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Debating Islam ( 23 Apr 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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‘Non-Devout’ Reformist Muslim





By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

April 23, 2015

According to Article 62 and 63 of the Pakistani Constitution, all politicians have to be Sadiq and Ameen (honest and righteous) to be eligible for a seat in the Parliament. While the terms are subjective and there’s no tangible gauge to measure the ‘honesty’ and ‘righteousness’ of a person, a part of Article 62 (e) mentions practicing “obligatory duties prescribed by Islam” and abstention “from major sins,” as a yardstick of ‘piety’. This results in an absurd pre-election viva conducted by the elections staff wherein knowing the Dua-e-Qunoot or the third kalimah, for instance, is deemed critical while judging one’s political or leadership credentials.

Maajid Nawaz, cofounder of Khudi Pakistan, a counter-extremism organisation, recently failed the Sadiq and Ameen test. However, what made his failure remarkable was that he managed to pull it off in Britain, and not Pakistan.

Nawaz, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, was secretly filmed in a strip club. The footage was made public courtesy a ‘sting operation’ by the UK publication Daily Mail. While the British Election commission is thankfully ‘culturally insensitive’ enough to not disqualify Nawaz, a Muslim, for having the ‘audacity’ to drink and visit a strip club on his stag night, it is generally believed that his political career has been severely dented owing to the footage.

The incident forced Nawaz to apologise for offending his perpetually offended fellow Muslims, after their typically self-righteous uproar. Reminder once again: this happened in Britain, not Pakistan, or any other Islamic country.

Maajid Nawaz, who is the co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a British counter-extremism think tank, has become the face of anti-Islamism reformist Muslims and openly challenges Islamic fundamentalism around the world. He has been fighting both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamic extremism by promoting reform and moderation in scriptural adherence, and by synthesising the antithesis to the claim of a monolithic Muslim world.

Nawaz was himself a radical and spent five years imprisoned in Egypt (2001-2006) for being involved with the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir. This further adds to his credentials as a reformist Muslim.

However, if the average Muslim opinion is to be believed, those credentials have come crashing down following the release of the video footage from the strip club.

The owner of the strip club Abdul Malik, a Muslim man himself, explained the average Muslim’s concern impeccably: “He (Nawaz) is always talking about religion on TV and I thought, what a hypocrite.”

The irony surrounding a strip club owner using the H-word here, would need another piece for thorough dissection. However, the irony that the backlash to the incident has become a perfect case study to vindicate Nawaz’s fight for moderation in scriptural observance, and pluralism in Islam, seems to have been lost on everyone.

And yet, Nawaz had no choice but to apologise. For, he isn’t just a reformist but a politician as well, who has to cater to a multitude of viewpoints, despite some of them being at loggerheads with one another.

In his defence, Nawaz repeated something he has quite often reiterated. That he does not consider himself a ‘religious role model’ and that he is a ‘non-devout Muslim’. This is where his political aspirations – unfortunately and understandably – are directly antagonistic to his reformist ambitions. For, if being a ‘religious role model’ and a ‘devout Muslim’ entails scriptural subservience, no one would be a better role model and a more devout Muslim than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Mullah Fazlullah.

Despite the popular claim that ISIS or TTP have nothing to do with Islam, the fact of the matter is – to put it bluntly and sans political correctness – they’ve got too much to do with it. Hence, the popular use of the term ‘moderation’ to counter Islamist literalism.

That a Muslim public figure had to apologise for contradicting ‘divine orders’ in private – in the UK – entails that the Muslims still tout scriptural adherence as an inalienable part of the Muslim identity. This, ironically, falls perfectly in line with the anti-Muslim bigots, who peddle a monolithic Muslim world. While the Muslim leaders are generating hue and cry against Nawaz for not sticking to their definition of a Muslim, they would be the first ones to pull the ‘Islamophobia’ card from their back pocket and bellow with the highest possible decibels, if a non-Muslim stereotypes all Muslims with a narrow and bigoted depiction.

If all Muslim public figures need to apologise for not fulfilling “obligatory duties prescribed by Islam” one should expect millions of apologies every day from Muslims not waking up before dawn for their ‘mandatory’ Fajr prayer, or for not following the Ramazan obligations as mandated by Islamic scriptures. Muslim leaders who won’t have to apologise for ‘sins’ sanctioned by the scriptures, would include the leadership of all Islamist terrorist organisations, including the likes of Isis, Taliban, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, who have been busy massacring people – most of whom self-identified as Muslims – over the past few decades.

A cursory list of ‘non-devout’ Muslims would include nation-builders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Habib Bourguiba and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who enjoyed their glass of wine and were rarely seen inside mosques. Even though, all three of them could be, and are, criticised for multiple reasons, their lack of religiosity should not tarnish their status as orchestrators of nationalist movements for Muslims.

While Nawaz might be no Atatürk, Bourguiba or Jinnah, he’s spearheading a similar identity-based movement. He’s fighting for a moderate Muslim identity, wherein ‘moderation’ is not euphemism for religious apologia or acquiescence to Islamism. He represents those Muslims who don’t see Islam as the be-all and end-all – or even the defining factor – of their identity, and want to reclaim it from – to quote Nawaz – “those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest.”

Nawaz might be a ‘non-devout Muslim’ according to the traditional meaning of the term, but may be that definition needs to be challenged in synchrony with the orthodox definition of ‘Muslim’. For, he might not be devoted to Islamic scriptures, but few are more devoted to the Muslim cause.

And if Maajid Nawaz is a ‘non-devout’ Muslim, the Muslim world certainly could do with less devotion.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a member of the staff at The Nation. He can be reached at