I think its important for the non-religious to challenge many religious beliefs, particularly where these influence human rights. But it is equally important, if not more important, for these debates to take place within religions. It’s important for liberal Christians to challenge the inhumane and unscientific beliefs of fundamental Christians for example. Similarly the challenge to fundamentalist and extremist Islamic views needs to occur within the religion as well as from outside.
Therefore, I was interested to hear of The Secular Islam Summit which occurred in St Petersburgh, Florida, USA, last March. Speakers included: (left to right-top to bottom) Shaker Al-Nabulsi, Nonie Darwish, Afshin Ellian, Manda Zand Ervin, Hassan Fatemolla, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Nibras Kazimi, Irshad Manji, Salameh Nematt, Dr. Walid Phares, Tashbih Sayyed, Wafa Sultan, Amir Taheri, and Ibn Warraq.
St Petersburgh Declaration
The Summit endorsed The St. Petersburgh Declaration which I give below:
We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.
We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.
We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.
We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.
We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.
We call on the governments of the world to
- reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;
- eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women;
- protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;
- reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;
- and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.
We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.
We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.
We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;
to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;
and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.
Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves.
Inevitably the declaration and the summit has been attacked be less liberal Muslims. However, I think the declaration outlines important principles which must be faced by all Muslims in todays world.
The declaration outlines principles which we should all aspire to, whatever our religious traditions.
Debate: Ayaan Hirsi Ali vs Ed Husain | Centre for Social Cohesion
Secular Islam Summit – St. Petersburg Declaration thanks to Perlocutionary
Secular Islam Summit blog
Diverse Muslims, Violent Islamist Fundamentalism
Jihad Watch comment
Videos from Secular Islam Summit