March 13, 2006

"Reform is alive and well within Islam, but it will only happen by those from within Islam..."

Last week, we took interest in Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-born woman who has strong words for Muslims. Today, the LA Times has this:
[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.

"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.
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?

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.

5 comments:

amba said...

Just for the record, between its original Yiddish version and its first French translation, Elie Wiesel revised his Holocaust memoir "Night" to omit some instances of Jewish concentration-camp survivors taking revenge by raping German women.

Balfegor said...

Is it good that we haven't heard much about it, in that our exclusion from the debate makes it more effective?

I suppose it may make it more effective. But in view of that recent article in the WaPo about how negative views of Islam and Muslims have been on the rise since 9-11, I think it's an awfully dangerous position for the Muslim world to be in -- to have developed a reputation for anti-semitism, authoritarianism, repressive theocracy, and barbarous cruelty, and then not to promote the fact that elements of their society think that sort of thing is loathsome, as we do, and promote reform, liberality, and progress.

I think it is a very, very bad thing that we are not hearing about internal reform in the Muslim world. Particularly when we have been inviting those voices to speak up, a bit louder now, so we can hear for five years now. I mean, I think it is so gobsmackingly bad for Islam and Muslims in general, no matter where they are, that it simply beggars belief.

To the extent this is a propaganda war, the US has been doing rather poorly, but by shutting up about any signs of progress, the Islamic world -- which on the merits ought to be nothing more than an innocent bystander, highjacked by a few extremist radicals, the way the President always says -- has been busy shooting its legs off. It's like if the Germans and the Japanese in WWII designed propaganda films to highlight and then excuse the Final Solution and the Rape of Nanking. Just astonishingly stupid.

The downside of any real, open conflict between the West and Islam is much, much, much worse for Islam than it could possibly be for the West.

How can they not realise that? Is the shame of admitting possible defects in their societies just so great that they're willing to court utter disaster to avoid letting outsiders hear about it?

BeckyJ said...

How can they not realise that? Is the shame of admitting possible defects in their societies just so great that they're willing to court utter disaster to avoid letting outsiders hear about it?

I'd say yes. Any form of government, secular or religious, that relies on its perfection to back up its policies greatly fears the loss of that perfection. Look at communism under Stalin. Two major famines occurred, one in the 1920s and one in the 1930s. During the '20s the USSR asked for and received help. In the 2nd famine Stalin refused any and all help and allowed roughly 20 million to die in order to maintain the myth that there were no problems in the "perfect" communist paradise.

Radical Islam is much the same. It relies on a version of reality that is based on the assumption of the perfection of Islam. If that perfection is marred, Islam itself becomes like any other religion; that can't be allowed.

Kirk Parker said...

Ummm, when CAIR puts as much effort into denouncing terrorism by Islamists or riots and death threats by cartoon objecters as it does into scouring heaven and earth looking for previously unnoticed anti-Islamic bias, maybe then I'll care what any representative of CAIR has to say.

vbspurs said...

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."

I understand the point this courageous woman is making, but...

I have never liked this line of reasoning, by anyone.

The point about human respect is that we should acknowledge each other's humanity just because, not because someone treats us nicely.

Again, I truly understand her point, but this logic is too compliant on good behaviour.

So, if a Muslim has a bad experience with a Jewish person, then hatred is justified?

Intelligent people understand he misbehaves not because he's Jewish, but because he's a bad person.

Unintelligent people allow themselves to generalise.

Cheers,
Victoria