Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
Means To Be a Liberal Muslim
the term sounds oxymoron, both to Muslims and non Muslims. For Muslims, Liberal
or Liberated Muslim means a Muslim who has given up practicing Islam, its tenants
and does not bother much about the lawful and forbidden in Islam. He continues
to be legally a Muslim but his opinion about Islam and Muslims is not
acceptable despite being valid. For Non Muslims, Liberal Muslim is one who does
not demand reservation, drinks, dines with them, does not inhabit the Muslim
ghettoes and never decries about the discrimination against Muslims in India.
So a liberal Muslim is on his own with little support from his community and
even in general from the society. The Muslim Ulema and community do not
consider them Muslim enough to be trusted while Non Muslims accuse them of not
being liberal enough. So liberal Muslims are always decried and labelled as
stooges of West by their own community while for others, they remain ‘communal’
Muslims. These fault lines have never been negotiated or redrawn.
advent of colonialism the Muslim community responded to the socio-political and
educational system of the colonizers through three broad reactions. First there
were those who were for the wholesome adoption and imitation of the western
class was completely hostile and opposed to the model.
third class was of those who accepted the model with exceptions and tried to
incorporate changes in it to make it compatible with Islam.
was a division between Traditional and Liberal Muslims. The divide continued in
the free India too. The madrasas are giving birth to a traditional, backward
looking leadership while the secular education is shaping a different
leadership. The division is complete and compartmentalized. Each section
respects the invisible contract of not breeching into the territory of the
other. Madrasa educated Ulema with sectarian outlook always express opinions
about Islam even if sectarian and hold sway over the masses. Whenever they find
their position and status is being threatened, they initiate a movement
decrying “Islam in danger”. They threaten the liberal opinionated Muslim with
Fatwas and community boycott. The political parties of all hues need these
madrasas trained mullahs, Maulvis and Ulema for consolidating the Muslim vote
bank as they can influence the opinion of voters. This group certainly needs to
be appeased as their power cannot be undermined. Plus over the centuries they
have adorned, developed and evolved a certain type of dress code including the
beards coupled with the reinforcement of that image by media that even Muslims
cannot accept anyone as Islamic scholar and community leader who does not
possess these features. So liberal Muslims here again prove dwarfs as they don
not possess these features. The community cannot recognize them as leaders.
A liberal Muslim
is one who believes in the principle of Sulh-I-Kul (peace with all). He
upholds the fact that his is not the only source of truth but there are various
versions of truth that are available in different ideologies, religions and
viewpoints. A liberal Muslim even if he does not observe the rituals of Islam,
implements and practices its universal values like egalitarianism, social
justice, charity, supporting the destitute and contributing to the movements
aiming at the empowerment of downtrodden. A liberal Muslim is tolerant when it
comes to the interpretation of Islam and forging unity both intra and inter-faith.
Liberal Muslim is a crusader for the cause of women rights, empowerment through
education and democracy. Liberal Muslims uphold the postulates of non violence.
Unlike traditional Ulema he does not indulge in mudslinging, false allegations
and issuing legal decrees.
liberal Muslims we lack those few who can authoritatively write, speak and
interpret Islam according to the dictum of current academic debates. The door
of Ijtihad that has been closed by the traditional Ulema needs to be opened up.
Only liberal Muslims can have the courage to undertake the same. They should
prepare themselves for this job and it will take some time to develop the
requisite expertise among the liberal Muslims who then can indulge in Ijtihad.
The traditional Ulema have created a false aura around themselves that they are
the epitome and zenith of piety, with huge following and when they do not dare
to undertake Ijtihad how can liberal Muslims do it? But as the time and
necessity demands, Ijtihad, hence despite their opposition, the Ijtihad will be
acceptable if undertaken by liberal Muslims.
liberal Muslim brings with it plethora of accusations and allegations. One of
the commonly used allegations to browbeat the liberal Muslims is they being
stooges of West, working at the behest of West and trying to Westernize Islam.
West and its ideologies have been the most misunderstood by the Islamic
Revivalists. When the Ulema do not have a logical or Islamic answer to an
interpretation of Islam that is different than theirs, the simple escapism is
to label it as Western whereas the reality is that West is most happy with
traditional Ulema as it helps reinforce the Islamophobic and violent image of
Islam. Liberal Muslims question the legitimacy of West and have the acumen to
understand the capitalistic and imperialistic model of Global powers. The West
in fact has been successful in exploiting and using these traditional Ulema and
their interpretation of Islam for its own imperialistic goals whether be it the
balkanization of USSR or retrograding the Arab Spring to bloody and bleak Arab
Winter. The Western powers in fact do help and patronize the autocratic,
authoritarian, sectarian and violent regimes like Saudi Arabia to survive. The
survival is at the cost of denial of basic human rights and liberal values like
freedom of speech, right to form associations and rule of law. So this
allegation is wrong, infact traditional mullahs are patronized by West so that
a retrogressive, redundant and regressive image of Islam is presented before
The lack of
liberal Muslim leadership is because most of them are afraid or in awe of the
traditional Ulema. They shy away from the new interpretation of Islam because
of community and Ulema backlash. Most of them suppress their inner call and
lack courage to stand for the liberal values. The political parties too do not
want to associate with any liberal Muslim faces that are controversial for
their opinions because that will cut the vote share for them. Thus the liberal Muslims
who are articulate and opinionated are marginalized even by the secular
political parties. At last the liberal Muslims have failed to convince the Muslim
masses and Ulema that they can be selfless and dedicated defenders of their
community interests. Liberal Muslims have the task of bridging the divide
between the traditional Ulema and themselves and initiate a dialogue process.
They need to become role models by having strong personality and values that
can inspire the masses to believe and follow them. It will take some time for
the Indian liberal Muslim to take and secure the mantle of leadership, till
then they need to occupy the spaces of social activism and interpretation of
M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in
Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at email@example.com
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
I think we should move forward from “Liberal
Islam” to “Progressive Islam”, a term coined by my esteemed teacher and eminent
scholar, Prof. Ebrahim Moosa, and further developed by our friend Dr. Adis
Duderija, who used to be a regular contributor at New Age Islam. This forum has
also created a considerable body of progressive Islamic thought on the original
interpretation of the Qur’anic and Hadith texts. Such an intellectual probe is
sometimes characterized as "progressive Islam" today.