Lately there has been an immense, almost unprecedented, surge of anti-Islam rhetoric across a multitude of media personalities. Be it with the so-called liberals or with the conservatives, the antagonism towards the Muslim community and Islam as a doctrine is at a height I do not recall ever having been witness to. I have never turned on the TV or logged onto my email and seen this many headlines in regards to the “Muslim extremists,” “Islamists,” or my personal favorite, “Militant Islam.” If you still think major news stations like CNN are doing their job correctly, just watch Don Lemon asking a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer if he supports ISIS right after the latter told him he does not. Everywhere I go I am reminded that this is a country that does not like my people, that has consistently used Arabs as a means of juxtaposing its supposed progressiveness and liberation against the “primitive” and the “oppressive” people of the Middle East (as if that’s all Islam is, a location on a map, a single culture, a homogeneous image free for construction at one’s own discretion).
When the Charlie Hebdo shootings happened, this gave the self titled “9/11 Liberals” yet another way to scapegoat against Islam, to claim that when there are “this many bad apples, there must be something wrong with the orchard.” As a progressive Muslim, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with any “orchard,” and nor do I believe that it is possible to reduce the infinitely multifaceted phenomenon that is Islam to an analogy as simple as an orchard-tree-apple dichotomy. There are no two Muslims on this entire planet who follow Islam exactly in the same manner. I have met Muslims from Egypt, America, Canada, Europe, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Algeria, and many other parts of the world, and never have I ever come across two people who hold the exact same interpretations on every aspect of the Qur’an or who physically practiced the religion in the same manner. Therefore watching these extremists from the sidelines and claiming that they can represent Islam in any way shape or form is like saying that the sky is a pale blue all the time, even in the night: it just doesn’t make sense. It is so illogical that I do not know how to explain this to people who some how do not see how facile this rhetoric against Islam is.
That said, we progressive Muslims are not immune to the criticisms we receive from members of our own community. There are obviously many issues that are not accepted in Islam, that are not seen as important or are seen as against the doctrine. I am speaking of course about what some believe to be the anti-feminist and the anti-LGBTQIA+ nature of the text. When these “liberals” consistently draw attention to the extremists, they think they are taking the progressive course of action by acknowledging the oppressive rhetoric these extremists are using to justify their violence. Ironically, in doing so, they give these extremists a greater platform, augmenting the voice they have on a global level, and most importantly to me as an American Muslim, they perpetuate Islamophobia. Something else they do that we don’t really talk about: there are Muslims, especially progressive Muslims like myself and many others, who are trying to build these safe spaces so these issues can be addressed in a productive manner. From a man who formed the first gay-friendly mosque in Paris to small zines directed towards queer Muslims, it’s a small but ultimately necessary and powerful movement and there are Muslims across the globe are partaking in it. Ironically, when these liberals consistently talk about what they see as the retrogressive nature of Islam, they perpetuate the idea that Islam is supposedly an irrevocably problematic doctrine when they could be allying with these progressive Muslims so as to bring an end to the problems seen within Muslim communities. They are perpetuating the problem simply by addressing it: when the only image non-Muslims see of Islam is that of an entity or a community whose beliefs are supposedly anachronistic with these modern times, they will not want to ally with us to move towards the very goal they want: that of freedom of expression, of identity (in all its forms), and of faith.
A great article a friend of mine found addresses the point I have consistently been trying to make in terms of Islam’s acceptance. Islam itself does not say that LGBTQIA+ people are to be persecuted, or that women who have premarital sex are to be punished. These are all laws and constructions built over time so profoundly that they have solidified themselves in a multitude of Islamic communities. In the same way that Christians eat shrimp even though Leviticus says don’t (I am aware that eating shrimp and gay rights are not issues of similar significance, but ultimately the point being made here is that there is a doctrine being violated on some level within other faiths as well), Muslims can and should reconstruct a community that allows for expressiveness in all its forms, even if aspects of the text may be considered inappropriate for our modern times. Islam at its core is a tolerant religion that has empowered me and that has made me the woman I am today. It is the social construction, the stuff that people say that turns it into what these liberals believe it is. And so when these liberals are actually doing, in using their liberality to address what they see as illiberal in Islam, is actually perpetuating the very problem they are trying to abolish. They cultivate the very image they are trying to destroy, thus making it even more difficult for progressive Muslims to push forth a movement that would address the very problems liberals–and many Muslims– are finding in Islamic communities.