Monday, April 10, 2006

Written on Sept. 8, '04

To Muslim Extremists: Not In the Name of Muslims

Muslim extremists often cite the Quran, out-of-context and contrary to the Holy Book’s spirit of mercy and compassion, to justify their crimes. Thus, for instance, in the 4-page document that investigators found in Muhammad Atta’s luggage in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the terrorist ringleader invoked no fewer than 18 verses from the Quran to exhort his band of brothers to commit violence that took nearly 3000 lives.

Since the September attacks three years ago, we American Muslims have observed with increasing alarm and frustration how a minority of Muslim fanatics continued to wage one brutal terrorist act after another around the world – Moscow, Bali, Karachi, Madrid - leading to hundreds of lost and shattered innocent lives, all in the name of Islam and the Quran.

It became clear to us that we had a supremely important role to play in fighting these fanatics: We had to clearly and unequivocally condemn the killing of innocents, particularly when Muslims were the perpetrators.As the world recoils from the horrifying images of bloodied, lifeless children being carried away by shell-shocked parents and rescuers from a Russian school in which Muslim Chechen radicals killed more than 300 people, our role becomes that much more urgent ... American Muslims are speaking out boldly against these fanatics in their mosques. Ordinary Muslims are reflecting on their faith and looking into their souls for a more inclusive view of Islam and its implications for humanity.

American Muslim women, in particular, are asserting themselves with a fervor unthinkable in the pre-9/11 days. The blind acceptance of the teachings of misogynistic imams and scholars is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. They are discovering new and holistic readings of the Quran that do away with gender apartheid and that calls for social justice and greater participation of women in the management of mosques and Islamic schools.A group called “The Daughters of Hajar,” known as Hagar in the Bible and Jewish history, a national organization dedicated to empowering Muslim women actively challenges women to pray in the main hall and to boldly use the front door in mosques in which they were required to enter by a back door.

Other groups warn Muslims of the danger of bloc-voting in national elections. Yet others decry the religious narcissism of the self-appointed guardians of the faith and exhort them to shun anti-Semitism and practice humility, kindness and intellectual honesty. Ours is a community in which ordinary Muslims are beginning to explore their own understanding of the Quran and their relationship with the Creator, as opposed to allowing others to do it for them. A thinking, expressive and active community is the best antidote to the poison of fanaticism and nihilism that plagues the Muslim body today. Words get around at lightning speed in the Internet age. When Muslim extremists realize that the Muslim Ummah (community of believers) will not stand by their criminal acts and, if called upon to do so, will also fight them, they may have second thoughts about embarking on suicidal missions in the name of Islam. The lives of civilians and school children will ultimately depend on it.

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