Mus­lims call meet­ing to dis­cuss in­tol­er­ance

The Covington News - - Local News - By Er­rin Haines

AT­LANTA — About 75 ac­tivists, ed­u­ca­tors, stu­dents and oth­ers gath­ered this week­end to dis­cuss what they see as a “cri­sis over the in­tol­er­ance of dif­fer­ence” in the Mus­lim faith.

Dur­ing the three-day Cel­e­bra­tion of Heresy Con­fer­ence, pan­elists de­bated such is­sues as sharia, crit­i­cal think­ing and democ­racy and Is­lam — is­sues or­ga­niz­ers of the con­fer­ence say are cen­tral to Is­lamic re­form, but which Mus­lims are not free to dis­cuss within many con­tem­po­rary Is­lamic so­ci­eties.

Ab­dul­lahi An-Na’im, a pro­fes­sor at Emory Univer­sity’s School of Law and co-or­ga­nizer of the con­fer­ence, which he said was a grass­roots, spon­ta­neous ini­tia­tive grown from a con­cern that the Is­lamic tra­di­tion of open de­bate has nar­rowed.

“Heresy is creative,” An-Na’im said. “It reaf­firms the need to cre­ate space for dis­agree­ment. If our re­li­gious val­ues are strong, heresy will not hurt us. If they are weak, heresy will re­mind us what we need to be do­ing.”

The topic of democ­racy and Is­lam was de­bated for more than an hour on Satur­day. An-Na’im pointed to fac­tors like poverty, a lack of ed­u­ca­tion and un­der- de­vel­op­ment as rea­sons why democ­racy has not taken root in more Mus­lim-based so­ci­eties around the world.

“Is­lam is not the prob­lem,” he said. “If Is­lam is con­sis­tent with Democ­racy, why are most Mus­lim so­ci­eties not Demo­cratic? The re­li­gion is not op­posed to it.”

Ferey­doun Taslimi, a Mus­lim ac­tivist in At­lanta, said that not many Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries can claim that they are op­er­at­ing un­der a rep­re­sen­ta­tive form of gov­ern­ment, with theoc­racy or less in­clu­sive elec­tions be­ing the or­der of the day. En­sur­ing cer­tain rights — like equal­ity be­tween the sexes and free­dom of speech — can be at­tained through democ­racy.

An-Na’im said that Mus­lims must fig­ure out how to le­git­imize and re­in­force Demo­cratic val­ues from an Is­lamic per­spec­tive.

Taslimi said the goal of the con­fer­ence is to con­nect more like-minded Mus­lims so that dis­cus­sions like those hap­pen­ing this week­end can hap­pen more of­ten. He said that emo­tional re­ac­tions by Mus­lims to mi­nor is­sues have been a dis­trac­tion and that more crit­i­cism and self-re­flec­tion is needed in the faith.

“It is a cry ... that there is some­thing wrong and we need to do some­thing,” Taslimi said. “We want to cre­ate a net­work of peo­ple who are will­ing to dis­cuss dif­fer­ent is­sues to the end that they can ad­dress sub­jects that may have been taboo.”

The Heresy Con­fer­ence con­tin­ues through Sun­day.

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