Since Sept. 11, 2001, whenever there has been a terrorist attack in the West (and there have been many), the question everyone asks is: “Where are the moderate Muslims?”
Well, we are here, but our voices have been drowned out by the hysterical din of the Islamist narrative.
In light of the urgent need to promote the voices of progressive liberal Muslims, a conference is being held on Aug. 8 at the Jewish Community Center-Chabad of Aspen, Colo., in which five reformist Muslims will be speaking about challenges faced within the Muslim world.
The key question being posed is whether or not there can be reform in both Islam and the Islamic world. In my opinion, we are not at that point yet. Therefore, I prefer not to call myself a “reformer.” Instead, I believe we are reform-minded Muslims who wish to change the way in which Muslims interpret, implement and practice the faith of Islam. We would like to see Muslims join the contemporary 21st century and embrace the values of a liberal democracy, which means gender equality, freedom of expression, respect and tolerance for others, and separation of mosque and state. This is the start of sowing seeds for change.
This change has to come from within the faith because those standing outside will always be labeled. Therefore, the five speakers at this unique gathering are observant Muslims, and although each of us may have varied opinions, we are united in our efforts to condemn the dangers of radicalization and work towards modernity.
In this effort, it’s important to distinguish between Islam as a faith like Judaism and Christianity, and Islamism, which is an ideology that is entirely political in nature and uses violence as a mechanism to further its agenda.
Four main speakers will address the conference.
The first is Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement; and a former vice chair of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by the U.S. Senate. An American medical doctor, he is author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save his Faith.
Also speaking will be Elham Manea, a political scientist specializing in the Arab Middle East. She is known for her writings on a Humanistic Islam; her work in the fight against extremism and Islamism; and her defense of universal human rights. Manea has written Women and Shari’a Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK.
Salim Mansur, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Western Ontario, London, is author of The Qur’an Problem and Islamism and Delectable Lie: A liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism. Mansur is a survivor and witness of Muslim-on-Muslim violence and ethnic cleansing in the 1971 war and genocide in Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. He will address attendees.
And the fourth main speaker will be Tawfik Hamid, an Islamic thinker, reformer and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt who was a member of the radical Islamist organization Jamaa Islameia with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who later became the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Dr. Hamid started fighting Radical Islam 35 years ago. Author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It, he has also written a modern commentary on the Koran that has more than 2 million followers.
Our hope is that the audience will learn something new and be able to understand that the real struggle is within the world of Islam.
Raheel Raza is president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, a founding member of the Muslim Reform Movement and director of Forum for Learning. She is author of “Their Jihad, Not My Jihad.” Raza will serve as moderator of the Aug. 8 conference in Aspen.