a muslim reformation? a muslim speaks up

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    A Muslim reformation?
    Global Television (Canada): Global Sunday
    September 28, 2003

    Danielle Smith: Good evening everyone, I'm Danielle Smith in Calgary. Welcome to Global Sunday, the forum for the issues and topics that matter most to Canadians. … Is Islam overdue for an overhaul? Irshad Manji, author of a new book The Trouble with Islam is with us in Vancouver and joining us now is historian Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based research institute. Thanks for being with us Daniel.

    Daniel Pipes: Thank you.

    Smith: And here in the studio, professor Aaron Hughes from the Religious Studies Department of the University of Calgary. Welcome Aaron.

    Aaron Hughes: Thank you.

    Smith: Gentlemen, we've just been talking with Irshad about her new book The Trouble with Islam, Daniel, can you give us...broaden this out and give us a wider perspective, is the entire Muslim world at war with the West?

    Pipes: Oh no, not at all, fortunately, but a very significant and dynamic minority. I estimate ten or fifteen percent of Muslims are at war with the West and perhaps at war with more than that. I mean ten or fifteen percent are at war from the militant Islamic perspective and perhaps some others from a different perspective, but certainly by all means not the whole of Muslim world.

    Smith: Okay, Aaron, can you give us some idea, how much of this extremism is apparent in North America already?

    Hughes: Well, I think there's a lot of potential for extremism in North America. You see it in certain mosques, mosques as Irshad's book mentions that are in influenced by Wahhabism, which is a certain militant, a very ultra conservative form of Islam. I might add though that I'm very much for Irshad's argument, but this concept of ijtihad is also potentially problematic, because anyone can use it. So you can have liberals using ijtihad and I think if you ask Osama bin Laden what he's doing, he's also using some form of ijtihad, so I guess it's a double edged sword and we have to watch out for it.

    Irshad Manji: And I think you're quite right Professor Hughes. The thing that I would add however is that while maybe a, you know, relatively small minority within the world of Islam, even here in the West are fanatic, actively speaking, far too many more of us are complacent. And we let the fanatics get away with it...

    Hughes: That's true.

    Manji: ...and that is why I am calling on my fellow mainstream Muslims to wake-up and to tackle what's going on in our faith. It is not enough simply to say "hmmm, Islam is about peace, Islam is about love," we have been hijacked and all of those other mantras we constantly heard, and still hear after 9/11. The question is "What are we specifically doing about it if we are going to prove that Islam is about all of these wonderful things?"

    Smith: But who is it that currently is guiding the direction that Islam is taking? Who does interpret the Koran? Daniel?

    Pipes: Well, there are the traditional authorities who have gone through thirty years of schooling, but they increasingly are being pushed aside. Instead it's the dynamos, it's the Islamists, it's the people who are on the internet who are very radical in outlook, who are dominating the interpretation. There is however, increasingly especially since 9/11 a counter-argument being forwarded by people like Miss Manji who are saying no, enough, we don't have to go this route. It's still incipient, it's still insurgent, it's still minority, but it is very, very important that it's being heard.

    Smith: By and large would you say North America then, that it's more moderate than mainstream North America.

    Hughes: I don't think it is. I think for the reasons that Irshad mentions in her book. There's much more freedoms here that some people use positively. I would like to add though that historically, we can find this in Islam. I mean...

    Manji: Exactly.

    Hughes: ...there's you know, the different schools of fiqh or jurisprudence. There's a number of different, proper interpretations of the Koran. So you talk about the almost renewing Islam with this Talmudic type of argument and it's there.

    Manji: That's right.

    Hughes: It's just we have to rediscover it.

    Manji: As a matter of fact, just to springboard from Professor Hughes's point, in the early decades of Islam a 135 schools of thought flourished. All right. Cordoba, one of the most, you know, sophisticated cities in Muslim Spain housed 70 libraries, 70. Danielle, that's one for every virgin that today's Muslim martyrs are promised. And isn't that an interesting contrast that we had books then and we've got babes today, I don't want to see my Islam degenerate to that point.

    Smith: That's right, well Daniel, as the historian, what happened? How do we go from this Mecca of free _expression and free thought and free interpretation to where we're at now?

    Pipes: Well if you take a very long and difficult history...to make it short. Basically the Muslim world was doing very well in earlier centuries and with the modern period, that is in the last two centuries, it has been doing very badly. What we're seeing in this radicalism is a response to frustration anger and failure - an attempt through violence and radicalism to re-establish Muslim strength. Of course it's not going to work but that is what we're seeing. That's what we're living through and our goal, Muslim and non-Muslim together, must be to defeat this radical _expression and find something moderate, modern, good neighborly to take its place.

    Smith: Well then, Aaron, do we have to start addressing some of the root causes of this discontent? Whether it's poverty, whether it's despotism, whether...I mean is that where we have to begin?

    Hughes: Right. Well I think Daniel's last answer is really the rub. I think we have to start encouraging this, but the question is how do we do it? I mean as soon as we throw money at any type of Muslim, Muslim organization, automatically it's seen as suspect. So, I mean, I guess we could try to address the root causes, but I like what Irshad's trying to do in her book and call for this reformation. Because as we've seen, we've seen a reformation in Judaism, we've seen one in Christianity and people have always said that, you know, it's Islam's turn. And I think Irshad's book is framed in such a way, that, you know, in a very bold critique of the tradition. So I think what we'll see now is a reaction by Muslims here, Muslims in the Arab Islamic world. And sometimes there's going to be middle ground. So what I'm looking for what's going to happen fifteen years from now?

    Manji: And you know, I'm happy to point out, speaking of reaction that in addition to all the angry mail through my website, I'm also getting plenty of positive supportive mail not just from non-Muslims, but from Muslims as well. And I'm not surprised to say this from young Muslim women who are cheering me on who are saying thank you for being the one to stand up and articulate what we've always been thinking and feeling. The sad part right now is that too many of them are also saying, "I can't step out of the box at this moment because I still fear persecution." But remember it's only been a few days since the book is released and hopefully over the course of a longer term there will be that courage.

    Smith: But Irshad, you're getting threats, aren't you? I mean it's not just discontent with what you're saying,...

    Manji: Sure.

    Smith: ...you're actually getting bodily threats?

    Manji: Yes I am but I personally Danielle am not afraid for my life. I have all of the peace of mind I need and am very resolute in the integrity of what I've done and why I'm doing it and I will not step back.

    Hughes: Can I just step in for a second? I think it's interesting that if there is a reformation Islam, I think it will occur in North America. It will be centric here. That's because we're asking the questions here. So North American Islam is traditionally always been alienated historically. Muslims in the West are kind of being ignored but now, after September the 11th, I think this is where North American Muslim could really shine on the global stage.

    Manji: I think professor Hughes is right, that this is where we could shine, but I disagree profoundly that this is where we are shining. I actually find that far too Muslims....to few Muslims here do use the precious freedoms that we got to think, express, challenge and be challenged all without fear of state reprisal. But you're right on one front, sir, and that is the North America can very much be the beginning of the Islamic reformation.

    Smith: Okay panel, we just have to take a quick break there. It's time for our final break and when we get back, final thoughts from our panel in two minutes. …Welcome back. All right Aaron, if there's going to be an Islamic reformation what can the West do to help that along?

    Hughes: Well, that's tricky, I mean, first I'd like to say can the West do and what can the Western Muslims do? I think what the West can do....see, we have to be careful because if we start, you know favoring certain groups, giving them money, then it's always seen as tainted money. So I would think that what we have to do is do it on the marketplace of ideas. What people like Irshad are doing? There's a number of other Muslims that are writing books like this. And maybe these will be translated into the Arab world, into the Islamic world and either they'll get some kind of audience. Whether it succeeds or fails is another matter. But I think Muslims have to confront this and it is an important first step.

    Smith: Irshad, is getting information out enough?

    Manji: Um, no, not enough, but it is definitely a start. Um I think one of the things that I need my fellow Muslims to understand is this: You know, they always say to me Irshad it's not Islam that needs a reformation, it's Muslims. Well I'm sorry, that's a fancy schmancy semantic argument you're making because what is a religion if not the behavior of its practitioners. And in fact Prophet Muhammad himself was asked, you know, "What is religion?" And he replied: "Religion is the way we conduct ourselves towards others." Well by that standard how Muslims actually behave is Islam and to sweep that reality under the rug of semantics in my view is to absolve ourselves of our responsibility to question.

    Smith: Okay, Daniel, last word to you, what can Western governments do?

    Pipes: Governments and leading institutions can do a lot. If you look at the situation today throughout the West including North America, you'll find that the Islamists, the radicals are the ones invited into government circles who are generally in the media, are cited as authorities who do the research in universities, who engage in discussions with the churches and so forth. It is important for all these institutions, governmental, academic, media and alike, to remove the recognition from the Islamists and give it to the moderate Muslims.

    Smith: All right Daniel Pipes, Aaron Hughes, Irshad Manji, thank you all for joining us.

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