REVIEWS, PHOTOS AND FEEDBACK FROM LAUNCH OF MFT – SEPTEMBER 30, 2012
Launch of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
A review by Aisha Isabel Ashraf
The description of the past cannot be the prescription for the future
I attended the launch of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow at the invitation of Raheel Raza, journalist, author, public speaker and activist, who founded MFT to amplify the moderate Muslim voice at a time when it’s in danger of being lost in the clamor of extremist rhetoric.
It’s membership is unconstrained by religion and open to all who share a vision of tolerance and diversity. Raheel envisages it more as a movement than an organization, connecting and motivating people around the globe, holding conferences and workshops to educate and strengthen the progressive Muslim identity. Of particular concern to her is providing direction and support for Muslim youth.
Her foresight is timely; in the current struggle against Islamism and Islamophobia, no one is giving much thought to the Muslims of tomorrow.
Raheel welcomed the audience and the cameras clicked and flashed. I glanced around the auditorium; we were half an hour in and people continued to arrive. There were no hijabs or “Islamic” beards, no segregated seating. The prophet was mentioned without the suffix “Salallahu alayhi wasalam” (Peace be upon Him). I can’t tell you how comfortable that made me; dialogue with some Muslims can feel like a piety competition – the tension is palpable if you don’t couch your words in the correct respectful phrases.
The radical contingent was conspicuous in their absence but it wasn’t just the police presence that deterred troublemakers. You can’t shut down a discussion with accusations of Islamaphobia when your counterpart is Muslim.
Part of the group’s vision, Raheel explained, is to defend freedom of speech as the basis of all other freedoms espoused in the constitutions of liberal democracies. It’s about working together with the larger community to educate, unite, share experiences and bring the problems of the Muslim community into the public arena where they can be addressed.
Joining Raheel in exploring MFT’s mission were Christine Williams – journalist, talk show host and producer at CTS TV, and Vice-President Salim Mansur, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, author and columnist for QMI.
The keynote speaker was Dr Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). As a father of three, Dr Jasser echoed Raheel’s concern for the next generation and spoke for all of us parents in the room. He talked of the real threat of radical Islam and the difficulty of raising awareness, thanks to Muslim apologists insistent on clinging to a perception of victimization instead of working towards reform.
He outlined its seditious growth in liberal society, both here and across Europe, through increasing pressure for legislative support of religious and cultural mores and through cultivation of a separatist ideology. Terrorist attacks are just a distraction technique, Osama Bin Laden unwittingly did us all a favor by shining a spotlight on extremism, the real damage is in the stealthy erosion of civil liberties.
Dr Jasser cited Britain as a case in point. There, Sharia courts have existed since 2003, initially sitting on civil matters but increasingly hearing criminal cases. They’re closed to independent observers and don’t publicize their decisions. Once the hallmark of the British legal system, justice can no longer be “seen to be done”.
When I first converted to Islam, Muslims often made me feel I lacked the knowledge to hold an opinion. Perhaps the British government fell for this rouse too; many non-Muslims believe their understanding of Islam, however intellectual and well-researched, is somehow inferior to someone whose bias has shaped their vision. The idea that only professors and sheiks can declare what is Islamic is an obstacle to reform and goes against a basic tenet of the faith: that all are equal before God. It’s the reason Islam has no clergy.
Consolidating our identity
Identity lies at the heart of the spread of Islamism. Muslims have allowed themselves to be defined by others for too long. MFT seeks to help them find their own narrative through education and awareness. Confidence in your identity allows you to reason through problems without being brainwashed into a contradictory view. Independent thought is the very bedrock of faith, without it religion is just dogma.
For Muslims, the question of identity arises again and again. Unconfined by nationality, we’re a global group and should share a global vision. But the insidious promotion of an “Us & Them” mentality where the West is the “The Great Shaytan”, and the formation of separatist groups based on a narrow religious framework has led to self-marginalization and alienation.
Both Raheel and Dr Jasser emphasized the duties and responsibilities of citizenship as the cornerstone of our identity. Thankfully they resisted laboring the patriotic angle. As someone born in one country, raised in another and currently living in yet another, I find it potentially alienating; patriotism reminds me I’m an outsider, someone who falls into the gaps between nations. But the message was clear: as fellow citizens, the laws of the country we live in unite us first – the obligations of religion must fall under this umbrella.
Enlightenment & reform
MFT has the power to bring together those who can enact change; it already benefits from a diverse multi-faith advisory board. A number of times the analogy of a twig was used to convey our individual weakness but group strength. The two hundred people in that room shared common values routinely denigrated by insecure Muslims; united by our embrace of open intellectual discourse (chastised by “pious” Muslims as questioning the will of God), we look for plurality and inter-faith dialogue, we draw a line between faith and politics, recognizing Sharia as a man-made antiquated construct distinct from spiritual faith.
During the question and answer session, one man stood and identified himself as an apostate – there was no gasp of dismay or disapproving mutterings; no one batted an eyelid. Under Sharia he would be put to death, but many in this room could identify with his refusal to be associated with Islam as it’s currently perceived.
Leaving the event, I mused on the surge of affinity I’d felt with that roomful of strangers. I realized I’d never experienced anything like it at any mosque or mela in the ten years I’d been a Muslim.
October 1, 2012
Doris Strub Epstein
NEW MUSLIM ORGANIZATION TO BE THE OUTSPOKEN VOICE OF MUSLIM MODERATION
“MFT recognizes difficulties, threats and challenges confronting Canada from radical or extremist Muslims declaring jihad (holy war) against those they consider infidels as well as Muslims who reject their ideology and is committed to cooperate with governments and their agencies at federal and provincial levels on how best to counter them.” Part of mission statement Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Aside from a very few individuals, the voice of the average Canadian Muslim speaking out publicly against the threat of totalitarian Islamism has not been heard. This changed dramatically with the formal launch of a new organization September 30, called Muslims Facing Tomorrow, (MFT) (as opposed to facing backwards to the seventh century) explains founder and President, human rights activist and author of Their Jihad is Not My Jihad; a Muslim Canadian Women Speaks Out, Raheel Raza. “It’s a message of hope,” she says.
Raheel is a devout Muslim, strikingly handsome with flashing, expressive dark eyes. When speaking on a panel last year about the injustices to women under sharia law, which she calls gender jihad, she told the audience, “Muslims all over the world should have, after 9/11, actively worked to get rid of Islamist extremism. But, for the most part they have chosen the path of denial.”
“We embrace pluralism, freedom of speech, freedom to change religions, modern democracy and the rights of women, of Muslims and non Muslims”, she told the attentive audience. “It’s time to give back to Canada.”
MFT is the culmination of a long journey. “-When a Muslim woman speaks out she is called militant.” She and her husband left Pakistan 24 years ago to escape the escalating radicalism there and then “we came to Canada to find that same ideology being promoted here.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, first generation son of Syrian immigrants, a physician and officer in the US Navy for 11 years, founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the US. He was determined to provide an American Muslim voice to advocate principles of American democracy and separation of mosque and state. Dr. Jasser distinguishes between Islam, a personal faith, a religion, and Islamism, a virulently anti West, anti Israel, totalitarian societal- political system; an ideology that holds Islam superior to all other world religions and a political system that seeks to dominate the world.
Most people in the West are not aware of how dangerous and present it is he said. Terrorism is just a symptom, a “violent manifestation” of a mostly non violent, insidious infiltration of our society. Exploiting the freedoms of democracy, they are determined not to just establish enclaves of sharia law, but want to directly influence and infiltrate our national legislature so that our nation is anesthetized to the threat of Islam,” he wrote in his book A Battle for the Soul of Islam.
In Canada they are a fifth column, said broadcaster and head of the Race Relations Foundation, Christine Williams. “They eat with us, shake our hand. They lie and tell us they are moderates. We need moderate Muslims to counter those groups.”
Raheel believes “As Muslims, we’re in a better position to speak out against Islamic extremism than others who would be called racist. The word “Islamaphobia” is always hanging in the air.”
For Dr. Jasser, it’s an issue also of national security. “The longer you sleep, the faster they advance and we have had no strategy. We’re missing in action.”
Both organizations are clear; the solution to the Islamic threat are Muslims. “We are battling for the soul of our faith,” he said. He also called for support from non Muslims who are “battling for the soul of our state.” Christine Williams, anti -terrorism expert David Harris and Reuben Bromstein, retired judge and president of Canadians Against Suicide Bombing are also on the advisory board of MFT.
MFT intends to be very pro active, especially aiming for Muslim youth. “It’s not just a question of slamming the extremists,” said Raheel, “It’s also work shops, debates, a conference of moderate Muslims in Canada, which has never been done before. We want to be not just an organization but more like a movement.” They also want to work with individuals and organizations everywhere for a modern reform of Islam. “Our voice will absolutely tower over the voice of the extremists!”
Moderator of the event was Professor Salim Mansur, who is also Vice President of MFT. For more information. tel: 416 505 1613;info@muslimsfacing tomorrow.com; www.muslimsfacing tomorrow.com.