On Being a Muslim

A South African activist talks about how to be a progressive Muslim in today's world.

BY: Farid Esack

 

Excerpted with permission from "On Being a Muslim," courtesy of Oneworld Publications

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There is an exciting and challenging wind of relevance blowing through the world of Islam. Numerous Muslims, especially among the young, are keen to know how Islam relates to our here and now.


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Many responses have been forthcoming as a part of this wind of relevance: these are often vague, repetitive, superficial and, at times, even alarming. Some of these responses are alarming not only to those who desire to be unfettered in their march to entrench their control over the global economy, but also to many Muslims who value social justice and personal freedom. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah), of the latter breed there is a growing band.

The more strident, angry and fanatical displays of this revival receive a great deal of attention. This should not, however, detract from the genuineness of the "new Muslim." This Muslim is new in the sense that she is adamant that a stagnant and fossilized Islam confined to a set of rituals that are mere motions must make way for a personally meaningful and socially relevant Islam. Those of us who are deeply committed to a human and compassionate expression of our faith cannot allow ourselves to be swamped by the noise of religious obscurantism and the equally destructive caricaturing in some sections of the media of the whole of Islam as a threat to civilized values.

Much of the emphasis on contemporary works on Islam by committed Muslims has hitherto been on the more obviously ideological aspects of Islam. These works usually cater to those who simply see Islam as an alternative to the universal colonization of consciousness through a process of relentless McDonaldization, the accompanying destruction of local cultures and economic exploitation.

Two other factors have contributed to the sharp, rather angry and often dehumanizing image of Islam. These are the suffering endured by Muslims in several parts of the world such as in Palestine, Chechnya, the Balkans, and Kashmir, and a simplistic recourse to our religious heritage as both our safe haven and the mother of all weapons.

I believe there is a path between dehumanizing fundamentalism and fossilized traditionalism.

This is a path of a radical Islam committed to social justice, to individual liberty and the quest for the Transcendent who is beyond all institutional religious and dogmatic construction; an Islam that challenges us to examine our faith in personally and socially relevant terms. This Islam, I believe, provides a set of personal responses in an increasingly materialistic society where most people are living, and very many dying, lives of quiet desperation with a frightening sense of alienation from themselves, others and Allah. Muslims

can

make an effective contribution alongside those of other religious convictions the creation of a world wherein it is safe to be human.

Continued on page 2: »

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