Shireen Qudosi is an author and the founder of Qudosi Chronicles, a blog about Islam in the 21st century which supports Muslim Reformers. For over ten years she has been an active advocate of progressive Islam, both educating non-Muslims about Islam and encouraging Muslims to engage in dialogue.
She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about her vision for Islamic reformation and what her website is trying to acheive.
Clarion Project: Your site is called 'Muslim Reformers.' Who are Muslim reformers and what do you stand for?
Shireen Qudosi: Qudosi Chronicles was first created in 2007, out of my own growing frustration with the lack of honest conversations that were taking place around Islam. Few people were talking about all the burgeoning issues, and fewer still were willing to ask tough questions of themselves, their community and their faith. So, Qudosi Chronicles got started as a very rough attempt to have an honest conversation – or at the very least, it was a place to express myself as a critical Muslim in hopes that there might be others out there whom I could engage.
Initially, I drew interest from non?Muslims looking to understand current issues through a unique Muslim lens – to get the tough questions answered that no one else in the media was answering. Now, Qudosi Chronicles has evolved as a platform for others – those who support reformers and other reform?minded Muslims as well.
The simplest answer to your question is that a Muslim reformer is someone who, without skirting around the issue, deeply believes that Islam itself needs to be reformed.
We believe that Islam needs to be explored, critiqued and understood through the 21st century mind. And we recognize that this is the natural course for Islam, following in the footsteps of other major religious reformations.
My personal belief as a reformer is a little more granular….
One of the dominating beliefs among Muslims is that Islam is a flawless faith. That may be so – or it may not – we might never know. What I do resoundingly believe is that the message is flawed. Its delivery is flawed, and it’s Messenger is human – which also makes him capable of error.
If Islam were a flawless faith, it would not have been capable of triggering the issues we see plaguing us today. As a spiritual and intellectual human being, I can recognize that the Prophet Muhammad accomplished a great many things…and he also made several mistakes along the way.
If he were just another man, the consequences of those actions would have died with him or in a generation or two after him. However, as a man of God, his actions have been blindly revered by a legion of followers.
The most consequential fact of our time today is that certain actions taken by the Prophet Muhammad have born a legacy that justifies and permits the hatred and violence expressed under Islam.
I strongly believe that the minute he raised the sword under Islam is when we truly lost the divinity of the Message he was given. It would have been better to let Islam die than to have raised the sword in its defense.
A man of God is probably not perfect. A Message of God is. Yet the message, in its hideous deformation, doesn’t represent God. So what we have today is a lost Message – an incomplete Message. And it’s up to us to rediscover what that could have been. It’s up to Muslims today to birth that Message through reform.
Note: The website is actually called “Qudosi Chronicles.” However, it’s undergoing some serious renovations and an aggressive SEO strategy, which includes the primary keyword targeted domain and subpages under “Muslim Reformers.” Anyone who types in Qudosi.com or QudosiChronicles.com will be redirected to MuslimReformers.com
Clarion: You've said, in a piece about the failure of the U.N. to stop abuses against women that "Cultural sensitivity is the singular reason why parasitic atrocities against women continue to spread at viral speeds." Why do you think that?
Qudosi: One of the markers of polite society is its ability to blend, accept and integrate harmoniously with other cultures. As we shift toward trying to be a more “progressive” society (and equating any form of progress as a marker of advanced culture), we’ve really confused what that means.
We whisper to our children, cautioning them against saying things that are considered “impolite.” But children, without the intrusion and superimposed belief of their parents, are inherently curious about their world. It’s a natural state of being. Children don’t come built in with any preconceived ideas about “rudeness,” for example; those ideas are constructed.
So we grow up confusing healthy curiosity and wonder with “rudeness.” We confuse healthy inquisitiveness with some sort infringement of other people’s rights. But the only thing that’s rude is a culture that admonishes against expression.
Exploration is a part of our natural state of being as humans. We’re going to want to explore, whether that’s as children or as adults probing into new areas of thought and dialogue.
Stifling that expression under the guise of political correctness or cultural sensitivity is an act of intellectual homicide.
The fact is that not all ideas are equal. Not all cultures are equal.
If through common sense and human decency, we see that some aspects of culture are completely disadvantageous or abusive toward members of that community, then how can we consider ourselves an advanced and progressive society for silencing that truth?
It’s rude and its offensive and it’s a failure of a people who choose to ignore obvious facts because it raises an unpleasant truth.
Yet, we’re caught up in this pretense of being respectful and tolerant of other cultures. But, how can you be tolerant or respectful of anything that systematically supports emotional, psychological, and or physical abuse against the women in that culture?
How is that tolerant? How is that respectful to those women? How does that make you a better society?
Clarion: How has culture come to be regarded as excuse for abuse?
Qudosi: I was just speaking with two other reform?minded women on this subject over the last few weeks.
And it’s amazing. We have similar stories. We’re successful, smart and motivated women, yet we still carry the mental and emotional scars inflicted by the dark side of our culture.
To this day, I continue to try and be actively aware of my lesser qualities that are a residue of the way I was raised to be.
I was raised to be my own person – but only within the mold set for me by family and culture.
I was encouraged to be smart – but ignorant of my own intuition or will.
I was tolerated for speaking my thoughts – but raised not to know I had a voice.
As I’m finally making a way for myself, and raising my own child, I’m realizing how terribly abusive the culture is and how damaging it’s been in so many areas of my life.
It’s the worst kind of abuse – the kind that no one even knows exists. Most of these parents don’t know how abusive their cyclical behavior is. Most of us never really get to think about these issues on a deeper level. How many people distance themselves both mentally, emotionally and spatially to really be able to truthfully asses their environment?
So, again, it’s the worst kind of abuse. I can’t even say culture has come to be regarded as an excuse, but honestly, most of these families don’t even realize how abusive they’re being.
There’s so much ingrained belief in what it means to be a parent, be a part of a community, be successful, be devout. How is there even room for any realization that they’re acting abusively? They’re not educated in that respect. This is not to say that every family is like that – but too many are.
That’s beginning to change. Reformers and even non?reform minded progressive Muslims are starting to initiate meaningful conversations, create support groups, and launch campaigns that allow those of us who see the problem to finally have a voice.
But if we really pin the problem down, it’s that the culture has almost zero tolerance for true freedom.
You have freedom within the parameters that are set for you – but as any of us know, that’s not really freedom.
Clarion: You argue that the West has focused on dealing with the symptoms rather than the cause of Islamic extremism. What is the cause?
Qudosi: Of course the cause is partly motivated by tribalism, economics and foreign policy.
The root cause goes back to my answer to the first question here. Muhammad justified violence during his prophethood.
You’ll have Muslims say that the Quran can be interpreted in many ways, that we have to look at the context of a passage and how it relates to that point in history – all that is true, that but doesn’t excuse the fact that Muhammad also commenced a legacy of violence.
Of course, in cases like ISIS, a lot of the behavior you’re seeing is a far stretch from what Muhammad did – but that’s the problem. If you trigger a chain of events, you have no control over how that affects future generations. By raising the sword, by uttering even the most “excusable” language of hate, he triggered what we see today.
The extremism, the tribalism, the lack of exposure to ideas and resources – all of it is the symptom. The cause is the messenger.
Clarion: Why are Islamism and violence against women so inter?linked? How can both issues be fought simultaneously?
Qudosi: Despite the many rights recognized for women through Islam, the Quran still sets women up as property. That’s just a fact no matter how you want to slice it and dice it.
For example, if you give Group A dominance over Group B, and package it as divine ordinance, what do you think is going to happen?
Any focus study we see shows how power to one group over another gets abused – always. Except, we’re not dealing with a focus study; we’re dealing with the faith and hundreds of millions of its followers.
You fight it by working with reformers and empowering the many women and organizations out there actively working to support other women.
Clarion: Many of those from the Muslim community standing up against Islamism are women. Why is that? How can more men be persuaded to take action?
Qudosi: Women have really been the less privileged group. We’re the ones suffering the brunt of the blow.
Take a woman like me. If I hadn’t had the chance to be raised here and exposed to a lot of different cultures and people early on, to be introduced to new ideas and new ways of living that switched on something that was probably already within me – an innate sense of justice and compassion for humanity – would I ever have become the person I am today? Probably not.
There are a ton of people out there already wanting to take action. They just need to be supported and connected. They need to be switched on. We’re working on that.
But we need support too. Most of us are ‘squeezing’ in reform work in between full?time jobs and family. We don’t get paid to do this; we don’t have a royal family bank?rolling us. We don’t have the time and resources necessary to create a powerful platform that broadcasts our message and cultivates change agents. What you do see out there, the websites and organizations, for example, are stitched together with personal investments.
It’s getting easier. We’re getting better at connecting with each other, supporting each other and being better at what we do. But, my God can you imagine what we’d be capable of if we had a machine to power us?
Meanwhile, a greater percentage of your everyday Muslim began also waking up to the problem. Now, reformers are creating networks, organizations, partnerships and platforms that broadcast our message.
I’ve been awake since 2002 to this truth. Every 3?4 years I see a major leap in the reform movement. At first it wasn’t even an idea. Then it became idea and there were a few more reformers out there.
The fact that we’ve been able to get this far with almost nothing to work with, is a miracle. But I have complete faith in this. Just as I know the sun will rise tomorrow, I know that Islam will reform.
That is the only way forward if we’re going to solve the really big problems that are holding humanity back from a major evolution in consciousness.
The views expressed in this interview are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Clarion Project.