Feminist Muslim journalist Asra Nomani was invited to speak at Duke University on April 7, 2015, and then was summarily disinvited, due to her “straightforward alliance” with alleged “Islamophobes” like neuroscientist and atheist author Sam Harris, who are accused of having an irrational “dread or fear of Islam.”
This allegation was hurled by the university’s Muslim Students’ Association but was quickly refuted by the former Wall Street Journal writer. Nomani’s talk on women’s rights, however, wound up drawing a modest audience of nine women, plus Nomani’s parents and son. Nomani is not the first to be treated so harshly. Other examples of censored Muslim feminists include:
- Raheel Raza, who faced pressure to stop screening her Muslim feminist documentary “Honor Diaries” at the University of South Dakota;
- Sisters In Islam, a reform-minded group of feminist legal scholars was the target last fall of a religious edict or fatwa issued by the patriarchal Malaysian Ulema accusing the group of “deviating” from Islam.
The modern Muslim narrative is being monopolized by self-described Muslim-rights organizations, whose backgrounds, writings and associations are not being scrutinized, especially to the degree of those they target. This self-imposed political correctness serves no one, and deprives Muslims of the type of lively civic debate that is important for the future.
The Muslim Students’ Association has a long history of being connected to foreign Islamist groups and individuals who advocate that society be governed under Islamic law. Yet, because they are an official Muslim organization, with a wide foreign-funded network, many people are afraid to question their statements, activities, or more importantly, investigate their overseas alliances. So instead, broadside attacks are leveled on Asra, a professional investigative journalist who simply desires to speak to individuals of all backgrounds and opinions so she can be an informed reporter – for her alleged alliances.
From the non-violent Islamists of Turkey’s AKP to the machete-wielding Islamists killing bloggers in Bangladesh and the Islamists in Pakistan who murder politicians for daring to simply ask whether Pakistan’s blasphemy laws should be repealed - free speech and simple conversation are being attacked widely by Islamist groups and individuals. The freedom to think for oneself after considering a variety of opinions regarding today’s intersection of politics and religion – is being shut down at a frightening pace, especially, among Muslims.
I once worked for an alleged “Islamophobe,” because I wanted to not only understand the intellectual foundations of the group, but also the nature of their supporters. What I learned was that many purported “Islamophobes” go to great lengths to differentiate the private practice of Islam, which the majority of Muslims wish to defend, from the politicized statist systems exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Salafism, or Iran’s Khomeneism.
These sects within Islam are products of 18th and 19th century Islamic political thought in reaction to the politics and issues of those times. As such, they are seen as political movements, not religion per se. For that reason, many academics differentiate between followers of political Islam, who they term Islamists, and following the religion of Islam, which they refer to as Islamism.
But, there has never been one monolithic version of Islam. And just as the Christian community evolved away from some of the harsh prescriptions in the Old Testament without being accused of abandoning their faith, so too have the majority of Muslims who do not support jihad or apostasy. Islamophobes should support reformers and continue engaging in a critical dialogue of how religion is manipulated in the public sphere as Islamists have been doing for many decades now.
Asra Nomani and others intend to continue to engage all sides of this debate. On May 7, Nomani led a panel discussion on “Islamophobia” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The panel included author Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bassem Youssef, among others.