I was invited as a guest of a speaker to Women in the World's 7th Annual Summit in New York City. The speaker was my friend Zahra' Langhi, the co-founder and director of the Libyan Women's Platform for Peace. Zahra was chosen to participate in a debate with other powerful women including Hibaq Osman and Farah Pandith to discuss "The Future of Women in Islam."
I was proud of my friend and excited; for this was the first time I attended this kind of global conference about women. Later, I realized that I was invited to attend the most controversial panel of this year's summit. Ayaan Ali Hirsi, one of America's most notorious Islam bashers, was one of the four women in the panel.
Watching Ayaan speak on the panel reminded me very much of ISIS. Both Ayaan and ISIS have at least one major thing in common when it comes to Islam: they represent the very wrong idea of Islam in all its forms. Both claim that they know and/or represent the voice of God. ISIS claims that they are raising God's voice by creating the Islamic State and law. Ayaan claims that Islam must be reformed and that Islamic law is the violent voice of God that must be destroyed. The two are different extremist faces of the same coin, that feeds from one another.
First, if you open and read any book of Fiqh in Islam, there is no mention of an "Islamic State" that exists under an "Islamic law". The terms "Islamic State" and "Islamic law" never existed in Islam. There is only the Sharia of Islam, and I challenge anyone who says otherwise. This is exactly what Zahra' Langhi said at the debate: "There's no such thing as Islamic law - there's something called Sharia. It's the dynamic process-it has to be contextualized."
Second, Islam doesn't need reform because reform already exists within Islam through the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad [pbuh] and the Ijtihad (diligence) of Ulama (scholars) of Fiqh. Islamic tradition has within itself all what it needs to renovate the house. Much of the Qur'an and the hadith is in fact closer to what we would call 'Constitutional Law' in the west. The Islamic Sharia is a living constitution that can be reinterpreted based on the changes of time and space. The interpretation of Quran has many bases: context (what context is this verse based on? Should it be applied today?); intention (what was the intent of the framers when they said these things? And should we, Muslim people, today base it on their intent even though they were speaking hundred years ago in a very different context? Or should we rectify and re-interpret based on the changes of time and space?
This leads us to the fact that extremism is not an "Islamic" or religious issue, it's a human issue, that has always been there and will always be there. The problem is violence and oppression against women within a civil society. Since Ayaan loves to open her remarks with statistics to address "women's issues" as she claims, I am wondering why she never mentions a real fact like this: 92 women raped in India every day, 4 in Delhi?! She would have mentioned it, had the media said they were Muslims, right?
Islam until today is largely unread and continuously misinterpreted among practicing Muslims themselves, let alone someone like Ayaan. This is simply a fact. Many Muslims misinterpret Islam in many different aspects. Many Muslims still can't come to terms with the fact that they don't have the intellectual tools to direct their religion the right way. That's a big advantage that Islamophobes like Ayaan Hirsi and Donald Trump use to bash Islam.
Islam is about unity in diversity but many Muslims in the Arab world confuse unity with uniformity. Many Arab Muslims think that they are morally superior to anyone who is not Muslim or anyone who is Muslim but not an Arab. That's a major issue, because there is nothing in Islamic tradition that permits one to behave or treat other people like that - either a Muslim or non-Muslim! There are also many wannabe Muslim scholars out there, who give the worst misinterpretation of Islam, Sunnah, and of course public fatwas, while hidden in their caves. According to Islamic tradition, Ayaan cannot be fought or killed for leaving Islam, because simply Islam doesn't permit any Muslim believer to fight or kill a non-Muslim believer just because they left Islam. But according to the public fatwas of many misguided Muslims, or the fatwas of "the dogs of fire" like ISIS, Bin Laden, Thawahiri...etc., Ayaan must be fought and killed. Do you see the real problem here? There are many Muslim criminals that commit crimes under the name of Islam by basing the entire religion on and misinterpretations. There are Muslims that are negative externalities for their Muslim societies and cultures. This is a major and serious crisis within Muslim communities. It's a crisis of authority about who can read the texts of Quran and who can determine what they mean. This is not a problem about Islam.
The highly qualified Scholars of Islam, especially the scholars of Fiqh are very very few, unfortunately. This is a dilemma that exists among Muslims, and until Muslims themselves face and confess its existence, Islam will be seen as the main bugbear for all sorts of oppression and violence, not just against women, against everyone, everywhere. Many islamophobic people or simply misinformed people about Islam get their information from ISIS, or the countless number of so-called Muslim scholars who misinterpret the Sharia of Islam.
Today, among millions of Muslim women who come from extremely oppressed and misogynistic societies, those who relate their issues and sufferings directly to Islam, as the main bugbear get the most attention of media.
"Had your Lord wanted, all the people on earth would have believed. So will you force people to believe?" (Qur'an, 10:99)
Islam does not teach death for apostasy, or misogyny and oppression against women. The prophet [pbuh] disdained war. He always said: "Never hope to meet your enemies." He prohibited the killings of civilians especially women and children. According to the Maliki Fiqh, the only time that you can fight a woman is if she is a combatant in the other side. Yet many Maliki jurists were so troubled by this Hadith that they said: "if you see a woman in a battlefield run away from her." This is how gentle and humane Islam is in dealing with human issues, especially women.
If you read the book: "The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and The Christian Western" by George Makdisi, you will find out that the idea of humanism as it develops in the western world as an essential value that has long been considered as of exclusively Western origin, in fact has its roots deep in Islamic soil.
Unfortunately, hardly a day passes on which Islam does not make headlines and presented to the world in the most distorted way. Learning about Islam from a misguided Muslim can be seriously dangerous. Learning about Islam from an "anti-Islam brand name" like Ayaan or Trump, or terrorists, like ISIS, Bin Laden, Boko Haram... is merely a disaster. All these groups and individuals fall under the category of people who suffer from composite ignorance (when you don't know what you are talking about and you don't know that you don't know what you're talking about). They arrogate the judgment of God, waxen Islam in their hands and shape it to fit the way they want.
The prophet [pbuh] said: "blessed are the strangers- people who rectify (not reform) the Sharia of Islam after people have corrupted it." In other words, here will be times and places when being a Muslim is very difficult and the mainstream society will shun the teachings of Islam. Muslims will be viewed as weird, troublesome, or even enemies of the state. Yet if we face such trials, we should rejoice because blessed are the strangers. The importance of the prophet's saying that can be immediately seen is that the Sharia does indeed get corrupted; it can be misunderstood and it can deviate from its original intentions. The saying of the prophet also shows the need to rectify the Sharia after people who have corrupted it, misunderstood it and/or deviated it from its original intentions. The house of Islam doesn't need reformation or reconstruction because it is based on sound foundations. What it needs is rectification and renovation to keep its core values and principles: Peace, Harmony, Goodness, Mercy and Love.
"So warn them: your only task is to warn, you're not supposed to force them." (Qur'an, 88:21-22)
I am a Muslim woman who loves being a Muslim and do my best every day to be a better Muslim. I lived in misogynistic societies that misuse Islam to oppress women. But I have never felt for a minute that Islam oppresses me as woman, or Islam is the reason why I was oppressed by my society. In fact, I feel empowered by being a Muslim woman. One of the main things I learned as a Muslim is that a winner is someone no matter how much they know about Islam, they still have to learn, even when they are considered an expert by others; and a loser is someone who wants to be considered an expert by others before they have learned enough to know how little they know.