Shireen Qudosi was named one of the top 10 Muslim reformers in North America in 2011. She works to further the progressive movement within Islam. Qudosi earned a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Political Science from University of California, Irvine.
She attended California Western School of Law, but left to build a foundation for her work as a Muslim Reformer. Here we start this educational series off on reformers.
On the work with Qudosi, an important distinction should be made between individuals who leave Islam and others who reform the faith from within it. Her focus has been on the work of reform. In which, she sees this facet of the faith as something happening since its inception into the present day.
Qudosi said, “We see it in the way Islam waxed and waned during Prophet Muhammad’s time, starting out as peaceful and later emerging as a more warring religion when early Muslims were at risk of annihilation. We saw it in the first hundred years after the prophet’s death, as Muslims tried to flesh out the faith, as the faith adapted to local regions and branched into niche interpretations of Islam. And of course, there has been a consistent involvement of scholars (now imams and celebrity community activists) who try to shape Islam based on reasoning or propaganda depending on the character of the individual. For better or worse, Islam is not a static faith. It is better understood if it’s seen as an organism, or an evolving consciousness.”
The new wave of the thought leaders within some of the Islamic communities are the reformers. Women, as a result, have begun to gain more of a voice. Qudosi sees this rise of women as an inevitable aspect of modernity, especially with the prior grooming of some women into silence and even “groomed by voodoo.”
She spoke about the idea of external influences preventing acting as one’s true self. These restrictions can be particularly damaging to girls who become women. This form of “cultural rot” becomes a basis of enjoying an immortality of repressive values for women, in some interpretations of religion.
Qudosi said, “Privately, we are many voices. Publicly, you only see a few handfuls. All of us carry a rich heritage of philosophy and inquiry, and I can’t think of a greater act of faith than to ensure that right is exercised and that legacy is protected for future generations.”
As she founded Muslim Reformers, she wanted to highlight the continuum or reformer beliefs on hand in the modern period. The idea of the injustice and seeking to rectify those injustices in some way. She saw and experienced “small cruelties,” which were during her formative years.
“When I was four-years-old, I used to listen to the story of A Little Match Girl, over and over again, pulled into the narrative and empathizing with her before I could even read properly, before I even knew what empathy was, and before I realized that it’s perhaps not so ‘normal’ to feel another’s pain so intimately,” Qudosi stated.
While growing into an adult, she developed some of the capacities of adulthood, as in becoming “more self-aware and confident”; wherein, a sense of purpose can begin to take more root and flourish. Over 15 years, her sense of love for human potential and a way in which humanity can grow with a sense of dignity drives her, and has developed over time.
Qudosi explained, “That’s essentially why I do what I do. Muslim reform for me started with a question, a possibility. Over time I’ve learned so much and I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people and their stories, that it’s not something I can just put down and walk away from at this point. In some way or another, this will always be a touchstone in the work I do. How much I’m able to do will always depend on the resources and funding available.”
The modern media and communications landscape can be important in this progressive work, especially as the technology becomes cheaper over time. In fact, it can provide freedom in speaking one’s mind, being oneself, and without the direct fear of retribution.
“Technology gives us the ability to get our message across, to connect with each other, to keep educating ourselves so we’re more refined in our message. However, technology dependency is crippling and dances on the perimeter of dehumanization,” Qudosi stated, “Media, however, is an entirely other matter. You have to be a sort of gladiator if you want to be successful in media — and that’s not necessarily to anyone’s benefit, including the gladiator.”
Qudosi does not see a value in much of the soundbite-based ‘dialogue’ and ‘conversation’ of the modern media with the canned responses and the cant remain the norm rather than the outlier. Part of the problem is the ideological camp-based polarization of the media.
She sees meaningful dialogue exemplified in a 1977 interview with Patrick McGoohan. She does see, though, positive developments in the media, in terms of meaningful and in-depth dialogues on the issues of the day in all kinds of media. But, probably, not on the larger, mainstream basis in general.
“As a dear friend recently shared, this sort of coming together involves the kindling of a rapport, which he described as ‘creating a connection in and through our communication…People who are in good rapport with each other start to breathe, talk, and move in the same rhythm,'” Qudosi said, “I was recently reading John O’Donohue’s Beauty, in which he spoke of timing and patience — two things I confess I’m still a bit wobbly in at times.”
Qudosi quoted “Towards a Reverence of Approach”:
“What you encounter, or recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation and often involved a carefully phased journey of approach. Attention, respect and worthiness belonged to the event of nearing and disclosure…Our culture [now] has little respect for privacy; we no longer recognize the sacred zone around each person. We feel like we have a right to blunder unannounced into any area we wish. Because we have lost reverence of approach, we should not be too surprised at the lack of quality and beauty in our experience…We have become more interested in ‘connection’ rather than communion.”
Qudosi sees reverence outside of the realm of the gladiators. We, as human beings, should not fight, but should work for communion through reverence. She wants to write a variety of subject matter, but feels distracted by the disease of the early 21st century of needing an opinion on everything the internet provides to us, incompletely.
She wanted to take on a form of sabbbatical, so to speak, in order to collect her thoughts and find her voice once more; her true voice, not the cant provided by the constant chatter of the internet. A voice found in silence, reflection, apart from the everyday world of social media and distraction.
“Because of my work I cannot disconnect completely but I do still shelter myself as much as possible from these things and hope to more so in the years to come. One simply cannot think and create if they’re fed a steady supply of other people’s thoughts,” Qudosi stated.
Qudosi sees the media, in the current period, feeding some of the culture of vanity. With 9/11 happening 18 years ago, there is a push to sensationalize grievance of 9/11, a tragedy, rather than emphasize the progressive work of reformers within the Muslim world.
The only outlets who seem to highlight the reformers come at times of convenience for them. She feels this “sometimes” plays “into the myth of the noble savage.”
With the rise of the empowerment and advancement of women, the next questions reverted to the international rights issues important to women and the ways in which their rights can be violated in a modern context to some degree.
Qudosi was short or to the point. She wants the media to stop caricaturing Muslim women in the world. She sees the liberal media sitting too closely, at times, with figures who simply may not represent the general outlook and perspective of most Muslim women. Qudosi continued to talk about the issues around the rhetoric of figures who do not represent the views of many Muslim women and may reflect regressive political and social outlooks.
“And there is rage, a powerful component of the female psyche — but rage is a process. It is not the solution,” Qudosi stated, “The other thing the media can do is lose the trope of sad Muslim woman. This has been going on before reformer was even a buzz word. Around mid-2000’s, I pieced together a totally rubbish book (if we can even call it a book), with uninformed, uncultivated hodgepodge of ideas about faith, identity and belonging.”
She thinks this should have been thrown directly into the trash, but this was picked up in the UK with a manuscript bid between three publishers. According to Qudosi, the condition was the necessity to write on “being a sad Muslim woman.”
Qudosi refused. She read a similar story around that time and did not want to replicate the narrative there. To her, the narratives can be too-self-indulgent. Also, she noted that she was too young and did not know some of the other facts of life at that time.
On things to look out for now, Qudosi stated, “We’re looking forward to bringing some new names on. Elliot Friedland and I co-founded Toke for Tolerance, a radically honest interfaith festival we hope to launch in 2019. Our vision includes using this space to nurture newer voices, both men and women, in a sacred space that honors the art of approach.”
Now, Qudosi is working on a book entitled Islam’s Origin Story.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: [email protected]
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Image Credit: Shireen Qudosi.