' Moderate Muslims fail to appreciate at least two realities. One: at a time when youth are constantly engaging their minds to navigate the ocean of information flowing through the Web, it’s humiliating to be told you can’t think for yourself. Two: in our era of mass migration, young Muslims have more questions than ever. I draw strength from the most common remark sent to me through my Web site these days—”Can we, as Muslims, marry non-Muslims?” A hot 21st-century issue, interfaith love is helping to drive a new school of Islamic jurisprudence that reinterprets theology for Muslim minorities in the multicultural West.
Reinterpretation will be painfully messy because it demands excising tribal tradition from the practice of Islam. It’s not just Salafis who confuse culture with faith. Seemingly integrated Muslims do, too. I remain amazed at how often Muslim-American students whisper to me what is, in fact, an open secret: that they can’t voice their support for progressive Islam because they would be accused of “dishonoring” their communities.
The shame-soaked culture of honor comes straight out of the desert. It predates Islam. Why should children of the First Amendment sacrifice their authenticity at the ancient altar of a non-Islamic, even un-Islamic, mindset?
Culture is emotional, and a critical mass of Arabs may feel deeply attached to the code of honor. But with equal emotional sincerity, non-Arab Muslims often resent this custom being foisted on them. Previously colonized by the Dutch, Indonesians detect Saudi cultural imperialism today. After one of my film screenings, Professor Hindun Annisa lectured to an auditorium of students that “when theologians talk about Islamic history, they’re really talking about Arab history.” The audience instantly understood. Their reaction gives me hope that a cultural shift away from honor is possible in the world’s largest Muslim nation.