Monday, March 12, 2007

Pulling Muslims from Dark Age
From a Canadian paper. Wonder where the US lamestream's been on this one. (Yes, that was rhetorical.)

This past week individuals from various professions and different ethnicities sharing a connection with Islam gathered in St. Petersburg, Fla. The meeting was billed as Secular Islam Summit.

A statement -- The St. Petersburg Declaration -- was released which calls for an affirmation of individual rights and freedom of conscience for Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the Muslim world.

The declaration begins, "We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree."

The lived experience by the summit's organizers of the broken and corrupt reality of Muslim countries makes the declaration compelling. The denial of freedom across the Muslim world by those who rule cruelly by usurping power lies at the heart of Islam's malady.

One of the organizers of the summit is a writer known by his pseudonym Ibn Warraq. Speaking in the Hague at a meeting organized by the Dutch government in early 2006, Ibn Warraq observed: "What we need now is an Age of Enlightenment in the Islamic world. Without critical examination of Islam, it will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant."

Prohibition of critically examining Islam is ironically un-Islamic. But men wielding swords supported by men functioning as a quasi-priestly class effectively set the boundaries of Islam as public faith early in Arab-Muslim history. Those questioning this brand of "official Islam" have suffered grievously.

The Muslim world's emergence out of its Dark Age requires "the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights." Then hopefully, and logically, will follow reforms ending "Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule," and elimination of such practices as "female circumcision, honour killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage that further the oppression of women."

In the West there are repeated demands in the media to know where are "moderate" Muslims -- if any -- publicly opposing Muslim violence done by invoking Islam. And yet when such an event as the St. Petersburg meeting occurs it goes mostly unreported by the same media.

Brett Stephens' column in the Wall Street Journal was, however, a rare reporting on the Summit. Stephens noted the presence of the Arab television al-Jazeerah, "suggesting that the real Arab mainstream better appreciates the broad interest the conference's speakers attract in the Muslim world, as well as their latent power."

Individuals coming together, as in Florida, to push for Islamic reform may be small in number and generally unknown to the public outside their circle of friends and supporters. Such modest beginnings for events of great consequences are not uncommon in history.

It might be worth recalling how efforts of individuals not widely known to the public unleashed the Reformation of Christianity and made for the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. Martin Luther was an obscure monk when he posted his 95 propositions on the doors of All Saints' church in Wittenberg in October 1517, and he could not have imagined how greatly he contributed to the convulsion that consumed Europe for the next several centuries.

A successful Islamic reform will occur when many more Muslims insist on the "release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy."

Then Muslims might find for themselves "a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine" as the brave individuals gathered together at the first Secular Islam Summit dared publicly to imagine.

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