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Standing Up For A Progressive Vision: The Progressive Muslim Union

As people respond to the Mohammed comics debacle, I read the following sort of sentiment all too often:

You will never hear a muslim denounce the attacks on 9/11 or any other form of violence that THEIR brothers and sisters of their faith perpetrated. Nor will they stand up against the current fanatics who threaten violence if they don’t get their way…. Additionally, the quran blatantly encourages violence against any who is not of that faith, another point where you will never hear a muslim stand against. All muslims are willing participants of this ongoing and increasingly violent trend across the globe because of their unwillingness to stand against it.

People who say things like this clearly are not opening their eyes or ears. If they had, they would have encountered someone from the Progressive Muslim Union speaking with a loud and clear voice. The Progressive Muslim Union has been deploying its members with great energy to publicly denounce the behavior of those extremists committing violent acts in reaction to the publication of cartoons of Mohammed. They are saying things like this:

When can we begin a civilized conversation, instead of this undignified and sometimes violent answer to what was quite simply an insult?”

The Muslim world employs its own double standards, and I say this as a Muslim. Throughout many Muslim nations, including my own, Egypt, where I am right now, you’ll find outrageously offensive cartoons that are anti-Semitic or anti-Christian, things that are really insulting. So the Muslim world is equally disingenuous when complaining about these issues. And the newspaper in the first place has stressed again and again that it didn’t publish these cartoons to offend. It published these cartoons to test the environment of freedom in Europe because it felt that artists were self-censoring themselves out of fear of Muslim reaction. Basically, Muslims have proven them right.

The truth is, a number of Muslims are standing up to condemn the coercive violence of Muslim extremists, and the Progressive Muslim Union is standing at the forefront of this effort.

What’s really admirable to me about the Progressive Muslim Union is the longstanding nature of their campaign to promote a liberal agenda within Islam. They’ve been at it for years, working hard at the issue of Muslim intolerance long before it boiled to the surface. I encourage you to visit the Progressive Muslim Union’s website; let me leave you with their bold, impressive statement of principles — last revised September 6, 2005, before the issue of Danish cartoons swept the world:

The Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU) is a grassroots organization that aims to provide a forum, voice, and organizing mechanism to North American Muslims who wish to pursue a progressive intellectual, social and political agenda.

Our work is guided by the following principles:

1) We affirm that a Muslim is anyone who identifies herself or himself as “Muslim,” including those whose identification is based on social commitments and cultural heritage.

2) We affirm the importance of celebrating the arts, culture, and the pursuit of joy in our daily lives. We believe the restrictions imposed by some on instrumental music and the depiction of human forms in paintings and sculpture contravene the rich Muslim cultural heritage from around the globe.

3) We affirm the validity of Islamic ritual and practice as an expression of love for God, while acknowledging that specific forms of ritual and practice are individual choices and should never be imposed through coercive means.

4) We affirm the equal status and equal worth of all human beings, regardless of religion, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. We oppose any restrictions on women’s full participation in society and believe that separation and segregation of men and women is contrary to the equity among genders enshrined in the Quran. We endorse the human rights and liberties of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-sexual individuals. We believe that Muslim women and men, gay and straight, of all nationalities, ethnicities, and races should work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in their effort to rejuvenate our community.

5) We affirm that justice and compassion should be the guiding principles for all aspects of human conduct. Islam holds that these qualities are characteristics of God as revealed in the holy Quran, divine qualities that are the ethical virtues to which all human beings should aspire to emulate.

6) We affirm our commitment to social and economic justice and our opposition to the culture of militarism and violence. We will support efforts for universal health care, public education, the protection of our environment, and the eradication of poverty around the world.

7) We reject the authoritarian, racist, sexist and homophobic interpretations of our faith as antithetical to the principles of justice and compassion.

8) We affirm the diversity of inspirations that motivate people to embrace a commitment to justice and compassion, including a profound faith rooted in religious traditions, ethical imperatives developed throughout the centuries, and secular and humanist values shared by many Muslims today.

9) We call for critical inquiry and dynamic engagement with Islamic scripture, early Muslim sources, the Islamic intellectual heritage, and traditional and current Muslim discourses.

10) We endorse the separation of religion and state in all matters of public policy, not only in North America, but also across the Muslim world. We believe that secular government is the only way to achieve the Islamic ideal of freedom from compulsion in matters of faith and that the separation of religion and state is a necessary pre-requisite to building democratic societies, where religious, ethnic, and racial minorities are accepted as equal citizens enjoying full dignity and human rights enunciated in the 1948 UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

11) We recognize the growing danger of religious extremism and view the politicization of religion and the intrusion of religion into politics as twin threats to civil society and humane civilization. We vow to resist the intrusion of religion into politics and the exploitation of religion for political ends.

12) Recognizing our participation in the broader human family, we seek to engage with and contribute to other philosophical and spiritual traditions and progressive movements.

3 comments to Standing Up For A Progressive Vision: The Progressive Muslim Union

  • Noopa

    Oh My God didn’t do a single thing to address the content of the article.

    Telling, isn’t it?

  • Jim

    Oh My God,

    Your post is filled with “probably”s and “I bet”s up to here. Thanks for playing irrelevant speculation!

    This post isn’t saying that there aren’t a lot of extremist Muslims.

    It’s pointing out that there are progressive Muslims out there, and all you have to do to notice them is pay a bit of attention.

  • Mario

    Yes Jim. you are right that “there are progressive Muslims out there, and all you have to do to notice them is pay a bit of attention”. But so what? The fact remains they are so few and ineffective that they are – practically — non-existent. They have not even managed to print a word (that I could find) on the cartoons issue. Perhaps you should try and help them, somehow. But then you will find yourself up against the very same people and organisations who threaten all of us in the name of Allah. In current cultural and political terms, it’s those people and organizations who are the actual reality of Islam today. It’s a sad fact, but it won’t go away just by pretending it’s not there. I’m sure you will agree on this.

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