Clyde Haberman of the NY Times talks up a new group:
A Little Late, but a Stand Against Hate
AFTER the Sept. 11 attacks by Islamic terrorists, Ginan Rauf's 12-year-old son asked a question that shook her, she says, "to the core."
The boy, Sherif Ahmed, was in "deep despair and shock," said Ms. Rauf, a Muslim living in Franklin Lakes, N.J. His question could not have been blunter: "Mom, does anything good ever come out of the Muslim world?"
Her instinctive response, the mother recalled yesterday, was to say that of course there are good things, that people of their religion "have made so many contributions to human civilization."
But there was no avoiding the obvious. Islam, for many, including quite a few born in the faith, had become grim, cramped, exclusionary and - no getting around it - all too often death-embracing.
And so the question rattled her. "It expressed a deep frustration with how the diverse cultural heritage of the Muslim world was being reduced to a narrow religiosity," Ms. Rauf said. "It was becoming joyless and constricting. A lot of kids just didn't want to deal with it or associate themselves with it."
That is why, with the Ramadan holy period just ended, she found herself yesterday at Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights. There, she joined like-minded Muslims in announcing a new group committed to "the universal and egalitarian values of the faith."
They were for the most part young, a small band of American and Canadian academics, writers and community activists. Not a head scarf or beard was in sight. The Progressive Muslim Union of North America, they called themselves, organized as a counterweight to the "oppressive or dysfunctional practices" that have come to define Islam for many people, both inside and outside the religion.
Plain and simple, they said, they are not willing to be cowed by hidebound imams for whom the three R's mean restriction, resentment and retribution.
"We will not be intimidated into silence as narrow and authoritarian interpretations of our faith are presented," said the union's executive director, Ahmed Nassef.
Enough with treating women as barely human, said Mona Eltahawy, a journalist and a board member of the group. "I know there are millions of Muslim women out there," she said, "who want to hear someone say, 'You are fine just the way you are. No man with a robe down to here and a huge beard is going to tell you how to live your life.' "
Mr. Nassef added: "We won't step aside when women are excluded or when hate against a group of people - whether they be African-Americans or Jews or gays or anyone else - is spoken or practiced." Sarah Eltantawi, a spokeswoman for the union, said the one thing that she and the others would not tolerate is intolerance, whether by Muslims or toward Muslims.
Brave words, deserving to be heard....
For Ms. Rauf, what her son and other young Muslims need is an awareness of Islam's capacity for "a rich and varied cultural life," one that the madrasas, or religious schools, "are crowding out."
Plainly, this is a case where no imam need apply.
"We are looking for our own Martin Luthers, and we're looking for our own reformation," said Tarek Fatah, another board member and a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. "I am an authentic Muslim because I believe I am. I do not need any clergy to give me that certification."
His column continues, but that captures the flavor.
Now, clearly we support the concept of an Islamic reformation, so we are inclined to support this group. As to whether they are hopelessly liberal and have no chance of making an impact outside of Manhattan (or Minnesota), I have no idea. But here is their website (with a comments section!), and if any of my readers are right-thinking Muslims, I encourage you to go co-opt them.
EXTRA CREDIT: I take issue with Mr. Haberman's comment that "Plainly, this is a case where no imam need apply". It seems like cheating to look it up, but my strong impression is that an imam is any teacher of Islam who can attract a congregation - there is no central church that certifies them (although France is working on a certification program, IIRC).
[Here we go.]