17 March 2007

 

Muslims Afraid to Speak Out?

Several years ago when I wrote in the Leicester Mercury concerning the wearing of the burqa, there was quite a lot of reaction, including letters from Muslim women. My most recent letter, (24 January) quoting the views of Taslima Nasrin on the need for women to cast off purdah, found no response at all. This lack of participation by the local Muslim community is very worrying for our democracy. It suggests that people are afraid to express their views.

Two important meetings of Muslim reformers have taken place over the past two weeks. On 4-5 March a 'Secular Islam Summit', took place in Florida. Its aim was to counter the reactionary voices which have been speaking on behalf of Muslims, to foster solidarity for societal growth in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, and to seek reformation in Islam. There were more than twenty speakers from across these areas. They advocated reform of education and promotion of human rights, maintaining that these values do not belong to the West or the East but are the common moral heritage of humankind. They see no colonialism, racism, or "islamophobia" in submitting practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

Ibn Warraq called for full separation between religion and state in the Muslim world. Irshad Manji advocated 'Ijtihad', that is independent reading of Islamic texts, to counter the narrow interpretations of extremists. She invites non-Muslims to take part in the debate alongside reformist Muslims. Tawfiq Hakim noted that Islamism is a political ideology that pretends be a religious doctrine. Walid Phares urged the abandonment of concepts from early Islamic history, 1300 years ago, as incompatible with modern international law. He also warned that the West has paid too much attention to apologists for jihadism instead of liberal Muslims. Attempts by hard-liners to silence these reformers have often received more attention than the ideas and sufferings of the reformers themselves.

The second meeting referred to was 'Islam, Women's Rights and the Veil' on 8th March at the University of London Union. It featured a group of exceptionally courageous women who are standing up for their rights against a controlling and often violent religious establishment.

Maryam Namazie, argued not just against the wearing of the veil but calling for it to be banned. She likened it to a chastity belt or footbinding, representing female enslavement. Taslima Nasrin, has suffered persecution from the religious authorities in Bangladesh, from which she is now a refugee. Mina Ahadi from Iran highlighted the difficulty of renouncing the Islamic faith, which she said is misogynist and tyrannical. Apostasy can carry the death penalty in a number of countries including Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Mauritania. Other speakers were Sonia Eggerickx, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and Ann Harrison from Amnesty International who gave a summary of the legal situation of women in Iran and the terrible injustices they have to endure.

Sources:

Video of Secular Islam Summit participants.

Article including Statement of the Summit.

AINA report

NSS report on the London meeting.

I submitted the above article for consideration to Leicester Mercury last Sunday, but have had no response, so present it here.

Comments:
A version of this article was after all published as a letter in Leicester Mercury on 19th March.
 
Women are clearly and courageously leading the struggle for the reformation of Islam. All humanists and secularists should express support and demonstrate it where needed in practical action.

But unfortunately, Muslims who carry on this struggle entirely within the confines of Islam, quoting religious texts to support their position, are just as much prisoners of the past as are the reactionaries who threaten violence against them on the basis of other texts. Debating issues within Islam merely reinforces the problem - Islam itself. Only a complete break - apostasy - will have any real effect.
 

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