THE BLOG

Muslim Democrats of the World, Unite!

02/09/2015 07:18 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015
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Since the end of the nineteenth century, the movement for a critical reflection on the foundations and interpretations of Islam has lost momentum, impeded by the predominance of a sclerotic, arabo-centric Islam based on an obsolete worldview and often dismissive of non Arab muslims.

Today, we solemnly call on muslim leaders committed to democracy, whether political and religious authorities or intellectuals/theologians, to convene in France in early 2016 to define the contours of a progressive interpretation of Islam firmly grounded in the 21st century.

Following in the steps of such scholars as Malik Bennabi, we need to start questioning the romanticized, nostalgic historical doxa predominant in muslim majority societies. It is imperative we examine carefully our civilizational failures, from the precolonial era to that of globalization and the reason why regular calls for an Islamic Renaissance in the past were left largely unanswered.

It is also essential that we (finally!) relaunch the reformist work of ijtihâd undertaken by Muhammad Abduh, Abd al-Raḥman al-Kawakibi and Muhammad Iqbal at the turn of the 20th century: an uncompromising critical analysis of the Quran and the prophetic traditions.

It is time we stop projecting cultural parochialisms onto religious dogma: muslims around the world should be able to understand much more clearly where Islam ends and where indigenous cultural practice begins.

It is time we question the legitimacy and overbearing influence of certain politically and socially backward countries in deciding what is Islamic and what is not, who is a good Muslim and who is not. And just as importantly, it is time we give far more weight in the latter matter to Asian muslims, in no small measure more appeased, democratic and legitimate, by virtue of sheer demography, in the twenty-first century.

The muslims of Asia, those of Europe, subsaharan Africa and the Americas are not second-class muslims. Too often, the opposition between Western and certain Arab governments has been masqueraded as one between Western and Muslim people. Whatever the nationality and religious creed, humans must be free to approach their citizenship and relation to religion as they see fit. In 2015, to stress this is not more western than it is oriental, Judeo-Christian more than it is Islamic.

It is crucial also that we not let autocrats once again tarnish our reputation as muslims by hijacking our cause as reformers and turning into a mockery one of the paramount aspirations of muslims worldwide in the twenty-first century: to live in a just and democratic society. While we must stand up as Muslims to publicly voice our attachment to secular politics, let us never forget that on a global scale, Muslims themselves are the first victims of both the often brutal dogmatic literalists who claim to represent Islam and of the secular autocrats who claim they are the only resort to contain the former. Dictators can call for a reform of Islam as much as they please, let there be no ambiguity: they do not roll on our team, nor do we on theirs.

We must take ISIS's and Boko Haram's claims to be practicing a rigorous Islam seriously: suggesting simply that terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam is not serious. The accusations brought against the 'silent majority' of Muslims as a result of the actions of these terrorist groups may be unjust, but they must be addressed. Once and for all, we must let the barbarous murderers who justify their crimes in the name of Islam know: when they attack anyone, they are attacking us Muslims, our faith and values, first and foremost.

Muslim opinion leaders must be aware of their crucial responsibility in this area. If we do not want Islam to be permanently hijacked, it is our duty to constantly advocate moderation and a reformist approach to issues of religious education, governance, the rule of law, freedom of expression and the protection of fundamental liberties while taking a clear stand on the interpretation of scriptural sources (ijtihâd).

Those who want to divide humanity use uneducated shortcuts to associate Islam and barbarism and imply that there is an intrinsic violence in our religion, a natural solidarity between Muslims and terrorists. They imply that Islam is intrinsically incompatible with democracy.

In reality the vast majority of Muslims reject violence. And when freedom and democracy suffer, they suffer too, just as Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians or Jews do. The enemy is not our neighbour who goes to the synagogue, the church, or the temple. The real peril lies elsewhere: it is in the withdrawal, the ignorance, and the stigmatisation of the other; it is in the prejudices that drive us apart when we should be joining together as humans.

The time has come to turn the tables on the hijackers and set a new course for Islam in the 21st century. Our future, as peace-loving Muslim democrats, is at stake.

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Ghaleb Bencheikh, President of the World Conference for Religions for Peace. Anwar Ibrahim, former vice Prime Minister of Malaysia, head of the national opposition and chairman of the World Forum for Muslim Democrats. Felix Marquardt, founder of the Abd al-Raḥman al-Kawakibi Foundation and of the Khlass (Enough with) the silence! movement. Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies, Oxford University