Secularism

For a Reformed Islam

Salman Rushdie nails his nine theses to the door of the house of Islam in the Times today. They are well worth a read and set out in full below:

1. It may well be that reform will be born in the Muslim diaspora where contact (and friction) between communities is greatest, and then exported to the Muslim majority countries. It would not be the first time such a thing has happened. The idea of Pakistan was shaped in England, too. So were the history-changing characters of Mahatma Gandhi, Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the pro-British Indian Muslim leader Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

2. British Muslims, who are mainly of South Asian origin, should remember their own histories. In India, Muslims have always been secularists, knowing that India’s secular constitution is what protects them from the dictatorship of the (Hindu) majority. British Muslims should take a leaf out of their counterparts’ book and separate religion from politics.

3. Remembering history, part 2. Within living memory, Muslim cities such as Beirut and Tehran were cosmopolitan, tolerant, modern metropolises. That lost culture must be saved from the radicals, celebrated, and rebuilt.

4. The idea that all Muslims are kin to all others should be re-examined. The truth is that, as the bitter divisions between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias demonstrate, it is a fiction, and when it deludes young men such as the British 7/7 bombers into blowing up their own country in the name of an essentially fantastical idea of Islamic brotherhood (few British Muslims would find life in conservative Muslim countries tolerable), it is a dangerous fiction.

5. Pan-Islamism, part 2: the people most directly injured by radical Islam are other Muslims: Afghan Muslims by the Taleban, Iranian Muslims by the rule of the ayatollahs; in Iraq, most people killed by the insurgency are Muslims, too. Yet Muslim rhetoric concentrates on the crimes of “the West”. It may be that Muslims need to re-direct their rage against the people who are really oppressing and killing them.

6. In the 1970s and 1980s the politics of British peoples of South Asian origin were largely organised around secular groups, mostly run by activists of Left-Marxist persuasion. The Black/Asian unity of that period was broken, and then replaced, by the mosque-based, faith-determined radical Islam that grew in part out of the protests against The Satanic Verses. That ground needs to be reclaimed (not necessarily by Left-Marxists) by creating truly representative bodies. Then the increasingly discredited “leaders” of the Muslim Council of Britain can be relegated to the fringes where they belong.

7. Reformed Islam would reject conservative dogmatism and accept that, among other things, women are fully equal to men; that people of other religions, and of no religion, are not inferior to Muslims; that differences in sexual orientation are not to be condemned, but accepted as aspects of human nature; that anti-Semitism is not OK; and that the repression of free speech by the thin-skinned ideology of easily-taken “offence” must be replaced by genuine, robust, anything-goes debate in which there are no forbidden ideas or no-go areas.

8. Reformed Islam would encourage diaspora Muslims to emerge from their self-imposed ghettoes and stop worrying so much about locking up their daughters. It would emerge from the intellectual ghetto of literalism and subservience to mullahs and ulema, allowing open, historically based scholarship to emerge from the shadows to which the madrassas and seminaries have condemned it.

9. There must be an end to the defensive paranoia that led some Muslims to claim that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks and, more recently, that Muslims may not have been behind the 7/7 bombings either (a crackpot theory exploded, if one may use the verb, by the recent al-Jazeera video).

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