Friday, October 30, 2009

Can Islam reform from within?

Madeline Brooks
Is a movement to reform Islam from within already here and some of us don't even know it?

On October 27, 2009, the well-known Muslim peace activist from Bangladesh, Shoaib Choudhury, arrived in New York City to give talks on the problem of jihad at several prestigious institutions in the area. Shoaib, as he likes to be called, has gained the respect of much of the world, especially among Jews, for his heroic efforts to stop the Muslim persecution of Jews and other religious minorities in Muslim countries. For this he was accused of sedition, imprisoned, and tortured, and his life has been threatened several times since. He still is at risk of being hanged by the state for his supposed crimes Relaxing on a rainy evening after a long flight from his native Bangladesh, Shoaib met with several counter-jihad activists in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to see how mutual support and alliances could be developed.

However, that plan was aborted by the truculent attitude of some of the activists.

They tore into Shoaib as a supporter of Islamic intolerance regarding other religions, as a wife-abuser who forces his spouse to veil herself, and even as a liar. None of this was grounded in reality, but the "activists" deemed Shoaib untrustworthy. Why? Because he would not join them in publicly bashing Mohammed and the text of the Qu'ran.

No, Shoaib has chosen not to do that. Instead, he spends his time and uses his journalistic skills to dig out buried information about al Qaeda's infiltration of his country's government and schools. He publishes his findings in his online journal and in his publishing house. One new piece of information, for example, is the discovery of wide-spread sexual abuse of children in the madrassas, resulting in an epidemic of venereal diseases among these unfortunate children.

Shoaib's goal is to expose evil to the light of day so that public outcry can bring about needed reforms. He attacks the broad central branches of self-serving and sadistic Islamic practices rather than taking an axe to what the American counter-jihadists consider to be the main problem: the trunk of the tree, or Islam itself.

Why does Shoaib do this? He reasons that if he were to criticize Islam per se, he would lose all credibility in the Muslim world. He would be seen as an outsider, an apostate, somebody to be automatically despised -- and his voice would be lost. Since he is a native of his country and has taken life-threatening risks in it, why should he change his strategy to reflect the approach of his armchair counter-jihadist critics?

Moreover, Shoaib is not the only one disdained in this way. Other Muslim reformers work more or less undercover to bring Islam out of its convulsive cruelty and into a calmer, more peace-loving practice. In addition, there are some Muslim sects, like the Ahmadiyya movement, that make a point of turning their backs on all violence. They have been around for over 100 years.

The handful of critics noted here are part of a larger problem. Many American counter-jihadists become rigid, even fundamentalist, in their thinking. They demand a kind of theological purity from those they would describe as "not enemies." In a way, this is understandable, since fellow Americans not in the counter-jihad movement have proven so dense about the core issues of jihad that frustration is bound to grow. Having the deceiving phrase "Islam is a religion of peace" bandaged over the national consciousness by presidents adds rage to the frustration.

However, it is my opinion that giving in to that rage and frustration will not help defeat jihad. Instead, we must be flexible and committed to finding effective ways to drive back the twin devils of obvious terrorism and stealth infiltration. If that means emphasizing concrete practices of infiltration rather than the abstract theory/theology of Islam, so be it. We may be better understood by our countrymen who have so far been somnolent.

In the interest of promoting a worldwide partnership of resistance to global jihad, it would help if we honored the work of freedom fighters in other cultural contexts without jumping to conclusions.

Madeline Brooks is the head of a counter-jihad group in New York City. She writes occasionally about jihad and domestic politics, sometimes under the pen name of Brenda West.

Page Printed from: at October 30, 2009 - 02:02:48 PM EDT

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