March 13, 2006
How to be a Muslim reformer
After reading an article on Wafa Sultan (the up-and-coming Muslim reformer) in the New York Times today, it occured to me that I should get on this reformer bandwagon before the market gets saturated. I'm articulate, telegenic, exotic (yet oh so fluffy and Westernized), not to mention female (oppressed by rigid Islamic paternalism, naturally). Too bad I've got so many other little schemes on the go and can't spare the time for this one. However, I've written a handy little guide for aspiring refuseniks, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim. Hopefully it will inspire readers to lead the charge in enlightening the benighted Islamic world.
1. Keep it simple
First and foremost, don't bother actually studying the religion or recent MENA history. Take a page from Pundita's book: no need for research when you're painting with a really big brush. If you absolutely must research, this site is a treasure trove of convenient black and white stereotyping.
2. Have an angle
Find or manufacture a useful "turning point" in your life that made you realize Islam was a bigoted and/or violent religion. In Irshad Manji's case, it was being kicked out of her madrasa for demanding proof of a Jewish conspiracy. For Wafa Sultan, it was watching the Muslim Brotherhood kill a professor at her university in Aleppo. Of course, it's helpful not to mention Hafez Assad's response. I recall Irshad was all for Emergency Law in Egypt because Naguib Mahfouz was roughed up by some Islamist thugs: "Excuse me, but if that's a reason to maim (and possibly kill), it's equally a reason for security forces to crack down on the thugs. Bring on the Emergency Law" (128).
Ahem, moving on...
3. Write a book
Start holding interviews just prior to (or immediately after) publishing a book that claims to spearhead a reform movement and/or turn the Islamic world on its head. Tell the NYT that the working title is The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster, because The Trouble with Islam Today is simply too namby-pamby.
4. Become a Western media darling
Be extremely provocative. Make rude statements about Islam and those who follow it. Make sure to have an itemized list of every horrible act commited by Muslims, rulers of Muslim-majority countries, Caliphs, etc. Make fun of Arabs and how childish and barbaric they are compared to Jews and Christians (or in Irshad's case, go one step further and blame everything on the "Arabization" of Islam). Don't bother to mention any similar acts carried out in the name of other Abrahamic religions or even atheist ideologies, such as Communism. This is supposed to be an indictment against Islam, not the vile predictability of human nature and perverse incentives.
5. Remind people that you are constantly under siege
Make sure the media is fully aware of every single death threat you receive as a result of the aforementioned provocative statements. If you're lucky, some wacko will release a fatwa that demands you be stoned, beheaded or strung up in some elaborate medieval way.
6. Rake in the cash
Watch as speaking invitations roll in from hardline right-wing Israeli and US organizations. No, it's not a Jewish conspiracy, but for some odd reason they are in full agreement with your views on Islamic reform. You're definitely on the way to winning Muslim hearts and minds if they're supporting you!
7. Remember your audience
Don't bother engaging Muslims in a respectful yet frank discussion on how to remain faithful to the Prophet's message in our modern, globalized, polarized, terrorized world. You don't even need to talk to Muslims, unless it's to get the extremists frothing at the mouth. Being a true visionary is hard work and requires far too much study, which leaves you hardly any time for gala dinners with pretentious, xenophobic ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative (really, does it matter?) activists who will praise you as a model Muslim making a real difference in the Islamic world.
Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. Readers are free to offer their own advice, sarcastic comments, etc.
[Thanks to Eva Luna for bringing the original NYT article to my attention]
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I'm loving the Google ads that are popping up with this one:
"Save Time with the summary of 'Good Muslim, Bad Muslim!'"
"Meet Arab Men and Women: Find Your Muslim Soul Mate Today!"
E., better get cracking and find yourself a nice, pious Muslim boy! Who needs higher education anyway?
Posted by: Eva Luna at March 13, 2006 06:52 PM
This entry is totally unacceptable, because I should have written it. No excuse even: I dont site-manage on the side as well.
A-plus, gold star, and all that.
Posted by: matthew hogan at March 13, 2006 09:28 PM
I note this set of dimwitted comments wherein a commentator presumes to lecture us on liberal values. http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1142285209.shtml (not the original post, which was quite reasonable, the comments)
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 13, 2006 10:35 PM
Ah yes, that was a brilliant and instructive bit of fluff.
Well, I've stated before that we are not the Wal-Mart of MENA discussion and analysis. People either read our entries carefully and try to understand the complexities, or they continue blithering in the usual biased and ignorant way.
Posted by: eerie at March 13, 2006 10:47 PM
I have my own Lounsbury entry on this already.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 13, 2006 10:52 PM
I think you should see if you can crossmarket this with the Dennis the Peasant Blogging System
Posted by: Tom Scudder at March 14, 2006 06:29 AM
Oh god, that's funny.
Was it just me or did his example of a "cool" blogging persona remind you of Lounsbury?
Posted by: eerie at March 14, 2006 07:28 AM
Dennis the Peasant: "This is because in reality your 45, 20 lbs. overweight, wearing a bad toupee, dressing in polyester, driving a Chevy Chevette and relying on me to guide you to a fast buck. In real life, teenagers laugh at you, waiters ignore you and local merchants ask if you need directions to Kmart."
F.U. False. I DON'T WEAR A TOUPEE!
Posted by: matthew hogan at March 14, 2006 08:31 AM
However, you post is brilliant.
It should be a series.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 14, 2006 10:47 AM
At Reason: "Aqoul posting is largely just another knee-jerk denial that there may be any problems at all with Islamic culture. Whatever problems there are, it's always somebody's else's fault. It certainly didn't refute Dr. Sultan's points."
Posted by: mhh at March 14, 2006 12:08 PM
Your commentary seems likely to be on target and certainly was entertaining. However, in Dr Sultan's defense, I'd like to point out that the gadfly, too, has its place in the ecology. Calm, reasoned, informed, open-minded discourse is only of interest to calm, reasoned, informed, open-minded people.
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at March 14, 2006 02:14 PM
Dear Antiquated Tory:
Firstly, Tories are never Antiquated. They merely need polishing.
Secondly, you're right. Sultan serves a purpose and it is less her fault than that of the US media (and UK media to a lesser extent) for reporting (i) so damned poorly, (ii) for siezing on the easy 'spokesperson of reform that happens to talk in a way I understand.'
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 14, 2006 02:25 PM
well her 15 minutes are just about up now ...
Posted by: praktike at March 14, 2006 02:49 PM
(ii) for siezing on the easy 'spokesperson of reform that happens to talk in a way I understand.
Sounds almost like a Far Side cartoon (I think) where aliens land on earth, ignore all humans, and start talking to the cows, doesn't it?
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at March 14, 2006 04:11 PM
Very interesting post. I've read some of Irishad Manji's articles, and they've always struck me as incredibly shallow. I agree with you Manji and Sultan are egotists who pander to their (non-Muslim) audience).
Having said that, I do think that even more serious and sincere Muslim reformers tend to get overplayed by the media. Two examples that come to mind are the Iranian philospher Abdolkarim Soroush and Egyptian-born UCLA Law Professor Khaled Abou el Fadl. I happen to admire both those scholars greatly, but I understand their influence is much greater among Western journalists than it is among Muslims.
Posted by: Peter H at March 15, 2006 08:55 PM
dear peter h,
while khalid abu l-fadl has, indeed, little influence in the MENA region outside a somewhat limited academic circle, abdolkarim sorush is one of the most important iranian philosophers. also, contrary to abu l-fadl (who is based in los angeles), he lives in iran. his lectures are packed, his writings widely disseminated, and he is deemed to be so influential by the government that his magazine was closed in '98 and he lost his job.
he is also, unfortunately, an embodiment of the stereotypical iranian philosopher in that he answered my question "just how do you want to set your vision of an islamic democracy into practice?" with "that is not my concern. i am a philosopher."
oh well ...
Posted by: raf* at March 16, 2006 04:16 AM
I think we have an issue with respect to intellectuals versus... well doers.
I suppose someone like you or me or Bint or Meph should have a post on the issue of 'public intellectual' in the MENA world.
Arab MENA world.
Posted by: collounsbury at March 16, 2006 12:40 PM
8. Have the Western media identify you as a Muslim, particularly in the headline, but make sure they know you don't really believe in the Qur'an or actually PRACTICE the religion or anything backwards like that. That way the rest of those Muslims out there who pray or fast or have beards, you know they're just fanatics.
Posted by: Me at March 16, 2006 12:42 PM
That's a good addition, number eight. I rather suggest eerie add it, with citation of course. As the whole concept of "moderate Muslim reformer" really in blog/media speak is "a non-practicising type that doesn't require me (the journo) to wrap me head around any funny ideas, etc."
Posted by: collounsbury at March 16, 2006 12:54 PM
Posted by: Baraka at March 16, 2006 02:06 PM
9. Openly criticize the real reformers (people with knowledge & sincerity who are working to better the Muslim community) as being backward or anti-semitic. Be sure to dig up quotes from the past that you can use to deride any imam or scholar that suggests healthy alternatives instead of outright rejection. If you're at a loss, consult Daniel Pipes and Steven Schwartz, as they love citing 15-year-old statements as proof of one's hypocrisy. Find loose connections, apply conjecture, stir in the unrelated plight of others, baste with blame, and serve hot.
Posted by: Basil at March 16, 2006 05:02 PM
Ok all you blog-wielding admirers of this post: Link to it!!!
Hard sellingly yours,
Posted by: matthew hogan at March 16, 2006 06:04 PM
Absolutely hilarious! Love it. Now I gotta check out the rest of your blog!
Posted by: Aaminah at March 20, 2006 02:44 PM
Well said. The fact that a charlatan like Sultan is being lionized by a highly edited video clip put out by MEMRI(Israeli (mis)translation front run by an IDF thug) speaks volumes.
They're not fooling anybody with this charade.
Posted by: DrMaxtor at March 21, 2006 04:56 PM
Pls review and think that being a reformer, also takes patience and tolerance
Posted by: Alma at March 22, 2006 03:38 AM
Rally funny:))))))))))) It resumes very well the actual situation ;)
Posted by: lili at March 26, 2006 11:27 PM
Heh. Quite a funny portrayal of all these current ‘reformers’ we have around us these days. However, and with all due respect to the author, I can’t bring myself to file this article under any other heading than comedy. It’s neither enlightening nor beneficial.
In fact, I’m more inclined to criticise you than these so called reformers. You see, with them, almost everyone that reads their nonsense (everyone of Islamic persuasion that is) has an idea what they’re all about. They want to carve up a new, lean, simple and diluted version of Islam. They want (they claim) to bring Islam out of the dark ages and into the modern world. They neither hide their intentions nor play games. Theirs is a clear message; Islam today is wrong and only they know the right way to correct it.
Now, you and the many that (rightly) criticise these people are fighting a losing battle. You’re fighting a losing battle because you don’t criticise their words but, instead, you have a go at their methods, life style or perceived knowledge. This, in my humble opinion, is miles worse than whatever mischief these people get up to. Yours is a reactionary, knee-jerk, offensive and, frankly, shallow way of conducting an argument. What’s worse, the argument at hand is not a difficult one. You already know (as a Muslim) that you have the tools, logic and historic/intellectual sources to completely bulldoze their weak stance. However, like many of our (Islamic) intellectuals, you would rather sit out of in the shallow end of spitting out insults and thinking up witty putdowns than rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in at the deep end with sound logic and strong reason.
I’m not attacking your personally, friend. I’m attacking this malice that I see everywhere when good intentioned Muslim brothers and sisters attempt to tackle the reformers. If it’s not satires and lampoons it’s usually a full-blown tantrum and rage! So you argue that the ‘reformers’ lack knowledge! Prove it. Refute it. Challenge it and expose their meagre abilities.
(This is something I wrote in another site on a similar argument. I thought I’d repeat it here rather than rewrite the whole thing again).
There are many problems facing the Muslim world today. There are many more facing Muslims in the West. Writers, intellectuals and scholars in the Muslim world are conducting their own debates on all issues concerning Muslims (there are even Doctors and Professors being imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and other places for daring to voice opinions incompatible with the official line).
These same lights are also discussing the problems facing the Muslims in the West and offering opinions, solutions and fatwas. The vast majority of them have not lived in the West and do not understand nor appreciate the intricacies involved in living in such environment. Many offer solutions that are the exact carbon copy of those being applied in (predominantly) Muslim lands! Round holes and square pegs spring to mind.
In the West, Muslim opinions are divided right down the middle. One group rejects all solutions, ideas and thoughts that are different to Muslim conventional wisdom. Islam is perfect, they say. The problem is with the people. People should come back to the way of Allah and everything will be fine! Though the advice is great, it is not a practical solution to the problems facing Muslims in the West today. Still, regardless of how many times one shouts, there is no convincing the pseudo-mullahs.
The other group, are those that completely bought the secular dream. They decided to shed the cultural aspects of Islam (and in their eyes that is almost everything). They chose to keep their faith, belief and spirituality private. With some, it’s so private that one only finds out that these people are Muslim when they occasionally condescend to transmit such a well-hidden secret.
Within each of these groups, there are huge numbers of people that know this is not the ideal situation or place to be in. They realise and are amazed at the folly of the pseudo-mullahs. They despise the excesses of the ‘designer’ Muslims. However, at every turn, they’re confronted with these two choices and almost forced to pin their flags to one of these crooked masts!
Many of these people suffer from rabble-rouser fatigue. They don’t want to hear the same old rhetoric about the West and how it seeks to corrupt our young, poison our souls and dilute our faith. Most have heard this a million times before and fully understand these arguments. A good number reject such rhetoric. However, they also reject the rhetoric of the secularists, liberals and faithless.
This is unlikely to remain the case for too long though. The Mullahs (pseudo or otherwise) mainly reside in mosques, Muslim countries or (specifically) Islamic websites. Their messages, arguments and ideas are only seen by those that actively seek them out. And even when one does seek them out, they (mostly) leave a lot to be desired.
The other group is mainstream. One sees them at work, school and on TV. They spread the message of tolerance (which is a great message by the way), peace (another great message) and understanding (how could such people ever go wrong?). They recruit figures from all over the Muslim world to help them further their objectives. In addition, they use people like Salman Rushdie (above), Irshad Manji and the like. People that (despite their deviations) are of a similar background to Western Muslims and have (had) similar experiences, faced similar obstacles and ruminated on similar thoughts!
Their articles seem to be appearing on newspapers on a daily bases now. They manage to appear on regular news programs and even talk their way into presenting their own documentaries about Islam. This constant bombardment (one that uses good logic, coherent arguments and fair analysis) slowly chips at the will of western Muslims and creates cracks in their stubborn resistance. The Mullah’s (artificial ones mainly) meanwhile, wring their hands, promise hell fire and pat each other’s back for their own steadfastness and indefatigability!
Is it not time that the ‘silent majority’ stood up to both groups. Should we not (depending on what side you find yourself leaning towards) air our own opinions on the subject and why we think one side is correct or why we reject one (or both)?
I repeat. Your piece was funny and brought a smile to my face as I read it but I really hope that’s not all you’re about, friend.
Posted by: NGONGE at March 27, 2006 06:29 PM
10. Ignore the truth about Islam. Pretend it is a "Religion of Peace". Tell everybody that Muslim killers and terrorists are not part of the "Real Islam".
Also ignore the hate and anger in the Quran towards non-Mulims. Say the passages are "out of Context" or that they are incorrectly translated.
Ignore the constant oppression against women, minority religions, gays, jews and even some sects of Islam in all countries where Islam dominates. Say that "It has nothing to do with Islam" and smile.
If they bring up certain vile, dispicable things in the life of Mohammed, then start making threats - and if necessary kill anybody who says anything bad about Islam's dear prophet - no matter what the hadiths actually say about such things as his role in events relating to slavery, torture, murder, abuse of women, and even wife-beating.
Most of all, never be honest about Islam. Lie, lie and lie. Blame everything on somebody else. Never look deep down into the soul of Islam. Never question the dogma. Never apply the same standards to Islam that are applied to other beliefs.
That should just about do it. Follow these simple 10 steps and you will be a first class, grade A, blue ribbon, certified, "moderate" Islamic reformer.
Posted by: John Arthur at March 30, 2006 09:54 AM
Ah, bigotry pretending to be wit. How tedious.
PS Ngonge - We've examined these issues seriously elsewhere on this site. My bit of satire should not be taken as real analysis.
Posted by: eerie at March 30, 2006 10:05 AM
10. Ignore the truth about Islam
And what is that truth? Tell us, oh do, please?
Posted by: matthew hogan at March 30, 2006 03:57 PM
Just saw it. I take it all back. Keep up the good work. :)
Posted by: NGONGE at March 31, 2006 07:34 PM
Islam is a form of Insanity. There is no place for Islam in the modern world.
Posted by: telcopro at April 10, 2006 02:56 PM
Smarter trolls, please.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at April 10, 2006 03:10 PM
How Ironic it is that you claim Islam to be a bigoted religion, when you yourself are spreading a hate-filled messgae. The instances you mentioned had nothing at all to do with Islam itself, but rather individuals who are Muslim. If you truly believe Islam is a violent, oppressive religion, bring proof from the religion, and do not use corrupt people as the proof for your ludicrous claim. Muslims are just people, not perfect by any means. Islam is perfect, and as such you have been unable to use it against itself. If you don't like Islam, that's fine, but don't spread hateful propaganda against it. That's downright disrespectful.
Posted by: kheir at April 11, 2006 10:43 PM
I guess there are still uncle toms out there.
Posted by: Yamaan at April 12, 2006 12:35 PM
There was nothing really calm about Dr. Sultan's shrill commentary.
Posted by: pico at May 30, 2006 01:28 PM
I would add one more very important guideline to your 'How to be a Muslim reformer' guide:
* Pick a favourite vitrolic Islamophobe, such as Pim Fortuyn or Daniel Pipes.
* Watch all their TV appearances and read all their writings
* Note down all the main points of their opinion on Islam (should take no more than one side of A4)
* Declare that you have seen the light (or is that the Islamophobic right?) and market yourself as Mutant Uncle Sam-Like Islamophone Mercenary (i.e. a real-life MUSLIM)
Posted by: Diabolical Idea at June 6, 2006 10:02 AM
Islam the religion of terrorist. Islam the religion of genocide. Islam the religion of mass murders. Islam the religion of serail killers. Islam the religion of rapist. Islam the religion of female genital mutilation. Islam the religion of female degradation. Islam the religion of child abuse. Islam the religion of authoritarian rule. Islam the religion for humans not allowed to think for them selves. Islam the religion that most in the civilized world consider to be medieval and barbaric. Islam the religion that has its followers kill other innocent humans because they are not Islamic or leave Islam. Islam the religion with an ultimate goal of universal Islamic law for the entire world. Islam the religion of lies and liars. Islam the religion of EVIL. Islam the religion that worships Mohamad the so-called prophet of Islam who committed and promoted evil crimes. Islam the religion that is consider a cult. Islam the religion too evil to be considered a religion of peace. Islam the religion should be made illegal by world courts. Islam the religious (cult) for Muslims. Islam, the religious nightmare for the entire world. www.prophetofdoom.net
Posted by: ragheadwilly at August 10, 2006 12:14 PM
Clearly just because someone can type in the word 'cat'...
Posted by: eerie at August 10, 2006 08:12 PM
"Islam the religion of terrorist. Islam the religion of genocide. Islam the religion of mass murders. Islam the religion of serail killers. Islam the religion of rapist. Islam the religion of female genital mutilation. Islam the religion of female degradation. Islam the religion of child abuse. Islam the religion of authoritarian rule. Islam the religion for humans not allowed to think for them selves. Islam the religion that most in the civilized world consider to be medieval and barbaric. Islam the religion that has its followers kill other innocent humans because they are not Islamic or leave Islam. Islam the religion with an ultimate goal of universal Islamic law for the entire world. Islam the religion of lies and liars. Islam the religion of EVIL. Islam the religion that worships Mohamad the so-called prophet of Islam who committed and promoted evil crimes. Islam the religion that is consider a cult. Islam the religion too evil to be considered a religion of peace. Islam the religion should be made illegal by world courts. Islam the religious (cult) for Muslims. Islam, the religious nightmare for the entire world. www.prophetofdoom.net "
Is Daniel Pipes doing rap now?
Posted by: matthew c. hogan at August 11, 2006 01:37 PM
8. Be angry. Show no humility, no love.
Posted by: Thameen Darby at October 12, 2006 03:21 PM