By Hizer Mir
There seems to be a disturbing trend amongst the Muslim diaspora (especially those in the second/third generation of Muslims) in Britain and America to loudly proclaim that reform will only happen in the West because the East is full of “regressive religion and authoritarianism”.
This may be the case and, by saying what I say in the following paragraphs, I in no way mean to lessen the excellent work done by those in the West. However, it must be recognised that where work has been done in the West it usually has, as its intellectual forebear, a man (unfortunately women are grossly underrepresented in all fields of Islamic study whether in East or West) from the East. To completely disregard the East as a space which can never provide any meaningful intellectual contribution stinks of the sort of orientalism that Edward Said so successfully dismissed.
Common amongst Western reformist thinkers is the notion of the maqasid, the five objectives of Islamic law which are life, faith, intellect, family and property. Key to this development have been Eastern thinkers such as Jasser Auda and Hashim Kamali, both of whom work at Eastern universities. To dismiss these thinkers simply because of the accident of birth would be the greatest mistake the modern Muslim diaspora has committed. Indeed, in the article mentioned above, there seems to be a complete whitewash of the existence and ideas of recent thinkers and contemporary thinkers such as Heba Ezzat, Nasr Abu Zayd, Fouad Zakariyya, Farag Foda, Hassan Hanafi, Muhammad Shahrur, Abdolkarim Soroush, Nurcholish Majdid, Rashid Ghannouchi etc. These people exist(ed) and they are (were) working towards Islamic reform in their own countries as well as in the wider Islamic Ummah.
Also, in the article cited above, it is claimed that, in the East: “Communities that don’t align with the ideology of the ruling power live in inhumane and oppressive conditions.” I think we can safely say that the history of the West is full of instance where communities who disagreed with its “universal values” lived in very inhumane and oppressive conditions. Does this mean we dismiss the ideas of Rousseau, Voltaire and John Stuart Mill? Indeed, one only needs to travel to contemporary Ferguson, USA to see for themselves what inhumanity and oppression look like. The article written in the Wall Street Journal relies on a tired old bifurcation of “West and the Rest” in which the West is distinguished by its freedom and democracy and the East by its despotism and “unenlightened” thinking. We as Muslims, both in West and East need to move away from this colonial type of thinking.
In addition to contemporary thinkers, Muslims in the West should also not blind themselves to the great thinkers and works of the recent past such as Jamal Ad-Din Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and Qasim Amin to name but a few. Most of the issues mentioned by the authors of the article cited above were addressed by these three thinkers (most notably women’s liberation s discussed in Qasim Amin’s works). To ignore these simply because the authors were living under authoritarian rule (be it Eastern despotism or Western imperialism) is, in my view, a grave mistake.
By saying what I am saying, I am in no way endorsing the despicable autocratic regimes which currently hold sway over much of the Middle East. I believe they are the main blight which affects the Islamic Ummah and should be removed as soon as possible. However, their existence should not blind us to all the good that is taking place under the surface. If we take these dictators as representative of their entire populations we are inadvertently giving them the legitimacy which they do not deserve. By all means, let Islamic reform take place in the West but let us not do this whilst disparaging the East. Look to the East! It may surprise you.
Read more of Hizer Mir’s articles on his blog: http://islamandcurrentaffairs.wordpress.com
 Salam Al-Marayati and Maher Hathout, Let Islamic Reform Start in America, Wall Street Journal, 30/10/14, Available on: http://online.wsj.com/articles/salam-al-marayati-and-maher-hathout-let-islamic-reform-start-in-america-1414713552
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