Progressive Muslims a discussion

I decided to write on this topic due to recent allegations levied toward me yet again.  I have never felt a need to deal with this topic directly as I believed my writings to be evidence of where I stand on various issues.  However, in order to clear up a few questions and allegations considering this serious topic I figured why not give them what they are asking for? 🙂

One of the first things I want my readers, supporters, critics, etc. to know about me is that I do not believe in labels.  I do not believe that labels adequately define a person.  Labels are often tools both good and bad, used to categorize someone in a manner that helps the one levying the charge decide how to deal with that specific individual.  In other words, it’s a way of placing one in a box and marginalizing their unique characteristics.  For that specific reason, I try my best not to use labels.

However, if you are a blogger who likes to write on issues and topics of the day, unfortunately you often find that you have to speak in the vernacular of the day and the political climate in which you are commenting.  As such, I often use terms I despise such as “radical”, “extremist”, “terrorists”, “islamophobe”, “moderate”, etc. etc. etc.  These terms and many others I believe are ridiculous to a degree as they are very subjective and have no definite boundaries in their application.  To some, I could be labeled a radical, extremist, and a moderate all at the same time depending on who you ask.  The word “terrorist” like the word “terrorism” can often be defined through the eyes of the one who experiences terror.  For instance, the actions of Nedal Hassan could be considered no more terrorizing than having accidental “collateral damage” after an aircraft bombing campaign in Iraq, or having ones home bulldozed in Gaza, it all depends on who you ask.  The same thing can be said of the word “islamophobe”.  Are we really suggesting when we loosely levy that charge that accused has an innate fear of Islam or Muslims that causes them anxiety and unreasonable fears beyond their control?  Absolutely not.  While that may be true of a small percentage of those who are given that label, the truth is more likely that many who receive this title are manipulated by the propaganda they have been given by parties who have political, religious, and profitable agendas who know how to take advantage of the attacks carried out by Muslims, and spin them into something larger to suit their personal goals.

That said, this word “progressive” has also been used to label in many ways that are not necessarily characteristic of the actual definition of the word and it’s application is subjective.  Below is a list of the various definitions of the word “progressive” :

–adjective

1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, esp. in political matters: a progressive mayor.
2. making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.
3. characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.

–noun

10. a person who is progressive or who favors progress or reform, esp. in political matters.

As one can casually observe, the word “progressive” can have many meanings.  As it relates to politics and religion, it is often those definitions that are considered the most divisive such as “advocating liberal ideas” that are heralded as the normal expression of this word, while definitions such as “making progress toward better conditions” are often ignored.

We are quite aware how this word “progressive” is currently used by critics in both politics and religions as a slur to label one as a “liberal”.  I object to this definition of the term and personally believe that those who pick out this one definition out of many to characterize those whom they criticize as agents of propaganda and reckless.  Most people are “progressive” and if you are not, I believe you should re-evaluate your humanity.

However, as I mentioned earlier, we also know that unfortunately, as commentators we have to speak in the tongue of our audience.  Since this is the case, it really doesn’t matter what the word “progressive” truly means no more than the words “Jihad” or “Allahu Akbar” in this current political/religious climate.  What matters most sadly, is how the majority perceive things not what they actually are.

The term “Progressive Muslim” is often understood to define an individual Muslim or group of Muslims as those who advocate actions or ideas considered outside the Muslim “norm”.  This concept of a Muslim “norm” is subjective and it is very easy for some Muslims to hurl allegations toward other Muslims, if one group believes that their definition of Muslim “norm” is correct and another groups is wrong.  To simplify the discussion and not ramble another 3000 words or so on the subject, I will deal with the most common understanding of what a “Progressive Muslim” is understood to be by critics.

Most critics define a “Progressive Muslim” as one who seeks to change Islam in some shape, form, or fashion.  They believe that “Progressive Muslims” believe the Qur’an to be flawed in some way and that their ideas have no basis in Islam whatsoever, and therefore seek to add to that which has already been established.  Some ideas suggested as indicators of a “Progressive Muslim” are:

  • Muslims who accept women led Prayer
  • Muslims who believe in mixed gender congregational Prayer
  • Muslims who advocate changing or suggesting the change of the Qur’an
  • Muslim who believe there is something inherently wrong with Islam and that it needs reform
  • These are just some of the hot-button topics and ideas used as indicators of a “Progressive Muslim”.  Others include but are not limited to ideas concerning modesty (i.e. hijab), ideas concerning alcohol or other drug use, ideas concerning homosexuality, and other ideas that are thought up by the accuser as needed.

    To answer my critics directly, if by chance these indicators of ideas were in fact the true definition of what a “Progressive Muslim” is, then I hate to disappoint my critics, but I am not a “Progressive Muslim”.

    I do not believe in:

    • Women led prayer or women Imams
    • Mixed Gender congregational prayer
    • Changing or suggesting the change of the Qur’an
    • Believe that there is something wrong with Islam that needs reform
    • Nor do I believe in relaxed rules in modesty, drug usage, or gay Muslims, etc.

    I am not sure where these allegations that I am a “Progressive Muslim” come from.  What I do believe which will also “outrage” the critics and fuel their labeling and accusations, is that humanity is given the power of choice and endowed with that right from Allah (swt) to decide for themselves what they believe concerning these issues.  As such, I support others right to agree or disagree with my beliefs.  Furthermore, concerning many of these “hot button” issues I believe that within Islamic scholarship and sources there exists a mechanism to debate some of these topics legitimately amongst Muslims that shouldn’t result in slander, defamation, or violence.  For instance, the topic of modesty, mixed gender gatherings, etc. are an example of topics that can be discussed in an in depth scholarly fashion.

    My overall point is that Muslims should be able to disagree without being labeled with terms that do not adequately reflect their character, especially by other Muslims, we should know better.  If I’m a “Progressive”, “Liberal”, or anything else, the critics should provide evidence of such.  If not, accept that your accusations amount to nothing more than slander of the worst kind and you should seek to correct yourself and/or the record.  As Muslims we have to elevate our discussions and debates to a level worthy or the title “the best of mankind”.  If one were to judge the petty back and forth that is now being accepted among Muslims as legitimate debate where threats, accusations, and insults have become the norm, it should be of no surprise that we are looked at as a bunch of backward, uncivilized savages.

    I do advocate change, improvement, and reform within the Muslim community and world.  I do oppose maintaining the status quo.  I do not look at the Muslim world as a model of civilization and the best example of what Allah (swt) intends in Islam nor the best reflection and example of the Prophet (saw).  Anyone who thinks otherwise, I believe is terribly misguided. I believe that the Qur’an and the Sunnah already contain those mechanisms and ideas necessary to carry out these changes and believe that the Muslim world today is off the path of Islam.  I do not believe Islam has to be reformed, but Muslims need to be reformed.  When there exists one Muslim who is hungry, uneducated, and lives in fear especially of other Muslims, we need change.  When there exists an environment where Muslim women fear rape and abuse from other Muslims, we need change.  When there exists, entire communities of people both Muslim and non-Muslim who fear Muslims because of their beliefs, difference of ideas, or ethnicities, we need change.  When there exists a world where Muslims are not known for what they have built, lead, or achieved in the world, but for what they have destroyed, maimed, or killed, we need change.

    So while it may be OK with the staunchest critics to spend the most time criticizing other Muslims, the “West”, or the “Jews”, for their words and actions, or debating petty stuff like the length of ones beard, their clothing, or what scholar they can quote, I would rather advocate useful things like how to get more to embrace the beauty of Islam and how this embracing of Islam can be reflected positively in the everyday lives of all of humanity.  What good is it to be able to quote this or that scholar or ayah, dress or groom a certain way, belong to this school of thought or another, or even feel confident saying that one is Muslim, if none of these things stops the everyday suffering of Muslims, or builds one own community?

    Many have called my Kaffir, misguided, and other things, but would never have the courage to say something like that to those who govern them in their host countries.  It’s cowardice and a mockery of Islam in the highest degree when your deen is measured by your looks and your ability to quote text, while you ignore the oppression and suffering of Muslims by others who call themselves Muslim everyday.  The real issue is not what Robert Salaam or others say and believe but what is Islam and what does it look like in it’s human manifestation?  If I were a non-Muslim as some allege wanting to learn about Islam should my knowledge be limited to that which can be learned in a book or by ones words, or should I be able to look at Muslims and see how they live as my example?  If I were an outsider looking at the Muslim world as an example of what Islam produces TODAY based on the everyday actions of Muslims, what would I see?  What conclusions could I arrive to?  I’m certain, I would care less about about beards, thobes, hijabs, or scholars, but more about the lives  and conditions of everyday Muslims.  For some of you to sit back and ignore these things and consume yourselves with mockery and faux outrage based on words that are written or said, is foolish.

    Allah (swt) nor the Prophet (saw) are outraged when one speaks ill of them, draws cartoons, or hurls insults toward them or the religion that was revealed, what’s outrageous and insulting are the Muslims who don’t have the courage, ability, or will to first change the condition of themselves, and instead stand around pointing the fingers at others.

    May Allah (swt) have mercy on and guide the Ummah toward the realization and truth of Islam so that it may manifest a positive change in the lives of all mankind.

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    7 Comments

    1. the problem with “labels” (in English) as some scholars have pointed out, is that they do not fit the Islamic context.—For example the label “Fundamentalist” — is tied in with Christianity and does not carry over well in describing the Muslim situation. Maybe we should coin our own labels?—-although “labelling” is not a really good idea because it causes divisions—yet, if we must—why not refer to Muslims who are proactive about finding solutions to modern problems, within the framework of Islam,  as “Ijtihadi” Muslims?

      Reply

    2. Kudos brother, on an excellent article.  It is easy to get caught up in all of the unimportant, superficial, details of our deen, while forgetting what is truly important.  Iman should not be determined by the length of ones beard after all.

      Reply

    3. Visiting your site, hoping for some real progress.  If you disbelieve in all the directions in which Islam might progress, how can you call yourself progressive?
      The Prophet, blessed be he, considered women to be the equal of men, in worship, in trade, and in public life.  How can you call yourself progressive, and not even follow the prophet’s teachings?

      Reply

      1. I’m sorry if my words were not clear Alima,

        But I want to make clear my point as it relates to the title “Progressive”. I do not consider myself a progressive Muslim as ordinarily applied in the current political sphere. I don’t not believe in a progressive Islam either as Islam is complete and perfect as Allah (swt) Himself revealed “”Today I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My grace upon you, and approved Islam as your religion.” Surah 5:3 Therefore, I believe that any Muslim who believes that Islam needs to change in anyway is terribly misguided or have bought the anti-Muslim hype hook, line, and sinker. What I do believe is that as Muslims we need to be progressive in our views and understanding of our religion. The Prophet (saw) as it relates to your response did as Allah (swt) revealed and all of those ideas you posted are codified in the Qur’an in the Sunnah. My point as it relates to this “progressive” stuff, is that the onus is on Muslims to follow that example, not to criticize Islam as if Islam is somehow flawed. Did that make anymore sense?

        Reply

    4. But, just as in the Bible of the Christians, the later commentary contradicts the words and acts of the prophet.  Which are you going to believe, what the Prophet did and said, or how others have corrupted his inspired words?  I have spent my whole life trying to get people to actually LISTEN to their prophets, to read the original sources, and to dispense with those who would limit revelation to what they can understand or countenance.  God is ONE.  Can you actually believe that?  ONE means there is no distinction among God’s children.  A woman has all the brains and spirit of a man, and Mohammed, (bbh) worked for his own wife.  There will never be acceptance of Islam in the Western world, if you insist on keeping women silent and obedient to men.  Every woman has God within, just as does every man.  There is no difference on the inside.

      Reply

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