Guardian: Can we drop the term ‘moderate Muslim’? It’s meaningless

Can I assume these men are…what word is acceptable?

I first started calling myself a “moderate Muslim” in 1989 in the aftermath of the Salman Rushdie affair…

…The claim that most Muslims are moderate is rarely challenged, which is why I have spent the last month travelling around the country talking to ordinary Muslims about the word. I anticipated disagreement on what defined moderate; what I did not expect was universal hostility to the very phrase and yet everywhere I went the message was the same: don’t call us moderate…

…The men and women I met told me they found it infuriating that they could be devout in their practice of their religion but they would only be considered “moderate” Muslims – since moderate was often taken to mean not hugely observant…

…This is about more than politeness and semantics. The language matters because if ordinary Muslims feel they are being divided into camps, into “good” (moderates) and “bad” (non-moderates) then any statements made by politicians will be heard with great scepticism, especially if for many Muslims “moderate” has come somehow to mean more secular.

The other danger is that if politicians merely assume that most Muslims have views that are moderate they may be blinding themselves to the scale of the challenge they face. A recent BBC survey of 1,000 British Muslims revealed that while 95% said they felt a loyalty to Britain and the vast majority had no sympathy for the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, 27% did have some sympathy for the motivations behind the Paris attacks and 45% said clerics preaching violence against the west could be justified as being in touch with mainstream Muslim opinion…

…But if by being moderate we mean believing in freedom of expression and an acceptance of equality in gender and sexuality, it is by no means certain that the majority of Muslims are moderate, as the word is commonly used. One young student in Leicester told me that unlike many of his fellow Muslims he would shake a woman’s hand. He still believed in gender segregation at public events but his stance on handshaking meant he defined himself as a moderate…

…In trying to encourage more Muslims towards modernity the mistake is to assume that moderation equates to liberalism. The implication in the term “moderate Muslim” is someone who is not especially devout. But being devout is not antithetical to being moderate.

To assume most Muslims are moderate is to imagine that progress is inevitable but if we want the next generation of Muslims to have values we associate with being moderate, we need to be prepared to make an argument for a progressive Islam. That is not possible if politicians employ terms many Muslims find alienating…


Seems we cannot win: everything about Islam has become so touchy that almost anything is enough to set someone off.

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