Reforming Islam Revisited

May 21, 2006

Many months ago, I posted some thoughts on “Reforming Islam” from the perspective of “Progressive Muslims.” This is not all that different from the perspective of an ex-Muslim, namely Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but it is profoundly more alarming to the average Muslim to hear someone who claims to be an ex-Muslim (although even that is doubtful) say something like, “Muhammad is, seen by our Western standards, a perverse man”.

She does not apologize for her attacks on Islam (under the guise of “reform”), but she does insist that they are not attacks at all. “I want to reform Islam,” she says with complete honesty, yet she has alienated herself from the very people she seeks to reform. And that is the real problem. Female circumcision, domestic violence, subjugation, and other social customs that oppress women are not inherent in Islam. They are the problems of people who happen to be Muslim, much as she probably was. One could argue that those problems are more obvious in western countries than in the Middle East. Every time a Muslim woman sees a billboard with a half-naked Christian woman selling beer, she probably thinks of that poor model as being “oppressed” but she does not blame that oppression on Christianity.

There is a sense of irony in the fact that the people Hirsi Ali wishes to reform are a lot like her. She undoubtedly received “Islamic education”, but it was apparently neither Islamic nor educating. Those who attack her, who would love to remove her from the planet, most likely view Islam the same way that she does. When she says that Islam is oppressing, they want to kill her, not because she’s wrong, but because she’s right, and how dare a woman speak the truth about her own oppression!

For that reason, a blogger from City of Brass applauds her for her bravery in standing up against the oppression of women. At the same time, however, he/she makes it clear that the applaud is not for her lack of proper understanding of Islam. She is not an ‘alim (scholar of religion), the blogger writes, but an ally.

But this is not the way of Islam, not even of the “liberal-minded” Muslims who also believe Islam should be reformed. There is a certain etiquette in “enjoining the good and forbidding the evil” that seems to be missing from Hirsi Ali’s understanding. She, Salman Rushdie, and others like them believe in offending to make their point, but such a stance renders their entire platform invalid. If she was truly interested in reforming Islam, why would she offend its adherents? They become more like the person who has been hurt by another and abuses him to get back at him. Yes, intentionally offending someone is abuse. That is an Islamic principle, and someone who wishes to reform Islam should know that before trying to teach Muslims anything.

I, who could be described as a modern Muslim who practices traditional Islam (and by that I do not mean Sunni Islam, sorry), I see her as neither an ‘alim nor an ally. She is a victim, and most of her responses to people who criticize her sounds as though she has been victimized. Unfortunately, someone who has been victimized and has not been properly treated for it tends to return to her abusers. It creates a depressing cycle of abuse. That does not mean she is asking for the abuse but rather that she does not know any other way. To her, that is the way Islam is. She wants to change it but does not know how.

Of course, she is wrong on both accounts. Islam is not oppressive and it does not need change. Many Muslims need change, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the non-Muslims who needs to know al-Islam (the true path of peaceful submission to God). In a way, perhaps her migration to America will be good for her. Like many other American Muslims, I chose Islam. It did not beat me over the head and force me to submit.

If I see her on the street, I will not kill her, beat her, curse her, or applaud her. I will feel sorry for her.


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