Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Living Tradition of Progress

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim


Salaam 'Alaikum

Welcome to Living Tradition.

The American Heritage dictionary defines tradition, in part, as "a time-honored practice or set of such practices." The verb honor means to hold in or show respect or esteem for something; to give it consideration, veneration, or reverence.

To be a traditionalist, then, is to be a person who shows respect and reverence for those ancient practices. It is to be faithful to them. Unfortunately, many people in our culture, including some Muslims, define a traditionalist as someone who is "narrow minded," "rigid," or "out of touch" with the world. How is it that tradition is something time-honored, but those who follow it are considered to be less than honorable?

The same American Heritage dictionary defines progress as, "steady improvement, as of a society or civilization," and "movement, to a goal." A progressive, then, is someone who advocates or works for a steady improvement of his or her society, or who makes movement towards a goal, personal or otherwise.

An iconoclast is, according to the American Heritage, "one who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions." Webster's Revised Unabridged takes it a step further, and defines an iconoclast as one who "attacks cherished beliefs" and is "a radical." In various thesaurii, synonyms for the word include apostate, betrayer, defector, reactionary, fascist, insurrectionist, individualist, subversive, demagogue, mutineer, malcontent, and many, many other words that most people consider negative traits. Only Roget's Thesaurus gives progressive as an alternative to the word iconoclast.

This blog was started by request as a response to the growing clamor of voices in the media and on the internet coming from several self-styled official (and unofficial) organizations of Muslims known as "Progressive Muslims." As mainstream Muslims, we do not believe that the Tradition of Islam is inherently opposed to progress, whether it is for society or for the individual. Quite the contrary. The Tradition of Islam's purpose is progress.

"These are Allah's limits, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them; and this
is the great success." (4:13)

The Qur'an, which we believe to be the direct and inerrant Word of God, and the Sunnah of His Last Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, are guidelines for the progress of the individual and the society, in this world and in the next. Every instruction, every command, and yes, every prohibition is given so that we might improve our inner and outer lives, from the way we deal with one another, to our business transactions, to matters of state, to the way we conduct our relationship with God Almighty. The goal that we as Muslims hope to progress to is Jennah, or Paradise, and the bliss of Everlasting Life in His Presence.

The mainstream body of the Ummah, Ahl us Sunnah wa'l Jama'at, has long been under ideological attack from two fronts: the Western Orientalists and the followers of Abdul Wahhab, Abduh, al Afghani, and other modernists, some of whom are known as the "Selafi" and / or "Wahhabi" movements. Today we find our entire Ummah being held to account for the horrific actions of a tiny minority of politicized and militarized Wahhabists, known as "Islamists." From these two fronts, every matter of our being, from our dress to our forms of worship to the sovreignty of Muslim nations, is under attack.

Within the past 100 years, a tiny, albeit vocal group has emerged from both sides. Weaned on the ideas of liberation theology and left-wing radicalism from the West, and cutting their teeth on the DIY scholarship of the Selafi and Wahhabi movements, this very media savvy movement is now poised to cause a great deal of damage and confusion regarding the beliefs, ideas, and image of Islam and Muslims in the West, particularly in the United States. They call upon Islam to "change" or "reform."

They call for the acceptance of homosexual sex and fornication. They encourage the removal of niqab and hijab amongst women. One particular group has begun to promote soft-core pornography written by Muslim women that contain sexual intimations about great 'ulema and stories of lesbianism. They encourage ignorant lay people to make their own ijtihad, thereby ignoring the Qur'anic command to seek knowledge from the poeple who know. At a recent national Islamic convention, a particular follower of this movement mocked Islamic prohibitions on alcohol and fornication. Others call for the scrapping of Shari'a all together, while still others say that we should reject ahadith that do not conform to the values and norms of N. American society. And still others insist that we should accept as Muslim those who get their sense of "Muslimness" from a political or cultural experience, instead of "limiting" it to those who say "There is nothing worthy of worship but God and Muhammad is His Messenger."

This is not progress, it is iconoclasm, in the truest sense of the word.

Generally speaking, so-called "Progressive Muslims" seek to "re-interpret" Islam so that it adheres to standards of human rights set down by previously vicious colonial states such as England and France, or to the societal norms of places like the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. A quick reading of the reaction of Asian and African Anglican bishops to recent American Episcopalian resolutions on homosexual clergy would inform one that social standards are not the same the world over, and that even non European and American followers of a religion established by the English state do not feel at all bound to accept the mores of the West. So why, should Muslims, who follow a religion established by God, feel obligated or pressured to accept predominant Western societal values that are in conflict with what God Wants?

To be sure, there are people who use the mantle of "Progressive Islam" to push neo-conservative political agendas, just as there are followers of the Rashid Khalifa movement ("Submitters") who have begun to use the term "Progressive Muslims" in order to trick more people into following their religion. For the most part, however, it appears that self-identifying "Progressive Muslims" are sincere and truthful regarding their goals and who they are.

God has Said in His Majestic Qur'an that the Christians and Jews will not be happy with us until we follow their millah, their religion or collective reality. When we see Christians and Jews, whose religious inheritance has been the main force shaping Western culture for centuries, scrapping ancient prohibitions, commands, and laws in favor of "reform," and "liberation," it then follows suit that we are expected to do the same. And that is what "Progressive Muslims" seem to so eagerly want.

Around the globe we find Muslims desperate to latch onto Western political ideas and philosophies, from socialism to communism to materialism to democratism, yet with every year that passes, the situation for Muslims seems to be bleaker and bleaker. In other places, Muslims fight to install political groups that have been given the veneer of the turban and the beard: Islamism or "the Islamic state." The only thing that hasn't been tried on a state level is Islam itself. Without the sloganeering and posters or the compromise with 19th century German or French legal codes.

Followers of this movement claim that Islam needs to be reformed. We beg to differ. It is Muslims, not Islam, that needs to be reformed.


"Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people if they
do not change themselves
." (13:11)


So we have established that success, according to God Most High, is admittance to Jennah, to Paradise. And we have established, by His Word, that the method of achieving this goal is to follow Him and His Messenger, in their commands and prohibitions. Finally, we have established, again, by His Word, that the earthly condition of a people will not change until they change themselves.

Sisters and brothers, it is clear by the Words of God Most High Himself that going against His prohibtions or attempting to change His Diyn will not help us progress towards our goals, whether they are dunya or akhira goals.

Alhamdulillah, a non-movement begun to be more visible in the West. This is the "Traditional" or "Classical" Islam non-movement. I say non-movement because there is, as of yet, no organized group, no formal agenda, no leader, no official website.

Traditional Islam is about the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It is about establishing and upholding the chains of isnad (transmission) that represent the core of Sacred Knowledge. Traditional Islam is the study of fiqh, 'aqida, hadith, tasawwuf, tafsir, and all of the other traditional sciences. Traditional Islam is not the product of Western University degrees, or political rhetoric, or philosophical discourse. It is the product of direct chains of transmission back to the great scholars and figures of this Ummah, including the Prophet himself, peace and blessings be upon him. While modernists and reactionaries within the Muslim world have become the squeaky wheels, dominating societal, political, and media discussions of Islam, Traditional Muslims, have been busy tending to the blossom of Traditional Islam, teaching the deen in settings great and humble from Damascus to Detroit.

In the mid-1990's, Mas'ud Ahmed Khan established what is believed to be the first (and best) website for traditional Islamic knowledge. Since then, we have seen the birth and growth of websites, learning organizations, gatherings, books, and magazines on the topic in the English language.


Critics both inside and outside the Muslim Ummah, including "Progressives" charge that Traditional Islam is moribund. We believe otherwise. Islamic Tradition is vibrant. It is multi-faceted, multi-layered, and accomodating. It is built on the tolerance of differences in opinion. It welcomes, nurtures, esteems, and sustains women as well as men. It encourages intellectual growth, as well as spiritual, mental, emotional, and financial growth, while requiring its adherents to act within a framework that guarantees justice and compassion for all.


In these days, both non-Muslims and Muslims are being presented by the squeaky wheels with two options: reactionism, in the form of Wahabism / Salafism and Islamism, or religious iconoclasm, in the form of "Progressivism." Both sides throw up a smoke screen when it comes to the sources of Shari'ah, the methodolgies of fiqh, the 'aqida of Islam, and more in an attempt to sway their listeners to their particular approach to Islam.


"Progressives" tend to be media savvy and articulate. They approach, and in turn are then approached by journalists who wish to hear or portray a picture of Islam that "feels good" to the average person, the authenticity of this portrait not withstanding. Until now, there has been little public response to the movement and its claims.

Welcome to Living Tradition.

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