Sunday, February 18, 2007

Progressive Muslims

It seems the debate over 'progressive' Islam/Muslims has resurfaced, with Ali Eteraz declaring "progressive Islam" dead over on Alt.Muslim, adding a post/comment about "label whores" on the Eteraz blog as a coda to his critics. Personally, I prefer not to use the term 'progressive', partly due its unfortunate associations with silly Muslim Wake Up and its indifference to anti-imperial (or indeed any) critiques of its 'progressive' views.

MWU's misrepresentation of British Muslim issues such as the Shabina Begum affair in terms of its own agenda is an error British 'progressive' groups like MECO appear to be repeating - precisely because, I suspect, they have imported MWU's dogmatic sensibilities. Trying to represent the niqab, for example, as a 'Wahhabi' issue (or British Deobandis as closet Wahhabis) completely undermines MECO's claim to be 'erudite'. Consequently, the term 'progressive' appears to have assumed a pejorative connotation on this side of the pond, indicative of an insular liberalism out of touch with British Muslim concerns.

The danger with this, which is also inherent in the Eteraz decree, is that everything associated with the word 'progressive' gets dismissed out of hand. Personally, I still view Omid Safi's collection of 'progressive Muslim' essays (pictured above) as an excellent introduction to contemporary Muslim issues such as gender and a must read. Indeed, what matters to me most is not scholarship's heterodoxy or popularity, but its veracity.

The fact is, influential Muslims around the globe still employ the label 'progressive' with integrity. Laury Silvers' withering response to the Eteraz declaration packs a punch by doing no more than reminding people that neither he nor those among his esteemed colleagues who continue to use the term are dead. At the heart of this debate, though, is the authority of competing comtemporary Muslim discourses over what constitutes a 'true' Muslim. The antedote to this, in my opinion, is to support ordinary Muslims who wish to approach sacred and authoritative Muslim texts for themselves and make their own decisions about how to live as part of the ummah.

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