Please Stop Telling Us to Abandon Islam: An Open Letter From a Muslim Reformer

| May 17, 2013 | 20 Comments

In the last two weeks, I’ve twice come across conversations where I’m either directly or indirectly encouraged toward apostasy. The first was two weeks ago, when I bumped into the fiery Nonie Darwish, and a second more sincere outcry today on Facebook from a dear lady with whom I’m in the midst of cultivating a unique friendship. She asks of moderates and reformists:

“What do you do with the truth of Islam that exists in the Quran? How can you re-interpret what it says to make yourself feel better (deceived) about Islam? No enlightenment will come to Islam. The emerging leaders will grow more militant OR leave Islam. That’s an absolute you can count on. One or the other….but, the reformists/moderates will need to make a choice sooner than later. You are not a favored or accepted category any longer. Your mantra is growing old and stale…and, no evidence of change because you are a laughing stock (sadly) to your religion/Muslim world.”

Despite looming deadlines and a toddler who’s overdue for some outdoor play, I feel compelled to respond, not out of anger or some futile need for word wars…but out of heartbreak. You see, I completely get what you’re saying here and understand where you’re coming from. I share your frustration and have my own frustration that stems from your comment. When it comes to our faith, there are three issues:

1) Some verses in the Quran have layered meanings…not two meanings, but three sometimes four. It took me ten years of study to get to that point and I’m still a novice here. I would have gotten there sooner, as would many others, if Muslims were more open to actually dissecting the Quran instead of paying blind homage to it. Personally I got to this point through pushing reform, from taking the hard path that made life a living hell for a while, that separated me from family or convenience. I know plenty of other Muslims recognizing something isn’t right but not knowing where to look or how to see.

2) There are plenty of verses in the Quran that we can’t make excuses for because there are no excuses to be had. A spade is spade. We have to recognize what’s wrong here, which brings on a greater challenge of first recognizing that the Quran is not without imperfection. There is a process and it’s in place. I’ve seen it done, I’ve done it myself, and I’ve led other people through it in conversations. I know for a fact that we can change, because I’ve lived it and seen it. The goal is getting it to a global stage…and we’re looking at 50+ years for that conservatively at this rate where reformers are vastly under-supported and worked against from all sides.

3) There’s also the issue of Muhammad, who plays a dubious and flawed role as a prophet. As Muslims, we need to recognize that  and stop treating him as some infallible demi god. Believe it or not, this is the biggest challenge, but again I’ve lived it, seen it, done it, and gotten other Muslims to realize it as well – the staunchest of the staunch. So it is possible.

Just like the Quran has many layers, the reform movement has multiple layers as well…we’ve got conflicting personalities, people interpreting reform in their own way – there’s a struggle within Islam and a struggle within the reform movement. Real religious reform already happened in Islam centuries ago and the progressives lost. This is round two and this time the climate is ripe for us to come out on top.

For anyone invested in Islam and its effect on a civilization, I say this: I applaud you. I applaud you for taking the time to learn and advocate awareness for something that isn’t your own. I was born into this, but you weren’t. That isn’t an easy undertaking and in so many ways you show more compassion, interest, and in some cases even an understanding beyond Muslims themselves. I wish more Muslims had your passion. That said, I implore you to apply the impossibility, the absolutely imperceptible reality that millions of Muslims will somehow magically abandon Islam. They will never abandon Islam. Don’t think of the moderate, the progressive, or even the fundamentalist. Think of the family in the villages remote from warfare, for whom Islam is a deeply rooted part of their identity – the family that has no access to education, no interest in politics, no part in any war. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of such Muslims, whether they live a village with huts and dirt floors or a modern 1st world village with picket fences, play dates, and mortgages; these two still live in a village of the mind and you will never get them to abandon Islam. To impose a precept that involves leaving Islam shows a frustratingly pinhole understanding of Muslims, while at the same time completely undermining the few reformers who are essentially the only solution we have to what’s ultimately a shared concern and goal.

Give us a chance. We’re working class people who don’t get a paycheck for reform work. We do it in addition to earning a living, raising our families, and trying to live our lives with some normality while battling a Goliath of a problem. We don’t have the House of Saud, the USG, or any other entity funding our aims. We’re an army of a handful of Martin Luthers all banging on Kaaba doors in our own way.

Help us.

 

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Category: REFORM

About the Author (Author Profile)

Shireen Qudosi founded Qudosi Chronicles post 9-11 when realizing not enough Muslims were speaking out about the community’s shortcomings. Since it’s inception, Qudosi Chronicles has developed a broad and diverse following that breaks partisan lines and bridges faith groups. Shireen has been published in several leading industry publications, including PJ Media, Middle East Forum, Illume, among others. She’s also hosted several talks on Islam for the San Diego community. In addition to Qudosi Chronicles, she heads Qudosi Creative Partners – a content driven new media marketing boutique firm. In 2012, she also established Qahani, a handmade jewelry line that merges a South Asian heritage with contemporary design.

Comments (20)

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  1. M. Bison says:

    A thoughtful and heartfelt piece Shireen. I sympathise with your sentiments, true and lasting reform of Islam, as in all major ideologies throughout history, can only come from within.

    That said, I find much of reasoning problematic and I’ll explain why.

    1) Any argument that seems to be prefixed with “what God really meant to say was…” is always going to ring alarm bells for me. The Quran itself describes itself as a clear book, written in plain language. When I see some of the tortured reinterpretations and convoluted explanations of verses to try and make some parts of the Quran more palatable, I ask myself whether or not one is trying to justify the unjustifiable. Rather like Clinton agonising over the meaning of the word ‘is’, we wouldn’t expect a book of guidance from God to humanity to require decades of opaque study by so-called experts in order for them to tell us that black is, in fact, white.

    2) If we recognise that there are verses in the Quran which are imperfect, then it means that at least one of the standard assumptions behind Islam are at fault i.e. that muslims have to re-evaluate whether:

    i) the Quran comes directly from God
    ii) the Quran has been transmitted to us in its original form

    The question is whether it is indeed possible to call oneself a muslim after rejecting either of the 2 assumptions (although neither are mentioned in the shahada). Not a conversation I would envy having with hardline muslims.

    3) The trouble with recognising Muhammed as somehow less than perfect ties into the notion of identity you bring up later. Muslims are generally taught to love Muhammed more than they love a close relative. Any criticism of Muhammed, however well intentioned, is met (by some) as an outright personal attack on their muslim identity and that which is cherished most dearly.

    As someone brought up in the Islamic faith, I recognise the central significance of the religion to the identity of its adherents. You are quite correct when you say that most Muslims will never abandon Islam. The challenge is to bring nuance to the absolute, Manichean precepts which Islam requires despite the fact that these precepts are embodied within the identity of Muslims themselves.

    And, just to add, I’m an ex-muslim now. I happen to believe that Islam is not true, that the claims it makes for it’s veracity cannot be justified (any more than other religion). The arguments you make seem to be in favour of maintaining some kind of muslim identity, because life for many would be impossible to imagine otherwise. I admire the path you’re taking, but first have to ask whether it isn’t more important to first ask yourself ‘is this true?’ Its my contention that if you look at Islam through objective eyes, and not the lofty eyes of self-aggrandising Muslim scholars, you’ll come to se that it was a burgeoning Near-East socio-political system with zero evidential backing for any supernatural elements.

    Lastly, I repeat that I believe the work you’re doing is very important and very necessary. But also, that I see many insurmountable difficulties ahead. Good luck!

    An ex-muslim

    • Rashida Khan says:

      Dear Shireen:

      What you write is so rare! I want to wish you all the speed and success.

      May I make a humble observation? Please ignore the voices that tell you to leave Islam. In every major religious tradition, a quantum leap arrives when one or a few courageous people band together to overturn a millenia of orthodoxy. In Hinduism, that happened with Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy overturned the reprehensible practice of Sati (widow burning), and Mahatma Gandhi spearheaded the overturning of the caste system. And, Christianity resisted, but ultimately yielded to Galileo. It is always better to reform from within than to condescend, criticize, complain, and condemn from outside the religion.

      Other posters have made the opposite observation, and their logic is not to be faulted. But in matters of faith, human beings are not beings of logic. Kind words, not dry proofs, move hearts.

      If a reform movement exists, then slowly it will gather force and break through stiff resistance. What we need is a secret underground in which brave souls support each other and chip away at the rock a little at a time.

      Best wishes,
      Rashida.

    • keo akana says:

      Your comments reflect my thoughts as well. Thank you for such a good reply.

    • Hakim Naved says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with your response. Why should an archaic system of thought be made so sacrosanct that we need to keep justifying its relevance? Let’s move on and adopt new modern philosophies of life. Ancient philosophies that have outlived their usefulness, and are the cause of much strife on earth, should be relegated to the “dustbin” of history. However, at the same time, ancient wisdom in the form of Greek philosophy for example, should be retained and revised for our times of course. After all, philosophy is ever open to revision, rethinking, interrogation, etc.

  2. noname says:

    But really, reform will NEVER happen so you should leave Islam. You’ll be murdered before you enact any real change and I think we both know that. If you still want to believe in a god, why not convert to a real Abrahamic religion like Christianity or Judaism?

    • Cherie says:

      That’s ridiculous. There are no “reformers” out there getting murdered. We all heard about Malala because it’s so rare. Most of the Middle East is nothing like Afghanistan, and the rest of the world not at all. She was shot because she was religiously AND politically dangerous. And she happens to be a Marxist, fyi.

  3. Lyone says:

    In a very short space, I think you have put things in a very succinct and clear way. I have great admiration for reform-minded Muslims, such as yourself–especially such a brave woman to be so outspoken.

    I am an Orthodox Jewish woman, who has studied, and taught, comparative religion. And many in my community are completely unaware that there are Muslim reformers such as yourself, Zuhdi Jassir, etc. I try to point this out as often as possible–as you say, “there’s a struggle within Islam”–and that we need to remember not to paint all Muslims with the same broad brush.

  4. William Shelton says:

    Alhamdullilah, my sister. Alhamdullilah!

  5. Hi, Shireen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You seem like a nice lady trying to do a nice thing. I wish you good luck, I really do.

    I’ll politely disagree with your post, though. There’s so much wrong with it.

    You complain that people have invited you to leave Islam.

    Shireen, I’m Catholic. People mock and disparage Christianity and Catholicism to me on a daily basis. I receive endless “I hate Christian” type posts in my facebook feed. Television, radio, newspapers, all media, really, are replete with Christophobia.

    With all respect to you, Shireen, I do not pity you, and I cannot take your complaint seriously.

    If you really want to know what it is to receive negative feedback on your faith, please tell people you are Catholic. You will be pelted with so much negative feedback you will think you are under an avalanche.

    But, to more important matters.

    Shireen, you wrote, “Some verses in the Quran have layered meanings…not two meanings, but three sometimes four. It took me ten years of study to get to that point and I’m still a novice here.”

    My friend, again, with respect, it really doesn’t matter. What you’ve written above just doesn’t matter at all.

    It doesn’t matter if “Fight the unbelievers, slay them wherever you find them, crucify them, chop off their hands and feet,” or “Your wife is your field; plough her as you wish” or “Beat your wife” is interpreted *by you* after ten minutes or ten years of study. What matters is how a critical mass of Muslims interpret these lines.

    Shireen, do you really think it makes a whit of difference to the estimated 80 million Hindus and other Indians who lost their lives to Jihad how YOU interpret “fight the unbelievers”? Do you think those mountains of skulls on the Indian subcontinent would be any lower? The problem is not your layers of interpretation. The problem is consensus reality, my dear. The problem is dead bodies. Too many dead bodies. Please realize that.

    Shireen, you wrote, “There’s also the issue of Muhammad, who plays a dubious and flawed role as a prophet. As Muslims, we need to recognize that and stop treating him as some infallible demi god.”

    Shireen, elevation of Mohammed to near deity status is a foundational element of Islam. This elevation is inscribed in the very way Muslims speak – adding “SAWS” every time they mention Mohammed’s name. It is inscribed in the way Muslims act – murdering others because of a Danish cartoon; disallowing age of consent laws because Mohammed married a six year old girl when he was over fifty.

    If you remove deification of Mohammed from Islam, you fundamentally change Islam. You are already an apostate.

    Shireen, you wrote:

    “I implore you to apply the impossibility, the absolutely imperceptible reality that millions of Muslims will somehow magically abandon Islam. They will never abandon Islam. Don’t think of the moderate, the progressive, or even the fundamentalist. Think of the family in the villages remote from warfare, for whom Islam is a deeply rooted part of their identity – the family that has no access to education, no interest in politics, no part in any war. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of such Muslims, whether they live a village with huts and dirt floors or a modern 1st world village with picket fences, play dates, and mortgages; these two still live in a village of the mind and you will never get them to abandon Islam”

    Shireen, I wonder if you realize this. In what you wrote, above, you sound EXACTLY like a citizen of Mississippi in the early sixties, telling a northerner that nothing would ever allow the Deep South to abandon Jim Crow.

    Jim Crow Southerners said the exact same things. “This is our tradition. This is our way of life. We will never change it.”

    You sound exactly like a conservative Hindu defending the caste system. “This is our tradition. This is our way of life. We will never change it.”

    Shireen, my friend, have you ever heard the phrase, “Cut your losses” or “Quit while you are ahead”?

    You believe Islam must be reformed. Those who disagree with you probably say the same thing to you that you just said, above. “This is our tradition. This is our way of life. We will never change it.”

    You want to be a reformer. Be one.

  6. david says:

    Until Islam has it’s “treaty of Westphalia” moment and separates secular government from personal religious choice, it will be violent. And until it renounces tactics of violence and deceit, it can’t be trusted

  7. Dawud Israel says:

    And then there is the issue of…your nafs…

    And if that doesn’t get to you, then there is also the issue of your mortality.

    di.

  8. We viewed contemporary Muslims as crippled by colonization and far adrift from the straight path. In much insecurity and drifting, I found fundamentalism a perdurable anchor. We romanticized the early generation of “pious predecessors” and sought to capture their vigor by imitation. To revive the Islamic spirit for a fresh renaissance, we propagated a fundamentalist version of Islaam to unite Muslims under one refined but exemplary model. Unislaamic programs such as communism, democracy, socialism, and capitalism were thought as destined for the dustbin. The ideal of freedom was vehemently rejected as implausible, even in a democracy. The latter we ridiculed as “democrazy.” The plan we envisioned was a homologous Islaamic ummah comprised of compliant Muslim nations willing to accept this nostalgic ideology, followed by a pan-Islaamic government. Funded by Arab petroleum sales, this jihaad could be sustained because Muslim countries held approximately 80% of the world’s readily accessible reserves of crude oil. This would enable the restoration of the Khilaafah, and thus usher in a Khaleefah. The military defeat of an emasculated mujaahideen brought about some promising perspective and reformation. Our focus was needed elsewhere, besides Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Pattani, Palestine, etc. We chose the alternative frontier in jihaad, Islaamic da’wah, to rectify the decadent affair of present-day Muslims. However, from the very get-go, politicized Islaam was a dud that failed to launch. The Salaf (pious predecessors of the first three generations of Muslims) of seventh-century Islaam were far from exemplary and their ummah was riddled by schism and assassinations. With a religion that advocated jihaad and casus belli, it was inevitable to have infighting factions. We had never achieved an Islaamic utopia and, without an appropriate method for reformation of Islaam, the future seemed not promising without a strategic platform to alleviate the plight of Muslims.

  9. Orbala says:

    Thank you so much for writing this piece :) While I disagree with some parts, I agree with much of it and deeply appreciate this as a response to all those who constantly tell us to leave Islam just because we disagree with the dominant/traditional perspective on Islam among Muslims. The answer is never to just leave something; it’s to stay and work for it. For instance, just because I am unhappy about the state of affairs in my native country (Pakistan), doesn’t mean I should leave the country forever–what it means is that I should work for it. That’s how I see my struggle as a Muslim feminist.

  10. Zohaib Ahmad says:

    Well…. I’ve read several idiotic , nonsense, baseless, hatred filled comments on Islam…

    But believe me this one is one of the best….

    Shireen… i think a jew or Catholic female whatever u are…. not evrn near to Islam thats for sure….

    1… I don’t think you’d ever studied the Holy Quran… but commented that it had layered meanings two or three meanings… ill recomend u that do read it once believe me Quran is clear and Alhamdulillah explains every thing clearly… do broaden up your intellect level to atleast to the level of ten year kid youll surely find its meaning clear layers are for disbelievers and for those who wannit to disgrace islam and its teachings… generally a book is read with its context so as Quran if youll just pick one verse and interpret it according to ur own desire then the problem lies with in you not in Quran…
    Alhamdulillah Quran provide complete code of life even to non-Muslims…. but you mam i think have zero info just posted a blog so that you can disgrace Islam but let me tell completely in vain….

    2…. A spade is a spade…. yes Alhamdulillah Quran is flawless Alhamdulillah… your beloved jews and Catholics continuously exploring Quran and they even admitted that 80% of Quran has been expkored and that is 100% correct and the remaining 20% is yet to be explored by your beloved jews and Catholics… and if those nonbelievers have accepted the truthness of Quran then ill recommend you too to once go through it… by the way we Muslims believed 100% correctness of Quran because we have explored it followed it and founf it best among all other holy books…
    I’ll recomend all you whatever ur religion is to do listen any Islamic scholar… want a modern one then dr.zakir naik…. the one who can even guide you about your own religion too….

    3.. basics of every religion is to believe in God and then on His messenger… and the one who does the both is known as believer else nonbeliever even Christians believe in Jesus… our beloved Prophet is the symbol of humanity but you nonbelievers keeps on insulting him and continues your blasphamic attitude but our Prophet taught us to respect others so we love to do so we dont commit blasphemy against your Holy one’s… and we believe in peace as we have footings of our ancestors like that… and i think you should study your books thoroughly plz thats a request cos even in there God had intimated you about the last Prophet but you still had chosen the darkness thats your own choice but still ill recomend you to do once read your own Holy books…. and i think if u love someone or respect someone then you cant bear any negativity against that loved one and Muslims love their Prophet and respect him so i think thats not a big issue but there is a real issue among you people whether you loved or still love your prophet or not????

    Mam shireen stop arguing or posting non sense idiotic posts do whatever you like adopt any religion whatever fits your desire but plz never ever comment on any religion i repeat on any religion without studying such religion and without any base… thx.

    A BORN, CURRENT AND INSHA ALLAH WILL DIE AS A MUSLIM…

  11. Anonymous says:

    Do what ever you want and what ever you like its your life and you are free to make decision of your own
    But always remember
    That
    There is a life after this life
    And in that life you will be paid for what you have been doing in the life given to you in this world
    Choose whatever religion you like
    Choose whatever you want
    But. If its not halal
    Than you should worry about it that it will cost you in the life after this
    There is only on Religion near ALLAH and that is Islam no other wil be questioned about anything at the day of judgement
    If you want to buy fire of Jahannum for your afterlife you are free to buy it
    Everyone is responsible for what he or she is doing

  12. Proud to be a Muslim says:

    Do what ever you want and what ever you like its your life and you are free to make decision of your own
    But always remember
    That
    There is a life after this life
    And in that life you will be paid for what you have been doing in the life given to you in this world
    Choose whatever religion you like
    Choose whatever you want
    But. If its not halal
    Than you should worry about it that it will cost you in the life after this
    There is only on Religion near ALLAH and that is Islam no other wil be questioned about anything at the day of judgement
    If you want to buy fire of Jahannum for your afterlife you are free to buy it
    Everyone is responsible for what he or she is doing

  13. Fazel Subian says:

    The purpose of a religion is a selfish (Muslim) to become a selfless (Muslimeen).
    The purpose is lost, only prehistoric culture & traditions remains.
    All are born as Muslims (selfish). The word ‘Muslim’ do not exist in Qur’an, but exist in translations.

    ‘TRUE ESSENCE OF RELIGIONS’, To Unite all
    http://www.fazelsubian.com
    Contradictions in misinterpreted Qur’an translations? :: Acronyms of Letters of Qur’an and religious scriptures? :: RELIGIONS. :: LAWS OF RELIGION? :: HUMAN JOURNEY FROM ATHEISM TO RELIGIOUSNESS IS DEFINE AS A JOURNEY FROM ONE’S SELFISH NATURE TO SELFLESS BLISS
    1Like · · Share

  14. Augustine says:

    Dear Shireen,

    The following letter is being circulated in this part of the world.
    Kindly request an expert opinion on this. Thanks

    An Ex-Muslim’s Open Letter to Muslims of the World
    http://www.islam-watch.org/authors/63-letters/961-an-ex-muslims-open-letter-to-muslims-of-the-world.html

    • Shireen Qudosi says:

      From whom would you like me to request an expert opinion? Frankly, most current Muslims disregard thoughts of an ex-Muslim and wouldn’t give it the time of day.

  15. Naruq says:

    The fallacy is that everything can be reformed. Not so. The Quran has only imitated truth within it and manifest falsehood encompassing what little imitation it has.

    Then there is the vile. The verses, the character of Muhammad…and the continuing effect of this ‘religion’ on people today and the suffering that ensues from the attachment to it…

    What do you wish to salvage from this?

    Islam has to be discarded completely…one cannot reform totalitarianism coupled with barbarism using a messianic medium…

    Why would you want to?

    It is to be thrown away…it’s false!

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