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The Islaam Coming from the West

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Enter the term “Islaam” in the search box of amazon.com, and the titles that would top your search list are works by Bernard Lewis, Reza Aslan and Asra Nomani.

Walk in the streets of North America and ask people about the first Muslim character that comes to their minds, and you will definitely hear the names of Bin Laden [Ibn Laadin] and Azzar’qaawy You may also hear the names of Irshad Manji and Amina Wadud [Ameenah Wadood]. In Europe, people will probably talk about Yusuf Islam [Yoosuf Islaam] and maybe Ayan Hersi.

When the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed in the fall of 2001, many Muslims assumed naïvely that many Americans would embrace Islaam. What really happened was that the events of September 11th surprised many Muslims with their worst identity crises since the colonial era. And the so-called “battle of Manhattan” that some hoped to trigger sympathy towards our causes, or even curiosity about the innate tolerance of our faith, backfired.  Instead, we –became the target of a barrage of suspicious and accusatory questions; a feat that is easily understood in light of what has happened. The real problem, however, was that many Muslims discovered that they had never entertained such questions, let alone having any answers.

The nature of this uncertainty, which Muslims face now, varies considerably from one country to the other and it is significantly influenced by factors linked to the interests of communities. In Arabia, the birthplace of Islaam, it is very unlikely to hear questions that Muslims in other societies are entertaining. The major questions with which Muslims elsewhere are squabbling would be brushed aside here as frivolous if not heretical; we are not have no place for them in the rush of our daily rituals.

But in the West, where language is more of a barrier sometimes than a means of communication, and where inquiry had progressed beyond being a luxury and became the culture and the means to decide one’s fate. There, religion and its derivatives became a legitimate target for questioning, as did the believers; a situation so unique that one could only liken it to the time when the message was very young in Makkah.

What would happen if the questioning mentality -thirsty for answers- were faced with a cold and absolute rejection of the concept of questioning? What if the same cold rejection was the answer to each and every query? Would it not be tempting for the inquisitive mind to rebel and seek other options?

During the last month, very sharp criticism was directed towards the Indo-American Asra Nomani and her autobiography: “Standing Alone in Mecca.” Asra was the maestro behind the Friday (Jumu‘ah) prayer that was lead by Amina Wadud whom received herself some loads of harsh commentary for that action. Asra, from her side, didn’t hastate to further shock Muslim commentators by her plain admittance of having an illegitimate child whom she accompanied with her to pilgrimage; a journey, she claimed, that made her more confident of her vision of reviving Islam. One such revival attempt that resulted from her vision was the infamous New York Jumu‘ah prayer.

Asra’s call for a more feminine Islaam, with examples abound in her more recent book, is not at all shocking when we consider what she wrote in her first book “Tantrika” that describes her journey in search for “sacred sex secrets.”

Asra’s call for feminine Islaam, though, pales in comparison with the suggestions of the Indo-Canadian Irshad Manji who introduces herself as a “Lesbian Muslim” with a vision of an American revolution in Islaam!

The position of those two women is nothing when compared with the philosophy of Ayan Hersi Ali, the Dutch senator of Somali descent who shunned Islaam until such a time when it would evolve to fit with her innovative viewpoints; those which director Theo Van-Gough lost his life for. 

All those women, along with many men, are not alone in the flock of this “New Western Islaam.” They, regardless of the true value of their ideas, are taking advantage of the post September 11th chaos to achieve better popularity as establishers of a new Islaamic image that suits their lifestyles and their liberal societies. The discussion is not necessarily about who is pulling their strings from behind the scene. Rather, it should be about the circumstances that thrusted them to the public and gave them a media outlet.

There are plenty of Muslim experts in America and Europe.  It is possible that the religious leaders of the Muslim societies there inherited some of the rigidity of their peers in their countries of origin; or perhaps they are deliberately acting so! And as Man’soor  Alnu’qaydaan wrote in his article “The Islam that’s coming from the West”: “Europe and America are in need of an Islaam that matches their culture and environment which is full of energy, ambition and human rights.” These values are either not accepted by migrant Muslim leaderships or seen as unessential for securing their positions in the adopted country. “…which results in local  Muslim being hijacked by those new migrant religious leaders” as put by Alnu’qaydaan.

The indolence of the Arab Muslim scholars and intellectuals in supporting their brethren in the West has always been manifested in the lack of dynamic jurisprudence efforts that could address the unique and novel situations that Muslims in the West face. In place of this required dynamic thinking, a stream of canned fataawa (religious opinions) that were produced under and for a completely different spectrum of conditions and interests. This indolence is equally manifested by the almost complete absence of contemporary Arabic Islamic intellectual works from Western libraries, which -in a way- explains why Bernard Lewis is the most acclaimed expert on Islaam in America, with the late Edward Sa‘eed being the most significant voice that represented the alternative views.

The modernising voices, of the types we mentioned above, are certainly becoming louder in light of the support they are receiving nowadays, and in light of the particular lack of reaction from the Arab Muslim scholars. Those scholars have traditionally rejected significantly more sincere proposals that addressed the challenges facing Muslims by the Western civilisation. Such sincere proposals were disregarded and accused of being off the main stream! This created a void that is being successfully filled by the fake preachers of modernisation.

There are, however, many efforts within Europe and the U.S.A. that represent better faces of Islam. There are Tariq Ramadan [’Taari’q Rama’daan], Hamzah Yusuf [’Hamzah Yoosuf], Ingrid Matson, Michael Wolf and others. They are presenting a truer version of Islaam notwithstanding the accusations and suspicions that are intentionally levied at them. They, however, share with the names mentioned earlier the inquisitive quality that is deriving them to pose questions, a lot of questions in fact, regarding this faith. This is the greatest quality ever introduced by Islaam that is coming from the West. 

Ashraf Alfagih -

Ashraf E. Al-Fagih [Ashraf Alfa’qeeh] has an B.Sc. with second honors from the computer engineering department in King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (K.F.U.P.M.), Saudi Arabia. He also received a master's degree in computer engineering from Texas A&M University, U.S.A.Read More >>

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