Critics of Islamophobia, often left-wing activists, position themselves passionately against far-right hateful bigots, creating the mirage of the left being unconditionally allied with Islam and Muslims. It’s an easy (and necessary) task to identify calls for purging Muslims and passing anti-Muslim legislation as hateful and vile, but the manner in which this is done neglects an equally formidable enemy to Islam. The left tends to force Islam into the dichotomous nature of western politics, with the only available options being the hateful right or the accepting left. This proves to be a false narrative.
With the rise of anti-Islam sentiment, particularly in the west, a wave of so-called “Progressive Muslims” has capitalized on the hate to further their agenda. Progressive Muslims identify as Muslims but reject fundamental beliefs and practices because they are not consistent with left-wing polemics. They are a brand of reformists that undermine Islamic intellectual history and authoritative Islamic manuscripts including the Qur’an itself. The discourse espoused by the progressive Muslims reinforces the absurd accusations presented by bigots and ultimately adds fuel to their hateful fire. To disassociate themselves from culpability, progressive Muslims don themselves with the claim of being the polar opposite of visibly hateful right-wing bigots. After all, if bigotry and hate-speech is bad, and the opposite of bad is good, then progressive Muslims must be good, right? Careful examination of the dynamic in the relationship between progressive Muslims and right-wing bigots illuminates a sinister and strange convergence between the two movements with respect to their vision in the crusade against Islam.
Progressive Muslims established their foothold in academia and the media, with figureheads including Amina Wadud and Mona Eltahawy. The former attempted to launch a full-scale attack on Islamic orthodoxy, espousing supposed “alternatives” to many issues with 1400 years of scholarly consensus in Islamic intellectual history as well as firm evidence from the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions. The result can only be described as sophistry. The latter, a journalist, became the token “liberated” Muslim woman that, while espousing left-wing propaganda, became a weapon used by right wing media outlets, incessantly fueling hate for many Muslim women by purporting that the Islamic commandment of covering one’s body is inherently evil and oppressive. This is not surprising because neglecting the Qur’an and Sunnah in the quest to finding moral truths leads to significant moral corruption in the form of support for policies and leaders that actively harm Muslims. The result is discourse that is used to justify and dampen the guilt of further desolation of Muslim countries by the West and supposedly “Muslim” dictators. Tyranny and murderous foreign policies are turned a blind eye when the population of a Muslim nation is not as “progressive” as they believe it ought to be because the bloodshed is viewed as something that is for a greater good. This is evident in Mona Eltahawy’s support for tyrant Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup. In any case, the end goal for both of the aforementioned individuals and their colleagues in ideology is to restructure the Islamic framework and transform it into something completely palatable to the current secular-liberal atmosphere while making Islam unrecognizable to any traditional Muslim.
The approaches of the likes of Wadud and Eltahawy may differ slightly on face-value in that the former appears to be modifying parts of the Islamic tradition while the latter outright rejects them. However, their epistemic errors are indistinguishable in that their analyses of Islam are constructed upon a foundation that assumes secularism to be inherently normative. The discourse around secularism has ipso facto been biased towards legitimizing secular doctrines while prematurely condemning Islam. In other words, their push towards the secularization of Muslim societies is not one that is birthed from an honest approach towards the tradition wherein they came to a conclusion that it must be rejected; rather, the apparatus with which they approach the Islamic tradition is a paradigmatic silhouette of the secular Enlightenment, which predetermines a conclusion in opposition to anything Islamic (This will also be explored further in a future TT publication). This is, of course, riddled with logical absurdities that result in contradictions and circular arguments, including the assumption that a secular framework is one that makes only objective descriptive claims, when in reality, secularism is, ironically, as dogmatic as they claim other ideologies to be (a topic which will be explored further in another TT publication). The desired end result of these progressive Muslims, whether consciously articulated or not, seems to be to push Muslims into their vision of a global monoculture with the secular West as a template. To accomplish this, progressive Muslims have weaponized their language with loaded accusations of “extremism” and “misogyny” spewed in every direction to alienate orthodox Muslims until they submit to conformity. To repackage their brand of Islam as the token-standard, they formulated the notion of “moderate Islam,” with moderation implicitly defined as anything not in contradiction with left-wing social or political movements. With this, they succeed in ostracizing the vast majority of Muslims across the world, as well as any form of orthodox Islam.
The intellectual side of right-wing anti-Islam bigotry is eerily similar, with applauded apostates like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie presented as experts on all things Islamic and actively used as sources of knowledge by high profile bigots, including the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos. They mirror the likes of Eltahawy in their attacks on the hijab and join hands with the likes of Amina Wadud to demonize the Islamic legal tradition by imposing their misconceptions upon the “Shari’a law” boogeyman; with the only difference being that they don’t provide an alternative based on reinterpretation of already existing Islamic manuscripts. They attack the tradition with a deceivingly moral twist, branding themselves defenders of justice and equality. They espouse the same discourse as progressive Muslims but with a different flavor, meaning that, despite their rejection of Islam entirely, their epistemic errors are one and the same. But how can the work of a group of supposed progressive Muslims go hand-in-hand with bigots who attack the very idea of Islam? The deeper concern is one that comes at a basic ideological level. As mentioned, the epistemic approach of both progressive Muslims and anti-Islam bigots is indistinguishable. To be more precise, both are moiling for a global submission to a monoculture characterized by complete subservience to what is clearly the zeitgeist of hedonistic humanism. In summary, they believe that if an ideology is not compatible with a post-enlightenment paradigm, one that’s contingent upon the secularism of its forefathers, then it must be wiped out.
Truthfully, the existence of progressive Muslims is dependent upon the existence of right-wingers. Without the latter, the former finds no reference point from which an identity can be established in opposition. If bigots didn’t exist, progressive Muslims would have no choice but to derive their identity from an opposition to orthodox Islam itself. This, of course, would undermine their struggle to dupe unsuspecting non-Muslims into accepting their beliefs as what Muslims ought to believe in. As it currently stands, progressive Muslims have the luxury of extending the boundaries of right-wing bigotry to encompass most Muslims, which allows them to don the moralistic cloak of “progressivism.” When de-legitimized by orthodox Muslims, the progressive Muslims latch onto their opposition to the most militant of right-wingers to maintain relevance.
Under the identity-dependent, dichotomized political discourse of the contemporary West, one is compelled to pick a side and conform to whatever is acceptable under that respective ideological umbrella (Right vs Left). Naturally, identity politics does not allow one to see such a clear parallel between the two seemingly opposing groups. Had Muslims remained true to Islam, there would have been no chance for the progressive Muslims to slither under the debris of the fight against hateful bigots and bury the roots of a crisis of faith as deep as they are. In a recent podcast, Dr. Mohamed Ghilan narrates a personal experience wherein he expressed the Islamic position on sexual orientation to an audience, only to hear a retort from a Muslim activist who proceeded to explain that, “this is just the orthodox position, most Muslims don’t believe in that.” Dr. Ghilan continues to explain that the concern of these progressive Muslims is not really what is right or wrong according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, rather, they are concerned with obedience to the cultural zeitgeist to fuel their struggle towards whatever end they are using to justify their heterodox beliefs.
Islam has seen the rise of hateful opposition throughout history, but this time, the progressive Muslims have injected themselves into the struggle wearing a shroud of “moderation,” a tactic to garner support from the public. Despite this, in the grand scheme of western political trajectory, progressive Muslims are worthless to the interlocutors of the debates on secular liberalism. Progressive Muslims are used as a tool by which secular ideologies can be reinforced against criticisms from detractors by appealing to a range of supporters. Thus, those spearheading the post-Enlightenment movements are able to insinuate that their movement is even endorsed by Muslims. The nature of progressive Muslims’ role relative to the ivory towers of western thought production imposes a fate of inevitable extinguishment upon their supposedly progressive movement. But, if left unchecked, they will not depart until they leave behind a formidable dent in the resilience of the fidelity of Muslims to the Islamic tradition. Muslims must harness their intellectual freedom and submit not to parasitic ideologies, even when forced into physical subservience.
Editor’s Note (8/20/2018): In order to more accurately reflect the author’s intent we’ve made changes to wording (e.g liberal to progressive), added more references to strengthen the claims made therein, and structural changes to certain parts of the article were made for readability.
About the author: Wassim is an undergraduate student studying biology, chemistry, religion, and philosophy. In his free time, he studies creed, jurisprudence, and the sciences of the heart. You can follow him on Twitter here.