslims. In this piece in the LA Times, he does not disappoint untill the last two paragraphs.

Firstly as Sepoy at Chapati Mystery points out, saying that Islam does not have an equivalent to the Catholic tradition of excommunication while technically correct, does not take into account the treatment of groups such as Ahmadis.

Secondly there is the somewhat tangential analysis of offering low-level Jihadists a chance to get out of jail if they renounce violence. This may work in some cases, but it seems to me to be a rather dangerous policy to implement. Is it possible to monitor the behaviour of such people when they leave prison?

Thirdly, after recognising the impotence of clerics in preventing disillusionment with moderate Islam, he suggests that they somehow have the power to 'turn back the tide of Jihadism' by recognising that 'they are far more threatened by the rise of Islamic terrorism than is the West' without analysing how mere recognition would help. After all in his piece he documents quite well the failure of pronouncements against Terrorism to have a substantial impact. It seems to me that with most clerics having lost authority, there needs to be a reforming movement from the bottom-up by ordinary Muslims.

Despite the criticism, the article till then is definitely worth reading especially if you're unfamiliar with ideas of the 'near' and 'far' in enemy in Jihadist thinking which in my opinion are best analysed in Gilles Kepel's works on radical Islam.

Article Up On AltMuslim

Just to let you know that my piece on Muslims For Sharia Law:An Interesting Paradox is up on altmuslim. Hopefully there will be a lively discussion in the comments section so I would encourage people to check it out.

Update: A slightly modified version of this article (my changes not theirs) is now up on pickled politics.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pakistani's Supporting The England Cricket Team???

Couldn't resist linking to this hilarious and heartwarming piece by Andrew Miller in The Times.

Most unexpected quote:
“I am praying for England with full zeal and zest,” Nayyur Abbas, 18, said as he sat with his cousin, Haroon Shehzad, 16, in the top tier of the Waqar Younis enclosure. On his face was painted a St George’s Cross and on his walls at home are posters of Andrew Flintoff. “He is a great attacking bowler,” Nayyur enthused in the manner of a true connoisseur.

If you enjoyed reading that, then I'd suggest Andrew Miller's tour diary on Cricinfo here.

The Bogeyman Of Eurabia

Excellent piece in today's Times by David Aaronovitch on 'sensible people saying ridiculous things about Islam'. He makes the argument that while not a fan of the term Islamophobia since being a labelled by 'some of the more intellectually challenged Muslim pressure groups', items such as last week's Spectator are creating an unjust fear of Islam.

Of course Aaronovitch does not come from a completely relativist perspective and suggests that there is a middle ground where 'dialogue and debate can both exist alongside a muscular defence of certain values' such as democracy and human rights (in particular women's rights).

I tend to agree with him and would add that the 'clash of civilisations' discussion merely plays into the hands of extremists whose mission is to convince normal, moderate Muslims that ultimately they can never live in a liberal, democratic society without facing racism and prejudice and that the answer lies in creating some sort of utopian Islamic state constructed on a false reading of history and a vivid imagination.

Therefore as Aaronovitch says, the clash of civilisations is a self-fulfilling theory and western pundits so eager to fight extremism must be extremely careful if they are not to unwittingly perpetuate it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Free And Equal Under The Quran

I recommend that people read the excellent piece by Havva G. Guney-Ruebenacker over at altmuslim. Her argument is that while the Quran contains 'universal humanist principles', the 'frozen-in-time' approach to Sharia has meant a shift from the Quran advancing women's and human rights to becoming a tool for misogynistm.

This argument rests upon the view which I agree with that the Quran provides a moral framework from which we can create legal codes based on the challenges that we face and the context that we live in. At the same time there is also an important critique of the likes of Irshad Manji who falsely launch attacks on the Quran rather than on how a time-specific interpretation of the Quran has come to be wrongly accepted as Sharia.

While I'm not sure how strongly proposals for the Iraqi constitution such as
'the legislator may make laws based on Islamic law, only to the extent that these laws do not contradict the principle of equality of all citizens before law and do not violate any of the fundamental rights protected in the Constitution' will resonate with Muslims, it is an interesting and innovative approach which has a fighting chance of gaining widespread acceptance amongst the Muslim population.

To finish, here's a snippet from the article which I think provides a coherent justification for 'reformist' readings of Islam.

'We need to admit that the early Muslims were human generations, who had their own faithful heroes and hypocrites, their good and bad, ugly and beautiful, glorious and flawed aspects. We need to openly reject the wrong Qur'anic interpretations of our past scholars, in the same way we proudly embrace and praise their great achievements and contributions to humanity in all fields of human development.'

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pakistan Postpones F-16's Purchase

This may not seem like much, but I'm hopeful that it provides a precedent in terms of looking at defence spending more carefully in the future. With nuclear weapons already in place, Pakistan could afford to cut back on quite a large amount of millitary spending without sacrificing national security.

General Musharraf needs to realise that just like western governments may not be donating as much because they haven't seen the television pictures and that western tourists weren't affected he is guilty of the same thing. Every year, millions suffer as they are forced to live in inadequate conditions without access to clean water and healthcare provision let alone education.

However as the Pakistani media can not focus in on this in the same way that they have on the plight of the earthquake survivors, not much is done to make the life of the common man easier. It may be being naive, but perhaps the suffering of the Earthquake survivors will lead to future budgets cutting down millitary spending and on the whole being slightly more progressive.

Who Are The Silent Majority?

The silent majority is an oft used expression by Muslim moderates seeking to defend their religion from both Islamic extremists and Christian fundamentalists. However, no one seems to have tried to define who the 'silent majority' are, what views they hold, and why they hold them. In this piece I will attempt to analyse the practises of these Muslims with particular reference to the U.K. and Pakistan, although I would suggest that Muslims all over the world have similar characteristics.

The first aspect of the silent majority that I would like to touch upon is the fact that such Muslims make decisions about religion and how it affects them every single day. How to dress, how to raise their children, whom to interact with, whom to work for - essentially how to live. Their life in short involves compromises and while Islam inevitably informs most decisions, it is not applied in such a way as to prevent pragmatic living and it certainly isn't applied in the same manner by everyone.

On the other hand there is the vocal and visible minority who rather than confront the challenges presented by the modern world head on will try and retreat into a very utopian vision of Islamic practise. One reason why there is often confusion within the Muslim community is that many in the silent majority have an idea that those that profess to form a 'purer' form of Islam are in some way better Muslims and should be admired if not followed. This is despite the fact that the experience of the majority is very different from this minority and their actions do not provide any guidance either physical or spiritual for how we should live or lives.

What is needed to enable a moderate yet robust form of Islam to assert itself is for those who live normal lives to stop being defensive about how they conduct their affairs and to assert a claim that their Islam is as legitimate if not more so than the one espoused by those taking a narrow conception of Islam. Just as Muslims unite in arguing that our religion has been hijacked by terrorists for their own ends, we can also take a stand against those who seek to impose their own literal interpretations on the rest of us. As to what positive action this
might involve?

Perhaps to begin with not to give so much deference to those Imams who give khutbas which are filled with grand rhetoric which has very little basis in reality. Another thing could be to teach children the quran from urdu or english translations so that maulvi's that come to teach the Arabic are not able to fill young minds with superstition and their own prejudices rather than teaching religion. That taking part in local British politics rather than being haram is an
essential part of shaping the community that we live in. That there is nothing wrong with integrating an 'Islamic way of life' with those parts of western culture (and there are many) which are compatible with it.

The list could go on but the point is essentially a simple one. That we should draw guidance not from some utopian fantasy but from drawing on the experiences of the majority of Muslims across the world who are constantly juggling different things and figuring out how to get along.

In this post I've tried to outline some of my main arguments on the subject and I'd appreciate criticisms which would allow me to refine or indeed reconsider some of the ideas that I've put forward. Thanks.

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