Towards a Western Islam
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Towards a Western Islam
15 July @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
How can an authentic Western Islam emerge? Islam is both a religion and a political-social ideology. When debating and interpreting different versions of Islam, voices of moderate Muslims trying to represent their views are often hijacked or ignored. It is clear, however, that the best way to reflect an authentic version of Islam is through the lived experiences of Muslims themselves looking to integrate with their Western surroundings while not abandoning their faith. In this illuminating discussion, Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), will discuss the obstacles that British and American Muslims must overcome when representing their religion – chiefly from competing conservative and extremist variants of Islam – and the need to bridge political divides and bring more nuance to views towards Muslims and Islam.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to join a fascinating discussion with Zainab Al-Suwaij about the ways towards Western Islam.
Zainab Al-Suwaij is the co-founder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), an organization founded in the wake of September 11, 2001 to foster tolerance, promote civil society and civil rights, and mobilize a moderate voice in the American Muslim community. In her role, she also speaks widely on religious freedom, disinformation, and the use of technology and social media for both recruitment and activism. At AIC, she works with students and youth on social entrepreneurship, community engagement, and countering violent extremism. Before founding AIC, Ms. Al-Suwaij taught Arabic at Yale University. Ms. Al-Suwaij’s leadership has expanded AIC into an international organization with six bureaus worldwide, including the U.S., Egypt, Iraq, and newest location, Tunisia.
Andrea Jenkyns MP was elected as the Member of Parliament for Morley and Outwood in May 2015. In the last Parliament Andrea sat on the Health Select Committee, and currently sits on the Committee for Exiting the EU.
On the 15th of July the Henry Jackson Society hosted co-founder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), Zainab Al Suwaij, for a discussion on the many obstacles faced by western Muslims when representing their religion and the need for the bridging of political divides and more nuance to views of Muslims and of Islam. The discussion was hosted by Andrea Jenkyns MP.
Andrea Jenkyns opened by noting that over the last 20 years, one of the most pressing questions that has arisen is that of Islam and its interaction with Western society. Describing how in recent history Western societies have been characterised over time by an ongoing pursuit of greater freedom and since the post-war period an attempt to build upon this liberal view worldwide, she lamented how this worldview has been met with challenges, notably the development of a radical fringe within Islam that, aided by the far right, left some Muslims adrift from the pursuit of a liberal Western society.
Zainab Al Suwaij then rose to speak, beginning by asserting that the presence of Islam was not new to the West, before asking what has changed. What has changed, she argued, is the rise of extremism around the world, asking “have we as Muslims failed” to improve our communities and defend our religion from being “hijacked by radicals, extremists and voices of hatred?” Compounding the problem was the fact that many Westerners know little about Islam, gaining what they do know from the often very negative news coverage that they consume. Of those well-meaning people who wish to foster dialogue and cultural understanding with the Muslim community, there is often a feeling that they need to go straight to an imam for an interfaith dialogue. She was keen to emphasise that most Westerners wanted good relationships with their Muslim neighbours and with international Islamic community as well.
Al Suwaij then described how in the Quran it says that “God does not change the conditions of people until they change themselves,” and so moderate Muslims in the West must ask themselves, what they can do to improve their own lives and communities, as well as how to be good citizens. She went on to say that Muslims must change some of their cultural and religious practices to reflect changing times. The enormous level of diversity within the Western diaspora was another topic for reflection, with Al Suwaij noting that this growing diaspora includes Bosnians, Pakistanis, Iraqi’s etc., all ethnically and culturally very different, not to mention basic political and theological divisions between, liberals, moderates, conservatives, etc. Despite this plurality of people and cultures, the Islamist wing has become very forceful in pursuing its worldview, jeopardising the integration of many Muslims into the West. She argued that the lack of responsible leadership within Western Islam had contributed to this.
Prevention, Al Suwaij argued, is a crucial factor in preventing Islamist ideology from taking root in Muslim communities. She described how people who had previously refused to work with the AIC have in the last few years began to come to them, only after discovering loved ones had been radicalised and left them. To prevent this it is crucial to counter the narrative that Muslim’s in the West are somehow separate from the rest of the population, and to emphasise the freedom, opportunities and rule of law that Muslims posessed.
The event then closed with a round of questions and answers.
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