What kind of Muslim are you? The question seems odd, but for those who seek to divide and conquer Islam, the answer has become increasingly important. Even more disturbing are the labels we assign ourselves.
In our families few of us can say we’ve never disagreed with our siblings. But when a family member makes a mistake—even a big one—or has a view we don’t agree with, even fewer of us decide to divorce that family and change our name. Today, the same is not true of our Muslim family.
Today, we’re no longer just ‘Muslim.’ We’re ‘progressives,’ ‘Islamists,’ ‘traditionalists,’ ‘salafis,’ ‘indigenous,’ and ‘immigrant.’ And each group has become so alienated from the other, that we’ve almost forgotten that we share a common creed.
While real differences do exist within our ummah, something very serious has gone wrong. Within the fold of Islam, differences are not only tolerated—they’re encouraged as a mercy from God. But as soon as we label and marginalize any who disagree with us, our downfall begins. Once we accept and internalize these labels as our main source of identity, the result is disastrous. As a result, we create our own camps, attend only our own gatherings and conferences; soon enough, we’re talking only to those who agree with us. Dialogue within the ummah disappears, our differences become only more polarized and our views become more extreme. Before long, we stop caring about what happens to the ‘other’ group of Muslims around the world, as we amputate limbs from the unified body our prophet taught us we were. The ‘other’ (who happen to still be our brothers) become so foreign—even despised—that we no longer wish to be referred by the same family name, and even join our enemies against them.
Suddenly those differences, that were once a mercy, become a curse–and a weapon to defeat Islam. Our enemies “summon one another to attack [us] as people, while eating, invite others to share their food.” (Abu Dawud)
On March 18, 2004 RAND, the influential U.S. think tank, released a report to help ‘civilize’ Islam by effacing it and remaking it in the image of Western secularism. In the report, Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, Strategies, Cheryl Benard writes, “Modernism, not traditionalism, is what worked for the West. This included the necessity to depart from, modify, and selectively ignore elements of the original religious doctrine.”
In order to “depart from, modify, and selectively ignore” elements of Islam, Benard suggests a simple strategy: label, divide, control. After labeling each group of Muslims, she suggests pitting one group against each other. Among other strategies, Benard suggests “encourag[ing] disagreements between traditionalists and fundamentalists,” and “discourag[ing] alliances between traditionalists and fundamentalists.”
By succeeding at this division and supporting the ‘Modernist’/ ‘Progressive’ Muslims, Bernard hopes to invent a ‘civil democratic’ Islam that is less backwards and problematic. More specifically, she hopes to create an Islam that will surrender itself to the hegemony of the Neo Conservative Agenda.
So if the first step to deforming Islam is to exploit the labels that exist, let’s say: “Thanks, but no thanks.” God tells us: “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Qur’an, 3:103). So although we really appreciate this effort to ‘civilize’ us and our religion—we’ll have to pass. You only reform something that’s corrupt or outdated. And you only fix something that’s broken.
And while it’s nice of you to want to call us ‘modern’ or ‘moderate,’ we’ll do without the redundancy. Islam is by definition moderate, so the more strictly we adhere to its fundamentals—the more moderate we’ll be. And Islam is by nature timeless and universal, so if we’re truly Islamic—we’ll always be modern.
We’re not ‘Progressives’; we’re not ‘Conservatives.’ We’re not ‘neo-Salafi’; we’re not ‘Islamists.’ We’re not ‘Traditionalists’; we’re not ‘Wahabis.’ We’re not ‘Immigrants’ and we’re not ‘Indigenous.’ Thanks, but we’ll do without your prefix.
We’re just Muslim.
by Yasmin Mogahed