There, the best speaker of the night was Abdullah Bin Bayyah, an elderly Mauritanian sheikh dressed in traditional white Arab garb, offset by a long grey beard. The words coming out of the sheikh's mouth - all in Arabic - were remarkably progressive. He confronted inaccurate assumptions about Islam, spoke of tolerance, and, in gentle admonishment, told fellow Muslims an unpleasant truth: "Perhaps much of this current crisis springs from us." He chastised Muslims for inadequately explaining their beliefs, thereby letting other, illiberal voices speak for them.I know I'm guilty of this. I often make the distinction between 'moderate/progressive' Muslims and 'fundamentalist' Muslims but what does this say about my own views of Islam?
I was shocked by his blunt, albeit nuanced, analysis, given his traditional, religious appearance. And then I was troubled by my own reaction. To what extent had I, a hijabi (veil-wearing) Muslim woman pursuing Middle Eastern/Islamic studies, internalized the untruthful portrayals of my own fellow Muslims? For far too long, I had been offered a false snapshot of what Islamic orthodoxy really meant.
As the sheikh continued his address, he challenged Bin Laden's violent interpretation of jihad (holy struggle), citing Koranic verses and prophetic narrations. He referred to jihad as any "good action" and recounted a recent conversation with a non-Muslim lawyer who had asked if electing a respectable official would be considered jihad. The sheikh said he had answered "yes," since voting for someone who supports the truth and upholds justice is a good action.
I'm obviously not feeling very talkative/writeative* lately.
*Yes, I made up that word