RELIGION BUILDING - COLLOQUIUM: ‘Progressive Muslims’ Call for Abandoning Religion in order to Survi

Robert D. Crane

Posted Jan 30, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Response to article by Bob Crane

Junaid M. Afeef’s article, “Dangerous Alliances: Islam can only Survive in a Secular America,” from the MUW (Muslim Wakeup) webpage and blog  , is by its own self-description part of the growing “progressive Muslim media.”  Die-hard Muslim Democrats may like its argument that Muslims can survive only if they abandon the Christian/Republican social and family values agenda, which MUW says consists of “anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-school prayer, school vouchers, and references to God in public places,” because support for the Republican/Christian movement would only give it the power eventually to eliminate Muslims from America.

  I have one favorable comment on this article, copied below, and one extremely unfavorable comment.

  I agree with the statement that, “To live up to Islam, the American Muslim community must champion the cause of justice for all.  Islam advocates justice.  Justice is, if not part of the faith’s foundation [it is in Shi’a Islam], at least a cornerstone principle.  Muslims are required to seek justice no matter what the consequences. ... Some of the issues include the plight of the poor, the struggles of the working poor, the injustices of hate and discrimination, and corporate corruption.” 

  Muslims have become irrelevant in America precisely because they ignore or avoid these issues of social and economic justice.  This, however, is not out of design but merely because of supreme ignorance about the very concept of justice itself. 

  The Muslim Brotherhood’s ballyhoo about justice focuses instead on Muslim civil rights and on opposition to Zionist totalitarianism and democratic despotism in the Holy Land and to America’s unenlightened and self-serving support of tin-pot tyrants in most of the Muslim countries.  This autistic obsession on Muslims’ own security and prosperity is legitimate for a special interest group, but Muslims by definition operate within a paradigm that is much broader.  Wa tamaat kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan.

  Now comes my critique of the gross and suicidal error of the progressive Muslim position, especially as articulated by Muqtedar Khan in his recent statements urging Muslims to abandon their ideology in order to survive in his article “Rethinking American Muslim Politics”

  If he means by “ideology” a triumphalist and closed system of thought, particularly one committed to conquest in a clash of civilizations, he is certainly correct.  But if he means by ideology a coherent system of thought based on tawhid and taqwa, as articulated in the universal principles of the shari’ah known as the maqasid or code of human responsibilities and rights, then he is calling us to abandon the essence of Islam. 

  This abandonment of justice in the form of the maqasid (purposes) or kulliyat (universals) or dururiyat (essentials) of Islamic thought as a paradigm of thought and action is precisely why Muslims in past centuries have been defeated and colonized and oppressed and now are being bombed like snarling animals in a cage.  Spiritual and intellectual power shapes history, so our future depends on reinvigorating both, not on abandoning our interfaith educational mission to transform whatever land we choose for our home. 

  Instead of hunkering down and abandoning our activism as Muslims in America, we need to bring our wisdom even more effectively to the public square in order to survive as real Muslims. Allah would not forgive us if we abandon the only thing we have to offer in helping America again become a moral beacon for the world.  We need to avoid assimilation at all costs, because this is group suicide.  Instead, we need to integrate with others in America so that Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and those of other world religions can help perfect our country and thereby counter the totalitarian minded who increasingly are perverting every one of these world religions.

  Although the problem may be partly one of mis-communication due to semantics, the principal error in the thinking of Muqtedar and of Junaid Afeef in the article below is their call for a secular America.  Afeef writes, “Without a secular society there can be no freedom.”  In fact, the history of the world teaches the exact opposite.  All the totalitarian movements that have cost hundreds of millions of lives in the last century were secular, as is also the home-grown American neo-conservative movement that has newly emerged at the beginning of the new millenium. 

  Such statements by Muqtedar Khan and Junaid Afeef are understandable for someone coming from the South Asian subcontinent, where “secular” means no governmental bias in favor of any specific religion.  This obviously is precisely what America’s founders had in mind when they called for freedom of religion.  But, they never called for a “secular” America, since in America this word means the elimination of religions’ spiritual and moral wisdom from public life.  And they opposed absolutist majoritarian democracy in favor of a republic, which by definition recognizes our Creator as the supreme legislator.

  We need to follow the example of the thoroughly functional Muslim, Thomas Jefferson.  He said that no people can remain free unless they are properly educated, that education consists primarily in learning virtue, and that an entire people can remain virtuous only within the framework of enlightened religion.  This is precisely the Muslim mission in America in the face of the secularizing chaos of people who call themselves liberal or progressive. 

  Perhaps the so-called Muslim progressives have never heard of the traditionalist movement that gave rise to the Great American Experiment and must be revived in order to launch the Second American Revolution.  Perhaps they have never heard of the Global Justice Movement launched, among other organizations, by the Center for Economic and Social Justice and of the American Revolutionary Party, each of which, but especially the CESJ, has its own sophisticated website.  These are the kinds of movements in which Muslims should become leaders.  We are wasting our time trying to gain favor or influence in any single party, because the future of America transcends parties, just as does the future of the world.

Response to Bobs commnts by Junaid Afeef

Dear Mr. Crane & Others:

Assalaamu Alaikum. First, I am honored to have my essay critiqued by Bob Crane (whose writings I have read, enjoyed and learned from over the past decade). From the distribution list I recognize Sheila Musaji from TAM - your good reputation precedes you.

I don’t know if I am a “Progressive” Muslim or not. I don’t think Cheryl Benard gave me that label option! I found MWU to be receptive to this particular essay, and I welcomed the opportunity to get it into the marketplace. That is how I found myself at MWU.

My exhortation to do justice is drawn from my understanding of Islam.  In my mind (but not explicitly in the essay) the adherence to and action upon Islamic values and principles is the modus operandi of establishing justice.

I agree that Muslims are wasting time trying to find THE party that best represents Muslims. I certainly do not think the Republican Party is the place for Muslims (while recognizing that there are plenty of Republicans with whom I personally can find lots of common ground), but I also do not think the Democrat Party is a clear choice either.

A secular society does not have be void of ethics and morality, and citizens of a secular society can be deeply spiritual.

Given the state of Islamic thought today, coupled with the maligned distribution of power and wealth in the world, I am wary of notions of an “Islamic State” as much as I am of a “Christian State” or a “Hindu State” (the three religions that play significant roles for me as I am
an American-Muslim of Indian origin - as Mr. Crane correctly presumed). The idea of “Islamic State” on the American Muslim Street as espoused by masjid leaders and Imams in America has an affinity for a Taliban-style government, and that sends a shiver down my spine (with nicer surroundings of course).

It makes more sense to me to believe that the “Islamic State” is a very difficult, but not impossible, goal, and that its establishment begins from the individual and moves forward by spreading to others, and finally arrives at some future date as a society that, because it is thoroughly imbued with the values of faith is in a State of Islam.

The foregoing may be a lot of hot air. Who knows? Please visit my blog at  to see other essays to get a sense of where I’m coming from. Thanks again for taking the time to educate me - sincerely appreciate it.

Junaid M. Afeef

Response to Discussion by Norm Kurland

Dear Bob, Junaid Afeef, and other good people,

As I read the article by Junaid Afeef, and the comments by Bob and the response from Junaid Afeef, I came to the conclusion that the word “secular” lies at the root of their differences. To me as a non-Muslim, “secular” describes a thing that, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “not sacred or ecclesiastical” in its essence. It is something that was not created by God but rather is a creation of inherently imperfect human beings, and therefore that thing is also imperfect. For example, a knife or any other tool is a secular instrument, and, as such, can be used by human beings for good (i.e., just) or bad (i.e., unjust) ends. I have always viewed the state or government as a tool, created not by God but by imperfect people. Based on that logic, the state or government or man-made laws are inherently secular.

But the state is a unique tool. It is an inherently dangerous tool since it is a tool of civilization that was invented as a social monopoly, a monopoly over the instruments of violence and coercion. This was recognized by Jefferson, Mason, Adams and other American Revolutionaries and reflected in the constitutional architecture that structured the diffusion of centralized Federal power through an elaborate set of checks-and-balances, such as the three independent branches of the Federal government, vertical checks by a federated system of states, and through the Bill of Rights that were supposed to secure the God-given rights of individual from infringement by government at any level or by a potential “tyranny of the majority.” (We’ve strayed far off the path of the visionary interdependent society of economically and socially independent (i.e., sovereign) citizens that the founders hoped to create, but I hope we can get back on the original track by breathing new life into the long-ignored Ninth Amendment that was intended to secure natural law and property rights to every person. See CESJ’s book, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen and the draft platform of the American Revolutionary Party.)

While the rights American enjoy flow from principles of what Bob calls “transcendent justice”, I see government and the constitutional architecture as “tools” designed by religiously inspired people to promote “freedom and justice for all” and therefore secular by nature.

But there is a difference between “secular” government and the pluralistic “religious society” the freedom of which America’s founders tried to safeguard in the First Amendment of the Constitution. No religion is legitimate, in my opinion, if it requires violence or coercion to maintain itself. Religion should attract and hold its adherents on the basis or persuasion and revelation, not force. God did not need force to create the universe and humanity’s role in that universe. The “Establishment Clause” of our First Amendment, in recognition of the religious wars of history, was designed to prevent future control of the coercive powers of the state from ever getting in the hands of theocratic interpreters, such as those in the Taliban regime, the Ayatollahs of Iran or even the Pat Robertsons of America. For the sake of universal principles of social and economic justice (i.e., the basis of which is human dignity of every human personality and the goal of which is the common good of all), I hope Bob would agree with me, we should treat government as “secular” but society, because we human are creations of God, as “religiously pluralistic.” (I would include within “religious pluralism” the right of some individuals to believe “absolutely” that there is no God, as long as their beliefs do not result in actions that infringe on the fundamental human rights of others.)

What I enjoyed in reading the exchanges is that we all agree that freedom follows justice. This recognition and common commitment to work for justice (properly defined) transcends our differences and brings hope that we can organize to turn the world right-side up. Based on my previous comments, I also share Junaid Afeef’s opposition to a “Christian state”, an “Islamic state”, ’ “Jewish state”, or any other designation for a government that is inherently exclusionary of those who the label does not fit. Let’s unite on the basis of shared core values, principles and vision of a just society.

In Peace through Justice,

Response to Bob Crane by Muqtedar Khan

Pluralism not Secularism, Islam not Islamic Ideology:
A Response to Robert Crane

M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.

I agree with Junaid Afeef, a critique of oneҒs humble arguments by Robert Crane is indeed a rare compliment.  Robert Crane is a highly respected and widely read American Muslim thinker and I have always enjoyed interacting with him. It is especially pleasant to engage in this exchange after having experienced the meanness, the abusiveness and the sheer venom of some Muslims who call themselves as Progressive Muslims .

In his recent article, Progressive Muslims’ Call for Abandoning Religion in order to Survive?Ӕ Dr. Crane makes three points in reference to an earlier article of mine, which I wish to dispute. These are the three points:

1. He refers to me as a Progressive Muslim.
2. He interprets my criticism of Islamic ideologies as a rejection of religion itself.
3. He seems to suggest that I am advocating secularism.

Here is my response to these three points. Before that, I wish to make a general statement and it is not necessarily addressed to Robert Crane. We are currently witnessing the emergence of an incipient Muslim public sphere here in the US. We find more and more Muslims engaging in written debates on how Islam should be interpreted and what directions should American Muslims pursue. This is wonderful. I however wish to request people not to make broad generalizations about (1) the religious beliefs of those whom you engage and criticize, (2) political orientations, (3) personal motivation and other broad issues based on one or two 1000 word articles.  Such personal attacks undermine the value of intellectual discourse and detract from the issues at stake. They also showcase the community in a bad light.

Progressive Muslim?

“Thus have We made of you a community justly balanced…” (Qur’an 2:143).

I have never identified myself as a progressive Muslim. I have however claimed that I am a moderate Muslim  who believes in peaceful resolution of conflicts within the community and with other communities. The key issue that defines moderation for me is the preference for Ijtihad over military Jihad as the instrument for socio-political transformation in the Muslim World.  I was expelled from the progressive Muslim network because I suggested that it is extremely difficult to argue that Islamic scriptures permit homosexuality. I am however an advisory board member of the Progressive Muslim Union and support many of their goals. But I have also been a member of the advisory Shura conducted by CAIR to plan its future ten years. I always resent it when people call me right-winger or left-wing, I consider myself a moderate, always in the middle following the Quranic injunction for the middle path (Quran 2:143).

Reject Religion?

In a Memo to the American Muslim Community after the elections in November 2004, I wrote, My recommendations to Muslims is to dump ideology, specially the Islamist ideology which is the mirror image of political ChristianityӔ. Much of Dr. Cranes criticism is based on this one sentence. Nowhere in that article or anywhere else have I asked Muslims to abandon Islam. It is ridiculous to even suggest that. Only two years ago I published a book titled American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom (Amana, 2004), in which I explore how Muslims can practice their faith in a free democratic society like the US. 

I am aware that many Muslims, especially those influenced by the thinking of Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and the Jamaat-e-Islami , use the word ideology as a positive term. I am more influenced by critical theory, which argues that power and its effects corrupt knowledge and make it an ideology that either pursues power or serves power. I am not interested in Islamic ideology, because to it would be Islam corrupted by power considerations. Dr. Crane initially refers to this possible understanding of ideology.

Secondly I am recommending that American Muslims move away from Islamic ideologies [plural] from the Muslim world such as those espoused by the Ikhwan, the Jamaat, the Hizbul Tahreer, the Tanzeem-e-Islami etc.  We must develop an Islamic understanding (Dr, Crane if you like you may call it an American Islamic ideology) that is authentic to our experience here rather than imitating (taqleed) of Muslim elsewhere.

My rejection of Islamic ideology is rejection of the interpretations of Islam by primarily political Islamic movements in the Muslim World and certainly not a rejection of Islam.

Advocating Secularism?

Dr. Crane misunderstands my entire position on secularism. I do not subscribe to the idea at all. In a book published very recently by The Brookings Institution titled One Electorate under God,  I argued, in an essay titled ғThe Myth of Secularism , that secularism was an enduring myth of modernity.  Also in an article titled the ԓRise of Political Christianity reflecting on the election outcome in November and 2004, I wrote:

ԓIt is time for American Muslims, American Jews, American Hindus and Buddhists, American Christians who are moderate, secular and liberal, to come together to form a moderate and pragmatic center, eschewing the aggressive anti-religiosity of the extreme left, respecting the religiosity of the right, to restore balance, and preserve American democracy and its traditionally balanced relationship with its first institution religion.֔

The point is that if the US becomes a non-secular society in the near future it would be due to the rise of political Christianity and its deleterious influence on US government and constitution.  Islam cannot survive in such an atmosphere.  If you notice I am calling for an alliance of all communities not just secular groups.

I agree with Junaid Afeef that in order for Islam to survive in the US, it must be secular, but I also agree with Robert Crane, that in order for Islam to thrive in the US, the US must be a pluralist and multicultural nation.

Dr. M.A Muqtedar Khan has a bachelors degree in Engineering and an MBA [from India], a M.A. in International Studies from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in International relations and Islamic political thought from Georgetown University. He is currently the Chair of Political Science and Director of International Studies at Adrian College. He is a Non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and the center for the study of Islam and Democracy. He is the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom (Amana, 2004) and Jihad for Jerusalem: Identity and Strategy in Intern! ational Relations (Praeger, 2004).  He is also a former President of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists.


  Muqtedar’s new contribution to the discusssion on progressivism is superb, as is everything he writes, which is why interchanges with him can serve so well to bring out the message of Islam and all religions for application in America.  We indeed are debating symantics, but for human beings reality has to be communicated, though not necessarily understood, through the medium of language.  Therefore the use of words to express thoughts is just as important as the thought itself.  Jeremy’s article,  TAM#20 Mar/Apr 2003, on “The War of Barbarisms” discusses this at some length.