Saturday, January 30, 2016

Welcoming Internal Criticism

This week saw the arrival of Majeed Nawaz to Sydney. A former Hizb Tahrir member, Majeed has been campaigning against extremism - particularly Islamism and jihadist Islamism - for many years. While his audience and supporters within his home country of the UK and internationally has increased substantially, support within the Muslim community has been considerably lacking.
Invitations to the Muslim community here were met with almost universal avoidance, bar a few courageous individuals who met with him privately. When I expressed an interest in attending his talk, colleagues attempted to disabuse me of the idea based on articles and allegations that related less to his ideas and statements and more to his alleged government support and personal attributes.

Despite the disincentives, I attended his talk in the Seymour Centre, and found that what he argued was logical and rational, understanding of the Muslim community but also challenging. There was little that I could disagree with. My audience question related to whether his continual reference to democracy - a system that is as flawed as all others if not implemented with appropriate accountability mechanisms and by people who are just - was more about the freedom of choice rather than the system itself. I cited Malaysia, South Africa, Mugabe and various other claimed 'democracies' - even our own corrupt Auburn Council which is currently facing the sack. He agreed wholeheartedly and did not dispute my statement.

The evening was a pleasant one and I had the opportunity to chat with many of those who attended, being one of the few Muslim community 'representatives' who could respond to queries and concerns of my fellow audience members, even being approached as I walked the streets to the station.

This highlights to me a huge problem that we have within our community. It's so difficult for many of our community to engage with realistic criticism of how Islam appears. So quick to be judgemental and call out Islamophobia - which does exist and I also am the target of trolls - we are less available to engage with discussing the ideas that underpin fear of Islam, of Shariah and those who claim Islam as their own while committing unconscionable violence to others. Many of us are so focussed on defence that we don't actually understand that theocracy is not something that historically Muslim civilisations have practiced. We haven't engaged at a grassroots level about the practicalities of when and how we should go to war, on what principles, what really is justice and what a 21st century system of governance in a Muslim majority country should look like.

As a community we pine for a romantic notion of a Caliphate where a Muslim ruler will enact laws based on the Shariah. The fact that historically most rulers were Sultans and or hereditary monarchies is conveniently ignored. The fact that the most successful Islamic civilisations had the ruler, and therefore holder of power, separated from the systems of justice developed by Islamic scholars (our modern day separation of powers) is also seldom discussed. It seems that we have combined the governance of the very last and most noble Prophet of God (may Allah grant him abundant blessings and peace) with the foretold Mahdi who will lead an army against gross injustice, without considering the mundane and practical aspects of a just system of statehood in the modern world that does not deny 'modern' human rights and led by a capable Muslim (and team) who is neither Prophet nor Mahdi, but is accountable to all of the State's citizens - of all persuasions.

We have a new generation of Western Muslims who understand their neighbours aspirations and desires for freedom of choice and for accountability of governance. We are quick to claim those same aspirations when it relates to our own needs. Many of this new generation have the education and intelligence to respond to the challenges of the likes of Maajid Nawaz. We have public debates on important issues. Discussions and challenges are rife in Social Media. As Muslims we all adhere to the belief that our religion has the answers - all the answers. If this is not going to be just blind faith, then we need to call on our scholars to articulate this truth more clearly, and develop meaningful responses to our critics whether internal or external. With their critical probing, perhaps we can finally begin to develop a realistic and practical vision of a just future based on Islam that is more than a mythical Caliphate, and cannot be hijacked for violent political ends.


Andrew F. Moncrieff said...

I believe your intentions to be good, but your insistence that a leader must be a Muslim, with or without a suggested team, is part of the problem. Is there no consideration you will give to the fact non-muslims do not believe your religion has an inherent right to be an authority on others?

It seems to me this attitude you express is not challenged enough, and by painting such supremacy as a necessity, you pave the way for violence.

Anonymous said...

If you don't advocate a secular liberal democracy, which is the only guarantee of freedom for all religions and non-religious people, then we cannot have much of a dialogue. What do you actually mean by "all persuasions"? Do you include agnostics and atheists in that?

Anonymous said...

As a practising Christian (and former atheist) who also strongly believes in the separation of religion and state I very much agree with the above post. My experience with Muslim friends on social media has been that they complain a lot about all the hardships Muslims are facing because of Islamophobia; for example after the Paris attacks the posts were more about the resulting Islamophobia instead of these Muslims acknowledging the victims of the attacks and the growing extremism in their midst. And though I by no means want to downplay people's experiences of religious discrimination this self-absorption in the Muslim community makes it very hard for a non-Muslim like me to take Muslim voices seriously, it just comes across as "poor me" whining, it reminds me of fundamentalist Christians who consistently paint themselves as the victim. So I really appreciate that you actually engage with your critics and their opinions.

Anonymous said...

So refreshing to hear willingness of a fellow pious Muslim to be open to self-criticism. We are in sore need of it! Barak-Allahu feeki (bless you).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing these excellent thoughts!
I am not a believer in any proper religion, but I highly respect people who have a sincere and wise faith inspired by the religion they either were raised in or have chosen for themselves.
I wish you a happy and long life with enduring strength to continue in this spirit!

PreTheist said...

Thank you for your courage in attending Maajid Nawaz' event and for articulating exactly how the Muslim community leadership in the country is failing. Beautifully written piece.

James Coffey said...

Thank you Silma for attending Maajid's talk and writing this review and call to action. I wish you success in engaging your fellow Muslims in this discussion, a discussion that is as important to Muslims as it is to the rest of us.

David Smith said...

Thank you Silma.
I wish there was more of you out there commenting on this issue. Maajids only public display with anyone from the Muslim community was with Sara Saleh and that was a disaster.As an Australian who would describe myself as Humanist i find Maajid's messages of Secularism,Liberalism and universal Human rights so encouraging.
We don't hear much of it these days from anyone let alone a Muslim.Sara's willingness to argue with him over these messages is very problematic and only tends to breed suspicion towards the Muslim community.I find when reading Comments online that Maajid is doing more to educate non-Muslims in the fight against bigotry than any other Muslim spokesperson i have seen.
Even Waleed Aly is becoming a divisive figure which just shows how poisonous the conversation has become.

The Minnesota Climax said...

A tragic state of affairs...

Risto Kantonen said...

Greetings from Finland and thank you, Silma, for having the courage to speak up.

I agree that democracy doesn't work. Based on my observations, this is largely due to it being based on the premise that the majority is correct, and due to the fact that the societies we live in today are several orders of magnitude - thousands of times - more complex than what the societies were when democracy was conceived. Nor are votes always based on falsifiable evidence either, they are mostly based on opinions. Seeing as the methods of science are the most reliable methods for problem solving and general analysis, it seems therefore, that what we, the human race, need is to apply the methods of science for human and environmental concern.

Justice is another flawed idea, because good and bad are subjective and what a person considers good or bad, or in other words, normal or abnormal depend on what their prevalent values and behaviour patterns are. Therefore, to me it seems that a more logical and rational approach would be to do a case by case basis qualitative analysis of an action, by asking qualitative questions, such as: Is this action detrimental? If it is detrimental can it be avoided? If the answer to both is yes, then the action should be discarded and a less detrimental action should be taken instead. Now, that of course depends on what is considered detrimental, but that can be determined using the methods of science.

Keep asking questions, it is essential for learning and improving our understanding of the reality we live in. Do not be afraid to be wrong either, it is a natural part of the process that is learning.

Anonymous said...

Hi Silma. Thank you for your courage in attending the Maajid Nawaz talk and for your considered response. I just have a few comments on your last paragraph.

Firstly, you said that "Many of this new generation have the education and intelligence to respond to the challenges of the likes of Maajid Nawaz." It appears that you are one of those educated and intelligent people, and you yourself seem to be saying that there was little in what he actually said that you disagreed with. Perhaps it's just that what he has to say isn't as challenging as some would make it out to be.

Secondly, you advance two propositions:
1. Islam has *all* the answers; and
2. Given (1), our scholars need tell Muslims where the likes of Nawaz is wrong.

It seems to me that there are many religions in the world and many think they have all the answers, to the exclusion of the others. Rather than holding to such a tenet, it would be beneficial to all humanity if those religions conceded that they perhaps didn't have *all* the answers. That would be a good start. Maybe then Nawaz could be approached on his merits, as you have done, rather than in a spirit of suspicion.

Ed Coleman said...

I thought your article was honest and forthright. I have been following Maajid for some time now and as a former 'Islamophobe' I have found his ideas refreshing and educational and I certainly have a different attitude these days. The basic issue, as MN proposes, is the ideological conflict between Secularism and Theocracy. As you pointed out in your article, many Muslims hold out hope for a Theocratic future (read Shariah) but we in the West have fought for hundreds of years to separate Church and State and there will not be any going back. Any attempt to promote or promulgate Theocratic Law will be vigorously and eternally resisted. Only Secularism can guarantee freedom for all religions and beliefs and only Secularism will tolerate multiculturalism and diversity. Democracy is not perfect by any means but it does offer the best chance for individual liberty of any political system yet devised.

AustralianMuslim said...

The Noble Prophet said, "Only the Imam is a shield, behind whom you fight and you protect yourself with, so if he orders by taqwa and is just then he has reward for that, and if he orders by other than that then it is against himself"

(Sahih Muslim)

To assume that Islam can be preserved in any other way than a 'mythical Caliphate' is a naiive idiotic assumption. Just as one's Imaan cannot be preserved except through Salah and other acts of worship, the preservation of Islam as a civilization and a force of God cannot happen except through the Caliphate.

Instead of secularizing Islam to fit into the Western capitalist mould, maybe Sister Silma should realize that Islam was not sent to bow its head and fit shamedly into the constructs of other civilizations but was rather made to be dominant over all others in the world.

"He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religions, however much the idolaters may be averse."
Qur'an 9:33

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words auntie! Open debate without any taboo subjects wit regard to Islam is sorely needed. Our young people should not be silenced for inquires any longer.

Ed Coleman said...

SO much for engaging with non Muslims, you refuse to publish my comment (as is your right in our secular nation) and it speaks volumes about your real attitude to us

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikum sister Silma, I have a lot of respect for you as someone who has been dedicated to improving the Muslim community. I appreciate everything you have done for our community but I am concerned about your support for Majid Nawaz. The problem with Majid is that he casts all political actions by Muslims as dangerous, and only accepts the Muslim in a secular form that keeps the religion to the private and not in the public. He is against Muslims who speak out against oppression, Muslims who speak out against governments, and he doesn't draw the line between legitimate actions by Muslim who engage politically and actions that promote violence. He is also very hypocritical in that he supports violence if it is secular, he holds hands with the governments that have terrorised Muslims. Your support of him is very dangerous as it legitimises his and various governments crackdowns on Muslims having any political power. For the sake of the community, please reflect on your stance.

Your sister