Thursday, May 14, 2009

Label wars: the image of Muslims

Although an on-going issue, the recent developments in Swat valley in NorthWest Pakistan, in which there is a state of actual war between the government and the "Taleban" [an issue far beyond the scope of this particular post] has once again brought into focus a more subtle conflict; the assumptions automatically made when certain labels are used when it comes to anything relating to Islam or Muslims.

Take for instance Miss Irshad Manji. An open lesbian of Indian backround, she is tauted as a "Muslim reformer" or "liberal". In her book The trouble with Islam, she expresses her feelings that parts of the Qur'an are not really from God, that the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him] was a violent warlord, she has said publically that she does not observe daily prayers, yet she is tauted as "modern" "forward looking" in additon to "Muslim"! It is as if this is the image many would like to adopt as the acceptable Muslim!

So, if someone like Ms. Manji is an acceptable Muslim, an example for all to follow, then it stands to reason that anything else, such as daily prayers, attempting to live according to the values and guidelines found in the Qur'an and Uswah Hasanah [goodly model] of the Prophet Muhammad, God's last prophet and universal messenger, are all examples of "radicalism" "extremist" and 'fundamentalist thinking. A person who does not frequent the bars on Friday night, abstains from alcohol and casinos is a potential terrorist, a radical whose behaviour must be observed carefully by law enforcement agencies. A woman who dresses in a modest fashion must be oppressed, another victim of Radical Islam. One Muslim sister was asked while at a barber shop if she 'Liked' Islam! As if she would never want to, out of sheer conviction, be an observant Muslim!

It is very strange that all that is antithetical to Islam is promoted by those with certain social, financial and political motivations as the ideal for Muslim progress, both societal and as individuals, and that we should, in essence, be cultural Muslims, whose only practices should be avoiding eating pork, attending 'Eid prayers only [and having a Budweiser afterwards! ] and politically apathetic.

The struggle

We have briefly outlined the broad details of the label wars. The battle is taking place on websites, newspapers, books and op-ed pages. The goal is the minds and hearts of the Muslims everywhere, of all sects, races and educational backrounds.

I agree that there is an internal struggle within the Muslim Ummah in terms of defining extremism. I agree that many people have differing views on what extent one practice takes place over another, and on how we should live and conduct ourselves in society. This blog post here is a very good perspective on how to be a Muslim while at the same time maintaining equilibrium.

But none of that means we should just ignore the basic values given in religion. Certainly, those who intentionally and unregrettably preach ideals and conduct themselves in terms that are clearly outside of Islamic teachings should not be imposed upon us as models for "progressive" "reformist" Islam.

The basic values are outlined in the Qur'an. It was not sent to sit on the shelves and decorate the walls of our houses. It is a guide, something that is to be read again and again [which is clearly implied in the name Al-Qur'an itself]. There is a difference between honest disagreements in terms of its understanding and application versus deliberate attempts to make Muslims ignorant of their religion, to turn us into cultural Muslims only, having little or no connection to its teachings, practices or values.

Don't be a victim in the label war. Be armed with faith, practice and knowledge. Arm one's self with the actual, practical values of Islam. That is the best approach in handling this. This is the advice to our Muslim readers.

To our non-Muslim readers, we would like to remind you that Muslims are humans as well, with different perspectives, mental and social abilities. We may or may not represent the best of what Islam teaches. Therefore, do not judge Islam on what you hear or see from Muslims in the news, or from what they want you to hear.Judge on the basis of the logic and teaching found in the text, mainly the Qur'an. Do not read isolated verses. Seriously read it, examine the context of whatever desired texts in order to have a better perspective on the message. At the very least, it is our hope that such reading will allow the reader to ignore the label war all together, to not be fooled by oversimplistic assertions.