[A repost of an old entry, with some modifications.]
Another area where I think too many Muslims make too many mistakes.
As the story goes, the Muslim masses are supposedly “conservative,” and those who are “liberal” tend to identify themselves as “liberal,” implying that they are different than the Muslim masses. In some cases, we use this latter term to mean “intellectually enlightened” and in other cases, we use this term to mean “loose with certain rules of social conduct.”
And, commonly we use such terms — either term, “liberal” or “conservative” — as attacks against each other.
So, what is our reality, and what should our ideal be? The ideal is that we are moderates in just about all aspects. So, in this piece, I am speaking more about the side we err on.
First, we must distinguish between the basic facets of life where we apply these terms: thinking, conduct, and politics.
Now, let us correct some misconceptions. The common, stereotypical Muslim immigrant, whom we commonly stereotype as “conservative” is commonly, stereotypically conservative in thinking. But, this same person is not consistently conservative in social conduct. The same person who commonly, stereotypically exercises gender segregation in the mosque and dinner parties and attempts to dictate the marriage choices of his/her children commonly watches hours upon hours upon hours of Bollywood or Egyptian movies. Those films are somehow considered acceptable. More often than not, they common stereotypical Muslim immigrant tends to be far more loose (in terms of social conduct) than we might imagine. What is the point of consistency? We mistakenly consider Muslim immigrants to be socially conservative, when the reality is that many Muslim immigrants tend to be loyal to their home cultures. In that way, they are no different than many indigenous Muslims who are just as loyal to their home cultures.
Politically, however, it is a different type of inconsistency, but the spectrum of liberal/moderate/conservative does not apply. Rather, the politics of such a person are best labelled as “reactionary.” It used to be that indigenous, African American Muslims tended to be more Democrat (technically “Politically Liberal”), while immigrant Muslims tended to be more Republican (technically “Politically Conservative”). Some of these preferences related to legacies that are beyond the scope of discussion here. But, some of these preferences related to the domestic policy of Democrats and the foreign policy of Republicans. It is partially fair to say that both parties are very much at the service of lobbyists (mostly corporate), but that is the nature of our democracy.
On the flip side, we must definitely understand that the stereotypical “liberal” Muslim, who may be known for liberal social conduct tends to be no less intellectually closed-minded than the stereotypical “conservative” person mentioned above. The content of the closed-mindedness may differ, but such persons are usually no less closed-minded than anyone else. More often, we also tend to find that the self-proclaimed “Liberal Muslims” are quick to judge others as “Conservative” and then are just as quick to just these alleged “Conservative Muslims” as judging them. I’m saying that it is commonly a mistake to assume that “Liberal” means “Free Thinking” because it often (maybe more often) means “I believe everyone is judging me.”
So, what is our Muslim ideal in America in this time in place:
Intellectually: we should be intellectually liberal. Meaning, we should be willing to entertain and consider almost (almost) any idea, any possibility. There should be no shame in matters of learning, especially learning religion. That is not to say that we should be quick to spreading ideas that people are not equipped to hear. This is often the mistake of the learned classes of Muslims: often they push ideas that are either irrelevant for the rest or might be confusing for the rest or might even be detrimental for the rest of us. We are often better off exploring the more practical ideas than the abstract ideas. But, as a default principle, we should be constantly expanding our horizons of knowledge.
Socially: we should be conservative. We should be conservative in our conduct. The focus here is on modesty, privacy, humility, and manners. Again, do not confuse “Socially Conservative” with “Politically Conservative.” The political agendas of the Political Conservatives and the Political Liberals often mask themselves in language that fools us into thinking of issues of social relations as political issues. The reality is that the Political Conservatives and Liberals have one target — power — and will mask things in whatever way they want. Likewise, when the Political Right attempts to present itself as the Christian party, that point is laughable considering the very un-Christian morality of the overwhelming majority of its candidates, and the agnosticism of some of those pundits who push the supposedly Christian agenda. We have the same problem in Muslim-majority democracies, where “Islam” is nothing more than a slogan to get votes, funds, and power.
Politically: we should be moderates. This does not mean that we do not individually join parties. Power politics necessitates alliances, ultimately with parties. That is all well and good, until you represent yourself as Muslim. Meaning, I tend to be politically conservative, which means I believe in individual social responsibility (starting with myself) and limited, tightly restricted government. Unfortunately, the Republican Party today is too often a conglomeration of so many anti-Muslim bigots all the way from the top to bottom of its hierarchy. Anti-Muslim bigotry is not only tolerated, but repeatedly enforced and spread. My point is that I cannot justify any sort of serious participation with the Political Right any time soon. More importantly, it is my personal preference to be on the Political Right.
In being political moderates the point is simple: we identify our issues and then see the candidate that seems to cater most to those issues. I am not here prescribing what our Islamic issues are. Again, I tend to be Politically Conservative, even though at this moment in time the overwhelming majority of Muslims support the Democratic candidates. So, I am saying that we should organize ourselves more to get the parties to approach us, rather than the opposite. This is a long process.
Now, in between our liberal intellect and our social conservative-ness sits one organ: the tongue. Which way should it go? The rules that govern the tongue are the rules of manners. Further, the manners implemented upon the tongue should vary according to the recipients. Some recipients need to hear liberal thinking, while others need to hear conservative social conduct. Meaning, while maintaining full loyalty to the truth, you speak to people according to what they are capable of understanding and what they are willing to hear. Again, some need to hear liberal thinking, while others need to hear conservative social conduct.
That is my opinion. And, the emphasis here is on us judging ourselves. A person who outwardly appears to be contradicting any of the above onlyappears to be contradicting any of the above, and should be given his/her due: 70 excuses to justify his/her conduct.
We should also be clear in understanding that there are limits to each of the above outlooks. As mentioned, there is a limit to liberal thinking. At the intellectual level, it would be silly to explore being an Atheist Muslim. But, because there are self-proclaimed Atheist Muslims, we do engage with them in some capacity. At the level of social relations, there are definitely limits to social conservatism. We err toward social conservatism, but we must understand that we are neither too strict nor too loose. Each excess has its problems, as well as its blowback. A community that is too loose with its social relations tends to be so watered down that “Islam” is essentially nothing more than an identity. A community that is too strict with its social relations also creates very unhealthy atmospheres for those involved.
So, in a nutshell we should:
1- Intellectually keep expanding our horizons.
2- Socially err on the side of conservatism.
3- Politically get the politicians to serve us on our terms.
And God knows best.