In “A Muslim-bashing feeding frenzy” at Religion and Spirituality.com, Mike Ghouse of the Foundation for Pluralism retails several obvious falsehoods about the Secular Islam Summit. And like CAIR, he completely ignores the question of whether or not he agrees with the St. Petersburg Declaration, which enunciates principles that any moderate Muslim ought to be able to endorse.
As a Muslim fighting for reform within our Muslim world, I watched the Secular Islam Summit, aired earlier this week on CNN Headline News’ Glenn Beck show, with great anticipation. I believe in religious pluralism and the separation of mosque and state. I know Muslims need to speak up against extremism.
But that’s not what we got with the “Secular Islam Summit,” held at the Hilton Hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla. The summit was supposed to be about Islam, yet there was hardly a Muslim at the podium. With the exception of two panelists “” Hasan Mahmud, director of sharia law at the Muslim Canadian Congress, and author Irshad Manji, who believes the Qur’an is the basis for being a Muslim “” the summit was filled with Islam bashers, some of them ex-Muslims.
Ghouse fails to mention another Muslim who was there at the podium, Tashbih Sayyed, editor of Muslim World Today and a member of the Jihad Watch Board.
The event should have been called the Anti-Islam Summit. It’s a shame CNN and Beck got suckered into giving so much air time to this fraudulent gathering of Islam bashers.
The summit was just an attempt by extremists of another persuasion “” hatred of Islam “” who want to destroy Islam. Whether it was former Muslim “Ibn Warraq” with his book title, “Why I am Not a Muslim,” or Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a political and human rights activist, the theme was the same: They want one-fifth of humanity to disappear. At this “landmark Secular Islam Summit,” there were no “moderate” Muslims.
Ghouse here seems to have lost track of what he just wrote. There were no moderate Muslims? What about Hasan Mahmud and Manji, whom he just mentioned?
And as for “They want one-fifth of humanity to disappear,” this is just a smear. In fact, the St. Petersburg Declaration says, “We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine…” To hear Ghouse tell it, it says, “We say to Muslim believers: disappear.” Hogwash.
The intent of the conference was bad from the start.
What was bad about it, Mr. Ghouse? The affirmation of “the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience” and “the equality of all human persons”? Or was it the insistence on “the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights”? Or could it have been the call to “eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women”? What exactly do you find objectionable, Mr. Ghouse? Be specific, please.
Due to this fact, mainstream Muslims, including progressive Muslims, chose not to participate in the conference. Days before the summit, I talked with leaders of groups challenging conservative interpretations of Islam, including Radwan Masmoudi, president of Islam for Democracy, an organization based in Washington, D.C. We decided not to attend the meeting. None of us wanted to become tools in the hands of the anti-Islam extremists. The need to be represented in the summit became less important than speaking out against the intent of the summit, which was Islam-bashing.
So affirmation of human rights and freedom of conscience is “Islam-bashing”?
In explaining his decision, Masmoudi told me: “The need for a new, progressive and modern interpretation of Islam for the 21st century is real and undeniable, as is the need for real reforms and democratization in Muslim societies. However, for that reinterpretation and reform to occur, the effort must be led by Muslims who are proud of their heritage, religion and culture and who are credible within their community. The people who attended the ‘Secular Islam Conference’ are neither, and that is why this conference was a complete waste of time and money, except perhaps to provide some anti-Islamic voices a podium from which to speak.”
Fine. Then lead it yourself, Mr. Masmoudi. Issue an endorsement of the Declaration. Surely there is nothing in it to which you object, is there? You are allowing your distaste for the panelists to overshadow the real subject here, which is the reform of Islam. Ex-Muslims did the job, along with a few Muslim reformists, because people like you have not been and are not doing it. Instead of carping, you should be showing that you as a Muslim can do the job even better.
The speakers present were Islam haters such as Wafa Sultan, who achieved notoriety when she slammed Islam on Al-Jazeera last year. The Syrian-American Sultan was filled with rage and hatred for Muslims and Islam, even going so far as to declare, “You cannot be American and Muslim at the same time,” an obviously false notion in a nation where a Muslim now sits in Congress.
This is mostly just a base ad hominem attack, but as far as Sultan’s statement goes, unfortunately, the presence of a Muslim in Congress does not disprove it. The only thing that would disprove it would be a large-scale public renunciation, accompanied by actions, of the ideology of Islamic supremacism by Muslims. Mr. Ghouse offers a renunciation of this kind later in this article, saying, “I’m a Muslim. I do not want a global caliphate. And I absolutely do not want to throw Christians and Jews into the sea.” I hope he will follow this up with active efforts within the Islamic community to foster the principles expressed in the St. Petersburg Declaration.
If the intent was honest, at least half of the speakers would have been Muslims.
The import of what you are saying here, Mr. Ghouse, that these Muslim speakers should have been happy to appear at the Summit with non-Muslims and ex-Muslims. Yet you yourself refused to go. So you’re saying that others should have done what you wouldn’t do yourself.
The integrity of the organizers and the intent of the summit are questionable and, indeed, downright dishonest.
You charge them with dishonesty after writing an article like this?
UPDATE: Mike Ghouse responds, and explains his position on the St. Petersburg Declaration, here.