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

    What Muslim leaders must do, Esack says, is replace both those responses with a new line of thinking that helps Muslims coexist peacefully with others--without conversion tactics or violence. "Muslims in general cannot live with people of another religion in a state of what I call 'coolness,'" Esack says.

    That is because, he says, right now they have only two models for understanding their place in the world. The first is that of the oppressed--as Muslims were in their early days in Mecca. The second is that of rulers--the way Muslims eventually lived in Medina.

    Esack says, however, that embedded in the Qur'an is a story about a group of Muslims who lived in Abyssinia, a Christian kingdom. There they lived peacefully--neither trying to convert Christians, nor being proselytized by Christians.

    "That's the way for Muslims to go," says Esack.

    But the shape of an alternative movement is not yet clear, either. Among the moderate voices is that of Ingrid Mattson. She is the first woman to hold a position on the board of ISNA, the oldest and largest of the official--and generally quite conservative--Muslim organizations in the United States. She believes Muslim countries shouldn't enforce Muslim religious law on their citizens.

    At the same time, Mattson wears a head covering and considers her faith the "primal religion" and the "right way." What's more, she likes the spare, simple Wahhabi theology--and she is not sure Islam even needs a "reformation," since Wahhabism, which emerged in the 18th century, is considered a reform movement.

    And Mattson understands why Muslims have shied away from theological brawls in the United States.

    "There's been this feeling for so long that Muslims have been under siege from external threats so there's been no time or energy left for internal examination," Mattson says. "But also there is this feeling that if we're criticizing our own structures we'll give more ammunition to those people who are attacking our community from the outside."

    It's a tricky balance, says Amir Hussain, a religion professor at California State University-Northridge. He is quite critical, for instance, of some aspects of U.S. foreign policy (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sanctions against Iraq, and now the continued bombing in Afghanistan), but he is also unabashedly pro-Western. "There's no question we're Americans, and as Americans, we may well dissent with our country's internal policies," he says.


    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

    But that's a distinction lost on some of the newer arrivals in the United States, Hussain says. One of his targets for "reform" is foreign-born Muslim students. He is trying to become more involved in Muslim Student Association groups to give foreign exchange students, and the children of recent immigrants, a sense of Islam's diversity--and also to let them see that Muslims in this country love both their faith and their nation.

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