To Dream a Wonderful Dream of a Progressive Islam

To Dream a Wonderful Dream of a Progressive Islam

Soon to be published

Police threaten arrest on grounds of “cause disturbance”

INTRODUCTION: Eric Brazau’s Book Introduction, July 20, 2022

Do we need another book about Islam? A multitude of books on many aspects of Islam have been written. But all these books are either pro-Islam or anti-Islam. They either argue that Islam is a “good” religion that brings peace and justice to mankind, or that Islam is a “bad” religion that brings misery, destruction and death.

Which side is right? Which is wrong? This book does not concern itself with right or wrong, true or false. In every instance, what is will always be. Physicists say that the laws of physics change inside a black hole. Is that good or bad?  Do we question the right or wrong of the sun shining?  Do we need to know why the sun shines and gives just the right amount of warmth to Planet Earth?

DR Jasser

Many people are involved in raging debates about who represents the right or true Islam. Is it the progressive liberal reformers or the traditional fundamentalists? To answer that question, we would have to adjudicate who the “traditional fundamentalists” really are. Progressive reformers Irshad Manji and Zuhdi Jasser argue that the original Islam was progressive, inclusive, tolerant and liberal; if they are right, then they, the liberal progressives, are the original fundamentalists. From the perspective of these reformers, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan do not represent the true Islam. Conversely, from the perspective of 97% of the Ummah (the global Muslim community), progressive Muslim reformers do not represent the true Islam.

I built this book around the views of Jasser and Manji because they encompass the essence of the  reform movement, and they are both highly accomplished and credible.

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a social conservative, married with children, served in the American Navy as a surgeon for a term of seven years. He currently specializes in internal medicine and nuclear cardiology. He has been a staff internist to members of Congress and Supreme Court justices and also President of the Arizona Medical Association. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam, a filmmaker, and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Throughout his career he has given numerous interviews which have helped cement his reputation as a leading Muslim reformer.

Irshad Manji began her career as a speech writer in the early 1990s for Audrey McLaughlin, leader of the Canadian NDP party.  She is the founder of the Moral Courage Project that provides seminars to major corporations and schools about developing moral courage. She has authored several books: Allah, Liberty and Love; The Trouble with Islam; and Don’t Label Me. Professor Manjihas given lectures and interviews throughout the world.. She is a social progressive who identifies as a lesbian Muslim.  From 2008 -2015 she was a professor at NYU. Since 2015 Professor Manji is teaching at USC in California.

Professor Manji

Progressives and Liberals champion the Muslim reform movement in the hopes that it will succeed in bringing Islam into “the 21st century” to live in peace and harmony with Western civilization, including the LGBTQ+ community.

On the flip side, others deride the leaders of the Muslim reform movement as well-meaning individuals spinning a fantasy which benefits them enormously. It affords them the means to live in ivory towers and ignore certain realities. They, the doubters, say that living in towers puts the reformers safely above the many consequences that affect people living closer to the pavement

I am one of those people who live close to the pavement, and I have suffered these consequences. Between 2010 and 2015, I was in jail for a total of three years for misdemeanors relating to Islam, such as ‘hate crimes,’ ‘causing disturbances,’ ‘breaching bail,’ ‘mischief,’ and ‘harassment’.  One of the crimes I committed during my five-year crime spree took place on a Toronto subway car. I spoke to a Muslim man who had engaged me in interfaith bridge-building dialogue. When he left he repeated the perfunctory, “I am glad we had this conversation and it was good to meet you.”

I responded, “Not nice to meet you and I hate Islam and Muslims.” This could be considered not a “nice” thing to say. Some will interpret this as me simply being an ass.  But that would be incorrect. At the time I was of the opinion that asserting “Western” values such as freedom of association and free speech was paramount. But to be so publicly rude? People on the subway who heard this were in shock. As the trial judge remarked, “you could hear a collective gasp.” Because for some strange reason Canadian society has accepted that Canadians should be profusely polite, acquiescent and apologetic.

Citizen participating in Draw Mohammad day 2014 corner Dundas / Bay

Several times in a line for coffee I bumped into a person who then apologized. With a smile asked “why are you apologizing when it is I who bumped into you”. With a perplexed expression “I don’t know why. Habit I guess.”

In another incident I was walking out of a locker room and ended up in front of a newly arrived 40 year old man from Africa. As he or I stepped aside, he apologized. I asked him “What are you apologizing for?” We got into a conversation. His understanding was that “apologizing is the Canadian way”.

The final reason is much more serious. In my past days of “street guerrilla activism” I was on a city bus and having a, not overly loud, cell phone conversation about Islam and Prophet Mohammad PBUH. Several seats in front of me, a man kept turning around. It happened we were getting off at the same stop.  I asked why he kept looking at me. He asked me if I was afraid. “Afraid of what?” I asked. “The police” he replied. I invited him to coffee.

Atmosphere was tense as hostile crowd gathers Dundas SQ. Draw Mohammed day 2014

He was newly arrived from Egypt. He told me that speaking in such a manner in Egypt was a serious crime that, if it did not get me killed by a mob, would get me arrested and imprisoned. This man was perhaps 35 years old and this thinking was ingrained in his mindset. I had to explain that in Canada, Western civilization we have a right to speak our mind about any subject including Islam or Prophet Mohammad PBUH. He would not accept that and said he would never be able to do that, especially in public. I could see that this man though living in Canada was still living under the fear of Islamic rule and the Muslim mob. Will he raise his children with the same mind set? Are there many more Canadians that assume there are topics that should not be discussed? The absolute right to slaying “sacred” cows was a pillar of Western civilization. It is what distinguished Western civilization from all others.

The other reason is I wanted to “stir the pot” At the time I was thinking I do not want to “go along to get along.” Besides stirring the pot is always more interesting.   

Is not being nice a crime? Well, in Canada of 2015, I was convicted and sentenced to four months imprisonment. Originally the crown was seeking AGO consent to lay hate crime charges, but had to settle for a lesser pound of flesh named “cause disturbance.” The disturbance was using language that disturbed the sensitivities of the passengers, three of whom the prosecutor pointed out were young women wearing the hijab. 

 One of the biggest challenges in jail is boredom. I had, in the past, tried reading the Quran but found it a boring torture, if there can be such a thing as a boring torture. Other than playing chess, cards and walking in a circle, and trying to figure out which gang will ambush you, there is not much to do in jail. So, on a previous stint in jail for distributing insulting fliers – 10 months for hate crime conviction – in 2013, I obtained a Quran.  This particular Quran was translated by Abdul Yusuf Ali in Lahore, Pakistan in 1948, and was approved by the education ministry of Saudi Arabia. Today, most Qurans, particularly the ones used in schools or interfaith bridge-building organizations, have softened the language. One Quran introduction specifically stated that they changed the word ‘torture’ for the word ‘punish’ because ‘punish’ implies meting out a deserved and necessary disciplinary action, whereas ‘torture’ implies inflicting pain on the innocent.

I read this Quran for 3-4 hours every day for eight months. On most, if not all, weekends the Toronto South Detention Center was in lockdown. On these days I read and copied the Quran for 8-10 hours a day.  I copied the Quran verses with a golf pencil because in prison, a pen or full-sized pencil can be used as a weapon thus are prohibited, as are plastic forks and knives. One jail I was in briefly, Penatange in Penatanguishing, gave out orange-colored soft rubber spoons.  First time I used it I thought I was hallucinating.  

It is not possible to write for any length of time with a golf pencil. Prisoners have tricks. You lengthen it with paper and voila. I copied the verses that are or could be considered flagrantly controversial, violent or insidious. I went through the Quran this way three times from beginning to end. Each time, I filled 30 pages on both sides. I discovered that when you carefully and neatly write something out over eight months, it becomes etched into your mind.

Many have asked why I have dedicated my life to this cause. It began in 2003. After my bi-weekly hockey game at the downtown Toronto YMCA, I would take a sauna and shower, and usually leave by 11:30 pm. The only restaurant open nearby at that hour was on Parliament Street just south of Dundas on the west side. I did not realize that this establishment catered to local Muslim taxi drivers.

One night, I was in the restaurant, chatting with a couple of guys about something or other. Many might need reminding that in 2002, the Ontario provincial Liberals of Dalton McGuinty were considering instituting Sharia family courts. It was a big political story at the time. I blurted out as a joke – or so I thought – “But no one really wants Sharia law to come to Canada.” 

They replied, “All Muslims want to live under Sharia law.”

Another added, “Sharia is the law of God. It is the duty of Muslims to bring Sharia law to Canada.”

I replied, “Come on, guys. You’re making a joke. Right?”

The mood in the small dining room changed. These men, who moments ago were affable and jovial, became somber, almost to the point of

being menacing. One said, “We do not joke about the law of Allah.”  

I smiled nervously and said, “Okay then.”

The next morning, I woke with the same feeling I had gone to bed with. It was worry, perhaps more like foreboding. I kept thinking, “Do Muslims really want to turn Canada into a Muslim state?”  

Until this restaurant incident, I, like most Canadians, had never considered this a possibility. Nor did I think much about Islam or Muslims at all.   

 This Muslim restaurant story took place in 2003. Since then, I have had a keen interest in Islam bordering on an obsession.  As stated earlier, during my first incarceration in 2013, I read the Quran three times. (I can tell you that many Muslims have not read it even once.) The jail period of my life ended in November of 2016. I continued to engage in certain anti-Islam activities, being careful to stay far away from crossing any lines. In July of 2018, however, my life took a drastic change.

On July 22, 2018, in a place known as Greektown on the Danforth, a Muslim man shot 15 white females, killing two of them. A feature of Greektown is the Alexander the Great parquet which is similar to a European plaza with an ornate water fountain and a statue of Alexander the Great. This plaza is bordered by an ice cream store, a café and a souvlaki shop. In the immediate area are 25 restaurants, most with sidewalk patios. On this warm summer evening, every patio seat was taken. The place was full of mothers and fathers, all nicely dressed, and pretty girls in flowing summer dresses. The teenage boys had a freshly polished, wholesome look. Because of the plaza’s magical atmosphere, people came from far away to be there. Ten-year-old Juliana Kozis came with her family from Newmarket, a 40-minute drive away, just to eat ice cream. She was killed, as was 18-year-old Reese Fallon. Another woman was left a paraplegic.

It was obvious to me that this was an Islamic jihad attack. The shooter took a bus from his 90% Muslim neighborhood, Thorncliff Park, to a 90% white Christian area that is surrounded by five churches.

15 Ahmadiyya Muslim were in attendance everyday had. This message was also printed on t-shirts that they wore

Within 12 hours of the shooting, the media was promoting the narrative that the shooter was suffering from “mental health issues.” This mental health theory came from a highly polished press release put out by Mohammed Hashim, who is known in Canada as the preeminent Muslim media relations specialist. The mental health narrative was solidified into the minds of Canadians by the many interviews with the shooter’s parents.

Within 24 hours, the Toronto police announced that the shooting was not terror related. How could they know this so quickly? It seemed

this was a political announcement to quell the anti-Islam sentiment that was beginning to grow. Anti-Islam sentiment became especially rampant when it was revealed that the Mosque the shooter attended in Thorncliff Park had recited verses or prayers about killing Jews and Christians. For this reason, many people will say it was reasonable for the sake of community harmony that the police quickly put out this statement to maintain public order and inter-religious cohesion.

The Alexander parquet became a makeshift memorial site. Over the next five days, it became packed with people. The mainstream media was in constant attendance. On the ledge of the fountain people placed pictures of the girls, flowers and stuffed animals, and messages

about peace and love. Some messages called for sympathy for the shooter and his family. In attendance from day one was a group of twenty or so Ahmadiyya Muslims. They had matching T-shirts and large signs that read “Love for all – Hate for None.” I decided to attend holding a sign that brought attention to the Islamic element that for some mysterious reason was being ignored. People did not like my sign. “You are not welcome here,” they were yelling. A scuffle ensued and I was pushed into the fountain. The crowd applauded and laughed. The police, who saw the incident, told me that if I did not leave the vicinity I would be arrested. I asked why the man that had pushed me into the fountain was not being arrested. They said if I insisted on pressing charges, they would press charges against me for causing a disturbance. Since I was still on probation, I would definitely have been put in handcuffs and likely been made to appear the next morning in bail court. So I left.

The next day, the media from Europe to the Middle East was buzzing with this story.  One media outlet captured a picture of me in the fountain on my back still holding my sign, which read “CBC Presents Little Mosque on the Prairie / Two Dead Girls in Greek Town.”  Ninety percent of the comments supported and even advocated for violence against “insensitive, boorish people like me.”

I had thought free expression was a non-negotiable pillar of Western civilization. But no civil rights groups came to my defense. I am not saying they should have defended my statement, but they should have defended my right to make a statement. I was very confused and deeply saddened by this reaction. Was I losing my sanity, or was the population going insane? After a few moment of doubt, I concluded it was they and not me who were crazy. If we do not have absolute freedom to express our thoughts, we are not a free people. Why did Canadians sacrifice their lives in WW1, WW2 and Korea to defeat communism and fascism, if not to defend our way of life? It crept into my mind that maybe they were not insane, but cowards.

The next day, I was alerted to a tweet by the NCCM (National Council of Canadian Muslims). This organization alone defended my right to free expression. “Violence is not the answer. Islam forbids vigilante justice. This man’s views, while repugnant, are permissible in a free democratic country that values free speech.”

Hum?? Why was the leading Canadian Muslim organization defending the rights of Eric Brazau, notorious Islamophobe and convicted hatemonger?  I, as well as others on the right wing, associated NCCM with CAIR in America, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. Was I wrong about NCCM? Was I wrong about Islam? At least, was I wrong about the Islam in Canada? Perhaps I was a fool. This was not easy to accept. However, I pride myself on my ability to think rationally and critically. So, with difficulty, I swallowed my pride and started a new learning process. If there was an Islam compatible with Western values, I was going to learn about it.

Since that day, I have spent countless hours learning from YouTube videos uploaded only by North American Imams. I have read countless Muslim books written by revered Islamic scholars, past and present, but only if they were readily available in North America. I am also familiar with the Rashidun (companions of the Prophet PBUH), as well as with the aHadith.

There is a reason I focus only on the North American Islamic syllabus. I concluded that it was possible that my previous opinion about Islam was tainted because it was based on the teachings of “radical fundamentalist” Muslim leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. Was I suffering from a self-inflicted case of Islamophobia? Was I, in spite of my good intentions, a bigot? Perhaps Canadian Islam was different to the “bad, intolerant” Islam.

In this book, I highlight and juxtapose the voices of the two sides of the Islam debate in an effort to understand and appreciate how these voices – both reformers and mainstream – are affecting nations with a vibrant and growing Muslim population that is amassing political influence and increasingly contributing to the enrichment of Western culture.

Who should spend their time to read this book? Those who want to understand how Islam is helping shape Western civilization. This book is also for those who prefer a world in which Muslims embrace a reformed progressive Islam that accepts Western values democracy, free speech, women and LGBTQ+ rights and would like to contribute some effort to make this happen.

This book will be of immense value to Christians and Jews sitting at interfaith bridge-building tables who will gain a fuller contextualized understanding of the nuances that underpin the Islamic ethos.

Finally, this book could be of immense value to people deemed to be suffering from Islamophobia. How? After reading this book they will more likely accept that there are strong leading Muslim voices that clearly state not what Islam could be but what it is in practice and how to understand the motives of those that are “perverting” the TRUE message of Prophet Mohammad PBUH.

Eric Brazau Book Introduction

A wise man once said, what people do not want to talk about, for that reason alone, is what must be talked about.