Saturday, 2 April 2011

What makes a Progressive Muslim?

The following text was taken from the notes section on the facebook page of Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the Assumption University in Bangkok  It recapitulates how the Indian activist and scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, Head of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, defined a 'progressive Muslim':

Asghar Ali Engineer
In the AMAN (Asian Muslim Action Network) assembly which took place in Pattani, Thailand in the last week of February 2011 a discussion took place as to who is a progressive Muslim and what are its characteristics. I was asked to throw light on this subject. I am presenting here what I spoke there. I had the following to say.

A progressive Muslim is one who is firmly grounded in the Qur’anic values of truth (haq), justice (‘adl), compassion (rahmah), wisdom (hikmah) and does service to others rather than being served by others. A progressive Muslim does not believe in sectarian Islam (sunni or shi’ah or Isma’ili or Deobandi or Barelvi or ahl-e-hadith or salafi Islam but rises above all these sects and gives importance to Qur’an above everything else.

A progressive Islam not only does not adopt sectarian approach but is respectful of entire humanity and human dignityas per Qur’an (17:70). He leaves mutual differences, ideological and theological to Allah alone and does not condemn anyone who differences from him/her as kafirs as often sectarian Muslims do. It only widens differences and intensifies conflict. A progressive Muslim uses, as per Qur’an, wisdom (hikmah) and goodly words (maw’izat al-Hasanah) in discussion and leaves rest to Allah. He does not try to be judgemental.

A progressive Muslim is least influenced by personal prejudices and always gives more importance to knowledge than his opinion. Qur’an condemns prejudiced opinion (zan) and promotes knowledge (‘ilm). Also, openness of mind is a seminal quality and avoids arrogance born more out of ignorance than knowledge. Those who have little knowledge are more arrogant and those who have greater degree of knowledge know limitations of their own knowledge and hence tend to be humble.

A progressive Muslim first of all studies his/her own religion in depth and tries to understand, as objectively as possible, the causes of differences between different religions and shows full respect for others beliefs. It is those who do not know their own religion, much less those of others, who condemn religion of others. The Qur’an says, “And abuse not those whom they call upon besides Allah lest, exceeding the limits they abuse Allah through ignorance.” (6:109). Further in this verse Allah says, “Thus to everyone people have We made their deeds fair-seeming; then to their Lord is their return so He will inform them of what they did.” Thus ultimately it is Allah who will judge. We human beings when we judge, we judge more out of ignorance and arrogance of our ego than knowledge and selflessness.

The key words in this verse are that for every people We made their deeds fair-seeming to them. Then who are we human beings to condemn others beliefs and deeds. Let then Allah alone to judge who is right and who is wrong.

Also a progressive Muslim celebrates diversity as diversity is creation of Allah and if Allah desired He could have made entire humanity one community. (5:48). The Qur’an also says, “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. Surely there are signs in this for the learned.” Thus a progressive Muslim will never have any prejudice against any language or colour of skin or any colour for that matter as these are all creations of Allah.

Also, both men and women are creation of Allah and both need to be treated with same degree of dignity. Allah has created all species in couples and it is necessary for survival of all species. No species will survive unless it is created in couples. Thus feminine of the couple is as important as masculine and in human beings both gender must be treated equally. Moreover gender is social and cultural construct. Whereas sex is natural gender is social and cultural.

A progressive Muslim knows this very well and treats both men and women with equal dignity and believes in giving equal rights to both. And in today’s context gender equality becomes a crucial test for a progressive Muslim. Female servitude was purely feudal cultural creation and Islam opposed it and pronounced the doctrine of gender equality in clear terms (2:228) A progressive Muslim knows that certain Shari’ah provisions establishing male superiority were in response to cultural needs of a patriarchal society than based on Qur’an and hadith.

Thus a progressive Muslim will give more importance to Qur’anic pronouncements of gender equality than feudal female servitude and would not consider these [provisions of Shari’ah laws as eternal and unalterable. A progressive Muslim, therefore, would reconstruct Shari’ah laws in this respect and accord equal rights to women who are also believers. One believer cannot be superior to another believer. Male superiority is a human construct and human construct cannot override divine injunction. Also, functional differences i.e. bearing children should not result in distinction of superior and inferior.

A progressive Muslim would accord seeking knowledge highest priority as knowledge has been equated with light (nor) and ignorance to darkness (zulmat) and Allah brings out believers from darkness to light. And the Prophet (PBUH) has said that a moment’s reflection is more important than whole nights worship (‘ibadat). Thus knowledge has priority over worship.

Thus these are the characteristics of a progressive Muslim and those who imbibe these characteristics would survive all the challenges of all the times and would not face any difficulty in keeping pace with the changing times.

Check also this link for a collection of essay by Ashgar Ali Engineer. Hereunder are links to a selection of his books:

On Developing Theology of Peace in IslamIslam : Challenges in 21st CenturyIslam in Contemporary World 

Literature and the Future of North Africa

The Qantara Muslim world news website carried a feature article on Jewish Moroccan writer Edmond Amran El Maleh (1917-2010). Last year the anti-colonial freedom fighter and patriot had been laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery of his native Essouira. He was taken there in a coffin draped with the Moroccan flag by the royal advisor André Azoulay, the historian Hassan Aourid, the director of the National Library Driss Khrouz and artists Hassan Bourkia and André El Baz. Not a state funeral, but almost...
He had specifically requested to be buried there among "all these graves which, exposed to the rank growth, the wind, and the ravages of the ocean, silently enclose the Hebrew inscriptions and mysterious symbols." And indeed it is surprising to see the emblem of the Punic goddess on the weather-beaten columns, an indication that Jews have lived in Morocco since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, when they escaped Babylonian captivity on Phœnician merchant ships. El Maleh's headstone merely adds to the linguistic confusion. He insisted on having four scripts: Arabic, Berber, Hebrew and French. It was a reflection of his attitude to life and his sense of belonging, an attitude that rejects any insistence that identities have to be one-dimensional
Described as a 'thorny humanist and lateral thinker, critic of Zionism and supporter of the Palestinians', it should also be noted that El Maleh was highly respected in the new Morocco for the fact that he, a French assimilated Jew, never denied his Arab-Berber roots'.He came relatively late to literature and his depictions of a 'multi-layered, multi-faceted, multi-voiced Morocco' betray influences of other cosmopolitan writers such as Elias Canetti and Walter Benjamin, as well as Kafka and Proust. In fact, El Maleh saw 'himself as a thief of stories and a protector of words', unexpectedly weaving 'words and phrases from Jewish-Arabic, Berber, English, and Spanish into his work'.
Edmond Amran El Maleh (1917-2010)
 Characterizing El Maleh's linguistic style through which he tried to remain true to Morocco's plural identity, the Spanish author Juan Goytisolo is said have likened his the influence of the Moroccan dialect to 'a tattoo on the skin of the French used by this author, this Nestor, this great outsider on the fringes of Franco-Moroccan literary scene, an author who remains to be discovered outside Morocco'.

In neighbouring-Algeria, novelist Maïssa Bey, who has written extensively on her country's turmoil of the last few decades, insists on dealing honestly with uncomfortable truths of the past:
Without an honest reappraisal of the past there can be no democratising process in society or in the political structures. "We will never achieve anything in Algeria until we get the truth out into the open and begin acknowledging facts," [...] This is something that has to involve everyone: victims, perpetrators, those politically responsible for the violence and the authorities who have imposed a total blackout on the lives of hundreds of thousands of families".
Although many are clamouring for change, she also notes that despite serious social injustice and corruption many Algerians prefer the fragile stability represented by President Bouteflika.
There is, of course, fear that a revolution could again end in chaos and violence [...] I have heard many people from my own neighbourhood talking like this. But I believe that Algeria has learned from the experiences of the 80s and 90s. The Algerians now know that Islamism is not the answer. This is a realisation that puts us a stage ahead of other revolutions in the Arab world.
She is less than impressed with the attitude of Europe:
Maissa Bey
It is really bizarre that Europe is only now wakening up. I find this absolutely intolerable. As an Algerian citizen, I can tell you that we didn't need any Wikileaks to tell us what was going on. Everybody knew that the Arab leaders were illegally amassing large fortunes for themselves and allowing their people to suffer. How can it be that this Europe, that so prides itself on its ideals of human rights and liberty, kept so quiet for so long, and only opened its mouth after the people themselves had risen?
The Europeans are so sure that democracy is a civilising value that belongs essentially to Europe, Bey explains. "The Arabs, on the other hand, they are, allegedly, just tribal societies where people bite off one another's noses. We intellectuals expect nothing more from Europe. I think it is too late for that."
Read the full interview here.

Essaouira, cite heureuse (French Edition)Edmond Amran El Maleh: Cheminements d'une ecriture (Collection "Espaces litteraires") (French Edition)Mille ans, un jour: Roman (French Edition)Mille ans, un jourParcours immobile (Collection "Voix") (French Edition)Above All, Don't Look Back (CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature translated from the French)Above All, Don't Look Back (CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature translated from the French)Au commencement était la merCette fille laEntendez-vous...dans les montagnesDépartements et territoires d'outre-ciel : Hommage à Léopold Sédar Senghor poète et francophone