Thursday, January 14, 2010

And now, the "Emerging Mosque"?

It seems that it isn’t just evangelical Christianity that has increasing numbers of young, "hip" leaders trying to be "relevant" and "engage the culture." On December 2, 2007 The Washington Post reported on a popular young Islamic speaker named Moez Masoud (excerpts below--the full article can be found here):

Muna el-Leboudy, a 22-year-old medical student, had a terrible secret: She wanted to be a filmmaker. The way she understood her Muslim faith, it was haram -- forbidden -- to dabble in movies, music or any art that might pique sexual desires.

Then one day in September, she flipped on her satellite TV and saw Moez Masoud.

A Muslim televangelist not much older than herself, in a stylish goatee and Western clothes, Masoud, 29, was preaching about Islam in youthful Arabic slang.

He said imams who outlawed art and music were misinterpreting their faith. He talked about love and relationships, the need to be compassionate toward homosexuals and tolerant of non-Muslims. Leboudy had never heard a Muslim preacher speak that way.

"Moez helps us understand everything about our religion -- not from 1,400 years ago, but the way we live now," said Leboudy, wearing a scarlet hijab over her hair.
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Masoud and others promote "a sweet orthodoxy, which stresses the humane and compassionate" as an alternative to "unthinking rage," said Abdallah Schleifer, a specialist in Islam and electronic media at the American University in Cairo.
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On a recent Monday night in Alexandria, the ancient Mediterranean city on Egypt's north coast, more than 1,500 people poured into a huge hall to hear Masoud speak...

They were mostly in their late teens or 20s, university students or young professionals who had heard about the event on Masoud's Web site or on his popular page on Facebook...

As the lights came up in Alexandria, Masoud, tall and trim, wearing corduroy pants and a maroon, open-necked shirt, descended stairs at the back of the stage to loud applause.

"Salaam aleikum," he said, urging his audience to bow their heads for an opening prayer. For the next 90 minutes, Masoud worked the stage like a seasoned performer, his voice rising and then falling to a whisper, mixing Koranic verses with jokes and parables.
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His easy fluency with English and American culture adds to criticism that Masoud and other new-generation preachers, such as the well-known Amr Khaled, are pushing a sort of Westernized "Islam lite." After his speech in Alexandria, an angry older woman in a black veil pushed her way to the front of the crowd. "Why don't you talk more about punishment?" she said, urging a more tough-love approach to preaching.

Masoud smiled at her and said, "Thanks for your advice."
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When a Danish newspaper printed unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammad last year, Masoud and three other young Muslim preachers went to Denmark for dialogue, over the angry objections of more traditional preachers who urged confrontation.
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Ibrahim said he has had homosexual desires since he was 10. He said he asked his parents about sex, but they were not comfortable discussing it. He turned to religious books and came to the conclusion that sex between two men was "wrong and unnatural."

He said he has been trying to suppress his desires ever since. Filled with guilt and suicidal over his attraction to men, he said he eventually turned to a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants.

"I kept my secret for 18 years," he said.

In his TV show, Masoud preached that Islam forbids gay sex. But he argued that people who feel such urges cannot help feeling them. He said that those desires were a test from God, and that resisting them was a sign of strength and faith. He urged Muslims to show compassion rather than condemnation.

Ibrahim said that changed the way he felt about himself.

"Because of Moez, I am more self-confident," he said. "He told me that God selected me out of everyone to give me a very difficult test. So I have tasted a very unique flavor of spirituality that others haven't."

Ibrahim said too few people in his country discuss homosexuality -- he can't tell his family. He said he would like to create a center where gays can meet with religious counselors without fear of stigma.

"Moez has inspired me," he said. "Maybe I can even be a religious preacher one day."

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