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Seeking the Voices of Moderate Islam


By Larry Smith


Not too long ago I wrote an article  on the dangers of religious fundamentalism - and particularly radical Islam. The piece drew responses from readers.


One called the article a balanced analysis:

"The enemy is fundamentalism across the board, as you rightly conclude. It would be a great thing if all the 'liberals' and 'secularists' could voice themselves more strongly, without resorting to the passionate screaming that these others always resort to, and really make their voice heard in the world again.


"To allow the increasing influence of the 'church' in politics here would be disastrous. Lawyers make bad enough politicians as it is. Priests and pastors? Truly frightening."


Another urged readers to watch the documentary 'Obsession - Radical Islam's War Against The West' (http://www.obsessionthemovie.com):

"Everyone on the planet must watch this. If I had ultimate power over the country I'd implement mandatory public education days. For one random hour on one random day of every week, all tv, cable, satellite, radio, even internet will be forced to show the same thing. The first thing I'd show would be this movie. I'd probably show it two weeks in a row."


The third declared that Islam was a religion of peace, and took issue with a "mistranslated" verse from the Koran as quoted in the article:

If you have suffered a defeat, so did the the enemy. We alternate these vicissitudes among mankind so that God may know the true believers and choose martyrs from among you; and that God may test the faithful and annihilate the infidels.


"This sura calls upon Muslims to remain constant in faith, pray for guidance and maintain hope in the future. The translation you provided was probably written as an abridged version by Lewis or another western scholar. The following is a translation, directly from the Arabic:

'If a wound hath touched you,
Be sure a similar wound hath touched others.
Such days (of varying fortunes)
We give to men and men
By turns: that God (Allah)may know
Those that believe,
And that He make take
To Himself from your ranks
Martyr witnesses (to Truth).
And God (Allah) loveth not
Those that do wrong.' 3:140


"(It) refers to the battle of Uhud fought in 625 between the Muslims of Madina and the non-believers. This sura describes the stages of the battle and those who fought in the battle in terms of their strength of faith in the oneness of God. It is a shame that (it) has been mistranslated and misinterpreted to fuel hatred, evil and misunderstanding."


So we undertook a quick web survey to find the voices of moderate Islam. Here are some of the results:

"Certainly most Muslims are not opposed to such things as democracy and human rights. But for those genuinely concerned about the long-term fate of the Islamic world, we need to ask ourselves what exactly is our goal here? For the stability of our societies, we must demand more than merely a version of Islam palatable to Western tastes. Indeed, it sometimes appears that what such a perspective really is trying to say is: the least amount of the Islam, the better.


"Islam is not only capable of reforming its own societies and rising to the challenge of modernity, it also offers the possibility of spiritual and societal fulfillment."


Zakariya Wright, author

"I appreciate that every faith has its share of literalists. Christians have their evangelicals. Jews have the ultra-Orthodox. For God's sake, even Buddhists have fundamentalists. But what this book hammers home is that only in Islam is literalism mainstream.


"Why are we squandering the talents of women, fully half of God's creation? What's with the stubborn streak of anti-Semitism in Islam? How can we be so sure that homosexuals deserve ostracism—or death...?"


Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change

"The reality is that (Saudi Arabia) is a dictatorship. That's what makes it difficult to get some movement within the Islamic majority countries. We Muslims in Europe have to speak out, but the Islamic world as a whole also has to stop blaming the West and to ask ourselves, from within, what is wrong with us.


"The average discourse in the Islamic majority countries is that all our problems are imposed on us. No. They are a consequence. There is no freedom, there is no political will to solve the problems."


Tariq Ramadan, Europe's leading Muslim scholar

"The moderate voice is not an elitist or Westernized voice. It is not a lonely or persecuted voice. And it is not a purely secular voice. It is a voice of the Muslim mainstream, grounded in a Koranic verse: 'We have willed you to be a community of moderation' (2:143) and in the admonition of the Prophet Muhammad to stay away from extremism.


"There are Muslim extremists, just as there are Christian and Jewish extremists. That is different from saying, however, that there is a split in Islam, and unfortunately, moderates are at times defined as those who are not religiously observant or they are fighting, even repressing, other Muslims.


'The focus must remain on the interests at stake: ending the scourge of global terrorism, promoting Middle East peace, and preventing nuclear conflicts. Consistency on human rights and democracy will help us in achieving these goals."


Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the American Muslim Public Affairs Council

"The recent brouhaha surrounding Pope Benedict XVI comments on Islam should give Muslims a pause. Not one that would conjure the attacks that we have seen recently, but rather one that would question why such a prominent religious leader would utter these words.


"What the Pope said allows me, as a Muslim, to ponder self-examination and not rush into a reaction of condemnation. Islam, throughout its history, delivered its share of great minds to humanity during times of peace and prosperity. But Islam of today differs from the Islam of yesterday.


"As a moderate Muslim living amongst Muslims, Christians, and Jews, I am asking myself what have we, Muslims, brought forth to today's civilizations that would appeal to other religions and prompt them to imitate us or praise us? We have but TV beheadings and barbaric killings of innocent people in the name of our great religion. Are we then surprised to hear other religious people with followers all around the world ask us, through factual history, why we are so violent?


"The words of Pope Benedict should not be examined with scorn but with scrutiny."


Farid Ghadry, Washington Times editorial on September 26, 2006

A new book called Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma points out precisely what religious intolerance can produce. Mr van Gogh was a descendent of the famous Dutch painter. He was brutally murdered by a Dutch-born Muslim in 2004 - the first time in memory that someone had been killed in the Netherlands for his opinions.


"We should be intolerant of extremism," Baruma said in a recent PBS interview. "The problem is how you analyse the roots of extremism, and if the analysis is that Islam itself somehow poses a danger and that somehow society will be dangerously threatened. Where you draw the line is with violence and any group that uses violence should not be tolerated."


Larry Smith writes a column called "Tough Call" every Wednesday for the Bahamas Nassau Tribune. A former reporter and editor, he now operates a communications agency in Nassau (www.bahamasmedia.com). He also blogs at Bahamapundit.


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