MSM’s moderate Muslim quest

journeys-questThis past week saw two excellent examples of the American media’s efforts at finding and portraying in the most positive light possible Muslims that make claims of being moderate. These two examples, one in The Los Angeles Times and the other in The New York Times, both portray Islamic preachers. Both reach their audiences primarily via the television. And both articles keep the basic beliefs of both preachers fairly obscure.

The articles diverge in one significant respect: the LAT article focused on an Islamic preacher based in Egypt, while the NYT focused on a preacher based in Saudi Arabia.

The LAT article is a great example of the media’s tendency when covering proclaimed moderates to tell readers everything that the individual does not believe in and little in which they actually believe.

Here are some examples from the article:

“I try to preach with simple language, not the language of scholars,” said Hosni, who has a weekly TV talk show and whose sermons are sold on CDs in front of Cairo University. “People are attracted to new preachers like me because they want religious solutions to daily problems, not someone talking to them about the afterlife.” …

Unlike the radical Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist clerics, Hosni doesn’t blame the state for the problems arising from Egypt’s corruption and troubling economic transition from national industries to open markets. This suits his followers, upper-middle-class professionals who came of age during the country’s Islamic revival and have largely abandoned politics to seek fulfillment in a compliant religion that speaks to the frustrations of jobs, marriage and family.

Islam, he said, should not deprive people of “the different pleasures of life. … Those conservative preachers always tell you: ‘There is no time. The Judgment Day is coming. When will you wake up?’ You feel you are doomed,” she said. “Hosni understands what we talk about and what problems we face and how we think. In colleges, we talk about dating. We don’t talk about the Koran or religion, and Hosni talks about our issues. . . . He has a very simple style that allows him to reach our minds and souls.”

What does it mean to talk about religious solutions to daily problems? Is he a Muslim version of Oprah or Dr. Phil? If he doesn’t blame the government for the problems in Egypt, who does he say is responsible for the problems that exist in any society? If Islam doesn’t deprive people of “different pleasures of life,” what does it require of its followers? I’m not suggesting there aren’t answers to these questions, rather, they weren’t in the article.

The NYT article is better, but in describing its candidate for Muslim modern-ness, it fails to ask the big questions that would indicate that he believes things truly different from those Muslim preachers this article insinuates are extremists (due to their non-moderate status).

Here are some examples:

But something was missing. In 2004, he happened to see one of Mr. Shugairi’s programs on TV, and he was mesmerized. Here was a man who had lived in the West and yet spoke of the Koran as a modern ethical guidebook, not a harsh set of medieval rules. He seemed to be saying you could enjoy yourself, retain your independence and at the same time be a good Muslim. …

Yet his approach to Islam, as with most of the other satellite TV figures who have emerged in the past few years, is fundamentally orthodox. He says that women should wear the hijab, or head scarf, and he talks of the Koran as a kind of constitution that should guide Muslim countries. His next program, “If He Were Among Us,” scheduled to be broadcast early this year, is focused squarely on adhering to the Prophet Muhammad’s life as an example.

This preacher is urging women to wear the hijab. But wasn’t he a moderate Islamic preacher? Or can the hijab and moderate Islam exist at the same time? How does the description of a “fundamentally orthodox” jive with the article’s depiction of him as a moderate?

Also, he notes that the Koran should be used “as a kind of constitution” to guide Muslim countries. Is this his endorsement of Sharia law, which I should note was mentioned in neither of these two articles? There are a lot of questions buried beneath the surface of these articles. Hopefully future articles will attempt to answer those questions.

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  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    I am so glad you did the New York Times article.
    I read this sentence:

    He says that women should wear the hijab, or head scarf, and he talks of the Koran as a kind of constitution that should guide Muslim countries.

    and wondered it that was an oblique reference to Sharia Law.

    I also read this

    As he spoke, Mr. Azam was sitting on a blue couch in the Andalus cafe, which was built by Mr. Shugairi as a gathering place for young people in Jidda. A few feet away, a televangelist could be seen talking about Islam on a large plasma TV screen. Nearby, young people sat gazing at their laptops, while Islamic music played quietly in the background.

    and wondered if the young people were were sex segregated and if so, how this was done. Isn’t sex segregation required in Saudi Arabia?

    P.S. I couldn’t find the link to the NYT article in your post.

  • Joe

    Seems like the earlier post on religious literacy has relevance here too. Not understanding the role of the hajib and tossing around the term sharia without really understanding the term impacts how the artcles are interpreted by people with a simplistic awareness of Islam.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Joe,
    I don’t see the term “sharia” in either article. To what were you referring when you wrote “tossing around the term sharia without really understanding the term impacts,”?

  • Jerry

    I decided to read through some of the blog entries about the article. Two points I think worth highlighting are:

    Many of the comments here reveal the problem with the West “thirst” for moderate Islam. That is, we want to control and define what moderate Islam is, we want to make the barometer of what is moderate and what is not.

    and

    I’d like to hear what the ex wives, mentioned in the article, have to say about their experiences while their husbands attitudes changed, leading up to the divorces and after. Including the fight over the children.

    The article did have this contradiction that I think illustrates a critical point:

    …he separated from his wife, who did not wear a head scarf and retained the secular attitude he once shared.

    …[but he said] “Islam is tolerant.”

  • Joe

    Perpetua, I was referring to your comment and the original post. The sharia boogeyman and its baggage in certain circles represents a problem of religious literacy.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for being clear about your intended target. That is quite a strong statement about me. I have two questions:
    1) Is this based on your reading of my website or just my comment on this thread?
    2) Why do you denigrate concerns about Sharia Law as a “boogeyman”?
    3) Are you familiar with the differential treatment of women under sharia law regarding divorce, child custody, etc?

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Well, three questions.

  • Joe

    My sense is that when the term sharia is tossed around, it is done with a certain meaning that bears little resemblece to the actual term. It is done without appreciation that there can be moderate ingerpretations of Islamic law or even that there is a meaning or understanding thatgoes beyond the US culture war or ideological meaning.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Joe,
    On this comment thread you have used the derogatory terms “simplistic awareness”, “boogeyman” and twice now “tossed around” to cast doubts on the value of my comments.
    Also I see you avoided answering my questions 1) and 3).
    And I would note that I have seen nothing from you on this thread that indicates any knowledge of sharia law.

  • http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/ Christopher

    “Moderate” Islam is just a fantasy and “moderate” Muslims are not coming to the rescue. This report only takes the focus off of a serious problem and spreads false hope. Facts show us that the Islamic world is not changing for the better.

    Joe the push for sharia worldwide is for real and is no “boogeyman”. There is nothing that I appreciate about sharia. Islam is not tolerant and that can clearly be seen in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    Perpetua,
    Very good work. Joe is either a Muslim or a far leftist.

    Islam is a religion that calls for the death or dominance of non-Muslims.
    (Fliers 1&2)
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/09/attention-nyers-counter-islamic-subway_11.html
    Interfaith dialogue with Muslims only benefits Islam.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/09/interfaith-dialogue-what-is-it-good-for.html
    The persecution of Christians has already started in the UK.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/06/no-bible-zone-uk.html
    Islam has been causing the same problems for centuries.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/09/islam-big-misunderstanding.html
    Muslims are voting terrorist groups into office across the Middle East.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/05/its-only-fewthats-what-they-keep.html
    Muslims look to impose Ramadan on US factory.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/2008/09/swift-plant-has-had-enough-and-fires.html
    For more on the issue.
    http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/

  • http://islaminaction08.blogspot.com/ Christopher

    Joe is trying to cover up for the true threat that sharia brings to the world.

    For more on the issue, please click on my name.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Christopher,
    Thank you.
    I liked your post on Islamic debating tactics.

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  • Joe

    Fortunately, Christopher proved my point all on his own. Believing there is a single interpretation or application of sharia is evidence of religious illiteracy.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    So Joe,
    since you’ve avoided answering my question 3:

    3) Are you familiar with the differential treatment of women under sharia law regarding divorce, child custody, etc?

    and you are claiming superior religious literacy regarding sharia, how about sharing with us the multiplicity of interpretations regarding women and divorce under sharia, or the multiplicity of interpretations regarding child custody under sharia, or the multiplicity of interpretations regarding inheritance rights for men and women under sharia?

  • Joe

    P., the rights of women under Islamic law are in dispute, just as they are under Jewish Talmudic law and even Christian natural law. Moderate Muslims outside of the Middle East contend that there should not be different treatment. Lost in these discussons is that women are treated differently when it comes to divorce and child custody throughout the Third World, including countries whose laws are inspired by Christian nafual and common law. There are similar inequities throughout Christian Africa and Catholic Latin America.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Joe,

    Let’s stay on topic about “moderate” Islam on this thread and particularly the implications of this sentence in the article about Mr. Shugairi:

    He says that women should wear the hijab, or head scarf, and he talks of the Koran as a kind of constitution that should guide Muslim countries.

    I wrote that this sounded like an oblique reference to Sharia Law, implying that the reporter should have asked questions and given the readers important information about Mr. Shugari’s thinking.

    As you point out in your most recent comment, regarding the rights of men and women, “Moderate Muslims outside of the Middle East contend that there should not be different treatment.”

    You are exactly correct, Joe, and that is the problem, because a casual reader of the article might mistakenly impute that understanding of moderate Muslim to Mr. Shugari. However, Mr. Shugari doesn’t qualify for your statement regarding moderate Muslims because he is in the Middle East, and because his statement that the Koran should be the guide raises questions about whether he would contend that the rights of men and women should be different.

    Since Mr. Shugari is in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, and since he is saying that the Koran should be a sort of constitution that would guide Muslim countries, the use of the word moderate may be very misleading in this article.

    The reporter would need to have asked Mr. Shugari specific questions about his understanding of the actual words in the Koran about the different treatment of men and women regarding divorce, inheritance and child custody, and he would envision application in Muslim countries.

    Joe, I ask you again, please share with us what you know to be in the Koran regarding women’s rights to divorce, child custody and inheritance that would become the guiding constitution in Mr. Shugari’s thinking.

  • http://mcduff.livejournal.com McDuff

    Or can the hijab and moderate Islam exist at the same time?

    Yes.

    This has been another episode of simple answers to silly loaded questions, part infinity of a long series.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Since Christopher has informed us that there are no “moderate Muslims”, I guess I had better shoot the proprietor of the corner drug store (having noticed that his name is “Muhammed”), and then nip over the pond to eliminate my cousin the dervish, since they are by defintion out to Get us.

    Come OFF it!

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    I just came across another use of the idea of the Koran being the constitution of a Muslim country. I’ve added bold and italics to call attention to it:

    Article Five: Dimensions of Time and Space of the Hamas
    As the Movement adopts Islam as its way of life, its time dimension extends back as far as the birth of the Islamic Message and of the Righteous Ancestor. Its ultimate goal is Islam, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution. Its special dimension extends wherever on earth there are Muslims, who adopt Islam as their way of life; thus, it penetrates to the deepest reaches of the land and to the highest spheres of Heavens.

    This is from the Hamas Charter (1988) here.

    Now this last month there were reports that the Hamas legislature had passed a Sharia law code.

    My point is to provide support in agreement with the questions Daniel Pulliam raised at the end of this post:

    Also, he notes that the Koran should be used “as a kind of constitution” to guide Muslim countries. Is this his endorsement of Sharia law, which I should note was mentioned in neither of these two articles?

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  • Russ Pulliam

    Daniel:

    Great analysis, starting all kinds of informative debate and discussion here.

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  • JudiBug

    What Joe says about Christian natural law is interesting. When you go back to the actual New Testament text there is no teaching about the “Christian natural law” he refers to. Rather these instances he speaks of refer to certain Christian sects that took it upon themselves to act in a manner inconsistent to the attitude described in the New Testament as follows:

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

    Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Colossians 3:19-33

    Notice that more is required of the husband than the wife.

  • JudiBug

    Well, I got those two passages tangled up and I do apologize. Here they are corrected:

    Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Colossians 3:19

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:25-33

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