• Just after Sept. 11, about 70 young Muslims in New York City organized Muslims Against Terrorism. Its website reads: "In this defining moment, we are defining Islam." In its eight weeks of existence, the group has branched out to six cities around the country.
  • In St. Louis, Sheila Musaji became irate after Sept. 11--and went to work. In the late 1980s she edited a glossy magazine called The American Muslim that promoted reformist ideas. The magazine died in the mid-1990s, partly because the people involved felt beaten down by ultra-conservatives. Two weeks ago, Musaji tracked down some of her old colleagues and created a newsletter begging them to get back in the reformist saddle.
  • In San Francisco, an advocacy group of progressive Muslims called AMILA (Americans Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism), at the urging of Muslims nationwide, is putting together kits to help other progressives start AMILA chapters.
  • On the Beliefnet discussion boards, dozens of Muslims have weighed in on a debate called Defining an American Islam. "The U.S. is a lot more 'Islamic' in beliefs and ideologies than many of the so-called 'Muslim' countries," AbrarAlsayed wrote. "We have a democratic form of government, we have women's rights, we have the 'innocent until proven guilty' thing, we have freedom ofspeech and freedom to worship any way we choose."
  • These may seem like small steps, but they are dramatic nonetheless because they are so unprecedented. Liberals and moderates generally have shied away from confronting conservative Muslims--partly because they've felt intimidated by the conservatives' confident, steel-trap knowedge of the Qur'an, and partly because they haven't wanted to cause a rift among Muslims.

    Six Tenets of Reformist Islam
  • Gender equality
  • Mosque-state separation
  • Nonliteral Qur'anic interpretation
  • Interfaith dialogue
  • Embracing modernity
  • Emphasis on the artsRead more about the tenets.

  • How to Be a Progressive Muslim
    How Islam relates to our here and now.
    By Farid Esack

    Of course, not everyone in a huge faith like Islam thinks alike--even other relatively moderate American Muslims. Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the most high-profile of the American Islamic organization, is a case in point. Hooper says Islam doesn't need a "reform" movement--because it is "the original reform movement." Further, he says, he is suspicious of any movement that purports to get hold of "modernity."

    "Islam establishes basic principles, and the society is built around those basic principles," he says. "What's modern today is outmoded tomorrow. Are we to change our faith each day to conform to society? And what are the limits?

    "Often we hear from these quarters that we need to reform, but they're never able to establish the limit. Is wearing a bikini at the beach OK, as long as you have modesty in your heart?"

    Still, many liberal and moderate Muslims are willing to wade into a fight. They say they've stood on the sidelines for too long, watching as a rigidly conservative brand of Islam has taken root here. This strain of Islam--called Wahhabism--is dominant in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism enjoys enormous influence here because of Saudi Arabia's oil money and the fact that Mecca and Medina, the Muslim holy cities, are in Saudi Arabia. In the last decade, its influence has spread to the United States, as Saudi money has helped build mosques and schools.