What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

Reading the Associated Press's recent article on so-called progressive American Muslims is like a game of fill-in-the-blanks. Except that the blanks are never filled.

With its usual broad strokes, AP paints a broad mural of younger American Muslims who are getting more comfortable as Americans and less so as Muslims.  It starts with the tried-and-true anecdotal lede: Omar Akersim of Los Angeles, who prayed and fasted for Ramadan and is (shock alert!) openly gay.

The story then opens the nut graphs:

Akersim, 26, is part of a small but growing number of American Muslims challenging the long-standing interpretations of Islam that defined their parents' world. They believe that one can be gay and Muslim; that the sexes can pray shoulder-to-shoulder; that females can preach and that Muslim women can marry outside the faith — and they point to Quran passages to back them up.

The shift comes as young American Muslims work to reshape the faith they grew up with so it fits better with their complex, dual identity, with one foot in the world of their parents' immigrant beliefs and one foot in the ever-shifting cultural landscape of America. The result has been a growing internal dialogue about what it means to be Muslim, as well as a scholarly effort to re-examine the Quran for new interpretations that challenge rules that had seemed set in stone.

"Islam in America is being forced to kind of change and to reevaluate its positions on things like homosexuality because of how we're moving forward culturally as a nation. It's striving to make itself seen and known in the cultural fabric and to do that, it does have to evolve," said Akersim, who leads a Los Angeles-based support group for gay Muslims. "Ten or 15 years ago, this would have been impossible."

All of that is so eloquent, it's easy to forget some difficult questions. But we'll ask anyway.

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