Sometimes being an activist can be tiresome. Especially when people keep trying to put you in a box and label you. We have already been through the exercise of what we should call ourselves. Are we progressive, regressive or aggressive Muslims? Are we liberal, moderate or fundamentalist? One can be any or all of these as long as they don’t impose it on others.
None of these labels actually carry much weight. Mainstream media likes to call us “moderate” but that word is also suspect because the Muslim Brotherhood calls itself a “moderate” group. I certainly do not wish to be associated with them.
Despite a dislike for labels, if I were to call myself any particular kind of Muslim, I would say I am a “humanist Muslim” because I believe we have to look at faith through the lens of human rights and not the other way around.
However recently, I’ve faced an interesting dilemma. Some people on the extreme right have accused me of being a “stealth Jihadist.” Why? This is too funny. Because 34 years ago, I named my son “Saif” which means sword in Arabic! Yikes. I am also accused of indulging in taqqiya (deception) when I speak out against radical Islam which is a polite way of calling me a liar.
I first heard the word taqqiya when I came to the West. It’s a little known concept (mostly in the Shia community) which gives Muslims the freedom to lie about their faith only if their lives are in danger.
If all this was not enough, Muslims and the left accuse me of being a traitor because I engage in conversation and give interviews to people considered to be “Islam haters.”
So I get it from both sides. A friend told me that if I am being bashed then it means I must be making a difference! She also said that progressive Muslims are now an “endangered species.” I like that.
While I rarely give explanations or apologize for what I do, fact is that I am a believer and I do what I do because I want to take back the narrative from the jihadists and because the Islam I see today is not the Islam I grew up with.
I am a staunch follower of the spiritual message of my faith, and I don’t hide that despite being invited to speak at a conference of atheists. I never change my dialogue to suit my detractors – it’s who I am and what I do. Most people know this.
More importantly I believe that we have to not only preach to the converted, but have dialogue with those who don’t like us.
This is the greater challenge of today.
Raheel Raza is an award-winning author, journalist, and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity. She is one of nine women's rights activists who took part in Clarion Project's film "Honor Diaries" which breaks the silence on honor violence against women.