Will young reformers of Islam please stand up?
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By Tania Rashid
I recently completed a short documentary about Islamophobia in America’s heartland, Texas. I got to know members of a gun-toting anti-Muslim group called the Bureau on American-Islamic Relations, or B.A.I.R.
I recall standing in the middle of them preparing for an “Arab rising.” Each practice shot they let out had me thinking that I could be an apparent target. One of them yelled “don’t mess with white people,” and proceeded to show me how he would complete a mass killing if he saw a group of Muslims.
I thought of my father, the most secular Muslim I know, who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and interrogated for hours before a flight to Arizona. Could these men shoot me or other innocent people in my family?
But as much as I was repulsed by the group and their violent response to Muslims, it made me wonder: Were they all that wrong to feel so scared?
Though I was raised in the Muslim faith, certain factors drew me away from it and attracted me to Buddhism. I do not disregard Islam’s role in my life — so I like to call myself a secular humanistic Muslim. I’m piggy backing from the concept of secular humanistic Judaism, a movement that offers a alternative perspective to contemporary Jewish life.
To me it means I am culturally and traditionally connected to Islam but my faith is more pluralistic — this is unheard of and would probably make myself an apostate in the eyes of many Muslim. The closest place I can parallel my faith is with the concept of Itjihad, which looks at Islam through the lens of independent reasoning. One of the leaders of the movement, Irshad Manji, says it is our duty as Muslims to take a reformist approach.
While living in Bangladesh — I went to mosques where Imams said it was a woman’s fault for getting raped. I had to walk into a madrassa run by Hefajat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist group in Dhaka, in a burqa to be treated with reverence and respect. It almost felt as if a woman’s oppression and hiding empowered these men.
But it’s not only in the developing world. I’ve had some bad experiences with Muslims in America too. Madrassa teachers in Utah used to beat me with a stick until I became right handed, and wouldn’t allow me to ask questions. During prayer, I had to sit with my mom in the back room of a mosque with my head covered. To this day I can’t walk into a mosque without the fear of being mistreated or being told to cover up more.
There are 1.5 billion muslims in the world. According to the Pew Institute, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and will surpass Christianity within this century. And there are a percentage of Muslims that are radicals using Islam to justify horrific acts of violence.
Muslims need to acknowledge this is happening. Pro-ISIS mindsets are what caused the mass shooting in San Bernardino where two Muslim terrorists killed at least 14 people. The radical perspective has also been pushing a growing number of Muslims from the West to join ISIS.
It is the duty of young Muslims to be well versed enough so we can educate, and rewrite the script for why this is happening instead of denying it in the first place. Staying quiet is just as deadly.
Some Muslims claim to be liberal but continue to sit as bystanders as the deadly violence continues. Instead of seeking guidance from clerics we need to seek guidance for ourselves. Reinterpretations require great courage at a time when Muslims’ worlds are so polarized.
I proposed these problems with Islam to a group of youth in my film. Omar Siddiqui, a student I interviewed, agreed that Muslim youth need to start taking matters into their own hands. He said people are willing to do anything in the name of Islam, especially Muslims.
“There are people in the U.S. that side with ISIS, that work with them and are planning attacks here in the U.S. As a Muslim community, we need to look out for that, even with the Muslim youth,” Siddiqui said. “We as a community need to keep our eyes open, and if we see anything, do something about it.”
In a debate with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera, Manji once said “ I will equip a new generation of Muslims with the self-confidence to recognize that they are allowed to think for themselves.”
I want to be part of this generation.