In early March there was a conference held in St. Petersburg, Florida, billed as the Secular Islamic Summit. It attracted the top names in reform-minded Muslims. These are Muslims or ex-Muslims who believe the time has come to rethink Islam in much the same way Christianity went through a period known as the Reformation. The Reformation led directly to the Enlightment era that became the crucible in which modern secular liberal democracy formed. In a word, these Muslim critics want to bring Islam out of the 7th century into the 21st.
These are very brave people. Many of them face death for speaking out in this manner, and some of them are only known by aliases they have adopted. Some travel constantly and never reveal where their homes or families might be. Others, for whom it is too late to disguise their true identities, must maintain bodyguards. It is no small thing that they came together in one place for this conference.
Naturally, CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) which claims to be the main voice of American Muslims condemned this conference and held a counter session nearby. Some of CAIR's leaders have been accused of abetting terrorism, and CAIR's main contribution to the debate of the future of Islam in the west has been to accuse anybody who wants to question or challenge Islam as being "Islamophobic".
The secular summit produced a document known as the St. Petersburg Declaration. I have reproduced it below. Let us hope that the word of reform spreads amongst Muslims and picks up a head of steam. Perhaps the summit will become an annual event.
Released by the delegates to the Secular Islam Summit, St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, 2007
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 apostacy, 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 chose for themselves.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Manda Zand Ervin
To endorse the St. Petersburg Declaration, send an email.