The Stirrings of Islamo-Liberalism

Plenty of media attention has been given to fundamentalist Islam and Taliban-style “Islamo-fascism.”

But three recent articles bring to light the persistence of democracy movements in the Muslim world, and a tolerant spirituality in Islam’s Sufi tradition.

The Netherlands-based academic Asef Bayat notes in a recent essay that democracy in the Middle East is impossible without the emergence of a new type of Muslim citizen — “teachers, students, the young, women, workers, artists, and intellectuals” — that can spur a “post-Islamist” interpretation of the Koran supportive of democratic ideals.

Though oppressive governments and religious teachings have impeded “post-Islamism” thus far, Bayat says change can emerge through an informed citizenry that asserts its values through daily cultural practice and activism.

In fact, youth throughout the Middle East and North Africa are coming together to achieve just that, reports Wiretap Magazine, under the banner of a “cyberdemocracy” Web site called Mideast Youth (

The site boasts youth bloggers from Tunisia to Iran, and tolerant discussion of inflammatory topics such as religion and sexuality.

Wiretap notes that the site also has an activist bent, rallying its members on behalf of imprisoned dissidents in China and Egypt, providing media training to average citizens, and encouraging productive dialogue across cultural, national and ethnic divisions.

Change may not just lie in the future growth of democratic ideals and cultural tolerance, but also in the past, with the re-emergence of the Sufi spiritual tradition.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Sufism’s influence is widely felt in “Islamic art, literature, music, and architecture” — and beyond, in the United States, where the 800-year-old poetry of the Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi tops bestseller lists.

According to the Monitor, Sufism has produced many of the leading reformers of the Muslim world, including the highly regarded Turkish intellectual Fetullah Gulen, who built a chain of schools, advocates for interfaith dialogue, and is admired as a role model for Turkish youth.

Sufism is considered heretical by purists for its pursuit of spiritual union with the divine.

While banned in Saudi Arabia, it is practiced in Iran, Pakistan, India, and around the world, including the United States, the newspaper reports.

–Josh Wilson/


“No Democracy in the Middle East Without Muslim Citizenry”
ISIM Review (Netherlands), December 5, 2007

“Sufism may be powerful antidote to Islamic extremism”
Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2007

“Mideast Digital Detente”, November 24, 2007

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