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The Progressive Muslim Union, North America

by comment on PMUNA Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 at 9:52 AM

Regarding the formation of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America

Check out these sites for more detail



A comment on the formation of the Progressive Muslims Union, North America

In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace

A Comment on the Formation of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America

The Progressive Muslim Union (North America) is
expected to be launched in New York on 11.15.2004
under the leadership of Professor Omid Safi from
Colgate University and Ahmed Nassef, the editor of


We are well acquainted with the founders of the PMUNA
and it is with much regret that we distance ourselves
from this venture. We have been in conversation and
debate with them for more than a month now on the
Network of Progressive Muslims’ discussion list
(http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NPMuslims/) and we
regret that our concerns about its direction and
agenda as reflected in their choice of persons to
serve on the Advisory Board have not been clarified.

A record of these discussions can be viewed at:


Some of us wereinvited to serve on this Board. Our critique, however, stems from a deep concern about what we view as a
reactionary direction of the nascent progressive
Muslim movement and does not in any way reflect on the
sincerity of Omid Safi or Ahmed Nassef.

Who are we?

We are activists and/or scholars who have been part of
the shaping and articulation of a global progressive
Islamic discourse for a number of years. Some of us
are from North America while others are not. For us,
progressive Islam has been about an approach to our
faith that is discovered in actual engagement with
other Muslims and those who live on the margins of
society (e.g., persons living with AIDS, under
occupation, dying as the victims of multi-national
corporations, under-funded or non-funded health
programs or genocidal regimes). While we have all been
working in our local or national contexts, we have
connected with each other in person and on the
internet for a number of years. Most of us have served
or are serving as the administrators of the major
international discussion lists of Progressive Muslims.

For us Islam is a faith that affirms justice,
compassion and diversity. It is, however, also one
that challenges both the manifestations of injustice
as well as its socio-economic systemic causes. Islam,
for us, is a faith that will refuse to exist in
partnership or in a cozy relationship of ‘moderation’
with injustice and imperialism (of which the most
dangerous contemporary kind is that represented by US

Our Critique of the PMUNA

Regardless of how inclusive the outreach of
progressive Muslims ought to be, we assume that anyone
serving on the leadership or Advisory Board of such an
organization will be a) Muslim and b) progressive
(however broad one’s understanding of these terms).
Anything else leads to the conclusion that this
venture is a Trojan horse for “religion-building”
along the lines of “nation-building” now being
witnessed in Afghanistan and Iraq where people with no
organic links to Islam, to the Muslim community or to
the progressive movement become instruments of
“humanizing” the so-called primitive Muslims.

Some of us have been invited to serve on the Advisory
Board of the PMUNA and have declined to do so because
we are deeply troubled by the inclusion of a number of
individuals invited to serve on it but who do not seem
to belong there. It is not a question of being
inclusive or exclusive, for no person is beyond
redemption; it is about who are our allies, advisors
and who are we reaching out to.

We have tried in vain to seek clarity on the PMUNA’s
motivations to include the following people:

- Seeme and Malik Hassan, founders of Muslims for
Bush, who have praised Daniel Pipes
(http://muslimsforbush.com/) and raised and/or donated
more than a million dollars to the Bush presidential
campaign. Their campaign included an article on
Beliefnet.com, ‘The Muslim World Savior,’ (referring
to Mr Bush) wherein Seeme Hassan writes “I believe
Bush is bringing liberation not war.”

- Farid Zakaria from Newsweek whose public imperialist
credentials are impeccable and whose only problem with
the empire is that it is doing an inefficient job. In
an August 5th, 2002 Newsweek article titled "Invade
Iraq, but bring friends", Zakaria stated: "Done right,
an invasion (of Iraq) would be the single best path to
reform the Arab world."

- Nawaal al-Sadawi who has campaigned for the
enforcement of the ban on hijab (head scarf) in French
public schools.
(http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/674/op2.htm). Such a
ban, we believe, is as reactionary as forcing women to
wear it.

- Ziyad Asali who, at a UN/NGO conference on September
2002, publicly denied the right of return to
Palestinian exiles and refugees.

- Muqtedar Khan, who wrote that “as soon as it became
clear that Muslims were behind 9/11, I told my wife
‘there goes my chance to be this country’s first
Muslim Henry Kissinger’”
(http://www.ijtihad.org/AM911.htm). In reference to
the war on Iraq he wrote: “We will fight with America
and we will fight for America; we have a covenant with
this nation; we see it as a divine commitment [

The collection of people invited from far-right to
far-left, from people who have publicly stated that
they are not Muslims and others who identify with the
Muslim community and Islam is a strange one –
regardless of whether they accept the invitation to
serve on the Board or not. This collection may be
understood if we are merely interested in advancing
the well-being of some tribal, ethnic or social
community; not if our primary agenda is one of
justice. In none of the formations describing
themselves as “progressive” – or even “liberal” - in
the world would such an array of individuals as
Advisors be comprehensible. Furthermore, the notion of
being located within a community in to order address
its concerns and to participate in mutual
transformation is intrinsic to the term “progressive”.
Academics, writers or millionaires who have chosen to
sit outside cannot legitimately claim a role in the
transformation process of a community. Why should
Muslims be held to different standards of
acceptability by friends and allies from the
progressive sectors? The logic of holding different
criteria of “progressive” for Muslims smacks of racism
and is deeply offensive and patronizing.

In the case of any entity that describes itself as
“progressive” and as “Muslim”, this array and
inclusion of individuals who have been unashamed in
their embrace of an imperialist agenda reflects an
unprincipled utilitarianism where one makes use of
anyone who can bring in some money. Alternately it
reflects a bewildering ideological confusion –
something not quite expected of those who are taking
it upon themselves to take Muslims in North America on
any progressive journey.

For progressive Muslims these people listed above
should be the targets of our activism - people that
need to be converted – not embraced as comrades or

We acknowledge that there is space and need for
diversity in contemporary Islamic discourse. The
PMUNA’s emphasis on ‘broad-tent-ism” rather than
justice and liberation, however, shows its ideological
agenda clearly and it is not a progressive one.
Progressive Muslims value diversity as part of a
process of liberation – and not part of a supposedly
ideology-less butterfly dance of escapism and
digression away from the cutting issues of justice,
invasion, occupation and poverty.

The Context for the Emergence of the PMUNA

The Muslim community ‘mainstream’ Muslim organizations
in North America and elsewhere has often been -
regrettably - rather unkind to those seeking space to
dissent. They have been far more interested in seeking
an accommodation with “established” American society
than with addressing the many internal issues of
gender injustice, the marginalization of
African-American Muslims, and intolerance. In seeking
to reach an accommodation with “American society” - in
reality its dominant and dominating sectors - there
has been no attempt to critique this society from any
principled Islamic justice perspective that would
address issues of gender justice, environmentalism,
consumerism, or human rights for all regardless of
race or sexuality.

The PMUNA is an understandable response to the way
many young and critical Muslims are being pushed to
the edges by “mainstream” Muslim organizations far
more interested in patriarchal control over Muslims
than in a creative and living expansion of our faith
along a progressive path. However, from the margins
into the embrace of those who seek to construct
‘pliant’ and ‘moderate’ Muslims who will serve the
strategic objectives of the Empire is not a credible
option for progressive Muslims. There are frantic
battles taking place for the soul of Muslims in the
United States and elsewhere. The project to hijack
Islam and strip it of its prophetic essence to speak
truth to power and to oppose injustice is clearly
outlined in policy documents such as “Civil Democratic
Islam” produced by Cheryl Bernard of the Rand
Corporation. The empire is quite literally seeking to
create compliant Muslim subjects – at home via
intimidation and “friendly” organization-building, and
abroad through brute force.

Not a single Prophet of God ever came along to “merely
fit in”. Prophetic faith is about engagement alongside
the marginalized and speaking truth to power. With
advisors such as the individuals listed above, we fear
that the PMUNA is setting itself up for precisely the

Altaf Bhimji San Francisco, CA (altafb@m...)
Anna Ghonim, Cairo, Egypt (anna_ghonim@l...)
Farid Esack, Cincinnati, OH/Cape Town, South Africa
Itrath Syed, Vancouver, Canada (itrath@p...)
Junaid Ahmad, Yorktown, VA (junaid.ahmad@c...)
Na'eem Jeenah, Johannesburg, South
Trish Kanous, St Paul, MN (tkanous@h...)
Karima Vargas Bushnell, Minneapolis, MN

If you wish to comment on this document or, for those
who identify themselves as Progressive, to indicate
your support for this statement, kindly visit the site

Appendix, List of the PMUNA Advisory Board members

The following names were invited to serve on the
Advisory Board of the PMUNA on 24th September 2004 we
do not know who has accepted or declined and who else
may have been invited since then

Abdol Karim Soroush
Akbar Ahmed
Tarik Ramadan
Ali Abu Nima
Amina Wadud
Ebrahim Moosa
Faisal Abdul Rauf
Fareed Zakariya
Farid Esack
Hamid Dabashi
Khaled Aboul Fadl
Malik and Seeme Hassan
Mohja Kahf
Naeem Jeenah
Nawal el-Sadawi
Rashid Khalidi
Salaam al-Maryati
Sheikha Fariha
Tarik Ramadan
Tariq Ali
Ziyad Asali

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