We Know How to Reform Islam – It’s Time to Actually Do It, Muslims Say

A Dec. 3 panel of Muslim public figures meeting at the Heritage Foundation discussed a “reformation” of Islam that can only be achieved by Muslims speaking out against extremism and promoting human rights.

Muslim chaplain prays during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Muslim chaplain prays during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. (photo: DVIDSHUB via Flickr CC BY 20)

WASHINGTON — Islam needs a “reformation” that can only be achieved by Muslims speaking out against extremism and promoting human rights, said a panel of Muslim public figures on Thursday.

“If Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries are to be protected, we must demand the protection of non-Muslims within Muslim-majority countries,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, former member of the Pakistani Parliament, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Thursday. 

Ispahani was part of a panel of Muslims speaking out against ISIS and Islamist extremism. The panel agreed that Muslims and Western democratic countries must not deny that Islamist extremism is behind acts of terrorism and human-rights abuses worldwide, but work to counter that ideology.

“As Islamic extremists gain power and rule, human-rights abuses, including oppression of women, homosexuals and religious minorities, as well as governmental tyranny, sectarian warfare and bigotry inherent in Sharia law, come to the fore,” Ispahani said. 

Muslims should promote “modern pluralistic values” and “human rights,” as established by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, she added. 

“Right now, there is no clear ideological campaign to fight ISIS and to fight Islamism.” 

“We have all heard, ‘Where are the Muslim voices?’” that are speaking out against ISIS, she noted, adding, “Here we are, and we have others like us.” 

While some have wrongly blamed all Muslims for Islamist terrorism, members of the D.C. panel said, others wrongly have failed to make any mention of Islam in condemning such acts. 

“Too much deflection has been happening on this issue,” said Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Muslims must acknowledge the fact that radical Islam has fueled human-rights abuses and must push for a reformation that involves a “separation of mosque and state” with religious pluralism and respect for human rights, he said. 

When Islamist extremists commit acts of violence, Muslims must resist the temptation to simply say the extremists “are not Muslims,” emphasized Naser Khader, a member of the parliament in Denmark of the Conservative People’s Party. Denying that the extremists are true believers excuses the moderates from having to advocate for reform in Islam, he explained.

“We cannot say that the Islamic State are not Muslims. That is what they call themselves,” he said. ISIS has a state built on a “jihadist vision of Islam,” he said, murdering and enslaving other people “with the Quran in their hands.” 

“If we, the Muslims, do not face the problem of violence that links to Islam in our time, how will we ever succeed in ripping Islam out of the hands of these destructive powers and lift our religion into the 21st century?” he asked. 

The rights of women and religious minorities in particular should be central to an Islamic reformation, the panel insisted. 

Many Islamists, including ISIS, hold centuries-old standards for women that ignore “progressive changes” that have happened since then, the panelists said. They argued that misogyny is rampant in these Islamist sects, which insist upon segregation of women at mosques and schools and the role of a woman being only to fulfill a man’s needs. 

Islamist literature is “full of statements” against women’s rights, Ispahani said.

The Islamist concept of jihad also needs to be refuted, said journalist Asra Nomani. 

Chapter 9 verse 5 of the Quran instructs to “kill the Mushrikun,” or those who equate someone else with God, she explained. ISIS members used this word when they beheaded 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in February.

“Common sense prevails that that is both unethical, immoral and illegal,” she insisted, adding that critical thinking will show that verse was from the seventh century, when Mohammed was surrounded by enemies intent upon destroying him.

“It is not a timeless verse that exists forever until today,” she said. “We now reject this literal reading so that it cannot be used anymore as a sanction for murder.”

“Our jihad is a struggle for reformation,” she continued. “We are in a struggle for the future of our world. … It is a struggle of ideology.”

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy