Summary Report by Dr. Omar H. Altalib
I represented the Minaret of Freedom Institute at the International Conference on Progressive Muslims held on October 5-6, 2006 in Berlin, Germany, at the offices of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the sponsors of the conference. It was a follow-up to the Progressive Thinking in Contemporary Islam conference held 22-24 September 2005. Ten overseas participants and twenty local participants attended the conference.
Dr. Farish Noor from Malaysia spoke about the difficulty in defining ‘progressive Muslims’ and noted that the issue is fundamentally a political issue. He explained that there are oppressed people on earth and that the way to counter ‘fundamentalist islam’ and support progressive Islam was to get rid of oppression first. The continuation of oppression precludes any attempts at reform of the Muslim community.
Dr. Yudi Latif, rector of Paramadina University in Jakarta, Indonesia, spoke about the progressive Muslim movement in Indonesia. He noted that the late Dr. Nurcholish Madjid, trained under the late Fazlur Rahman at the University of Chicago, was a leader of the progressive Muslim movement and the founder of Paramadina University. Other progressive Muslims in Indonesia include Muis Naharong, Mulyadhi Kartanegara, Qodri Azizy, Azyumardi Azra, Jimly Assidiquie, and Habib Chirzin. Indonesia has a long tradition of progressive Islamic thinking and leads the Muslim world in efforts by progressive Muslims to counter Wahhabi Islam.
Dr. Mohammad Mestiri, head of the office of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Paris, France, noted that we should not make Islam into a confessional faith. Dr. Yohannes Kandel noted the need to translate the language of salvation into progressive Islam. Dr. Jonas Otterbeck urged progressive Muslims to market themselves better. Dr. Christian Troll emphasized the fact that progressive Muslims need to produce a significant amount of literature that explains their ideas and plans. Cassandra Balkin asked why Muslim intellectuals have ceded the ground to identity politics. Dr. Ralph Ghadban pointed out the nefarious role played the Saudi Arabian government in promoting an anti-progressive agenda.
Dr. Farid Esack worried about the growth of anti-semitism among Muslims worldwide and the need to combat that trend if progressive Islam is to thrive. He proposed that the strength of progressive Islam lies in its emphasis on those at the margins of society, its exposure of religious discourse that appropriates silence and shame, its focus on promoting democracy, and its aversion to state-sponsored Islam. Dr. Omar Altalib noted that tyranny stands in the way of progressive Muslims and that the way to promote an anti-extremist agenda in the Muslim world involves the removal of dictatorships and the expansion of the free market (the free market of goods as well as the free market of ideas).
Overall the conference was an excellent opportunity for a select group of German intellectuals to become exposed to the latest thinking on progressive Islam by progressive Muslims.