Monday, February 07, 2005

Silicon Valley Muslims Address "Progressive Islam"

Since I moved to the San Francisco Bay--or more specifically, the Silicon Valley--Area in late 2000, I have interacted with quite a few groups with the phrase "American Muslim" in their name. AMILA ( has been one that, from my limited interaction, seemed to have one of the sunnier dispositions. But for some reason, I never seemed to connect with them to be able to attend meetings and the like. I know some people who are members, and have met one of their "leadership circle" (for want of a better word) and remember being impressed by him as someone who seemed rather level-headed, etc. Then AMILA fell off my radar--it seemed that they were going through one of those phases of lowered energy that volunteer efforts go through, and I, on the other hand, was busy with other things (election activism, South Asian issues and so on). Their website, it seemed to me also reflected this: their photo gallery ended at events in 2002 and the Steering Committe mentioned was for 2003-2004. And then someone forwarded me information on the following event:

February AMILA Gathering: What is "Progressive" Islam? A Conversation with Ahmed Nassef, Imam Zaid Shakir, Maha El Genaidi, and Ahmed Kamal Sultan Salem
Saturday, February 12th, 6:00 pm - In recent times, American media pundits such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman have claimed that a "civil war" is taking place within Islam, a war which draws clear dividing lines between Muslims "with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one." The last few years have also witnessed the emergence of various groups–both inside and outside the Muslim community–calling for reforms in Islam that claim to make it possible to recast its practices in forms better suited to our "modern" times.

You can read the full announcement at:

Now call me a English-medium paranoid Pakistani who is reading too much into this, but the following part of that webpage jumped out at me:

"...binarizing formulations–i.e. progressive/traditional, East/ West, forward/ backwards–fail to address the myriad of complexities facing Muslims living in a thoroughly globalized world."

While the complexity thing is good, but to imply that the two types of Islam found hereabouts in Silicon Valley can be "binarized" by anyone into "progressive" versus "traditional" is to imply that the folks that most vocally disagree with the progressives--the mainstream mosque-based activist Muslim in, oh, say Santa Clara County--is a "traditionalist". Dare I mention those who take for granted that the views of Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi are, well, to be taken for granted as the authoritative take on how to live as a Muslim? I have to say, to use an Americanism, ain't my grandfather's Islam. In fact, as I have mentioned on this blog before, my late maternal grandfather at one point changed the mosque he walked to five times a day in Karachi, Pakistan. He didn't go around arguing with them about whether they were "true" Muslims. He just steered away from hanging around them too much; a luxury he had in a city where you can hear the call to prayer from at least 3 mosques at any given prayer time.

So it should be interesting to see how AMILA handles this one. The program promises a "talk from Ahmed Nassef, editor-in-chief of Muslim WakeUp! and one of the founding members of the PMU ... followed by a mediated discussion between Nassef and our other distinguished panelists, Imam Zaid Shakir, Maha El Genadi, and Ahmed Kamal Sultan Salem (bios below)." So it seems like they are implying that this is a case of a new view--at least for this community--having a conversation with the mainstream already present here.

And when I went back to AMILA's site to see if I could tease out a more detailed understanding of where exactly they were coming from, I noticed a few things. Firstly, apparently, I was mistaken: their website lists an unbroken list of events they have organized or co-sponsored (see their main site, so they were less inactive than thought. Then--if you will forgive my personal emphasis on such things, but the whole globe is fixated on this right now--there was nary a headscarf amongst the "Steering Committee" for 2003-4...or wait! is that one I see there? Next, when you do read through their events, they've had a retreat that included Kabir & Camille Helminski as "guests and teachers" (Sufis from Southern California with an affiliation with the Mevlevi Order), and sessions with Nadeem Mohaiemen and Mohja Kahf ( see also the column she "anchors" on MWU!, but be warned, it is not for the faint of faith, I mean, heart).

I am going to try hard to get to this event! Be there; or be square. (Pun unintended--but not unfortunate ;)).

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