Who You? posted a few days ago about who gets to say who is Muslim. It is an issue that is of grave concern to all Muslims, and particularly those who actively fighting for the soul of Islam; the easiest way to delegitimize your opponent is to call them kafir – non-Muslim.
More broadly than the Ismailis, there were other Muslim voices that were silenced, with greater success, during the recent Canadian elections. A hijab-wearing woman, whose father established one of the larger mosques in Toronto, was shunned by the Muslim community over her support of gay marriages. Her name is Itrath Sayed, and this is her letter to the Muslim community. Her logic, that her religious beliefs are part of her, but not necessarily defining of her role as representative of her constituents, is a compelling one. Just as important is the argument that she is upholding the very document that allows Muslims to practice freely.
The ability for a group to declare someone, or another community, non-Muslim, allows that group to do more than silence them politically – it is the same mentality as dehumanizing your enemy in order to allow people to commit atrocities with a clear conscience. The situation in Sudan is getting progressively worse. In The Economist‘s July 31-August 6 2004 issue, Musa Hilal, a leader of the janjaweed is quoted as saying:
As to the charge that his men rape black women: “Why would we rape them? The disgust us.” He adds that African tribeswomen are barely Muslim and have such wanton sexual habits, as seen from the way they dance, that force would hardly be necessary. (p. 39)
Conversely, in China, there are female imams who are coming to the fore. The article, and my discussion of it, are simple, but the point must be made. These imams are filling a need in a way that is acceptable to the local culture and that does not violate Islamic precepts. However, there would be many Muslims who would condemn this by saying women should not be in public. Who gets to define who is Muslim?
Once upon a time, when the community was new, it took a lot to declare someone non-Muslim. There was sense that in the absence of the Prophet, no one could really act as arbiter in matters of faith (although according to Wilferd Madelung, Imam Ali was very clear about actions that could be considered apostasy). It seems there was this crazy notion that faith was between the believer and God, and no one could judge that; this notion actually seems to be in the Qur’an. In the intervening 1400 years, some shrill voices have popped up, and have taken on the role of representing God’s will on earth. Most Muslims seem to have rolled over and played dead rather than suggest that God is ineffable. So most Muslims are committing shirk, associating others with God, and those who don’t agree with them are branded as non-Muslim. That’s the war we are fighting. Who defines Islam and who is a Muslim is up to us, not the colleges; not the madrasas not my great-uncle’s second cousin thrice removed who once picked up the Qur’an, but us; those who are part of a community; those who are building community; those who, when faced with the majesty of God, do not claim to see our own reflection, but who understand the trust placed upon us to struggle to understand God and our relationship to that Divine. That is the first station for us to reach, to take back our Islam.
Here in the US, the debate rages on as to who is Muslim. The groups maybe US only now, but if we don’t speak up now, when will we?