Unwilling Self-Negation » Open Letter To Reformist Muslims
Unlike some of my fellow believers I don’t think that the recent glut of Westerners calling for the reformation of Islam is due solely to an imperial Western ambition. I believe that much of non-Muslim engagement with Islam is premised upon a well-intentioned impulse. I believe that some Western antipathy towards Islam is due to decency. It is quite plausible that a generation that faced off against two totalitarianisms might be right about a third. It is also plausible that for every Westerner who calls for the destruction of Islam in order to defend the Western status-quo, there is another Westerner who agitates for change in Islam because has a Muslim friend who has been hurt by what passes for Islam, or has a glimpse (in Hafiz, perhaps in Ibn Rushd), of what Islam could be; and as such, is upset by what Islam today is not. I believe that there are many in the West capable of recognizing beauty — and they have recognized the beauty that Islam was in the hands of Rumi, and also have recognized the potential of that beauty in Islam today, in Muslims today. This is another way of saying that I believe there are many in the West who are driven by the humanity of the Muslim, who faces daily in Iraq, in Punjab, in subversive mosques in Europe, the inhumanity of a utilitarian death theology.
Yes, I know that there was a time when the West went to ‘civilize’ and ended up conquering; when it went to ‘keep the dominoes upright’ and ended up slaughtering; when it went to ‘trade’ and ended up colonizing; when it went to ‘liberate’ and left civil war behind. Yet, in spite of this I believe that there are Westerners who are impelled solely by the humanity of the Muslim, because when the West conquered there were Westerners who spoke against it; when the West went to Vietnam there were Westerners who spoke against it; when the West colonized there were Westerners who were anti-colonial. Even still, all Westerners cannot be held accountable for the sins of their leaders. Muslims can, and do, ask that others forgive what Muslim leaders do in the name of God. Why cannot the West be forgiven for how its leaders have manipulated humanism? I forgive.
If, then, there are those in the West who challenge what passes for Islam today, on the basis of their humanity with the Muslim, then we Muslims must embrace them as our brothers. It is conceiveable, 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. We — this is the ‘we’ that refers to all those who fight injustice — did not exclude such helpers when the evil was Soviet Union. We — this is the ‘we that refers to all those who fight injustice — did not exclude the helpers when the evil was Jim Crow. Nor when the evil was the patriarchy which denied female equality. In fact, if reformist Islam is to stand a chance, it has to be open to those who want to help. There has never been a case in history where change has occurred without participation by some members of the dominant discourse joining in the efforts of those who agitate for change.
There is a concern that some of those who wish to ‘join’ are dissimulators. That they want only to use our ‘reformist’ critique to demonize Islam. That there are hypocrites in the lot of the so called helpers. That they are drawn only to the exoticism of the Muslim woman, or the virility of the Muslim sperm, and so on. My reply is to not be frightened by this possibility. At this time the fight between our philosophy of the future and yesterday’s death theory, has not even begun. When it begins, those who joined for illegitimate reasons will reveal themselves. But that remains to be seen. In fact, who is to say, given the magnitude of the confrontation and given what is at stake — enlightened living for our children — that there will not be individuals amongst us who turn tail in the face of the gravitas? Who is to say, given that our activism will pit us against our elders, our ancestral homes, our history as it has been so far written, that there will not be individuals amongst us who simply turn traitorous and expose us to the frothing fundamentalism we face off against? When we see those who appropriate our efforts, well, we’ll call a spade a spade, but that is no reason to not start gardening.
Man has always come to the assistance of man. The Helpers of Medina to the migrants of Mecca; Indians to the Pilgrims; Ottomans to the Sephardigm; Albanian Muslims to the Jews of Europe. There are men and women in the West who wish to be of assistance to us. So what if they sometimes say things that you find offensive or incorrect. To correct them by way of friendship is much better than to sneer at them. We must judge them, not by their ancestors’ history, but by their love of the oppressed. We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Mukhtaran Mai? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many tyranny? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Bin Laden? One too many 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, and Aksari Shrine and Shia massacre and Baha’i jailing and Jew-baiting. One too many Bamiyan Buddhas. One too many novelists accused. One too many suicides. The task ahead will be difficult enough. If, then, there are those who will link their arms with us, we must not hesitate. When the moment of reckoning comes — and there is no reason to believe that time is not now — we will be in need of every able mind, profligate pen, and nervous smile. Do it out of pragmatism, or do it out of love, but do it you must.
All those then, theists, secularists, atheists, deists, refuseniks, peaceniks, Jews, Gentiles, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, Philosophers, who wish to walk for humanity: speak up and do not stop speaking. Walk with the believers. There are believers who will walk with you.
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