Saturday, January 22, 2005

Progressives vs Reverts

Has anybody noticed the criticism and outright hostility towards people like Siraj Wahhaj, Ibrahim Hooper, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Yusuf Islam coming from some “progressive” Muslims. If there’s one word which defines “nightmare” for a proggie, it’s a “revert” to Islam.

Progressives hold reverts in contempt because those who have returned to this deen reject many of the “values” proggies hold dear. Reverts defy the stereotypes being sold by serial opportunists like Nassef, Sadaawi, and Manji to name a few. Reverts are amongst the most active Muslims and know their Islam better than many “born” Muslims who often take it for granted. Anyone who has read books by Maryam Jameelah knows this.

Sure many of us “born” Muslims are on to the “progressive” agenda, but reverts are in a special position to expose proggies, being particularly familiar with their mindset having been there before embracing Islam. Reverts tend to reject identity politics, permissive attitudes towards sexuality, and the ridiculously reductionist progressive “shahada” that “a muslim is one who claims to be one.” Is it any wonder that folks like Siraj Wahaj and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are vilified and called names by the RAND robots ?

Or perhaps the reality of strong, intelligent and independent Muslim men and woman asserting themselves within the confines of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam) at a time where it would be so easy to do so otherwise doesn’t go well with the conformist pseudo-intellectuals at MWU. Indeed, how does Ahmed Nassef explain to the audience of FOX, CNN, and MSNBC that men and woman born in the West, raised in non-Muslim homes are embracing Islam and practicing it without making himself look incompetant or without any credibility ?

It seems proggies have come across people who truly define what it means to be progressive, and its those who have progressed from the darkness of kufr to the light of Islam. If I was a pro-regressive, I’d be worried too.


Blogger izzymo said...

Salaam alaikum,

You mentioned one of my favorite writers, Maryum Jameelah. Anyhoo, there's a jealously factor because people like Hamza Yusuf, Siraj Wahhaj and others have such a large following. The PMs can barely get their meetings off the ground in certain areas but people like the "revert scholars" can pack stadiums.

They defintely are a threat because they have proven that you can be a devout Muslim and American and not compromise the two. The only reason why Nassef and Co. get press converage is because they are preaching what the haters and neo-cons what to hear while being marginalized with the Muslim community.

11:51 AM  
Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Yes, I love Maryam Jameelah's works. Whats her status these days ?

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as-salamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah,I love the writings of Maryam Jameelah too. Her descriptions of the struggles that she went through searching for the truth and dealing with extremely liberal "Uncle Tom" Muslims just after she embraced Islam really helped me with my similar struggles when I first came in contact with Islam and Muslims (the latter being the hard part). However, compared to your typical conversion story today, Sister Maryam Jameelah had quite a tough time finding what we'd call "believing and practicing Muslims", which were few and far between in America back in her day. Believe it or not, she actually came in contact with Muslims who believed that it was okay to eat pork in these modern times, since they claimed that the only reason that it was made haram in the past was because people didn't know how to cook it correctly (an opinion that they seemingly borrowed from Reform Judaism). Aghghgh!!! It was her frustrations with these self-deluded "Progressive Muslims" that prompted her to search for Muslims who took the Deen a bit more seriously. Even though I'm not a fan of the "Islamic movement" and "Political Islam" (not to be confused with Islam being political) of Maududi, I distinctly recall her book Correspondence Between Maulana Maudoodi and Maryam Jameelah bringing tears to my eyes. Even though I didn't agree with all of her writings, I found her spirited determination, unwavering devotion to the truth, criticism of the modern West and unapologetic tone to be both refreshing and courageous.

As far as what she's doing now, around 1996, while I was living in Kuwait, I briefly corresponded with Mary Jameelah. I wrote her to in Pakistan, where she has lived since just after embracing Islam, to enquire about some points that she made in one of her books and we traded a few letters. From what I recall, it seemed rather clear that she had, to some degree, embraced the Perennialist Philosophy (a.k.a. Traditionalism) as espoused by Martin Lings, Frithjof Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr et al. She was very concerned about the destruction of some of the sacred sites in the Wahhabite Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the intrusion of Western consumerism (i.e. having a KFC near the haram in Makkah)—and rightfully so. As far as I know, she hasn't written any new books in recent years although not more than a year or so ago I noticed that she was still authoring some poignant reviews for Muslim World Book Review, so insha'llah she's still alive and doing fine—and she was born in 1934.

9:38 AM  
Blogger altaf said...


The lines between "progressive" and "reverts" are not as clear cut as you suggest, let me see if i can bring some context here. When I was on the admin. team of the Progressive Muslims Network (PMN) I would say, somewhere between 20-30% (maybe more) of the list membership of about 200-300 were "reverts" or "converts."

Now, as some of you know, PMN was a very different kind of a group than PMUNA/MWU -- the reason why PMN attracted so many converts/reverts was that 1) it was attempting to engage Muslims who were already community based social justice and/or progressive/peace activists, 2) we were willing to engage in critical thinking about the Muslim community, and how we could be part of a process to improve our communities. 3)The PMN attempted to not dwell so much on the cultural context, and more on what we mean by justice in Islam.

At the time, and there still aren't (unfortuantely) very many places where progressive/peace activists can hang out with fellow Muslims.

This also attracted many folks who were, frankly, tired of always being told what to do and getting all kinds of messages - one brother would say one thing, another sister would say another -- and then both would judge the poor convert/revert as being "wrong!" You know what I mean... we've all experienced this...

Now, the context of PMUNA/MWU is very different - there "anyone who calls one's self a Muslim is a Muslim" includes athiests and agnositcs - who identify as being "Muslim" solely on the basis of a "cultural affinity" and not a faith in Allah. This creates a cultural or tribal identity - and not a faith identity.

Being Muslim is not about a cultural affinity, it is about moving towards an ever deepending faith in Allah.

That is the basis of our commonality, and from that basic agreement, we can, in theory at least, inshallah, *peacefully* have our disagreements. (The Quran says (paraphrasing) that let's come to a common agreement that we believe in Allah and we don't believe in any partners of Allah i.e. Tawheed is the basis of peace, and common understandings amongst people of faith - not your cultural background).

Admitedly, initially, I had found the concept as put forth by PMUNA attractive, because it seemed to be an answer to the problem of people saying such and such a person is not Muslim because they do this and that... However, looking back, and closer at this - obviously it is a big problem - it is like jumping from the fire right into the frying pan. And it further plays right into the dirty hands of the Rand corp. and Uncle Sam - who want to re-do Islam so that it is just the stuff of "legends," and what not...


3:14 PM  
Blogger altaf said...

Finishing my thought --- So, in the context of PMUNA - reverts/converts become very problematic - *because* no one becomes a Muslim just to appreciate the "culture" -

That would be very silly - if someone did that - because there are multiplicity of cultures that are
Muslim, which "cultural Muslim" or you becoming?

It would be like saying "I wanna become a Pakistani Cultural Muslim because I like bhiryani!" And why would anyone want to call themselves Muslims because of that? You can be whatever religion or not - still appreciate the art and poetry etc. of one Muslim region or another, without "reverting"

To revert/convert a Muslim is an acknowledgement of faith - and the positive aspects of many muslim cultures (such as the arts) exist within and draws upon this faith.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaam 'Alaikum

Altaf: That last one is a very good point. Subhan'Allah. I think that we are seeing two different things going on here. Certainly there are liberal Muslims who converted. MWU has it's share of convert voices, but when you are going to define Islam as a cultural heritage, what you are doing is excluding those who came by faith. If Islam is just a culture or a way of art, then why bother converting? And if your editor or your organization is saying, "That is all this is," then why are you there, being nullified?

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as-salamu 'alaykum,

I don't think Dr. Maxtor intended to suggest that all "reverts" (a marketing ploy word that I've never liked) are conservative, traditional Muslims, although it did come across that way. I'm sure that he's aware that "reverts" come in all the various Muslim flavors: Sufi/Salafi, Sunni/Shi'a, Liberal/Conservative, etc. Even though your points are well taken, I think his overall point was that nothing aggravates the PMs more than an Islamically-knowledgeable and articulate Western "revert" who is following traditional Islam. Amongst other things, this is because the PMs generally assert that traditional Islam is impractical in the modern Western world, thus I feel that Dr. Maxtor's main point is still essentially valid.

My only real criticism of your posting is that you, as PMs often do, attribute to yourself intellectual prowess above and beyond what's present in the more conservative Muslim community at large (i.e. "we were willing to engage in critical thinking about the Muslim community"). What I've seen, however, doesn't bear out the fact that PMs are better—or necessarily even more critical—thinkers. Rather they often confuse "critical thinking" and "open-mindedness" with a willingness to cast aside agreed upon Islamic guidance and clear shari'ah-based standards. So it's not that conservative traditional Muslims don't engage in "critical thinking" (which is not meant to deny that there are some Muslim Neanderthals out there), but they simply do so under more Islamic constraints than their more liberal Muslim counterparts. A little bit of critical thinking should make that clear enough…(grin).

I like your insights about being a cultural Muslim and agree that no one would convert for that reason alone. A couple of years ago I emailed the columnist of a respected UK-based newspaper because of her article on a girl who was "half-Jewish and half-Muslim". I informed her that the label "Muslim" is purely (at least in its correct understanding) a religions, not ethnic, identification. Likewise, I told her that what she meant to say was "Arab" since that's an ethno-linguistic identity just like "Jewish" is an ethno-religious one, but she refused to budge. Not only did she refuse to acknowledge that she misunderstood the difference between an "Arab" and a "Muslim", she quipped that this "half-Jewish and half-Muslim" girl can be so if she wants. Since she obviously wasn't going to let something like facts get in the way of her opinion, I gave up.

By the way, what's "bhiryani"? Just's time for namaz so I gotta go!


5:30 PM  
Blogger altaf said...


After indulging in some critical thinking, i see your point being well taken: re: the critical thinking part. :)

PMN came about in 1999, I'd like to suggest that some things have also changed since then. You actually do have more people now who are engaged in the kind of conversations that we were having. Still, the perception (whether accurate or not) was that this was one of the few places that folks could talk about things like corproate globalization, genetically modified food (i've seen recent articles on a related question about if the halaal meat we are eating, is it tahir or not?).

In this respect, Risama's post is a good example of how, as Muslims, our focus should be - not on the, ahem, the "h word," - but more on if our sisters are being treated unjustly, unwelcomed - what are we doing about it?

7:34 PM  

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