10/09/2014 01:23 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST

Stop Telling "Moderate Muslims" What To Do

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Ali A. Rizvi recently wrote an open letter to "moderate Muslims." I'm not sure if Rizvi's letter was directed toward me, as I don't measure my faith in chicken wing flavours, but I'm going to respond anyway.

Rizvi begins by telling Muslims he won't accuse us of "staying silent in the face of the horrific atrocities being committed around the world" or "being sympathetic to fundamentalists' causes." Thanks for that Ali, very generous of you.

Rizvi's good will doesn't last long as he immediately begins to lecture Muslims about our "increasingly waning credibility" in the West. In fact, Rizvi says our "liberal allies" feel no differently about Islam than Islamophobe Bill Maher, but that they won't tell us due to "fear."

According to Rizvi, "moderate Muslims" are somewhat responsible for being "painted with the same brush as their fundamentalist counterparts" in Western media. His reasoning is simple: "moderate" Muslims believe that the verses in the Qur'an are Allah's word, which is what groups like ISIL also believe. As such, Rizvi argues Muslims should reform our faith so we don't take verses in the Qur'an to be Allah's word.

Rizvi says that if we do this properly we can win the grand prize of being like "secular" Catholics or Jews, or even be civilized enough to "identify as atheists or agnostics!" In fact, he claims the rise of secularism is responsible for Judaism and Christianity's emergence from "violence-ridden dark ages," where he implies the "Muslim world" is stuck.

It's no surprise Rizvi's letter has received so much traction. Islamophobia is a best seller, especially when it comes from those who used to call themselves Muslim. It's easier to escape charges of bigotry when you share an article from someone perceived to have been "on the inside" of the scary Muslim world.

Regardless, Rizvi's account is deeply flawed on numerous levels. The underlying gist of Rizvi's argument is that Muslims should no longer be Muslim in any meaningful sense. Rizvi is ok with people calling themselves Muslim, but horrified with the idea that Muslims actually believe.

Rizvi's fear of pious Muslims seems to stem for his implication that ISIL's reading of Islam is correct. For example, Rizvi says that "fundamentalists" like ISIL appear to be "carrying out exactly what they [Qur'anic verses] say." Rizvi labels Muslims, who claim verses in the Qur'an are misinterpreted or mistranslated, as disingenuous or inaccurate.

I don't think Muslims need reform. At least not in the way Rizvi uses the term. For Rizvi, reform means abandoning Islam. I think reform can come from working within Islam to challenge dominant interpretations and practices, the existence of which has more to do with patriarchal societies and materialism than faithfulness to the Qur'an. Lots of groups and academics are engaged in this process already, such as Islamic feminists and queer Muslims. There's no need to leave Islam to pursue this reform.

There's also no need to leave Islam to gain genuine allies. Rizvi is wrong to say Muslims' "liberal allies" all secretly side with Bill Maher. Even if some "liberal allies" fear Islam, Muslims in general are not to blame. Islamophobia in the media combined with hyped terror threats from the government is far more responsible for this fear than Muslims holding the Qur'an as the word of Allah. This misplaced fear has also led to violence against Muslims, making Rizvi's victim blaming more disturbing.

Yet Rizvi chooses to ignore mass violence against Muslims in his insulting and inaccurate historical account of how Jews and Christians made it out of the "dark ages." As I have argued before, abandoning religion won't ensure societal progress. The rampant issues in Muslim states have far more to do with decades of Western colonialism, military interventions, sanctions, propped up dictators, and funded extremists than the individual beliefs of Muslims.

In light of all of this, Ali, I'd like to ask you to please take your condescending diatribe elsewhere. If you were truly concerned about the state of Muslims in the West you wouldn't ask us to give up Islam to gain acceptance in a society where we're feared and marginalized. Instead, you would hold the problematic society accountable. You may have left Islam, but you don't need to abandon Muslims.


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