Conversation between Liberal and Conservative Islam: Mona Eltahawy and Yasir Qadhi (Kazi)

I found this article very interesting. I like it because it’s two Muslims from the same background but with totally different views, opinions and concept of Islam, except in the end they both have this “bond“. You’ll see. 😀 Also I never knew Shaykh Yasir Qadhi still goes by Kazi. Check it out:

Backstory: What it means to be Muslim
They went to the same school in Saudi Arabia – so how did they turn out so differently?
By Mona Eltahawy | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – Yasir Kazi was the last person I wanted to sit next to on the plane taking us from the US to Copenhagen for the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT) conference last month. But airline ticket counter agents – and divine intervention perhaps – determined otherwise, for there he was, on the aisle seat of my row as we boarded a connecting flight from Iceland to Denmark.

I spotted him immediately at Kennedy Airport. His beard screamed “Muslim.” No. More than that, it screamed the kind of judgmental Muslim who would give me a hard time because nothing about me screamed “Muslim.” So I had an unfair advantage knowing he was Muslim: If he knew I was, perhaps he, too, would have wished a flight free of conversation with me.

We’d been called to Copenhagen to discuss the integration of Muslims in the West. But it was really the question “What does being a Muslim mean?” that boarded the plane and sat in the empty seat between Yasir and me. The brainchild of the not-for-profit New York-based American Society for Muslim Advancement and the multifaith Cordoba Initiative, the conference brought 100 Muslims of diverse backgrounds from 15 countries to Denmark to discuss how Muslims are faring in integrating in Western societies, in light of the clash of civilizations mentality that has set in since the terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, and New York.

But Yasir and I hadn’t even landed yet. We’ll get to Denmark later.

mona.jpgI’m a board member of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America. A core tenet of our mission is that anyone who calls him or herself a Muslim is a Muslim – no litmus test, no scorecard for ritual or dogma. Self identity is all we consider. Perhaps it really was divine intervention that I was seated by the window and Yasir by the aisle – that empty chair between us couldn’t even begin to convey the space between our outlooks on religion and life.

“Are you going to the MLT conference?” he asked as he made way for me to take my seat. “I guessed you were from your Arabic jewelry.” So something about me did scream “Muslim”? Or give a hint, at least? When he said his name, I realized he was someone rumored to be balking at even speaking to some of the liberal women attendees. So I hesitated, unsure whether to extend a hand to shake because some conservative Muslims don’t want to touch a woman’s hand.

After tentative conversation about the panels that awaited us at the conference and polite questions about our backgrounds – he’s pursuing a PhD in Islamic studies at Yale, I’m a journalist – we found what appeared to be common ground: Saudi Arabia. But “never trust appearances” seemed to be the aphorism that we both were trying to prove. If you saw him (the Muslim man with the big beard) and me (the Muslim woman without the head scarf) would you figure he was the American and I the Egyptian?

It turned out we went to the same school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – though a few years apart, and he in the boys’ section which was several miles from the girls’ section that I attended. Our brothers might have been in the same grade, and our fathers surely taught and worked together at the King Abdul-Aziz Medical School.

“It’s a long way from Saudi Arabia to the Progressive Muslim Union of North America,” Yasir said after our memories had drawn such mirror images. “Saudi Arabia is the reason I am what I am,” I replied quickly. “Saudi Arabia is the reason I am what I am, too,” he said.

How did one starting point lead to such different lives? That may sound like the inverse of the integration debate, but it’s really the heart of it. It’s not about Muslims’ ability to talk to the “West.” In Copenhagen, when a group exercise brought together at my table Muslims from Australia, Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany, and Canada, there was no monolithic “Muslim” and there was no monolithic “West.” It was about Muslims’ ability to talk to one another.

Yasir and I had to talk. In his view, “liberal” Muslims outnumbered “conservatives” at the conference. What a relief, I thought. I’m fed up with Muslim conferences at which conservative views are presented as the “real” Islam and against which liberal views must justify their validity.

But to Yasir’s credit, he wasn’t beyond making a joke out of the stereotypes that many of us hold of conservatives. A conference assignment was to talk to those we normally wouldn’t talk to. So at a coffee break, there I was – a woman wearing T-shirt and jeans attempting to schmooze with Yasir, in his traditional Pakistani-style tunic and baggy pants, and his friend Abu Eesa Niamatullah, a British Muslim in a flowing white robe.

I asked them how they thought the conference was going. “I wasn’t going to come at first,” said Abu Eesa, founder of an educational institute and publishing house and author of a Muslim blog, who’d been outspoken in conference sessions about how he didn’t think Muslims had a problem integrating. “I’ve been writing an essay called ‘No to Integration, Yes to Disintegration.’ ”

Immediately Yasir jokingly interjected with a suggestion: “Explain to her what you mean by that. You know what she’ll think.”

Was Yasir joking about the assumption that Muslim men who have long beards blow things up? Now we’re talking, Yasir!

It was true – I’d stereotyped the men with big beards.

“People always assume I’m very conservative, but I’m actually quite liberal,” California Imam Tahir Anwar said in an exercise that had us place ourselves along a liberal-conservative continuum according to how others see us.

“Yeah, right!” was my gut reaction to Tahir, whose beard was even longer than Yasir’s.

As a young man he’d wanted to be a US Air Force pilot, he said. His love for speed has him zooming around California highways, he confessed, where his car is the only one with the license plate “IMAM.”

I couldn’t resist confessing to him over lunch my “yeah, right” reaction to his assertion that he was quite liberal. He smiled like he was used to hearing that. It had been my gut reaction to his conservative appearance as well as the dismaying feeling that many Muslims are reluctant to embrace the liberal label with pride because it sounds somehow less authentic or wishy-washy.

During the exercise, I stepped forward and said that people assume I’m a liberal Muslim, I’m indeed a liberal and I’m proud of it and I wished more people would openly embrace the term.

At the end of the conference, I found out that my definition of a Muslim – that anyone, including an atheist, who identifies themselves as Muslim is a Muslim – had made me an atheist courtesy of some conservative Muslims who I’d debated with on the point. They’d stereotyped me right back, deciding I must be an atheist. You see why we need to talk?

“Believers are like the bricks of a building. They hold each other up.” That saying of the prophet Muhammad was posted on an easel next to a panel on pluralism that included Yasir and his ideological and theological polar opposites.

At a coffee break soon after the panel, I ran into Yasir, fresh from an hour-long meeting with one of the liberal women I had heard he didn’t want to meet. He looked stunned.

*pause* (MR commentary – not part of article)

[take a deep breath…proceed] (MR commentary – not part of article)

“But did you shake her hand?” asked another attendee after Yasir told us of the meeting.yasir.jpg


It was my turn to be stunned: “You shake women’s hands? I didn’t offer mine on the plane because I wasn’t sure.”

Yasir stuck his hand out for a firm shake.

I plan on writing to Yasir to continue our conversation.

Maybe I’ll even suggest that we write a book together on how Saudi Arabia made us who we are today.


– – – –

MR commentary: I think Shaykh Yasir takes the opinion that is permissible. Shaykh Yusuf al Qaradawi also is of this opinion. You can read his fatwa here.

124 Replies to “Conversation between Liberal and Conservative Islam: Mona Eltahawy and Yasir Qadhi (Kazi)”

  1. These 101 comments above, in sum, can depict pretty much everything that is wrong with Muslims today.

  2. well guys…apparently this shiekh is coming to the neighborhood…just got the stony brook msa email…

    …ask him if he should be getting 70 excuses for his behavior yourselves…

    I deleted the e-mail..I am sure MR has more info on it

  3. ok ok i guess i didn;t delete it…here is the info:

    (please forward)
    *Keynote: *
    Sheik Yasir Qadhi

    *Central Connecticut State University,*
    Student center
    1615 Stanley Street, New Britain, CT 06050
    9:00 AM—7:00 PM
    *Online registration @ *

  4. I also suggest you learn about salafee
    as a way of life and not a sect.

    If you think sufi is not a sect, well I think salafee is not a sect either but rather misunderstood, and alot of mispropaganda against it.

    And all you said to me can also be said with regards to the salafee methodolgy.

    I agree with Abu who said, said the people of tasawwuf are not really embodying that tassawwuf

    Us, salafees are expected to be arrogant but not you sufis(what’s wrong wtih you guys?)
    oh, I forgot, you live in the West, so you are gonna be arrogant about religion either way.

    P.S dont jump to conclusion in claiming I am inviting arrogance. I am only reiterating what I do know about sufis(and I know that not all are the same), sufis are lumped together but consists of different tariqas

  5. I posted a link on the AlMaghrib Forums to this article under the thread One of Houston’s Finest… and it was deleted immediately. Shaykh Yasir still rocks in my opinion. I’m sure he will get asked about it numerous times at the Promo event at NYU next month.

  6. salaam. i suggest to everyone who has posted or has read any of the posts that it is always easier to point the faults of others and point the finger at someone else than ourselves. i’ve noticed it, even with myself, that when i see someone doing something wrong, it gives me a sense of justification that if that person is doing it, it may be okay. Allahu alim what happened. you can’t believe everything you read. if in fact, shaykh yasir did what he did, like previous people have mentioned, we should give our brother in Islam 70 excuses. its not befitting of a muslim/muslimah to point out the faults of our dear brothers and sisters in Islam. in fact, a lot of what has been posted has become quite like gossip. I call upon the ayah in surat al hujurat (Surah 49, Verse 12) stating:
    “O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”

    best, melody

  7. Buckwaas!

    Anyone who has taqwa of Allah realizes that one abstains from shubuhat! Clearly, `A’ishah stated that He (saws) never touched a woman who wasn’t lawful for him!

  8. ^^that is very true. but who are we to judge the level of imaan or taqwa one has? Allah is the Most Just and will be the Judge on the Day of Judgment.

  9. You are right and I do not disagree with you at all. But the reason for me mentioning what I said was because some are choosing to say this may be his ijtihaad, but the thing is one who knows what it takes to make ijtihaad realizes that if they are striving higher and higher they will not allow room for doubts or weaker opinions just because it may be the right time.

    Other then that, if this is true then may Allah forgive him and us all ameen and save any muslims from following in his footsteps in these regards because of their level of respect for him, ameen

  10. Bismillah

    Well, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We are all human. If we were all perfect, Allahu alim where we would be right now. Also, we shouldn’t follow anyone in their footsteps, except habeebana Muhammad, sallah Allahu alayhi wasallam. He is the example that we should follow. Aa’isha, radi Allahu anha, mentioned how the Prophet was like a walking Qur’an. Therefore, we should use his example to take us to Jannah. At the same time, there are many scholars who teach us how the Prophet was which is compiled in the Sunnan. Following anyone blindly is very dangerous. It is important that we know the truth and follow it.

    Also, I wanted to say this everyone who reads this blog and please pass it along to those who don’t: Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has blessed us with the deen. The fact that we are Muslims to this day, is a blessing on its own. We haven’t seen the Prophet, and have only read and heard about him. The more generations following the passing of the Prophet, gets an even greater reward for following the true path without seeing it firsthand.

    I pray that we all go back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah and learn our deen. This is such a waste of time to pinpoint what other people’s faults are when we ourselves, are less than perfect.

  11. For the sake of Allah! Has Yasir even responded to the claim that he was so cozy with a lady and even shook her hand “firmly”? You all should be quiet until he addresses that. You’re just distracting from the main issue here. The guy himself has spoken adamantly against the Fiqh opinion that men may shake a non-Muslim woman’s hand for the sake of da`wah (its not even about Muslim to Muslimah which was the case between Yasir and Mona). So he needs to address this. Until then, all conversation should stop.

  12. A hypocrite!! I hate this guy, his ego is bigger than that of Iblis, akh and he keeps saying “me being who I am”. I wish his students know who he really is! a hypocrite who took a second wife in England while he has four children. disgusting

  13. Salaam MR and all. First of all, thanks for sharing this. I don’t know why it took me so long to notice this post. (It is amazing what you can discover when you have an essay due.)

    The thread was way too long so I apologize if I am repeating what others have said. I skimmed to about halfway through the comments. And I must say it is incredibly disheartening that most of the comments focused on handshaking. There is a much greater story here. And that is about the need to reach out to Muslims of other backgrounds as us and be in communication with them. We don’t have to agree with them on all points, but this article goes to show that just by talking to them we can break down stereotypes, and this might lead them to a better appreciation and understanding of the religion. Many of those who stand on the fringes of Islam and criticize it would be in a much better position if they had grown up having positive experiences of “conservative” scholars. I hope Sh. Yasir and others learned from this experience and continue to reach out to those on the fringes.

  14. Yasir Qadhi is the most respected, most knowledgable person we have among us. This blog is about people who wish to change God’s words and some who says that God knows best and we will use our intellectual try to comprehend it better. I am from Denmark and I pursuing a master degree in International Finance and now I realize that the islamic financial system is the most robust system ever. However, for the progressive “muslims”, they need to figure out what they want. Either you accept what Allah has decreed or else just leave the fold of islam. Someone needs to explain to them that the word muslim means someone who submits and submission it not to our own desire, but to the desire of Allah. Only then you are muslim.

  15. Looks like most of the people here are youth who are WASTING their lives in the name of religion. fools – go get some education and civility. Just imagine did Umar and Abu Bakr and Ali spend their time in worthless conversations like these…

    Most of the ‘self-righteous’ youth are immature idiots engross in futile discussions about dogma and theology while muslims have become and degraded into abyss..

    Allah is the witness these these so-called salafi/sufi/kulfi/whatever scholars who have nothing better to do are the reason for misguiding the youth in the name of religion..


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