GENDER ISSUES: The Times They Are A-Changin’: A Muslim Quest for Justice, Gender Equality, and Plura

Omid Safi

Posted Apr 5, 2003      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Beyond apologetics

Here is a newsflash, courtesy of progressive Muslims: God is doing just fine. God
doesnt need any help. God doesnҒt need any defenders. It is humanity that needs
help, especially the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, and the
all-but-forgotten who desperately need champions and advocates.
I bring this up to underscore that being a progressive Muslim means
self-consciously moving beyond apologetic presentations of Islam. Our
apologism does God no good, and it solves none of our real problems. And it
is no exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of writings that
dominate Islamic centers fall into the realm of apologetics. Why do apologetic
writings hold such appeal to religious folks, including Muslims?

The past few years have been a challenging time for nearly all people of faith.
For Muslims, this has meant an urgent imperative to define what we stand for
and, just as importantly, what we reject. For Catholics, it has meant coming to
terms with the catastrophic sexual abuses in the Church. For Jews and Hindus,
it has meant confronting the brutal violence committed or tolerated by nationstates
that claim to represent them. It has been a time of a great deal of vocal but
vexing public conversation about all religions, including Islam.

Part of the challenge is to recognize that there are many ways of talking about
all religions, including Islam, in the public sphere. Two of them seem to have
gained prominence in the post-9/11 world. One level is the normative,
theological way, when self-designated (or selected) representatives speak with
the weight of authority, and feel perfectly entitled to make statements like
Catholicism states. . .,Ӕ Judaism teaches us that. . .,Ӕ and of course, Islam
states. . . .Ӕ The other way of talking about religion is more historical and
descriptive, less theological, and more people centered. The followers of this
perspective are likely to say, This Jewish group practices the following ritual,
while other Jewish groups practice otherwise. . .Ӕ; These Muslim groups hold
this interpretation of jihad, while their interpretations are opposed by the
following groups. . .Ӕ

I find myself increasingly on the side of the second way of talking. Regarding
many issues, the majority of Muslim scholars have formed a clear enough
consensus (ijma) to allow us to speak of near unanimity. On other issues і
precisely those that many contemporary Muslims and non-Muslims would be
interested in hearing about and debating there has been and remains a wide
range of interpretations and practices among Muslim scholars and within
Muslim communities. Our task as progressive Muslims is to begin by honestly
chronicling the spectrum of Muslim practices and interpretations for both
ourselves and society at large. We cannot and should not single out only sublime
examples that are likely to be palatable to a non-Muslim public, just as we would
not want the xenophobes to focus exclusively on the fanatical fringe of Muslim
societies. It is imperative for all of us to demonstrate the full spectrum of
interpretations, particularly in dealing with the ֓difficult issues (gender
constructions, violence, pluralism, etc.).

Furthermore, I find myself being less and less patient and satisfied with
assertions that ԓIslam teaches us. . . This seems to me to be an attempt to bypass
the role of Muslims in articulating this thing called Islam. Let me be clear, and
perhaps controversial here: ԓIslam as such teaches us nothing. The Prophet
Muhammad does. Interpretive communities do. I would argue that God does,
through the text of the QurԒan. But in the case of texts, there are human beings
who read them, interpret them, and expound their meanings. Even our
encounter with the Prophet is driven by different (and competing) textual
presentations of his life, teachings, and legacy.25 In all cases, the dissemination of
Divine teachings is achieved through human agency. Religion is always
mediated. To drive this message home, I usually offer this intentionally
irreverent comment to my students: IslamӔ does not get up in the morning.
Islam does not brush its teeth. Islam does not take a shower. Islam eats nothing.
And perhaps most importantly for our consideration, Islam says nothing.
Muslims do. Muslims get up in the morning, Muslims brush their teeth,
Muslims shower, Muslims eat, and Muslims speak.

Is this just semantics? I do not believe so. My experience, at the level of both
devotional and academic communities, has been that many people simply
ascribe their own (or their own communitys) interpretations of Islam to ғIslam
says. . . They use such authoritative Ԗ and authoritarian language as a way to
close the door on discussion. And closing discussions is something that we
cannot afford.26

No more ֓Pamphlet Islam

Walk into any Islamic center, and there is likely to be a table in the hallway or in
the library that features a wide selection of pamphlets. The pamphlets bear titles
like ԓThe Status of Women in Islam, ԓConcept of God in Islam, ԓConcept of
Worship in Islam. Printed in pale yellow, pink, and green shades, they promise
truth in black and white. I hate these pamphlets.

I think we are in imminent danger Ԗ if we are not there already of
succumbing to ֓pamphlet Islam, the serious intellectual and spiritual fallacy
of thinking that complex issues can be handled in four or six glossy pages. They
simply cannot. The issues involved are far too complicated, and the human
beings who frame the issues are even more so. I recently saw a bumper sticker
that proclaimed, ԓIslam is the answer. If Islam is the answer, pray tell, what is
the question? Modernity? Existence? God?

A few years ago, when I started teaching at an undergraduate college in New
York, I was the only Muslim faculty member there. I was predictably appointed
as the advisor to the small group of Muslim students on campus. There were
about six of them at that time, vastly outnumbered by the other students on
campus whom the Muslim students (perhaps rightly) considered to be woefully
ignorant of even the basics of Islam. As we went around introducing ourselves,
one of the students in the group gushed: ԓWhat I love about Islam is that it is so
simple! That comment spurred a great debate, which we are still having four
years later. To me, Islam has never been simple. I remember having worked my
way through some of the most important Muslim primary sources such as
GhazzaliԒs Ihya and RumiҒs Masnavi, as well as the masterpieces of scholarship
on Islam like Marshall Hodgsons The Venture of Islam and Harry WolfsonҒs
The Philosophy of Kalam. SimpleӔ is not exactly a word that comes to mind in
describing any of them.

Islam is simpleӔ is a slogan used all too often as an excuse to avoid
discussion, disputation, and even disagreement. After all, if Islam is simple, how
can reasonable and intelligent people disagree over it? Do these disagreements
occur because some are deluded away from the simple truth? Not so! Islam is not
simple because Muslims are not simple. Surely our identities in these virulent
and turbulent post-colonial times are far from simple. Muslims are every bit
not an ounce more, and not an ounce less ֖ as complicated as all of the other
members of humanity. We argue, we discuss, we disagree, we joke, we laugh, we
walk away mad, we come back, we compromise. But we do not, have not ever,
and will not ever all agree on one interpretation of Islam.

This is why I so dislike pamphlet IslamӔ  and what seems to be taking its
place now, ֓web Islam.27 I do not want to hear about Islam from an
authoritarian who hides his or her own views under a grand title like ԓThe
Islamic Position on Jesus. I would prefer each author to tell me about her or his
own position, identify his or her own argument and sources, and mention where
they fit in a wider intellectual spectrum. When I mentioned this to some
intellectual friends, they replied, ԓYou have become too corrupted by post-modern
thinking. That type of self-positioning only comes up in late modernity. Is that
so? I do not dispute that many schools of anthropology, post-colonial theory,
and feminist hermeneutics have advocated such self-positioning. Indeed, many
of us progressive Muslims have benefited from the fruits of those disciplines. But
this self-positioning also seems to me to be one of the characteristic markers of
the writings of many, though not all, pre-modern Muslim scholars like the
famed Ghazzali.

We can do better than ԓpamphlet Islam. We must. From time to time, of
course, there is a need for concise articulation of Islam for ourselves and others.
But let us do it honestly, without burying the dazzling array of interpretations
that have always existed in Muslim thought and life.

Let me demonstrate how urgent a non-apologetic, progressive presentation
of Islam can be by tackling two of the most pressing issues that have dominated
the public discourse on religions in general and Islam in particular: the need for
tolerance, and the positing of Islam as a religion of peace.

Islam beyond ԓtolerance

Since September 11, 2001, we have been told time and again that our task as
global citizens is to increase tolerance towards one another and to achieve a
more tolerant society. Many Muslims have also emphasized that there are great
strands of tolerance in Islam that must be articulated more clearly.
I beg to differ. I am not interested in teaching or preaching ԓtolerance.
Naturally I donԒt want to see us kill and oppress each other. But words are
powerful vehicles in shaping our thoughts, and there are often many layers of
meaning embedded in words. The connotations of toleranceӔ are deeply
problematic. Allow me to elaborate this point: the root of the term toleranceӔ
comes from medieval toxicology and pharmacology, marking how much poison
a body could tolerateӔ before it would succumb to death. Is this the best that we
can do? Is our task to figure out how many othersӔ (be they Muslims, Jews,
blacks, Hindus, homosexuals, non-English speakers, Asians, etc.) we can tolerate
before it really kills us? Is this the most sublime height of pluralism that we can
aspire to? I dont want to ғtolerate my fellow human beings, but rather to
engage them at the deepest level of what makes us human, through both our
phenomenal commonality and our dazzling cultural differences. If we are to
have any hope of achieving anything resembling a just peace in the future, that
examination needs to include both the greatest accomplishments of all
civilizations, and also a painful scrutiny of ways in which the place of privilege
has come at a great cost to others. That goes equally for both the Islamic
civilization and for the Western powers of today.

In short, progressive Muslims do not wish for a ԓtolerant Islam, any more
than we long for a ԓtolerant American or European society. Rather, we seek to
bring about a pluralistic society in which we honor and engage each other
through our differences and our commonalities.

Islam beyond ԓreligion of peace

After September 11, 2001, almost every Muslim I know, including myself on a
number of occasions, found himself or herself repeating something akin to this
phrase: ԓIslam is a religion of peace. The actions of these terrorists do not
represent real Islam. And yet for some reason, I Ԗ speaking not on behalf of any
other progressive Muslims, just myself am less and less satisfied with this mantra.
Let me be clear here: at a fundamental level, I believe that the Islamic
tradition offers a path to peace, both in the heart of the individual and in the
world at large, when the Islamic imperatives for social justice are followed. Yet
there is something pathetically apologetic about turning the phrase ֓Islam is a
religion of peace into a mantra. It is bad enough to hear Muslim spokespersons
repeat it so often while lacking the courage to face the forces of extremism in our
own midst. It is just as bad to hear a United States President reassure us that
he respects Islam as a ԓreligion of peace as he prepares to bomb Muslims in
Afghanistan and Iraq, or support the brutal oppression of Palestinians. In both
of the above senses, ԓIslam is a religion of peace has become to my ears a hollow
phrase, full of apologism and hypocrisy.

As Muslims, we owe it to ourselves to come to terms with the problems
inside our own communities. All societies have their beautiful and noble
citizens, along with their share of hateful and extremist ones. Muslims are
human, not an ounce less and not an ounce more than any other people. We too
have our saints and sinners, our fanatical zealots and compassionate exemplars.
At this stage of history our primary responsibility is to come to terms with the
oppressive tyrants and fanatics inside our own communities, our own families,
and our own hearts. Hiding behind the simple assertion that ԓIslam is a religion
of peace does not solve our problems.

There is another reason that I have come to detest this slogan. It seems to me
that we have lost sight of the real meaning of ԓpeace, just as we have lost a real
sense of ԓwar. Many have come to think of peace as simply the absence of war,
or at least the absence of violent conflict. Yet, as progressives, we must preserve
the possibility of upholding resistance to well-entrenched systems of inequality
and injustice through non-violent conflict. This is one of the great challenges of
our time: affirming the right of a people who have been dehumanized and
oppressed to resist, while encouraging them to do so non-violently. This is a
great challenge indeed.

The very concept of ԓpeace can be and has been co-opted and adopted by
hegemonic powers to preserve the unjust status quo, as we have seen in both
Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. At times like this, a progressive can and
perhaps must reject the superficial appeals of an unjust peace, and insist instead
on a peace that is rooted in justice. This is precisely the sentiment echoed by His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. In his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, he stated, ԓPeace, in
the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of
hunger or cold . . . Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where
the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.28 Similarly, Bob
MarleyԒs former partner in reggae, Peter Tosh, sang, We donӒt want no peace
we want equal rights and justice!֔ Marley himself sang a powerful song called
War,Ӕ which captures this sense well. In the lyrics below, warӔ is seen as more
than a violent military conflict. It is, rather, a declaration that one will fight
systems of prejudice, injustice, and inequality.

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior
and another inferior
is finally and permanently
discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war ֖
Me say war.
That until there is no longer
first class and second class citizens of any nation
until the colour of a mans skin
is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes Җ
Me say war.
That until the basic human rights
are equally guaranteed to all,
without regard to race
Dis a war.

That until that day
the dream of lasting peace,
world citizenship
rule of international morality
will remain in but a fleeting illusion
to be pursued, but never attained ֖
Now everywhere is war war.29

The statement that ֓Islam is a religion of peace must not be allowed to become
a license to avoid dealing with the grinding realities of social, political, and
spiritual injustice on the ground level. To do so is to sell out our humanity,
and to abandon our cosmic duty to embody the QurԒanic call for implementing
justice (adl) and realizing goodness-and-beauty (ihsan). Our great challenge as
progressive Muslims is to find a non-violent means of resisting the powers that
be, and to speak truth to them. At the same time, we must aim to bring about a
just and pluralistic society in which all of us can live and breathe, and realize the
God-given dignity to which we are entitled as human beings. We do not grant
this dignity to one another: it belongs to all of us simply because, as the Qurђan
teaches us, all of us have the Divine spirit breathed into us.


It is superficial to talk about a conclusion to the progressive Muslim project,
since it is clearly only at its beginning. Yet let me offer a final thought here: in the
visionary song that frames this essay, Bob Dylan talks about how the waters
around you have grown.Ӕ The Quran likewise talks about a prophet, Noah, who
found his community surrounded by rapidly rising waters. Like Noah, we must
accept that we will soon be drenched to the bone. And like Noah, we repeat the

wa qul rabbi: anzilni munzalan mubarakan,
wa anta khayru Ғl-munzilin
And say: O My Lord, lead me to a blessed landing,
for you are best of deliverers.Ӕ30

Let us remember that Noahs task did not end when he got on the ark, but
continued after he landed on the ground. We ask God to lead us to a blessed
landing station, one from which our work will continue. The road there starts
here, at this very moment, with every one of us.
May we all have the courage, the vision, and the compassion to heal this
fractured world.31

Wa ilayhi rajiґun
And we are perpetually returning to GodӔ


*I am deeply grateful to all the friends who have looked over this essay in its various
incarnations, and provided me with invaluable suggestions for refining it. Rob Rozehnal took time out of a very busy phase of his life to unselfishly provide me with not one but two sets of comments. Kecia Ali, Scott Kugle, Tara van Brederode, and Tazim Kassam all provided very insightful feedback. Nasrollah Pourjavady graciously pointed out the quotes from Rumis Masnavi and Hazrat ґAli. Their friendship and kindness is a constant reminder of the fact that none of us walks alone on this path.

1. Lyrics are from Bob Dylans official web site, This song
appeared in DylanҒs 1964 album, also titled The Times They Are A-Changin. That version is classic, revolutionary, and powerful. Also worth listening to is the more tender live version on DylanҒs The Bootleg Series, Vols. 13 (released 1991). In the second version Dylan sings, ֓If your spirit to you is worth savin. . . .Ҕ

2. I am here indebted to miriam cookes discussion of ғmultiple critique in her insightful
work Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature (New York:
Routledge, 2000). Saԑdiyya Shaikhs essay in this volume also brings up this concept, and
I am grateful to both of them.

3. Wahhabism is a reactionary theological movement that originated in eighteenth-century
Arabia. It remained an undistinguished intellectual movement for a long time, until it was
adapted as the ideology of the ruling Saґud family, who came upon the incredible wealth of
oil resources. Subsequently, this previously trivial ideology was armed with the financial
resources to export its vision all over the Muslim world. The essay by Khaled Abou El Fadl
in this collection is very useful in demonstrating the ways in which Wahhabism and Salafi
reformist movements have not always been in agreement, although many tend to conflate
the two today. For more information on Wahhabism, refer to Ahmad Dallal, The Origins
and Objectives of Islamic Revivalist Thought, 1750Ӗ1850, Journal of the American Oriental
Society 113 (3), 1993, 341Ԗ59; Michael Cook, On the Origins of Wahhabism,Ӕ Journal of
the Royal Asiatic Society 3(2), 1992, 191202; and Hamid Algar, Wahhabism: A Critical
Essay (Oneonta: Islamic Publications International, 2002).

4. ֓North and ԓSouth evoke the language of those who point out the hypocrisy and
injustice of the global inequalities in the distribution of resources and consumption. The
ԓNorth represents those who consume more than their fair share, at the expense of the
ԓSouth. Many have favored using this terminology in place of the explicitly hierarchical
language of ԓFirst World and ԓThirdWorld (as if there is more than one world), or other
euphemisms like ԓdeveloped and ԓunderdeveloped countries (as if ԓdevelopment is
unequivocal, or quintessentially positive).

5. As the QurԒan states in two separate passages, wa nafakhtu fihi min ruhi. God states,
I breathed into humanity something of My own spirit.Ӕ (Quran 15:29 and 38:72)

6. Post-modern critiques of modernity were developed in a whole range of academic
disciplines, including feminist scholarship, anthropology, literary criticism, and postcolonial
studies. The corpus of post-modern scholarship is truly vast, and often
bewildering. A good starting point is the collection of essays by Habermas, Lyotard,
Jameson, Eco, Rorty, and others in Thomas Docherty, ed., Postmodernism: A Reader
(Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1992). Also useful is Ania Loomba, Colonialism/
Postcolonialism (New York: Routledge, 1998).

7. Shalu Bhalla, Quotes of Gandhi (New Delhi: UBS Publishers, 1995), 143.

8. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, released by the White House
of George W. Bush in September 2002. Available on-line at:

9. I have deliberately avoided the term ғfundamentalist, since that term is open to so many interpretations and abuses. The groups that I address here combine a literal reading of select texts with an exclusivist understanding to arrive at what in any other time in Islamic history would be seen as an extreme position on the spectrum of Islamic interpretations.
Yet, contrary to what is often stated, their response is also a distinctly modern one, in the
sense that it requires modernity as a foil against which it articulates itself. It is not, as its
advocates might claim, simply ԓtraditional, or ԓthe way things have always been. Living
as we do in these terrible days of Islam-phobia, it is important to point out that just as is
the case in the Christian and Jewish traditions, one can be a literalist-exclusivist without
necessarily resorting to violence. To put it in a shorthand fashion, not every Wahhabi (or
Jamaԑat Islami) is a terrorist. However, the communal enforcement of literalist-exclusivist
ideologies such as Wahhabism so dehumanize entire groups both inside and outside the
Muslim community that they narrow the gap to violence against both other Muslims and
non-Muslims. So many places in the Muslim world where violence is a fact of life also
feature these literalist-exclusivist interpretations of Islam.

10. For insightful reflections on tradition and modernity as related epistemic fields rather
than binary oppositions, see Marilyn Robinson Waldman, Tradition as a Modality of
Change: Islamic Examples,Ӕ History of Religions 25, 1986, 31840; Daniel Brown,
Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

11. Rabbi Zalman Schachter, cited in Roger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco,1994), 43. I am deeply grateful to Reb Zalman for reminding me in a
conversation that as one commits to undertaking the transformation and reformation of
the social and spiritual order, it is also necessary to mourn the injustices that we have
willingly and unwillingly participated in. Failure to do so always runs the risk of reformers
getting caught in arrogance and self-righteousness.

12. In Arabic, as in other Semitic languages, most nouns are based on a triliteral root system
which is then applied to different forms to yield slightly different shades of meaning. Both
jihad and ijtihad come from the triliteral root ja-ha-da.

13. Quotes of Gandhi, 99.

14. It is significant that in this Mu֑tazili interpretation, adl did not stand for an abstract
principle of justice, but rather was seen as being directly related to human free will. If
human beings were not free to choose between good and evil, then God would be unjust in
punishing us for actions that we are not ultimately responsible for. See W. Montgomery
Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld, 1998), 231.

15. Martin Luther King, Jr., ѓWhere Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, in
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed.
James M. Washington (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986; reprint, 1991), 633.

16. The QurԒan uses the phrase bani adam, literally children of Adam,Ӕ on at least seven
separate occasions to refer to the totality of humanity: 7:26, 7:27, 7:31, 7:35, 7:172, 17:70,
and 36:60. Thus we have honored the children of Adam. . .Ӕ

17. The Rose Garden. Shaykh Muslih al-Din Sadi, Gulistan, ed. Muhammad Khazaђili (Tehran:
Intisharat-i Javidan, 1361/1982), 190. Translation is mine.

18. Mawlana Jalal al-Din Balkhi Rumi, Masnavi-yi Manavi, ed. R.A. Nicholson (Tehran:
Intisharat-i Nigah, 1371/1992), 532. This line is found in the third book of the Masnavi,
line 4726 of the Nicholson Persian edition.

19. Quotes of Gandhi, 25.

20. Translation is from R. Walzer, ѓIslamic Philosophy, cited in Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three
Muslim Sages (Delmar, NY: Caravan, 1964), 11. This same sentiment is echoed by many
other Muslim philosophers.

21. Only half jokingly, I like to refer to these last two figures as ԓthe two holy Bobs.

22. Abdullahi A. an-Naԑim, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and
International Law (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990).

23. Robin Wright, An Iranian Luther Shakes the Foundations of IslamӔ, The Guardian,
February 1, 1995 (quoted from the Los Angeles Times, January 1995). Available online
through Soroushs own website:

24. There were of course some exceptions, and there are records of women teachers and
students at madrasas who were usually still required to teach from behind a screen to an
audience of male pupils.

25. I am here referring to the different corpus of hadith collections that contain the statements
of the Prophet Muhammad.

26. Among contemporary Muslim authors, one of the most eloquent critics of authoritarian
tendencies has been Khaled Abou El Fadl, particularly in his Speaking in GodҒs Name:
Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (Oxford: Oneworld, 2001) as well as his And God
Knows the Soldiers: The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses (Lanham,
MD: University Press of America, 2001).

27. To be fair, one has to admit that the very nature of the web does allow for greater flexibility
of scholarly and activist presentations of Islam than in the realm of pamphlets, which tend
to be dominated by neo-Wahhabi interpretations. Despite what has been called the digital
divide,Ӕ there are great opportunities for Muslim communities and individuals to place
their views on the web, even if they do not have access to costly printing and distribution
resources. Today we find Muslim websites devoted not just to literalist interpretations of
Islam, but also to womens groups, social justice organizations, peace movements, gay and
lesbian Muslim groups, and Sufi communities.

28. The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness, ed. Sidney Piburn (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1990), 17.

29. Bob Marley, ғWar. Lyrics are from Bob MarleyԒs official website, http://www.bobmarley
com/. The words to Marleys song are actually from a speech made by Haile Selassie to the
United Nations. The song is featured on the third disk of the four-CD compilation of
MarleyҒs songs, entitled Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom.

30. Quran 23:29

31. I am here reminded of the similarity of this Islamic perspective to the Jewish mystical
concept of Tikkun olam, which calls humanity to be responsible for healing the world
through concrete acts of righteousness and goodness, alongside mystical meditation on the
Divine spheres. May this be one bridge that we can use to bring like-minded and like-hearted Muslims and Jews together to heal our communities, as we seek to heal this world.

Amin. . . .


Praise for the Progressive Muslims volume:

“This book is a brilliant demonstration of intellectual courage. The authors face with unflinching honesty the critical issues that confront Muslims today. Islam today is a hotly disputed term, denounced by Christian extremists, rejected by Eurocentric neocolonialists, and abused by Islamic ideologues. Where will its future lie? Read this volume to find out.”
Professor Carl W. Ernst, University of North Carolina

“These are among the more lucid essays in any field of scholarship. Here is a world of Ithought that is able to be self-critical not only at the same time as critical of Western triumphalism, but to make a self-critical stance into perhaps the most effective form of liberation theology, bringing forth an long-standing but often underestimated expression of Islamic thought. This world has always been there, but it has been obscured both by what has been called by one contributor a “take me to your leader” propensity among Western media that defines Muslim leadership as, by definition, fundamentalist as well as a reflexive and self-destructive anti-Western ideology within Islam that attacks any Islamic criticism of Islamic leaders acting in the name of Islam, however justified, as collaborative with colonialism and lacking in cultural authenticity. These essays, superbly edited by Omid Safi, are essential reading for anyone concerned with the most vital global issue of our time. This book is immensely readable, for specialists and non-specialists alike, crystalline in its scholarly integrity, and explosive in its implications.”
Professor Michael A. Sells, Haverford College

“Opposite to the headlines of Muslim terrorists or suicide bombers, both invoking jihad or Holy War as their slogan, is jihad as progress, or better, progressive ijtihad. Progressive ijtihad is the leitmotif of this extraordinary volume. Progressive ijtihad means critical thinking that marshals Islamic resources, but also relies on non-Muslims together with Muslims, to face global problems in the 21st century. If Bob Dylan becomes the band leader for universal jihad, and progressive ijtihad, then the contributors to this book accompany him to enunciate a single, core project: jihad must be invoked, and ijtihad must be applied, to achieve gender equality, social justice, and a compassionate humaneness etched by a pluralist chorus of Muslim, Christian and Jewish voices, with background echoes of Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu heroes. While Bob Dylan may have marked the times as a changin’ in 1964, this diverse yet coherent volume from progressive Muslim scholars gives his tune a visionary immediacy if our own time is worth savin’.”
Professor Bruce B. Lawrence, Duke University

Table of Contents


The Times They are A-changinҒ:  A Muslim Quest For Justice, Gender Equality and Pluralism, by Omid Safi

Progressive Muslims and Contemporary Islam

Chapter 1:  The Ugly Modern and the Modern Ugly:  Reclaiming the Beautiful in IslamӔ, by Khaled Abou El Fadl

Chapter 2:  In Search of Progressive Islam Beyond 9/11Ӕ, by Farid Esack

Chapter 3:  Islam:  A Civilizational Project in ProgressӔ, by Ahmet Karamustafa.

Chapter 4:  The Debts and Burdens of Critical IslamӔ, by Ebrahim Moosa

Chapter 5:  On Being a Scholar of Islam: Risks and ResponsibilitiesӔ, by Tazim R. Kassam

Progressive Muslims and Gender Justice

Chapter 6:  Gender Justice:  Muslim WomenӒs Approaches to Feminist Activism, by Sa’diyya Shaikh

Chapter 7:  ԓProgressive Muslims and Islamic Jurisprudence:  The Necessity for Critical Engagement with Marriage and Divorce Laws, by Kecia Ali

Chapter 8:  ԓSexuality, Diversity and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims, by Scott Siraj Haqq Kugle

Chapter 9: ԓAre We Up To The Challenge?  The Need for a Radical Re-ordering of the Islamic Discourse on Women, by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons

Progressive Muslims and Pluralism

Chapter 10:  ԓMuslims, Pluralism, and Interfaith Dialogue, by Amir Hussain

Chapter 11:  ԓAmerican Muslim Identity:  Race and Ethnicity in Progressive Islam, by Amina Wadud

Chapter 12:  ԓIslam, Democracy, and Pluralism, by Ahmad S. Moussalli

Chapter 13:  ԓHow to put the Genie back in the Bottle?  Identityђ Islam and Muslim Youth Cultures in America, by Marcia Hermansen

Chapter 14:  ԓWhat is the victory of Islam? Towards a different understanding of the Ummah and Political Success in the Contemporary World, by Farish A. Noor

ISBN: 1-85168-316-X * 384 pp * $25.95 * Publication: March 2003

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