Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Friday, November 04, 2005

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.


Blogger thabet said...

Good points. But I think it would be unfair to chracterise anyone who stands for their beliefs as the "visible minority" who are out to "impose" their beliefs. This suggests that anyone who voices concerns or seeks space for their practices is a "utopian".

I see nothing wrong with people articulating their beliefs in an effort to convince others; people who disagree can respond in kind through similar and effective rhetoric. This has to be the classic liberal position.

I think one important step would be to encourage more Muslim women to enter the upper echelons of religous learning. Not an easy step to take, but one that should be encouraged more than it is at present (existing social/cultural views don't help, of course). Further, I think encouraging Muslim youngsters to learn several languages, including Arabic, Persian, Urdu (and other "Muslim" langages) as well as European languages, is ideal. Languages open up many worlds and possibilities.

4:47 am, November 15, 2005  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Hey Thabet, the reason i attack the 'visible minority' is that their views inevitably require them to impose their beliefs on others.

Of course I agree with you that they have to be allowed to follow their beliefs. What I'm concerned with is that moderate muslims seem afraid to engage in an argument with such people and continue to treat the visibly religious with great deference.

This allows the minority (and this links in with my latest post) to present a false dichotomy which is incredibly damaging. As for your other points, I agree that languages are important - anything which broadens horizons has to be a good thing.

7:53 am, November 15, 2005  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

I should have added that I definitely agree with you on the point about women. more religious learning would be both good in itself and establish the importance of education in general for women.

8:01 am, November 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the difference arises from the degree of mutability of one's culture (perceived and acceptable) given one is Muslim. Those who believe that their religion is their religion, not culture (hence open to modernisation and adaptation) would be 'Moderate'- those who perceive Islam as a cultural hidayat as well are more, well, fundamental (not necessarily as a pejorative).

What I am unhappy about is that this makes personal choice of culture open to judgement. Of course I would prefer Muslims to get over the veil-fixation but this reasoning makes many other people's cultural choices (especially deviation from the mean culture) as open to value judgement.

What do you think?

4:31 pm, November 21, 2005  
Blogger Jordan said...

Great post!

8:10 pm, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life. In fact, it is a very simple way of life needlessly catholicized by traditions and actions that really have no inherent value and really do not enrich Islam as a way of life. It is not a set of rules to follow, it is a way of living. Religion is like a diet - something you have to stick to and be concious of and something you will ultimately give up or succumb to. Islam doesn't have to be like this. If you really want to reform Islam then let's stop modeling Islam after Christianity, Judaism and Catholicism and start living, breathing it as a way of life. And please, let's not give needless entitlement to those that speak Arabic. Arabic is not the language of Islam and you do not need to know arabic to become a Muslim or even say the prayers. Thank you for listenting.

3:59 am, February 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you have made a very good point. Arabic, as not the language of Islam. For practical reasons, it is better to know the meaning of what the Qoran says, rather than just utter incomprehensible language, the language that the majority of Muslims neither speak nor necessarily understand. What I witness with many Muslims in the Central Asian countries, where I come from, is the memorization of Suras without cognizant internalization. I also do agree that the more languages Muslims know, the better, especially in today's fast changing world, especially English, I think it is becoming a global language of all Muslims. We do not lose by learning non-Muslim languages, we only gain.

7:49 am, April 01, 2006  

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