Q. It appears that you are a member of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP). You have stated, despite the fact that some of your opinions might be at odds with those held by Tariq Ramadan, that you think that he is one of the best examples for modern Muslims. You have likewise lauded Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Yahya Hendi, Mustafa Ceric, and Khalid Abou El-Fadl amongst others. And yet, the CIP seems to spare no effort in denigrating and defaming these scholars. The fact that you associate with organizations like the CIP and the likes of Stephen Schwartz (who sees a "Wahhabi" plot behind every Muslim who does not drink the CIP “kool-aid”) raises some serious questions about your integrity -- you cannot have it both ways. Could you please explain this apparent dichotomy?

A. For the most part, this website tries to avoid getting into controversies involving other organizations, but since you ask about some scholars who are highly esteemed amongst Muslims, I will address your question. I am no longer a member of the CIP. I feel that the president, Stephen Schwartz, uses the "Islamic pluralism" in the title of the organization to lambast all Muslims who are respected by their co-religionists. I admit that regarding my ideas of Islamic reformation, I have in the past allied myself with some entities that appeared to hold my views. I now feel that those entities were following a pattern, i.e., find someone who is respected, and use him to garner authenticity for their own propaganda. If you observe carefully, you will note that ANY Muslim who criticizes ANY aspect of Islam is immediately courted and befriended by certain entities. If you read a book titled "The Crescent and the Pen" by Hanifa Deen, you will find more information about this. You will also note that once I spoke out against the Islamophobic film "Obsession", organizations that had previously praised me suddenly turned against me.

There are cases where some organizations have reacted with dignity when I have resigned; one such example is "The COmmittee on the PResent Danger" of which I was a member. While it never acknowledged my letter, it did not direct any hate mail or denigrating material against me. When I wrote Mr. Schwartz of the CIP about some nonsensical material that I saw printed in the Toronto Star, and that it was pure Islamophobia, instead of acknowledging the problem, he started to rebuke and direct some harsh comments towards me. Coming from someone who claims to have invented the term "Islamofascism", I find this statement in an e-mail from him rather fascist:

"Anybody who reads the volume of fatwas from the ECFR with the intro by Ramadan, who considers his relationship with Qaradawi, and who has read his views on Iraq and Palestine, knows that Tariq Ramadan is not a desirable person to have in the U.S.” (excerpt from e-mail dated 2/23/09, note that ECFR is an acronym for European Council for Fatwa and Research).

And in another missive from the same date:

"Tariq Ramadan is not a U.S. citizen and has no standing whatever to avail himself of U.S. laws on freedom of speech. The U.S. Constitution applies to U.S. citizens, not to Swiss citizens. I am completely unconcerned with the opinions of the AAR or MESA, the former which is irrelevant and the latter which I consider an outrageous radical front. My view of MESA is not at all new. I have also been in the UK several times over the past three years and Tariq Ramadan has added nothing to the glory of Oxford or anything else. He is a ninth-rate wannabe media star."

Having thus expressed his feeling about the AAR (American Academy of Religion) and MESA (Middle Eastern Studies Association), both of which challenged the rulings on Tariq Ramadan, Mr. Schwartz made my decision about leaving a rather easy one when I pointed out to Mr. Schwartz that in the ongoing Gaza genocide, there was not a single word from the CIP on what was happening. Mr. Schwartz's response was as follows:

"I witnessed considerable Jew-baiting over Gaza as did everyone else. I do not know what lies were told about Gaza but I do know Hamas continues to fire rockets at civilians." (excerpt from e-mail 2/23/09).

I ought to underline a certain point: Muslim thinkers (indeed respected thinkers from any religion) have never held that a person is a faithful follower of his/her religion if s/he follows a party line. One has the right to differ and mention such differences, especially when one is a scholar trained in academic and seminarian approaches to his/her faith. I still have issues with many of the traditional Muslim viewpoints, and I have made certain statements that I hold are often misinterpreted -- one example being that my views on Israel means that I deny Palestinian rights, when the opposite is true. Having said that, I will restate what I have said elsewhere: "In the spirit of fear and over-zealous nationalism, the U.S. reaction to 9/11 did more harm than good, which is the consensus of world opinion." This is also the view of some renowned non-Muslims scholars like Jewish linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, who teaches at MIT and is one of the most ardent critics of the U.S. government’s foreign policy and its one-sided approach to the Palestinian issue.

Organizations like the CIP are, in my opinion, an attempt to harness reputable Muslim names and mislead other Muslims into denigrating good people. Further evidence of this came last summer when I informed Mr. Schwartz that I would be attending a conference at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, an event that attracted top Islamic scholars from America and abroad. Mr. Schwartz denounced IIIT as "the enemy." This sort of blanket demonization seems to be the trend in Mr. Schwartz's pronouncements, and I cannot be a part of any such organization, although I must point out that many of those associated with CIP are good people. They, however, allow Stephen Schwartz to use the organization to promote his own agenda, a mistake that I also made. I regret every having been associated with the CIP. I thank you for your question and I hope that this response addresses your concerns. May God guide us to do that which is right, ameen.

Posted March 7, 2009