Muslim Refusenik
May 24, 2005 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Irshad Manji, self-described "Muslim Refusenik", urges moderation after the Newsweek-Quran scandal. Earlier this month, Manji launched a public campaign for Ijtihad ("independent thinking") with a claim for Islamic pluralism and "the aim of setting up a foundation for young, reform-minded Muslims to explore and challenge their faith."
posted by jenleigh (46 comments total)
the photo of irshad manji standing next to salman rushdie, author of the satanic verses upon whom the ayatollah khomeini issued a fatwah is probably not going to endear her to the muslim community.

islam needs to have its reformation, but as long as the jewish and x-tian crusaders are engaged in their own holy war against islam, it is hard to see how change is going to come from within.
posted by three blind mice at 8:23 AM on May 24, 2005

tbm - that is the same bullshit every murder on earth uses to justify what they do... the "ok, but you first" mentality.
posted by tkchrist at 8:31 AM on May 24, 2005

but as long as the jewish and x-tian crusaders are engaged in their own holy war against islam, it is hard to see how change is going to come from within

Oh? The "Jewish Crusaders" have been in the Middle East for less than 60 years. Bush's crusade has been going on for about 4 years. Exactly how did they prevent a reformation that should have happened hundreds of years ago?
posted by unreason at 8:32 AM on May 24, 2005

c'mon tkchrist, unreason... i'm hardly defending murder or islam.

i'm just saying that manji's rational attempts to change islam from within are not going anywhere with the united states and israel waging war against muslims. when the outside threat is large, internal dissent is usually stifled.

calm down already.
posted by three blind mice at 8:39 AM on May 24, 2005

oh and by the way it took 1500 years before christianity had its reformation, at that same pace it won't happen to islam for another 200 years.
posted by three blind mice at 8:42 AM on May 24, 2005

If she hasn't been at least threatened with a fatwah of her own, I'm one surprised MeFi'er. Not that I have any problem with what she's saying, but at the rate she's going, I kinda doubt she'll die of old age.
posted by alumshubby at 8:43 AM on May 24, 2005

israel waging war against muslims .... when the outside threat is large

Considering the Jewish population of Israel is maybe 6 million tops I don't think they pose that much threat to their surrounding 320 million neighbouring Muslim neighbours.
posted by PenDevil at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2005

Great link. Are there any Muslim Metfites who can weigh in on why a revival of Ijtihad might work or not?
posted by arse_hat at 9:04 AM on May 24, 2005

fwiw: I have three Muslim female friends in Germany I am trying to persuade to join MetaFilter, one of whom already denounced it as 'silly' after taking a glance ;) But I hope they will weigh in.
posted by jenleigh at 9:10 AM on May 24, 2005

"one of whom already denounced it as 'silly' after taking a glance" Well, we know she's bright!
posted by arse_hat at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2005

I kind of wonder where the Islamic press is on this. There was a lot of talk through those articles about western media according Manji peacemaker status but not much in the way of balance in terms of Islamic reaction. I fear a fatwa may be brewing. Thanks for the links jenleigh.
posted by peacay at 9:16 AM on May 24, 2005

Al Jazeerah:
The Newsweek’s story not only flared up the emotions of the Muslims, but also showed the geographical areas which represent the true Muslims. And those touched by this issue. However, there are writers like Irshad Manji, who will not understand how it feels to be a Muslim, in such a situation where the religion or the Holy Book is disrespected. In a recent article “Riots and rage won't salvage Islam's honour Newsweek erred, but that doesn't justify violent protests and mayhem, says Irshad Manji. What! Is she a Muslim uttering these words. Why not to protest? She further questions “Still, at least one more question needs to be asked: Even if the Qur'an was mistreated, are violent riots justified? What does she mean to say “Even if the Qur’an was Mistreated”. A Muslim respects Qur’an more than his life. Ms. Manji is probably affected more by the Non-Muslim Media and especially her brought up in a society where she was allowed to grow with her own view and ideas about Islam. For her, Qur’an may be merely a reading book, but for Muslims it is a Holy Book. And its desecration means something to them.

It is advised that she refrains from make such drastic comments on the Muslim’s Holy Book. May Allah guide Ms. Manji on the right path. So that she takes up the news of desecration of Holy Qur’an from the perspective of a Muslim, rather than a writer. The Western Media considering her as a Muslim, will bring her forward to create distortion about Qur’an. But it is upto the Muslims to make her realize the talent she has that can be used for glorifying Islam, rather than demonizing it.
posted by peacay at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2005

well that's good news jenleigh. (great post btw) from just a glance, they got a pretty good understanding about what mefi is all about. warn them not to mention the country that can do no wrong.

May Allah guide Ms. Manji on the right path.

and when allah doesn't, someone else will certainly take care of it for him.

muslims, christians, jews - they are all ready to do the work their own god doesn't seem interested/capable/bothered to do on his own.

hasn't it occured to any of these people that a great and powerful oz takes care of his own business?
posted by three blind mice at 9:26 AM on May 24, 2005

[offtopic] peacay, you linked to an opinion piece by a free-lance writer from the States. I'm not sure if that's quite 'Muslim press'. Also, is not affiliated with Al Jazeera the television network. If you attribute something to Al Jazeerah (spelt with an 'h'), most people will probably assume you are referring to the television network Al Jazeera, and not to some website that seems to be filled with plenty of poorly written one sided articles and opinion pieces.
posted by chunking express at 9:34 AM on May 24, 2005

but as long as the jewish and x-tian crusaders are engaged in their own holy war

You call this NOT defending Islam. Dude that sentence is SO loaded with hyperbole it might as well been written by the PR desk at Hezbollah.

I am personally anti-zionist, however, now that Israel does exist and is not going anywhere one cannot ignore the fact that the Arab states, as a matter of stated policy, were trying to destroy it from day one. It was Arabs that instigated two wars of aggression on Israel - not the other way around. It is Arabs that outnumber Jews 10 to one. To cry "crusader" is pure Jihadist propaganda.

I think you better re-phrase and re-think your statement.
posted by tkchrist at 9:36 AM on May 24, 2005

chunking express you're right. Although there's neither an attempt nor actual misrepresentation in the way I posted that, I didn't realize the full extent of its origin.
posted by peacay at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2005

tkchrist, read the WHOLE sentence (if you can) before you blow a gasket:

islam needs to have its reformation, but as long as the jewish and x-tian crusaders are engaged in their own holy war against islam, it is hard to see how change is going to come from within.

you call it self-defense by a weak little country that can do no wrong, i see it as naked aggression by a nuclear armed country that does a whole lotta wrong. we disagree. can we get back on topic now?

posted by three blind mice at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2005

If she hasn't been at least threatened with a fatwah of her own, I'm one surprised MeFi'er

She's Canadian. Nobody gives a fatwah about us.
posted by srboisvert at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2005

Muslim mefite here.

srboisvert is correct, nobody will give a fatwa on her head as quite frankly, she's viewed as more of a self-publicising twit than anything else (so to speak). Even the self proclaimed "progressive" muslims refuse to associate with her (PMUNA for example).

To be frank, she doesn't know what she's talking about in general, having looked through her book and heard her speak.

Funnily, she quotes the Satanic Verses in the LA Times editorial as an example of Qu'ranic unreliability. That shows a good deal of ignorance over the status of "historical" tomes such as that written by al Tabari and a complete disregard for the concept of sanad (basically, chain of transmission: historical reliability).

The riots in Afghanistan were not caused wholly by the treatment of the Qu'ran or even mainly caused by it. That's what the Afghans say, it's what the US government says.

Blah, I'm going to go for now, reading her crap makes my brain feel like its turning to mush.

I'll try and answer any mefites questions about ijithad or other concepts in Islamic law later if you like.
posted by Mossy at 11:35 AM on May 24, 2005

In other news:

Since the Newsweek story broke, many other cases of Koran desecration over the last two years have emerged. Apparently, in addition to putting the Koran in the toilet, guards have urinated on it, trampled on it, put it in a urine bucket, and allowed a dog to carry Islam's holiest book in its mouth. Harpers Index.


Camp Delta death chamber plan
posted by y2karl at 12:17 PM on May 24, 2005

Apparently, in addition to putting the Koran in the toilet, guards have urinated on it, trampled on it, put it in a urine bucket, and allowed a dog to carry Islam's holiest book in its mouth.

What is the source for that?
posted by dhoyt at 12:29 PM on May 24, 2005

I think this review sums up the reaction pretty well, especially:

"Muslims who are secure in their faith are not
threatened by The Trouble with Islam. It is mildly
annoying and downright irrelevant, for they are
confident of dealing with contemporary issues
within the timeless framework of the Qur’an.
A book like this does, however, affect Muslims’
daily lives, because it spreads so much false information
about the faith,which in the post-9/11 era,
heightens the polarization between civilizations.
Manji has become a poster child for commentators
such as Daniel Pipes and Margaret Wente,
who have great antipathy toward Islam. One need
only to browse online chat groups to encounter
Manji’s cheering section, which thinks Islam and
its followers should be relegated to the dustbin of
history (to put it mildly)."

To be honest, I don't know if she's got a fatwa - I imagine she's hoping for one so she can sell more books.

With reference to ijtihad, some quick comments.

As muslims, we have all our texts (Qu'ran, hadith (narrations of the Prophet (pbuh)) and other sources of evidence (historical accounts to put the above into context, scholarly commentary and so on).

When a scholar gets to a particular level of mastery over the dozens of Islamic sciences (quite a tough ask - some of the previous mujtahids knew hundreds of thousands of hadiths perfectly, along with full chains (ie who narrated it) and the reliability of each member of this chain), then one can do ijtihad on a topic.

This basically means you have a topic and you go. Hmm, this isn't something thats been agreed upon by all the scholars, I wonder what Islam says about it. Ijtihad is directly related to the the word jihad (struggle of some form or another, be it on the battlefield, or with ones self) - its an aim to discern what the Truth is, so to speak, of a given matter with relation to Islam. Once all the source evidences have been analysed and weighed according to the usul of the mujtahid (basically their axiomatic basis for normative rule extraction from the base sources, eg can a report narrated through one chain form an obligation upon muslims?), the results of their ijtihad comes out.

According to hadith narrations, the mujtahid recieves two rewards if he is right on this and one reward if he is wrong. Thats why we have a plurality of thought in so many areas in traditional Islamic jurisprudence (in the sunni tradition anyway, the shia concept of ijtihad differs as they consider their mujtahids masoom - ie incapable of error), something which Irshad Manji has ignored on a number of topics in her book.

The generally accepted status quo in (sunni) Islamic jurisprudence currently is that there is no more ijtihad in central matters of ibadat (worship) as all of the mujtahids of an age agreed on the major parts of this about a thousand years ago. For subsiduary matters (furu, branches) of ibadat, other tools are utilised such as qiyas (analogy, broadly speaking), which allow new matters to be analysed for legitimacy (can you pray on a plane? if so, in what direction?).

There are a great many other tools, from public interest (masalih al mursalah) to considerations of local custom (urf) to respond to new situations.

Matters of mu'amalat (civil matters) never had the gate of ijtihad closed so to speak, although contemporary scholars still predicate the majority of their positions on those of past mujtahids to be on the safe side as, to put it quite simply, they aren't as good as they were.

There is an existing level of participation in these exegete activities by qualified individuals, for example Dr Sherman Jackson, Sh Abdullah Bin Bayyah who specialises in fiqh al aqaliyyat (minority fiqh), Tareq Ramadan and so on.

Most "traditionalist" muslims have found that the plurality and flexibility of thought in their schools means that utilising existing ijtihad they are able to live their lives as muslims in the east or west without much problem. Most of the problems stem from either cultural/religious amalgamations (hi Pakistan) or a refusal to accept legitimate differences of opinion (adab an ikhtilaf) in ijtihad/scholarly positions as, say, the Saudi salafi scholars refuse to do.

To sum things up for those who haven't fallen asleep - ijtihad basically means trying to find out what "Islam" has to say about an undecided topic utilising a defined axiomatic basis (usul/madhab). This relies on you actually believing the Truth is Out There. So to speak.

Irshad Manji appears to view it differently, ie you have a preconcieved idea of what is "right" and then try to twist the evidences to support your preconcieved notions, something that is in clear evidence throughout her book with her literal and out-of context quoting of Qu'ran, hadith and the words of scholars.

She's basically advocating secular Islam.

There *are* massive problems and issues in the muslim world (1.2 billion people, you'd imagine there would be). These need to be addressed, as I stated previously in a thread about huddud and its misapplication.

Irshad Manji doesn't offer real suggestions about how to tackle these. It's easy to criticise after all. I'll see about constructing a mefi post with the perception of current muslim intellectuals about how to deal with some of the malaises in our society on an active and intellectual level as well as how this relates to our traditional understsandings of the world.

Of course, such scholarly understandings don't get publicised as well as books and comments like hers. Why would they?
posted by Mossy at 12:32 PM on May 24, 2005

Is it only the book:

Interesting article from the Khallej times. That website contains interviews of former detainees which you can take as you will.

The direct statement from the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (?) General Richard Myers that the violence wasn't connected to the Newsweek statements:

But its more fun to assume it was, isn't it?
posted by Mossy at 12:42 PM on May 24, 2005

Having dug through my bookmarks, I rediscovered another cogent response from a while back by Justin Podur on zmag:

This is a more wide ranging critique of her lack of objectivity and wilful misrepresentation of her source materials (sparse as they are).

It also illustrates again another reason she annoys most muslims - specious accusations and disparaging remarks against our communities. We have our flaws, but those highlighted in this article are crummy accusations.
posted by Mossy at 1:12 PM on May 24, 2005

Mossy, I thought around 1300 or 1400 AD Islamic scholars concluded they had analyzed everything that they needed to know about the Qu'ran, and ijtihad was greatly discouraged after that, so any further scholarly analysis of the text has been heavily dependent on one's ability to find previous, "approved" interpretations of it to back up one's reasoning. Or something. That's what I learned in a class on Islamic religion and pluralism, anyway. Is that not the case, or is it only specific to certain sects?
posted by schroedinger at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2005

Crap. If I had read your post more carefully, I would've realized you addressed this. It applies to Sunni, OK. Sorry!
posted by schroedinger at 1:19 PM on May 24, 2005

I look forward to seeing your post and thanks (again) Mossy. I had a funny feeling about the lack of Manij mentionings in Arabic press (well, those referenced by google; and apart from the Khallej times). Irrelevence will stifle wider reporting every time.
posted by peacay at 1:30 PM on May 24, 2005

The generally accepted status quo in (sunni) Islamic jurisprudence currently is that there is no more ijtihad in central matters of ibadat (worship) as all of the mujtahids of an age agreed on the major parts of this about a thousand years ago.

Well, I waded all the way through that turgid review you linked, Mossy, and though I haven't read Manji's book I do sort of know about it second-hand (I've read excerpts and reviews, and she and I have worked with some of the same editors), and so hopefully that "qualifies" me to ask: Aren't both you and Sheema Khan in that linked review arguing that only Muslim scholars (who are presumably already deeply devoted to the status quo of the faith) be listened to on matters of Islam? (Ms. Khan, for her part, points out that knowledge of classical Arabic is "an asset, if not essential" to even entering into a discussion of the religion's role in the world.)

And isn't that sort of Manji's point - that there's no existing forum in which moderate, somewhat secular Muslims like herself can discuss Islam's role in the world? Thus creating a kind of self-reinforcing feedback loop wherein only those with who've accepted the status quo are deemed legitimate interpreters of it? (Whereas contemporary Protestantism, for example, teems with examples of preachers and columnists and presidents of the United States who feel completely free to interpret their faith for themselves.)

I mean, even Ms. Khan's own review argues that Manji's got no right to talk about the dogmatism of contemporary Islam by citing a bunch of dogma she failed to take into account. (My favourite bit, incidentally, is where she points out, as an example of the tolerance embedded in comtemporary Islam, that the faith does not expressly "prohibit Muslims from being kind and generous to peoples of other religions, even if they are idolators and polytheists." Why, thanks, Sheema - as an lapsed-Catholic agnostic who sometimes practices a bit of Buddhism, it's good to know you're not prohibited from being nice to me. But what of my athiest friends?)

In short, isn't the conversation something like this?

Manji: The trouble with Islam is that only deeply indoctrinated scholars are permitted to discuss it.

You and Sheema Khan: Sorry, dear, you're not qualified to discuss Islam, which invalidates your point about Islam not being open to reform.
posted by gompa at 1:46 PM on May 24, 2005

It's ok. I think your usage of the word discouraged is pretty apt actually.

Ijtihad in ibadat is no longer considered possible/allowable in the sunni tradition (well, except until Imam Mahdi, but that's our end of time prophecy thing), as highlighted most notably by al Ghazali, as Hallaq talks about in his treatise on the gates of ijtihad being closed.

Ijtihad in mu'amalat *is* allowed, but discouraged - other tools are recommended for this (qiyas, istihsan etc). An analogy would be how Western law predicates treatment of the majority of new cases on the results of prior cases with reference to the laws. The majority of scholars today are considered muqallids, ie followers and so aren't technically qualified to perform ijtihad. So instead they reference past cases of ijithad and utilise analogy and reason to extend these.

Of course, to add to the confusion, there's a variety of different levels of mujtahids/types of ijtihad (something I don't believe Hallaq picked up on). I suppose to clarify, there are types of ijithad that are considered impossible now - basically formulation of a new usul/madhab and following an established usul/madhab at a primary level in the main parts, but deviating in the branches of the ijtihad of the formulator (furu). At least thats the Hanafi classification. The ijtihad that is considered permissable is that which utilises one of the four axiomatic bases delineated by the current madhabs as its framework, sticking to them on evidences considered clear and non-speculative (eg multiply narrated hadith/exegesis of non-figurative ayat (verses) of the Qu'ran).

To be honest, there's such a plurality of opinion amongst the four madhabs (schools of thought) that you have enough flex to live without too much fuss. There is a differential about how flexible the different madhabs are of course due to their differentials in basic axioms.

Example: the Hanafi madhab has a basic predicate of haram (impermissable) until proven halal (permissable) with respect to mu'amalat. That can make things tough here in the West.

The Maliki madhab on the other hands has the base predicate halal until proven haram with respect to mu'amalat. That makes things easier.

The Hanafi madhab is also stricter on utilising "minority" positions - ie those not the position of the majority of scholars in that group, although valid as a result of ijtihad by a qualified mujtahid (well, except Turkish Hanafis, they're pretty chill). The Maliki school is easier on rukhsa's (dispensations) and their utilisation.

With respect to other groups, the Shia (ithna ashari, the twelvers that is) actually (I believe) indicate that ijtihad is *required* by each generation given the occultation of their final imam. That's why it's incubent on each shia to do taqleed (following) of a given mujtahid/marja (shia school - basically an ayatollah), who is considered a representative of Imam Mahdi (their Imam Mahdi, ahem) if he is suitably qualified.

Erm, sorry for the length. My bad.
posted by Mossy at 1:48 PM on May 24, 2005

What is the source for that?

Again, from Harpers:

Since the Newsweek story broke, many other cases of Koran desecration over the last two years have emerged. Apparently, in addition to putting the Koran in the toilet, guards have urinated on it, trampled on it, put it in a urine bucket, and allowed a dog to carry Islam's holiest book in its mouth.[Financial Review][Washington Post]

In the print edition, Harpers footnotes every sentence in the Index, as they do online.

Now, of course, Harpers could be lying, and could the Australian Financial Review quoting the Los Angeles Times could be lying and so could the Washington Post. Hmm, $100 says none of them made this stuff up. Feeling lucky ?

Try clicking on View Source next time, Einstein...
posted by y2karl at 2:02 PM on May 24, 2005

gompa - I was referencing the common reaction to Irshad Manji and that sums things up pretty well imo from the perspective of traditional sunni muslims.

The issue with her is not her qualifications or lack thereof. Its the lack of even journalistic integrity that pervades her book, let alone scholarly integrity.

She does not give Islam "a fair shake".

You don't have to buy into religious dogma to do that, just provide perhaps all the evidence related to a point you're trying to make? Perhaps an opposing point of view or analysis of why one uncited source of evidence is stronger than the accepted version? It's not much to ask for.

To quote the article: "In spite of the shallowness of her research, Manji does raise valid questions regarding the treatment of women by Muslims, the lack of creative thought (or ijtihad) in the Muslim community and the lazy reliance on victimhood. She is hardly the first person to call for reform on these fronts. But her abrasive, insulting style—meant to provoke—will only repel those she is purportedly trying to influence. To paraphrase Phil
McGraw (for whom Manji expresses admiration), what gives this woman permission to use such abusive language? Even the Qur’an advised Prophet Muhammad not to be harsh, lest people be repelled from hearing his message."

If you're going to engage with the community on the basis of the source texts, you have to be honest in your analysis of them and actually use all the sources - there are lots and lots at your disposal! It'd also not be a good idea to accuse them of not having bothered reading them properly and that x is the proper interpretation (disregarding y).

If you're going to engage with the community on the basis of the social impact/progress of Islam, you again have to be honest about that before, say, implicating muslims in the holocaust or dismissing the plight of the Palestinians. The rampant accusations and demeaning comments to muslims in her book are quite startling.

It's a question of integrity as Sheema Khan actually highlighted, not whether or not she has scholarly credentials. If you're going to critique, critique properly - claiming muslims don't bother to engage with their texts and then not engaging with them in her own criticism of said texts doesn't add to her repute.

As stated, there are plenty of individuals who have called for reform and in a better and more reasoned way. They get less publicity as they're less controversial.

As for your question to Sheema: we can be nice to atheists too. Isn't that nice to know? ^_^
posted by Mossy at 2:15 PM on May 24, 2005

offtopic: there is a link button, Mossy. I know that cutting and pasting seems trivial, but I'd bet 200% more people would read those articles/info if you linked 'em. Just saying that "a href" is your friend! Nontheless, thanks a lot for the context. I even cut and pasted!
posted by mrgrimm at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2005

Hmmm.. Finally got around to reading that taipei times (??) article and her site..

It's strange. If I can recall correctly, Ms Manji is (was?) a twelver shia (like most shia, ie Iranians/Iraqis). If that was the case, then for her background, the gates of ijtihad were not closed at all and personal ijitihad remains encouraged for those who can actually read the texts (Arabic Qu'ran and English Qu'ran ain't the same at all - context).

Reading the bit about Project Ijtihad on her homepage, it makes the call a bit odd as she references the four current madhabs (with her interpretation of their history, of course) and then says the primary goal is to translate her book into Farsi so it can be distributed in Iran, where ijtihad is completely different.

Also odd is the comment by Khaleel Mohammed. I believe he was trained in a shia marja (as well as possibly under sunni scholars), but currently adopts an anti-traditionalist stance much the same as Irshad Manji's in many respects (eg hadith = crappy/influenced by imitation of Jewish laws, Arabs = evil, distorted Islam, zionism = yay, Palestinians have no right to that land at all (according to the Qu'ran I believe he said)). Seems a bit disingenuous to portray himself as maintaining a traditional bearded approach, with his eyes having been opened by this seminal work.

I notice she defers to him as muslim-refusenik's resident Imam by way of his qualifications to speak on the texts too. Odd.

mrgrimm: I linked the first piece, dry as it was ^_~

Is it just the book? article from al Khallej Times on both Irshad Manji's take on Qu'ran desecration and the Afghan situation.

The direct statement from the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (?) General Richard Myers that the violence wasn't connected to the Newsweek statements

Response to Irshad Manji's book from Justin Podur - mainly on a "be fair" level.

Sigh.. Back to work. I'll knock up a post in a week or two hopefully. Sorry about the rambling.
posted by Mossy at 4:05 PM on May 24, 2005

Mossy, thanks for a lot to read and think about.
posted by arse_hat at 4:48 PM on May 24, 2005

Don't be sorry--your posts are fantastic!
posted by schroedinger at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2005

Thank you for the compliment.

I have uploaded one of the seminal pieces on ijtihad from a Western Uni style perspective for anyone interested in reading from someone who actually knows what he talks about (as opposed to me!):

Interpretation in Islamic Law: The Theory of Ijtihad ~ Bernad Weiss

I agree broadly with the points he makes therein (warning: about 14 pages and 1mb). He talks about closing the gate of ijtihad on page 10 and the shia interpretation of ijtihad after that. Hope that helps.
posted by Mossy at 5:34 PM on May 24, 2005

Excellent response by Juan Cole on Jeff Jacoby's article on the violence as referenced in the Khaleej times piece linked above. Nite everyone.
posted by Mossy at 6:25 PM on May 24, 2005

Wunnerful. Who'd ever a-thunk it? A post consisting of multiple links to the views of a single person who feels....wait for it.... "Islam today has problems". From our resident unbiased religion-watcher. Surprise.

Speaking of a need for reform in religion, moderation, "independent thinking", book-burning, censorship of views, public campaigns, etc, related news, "the Koran needs to be flushed."

Simply wunnerful, I tell you. So many wacky faiths to choose from, but one should really focus most criticism and urge "reform" on those that most currently stand in the way of the West's, um, "interests." Makes sense. Self interest. And all. Intellectually honest. So very.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:59 PM on May 24, 2005

f_m I guess another way to look at it is that having the topic(s) raised invites somebody of the calibre of mossy to enter in and provide some explication. If there wasn't the need then perhaps we'd never hear from mossy. That would be a shame.
posted by peacay at 8:10 PM on May 24, 2005

what Mossy in his/her first post.

i live in Toronto, and met this woman years ago, and was completely unimpressed. and so i remain. somehow, she always managed to be in the right place at the right time with something pithy to say to the right people.

but talk about being an opportunistic intellectual lightweight. not to mention a lazy 'scholar' and a bad researcher. sometimes she reminds me of Ann Coulter (only with better manners, must be the Canadian influence), in that she often seems to talk rubbish just to hear herself speak, but doesn't really have much to say that is helpful or accurate.

i will give her some kudos though on knowing how to get a book published by a major publisher and then for getting it noticed. and for being a relentlessly successful, albeit endlessly tiresome, self-promoter.

still, every time i see her on tv, i just change the channel.
posted by TrinityB5 at 10:32 PM on May 24, 2005

Mossy, thanks so much for your thorough and erudite posts. Instead of grandstanding or slinging puerile insults at other faiths, you had faith of your own in fellow mefites' open-mindedness and ability to follow a rather complex explanation of a very rich topic.


P.S. Have you (or anyone else) checked out PMUNA (Progressive Muslim Union of North America), or Muslim Wakeup?
posted by ericbop at 6:12 AM on May 25, 2005

My fiance is tagentially involved in both the groups you mention, ericbop, and gawd knows I'm no expert on Islam but don't the writings, meetings and actions they carry out comprise the form of itjihad Manji is calling for? (They even had a female Imam conduct a service here in NYC a couple of months ago) I do know neither group has much time at all for Manji, maybe that's why she feels she needs her own think tank.
posted by dublinemma at 6:38 AM on May 25, 2005

I'm familiar with both groups and know a number of writers on muslimwakeup - the PMUNA were the "progressive" muslims I referenced earlier.

The quality on muslimwakeup has been steadily declining even prior to the formation of the PMUNA, over which there were deep divisions amongst the progressive muslim community due to things like the makeup of the executive board, which contained some.. unsavoury members - it was elucidating to see some of the arguments in favour of including the Muslims for Bush group while castigating Irshad Manji for her excesses.

Unfortunately, the group appears to be suffering from a common malaise - that it immediately discounts the points of individuals not in line with their agenda.

We can take the example of the female Imam as an example for analysis of the current state of affairs and in particular new ijtihad.

Now, the standard position of traditional (sunni) Islam is that matters of worship (ibadat) are impermissable unless proven permissable (in contrast with mu'amalat as mentioned above, which has a number of variant approaches).

Fair enough, that's one approach to things.

The approach of traditional Islam is also to use the narrations of the words of the Prophet (pbuh) as a source of law, subject to certain conditions. For example, in the Hanafi methodology, if a narration came down and one of the individuals in the chain acted contrary to it, the narration is discarded as a foundation for normative law. In the Maliki methodology, if a narration with few chains went contrary to the practice of the people and scholars of Medina (amal), where the Prophet (pbuh) ended his days, then it was also disregarded - this for example is why you see Malikis pray with their hands down by their sides instead of crossed on their navel/chest. This holds for narrations with few chains, those that have, say 100 chains are considered on a similar level to the Qu'ran (as they have a similar transmission method).

Now, using the principle of haram unless proven halal and narrations from hadith, the traditional Islamic take on things is that females cannot lead prayer of a mixed congregation, although she can lead other females in prayer.

There are now two options if you want to do "new ijtihad" on this topic:

1) You utilise an existing framework/methodology such as one of the four schools and provide a proof based on these axioms

2) You propose a new usul (axiomatic basis) and utilise this to derive rulings.

One extreme example of an usul that some members of the Progressive movement follow (knowingly or unknowingly) is to do tawil (figurative interpretation) of the Qu'ran only and disregard hadith as, for example, being influenced by Arab culture and patriarchal interpretations of society and to use a base permissable until proven impermissable.

This methodology would clearly make most things permissable and is one way of looking at things. Basically, pray as you want to pray, as many times as you like to pray etc.

This isn't the methodology employed by the PMUNA in their call for females to lead prayer. In fact, it is confusing what methodology they have employed at all as they utilise hadith to support their arguments and then dismiss their usage (I'm basing this on the comments of Omid Safi on the main PMUNA site and the argument postulated by Nevin Reda and endorsed by MWU and the PMUNA).

The case they put forward was analysed by a number of groups and individuals and analysed on its merits by some and summarily dismissed by others (as one would expect).

However, there has been no analytical response forthcoming to any of these critiques.

For example, here is one by Hina Azam of the Nevin Reda piece, where she analyses on the basis:

"Because the arguments in favor of women leading jumu'ah, and mixed congregations generally, is being made using traditional sources and methodology, let me explain why I think their argument is flawed. "

And summarises:

"In general, the arguments that are given in support of the upcoming female-led jumu'ah, in combination with the extent of the modifications being made to traditional laws of salat, reflect an ends-justify-the-means approach. It appears that it has already been decided that it is permissible for women to lead a mixed congregation in jumu'ah. Any textual or rational indicants that these rulings might be invalid are conveniently rejected. At the same time, texts that are seen as supporting the pre-determined ruling are championed in a way that is highly selective and methodologically inconsistent. "

Also saying:

"My recommendation is that we study and critique the tradition, and work on developing a legal interpretive methodology that leads to more equitable rulings, yes. But I would also recommend a much greater dose of caution and of humility, in light of the gravity of the task. I would seek to remind us all that our first priority is to seek the good pleasure of Allah, whose guidance for humanity may not always be scrutable."

The counter "argument" to this piece was by PMUNA board member Hussein Ibish, as can be found here, which refuses to engage on a remotely objective level and is basically a flowery bunch of rhetoric (in my opinion and that of many others).

There's two components to a ruling - hukm and illah. Hukm is the extracted and hopefully objective ruling according to a given methodology. Illah is the attempt at observing the wisdom of said rule according to our own perceptions (hey, if God came up with it, he's probably cleverer than us).

Normally it goes that you derive the hukm, then you figure out the illah. The problem many people have with instances like this is that they're ostensibly using traditional methodologies, but trying to fiddle them to fit their own preconcieved notions - thus jurisprudence becomes not a search for Truth in the texts, but rather an attempt to bend the texts to one's own will.

The comments by Hina Azam regarding the need to develop an interpretive methodology that leads to more equitable rulings is not one that the traditionalists will readily accept, as they consider their current methodologies and hermeunetic analyses of the base texts to be sufficient - as I stated above, the gates of ijtihad are considered closed with respect to formulation of new source derivation methodologies.

However, this doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. This has been the call of erudite individuals such as Fazlur Rahman, Mohammad Abduh and others, although they did not themselves develop a coherent system of legal hermeunetics as its rather harder than it may seem at first..

The main thing from a muslim perspective is to be careful. Sure, they may be problems, but there's probably some merit in what we have already. Somewhere.

Erm, ok, this has got long again so there isn't really time to address the social impact of the PMUNA/MWU organisation and the reaction to the Amina Wadud prayer (I know several people who were there and several people who've made official statements against it).

I will end this with some links for those who scrolled to the bottom (links = good?).

Living tradition blog - pretty much traditionalist takes on the progressive movement and analyses of their arguments (generally none too positive).


Analysis of the current status of the PMUNA/MWU by PMUNA board member Dr. Muqtedar Khan, on the interestingly named site, ahem. The attacks on him for holding off commenting on the prayer story were quite shocking and reminiscent of why Farid Esack declined to join.
posted by Mossy at 7:55 AM on May 25, 2005

In the interests of some balancing (I'll admit I'm clearly biased against both organisations for a number of reasons), I would recommend the following article to see things from their perspective, one of the few decent ones recently:

This echoes themes in Omid Safi's book on Progressive Islam, which was quite an interesting series of essays, although some of them did make me go: eh? (such as scott kugle's essay with its wonderful whirling tawil).
posted by Mossy at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2005

f&m, are we not allowed to post anything but glowing encomiums about Islam? I'm respectful of the religion myself, but there are clearly problems with how it is often interpreted and used, and Irshad Manji, however self-centered and shallow her approach may be, is trying to address them. Should we not talk about such things, even if it means depriving ourselves of Mossy's insights? Or is it just jenleigh who's not allowed to post, because she is offensive in thy sight?

And thank, Mossy -- your comments are great!
posted by languagehat at 2:10 PM on May 25, 2005

Mossy writes "(links = good?)."

Heh...arguably a most insightful commentary on the notion of informed reasoning that envelops this site (and to which I contribute -- erroneously at times, as with the link I posited in this thread) but which nevertheless drives me quite barmy on occasion. A link is currency for an argument score point.
posted by peacay at 2:31 PM on May 25, 2005

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