[T]he flurry of interest among non-Muslims contrasts oddly with the near silence among Muslims themselves, many of whom say she is a largely unknown figure not causing any particular stir.The very act of non-Muslims taking interest in someone like Sultan seems to undermine the effectiveness of her critique. We are told "Reform is alive and well within Islam." Is it good that we haven't heard much about it, in that our exclusion from the debate makes it more effective?
"I haven't come across any indication that people are discussing her," said Abdulaziz Sachedina, a University of Virginia Islamic studies professor who was blacklisted eight years ago by Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani for his reformist ideas that women were equal to men and all Abrahamic faiths were equally respectable. "Cyberspace is almost silent."
He said he first heard of her a few weeks ago, when the American Jewish Congress sent him an e-mail with a link to her Al Jazeera interview, which was translated from Arabic into English by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Sachedina said he agreed with some of her remarks, including her criticism that too many Muslim rulers fail to protect human rights. But he objected to what he called her "vilification" of the entire tradition.
Other Muslims questioned why groups outside the faith were so avidly promoting a non-Muslim to criticize Islam, a practice that has occurred before and is a sore spot in the Islamic community, particularly since many respected Muslims also advocate change.
"Reform is alive and well within Islam, but it will only happen by those from within Islam and not those who hate Islam," said Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Some Muslims, however, have embraced at least part of Sultan's message. Ani Zonneveld of the Progressive Muslim Union in Los Angeles, who has been fighting to gain wider acceptance of female musicians in Islam, said she put the link to Sultan's Al Jazeera interview on her personal website, under the title "Wafa Sultan Rocks!" But Zonneveld said Sultan's critiques were not new. Plenty of practicing Muslims, including Zonneveld, have been outspoken in criticizing the way some Muslims interpret their tradition's teachings on women, human rights and interfaith relations, she said.
UPDATE: Here's an article about Sultan in the Israeli National News, which puts special emphasis on her positive attitude toward Jews:
Dr. Sultan explained that during her upbringing in Syria she was raised to hate Jews:
“Up to the very first day that I immigrated to America, I used to believe that Jewish people were not human creatures, that they had different features, different voices than the human race. Unfortunately this is the way I was raised."
She said that it was only through meeting and interacting with Jews on a personal basis that her views began to shift: “I have discovered how wrong we were. The more I work with them the more I find out we are all human beings. The first experience I had in the medical field was with a Jewish doctor. We were four Muslim women in his program, and he treated us very well. My experience is great, so I have to break this taboo and tell my people the truth."
During her Al-Jazeera debate, Dr. Sultan praised the high moral standard of the Jewish people, demonstrated by their restrained and resilient response to suffering....
In contrast, Dr. Sultan points to the murderous tendencies of Islam....
Instead of perpetuating the cycle of hate and bloodshed, Dr. Sultan advocates creating connection and communication between Arabs and Jews to foster tolerance and compassion. “There is a saying ‘Get to know your enemy in order to know how to fight him.’ Far from this saying I would say, ‘Get to know your enemy in order to befriend him.’ Once you know how much suffering your enemy is going through, you will be more compassionate and eventually more tolerant. Get people on both sides to know each other, to communicate with each other,” Wafa implored.