I’m not a religious scholar but it is always laughable to me when people say Islamic texts are inherently violent. Without examining the context within which they were written, pretty much all religious texts can be interpreted negatively. And they are. Islam is about 600 years newer than Christianity and if one thinks back to Christianity in the 1400s, one can easily find out how violent Christianity was capable of. It takes a long time for any kind of religious reformation to happen and it never stops.
I don’t think the Bible itself has changed too much but the way it is interpreted is markedly different now from even 100 years ago. And in fact, reformation in Christianity still continues. The Pope himself seems to be ushering in a new brand of Catholicism. People have a problem with Sunni and Shia divisions, yet everyone seems to accept the 10+ different brands of Christianity that have developed over time and block out the clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Even now, even in America – in the so called land of the free, Christian groups want to stop progress. They would take away women’s right to choose and LGBTQIA people’s right to even exist.
I myself grew up in a fairly progressive but devout household. My maternal grandfather was an Islamic scholar and taught me to read the Quran. My paternal grandfather built a Mosque and Madrasa right in front of our family home in Bangladesh. But growing up, none of the women in my family wore a burka or even a hijab (my dad is one of 9 siblings and my mum is one of 6, so no shortage of women in the family). But this has changed in the last decade. A lot of my cousins and primary school friends have started to wear the hijab and it has become sort of a cross between fashion statement and distinguishing socio-economic factor. Wealthier folks tend to be embracing this new “religion as a fashion statement” movement.
Many in western countries seem to think that Islam needs reformation. They are not incorrect but my observation is that Islam was already on the path to reform well before the western world took any notice. People think Islam needs reformation because of terrorism, whereas Muslims like myself think terrorism is what’s stopping actual reformation.
The victims of Islamic terrorism are overwhelmingly Muslim. The countries that are root cause of this problem are tied to the United States and Europe. When I look at pictures of Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan in the 70s and how progressive women’s clothing was and compare them to the situation now it becomes very obvious to me that Islam was already being practiced in conjunction with progressivism but it was halted. War and political unrest fueled by US and UK involvement has not only prevented reformation, it has taken it backwards. In the absence of personal security, people turn to their faith and anyone who can promise them security. People are afraid and most importantly terrorists and their ideology have a lot of power - the combination has proven to be lethal to all who are involved.
Progressive Muslims are not backed by anyone. Feminists, academics, and scholars are working independently to try to affect change with no help and constant threats. Think about the regimes that US and UK support, think about the amount of war that is waged on innocent civilians, think about how Muslims are treated in the Western world. All of this contributes to the hostility we see all around the world. I have no problems reconciling my feminist values with my faith but that seems to be incredulous to everyone because the only interpretation of Islam anyone ever talks about is politicized Islam in the context of terrorism and violence.
There is no doubt that Islam needs to be separated from the state’s business. But this is challenging. Just look at Christianity in American politics. There is no doubt that women’s voices have to be included in this reform. There is no doubt that barbaric acts should be denounced whether they are in the name of religion or notions of freedom and security. Our collective humanity cannot justify torture for the security of wealthy white people while denouncing beheadings. We cannot claim that Islam condones oppression of women when domestic violence and our rape culture continues to oppress women in our own society. New Zealand is not an Islamic country, so then why are women oppressed here?
Eradication of Islam will not eradicate terrorism. We need to fundamentally re-think our foreign and military policy, our allies, and who we fund in order to eradicate terrorism. Self-determination, implementation of universal human rights, democracy in the form people’s ability to participate in free elections, economic security, and freedom from war is the antidote to terrorism and a progressive Islam.
People ask for liberal voices in Islam. Well I am here but nobody actually wants to listen to me or those who are like me. White men in power and hawks who control the military agenda don't actually want to listen to us. They would rather put terrorists on a pedestal on our behalf and listen to their rhetoric. Fox News would laugh at us. Illegitimate "leaders of Islam" would put fatwas on us.
All the while Rome burns.