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How others see the "Progressive Muslims"

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  • Ahmad Faruqui
    Friends, Farish Noor is no stranger to those who call themselves Progressive Muslims. If I am not mistaken, some of his pieces have been circulated by Tarek
    Message 1 of 5 , Oct 28, 2005
      Friends,
       
      Farish Noor is no stranger to those who call themselves "Progressive Muslims."  If I am not mistaken, some of his pieces have been circulated by Tarek Fateh.  He raises some important issues in this piece. 
       
      It seems that the progressives are pursuing an agenda which for all intents and purposes is as fundamentalist in its orientation as that of the conservatives.  Their attitude is no less strident than the "holier than thou" attitude shown by the conservatives.  In other words, they seem to wear their progressiveness on their sleeve just as the others wear their holiness on their sleeve. 
       
      Is a happy medium in the offing?   
       
      Ahmad
       
      Daily Times - Site EditionSaturday, October 29, 2005

      VIEW: Muslim progressives should not be too conceited —Farish A Noor

      Those “Muslim conservatives” we are so inclined to banish beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise grappling with the challenges of the globalised age we live in. By engaging with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists, we ensure that the frontiers of discourse and dialogue remain open, and the possibility of genuine constructive change remains with us

      Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure and honour of attending several conferences, workshops and lectures on, and by, that constituency of individuals known as “Progressive Muslims”. I have to say that it is always a pleasure for me to attend these meetings, as I find myself in the company of like-minded individuals who share a common outlook on life: the shared commitment to demonstrate to Muslims that Islam is indeed a living, vibrant faith that is cognisant of the realities of our times and capable of meeting the challenges posed by globalisation; the shared belief that Islam is a universal creed that extols the virtues of a common, united and equal humanity; the belief that Islam is a religious of peace and love that brings humanity together in an inclusive manner, and so on.

      But of late these meetings have also left me with some lingering doubts that refuse to go away. I have tried to grapple with these insecurities and tried to give them a name, but it was only after the last meeting of “Progressive Muslims” that the words came to me. I recall an encounter with a Muslim women’s rights activist from Africa. In the course of our discussion, I noted, perhaps sarcastically, that all of her references in her presentation were European or euro-centric ones. I then casually asked her about the state of women’s organisation among the Islamist groups in her country. Her reply was stark and immediate: “Oh, we don’t talk to those people. They are all fanatics and extremists, not moderates and liberals like us.”

      This neat division between “moderate/liberal” and “fanatic/conservative” seems too good to be true. Any academic or intellectual worth his salt would balk at the thought of using such simplistic dichotomies, for the simple reason that we know — and ought to know — that the world is not as simple as that. Life and human phenomena cannot simply be compartmentalised into such neat categories and all social phenomena are invariably connected and overlapping in one way or another.

      True, this may make it hard for us to distinguish between the “progressive conservatives” and “radical liberals” and “militant democrats” and other hybrid constituencies, but the fact remains that such hybrid categories do exist and have existed all along.

      Thus from the scientific point of view (and here I confess to belong to a scientific community for once, that of political science) talk about “progressive” and “conservative” Islam is just a matter of semantic acrobatics and wordplay, often disguising the reality that Islam and Muslims are far too complex to be cut up into such neat little chunks.

      So why do we, the so-called “progressive” and “liberal” Muslims, continue to use such misleading terms to describe ourselves? It is odd considering the fact that most of us “progressives” happen to be perfectly rational adults who would never describe ourselves as “progressive Malaysians” or “progressive Pakistanis”, yet feel it perfectly natural to describe our religious identity in the same terms.

      More troubling is the fact that these dichotomies do not simply materialise out of nowhere, or drop down from the sky at random. Talk of “progressive” and “conservative” Islam today, in the post-September 11 world that rests under the long shadow cast by Washington’s military-hegemonic apparatus, is no mere accident. It has to be stated time and again that such dichotomies exist in a world that is saturated by power and divided by differentials of power; and that all dichotomies are likewise shaped and marked by such power differentials as well.

      The distinction between “progressive” Muslims and “conservative” Muslims may not have been invented by the neo-cons who rule the roost in the White House, or the repressive regimes that blight the landscape of the Muslim world, but it cannot be denied that they have also profited from such distinctions. President George Bush Junior’s warm embrace of the concept of “progressive Islam”, and his establishment’s support for “progressive Muslim” issues and personalities comes at the cost of expelling other Muslims from the domain of the civilised, rational, normal and acceptable.

      Already we have seen many a repressive Muslim government or regime hijacking the terms “progressive” and “moderate” in order to whitewash the authoritarian structures of power they control, and to sell themselves as exemplary models of “progressive Islam” at work. Should we — Muslim intellectuals, activists, scholars — who are fighting for reform, democratisation and human rights in Islam also fall into the same trap by using the same divisive language and logic that was once used to distinguish between “good niggers” and “bad niggers”?

      Surely the responsibility now falls upon us, Muslim intellectuals, to radically interrogate and deconstruct the use of these terms, especially when we ourselves are located within that same hotly contested discursive terrain. What right have we to lay exclusive claim to the use of terms like “progressive” and “moderate” Islam if we fail to note the fact that even among those who fall into the “conservative” camp there are and have been genuine attempts at reform, modernisation and adaptation?

      When I raised this concern to the African activist I met at the last conference I attended, her response was: “So are you calling for some kind of revolution then? If we blur these boundaries surely we risk confusing the situation even more.” Well, the fact is that the situation is already confused as it is, and all the carpet-bombing by the American Air Force is not going to provide us with a neater, flatter playing field. But by deconstructing the use of such terms like “progressive” and “conservative” Muslims we would be living up to our vocation and duty as Muslim intellectuals and do some intellectualising for a change.

      And let us not forget that those “Muslim conservatives” we are so inclined to banish beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise grappling with the challenges of the globalised age we live in. By engaging with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists, we ensure that the frontiers of discourse and dialogue remain open, and the possibility of genuine constructive change remains with us. The alternative is the exclusionary politics of expulsion and non-dialogue, a deafening silence that divides the Muslim world and dooms our efforts to uplift humanity as a whole.

      Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

      Home | Editorial

    • Ibrahim Hayani
      ... Hi Ahmad & Friends: SALAM Thank you for sharing this remarkably insightful and relevant article by Farish A Noor. The recent silly and infinitely
      Message 2 of 5 , Oct 30, 2005
        Ahmad Faruqui wrote:
        Friends,
         
        Farish Noor is no stranger to those who call themselves "Progressive Muslims."  If I am not mistaken, some of his pieces have been circulated by Tarek Fateh.  He raises some important issues in this piece. 
         
        It seems that the progressives are pursuing an agenda which for all intents and purposes is as fundamentalist in its orientation as that of the conservatives.  Their attitude is no less strident than the "holier than thou" attitude shown by the conservatives.  In other words, they seem to wear their progressiveness on their sleeve just as the others wear their holiness on their sleeve. 
         
        Is a happy medium in the offing?   
         
        Ahmad
         
        Daily Times - Site EditionSaturday, October 29, 2005

        VIEW: Muslim progressives should not be too conceited —Farish A Noor

        Those “Muslim conservatives” we are so inclined to banish beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise grappling with the challenges of the globalised age we live in. By engaging with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists, we ensure that the frontiers of discourse and dialogue remain open, and the possibility of genuine constructive change remains with us

        Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure and honour of attending several conferences, workshops and lectures on, and by, that constituency of individuals known as “Progressive Muslims”. I have to say that it is always a pleasure for me to attend these meetings, as I find myself in the company of like-minded individuals who share a common outlook on life: the shared commitment to demonstrate to Muslims that Islam is indeed a living, vibrant faith that is cognisant of the realities of our times and capable of meeting the challenges posed by globalisation; the shared belief that Islam is a universal creed that extols the virtues of a common, united and equal humanity; the belief that Islam is a religious of peace and love that brings humanity together in an inclusive manner, and so on.

        But of late these meetings have also left me with some lingering doubts that refuse to go away. I have tried to grapple with these insecurities and tried to give them a name, but it was only after the last meeting of “Progressive Muslims” that the words came to me. I recall an encounter with a Muslim women’s rights activist from Africa. In the course of our discussion, I noted, perhaps sarcastically, that all of her references in her presentation were European or euro-centric ones. I then casually asked her about the state of women’s organisation among the Islamist groups in her country. Her reply was stark and immediate: “Oh, we don’t talk to those people. They are all fanatics and extremists, not moderates and liberals like us.”

        This neat division between “moderate/liberal” and “fanatic/conservative” seems too good to be true. Any academic or intellectual worth his salt would balk at the thought of using such simplistic dichotomies, for the simple reason that we know — and ought to know — that the world is not as simple as that. Life and human phenomena cannot simply be compartmentalised into such neat categories and all social phenomena are invariably connected and overlapping in one way or another.

        True, this may make it hard for us to distinguish between the “progressive conservatives” and “radical liberals” and “militant democrats” and other hybrid constituencies, but the fact remains that such hybrid categories do exist and have existed all along.

        Thus from the scientific point of view (and here I confess to belong to a scientific community for once, that of political science) talk about “progressive” and “conservative” Islam is just a matter of semantic acrobatics and wordplay, often disguising the reality that Islam and Muslims are far too complex to be cut up into such neat little chunks.

        So why do we, the so-called “progressive” and “liberal” Muslims, continue to use such misleading terms to describe ourselves? It is odd considering the fact that most of us “progressives” happen to be perfectly rational adults who would never describe ourselves as “progressive Malaysians” or “progressive Pakistanis”, yet feel it perfectly natural to describe our religious identity in the same terms.

        More troubling is the fact that these dichotomies do not simply materialise out of nowhere, or drop down from the sky at random. Talk of “progressive” and “conservative” Islam today, in the post-September 11 world that rests under the long shadow cast by Washington’s military-hegemonic apparatus, is no mere accident. It has to be stated time and again that such dichotomies exist in a world that is saturated by power and divided by differentials of power; and that all dichotomies are likewise shaped and marked by such power differentials as well.

        The distinction between “progressive” Muslims and “conservative” Muslims may not have been invented by the neo-cons who rule the roost in the White House, or the repressive regimes that blight the landscape of the Muslim world, but it cannot be denied that they have also profited from such distinctions. President George Bush Junior’s warm embrace of the concept of “progressive Islam”, and his establishment’s support for “progressive Muslim” issues and personalities comes at the cost of expelling other Muslims from the domain of the civilised, rational, normal and acceptable.

        Already we have seen many a repressive Muslim government or regime hijacking the terms “progressive” and “moderate” in order to whitewash the authoritarian structures of power they control, and to sell themselves as exemplary models of “progressive Islam” at work. Should we — Muslim intellectuals, activists, scholars — who are fighting for reform, democratisation and human rights in Islam also fall into the same trap by using the same divisive language and logic that was once used to distinguish between “good niggers” and “bad niggers”?

        Surely the responsibility now falls upon us, Muslim intellectuals, to radically interrogate and deconstruct the use of these terms, especially when we ourselves are located within that same hotly contested discursive terrain. What right have we to lay exclusive claim to the use of terms like “progressive” and “moderate” Islam if we fail to note the fact that even among those who fall into the “conservative” camp there are and have been genuine attempts at reform, modernisation and adaptation?

        When I raised this concern to the African activist I met at the last conference I attended, her response was: “So are you calling for some kind of revolution then? If we blur these boundaries surely we risk confusing the situation even more.” Well, the fact is that the situation is already confused as it is, and all the carpet-bombing by the American Air Force is not going to provide us with a neater, flatter playing field. But by deconstructing the use of such terms like “progressive” and “conservative” Muslims we would be living up to our vocation and duty as Muslim intellectuals and do some intellectualising for a change.

        And let us not forget that those “Muslim conservatives” we are so inclined to banish beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise grappling with the challenges of the globalised age we live in. By engaging with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists, we ensure that the frontiers of discourse and dialogue remain open, and the possibility of genuine constructive change remains with us. The alternative is the exclusionary politics of expulsion and non-dialogue, a deafening silence that divides the Muslim world and dooms our efforts to uplift humanity as a whole.

        Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

        Home | Editorial

        Hi Ahmad & Friends:

        SALAM

        Thank you for sharing this remarkably insightful and relevant article by Farish A Noor. The recent silly and infinitely counterproductive "confrontation" between the so-called "Progressive Muslims" and the so-called "Conservatives" in Canada regarding the Sharia arbitration debate is but a striking example, demonstrating as it does, the futility and outright stupidity of the artificial dichotomies that the author of this excellent piece is talking  about. This is a "trap"  at the end of which  no one would emerge as a winner; it is a lose lose game. Is there no end to a lesson?

        Regards,

        Ibrahim Hayani


      • Sabahat Ashraf
        Ch-hota moo baRee baath, Faruqui Saahab, but two things jump out at me even before I read the whole mail in detail: ... I d like to affectionately (I hope)
        Message 3 of 5 , Oct 31, 2005
          Ch-hota moo' baRee baath, Faruqui Saahab, but two things jump out at
          me even before I read the whole mail in detail:

          On 10/28/05, Ahmad Faruqui <faruqui@...> wrote:

          > It seems that the progressives are pursuing an agenda which for all intents and purposes
          > is as fundamentalist in its orientation as that of the conservatives.

          I'd like to affectionately (I hope) caution you against things like
          that. "The progressives are pursuing an agenda..." is as much an
          over-generalization as "Muslims commit terrorism".

          Just to mention my own experience, I was brought up in a convservative
          (but not Maududist/Kutbist-friendly) environment--both socially and
          politically. I still consider myself a "Jinnahist"--a person that
          looks at the role of Muslims in the modern world as being that we read
          about in the speeches of Jinnah and Liaquat. But over the last year
          or two, I have come to a place where I do refer to myself as a
          "progressive" and am comfortable working within the prominent
          organizations with the words "Progressive Muslim" in their name, and
          with the people who describe themselves as such.

          But to say that all of us have that kind of agenda--or even that, on
          the whole, that is where we're headed, is a dangerous
          over-generalization. In fact, I would say an example of the same kind
          of thing Farish Noor is complaining against--only in reverse. As Mr.
          Noor says, let's try to engage with what people are doing and what
          issues they are raising, rather than taring and feathering them. Let
          me give you an example or two:

          Take a look at www.progressiveislam.org . It is very obviously an
          effort from the progressive side of the community. And some very
          unconventional things have been said on the blogs on that site. But it
          makes a conscious effort to work "toward a unified community of
          diverse Muslims". Sub-projects include the Human Rights Project (which
          I am a co-founder of), which was collecting information about Katrina,
          for example, and made it a point to collect information from and about
          all sorts of Muslim communities:

          http://humanrights.progressiveislam.org/index.php/Katrina

          Another project is the women's health project:

          http://progressiveislam.org/content/view/14/34/
          and
          http://progressiveislam.org/women/index.php/Main_Page

          whose coordinator, I know for a fact, is consciously making an effort
          "to work within
          the tradition as broadly as possible so as to reach everyone."

          And you will have seen my own work on WikiPakistan and it's
          Earthquake-related database. Take a look at the list of organizations
          for which I have consciously made it a point to add online donation
          links to:

          http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Donating#Donate_Online

          We have Shia foundations, listed next to an NGO based in the
          Ahmed/Quadiani community, next to a Marxist trade union, and even have
          Jewish groups and organizations based amongst progressive Indians of a
          Hindu background.

          I guess what I am saying is that I believe the question Farish Noor is
          raising is not that people that call themselves Progressives are the
          fanatic mirror-image of the right-wingers, but asking whether we can
          work, once in a while, at least, come together to be counted as one
          community. Farish Noor is NOT coming from outside and pointing out
          that the Progressive are fanatics; but he IS a progressive, and he is
          himself raising the need to be open to conversation within the
          community with everyone--including the extremes on both ends of this
          axis: "conservative" and "progressive". And yes, there are extremes on
          both ends, but please let's not paint everyone on one side with the
          color of the most extreme manifestation of that side any more then we
          do it to the the other half. That's Farish Noor's point as I see
          it--not that all Progressives are fanatic.

          > And let us not forget that those "Muslim conservatives" we are so inclined to banish
          > beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise grappling with
          > the challenges of the globalised age we live in.

          I hope this mail is coherent.

          iF/SIA
          --
          [Sabahat Iqbal Ashraf]
          ------------------------------------------------------------------------
          c: (510) 304 5927 www.ashrafs.org/iFaqeer
          ashrafs@... pakistan.wikicities.com
          ------------------------------------------------------------------------
          Please visit: http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Earthquake_10-05
          ------------------------------------------------------------------------
          http://iFaqeer.blogspot.com Socio-Political Commentary
          http://PakistanFutures.blogspot.com Possible Futures for Pakistan
          http://Urdu-ke-Naam.blogspot.com Language, Poetry and Spirituality
          http://Rickshaw.blogspot.com Rickshaw!
          http://WadiWallah.blogspot.com Technology, Life & Silicon Valley
          ------------------------------------------------------------------------
          My religion is humanitarianism….. Which is basis [sic]of every religion
          in this world.
          Abdus Sattar Edhi (Pakistan's humanitarian phenom)
          ------------------------------------------------------------------------
        • Ahmad Faruqui
          Thank you for your spirited response. I am all for inclusiveness, not just between those within the Muslim faith but between all faiths (and nonfaiths for
          Message 4 of 5 , Oct 31, 2005
            Thank you for your spirited response. I am all for inclusiveness,
            not just between those within the Muslim faith but between all faiths
            (and nonfaiths for that matter). I was writing against those who
            consider themselves advanced and progressive and suggest that others
            who disagree with them are inherently backward and retrogressive.
            Unless I am misreading Dr. Noor, I believe he was saying the same
            thing.

            --- In Writers_Forum@yahoogroups.com, Sabahat Ashraf
            <techwhirling@g...> wrote:
            >
            > Ch-hota moo' baRee baath, Faruqui Saahab, but two things jump out at
            > me even before I read the whole mail in detail:
            >
            > On 10/28/05, Ahmad Faruqui <faruqui@p...> wrote:
            >
            > > It seems that the progressives are pursuing an agenda which for
            all intents and purposes
            > > is as fundamentalist in its orientation as that of the
            conservatives.
            >
            > I'd like to affectionately (I hope) caution you against things like
            > that. "The progressives are pursuing an agenda..." is as much an
            > over-generalization as "Muslims commit terrorism".
            >
            > Just to mention my own experience, I was brought up in a
            convservative
            > (but not Maududist/Kutbist-friendly) environment--both socially and
            > politically. I still consider myself a "Jinnahist"--a person that
            > looks at the role of Muslims in the modern world as being that we
            read
            > about in the speeches of Jinnah and Liaquat. But over the last year
            > or two, I have come to a place where I do refer to myself as a
            > "progressive" and am comfortable working within the prominent
            > organizations with the words "Progressive Muslim" in their name, and
            > with the people who describe themselves as such.
            >
            > But to say that all of us have that kind of agenda--or even that, on
            > the whole, that is where we're headed, is a dangerous
            > over-generalization. In fact, I would say an example of the same
            kind
            > of thing Farish Noor is complaining against--only in reverse. As Mr.
            > Noor says, let's try to engage with what people are doing and what
            > issues they are raising, rather than taring and feathering them. Let
            > me give you an example or two:
            >
            > Take a look at www.progressiveislam.org . It is very obviously an
            > effort from the progressive side of the community. And some very
            > unconventional things have been said on the blogs on that site. But
            it
            > makes a conscious effort to work "toward a unified community of
            > diverse Muslims". Sub-projects include the Human Rights Project
            (which
            > I am a co-founder of), which was collecting information about
            Katrina,
            > for example, and made it a point to collect information from and
            about
            > all sorts of Muslim communities:
            >
            > http://humanrights.progressiveislam.org/index.php/Katrina
            >
            > Another project is the women's health project:
            >
            > http://progressiveislam.org/content/view/14/34/
            > and
            > http://progressiveislam.org/women/index.php/Main_Page
            >
            > whose coordinator, I know for a fact, is consciously making an
            effort
            > "to work within
            > the tradition as broadly as possible so as to reach everyone."
            >
            > And you will have seen my own work on WikiPakistan and it's
            > Earthquake-related database. Take a look at the list of
            organizations
            > for which I have consciously made it a point to add online donation
            > links to:
            >
            > http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Donating#Donate_Online
            >
            > We have Shia foundations, listed next to an NGO based in the
            > Ahmed/Quadiani community, next to a Marxist trade union, and even
            have
            > Jewish groups and organizations based amongst progressive Indians
            of a
            > Hindu background.
            >
            > I guess what I am saying is that I believe the question Farish Noor
            is
            > raising is not that people that call themselves Progressives are the
            > fanatic mirror-image of the right-wingers, but asking whether we can
            > work, once in a while, at least, come together to be counted as one
            > community. Farish Noor is NOT coming from outside and pointing out
            > that the Progressive are fanatics; but he IS a progressive, and he
            is
            > himself raising the need to be open to conversation within the
            > community with everyone--including the extremes on both ends of this
            > axis: "conservative" and "progressive". And yes, there are extremes
            on
            > both ends, but please let's not paint everyone on one side with the
            > color of the most extreme manifestation of that side any more then
            we
            > do it to the the other half. That's Farish Noor's point as I see
            > it--not that all Progressives are fanatic.
            >
            > > And let us not forget that those "Muslim conservatives" we are so
            inclined to banish
            > > beyond the pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are
            likewise grappling with
            > > the challenges of the globalised age we live in.
            >
            > I hope this mail is coherent.
            >
            > iF/SIA
            > --
            > [Sabahat Iqbal Ashraf]
            > --------------------------------------------------------------------
            ----
            > c: (510) 304 5927 www.ashrafs.org/iFaqeer
            > ashrafs@a... pakistan.wikicities.com
            > --------------------------------------------------------------------
            ----
            > Please visit: http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Earthquake_10-05
            > --------------------------------------------------------------------
            ----
            > http://iFaqeer.blogspot.com Socio-Political Commentary
            > http://PakistanFutures.blogspot.com Possible Futures for Pakistan
            > http://Urdu-ke-Naam.blogspot.com Language, Poetry and Spirituality
            > http://Rickshaw.blogspot.com Rickshaw!
            > http://WadiWallah.blogspot.com Technology, Life & Silicon Valley
            > --------------------------------------------------------------------
            ----
            > My religion is humanitarianism….. Which is basis [sic]of every
            religion
            > in this world.
            > Abdus Sattar Edhi (Pakistan's humanitarian phenom)
            > --------------------------------------------------------------------
            ----
            >
          • bangla_vision
            Genuine progressivism is still a dream in the Muslim world. The idea is progressivism is nothing but the system of Ijtihaad in Islam. The self styled Muslim
            Message 5 of 5 , Nov 1, 2005
              Genuine progressivism is still a dream in the Muslim world.
              The idea is progressivism is nothing but the "system of Ijtihaad" in
              Islam.

              The self styled Muslim progressives are used to parroting Western
              terminologies and connotations without their implication of context.

              The real problem is they are not familiar with the works of GENUINE
              PROGRESSIVE MUSLIMS like Ibn e Sina or Al Biruni or even Ibn e
              Khaldoon.

              Real progressivism starts from he works of those enlightened
              philosophers.

              Iran's philosophical foundation is strong as they started from those
              philosophers' work that once contributed to change Europe.

              Mohammad

              --- In Writers_Forum@yahoogroups.com, Ibrahim Hayani
              <ibrahim.hayani@s...> wrote:
              >
              > Ahmad Faruqui wrote:
              >
              > > Friends,
              > >
              > > Farish Noor is no stranger to those who call
              themselves "Progressive
              > > Muslims." If I am not mistaken, some of his pieces have been
              > > circulated by Tarek Fateh. He raises some important issues in
              this
              > > piece.
              > >
              > > It seems that the progressives are pursuing an agenda which for
              all
              > > intents and purposes is as fundamentalist in its orientation as
              that
              > > of the conservatives. Their attitude is no less strident than
              > > the "holier than thou" attitude shown by the conservatives. In
              > > other words, they seem to wear their progressiveness on their
              sleeve
              > > just as the others wear their holiness on their sleeve.
              > >
              > > Is a happy medium in the offing?
              > >
              > > Ahmad
              > >
              > > Daily Times - Site Edition Saturday, October 29, 2005
              > >
              > > VIEW: Muslim progressives should not be too conceited --Farish A
              Noor
              > >
              > > Those "Muslim conservatives" we are so inclined to banish beyond
              the
              > > pale of civilised community are fellow Muslims who are likewise
              > > grappling with the challenges of the globalised age we live in.
              By
              > > engaging with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists, we
              ensure
              > > that the frontiers of discourse and dialogue remain open, and
              the
              > > possibility of genuine constructive change remains with us
              > >
              > > Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure and honour of
              > > attending several conferences, workshops and lectures on, and
              by, that
              > > constituency of individuals known as "Progressive Muslims". I
              have to
              > > say that it is always a pleasure for me to attend these
              meetings, as I
              > > find myself in the company of like-minded individuals who share
              a
              > > common outlook on life: the shared commitment to demonstrate to
              > > Muslims that Islam is indeed a living, vibrant faith that is
              cognisant
              > > of the realities of our times and capable of meeting the
              challenges
              > > posed by globalisation; the shared belief that Islam is a
              universal
              > > creed that extols the virtues of a common, united and equal
              humanity;
              > > the belief that Islam is a religious of peace and love that
              brings
              > > humanity together in an inclusive manner, and so on.
              > >
              > > But of late these meetings have also left me with some lingering
              > > doubts that refuse to go away. I have tried to grapple with
              these
              > > insecurities and tried to give them a name, but it was only
              after the
              > > last meeting of "Progressive Muslims" that the words came to me.
              I
              > > recall an encounter with a Muslim women's rights activist from
              Africa.
              > > In the course of our discussion, I noted, perhaps sarcastically,
              that
              > > all of her references in her presentation were European or
              > > euro-centric ones. I then casually asked her about the state of
              > > women's organisation among the Islamist groups in her country.
              Her
              > > reply was stark and immediate: "Oh, we don't talk to those
              people.
              > > They are all fanatics and extremists, not moderates and liberals
              like us."
              > >
              > > This neat division between "moderate/liberal" and
              > > "fanatic/conservative" seems too good to be true. Any academic
              or
              > > intellectual worth his salt would balk at the thought of using
              such
              > > simplistic dichotomies, for the simple reason that we know --
              and
              > > ought to know -- that the world is not as simple as that. Life
              and
              > > human phenomena cannot simply be compartmentalised into such
              neat
              > > categories and all social phenomena are invariably connected and
              > > overlapping in one way or another.
              > >
              > > True, this may make it hard for us to distinguish between the
              > > "progressive conservatives" and "radical liberals" and "militant
              > > democrats" and other hybrid constituencies, but the fact remains
              that
              > > such hybrid categories do exist and have existed all along.
              > >
              > > Thus from the scientific point of view (and here I confess to
              belong
              > > to a scientific community for once, that of political science)
              talk
              > > about "progressive" and "conservative" Islam is just a matter of
              > > semantic acrobatics and wordplay, often disguising the reality
              that
              > > Islam and Muslims are far too complex to be cut up into such
              neat
              > > little chunks.
              > >
              > > So why do we, the so-called "progressive" and "liberal" Muslims,
              > > continue to use such misleading terms to describe ourselves? It
              is odd
              > > considering the fact that most of us "progressives" happen to be
              > > perfectly rational adults who would never describe ourselves as
              > > "progressive Malaysians" or "progressive Pakistanis", yet feel
              it
              > > perfectly natural to describe our religious identity in the same
              terms.
              > >
              > > More troubling is the fact that these dichotomies do not simply
              > > materialise out of nowhere, or drop down from the sky at random.
              Talk
              > > of "progressive" and "conservative" Islam today, in the post-
              September
              > > 11 world that rests under the long shadow cast by Washington's
              > > military-hegemonic apparatus, is no mere accident. It has to be
              stated
              > > time and again that such dichotomies exist in a world that is
              > > saturated by power and divided by differentials of power; and
              that all
              > > dichotomies are likewise shaped and marked by such power
              differentials
              > > as well.
              > >
              > > The distinction between "progressive" Muslims and "conservative"
              > > Muslims may not have been invented by the neo-cons who rule the
              roost
              > > in the White House, or the repressive regimes that blight the
              > > landscape of the Muslim world, but it cannot be denied that they
              have
              > > also profited from such distinctions. President George Bush
              Junior's
              > > warm embrace of the concept of "progressive Islam", and his
              > > establishment's support for "progressive Muslim" issues and
              > > personalities comes at the cost of expelling other Muslims from
              the
              > > domain of the civilised, rational, normal and acceptable.
              > >
              > > Already we have seen many a repressive Muslim government or
              regime
              > > hijacking the terms "progressive" and "moderate" in order to
              whitewash
              > > the authoritarian structures of power they control, and to sell
              > > themselves as exemplary models of "progressive Islam" at work.
              Should
              > > we -- Muslim intellectuals, activists, scholars -- who are
              fighting
              > > for reform, democratisation and human rights in Islam also fall
              into
              > > the same trap by using the same divisive language and logic that
              was
              > > once used to distinguish between "good niggers" and "bad
              niggers"?
              > >
              > > Surely the responsibility now falls upon us, Muslim
              intellectuals, to
              > > radically interrogate and deconstruct the use of these terms,
              > > especially when we ourselves are located within that same hotly
              > > contested discursive terrain. What right have we to lay
              exclusive
              > > claim to the use of terms like "progressive" and "moderate"
              Islam if
              > > we fail to note the fact that even among those who fall into the
              > > "conservative" camp there are and have been genuine attempts at
              > > reform, modernisation and adaptation?
              > >
              > > When I raised this concern to the African activist I met at the
              last
              > > conference I attended, her response was: "So are you calling for
              some
              > > kind of revolution then? If we blur these boundaries surely we
              risk
              > > confusing the situation even more." Well, the fact is that the
              > > situation is already confused as it is, and all the carpet-
              bombing by
              > > the American Air Force is not going to provide us with a neater,
              > > flatter playing field. But by deconstructing the use of such
              terms
              > > like "progressive" and "conservative" Muslims we would be living
              up to
              > > our vocation and duty as Muslim intellectuals and do some
              > > intellectualising for a change.
              > >
              > > And let us not forget that those "Muslim conservatives" we are
              so
              > > inclined to banish beyond the pale of civilised community are
              fellow
              > > Muslims who are likewise grappling with the challenges of the
              > > globalised age we live in. By engaging with Islamist
              conservatives and
              > > fundamentalists, we ensure that the frontiers of discourse and
              > > dialogue remain open, and the possibility of genuine
              constructive
              > > change remains with us. The alternative is the exclusionary
              politics
              > > of expulsion and non-dialogue, a deafening silence that divides
              the
              > > Muslim world and dooms our efforts to uplift humanity as a whole.
              > >
              > > Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human
              rights
              > > activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin
              > >
              > > Home <http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp> | Editorial
              > > <http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=main_29-10-
              2005_pg3>
              > >
              > >
              > >
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              > Hi Ahmad & Friends:
              >
              > SALAM
              >
              > Thank you for sharing this remarkably insightful and relevant
              article by
              > Farish A Noor. The recent silly and infinitely counterproductive
              > "confrontation" between the so-called "Progressive Muslims" and
              the
              > so-called "Conservatives" in Canada regarding the Sharia
              arbitration
              > debate is but a striking example, demonstrating as it does, the
              futility
              > and outright stupidity of the artificial dichotomies that the
              author of
              > this excellent piece is talking about. This is a "trap" at the
              end of
              > which no one would emerge as a winner; it is a lose lose game. Is
              there
              > no end to a lesson?
              >
              > Regards,
              >
              > Ibrahim Hayani
              >
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