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The Progressive Muslim Union, North America

by comment on PMUNA Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 at 5:52 PM

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

( 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

( and raised and/or donated

more than a million dollars to the Bush presidential

campaign. Their campaign included an article on, ‘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.

( 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’”

( 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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