SOMETIME AGO, I read a column in a major media outlet by a Muslim professor of political science in the United States who was hailed as a ‘progressive’ Muslim.

He had stopped going to the local masjid, he proudly explained, because his masjid was unfriendly to women, in the sense that the women’s entrance was from behind the building, while the one for men was the main one at the front. There may have been other subsidiary reasons, but our professor’s determined and even proud reaction was to pull away from the masjid, confirming his position to a group of family and friends who apparently congratulated him for his heroic way of protest.

Another progressive Muslim proudly relates in a Muslim magazine how after hearing that the Taliban had forced men in their regime to grow beards, he shaved off his own beard in protest.

Yet another one, when asked to educate others about the beauty and truth of Islam, expressed reluctance and resentment that “People already know how ‘beautiful’ Islam is! They know better than us. Why don’t you talk about terrorism and women’s rights in Islam?”

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In other words, not enough Muslims are airing their ‘dirty laundry’—the instances of terrorism, oppression of women, mutual infighting of Muslims, and other such things which non-Muslims are interested in hearing about. Dawah, in other words, is becoming an embarrassing word, and an even more embarrassing act. Muslims, especially those passively absorbing the facts and interpretations being fed to them by the media and by the apologetic Muslim leaders, are increasingly unsure of the beauty and power of their faith and have become reluctant to share it with others.

A fourth example that comes to mind is that of a self-avowed progressive Muslim scholar, who censures the Muslim community about anything and everything from their habits of applause (shouting Allâhu Akbar instead of clapping like the rest of the ‘civilized people’), to their treatment of women, to their response (or lack of strong enough response) after the onslaught of 9-11. In an interview with a strongly pro-Zionist magazine, he comments that his call for liberalism and reform within Islam is unappreciated, to the point that some reformed Jewish communities are more likely to appreciate and listen to him than the hopeless and regressive Muslim community in America!

The above are some real life examples of Muslims in the modern world today.

Islamic Behavior

Such anecdotes are innumerable and are increasing every day. What feelings do they arouse in you? Wonder? Despise? Anger? Approval? Grief? Or none? Is there something wrong with this kind of behavior that is becoming more and more common and fashionable every day?

(1) Let us look at the first example. Being part of the Muslim community is part of faith, and so is being patient at their shortcomings and enduring other Muslims’ failings while working to improve them. No one is perfect, and this is especially true of our Muslim community that is going through tremendous cultural, spiritual, and intellectual challenges and often failing to meet them.

In this story, there are several major failings, not one. Those who abandon a Muslim community and the masjid because of one pet-peeve sort of issue, those who fail to provide reasonable accommodation for Muslim women at the masjid, at times when our sisters have little else to go to, and those who fail to offer reasonable advice to such reactionary Muslims, are all responsible for this serious mishap.

As a result, one more Muslim community has been split up. More Muslim kids are going to grow up with the tales of petty infighting and lack of meaningful dialog. Our Muslim brother here is setting a terrible example that betrays self-righteousness, lack of tolerance and understanding towards other Muslims. To top it off, he is writing about this in national media as if to demean the masjid-going Muslims and relish his own superiority, seeking sighs of sympathy and nods of approval from non-Muslims readers who are already totally convinced of how Muslims need to be liberated from Islam and liberalized according to their norms.

(2) In the second example, one responsible, grown up, well-respected Muslim, editor of a famous Muslim magazine, flaunts shaving off his beard in response to how some other misguided Muslims prevented others from shaving off their beards. Keeping beard is a personal business, an act of personal piety, which should not be forced, nor used, as a political or publicity weapon.

Our editor who thought of his beard as a means of showing solidarity against the Taliban was no less mistaken than the Taliban themselves whose narrow understanding of religion and politics led them to enforce such things. Muslim women wear hijab in order to fulfill Allah’s direct commandment, and part of its benefit is that thus they consolidate their identity and distinction. Men grew beards for similar reasons.

Our beloved Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to grow beards and shorten the moustache, and the majority of the four major Muslim schools of jurisprudence conclude that the beard is an obligation for Muslim men. We would not abandon Islam if some fanatics in some part of the world coerce others to become Muslims. We don’t abandon hijab just because some cultures coerce their members to wear hijab while ignoring its spirit. We do it for Allah, and Allah alone.

In both cases, we observe strong reactions by Muslims to other Muslims’ actions that were admittedly incorrect or problematic. The knee-jerk reaction of these ‘liberated’ and progressive Muslims, unfortunately, was not sympathy, understanding, advice, correction, or tolerance, but rather strong, equally fanatic rejection followed by self-righteous publicity of their actions, especially among non-Muslims.

(3)  The third example depicts the widespread apologetic, defensive and almost ashamed-of-being-a-Muslim mood in America.

(4)  In the fourth example, our ‘Islamic scholar’ is perturbed by Muslims’ narrow-mindedness in everything, from not clapping to wearing hijab.

How on earth can such people encourage others to learn about and embrace Islam, when they themselves seem to be regretting it? The truth is, that many are unsure of their faith. This uncertainty in faith is the greatest problem Muslims of the world face today, or ever. Those of us growing up in Western non-Muslim societies are naturally the biggest victims of this uncertainty, though the Westernized elite in the Muslim world is perhaps no better.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the other end of the spectrum in the Muslim community, which is equally harmful. The truth is that those who fail to understand the essence of faith and fanatically hold on to the appearances or cultural hang-ups, who exclude Muslim women from positive contribution and participation, who force appearances of piety rather than inculcating the beauty of inner faith and leading by example, who refuse to adapt and accommodate even in ways quite permissible in Islam, and who reject others’ legitimate opinions, all of these are equally responsible for disintegrating Muslim unity and subverting the cause of Islam.

Sticking to Our Middle Path

A couple of decades ago, the learned Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi wrote an excellent and timely treatise by the English title, Islamic Reawakening between Rejection and Extremism (2007, International Institute of Islamic Thought).

The lessons from the books are still valid in many ways, though much has evolved since. Rather than outright secular rejectionism by the Westernized elite of that time, today we see growing numbers of Muslims, especially the Westernized intellectuals and youth, who espouse the name and slogans of Islam but fight in the name of Western ideals of humanism, democracy and secularism. Much of the Muslim community still remains conservative and immovable either way.

The enemies of Allah’s path are active and powerful, luring and killing our youth one by one with the poisons of doubts and desires, slowly but surely. In this wilderness, where are the voices of faith and reason? Let us seek them out, listen to them, and strengthen them.


Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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