Top scholars call on ‘Muslim democrats’ to unite

The call was made a recently published joint column titled “Muslim democrats of the world, unite!”

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Four top Muslim scholars have called on Muslim leaders who are “committed to democracy” to convene in France early next year to “define the contours of a progressive interpretation of Islam firmly grounded in the 21st century.”

The call was made a recently published joint column titled “Muslim democrats of the world, unite!” by Ghaleb Bencheikh, Anwar Ibrahim, Felix Marquardt, and Tariq Ramadan. (See biographies bellow)

“Since the end of the nineteenth century, the movement for a critical reflection on the foundations and interpretations of Islam has lost momentum,” the scholars argue in the opening of their joint piece.

Following are excerpts taken from the column:

“It is time we stop projecting cultural parochialisms onto religious dogma: Muslims around the world should be able to understand much more clearly where Islam ends and where indigenous cultural practice begins.

It is time we question the legitimacy and overbearing influence of certain politically and socially backward countries in deciding what is Islamic and what is not, who is a good Muslim and who is not. And just as importantly, it is time we give far more weight in the latter matter to Asian Muslims, in no small measure more appeased, democratic and legitimate, by virtue of sheer demography, in the twenty-first century.

The Muslims of Asia, those of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas are not second-class Muslims. Too often, the opposition between Western and certain Arab governments has been masqueraded as one between Western and Muslim people. Whatever the nationality and religious creed, humans must be free to approach their citizenship and relation to religion as they see fit. In 2015, to stress this is not more western than it is oriental, Judeo-Christian more than it is Islamic.”

The scholars highlighted that “dictators” can seek the reform of Islam “as much as they please,” but “let there be no ambiguity: they do not roll on our team, nor do we on theirs.”

“We must take ISIS's and Boko Haram's claims to be practicing a rigorous Islam seriously: suggesting that terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam is like suggesting that the crusades had nothing to do with Christianity. The accusations brought against the ‘silent majority’ of Muslims as a result of the actions of these terrorist groups may be unjust, but they must be addressed. Once and for all, we must let the barbarous murderers who justify their crimes in the name of Islam know: when they attack anyone, they are attacking us Muslims, our faith and values, first and foremost.”

Muslim opinion leaders must be aware of their crucial responsibility in this area. If we do not want Islam to be permanently hijacked, it is our duty to constantly advocate moderation and a reformist approach to issues of religious education, governance, the rule of law, freedom of expression and the protection of fundamental liberties while taking a clear stand on the interpretation of scriptural sources (ijtihâd.)

Those who want to divide humanity use uneducated shortcuts to associate Islam and barbarism and imply that there is an intrinsic violence in our religion, a natural solidarity between Muslims and terrorists. They imply that Islam is intrinsically incompatible with democracy.”

“The time has come to turn the tables on the hijackers and set a new course for Islam in the 21st century. Our future, as peace-loving Muslim democrats, is at stake.”


Ghaleb Bencheikh, President of the World Conference for Religions for Peace. Anwar Ibrahim, former vice Prime Minister of Malaysia, head of the national opposition and chairman of the World Forum for Muslim Democrats. Felix Marquardt, founder of the Abd al-Raḥman al-Kawakibi Foundation and of the Khlass (Enough with) the silence! movement. Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies, Oxford University

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