My friend Muhammad Syed, co-founder and ED of EXMNA, has an open letter to Yale Humanists and Muslim Students Association at Hemant’s blog.
As an activist and an ex-Muslim, I have witnessed many attempts to prevent direly-needed conversations by those threatened by the voices of others. I am saddened to see this trend continue — namely, the letter signed by several student organizations at Yale in order to prevent Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking at their university.
I believe the Yale Muslim Students Association should be ashamed of their attempt to silence Hirsi Ali, and the Yale Humanists should be ashamed for being complicit in the effort.
There is no doubt that Hirsi Ali has made comments that are often deemed inflammatory to Muslims. Although I find myself often disagreeing with her stances, I admire her courage and stamina. No one has shed light on the barbaric practices continued in the name of Islam as forcefully as she has. The fact that she is one of the only ex-Muslims speaking out about these kinds of practices is not evidence that the abuse is rare or confined to small fundamentalist communities. Rather, it is evidence of the censure and targeting of those who are willing to speak frankly about Islam and demand change in the Muslim world.
In the letter, it is claimed that Hirsi Ali should not speak on Islam due to the fact that “she does not hold the credentials” to do so, and when she was given the opportunity to speak in the past, she “overlooked the complexity of sociopolitical issues in Muslim-majority countries and has purported that Islam promotes a number of violent and inhumane practices.”
To any liberal-minded person, this reasoning will sound weak at best and intolerant at worst. According to these Yale student organizations, only one who has the right “credentials” (a term that is not defined) and purports a positive view of Islam should be allowed to speak at their university.
It does seem like a very high bar, even if you agree that she’s said some very unpleasant things.
Although this behavior is regrettably expected from the Muslim Students Association (MSA), I’m shocked that the Yale Humanists have joined such an effort. In addition to co-signing the MSA’s letter, the Yale Humanists added that they don’t believe she represents the “totality of the ex-Muslim experience” in their own statement.
Which begs the question: Who, exactly, does represent a “totality” of an experience? Which ex-Muslim voice is “valid” enough or has the right credentials to critique Islam? Do Muslims need special “credentials” when speaking positively of Islam? Or is that requirement reserved only for those who do not believe that all religious traditions are the same and wonderful end-to-end? Do I have to believe (as Muslims do) that Islam is ultimately a peaceful religion or that Muhammad was a role-model for mankind before I’m deemed credible enough to speak about the faith?
Short answer? Yes.
…as a courageous Somali woman, Hirsi Ali’s existence alone is an inspiration to many, including one of our young Somali members who stated:
“I hate her views on current events and the statements she puts forth, she can be biased and too personal in her views, but there’s a place in my heart for her only because before, I literally thought it was impossible to be a female, Somali ex-Muslim so to deny her and being ‘offended’ by her visit, denies my existence socially from being known and accepted”.
As a former Muslim with friends and loved ones who are Muslim, I am disappointed with the behavior of the Muslim Students Association. There’s a pattern of silencing dissent that runs through the Muslim world both today and throughout much of its history, which we all need to work together to end. That effort should include all the signatories of the letter, including the Yale MSA, a group that I believe should lead the fight against fundamentalism and work towards fostering an open and honest dialogue.
But some members of the MSA perhaps think that stifling dissent is a core value of their religion…
You have the ability to help improve the lives of apostates, LGBTQ members of your community, and subjugated women. You can lobby to pass legislation on eliminating forced marriages and raise funds to help those who need to escape abusive situations instead of pretending as if it doesn’t happen in Muslim households. You can act as watchdogs and condemn those religious leaders who encourage women to stay with abusive families. You can encourage Muslim women to seek civil divorce instead of going through a patriarchal religious authority who, too often, denies them agency. You can both celebrate World Hijab Day and defend the right of women to reject modesty codes without facing social or legal repercussions. You can do so much more to better the state of Muslims and Muslim society, but instead you spend your time silencing criticism.
There are a million ways in which you can transform the world, but if you want a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that is clearly within your grasp, it requires moral and intellectual courage as well as honesty. That change will not come if Muslims refuse to accept criticism and their allies defend them, even at the cost of sacrificing the liberal values they hold dear.
Its a bad idea to defend allies at the cost of sacrificing the liberal values. A bad, bad, bad idea.