Why do we Need to Support Progressive Muslims?

by Ammar Anwer

I have been advocating a reform in Islam for a long time now, deriving my stand from the fact that at such a crucial time when different Islamist radical outfits continue to spill the blood of innocent people, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike, justifying their outrageous acts scripturally, it is time for us, Muslims, to re-examine our doctrine.

Before writing anything on Islamic reform, it is first important to clarify what we mean by a reformation in Islam.

The very term “Islamic reform” has been misunderstood by the wider Muslim community. By Islamic reformation we do not mean any sort of alteration in texts as such. What we actually mean by Islamic reformation is to perceive the texts in a different and contextual manner since Quran, like any other religious book has verses that could have multiple interpretations. What I have experienced living in a Muslim society is that people generally do not welcome the notion of Islamic reform because of the very same confusion that this term entails.

Islamic reformation has opened new gates of knowledge and wisdom. One of my favorite reformist scholar is a Muslim theologian based in Pakistan, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi.

He is now living in Malaysia due to death threats.

Ghamidi’s take on several controversial issues like compatibility of Islam and Democracy, Women rights in Islam and the concept of Jihad in Islam, has totally changed the way I used to perceive Islam and has paved a path for the younger generation to learn, believe and teach a tolerant and pluralistic version of Islam.

Many people including ex-Muslims and the traditionalist Muslims believe that such moderate scholars cherry-pick selective verses and hadiths to establish their narrative. This could be true, but that also applies to the fundamentalists.

In fact, there is no true interpretation of a religion or a "True Islam". There are only alternate explanations in religion. Whether your version of religion is moderate or violent, it all comes down to your selective approach and cherry picking.

You can create a moderate version while completely ignoring all those aspects of religion that do not seem to be moderate and similarly you can create a violent version of religion while completely ignoring all those aspects of religion that seem moderate: teaching tolerance and equality.

I am utterly disappointed to see the attitude of most of the Ex-Muslims in Pakistan. They do not have any will to cooperate with moderate scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. They mostly label these scholars as apologists whenever they come up with any counter narrative to Radical Islam. We need to understand that the scripture is open to interpretation and if someone differs with the traditionalist approach then that does not make him/her an apologist.

I, therefore, believe that secular Muslims, ex-Muslims and people of other faiths must form a strong bond with Muslim reformists. We have more similarities and less differences. The people that Islamists despise the most are not Atheists but those who have taken up the task to re-interpret Islam and challenge Islamists doctrinally.

Islamists don't want to see themselves challenged scripturally and this is precisely why they keep targeting such Reformist Scholars. A few years ago, two Modernist scholars Doctor Shakeel Auj and Doctor Muhammad Farooq Khan were murdered by the extremists for their modern views on Islam.

Shakeel Auj was an Islamic scholar who served as the Dean of Karachi University’s department of Islamic studies. There were speculations that Professors within the faculty disliked him because of his modern views on Islam. In addition to being disliked by his own faculty members, he also received death threats but yet was provided with no security.

He was killed on 18 September 2014 when he was on his way to visit the Iranian culture center which was organized to honor his services towards Islam.

Yet another brilliant Islamic reformist was Doctor Muhammad Farooq Khan. He was born in the city of Swabi of the KPK province of Pakistan. He studied medicine at Cadet College Hasanabdal and Cadet College Kohat(both of these Institutions are considered to be highly reputable in Pakistan). Later on, he specialized in Psychiatry. He was once a member of Jamaat e Islami: contesting an election on its ticket but he soon developed differences with the Jamaat’s interpretation of Islam and was expelled from the party for writing a book that challenged the Jamaat’s ideology.

One day he was at his local clinic in Badgdada (A town in the Mardan District of KPK province of Pakistan) when two people, posing as patients,entered his clinic and open fired at him. Doctor Farooq and his assistant died at the spot.

Doctor Muhammad Farooq Khan had remained a close associate of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, writing many journals against Taliban.

Raza Rumi, a progressive columnist and news anchor was also targeted because of his liberal views.

These are just a few examples of how the Muslim reformists in Muslim countries face death threats and ex-communication on daily basis because of their reformist views on Islam. Therefore, it stands to reason why these scholars need to be supported by the Secular and Irreligious section of the society.

I asked Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, a prominent human rights activist and community director at Movements, his opinion on this subject. He believes that:

“Muslim reformists need to be supported by the Muslim community first and foremost because they are the target audience. However, the west can support such scholars by providing them a more suitable platform to voice their concerns”

It is quite evident that the more we isolate the progressive and reformist voices that are coming from within the Muslim community, the more we let the Islamists win. And the more we support these voices, the greater are the chances for our combined victory.

As well as a political struggle, it is also a religious battle and it can only be won when those Muslims who are against the Islamists are supported by the other sections of the society.

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Ammar Anwer is a student and blogger based in Pakistan. The writer is a student with an interest in Theology, Social Sciences and History. He blogs for The Nation.

Crowdsourcing the struggle for human rights. Be part of the solution at Movements.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Movements.

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