Monday, December 06, 2004

Progressive Islam: A view from October, 2001

In October of 2001, a few Muslims who had only known each other previously through e-mail and Islam discussion lists met in San Francisco, California, to discuss what Progressive Islam would mean. Leading up to this discussion, these same people -- Farid Esack, Anna Ghonim, and Javed Memon, with input from others -- had drafted a document representing the main threads of their idea of what this term would encompass. As the term has become a lot more popular and lots of documents have been produced since, I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at this one. So, here it is:

Begin text:

Progressive Islam

A Definition and Declaration

And we have created the world in truth, so that every soul shall earn its just recompense and that it not be oppressed


Throughout history the love for power, material wealth, dynastic rule and hypocrisy has been justified in the name of religion. And all along the element that exhorted people towards awareness, freedom and rebellion against these inhuman systems was also religion.

Ali Shariati,

Progressive Islam is that understanding of Islam and its sources which comes from and is shaped within a commitment to transform society from an unjust one where people are mere objects of exploitation by governments, socio-economic institutions and unequal relationships to a just one where they are the subjects of history, the shapers of their own destiny in the full awareness that all of humankind is in a state of returning to God and that the universe was created as a sign of God’s presence.

Progressive Islam Affirms

1. God as the Centre

The Transcendent, Allah, is the eternally Akbar (greater than). While we acknowledge that the entire creation is a reflection of God's presence and nature we also believe that God is beyond whatever is ascribed to God, beyond that community which unavoidably is imprisoned by the confines of language, class, gender and culture.

2. People as the Family of God

2.1 Each human being is a carrier of the spirit of God and compassion as an essential element in Allah’s dealings with us and as reflective of God’s will for humankind.

2.2 While all of us are the family of God, progressive Muslims assert a preferential option for what the Qur’an describes as “the mustad’afun fi’l-ard” i.e., those individuals and groups who, for no wilful reason of their own, find themselves socially and economically pushed to the edges of society in live in conditions of social, political and economic oppression.

2.3 We, progressive Muslims, affirm the value of diverse religious traditions and spiritual paths as ways of reaching the Transcendent and seek to make common cause with progressive tendencies within these traditions to work for a world wherein it is safe to be human.

2.4 The above notion of humankind and the preferential option of the marginalized commits us to finding an expression of Islam which places socio-economic, gender and environmental justice as its core.

2.5 While all of us have universal human rights elaborated – however inadequately - in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, each one of us also have responsibilities. These include our duties towards those individuals and communities who support and sustain us, and through whom we become persons, as well as to the earth, our only home and to all other living creatures that share this home with us.

3. Praxis as a Way to truth

3.1 We believe that Progressive Islam is an intrinsic part of our broader Islamic tradition, a part that is often subsumed by other tendencies that are alien to the spirit of early Islam. This broader tradition requires ongoing and critical re-thinking in the face of new insights into human nature, economic relationship and social structures in order that its progressive impulses can acquire a sharper focus rooted in Islam. Furthermore, we believe that we will find an ever-deepening appreciation of Islam and experience the presence of Allah in a combination of the following:

* Engaging and challenging all that which dehumanizes people, the family of Allah and reduce them to commodities and mere objects

* Careful Qur’anic reflection on that engagement and

* A commitment to spiritual practice for our own sustenance and the glory of Allah.

* Abstaining from all those practices which harms our spiritual lives and inflict wanton hurt on other sentient beings and threaten the future of the earth.

In other words, our struggle to experience a personally and socially meaningful Islam is rooted in praxis geared towards creating a more humane society as part of a sustainable eco-system in the service of the Transcendent.

3.2 We appreciate that as people committed to transforming our societies and communities, that we need to take due cognizance of where they are in terms of consciousness and awareness. This means that we shall at all times endeavour to address our communities with wisdom and in the ways that are the most suitable.

Progressive Islam Opposes

* The projection of an inevitable of Pax Americana and the unfettered march of globalization in the service of the market. While globalization has the potential to be harnessed for universal solidarity among the mustad’afun fi’l-ard, its use as the cornerstone of neo-colonialism and economic exploitation must be opposed to as part of the vision of a world socio-economic equality and justice

* The relentless promotion of corporate culture and consumerism which results in the exploitation of our natural environment, deforestation, the destruction of local communities and the eco-system and cruelty to animals.

* Racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of socio-economic injustices both within and outside of Muslim societies and communities. These injustices detract from the sacredness of all humankind imbued when Allah blew of his own spirit into the first created person.

* Intolerance and fascist tendencies which insist on and seeks to enforce a single and absolute appreciation of truth in all religious and cultural communities including Islam. While we have a special affinity with a particular expression of Islam which we identify as progressive, we acknowledge that others may have their own understanding of the Islamic tradition which differs from ours.

End text. Drafted by Farid Esack and modified with comments from Altaf Bhimji, Anna Ghonim and Javed Memon over a period of a couple of months in the summer and early fall of 2001.

4 comment(s):

  • I found this to be thoughtful and deeply moving. This is the progressivism, filled with spirituality and illuminated with dhikr, that I find so missing in some circles that use the label progressive Muslim. I am so glad that you began this website and I wish it much success.

    By Blogger blagdiblah, at 12/06/2004 06:30:00 PM  

  • I can definitely say that this also harmonizes greatly with my own world view, and delves much deeper into the specifics than on other items I have previously read.

    And GOOD on the God-centric. GOOD.

    By Blogger Leila M., at 12/07/2004 12:11:00 AM  

  • this is really lovely - I like how spiritually rooted the progressivism is - did that get watered down somewhat by the time it became the PMU?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/08/2004 05:45:00 PM  

  • It did not "become the PMU" - this statement was drafted by a different group of people. It is my fervent hope that PMU succeed in creating a progressive space for Muslims in North America, while other progressive efforts, such as the statement we drafted in October 2001, are working on parallel fronts towards, I hope, similar goals. You'll note that the drafters were trying to define their conception of "Progressive Islam", a different enterprise than defining "Progressive Muslims".

    By Blogger Anna in PDX, at 12/08/2004 10:04:00 PM  

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