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Report about Secular Islam Summit

Dr Peter G. Riddell is Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Relations at London School of Theology. He is author of Christians and Muslims.

Click on link to go to :Secular Islam summit

Here is video of Phylis Chesler introducing Dr Tawfik Hamid

In a striking example of self-analysis, about 500 delegates, including both practising and nominal Muslims, attended an inaugural “Secular Islam Summit” this month in St Petersburg, Florida. The summit culminated in a declaration, which can be read at

The declaration was signed by such luminaries as Ibn Warraq, a widely published author, who writes on such taboo subjects as the text of the Qur’an and apostasy; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled to Holland in the 1990s from her native Somalia, and worked with the film producer Theo Van Gogh, before he was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004.

The St Petersburg Declaration represents a breath of fresh air. At last, a group of prominent secular Muslims has shown the kind of unconditional willingness to engage in self-criticism which is so well-established in the non-Muslim West. The declaration points the finger at some of the pillars of institutional Islam, calling on governments to “reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms”, and to “oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

Rather than trumpeting the message of Muslim conservatives, who call for obedience to authority structures, this new group demands “the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy”.

In perhaps the most controversial statement of all, the group calls for “a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam”. This suggests that the scriptural foundations of Islam, the Qur’an and Hadith, should be subject to scrutiny. This is unlikely to win the group many friends in the hallowed corridors of al-Azhar University in Cairo or the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia. Since the summit, these brave secular Muslims have been lambasted by Islamic groups of various kinds in the United States, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a body similar in function and ideology to the Muslim Council of Britain. CAIR has dismissed the summit’s participants as neo-conservative lackeys, without addressing the principles embodied in the summit declaration.

Of course, there must be some doubt about the extent to which the secular Muslims will have any impact in Muslim-majority countries. Yet theirs is a voice that is long overdue. Under the right circumstances, they might trigger a process of profound self-examination among some Muslims.

Such progressive voices do appear from time to time in Muslim countries as well. The Bahraini intellectual Dhiya al-Musawi spoke out on Abu Dhabi television on 29 December: “We suffer from backwardness. . . We have to admit our cultural defeat. In the past, we had a civilisation in Andalusia and in many other places, but today we are regressing. We export violence; we terrorise whole countries; we threaten national security; and many other things. . . We need to reform and to reshape religious thinking, because, in all honesty, the pulpits of our mosques have begun to ‘booby-trap’ the people . . . by generating hatred towards ‘the other’.”

Opposition to the secular Muslims will come not just from conservative Muslims. They are also likely to be dismissed, or at least ignored, by some Western Christian commentators, who trumpet the same message as the Muslim conservatives: that Islam cannot be blamed for terrorism; it’s really all the fault of the West and its jackboot policies in the Muslim world.

Such Christian voices, so strident in their critique of the West, tend to ignore the plight of Christian minorities living in difficult situations in Muslim countries, because to raise that issue produces tensions in the Christian-Muslim relationship. Furthermore, such voices often lambaste Christian advocacy agencies that are active on behalf of Christian minorities, accusing them of stirring the pot in a most unhelpful way.

Such voices also discourage a critical engagement with the Islamic primary texts, because Muslim conservatives do not like it when you do, and, they say, the roots of Christian-Muslim tensions do not lie in Islamic scripture, but in Western foreign policy. What’s more, they argue, Christians don’t like it when Muslim polemicists criticise the Christian scriptures;so we should leave Muslim scriptures well alone.

Sadly, such voices in the Church play into the hands of the Muslim conservatives who are the target of the St Petersburg Declaration. Though well intentioned, the Christian approach that flees from a more acerbic engagement with Muslim conservatism transmits a message of weakness, which entrenches Islamic conservatives in their positions, safe from any critique.

This produces an interesting scenario. On one side is an alliance of Muslim conservatives and Christian leftists (liberal and Evangelical), both of whom insist that the West is to blame for the problems in the Christian-Muslim relationship today, and who frown on any criticism of Islam. But fortunately there is another side — an alliance between Muslim secularist liberals and Christian conservatives, who are both committed to putting hard questions to institutional Islam. With the efforts of this latter alliance comes a measure of hope.

Dr Peter G. Riddell is Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Relations at London School of Theology. He is author of Christians and Muslims.

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Interesting, to see a few special and brave Muslims begin to publicly declare that they want to move beyond this repressive religion in determining how they live. If only they could gain more support to counter the mad mullahs and the politically-correct Western apologists for conservative Islam.

Posted by MT on 2007-04-04 04:32:51 GMT