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The Free-Speech Muslims

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The Free-Speech Muslims

Donald Trump should seek out—and listen to—the advice of these Islamic-American reformers. December 23, 2016
The Social Order

Who speaks for Muslim Americans? The media have long offered a megaphone to grievance groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Contrarian, Western-oriented Muslims are rarely heard from. With the election of Donald Trump, however, their voices are growing louder. Some are political conservatives in the American sense. Others simply embrace the separation of secular and religious life. Both are fed up with the monolithic, condescending presentation of Muslims as victims.

Trump’s election has opened a new space for such Muslim Americans to express themselves politically. Oppressive sharia codes are as much a threat to these reformers as they are to unprotected American traditions. The new crop of Muslim reformers seek express delineation between Islam as a religious belief system and Islamism as a socio-political regime. They understand the vital need for open and uncensored public debate. They realize that this discussion may determine whether America avoids the fate of Europe, which chose multiculturalism over assimilation and is paying a heavy price.

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani penned a recent op-ed in the Washington Post announcing herself as a Muslim, an immigrant, and a Trump voter. She has also warned Americans that campaigns like “wear a hijab day”—ostensibly meant as demonstrations of solidarity with Muslim women—are misguided. “‘Hijab’ literally means ‘curtain’ in Arabic. It also means ‘hiding,’ ‘obstructing’ and ‘isolating’ someone or something,” she wrote. “It is never used in the Koran to mean headscarf.” Nomani says she “doesn’t buy” the Islamic fundamentalist meme that men are weak, and can’t withstand the temptation of seeing a woman’s hair. Nomani explains that such ideologies “absolve men of sexually harassing women and put the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up.”

In 2015, more than a dozen Muslim dissidents—including Nomani, Zuhdi Jasser, Raheel Raza, and Tawfik Hamid—announced the formation of the Muslim Reform Movement. “We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate,” the group said in a manifesto demanding freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights for women, and separation of mosque and state. This declaration provides a philosophical basis for Muslim believers to interpret Islam in a societally constructive fashion. Physician Qanta Ahmed has suggested that President-elect Trump build an advisory team of insightful Muslim leaders to shape a national effort to “unveil Islamism.” Ahmed, author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, wants to assist in creating the framework to “disable Islamism through frank speech.” In appearances on PBS and CNN, she has called Islamism a destructive force that aims to subjugate all Muslims. She was critical of President Obama’s reluctance to name the Islamists threat and she welcomes the “serious, fresh opportunity to defeat Islamism” that Trump may represent.

Shireen Qudosi’s blog bills itself “The Voice of Muslim Reformers.” A longtime California Republican, Qudosi is an eloquent defender of American constitutional standards and a vivacious feminist. Tawfik Hamid is a reformed Islamist radical who now declares that he is a “Muslim by birth . . . Christian by the spirit . . . and a Jew by heart.” Obama has called Islamic radicalism a “perversion” of Islam, but Hamid warns that Islamic violence is indeed rooted in religious ideology. He stresses the need for clear distinctions that isolate radical influences. Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali is no longer a Muslim. Born in Somalia, she rejected Islam in favor of Enlightenment ideals when she fled to the Netherlands in 1992. Recognizing that Islam is at a crossroads, Ali has called for “leadership from the dissidents” and emphasized that the reformers “stand no chance without support from the West.”

Muslim-American reformers have risked much and are targets of both leftists and Islamists. Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Jasser, a Phoenix-based cardiologist, “anti-Muslim.” It has called Ali an “extremist.” In fact, both are brave and eloquent defenders of liberty, freedom of conscience, unfettered speech, and individual rights. Trump would be wise to invite them into his administration, and consider their counsel.

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