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Theology Thursdays: Why We Are Launching A Progressive Muslim Union

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, is a time for spiritual rejuvenation and solidarity with the marginalized. At the close of Ramadan this year, we come together to launch a new organization, the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU).

The vast constituency of Muslims who are committed to progressive social stances have not yet developed sufficient platforms from which to advocate their views. All too often, they have found themselves spoken for and defined by others. PMU has been formed in recognition of the urgent need for greater and more coordinated articulation of the pluralistic and compassionate
sentiments of vast sections of the community.

PMU seeks to expand the range of spiritual, social, intellectual, and political choices for North American Muslims, and to challenge the narrow set of "normative" Muslim ideas and behavior expected of all of us both within and beyond the North American Muslim community.

We stand for the idea that to be a Muslim is not simply to follow an unquestioned corpus of laws, or to subscribe to a narrow reading of the faith, but rather is an act of self-identification with a great spiritual, philosophical and civilizational tradition. We embrace the simple proposition that you are a Muslim if you say you are a Muslim -- for whatever reason or set of reasons -- and that no one is entitled to question or undermine this identity.

We embrace the vast diversity of expressions of Islamic devotion as integral to the traditions of the faith, which historically has been among the most pluralistic of the major religions.

A respectful but serious and self-critical interrogation of sources and interpretations within Islamic traditions is a key aspect of our agenda. Pursuing a progressive North American Muslim agenda on many issues, such as gender equality, means examining the ways Islam has functioned as a social text in order to distinguish the universal and egalitarian values of the faith from oppressive or dysfunctional cultural practices with which, both inside and outside of our community, it is all too often confused.

PMU also recognizes that some people identify themselves as Muslims because of social commitments, but whose religious sentiments may be limited. By embracing such people as part our constituency, PMU is recognizing that a commitment to humanist values does not make anyone less a part of the community or less an heir to the rich legacy of Islamic civilization and cultures.

The aim here is not to create some sort of "new Islam" or "American Islam" as some will no doubt charge. Rather, we seek to join the work already underway by so many others to bolster the sense of pluralism, commitment to justice, and diversity within Islamic discourses which has been undermined by the spread of literalist and dogmatic interpretations of the faith in recent decades.

Our goal is to celebrate Islamic traditions that encourage free inquiry and multiple, competing and mutually respectful readings of the faith, which valorize free choice rather than an atmosphere of compulsion in religion, and which maximize the range of options for the faithful.

Our critique will be multiple: we seek to speak truth to all powers, Muslim and non-Muslim, and hold all of us accountable and responsible. PMU will challenge reactionary voices within our community that try to limit choices for North American Muslims, or which preach a chauvinistic and paranoid worldview. We will not accept or leave unchallenged racism, ethnic hatred, gender discrimination, homophobia, or religious intolerance either emanating from or directed towards the North American Muslim community.

PMU will defend the Muslim community from the calumnies of those who seek to insult and degrade Islam and/or the Muslim community, in particular the relentless campaign of defamation from some evangelical preachers, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, or from supporters of the extreme right in Israel, like Daniel Pipes.

PMU will defend civil rights here at home, and human rights abroad. We will not hesitate to critique Muslim societies, including for the deplorable human rights standards in many Middle Eastern states, most often exemplified by the status of women, and for atrocities such as
the disaster in Darfur. PMU will also strongly oppose neoconservative and other extremist voices in our own country that urge the United States to act as an imperial predator.

PMU will never turn its back to the long-suffering Palestinian people, and rejects completely the idea that a progressive agenda for the Muslim community requires accepting or remaining silent about the abuse of the Palestinians. Rather, we seek to be a partner for all those who seek peace rooted in justice.

Our first major event is a conference at Harvard University on March 19th and 20th, 2005. It will be an opportunity to bring together the various Muslim groups and individuals who share these common ideals.

The Qur'an teaches us that God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts. Here is our proclamation that we are examining our own hearts, our own lives, and our own communities to conform to the highest Islamic ideals of justice and compassion.

This statement, which appears on Muslim Wakeup, was written by Sarah Eltantawi, Hussein Ibish, Ahmed Nassef, and Omid Safi.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

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