pamela k taylor :position papers



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Copyright 2005 Pamela K. Taylor

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Statement of Support for writers worldwide, MWU and Mohja Kahf

As a writer, both for MWU and other publications, I was appalled by the attack on MWU and on Mohja Kahf who is one of the dons of American Muslim poetry. I am also appalled by the ongoing violence against Muslim writers in Muslm countries around the world.

Takfiring and calling Muslims murtad, as regularly happens to the writers of MWU, and in particular to Mohja, is serious business and should not be taken lightly -- it can and has lead to violence, including murder. This kind of intimidation has to be combatted both in the Western legal system and by exposing how it is completely un-Islamic to judge an avowed muslim a kafir. There are clear hadith condmening this, even in to the point that in the midst of battle, companions refused to kill an enemy that proclaimed shahadah, even though there was significant reason to believe they might be saying it only as a means to save their life. How then can Muslims decide other Muslims no longer are, based simply upon the content of their writing.

Which brings me to the second point I want to make:

Writers can and do publish provocative articles without necessarily believing in, accepting or advocating for the points of views in those articles. The writing community must address tough issues, expose the underbelly, the dirty, ugly, shocking, side of the community that people would like to ignore and forget. The writer has a responsibility to shake up people, move them out of their comfort zone so that they can reassess themselves, their communities, and our understanding of Islam; so that the individual and the ummah can grow, and perhaps take action for the betterment of the world.

How one chooses to address tough issues is just that -- a matter of choice. Some will take a morally unequivocal voice. Others will simply document the problem. Some use satire. ome play devil's advocate. Some write exposes, banking on shock value to wake people up. No matter what choice a writer makes, particularly those writing fiction, it is fallacious to assume that the actions of the characters or those reported on necessarily reflects the proclivities of the writer.

Even if a writer holds views some people find offensive, it is still their right to hold those views and to speak them. Islam allows for no compulsion in religion. La ikraha fi deen. Censorship cannot be tolerated. In many Muslim countries, unfortunately, censorship takes extreme forms. The governments of these countries have not simply supressed the articles, essays, novels, and poetry that they find objectionable. Writers are subject to imprisoment, torture, even death penalties. This is totally unacceptable, and I call for Muslims all over the world to demand freedom of speech and safety from fear of imprisonment and/or torture for stating one's opinions.

As for MWU, it has chosen to be the ONE organ of the North American Muslim community that will take up the challenge of discussing problematic issues, and to attempt to present an accurate relfection of our whole community. If you read any of the mainstream Muslim publications, you will not find the the slightest mention that there might possibly be Muslims who drink beer, have extra-marital sex, don't believe in wearing hijab, etc. Those people are ignored, their very exsitence negated, despite the fact that in the North American context they no doubt outnumber those who pray with any regularity and maintain modesty or chastity. Certainly, that is not a position from which you can engage with the community in any real terms, whether your intent is to work with these Muslims in the areas you do agree, or to try and "bring them back to the fold" as it were.

Finally, MWU cannot get itself in the position of making a position statement on each of the articles. Can you imagine a tag-line at the bottom -- the editors of MWU deplore the activity reported in this article, but we think it is important for the Muslim community to acknowledge and address it so we are going to print the article? That would be a sure-fire way to guarantee that no more articles like the ones that offend people come their direction. The task has to be undertaken without judgement.

I don't always like the articles published on MWU, some of them make me extremely uncomfortable, but I think it would be a poverty on my part if I decided I wasn't going to send my articles to them simply because some of what they publish make me squirm.

If we really want to be inclusive and engage all parts of the community, then we have to engage and include folks we may not be totally comfortable with, or whom, even, we are quite uncomfortable with.