Raheel Raza is the President of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow (MFT), a non-profit think-tank established with the purpose of bringing together the East and West. She produced a documentary titled, Whose Sharia Is It Anyway? about the debate over Sharia Law in Ontario, Canada.
Her organization stands against Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. She said at MFT’s launch that, “We wish to expose those elements amongst us who totally disagree with Canadian values, yet insist on using them for nefarious purposes, to conquer and infiltrate.”
She is the first Muslim woman in Canada to lead mixed gender prayers and runs the Forum for Learning to educate youth about the dangers of terrorism and radicalization. She has spoken at the House of Commons in Canada and the United Kingdom and at prominent universities including Oxford, Columbia and Cambridge.
The following is Raheel Raza’s interview with Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro:
Ryan Mauro: What is the mission of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and what makes it different from other anti-Islamist Muslim groups?
Raheel Raza: We are a forum for all Muslims who want to be an integral part of Canada’s liberal democracy and to be seen as such. We believe in separation of mosque and state. We support and organize open and free intellectual discourse; offer religious, historical and practical education; and maintain dialogue with other faiths. Our goal is to empower Muslim-Canadians to celebrate Canada’s cultural diversity in all of its aspects and to keep Canada safe.
MFT is not a religious organization but a movement for Muslims from all backgrounds, traditions and nationalities to face tomorrow, unlike some of my co-religionists who would rather face the 7th century. We embrace anyone from any faith or tradition who embraces our vision, and our strength lies in the fact that our advisory board consists of Muslims from various denominations and members of other faiths as well.
MFT wants to hold up the face of Islam that is fully compatible with reason, history and science. In other words, Islam at its essence is an affirmation of monotheism and is not at odds with the modern world. Muslims have forgotten or never fully understood this, except for those early philosophers in Islam who were declared heretics by men in power, such as al-Farabi or al-Kindi or ibn Rushd. Muslim rulers and religious elites turned Islam in a direction contrary to early Muslim thinkers to reflect the dominant culture of the time.
Our effort in MFT is to educate Muslims to be at peace with the modern world since there is nothing in the modern world – in terms of individual freedom, democracy, gender equality, human rights and modern science – that is incompatible with Islam.
Mauro: What is MFT’s position on Sharia Law?
Raza: We do not say, for a single moment, that Sharia is compatible with democracy or human rights as practice them today. Our website says that “MFT distinguishes between Islam as a monotheistic faith tradition and Shari’a, as a time-bound, humanly-constructed legal-political system in the name of Islam from the 9th-10th century that is mostly at odds with the modern world.
Mauro: Was there a defining moment that compelled you to get involved?
Raza: I have always been an activist speaking out for justice and truth, but 9/11 brought me the realization that the spiritual message of my faith has been hijacked, my voice has been hijacked, my country has been hijacked – so I have to speak out.
I did this informally for many years, and then decided that governments have to also get involved because we can’t do this on our own. There are very few voices speaking out against the violence in the name of Islam and even fewer women’s voices, so as a Muslim woman I stepped forth to defend my faith from those Muslims who have abused it and continue to abuse it.
And in the process of abusing Islam, these Muslims threaten others by intimidating the overwhelming majority of Muslims and violently silencing those Muslims who disagree with them, especially since 9/11.
Mauro: How do groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) affect the Muslim-American community?
Raza: MFT stands opposed to all these Muslim and Islamic organizations as they represent Islam, more or less, as a political ideology and not a personal faith of individuals. As a political ideology, Islam has been turned into an instrument for power in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. It is used to justify the authority of people like Khomeini and his followers who, in the name of Islam, are at war with the modern world of science, democracy, pluralism, human rights, etc.
These organizations act as if they are the only true representatives of Muslims, that they have the sole monopoly over interpreting Islam. In other words, they think they have the monopoly over God Himself as revealed in the Quran, and it is the result of such arrogance that, throughout history, Muslims who disagree with them are repressed with violence, and Muslims are turned against non-Muslims and by calling them infidels.
We in MFT believe that the darkness prevalent across the Muslim world is directly related to the manner in which Islam has been used and abused for political purposes, and it has been done in opposition to the words of the Quran, which says there can be no compulsion in religion. We believe that, within the limits of our resources, our mission is to rescue Muslims from the rigidity of pre-modern thinking that denies individuals their freedom to think, to reason, to be skeptical of politics and power and to find their own path to spiritual growth.
It is only in a free society that an individual can truly practice Islam as a personal faith in which men and women, out of their own free will, reach out to God as the ever-merciful and the ever-benevolent creator of the universe. This is the face of Islam at peace with the world and at peace with God that we in MFT want to share with everyone, and we can only do this in Canada and other democracies in the West.
Our goal, as we have written in our Mission Statement and Objectives, is to present to Muslims everywhere, especially across the Arab world, this face of Islam that is consistent with one of the sayings of the Prophet of Islam that “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.”
Islam is only genuinely a religion of peace when Muslims re-discover the meaning of beauty in all of creation as God’s gift to be celebrated, to be respected and to be shared, without any discrimination and without any claim of a monopoly on truth.
For this purpose, we wish to reclaim art, music, poetry, architecture and all that is beautiful.
Ryan Mauro is Clarion Project National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is frequently interviewed on national TV.