Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Friday, March 31, 2006

RSS Feed Now Setup

Click on the button on the left to get the feed's link to this blog's feed. For those of you not acquainted with RSS, Svend White had a good tutorial and lots of other useful tips a while back. The easiest way to setup a feed for your own blog is to go to

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Letter To Reformist Muslims

"It is conceivable, yes, that there are those in the West with as much sadomasochim (or courage, if you will), as the reformists of Islam; with as great a penchant for human rights as the reformists of Islam; with as great a willingness to face off against the edifice of a corrupt theology as the reformists of Islam. We must embrace them as our brothers, be they Latino, Black, or dare I say, white; be they Hindu, Jew, Christian, or dare I say, secular-humanist"
Click here to read the full piece

The extract is taken from an open letter written by Ali Eteraz to fellow reformist muslims. His argument is that while there may be some 'Westerners' with ulterior motives, to be successful the reform project has to accept those non-Muslims who show an interest in changing the world for the better.

Overcoming the threat of those with ill-intent, is a powerful idea which is applicable not just to non-Muslims. One finds it amongst those who are reluctant to let ijtihad devolve outside the exclusive preserve of religious scholars. There is an understandable fear that if religion is to be democratised then there would be widespread chaos which would undermine the basic tenets of Islam.

However as Ziauddin Sardar has eloquently put, when engaging with religion and making progress we must not be constrained by the banks of a river. Instead the future should be imagined as an ocean, where every assumption may be challenged and people can shape their own destiny.

Of course this may lead to the conversation within Islam occasionally veering towards areas which are uncomfortable. Mistakes will definitely be made, but this criticism makes the assumption that things are fine the way they are right now, they are not. In a way, Ali's piece demonstrates that for reformists to be both consistent and successful, we need to open their movement to those who are willing, just as we argue that the application of Islam should also become more open.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cultural Baggage & Religious Modesty

The House of Lords decision in the Jilbab case has elicited a lot of comment. One of the more interesting pieces was written by Fareena Alam at the Guardian's Commentisfree. I'd like to pick up on one paragraph in particular.
For years, Muslims around me have said: "Islam must be separated from culture." While this slogan has deep and well-meaning roots - such as the struggle to teach people that honour killing, often justified with religious excuses, is a cultural practice that is unequivocally abhorred in Islam - the clash between culture and religion is ultimately a false one. This idea of a "pure Islam, free of cultural baggage" is a false one. Religion manifests itself in the realities of life. Must we all neutralise ourselves - even the aspects that do not contravene Islam, to be accepted as "pious"? What is this "one Islam" or "one voice" people call for, and who decides what it says?
I think this cuts to the root of the major clashes within Islam, not only today but for a very long time. For the fundamentalists, modesty is something which has an external standard, judged by God and having only one true interpretation. Therefore any element of culture which gets in the way, is baggage which needs to be discarded in order to obtain 'pure Islam'.

On the other hand for the liberals or more commonly the pragmatists, modesty without its social setting is devoid of both meaning and guidance. Therefore to judge what is modest, one has to take the surroundings into account. After all, if everyone in society thinks that my dress and behaviour is modest, then that is all that should count in determining whether I am modest. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that women can wear whatever they want in the company of other women. To extend this further, it is possible that people wearing different clothes in different parts of the world can both be fulfilling the requirement for modesty.

The second view of modesty reaches when one reaches the extremes. For example while most people would feel comfortable with an outsider wearing shalwar kameez when in Pakistan, wearing a Burqa in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan simply because others wear it seems less acceptable. In any case the fact that it is limited to extremes means that it affects relatively few people.

The biggest problem comes from the fact that the majority of the world's population do not live in small isolated communities. For Muslims this is most acutely felt when in living in non-Muslim countries.

An obvious solution is to stick with the lowest common denominator so that you make sure that you remain within certain bounds. Unfortunately this has two problems - firstly it may make integration unnecessarily difficult, but more importantly, if someone chooses to wear clothes which are slightly different but still modest, they can be made to feel as if they are lesser Muslims or not as pious by those who stick with traditional clothing.

Tariq Ramadan has proposed a middle ground to this debate by calling for scholars of the text, to engage in a consultative process with experts of the context, ordinary economists, civil servants, politicians etc. This approach definitely has its merits in integrating traditional knowledge with contemporary secular knowledge. However I'm not sure if it deals with something as personal a decision as what is and is not modest. To conclude, I would agree with Fareena Alam that while religion seeks to make us better humans, that should never mean that it neutralise us as individual human beings.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Critical Thinking - Iqbal's Shikwa

I've just finished reading the first part of Muhammad 'Allama' Iqbal's classic 'dialogue' with Allah. Shikwa, or 'Complaint', first published in 1909 is a breathtaking piece of poetry. Seeing the plight of Muslims across the World, Iqbal passionately questions Allah on why he allowed such a situation to develop.

Not suprisingly the idea that God could wrong his people and was not carrying out his plans justly caused quite a stir. Despite the inevitable response of many traditionalists, Iqbal's ideas have lived on and he is revered in Pakistan as her national poet.

I am not advocating that people read Shikwa and hold its text as sacred, or something which can not be questioned. There are some elements to do with conversion and Muslim superiority to which my reaction is somewhere, deeply uncomfortable and profound disagreement.

However to use this a stick with which to attack Iqbal completely misses the point. He was at once both a man of his times and ahead of his times. Above all it was his ability to think freely and outside of the traditional mold while contributing to the discourse of his times which made him great. The fact that his ideas were expressed in aesthetic and powerful poetry simply add to his greatness.

I'll post on God's response to Iqbal soon.

Cross-posted on Pickled Politics

Resuming Blogging

I realise that by not posting for over a month I may have lost some of my readership (In fact Sitemeter confirms this). Meanwhile I've also fallen on the TTLB ecosystem, from the lowly heights of lowly insect to a mere wiggly worm. Nevertheless, I have decided to get over the mental block which seems to have come over me and resume blogging. As always, I look forward to reading comments.

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