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Canada's a centre for Islamic reform - Opinions - Canada's a centre for Islamic reform

The Hamilton Spectator

(Jun 26, 2008)

We Muslims view all aspects of life -- economics, politics, family and universal realities -- through religious lenses. But we are living in a world where not many nations are judging everything by religious standards any more.

In this situation, it seems much of the world expects us to shed our religious beliefs in order to share common human aspirations and developments.

When we don't come up to the required standard of compatibility, our fellow citizens ask for reforms and reformers within the Muslim community who can help us to become compatible with rest of society.

Muslims have been striving for their own reforms through the ages. During the ninth and 10th centuries, Mutazalites, known as followers of rationality in Islam, encouraged reasoning and questioning within the theological orbits.

In modern times, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, brought a modern secular structure to Muslim Turkey in the 1920s. One may disagree with some of Ataturk's actions, but good leaders are remembered for their overall reforming abilities, despite their blunders. Ataturk's name surely stands for that.

More recently, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, a liberal Sudanese reformer and a voice of liberated Islam, was executed in a Khartoum prison in 1985 for committing apostasy.

Today, in a time when Islamic reforms are needed, we don't find any notable momentum across Muslim nations.

But in Canada, interestingly, we can find some streaks of Islamic reform.

Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam Today, claims to be on the front line of Muslim reform through her two ventures, Project Ijtihad and the Moral Courage Project.

Ijtihad is a widely used term in talking about reforming Islam. It means an intellectual effort by Muslim jurists to reach independent religio-legal decisions.

The Muslim Canadian Congress is another strong voice to challenging Islamists in Canada and around the globe. This network of progressive Muslims, along with Homa Arjomand's International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada, was the real resistance on the ground to the potential imposition of Islamic sharia law in Ontario.

Asra Nomani, a well-known U.S. Muslim author, was an organizer of unprecedented Islamic prayer led by a woman, Amina Wadud, in the United States in 2005. Later on, the Muslim Canadian Congress organized woman-led prayer by Toronto Islamic scholar Raheel Raza. But these few happenings haven't led to regular prayers led by women.

There is another dilemma for Islamic reform, in which, as in any movement, you can find divisions.

Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, at one point said Irshad Manji's book, The Trouble With Islam Today, was not addressed to Muslims but, he wrote, "aimed at making Muslim-haters feel secure in their thinking."

Today, Fatah says he regrets that.

"Looking back to the time I slammed Irshad Manji's book, I now realize I was unfair to her. There were many redeeming points in her memoir, which I overlooked in my rush to judge it.

"For example, she was right in identifying systemic racism in the Muslim world as one of the cancers impeding a Muslim renaissance. I was wrong in overlooking that fact. Having said that, her allegation that I am anti-Jewish was amusing, considering the fact that some Islamist bloggers charge me with being a Zionist."

Sonia Ahmed, the founder of Miss Pakistan Canada Beauty Pageant, is shaking Islamists by holding beauty contests and sending beauty queens to all world beauty pageants.

I am trying to initiate a movement of reformed Islam called the New Islam Movement, which aims to set up modern Islamic centres where gender segregation could be denounced and where modern arts and open debates could be carried on. My fellows and I strongly feel that reformation of Islam can be launched better "on the ground" than through lectures and Internet blogs.

In short, Canada seems the future base for reformation of Islam.

Tahir Aslam Gora is a Pakistani-Canadian writer living in Burlington.


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