What do all Muslims think of progressive (liberal) Islam?
by Stephen Schwartz
I cannot speak for all Muslims but I would reply as follows —
I became Muslim in the Balkans, among the Bosniaks and Albanians.
Their Islam was somewhat discounted during the horrific Balkan wars. A common theme among Westerners was that local Muslims in that region follow a kind of "Islam lite."
Balkan Islam is indeed very modern and European.
A conundrum with which I must deal frequently is that while Russian and Balkan communism imposed certain social reforms, they did so out of economic self-interest.
Marx argued, to paraphrase, that liberation of women from the bonds of family life would be conditioned by the need of industrial capitalism for more workers.
And so we find that in the Balkans, to cite the most important example I know, Muslim women have every right granted around the world, since women workers are crucial for production.
These social advantages include choice in pregnancy and childbirth, autonomy in divorce and inheritance, extensive childcare, and elements of the old Habsburg and communist educational systems merged in a schooling and academic life of high quality.
The outcomes of this transformation include relatively high levels of female participation in public life.
Most certainly, an atrocious practice like female genital mutilation is unknown in the Balkans. I was once greatly offended when an excellent, non-Muslim anti-FGM activist tried to convince me that FGM existed in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
I know very well that if a cutter appeared in a Bosnian Muslim town with her satanic implements, the rusty razor, scissors or knife, broken glass, pieces of tin can, etc., such a person would be lucky to escape alive.
Covered women are thin on the ground in the Balkans and locals will often say laughingly that women in niqab are really men.
Such comments are seldom homophobic or Islamophobic but are, rather, anti-fundamentalist. That is fine with me.
Bosniak women, including rape victims, fought bravely in the Balkan wars, unveiled and proud, in the Partisan tradition. I love these sisters to distraction.
Balkan Muslim fighters were and would again be Partisans, not jihadis.
Yet I also learned that Muslim believers in the Balkans, while pluralistic in their social lives, and committed to modernity (whatever that means) are typically very intense in their love of Islam.
Some Balkan Sufís are outstanding advocates for gender equality, and I have found Albanians in particular free of homophobia.
I take from this the lesson that traditional Islam has great resources for personal liberty.
In addition, all Muslims know that the worst radicals claim to be reformers of the religion.
Muslim fundamentalists love to expatiate on how they have cleansed the faith from such backward and primitive customs (in their crazy reckoning) as Sufism.
Therefore, I would argue that Balkan Islam is an immensely important model for the global Islamic umma, made more relevant, unfortunately, by the martyrdom of the Muslims at the hands, especially, of the Serbs.
Finally, if Balkan Islam is progressive and liberal, as I suppose one may define it loosely, that is good.
But unveiled, armed women who believe with great passion in the prophecy of Muhammad, peace be upon him, should not be disregarded.
And Allah knows best.