Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Internal and External Challenges for Muslims

by Asma T. Uddin

My legal and advocacy work both in the United States and abroad has given me the unique opportunity to view challenges faced by the global community in multifarious sociopolitical settings. And given my focus on Muslim issues, many of my realizations have come with regard to the Muslim community. What is clear to me is that this community's challenges require the utilization of appropriate and permissible applications of individual and communal freedoms, the freedom for an individual to study one's faith and offer new and relevant interpretations of it, and the freedom for a community as a whole to practice its faith in the public and private sphere.

In the realm of human rights, part of this endeavor involves helping Muslims understand both the international human rights framework and the American constitutional framework. There is a need to translate these frameworks into terms that make sense culturally and theologically for Muslims. This is not to say that individual Muslims do not embrace the values of human rights; it is only to say that for too long the human rights language has been too Western-focused, and these values need to be communicated through more familiar terms and narratives.

While barriers to understanding and implementing human rights are the biggest challenge facing the community from within, particularly in the international context, from without, Islamophobia is a huge problem. The Danish cartoon controversy is a prominent case in which there was a marked failure of communication. An undoubtedly offensive portrayal of the Prophet led to an international fiasco as the Muslim community struggled to express the hurt and offense the cartoons had caused. However, language failed, and a segment of the international Muslim community turned to violence to express its anger. 

The Muslim community often fails to successfully articulate to a non-Muslim audience its understanding of common norms. For example, it remains alienated largely on questions related to gender, whether it be veiling, women's rights, gender roles, and so on. At the same time, the community struggles within when it comes to realizing true gender equality. With forums such as my web magazine, Altmuslimah.com, it is possible to strive to fill that communication gap by fostering meaningful, compelling dialogue that is illuminating not just for Muslims, but also for non-Muslims seeking to learn more about gender issues in Islam.

In the coming century, the Muslim community will be faced with challenges that require a concerted and critical response. There is a great burden on community leaders to meet these challenges with an eye to the future, rather than simply to predicate current behavior on past examples. In addition to a general mistrust of the perceived heritage of such standards, variant interpretations of Islam and conflicting cultural identities complicate such a task. To adequately meet the challenges ahead, the Muslim community must be willing to actively and openly engage both its members and outside communities. The Muslim community must not be afraid to ask the question, "What does it mean to be a Muslim today?" 

Asma T. Uddin is the founder and editor in chief of www.AltMuslimah.com.

Source Citation: Uddin, Asma T. 2011. Internal and External Challenges for Muslims. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.

tags: Culture, Islam, US Politics  
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