Mobs flock to the streets of Khartoum calling for the death of a British schoolteacher. A Saudi woman is sentenced to 200 lashes for being unaccompanied by a male family member while the men who raped her receive a mere slap on the wrist. Riots break out and embassies are burnt to the ground in response to a cartoon, and again in response to an offhanded statement by the Pope. Because of events like these, the Western perception of Islam is increasingly that it is a religion of hatred, misogyny, intolerance, and violence. Recently, however, growing numbers of Muslims have come out against such events, saying that they do not agree with the fundamentalist ideology which drives them. These incidents, they argue, are not representative of Islam.
Non-Muslims and Muslims alike agree that Islam is a religion in desperate need of reform, or serious reinterpretation at the very least. In the spirit of this need for reform, the Muslim Student Awareness Network (MSAN), the Islamic Society of Stanford University, and the Office of Religious Life have partnered to put on this year's annual Islamic Awareness Series, entitled "Our Jihad to Reform: The Struggle to Define Our Faith." In an Op-Ed to The Stanford Daily introducing the series, Zaid Adhami ‘10, the vice president of MSAN, writes that the goal of the series is "to create a dialogue that critically and honestly confronts important contemporary issues in the Muslim world. The series will focus on the struggle, literally the jihad, to define and understand Islam in a way that is true to its essence yet faces up to modern challenges and is compatible with contemporary realities." The Op-Ed does an excellent job describing the current challenges which both non-Muslims and Muslims face today, and presenting some purely Islamic ways to confront them. Overall, the stated goals for the speaker series are quite noble, and indeed a welcome change from typical Muslim silence on these issues.
Regrettably, however, the guest list did not match up to the purported goals of the series. Rather than true Islamic reformers or moderates like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser or Bassam Tibi, the series featured Islamic apologists, several of whom refused even to acknowledge any of the problems mentioned in Adhami's Op-Ed.