By Mohammed Nosseir
July 06, 2018
The brief definition of liberalism that I offered to a religious Muslim friend who wanted to learn more about liberal values was: “Minding one’s own business.” My friend, whom I can easily describe as an open-minded religious person, confessed to being a committed liberal, as long as nobody interferes with her religious beliefs or practices. In fact, however, the world has been confronting interference by political Islamists in other people’s lives, not the reverse.
The principal aim of many political Islamists has always been to establish a large Islamic-dominated society. This proposition has evolved into a greater misunderstanding of true Islamic values and resulted in a less religious society. Our erroneous practice of Islam is the reason behind the poor image many non-Muslims have of it. Muslims’ true dilemma lies in their desire to impose, literally, the teachings of our idealistic holy book on universal citizens. Actually, by working on ourselves as individuals, we will realize the perfect Islamic society that we desire — without using force.
“Whoever wills, let him believe. And whoever wills, let him disbelieve” and “whoever is guided is only guided for (the benefit of) himself” are two explicit verses from the Holy Qur’an explaining that belief is a personal, liberal choice made by individuals for their own benefit. The widespread implementation of these verses would enable Muslims to improve their lives and establish a progressive Muslim society based on constructing an informed Muslim character. Unfortunately, Muslims are culturally more concerned with preaching to others than with leading righteous lives.
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” This Hadith suits political Islamists perfectly; it offers them the option to change evil “by hand,” which is interpreted in our era to mean “by violent means.” It does not occur to many Muslims to question whether they are sufficiently knowledgeable to define evil prior to applying the Hadith (or whether they might be the evil that needs to be changed). Changing evil with the heart might better suit today’s era.
Meanwhile, one of the core values of Islam is to work hard and eventually reap the reward, with verses from the Holy Qur’an saying: “As for those who believe and lead a righteous life, we will not waste the reward of those who work righteousness.” Nevertheless, this fundamental principle of Islam is completely neglected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are known for their reckless attitude to work. We falsely believe that access to Heaven is gained mainly through praying and preaching, completely ignoring the value of working hard to build a better life.
In the present era, Muslim preaching is intermingled with our assorted commercial and political desires. Many preachers tend to have an agenda; they believe that they will obtain additional “credits” by converting more people to Islam. We are the second-largest religion in the world and our rapid population growth means that we will be the largest in a few decades. However, driven by our ignorance, we are certainly the most illiterate, poorest and miserable societies on Earth.
Some argue that liberalism is about individual evolution while Islam is about building a coherent society. The faults of Muslims are to blame for the failure to build this society and not, as many claim, a conspiracy by non-Muslims against us. A large portion of the Muslim community is ignorant and misinterprets many of our Islamic values, while Islamists who want to manipulate our religion to serve their private agendas are the true enemies of Islam: This is the present reality and the challenge that Muslims must address immediately.
To establish a genuinely virtuous Islamic society, we Muslims need to adhere to the values of our religion by simply working on ourselves. “My Lord, increase me in knowledge,” “and speak to people kindly,” say verses in the Holy Qur’an. Advancing our individual knowledge and being kind to people should be our present and future mission. Liberalism is the best approach that will prompt us to better address our individual weaknesses; only by being truly good Muslims will we realize our desired coherent Muslim society.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.