How to be a Muslim reformer

March 13, 2006

After reading an article on Wafa Sultan (the up-and-coming Muslim reformer) in the New York Times today, it occured to me that I should get on this reformer bandwagon before the market gets saturated. I'm articulate, telegenic, exotic (yet oh so fluffy and Westernized), not to mention female (oppressed by rigid Islamic paternalism, naturally). Too bad I've got so many other little schemes on the go and can't spare the time for this one. However, I've written a handy little guide for aspiring refuseniks, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim. Hopefully it will inspire readers to lead the charge in enlightening the benighted Islamic world.

1. Keep it simple
First and foremost, don't bother actually studying the religion or recent MENA history. Take a page from Pundita's book: no need for research when you're painting with a really big brush. If you absolutely must research, this site is a treasure trove of convenient black and white stereotyping.

2. Have an angle
Find or manufacture a useful "turning point" in your life that made you realize Islam was a bigoted and/or violent religion. In Irshad Manji's case, it was being kicked out of her madrasa for demanding proof of a Jewish conspiracy. For Wafa Sultan, it was watching the Muslim Brotherhood kill a professor at her university in Aleppo. Of course, it's helpful not to mention Hafez Assad's response. I recall Irshad was all for Emergency Law in Egypt because Naguib Mahfouz was roughed up by some Islamist thugs: "Excuse me, but if that's a reason to maim (and possibly kill), it's equally a reason for security forces to crack down on the thugs. Bring on the Emergency Law" (128).

Ahem, moving on...

3. Write a book
Start holding interviews just prior to (or immediately after) publishing a book that claims to spearhead a reform movement and/or turn the Islamic world on its head. Tell the NYT that the working title is The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster, because The Trouble with Islam Today is simply too namby-pamby.

4. Become a Western media darling
Be extremely provocative. Make rude statements about Islam and those who follow it. Make sure to have an itemized list of every horrible act commited by Muslims, rulers of Muslim-majority countries, Caliphs, etc. Make fun of Arabs and how childish and barbaric they are compared to Jews and Christians (or in Irshad's case, go one step further and blame everything on the "Arabization" of Islam. Don't bother to mention any similar acts carried out in the name of other Abrahamic religions or even atheist ideologies, such as Communism. This is supposed to be an indictment against Islam, not the vile predictability of human nature and perverse incentives.

5. Remind people that you are constantly under siege
Make sure the media is fully aware of every single death threat you receive as a result of the aforementioned provocative statements. If you're lucky, some wacko will release a fatwa that demands you be stoned, beheaded or strung up in some elaborate medieval way.

6. Rake in the cash
Watch as speaking invitations roll in from hardline right-wing Israeli and US organizations. No, it's not a Jewish conspiracy, but for some odd reason they are in full agreement with your views on Islamic reform. You're definitely on the way to winning Muslim hearts and minds if they're supporting you!

7. Remember your audience
Don't bother engaging Muslims in a respectful yet frank discussion on how to remain faithful to the Prophet's message in our modern, globalized, polarized, terrorized world. You don't even need to talk to Muslims, unless it's to get the extremists frothing at the mouth. Being a true visionary is hard work and requires far too much study, which leaves you hardly any time for gala dinners with pretentious, xenophobic ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative (really, does it matter?) activists who will praise you as a model Muslim making a real difference in the Islamic world.

Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. Readers are free to offer their own advice, sarcastic comments, etc.

[Thanks to Eva Luna for bringing the original NYT article to my attention] 


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