Comments: Newsday Article
Today's New York Newsday featured an article on the "Progressive Muslim Union" (PMU). There are a few (cough) interesting statements I'd like to call attention to. Quotes from the article are in bold print, my response in regular next to LT:
(note: the progressive movement, as a whole, organized and otherwise, is referred to as PMM here. Because I'm lazy, that's why)
Ahmed Nassef: "For the first time, you have Muslims who are not afraid to say they disagree with the conservative, dogmatic, literalistic view of Islam propounded by many Muslim groups in this country."
LT: Really? Because most Muslims in America aren't members of those organizations, and I think most Muslims don't sit around waiting for them to give us their views on Islam or how and what to believe. Honestly, I don't.
There are plenty of folks who aren't even aware of their existence, and there are plenty of us who do know about them that have been capable of saying why we don't belong to them. Most of us don't need organizations, whether it's ISCNACAIRMASPAC or PMU, in order to have our faith and Muslim identity (what Nassef is claiming they are "reclaiming.")
The group's goals are ambitious: nothing less than the redefinition of what it means to be Muslim in the modern world, emphasizing values of social justice and gender equality, and calling for a fresh reading of Islam's 1,400-year-old texts.
LT: This might mean something but for a few key factors.
(1) PMU basically wants to step in where ISCNACAIRMASPAC have been for the last few decades and purport to represent American Muslims. In other words, they want to assume the mantle of self-declared authority. But they're not telling us why their self-declared authority will be any more valid than the groups they purport to challenge.
(2) Most of us don't have trouble living in the modern world and being Muslim. The problem PMU seem to have is trying to have the best of both worlds. That is, trying to be "progressives" in a secular culture while at the same time, wanting to hold on to Islam or a Muslim identity for whatever reason. Because they have difficulty with this syncretization, it is assumed that everyone else has a problem following an ancient religion in a modern culture.
(3) While Islam does place value on social justice and gender equality, they aren't emphasized. And this is the heart of the Regressive Muslim movement -- to take the emphasis off of "mystical" things like the emphasis on prayer, fasting, hajj, dhikr, and put it on values more in line with the above mentioned modern secular culture.
(4) A "fresh reading" of our Sacred Texts is only possible when pre-requisites are filled. When they are not, people who attempt "fresh readings" end up stepping beyond the boundaries of Islam. The modernist Wahabi and Selafi movements have demonstrated this amply -- from their mixed up ideas to terrorist bombings. So have the "Submitters" and other anti-Sunnah groups. Regressives are just the latest in a long line of folks who purport to "reform" the deen. (See also: Mutazili) I can guarantee you that almost no one, if even one individual, among the Regressive Muslim movement has the prerequisites of ijtihad, or even to be a mufasir. Ijtihad goes a lot further than being a buzz-word in the media.
With just weeks to go until the launch, Nassef and other organizers are lining up a board that is a global Who's Who of Muslim leaders, from former Pakistani ambassador to Britain Akbar Ahmed to Muslim Public Affairs Council director Salem Al-Marayati.
LT: In other words, after slamming the American Muslim establishment, they have gone to them for the "big names" to sit on their board and add a patina of legitimacy. MPAC is one of those very same groups who have purported to speak for American Muslims for years, especially on matters of politics. In fact, they are among the same groups that endorsed Bush in 2000 and launched a massive campaign to pressure Muslims into voting for him. When the endorsement was announced by the hybrid AMPCC-PAC (which includes at least one organization that Nassef & Co. regularly slam), Salam al Marayati himself was present to endorse bush. (To his credit, Mr. Marayati admits that his endorsement of Bush was a huge blunder. Apparently, though, he does not regret his repeated attempts to influence the Muslim vote).
At the same time, MPAC is not a transparent organization; there is no listing of their chapter presidents or who sits on their board of directors on their website, although there is a list of staff members. However, MPAC is now the self declared "Progressive Voice" for American Muslims. How many "the voices" are we going to have?
So PMU wants to present itself as an alternative to these groups, while at the same time seeking out their directors, board, and staff members to sit on their own board. It's a contradiction, to say the least.
Plans for a conference at Harvard Divinity School in March to kick off the movement also are under way with seed money provided by Harvard's Pluralism Project.
LT: If anyone needed a bigger clue as to the legitimacy of this group within the Muslim community they purport to speak for and represent, here it is. The last conference on Islam held at HDS didn't feature more than one or two Muslims among the panelists. The fact that PMU is getting money for this from Harvard is also telling, in my opinion. The organized Regressive Muslim movement haven't even bothered to seek support within our masajid and our communities, the ones that they slag off so much in the press and on their websites. Yet they are able to perpetuate the idea that they are somehow speaking for a "silent majority" of us.
If the only time the regular Muslims hear about you is when they open the paper to read an attack on their masjid, or their general way of life in a non-Muslim newspaper, who is it that you're holding dialogue with? If your conference is sponsored and paid for (in part or in whole) by a secular university and held at a secular university, who are you educating? Is this really aimed at Muslims for the benefit of Muslims?
No one gets to judge who is and is not Islamic, they say. If you identify yourself as Muslim, then you are Muslim - without having to pass litmus tests about your beliefs and practices. Many participants are, in fact, devout; others are not religious at all but identify as cultural Muslims.
LT: Unfortunately for PMU, this is (surprise) contrary to Islam. Our beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that he was sent to judge by outward appearances. It is God Most High who does not judge by appearances but by the heart. And that pertains to matters of intention, 'iman, and the heart. It does not pertain to things that directly contradict the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Shari'a. I'm not talking about making takfir on people, by the way, I'm talking about analyzing them according to what they present to you.
In a hadith from Sahih al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, we read that 'Umar ibn al Khattab narrated that a man who was unknown to them, yet bore no trace of traveling appeared...
"He sat down before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bracing his knees against his, resting his hands on his legs, and said: "Muhammad, tell me about Islam." The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: "Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and to perform the prayer, give zakat, fast in Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House if you can find a way."
So it is on the word of the Messenger -- you must say "La illaha il Allah, Muhammadur Rasul'Allah" and believe in and perform the other four things in order to be considered Islamic (sic). That is a litmus test, and it's directly from the Primary Sources. Further, there are many stipulations in the books of Shari'ah that there are actions and statements that push one beyond the pale of Islam. These are things that have been agreed upon unanimously for 1400 years. Only from an arrogant, iconoclastic culture such as my own could such a movement arise whose members believe they know more and are better than previous generations. Audhu billah.
"It's as if everyone expected Jewish Americans to have forelocks and dress in black cloaks and to practice their faith like the Hasidim," said Hussein Ibish...
LT: Herein lies the issue. The PMM sees Islam as being no different from Judaism or any other religion. And that, my dear sisters and brothers, is a major divide between us . We believe by the Qur'an that Islam is unique and the capital-t Truth. They believe it is no different from any other deen, and that we should therefore follow the same course of reformation, destruction, assimilation, and secularization that they have. What is good and valid in Judaism is not necessarily good and valid in Islam.
Ibish, who describes himself as an "arch-secularist," said he, nonetheless, sees himself as "an organic part" of the Muslim community who takes pride in his heritage. For that reason, he agreed to serve as the new group's vice chairman.
LT: Islam isn't a heritage, it's a way of life. This is not something where we say "we follow what our fathers followed." You choose it or you don't, and if you don't, you forgo the claim of culture and heritage and community. In any case, it's just another indicator as to what this group is about and whose attention they want: an "arch-secularist" as the vice chairman of an official arm of a movement that purports to be the "real" authority for American Muslims.
Ibish: The acceptable range of Muslim beliefs and activities has shrunk considerably over the last 25 years, and we need to expand that,"
LT: I don't perceive much difference between what I believe and what the Sahaba believed. I'm not aware of some major shift in Islamic 'aqida (the formal creed) in the last 25 years. Nor do I particularly see myself doing less than they did or than someone of my mother's generation. Quite the opposite. I would say that the opportunities and activities considered acceptable have expanded.
But folks, this is just another indication of the uppy-downy contrary world of the Regressives. On the one hand, they like to say that we haven't changed our beliefs and outlooks for 1425 years, but on the other, they say we have shrunk the "acceptable range."
Farid Esack, a South African theologian and a champion of progressive Islam, stunned some organizers when he turned down an invitation to join the board.
LT: I'll confess to being surprised myself. Although I think Esack has a good reason, and I commend his sticking by his principles. Surely, the formation of the PMU and the opportunities it might give him are important to Esack, and yet he didn't compromise.
The reason Esack turned down the position is, "he said he was dismayed that Malik Hasan, a former HMO mogul who is an outspoken supporter of President George W. Bush, also had been chosen. "You're entitled to have a big tent, but Muslims for Bush as a founding member?" Esack asked, referring to the group organized by Hasan's son and wife."
Nassef defends the choice, saying that organizers made a deliberate decision to have a diverse board. "This will not get anywhere if we're just a few dozen people talking to each other," he said.
LT: In actuality, though, that is exactly what the Regressive Muslim movement is. Oh sure, it's more than a few dozen people, but what it is is like minded folks. Malik Hasan may be a toe-the-line Republican, but as far as social concerns, he and his family (including Asma Gull Hasan) are fairly liberal. For those who do not know, Dr. Hasan is the founder and ex-CEO of the nation's fourth largest HMO, Foundations Health Systems, Inc. He is also a strong advocate of for-profit medicine and insurance, and has publicly ridiculed the idea of non-profit healthcare. He's also been singled out by others in his field for putting profits above patient care.
What's interesting, though, is that the PMU and their official mouthpiece (I can call it that now) purport to be in favor of social justice and politically progressive values. Is there anything more regressive, politically and socially, than the Bush regime? Yet PMU hasn't hesitated to line up with one of their biggest financial supporters. Further, HMOs have wreaked havoc with the American health care system, and left approximately 35 million Americans without health insurance or the ability to afford health care procedures, whether basic or complex, and Dr. Hasan is widely believed to have been one of the main architects of this system.
MWU is well known for promoting the acceptance of homosexual sex and fornication amongst Muslims, and the movement as a whole is well known for mocking and jeering those Muslims who disagree with them. Yet they invite and accept a man who is a prominent financial supporter for the very party whose platform calls for an amendment to our Constitution based on the grounds that marriage is between a man and a woman only. So it's one standard for some Muslims, and another for the rest of us?
Dr. Hasan is also the founder and chair of a little known group called CAMU: Council for American Muslim Understanding, a group whose funding was "encouraged" by the State Department. At the same time, the Hasans have almost no visible involvement in the American Muslim community whether on a local (Colorado) level or national level (that is, until his wife and son appeared at the ISNA convention this year as "Muslims for Bush"). They do, however, support Daniel Pipes. To learn more about Dr. Malik Hasan and his family please read this. I had a jolly good time researching it.
These are the values that PMU aligns itself with? Is the removal of the hijab and the promotion of homosexuality so important that we can ignore the damage done to all Americans, especially Muslims, by the Bush regime? Or the pain caused to millions of Americans by the HMO system? (In fact, Dr. Hasan has been singled out as acting in the best interest of the dollar instead of the patient on several occasions.)
The PMM as a whole place a lot of emphasis on women's issues and homosexuality, while calling themselves progressive in values and politics. So where do the uninsured and low-income rate? How about the Muslims overseas who are being bombed in their homes? Is the headscarf really that much more important than these issues? I don't think so; apparently, PMU and the rest do.
To be sure, we should encourage and support diversity of public opinion within our community. But Dr. Hasan has, by all appearances, contributed nothing to the Muslim community in this country (I'm not speaking of his zakat or sadaqa that he has kept to himself and God). He promotes a business that has hurt the American people, and has given hundreds of thosuands of dollars to a party and candidate that have caused untold damage to Muslims world wide and Americans here at home. On the other hand, though, Dr. Hasan is, like, really, really rich. So draw your own conclusions.
PMU doesn't want a diversity of opinion, despite Nassef's claim. If they did, they would not ban dissenters from posting on their official mouth piece, or encourage the foul, obscene attacks against individuals who try to question them among the reader forums. If they did, they could have found someone with more intellectual and moral authority and Islamic credibility to sit on their board than someone like Dr. Hasan.
PMU is not about the deen. It is not about religion. It is not about changing ourselves so that we can change our community. It is not about deeper spiritual awareness. It is about coercing the Muslim American community to play by a secular progressivist agenda or risk being labeled as a fundamentalist, fanatic, and so on. If they did, they'd have someone like Imam Zaid or Imam Siraj on the board. But they don't. And we all know why.