Many young Muslims, with well-placed and sincere intentions to defend Islam against feminism, or the ‘Left’, can actually end up doing more harm than good. This is even more present among many Muslim lecturers and the emerging body of Muslim apologists who have become very much akin — and unfortunately so — to conservative pundits.
How? Let us take feminism as an example. We can go about criticizing feminism two ways. The first, overlooks just how saturated, nuanced and multifaceted the debates on feminism actually are and thus — these critiques — end up making tabloid like generalizations, false equivocations, and an array of other fallacies. In turn, young Muslims who have even a cursory experience in, let’s say, academia, are immediately turned off from end up associating our superficial critiques with ‘normative Islam’. We fail to acknowledge that many of these ideas, like feminism, are complicated thought-structures that cannot be reduced or equivocated with punch-line assumptions about morality and identity.
Alternatively, we can engage with the broad range of literature on the topic (e.g. feminism), come to recognize the nuances of the debate and then engage in a far more penetrative critique that not only demonstrates our strong knowledge of the topic (a merit in itself) but also put for a strong case for a ‘normative Islam’. This will require patience, intellectual honesty and the use of more objective discourse. This patient and intellectual labor is not alien to our Islamic culture. Just look at how scholars like Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1058) dealt, through voluminous texts, dissected Near Eastern philosophies, or Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi (d. 994), and the list goes on. That is not to say, however, that Muslim lecturers and apologists ought-to deploy a more “academic language” and the intellectual acrobatics associated with the increasingly biased academic space. Intellectual honesty is both a normative imperative as well as a critical strategic imperative if we truly wish to confront the dogmas of the Secular world.