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Redefining Islam for the 21st Century

When I last logged into Facebook, I was delighted to see a surge of posters featuring a Muslim woman with the
tagline "Occupy the mosque". This does not mean I support the physical occupation of prayer spaces across the UK
(especially not when people are praying), but because I believe in dismantling the status quo – a status quo that
many British Muslims, especially women, have had to pay a bitter price for.

A series of declarations were listed above the poster, including "Women have an Islamic right to hold leadership
positions and as members of the board of directors and management committees", and "Women have an Islamic
right to be full participants in all congregational activities."

As trivial as these rights may sound to the average secular ear, a fast-growing group of Muslim activists have
proved their determination to fight for every single one. Campaigning sentiments are slowly spreading beyond the
realm of private whinges, and into community centres and Twitter feeds. It goes without saying that progressive
activists are still met with stiff resistance, which extends to threats and intimidation in some cases. Kalsoom
Bashir, of Muslim women's consultancy Inspire, related that extremist films were published about her on YouTube
after the Guardian documented her struggle for women's empowerment.

What is new about these critical voices is their level of organisation, and their willingness to collaborate with
diverse groups. A prime example is the coalition of religious and non-religious groups who organised a counter-
protest against the poppy-burners of Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) on Remembrance Day 2011 (MAC was banned
the night before, rendering the counter-protest unnecessary, but that is a moot point).

This week I attended the launch of the Muslim Institute's new quarterly, Critical Muslim, which promises to usher
in a new era of organised critical thought on issues relating to Islam and Muslims. Crucially, this criticism is
constructive rather than personal. It is underpinned by values such as truth, justice, compassion and wisdom –
values that are both Qur'anic and secular.

At the very least, contributors share a deep concern about the problems that 21st-century Muslims find ourselves
mired in. There is often dissatisfaction with the lack of nuance and insight in traditional religious leaders'
responses, but this is accompanied by a keen awareness of the numerous agendas that often hijack this discussion.
While it would be too crude to label them all as "Islamophobic", many external hijackers do not necessarily have
the best interests of Muslims at heart. Social media interactions have the advantage of making these respective
intentions clear, sifting the sincere people from the obscurantists.

This brings me to another unique feature of the critical Muslim movement: we are taking control of our own
destiny, without allowing external forces to dictate the terms. For example, the recent "Happy Christmas 4ALL"
Facebook campaign was an organic response to the frustration of seeing "Muslims ban Christmas" fabrications in the
press. It turned into a celebration of the diverse ways in which people of all faiths and none mark the season. One
Muslim friend even shared a picture of her Christmas tree, with a twist – it was festooned with the "Ninety-nine
Names of Allah". Actions like these are a testament to the values of the critical Muslim movement. Let us hope
that journals like Critical Muslim further entrench open-mindedness, humility and mutual respect.

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