A secular Muslim society

Posted on May 28, 2006

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I just came across the website for the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society. Never has a name so neatly encapsulated a dearly held hope. Part of their mission is:

We believe that Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue.

Damn straight, and well expressed, although of course I do agree that “Islamic society” is held back a lot more by tyrannical governments shored up by the West. Nevertheless, I’m sure I, and they, will get a thousand unpleasant comments from Muslims in the West who benefit from these very practices in Western countries, and still more from people who want to clutch their chains closer. Of course, the goals above necessitate what can only be seen as an attack on Islam. But so what? Is God really going to be that insulted? Is it really going to scare Muslims off? And if so, does the umma really need people who are believers out of ignorance or compulsion? The truth stands up to the most rigorous test, especially as Islam professes to be logical and to involve no significant leaps of faith (unlike Christianity for example).

On a related issue, I was just reading some other site that reported on Egyptian Actress Hanan Turk’s first appearance with the veil, and there were many commentators. Regardless of what I think of the veil (and for the record I think the covering of the hair is at best a matter of interpretation), I resent the vast number of arguments along the lines of “You’re not a Muslim, so your opinion doesn’t count” or “I don’t agree with you, therefore you are not a Muslim”. One such quote: “Those who make fun of your hejab are ignorant or non-Muslim.” I myself have spoken with numerous people who have thought my opinion on matters Muslim was irrelevant since I am not Muslim, as if it were some sort of mental handicap. I have also had thrown at me, as conclusive proof of my incorrectness, the number of my Jewish acquaintances. OK, so Egyptians, and Arabs, don’t know what an argument actually is. But maybe, if there really was a free exchange of ideas and critical analysis, they’d be forced to find out how to form one.
And that’s definitely a good thing for all of us.

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