What exactly is required to be considered a “moderate” Muslim?

Sheila Musaji

Posted Oct 5, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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What exactly is required to be considered a “moderate” Muslim?

by Sheila Musaji

According to a more and more narrow definition of what constitutes a “moderate” Muslim, it is becoming increasingly less likely that any Muslim can achieve this status without either leaving Islam or agreeing with Islamophobes that Islam is the problem that needs to be fixed.

Recently, Robert Spencer said in an article in which he noted my response to my original viewing of Obsession two years ago:  “But if her claims are accurate, well, you know, we all have to live with a certain level of physical and emotional distress. I still suffer physical and emotional distress when I think of September 11, 2001, or March 11, 2004, or July 7, 2005, and the people who died on those days, and of the people who die in jihad terror attacks around the world up to this day, such as those who died in the attack at the Islamabad Marriott yesterday. And I wonder why Sheila Musaji has never written an article about the physical and emotional distress that peaceful Muslims suffer when their coreligionists commit violence in the name of their religion, and why she has never called upon those Muslims to stop committing acts of violence and supremacism in Islam’s name. I further wonder why these distressed Muslims were not distressed by the exhortations to jihad violence voiced by Muslim preachers in the film as much as they were by the audience reaction to the film.”   (emphasis mine)

I don’t see any articles by Robert Spencer condemning violence and terrorism carried out by Christians.  Where is his distress for all the Muslim victims of injustice and violence.  Is there any distress for the Muslims slaughtered in Bosnia, for the Christians killed by other Christians in Rwanda, for the 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians who are victims of the illegal Iraq War, for the Palestinians in the West Bank, for victims of the IRA bombings during “the troubles”, for the 4 million victims (since 1997) of the civil war and foreign interventions in the Congo?  Where is his concern with plain old injustice and violence against anyone anywhere?  Where is his concern about Christian or Jewish acts of violence and terrorism?  When has he spoken out against the 498 incidents in eleven EU countries in 2006 all but one of which was carried out by non-Muslims (The Basque separatist group ETA was responsible for 136 of these terrorist attacks).  Full report.  When has he spoken out against The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam a Hindu separatist group in Sri Lanka who have “carried out more suicide bombings than any other organization on the face of the earth.  According to the experts at Janes securities, between 1980 to 2000, LTTE had carried out a total of 168 suicide attacks on civilians and military targets. The number of suicide attacks easily exceeded the combined total of Hizbullah and Hamas suicide attacks carried out during the same period”  I would have a great deal of difficulty in accepting that such a one-sided focus on only one aspect of the problem of terrorism and violence is legitimate and sincere.  Without an equal concern for all terrorism and violence against civilians it would seem that for Spencer (and for many others) some lives are worth more than others.

This tendency to see only one side of an issue and to demand from Muslims what you are not willing to demand from your own faith group (or from yourself) is one of the characteristics of Islamophobes.  Another characteristic is throwing out all sorts of accusations that have no basis in fact.  This not speaking up against extremists and terrorists accusation has been made so often against the Muslim community in general that it is beginning to be accepted by those who don’t have access to any other opinions.  It is not excusable in someone who advertises himself as an expert on Islam and Muslims.

As for saying that I personally have not spoken up, Mr. Spencer has obviously not read most of the articles that I have written, or the statements I have personally signed on to.  He has also not read the articles and research collections clearly posted on The American Muslim site, or if he has read them he is being mendacious.  This is surprising since a list of articles that I have written with links is available on the front page of TAM.  If it were only a matter of what Spencer thinks, it would be unimportant.  It becomes important to counter this only because so many read what he says and are influenced by it, and this particular claim feeds right into the wider claim that Muslims generally do not speak up. 

As the Editor of The American Muslim (TAM), I issued a statement on 9/11 in which I said: “We are Americans and Muslims and proud to be both. We are as shocked and horrified by this insane act of terrorists as any other Americans. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We also want those responsible to be caught and brought to justice. They may happen to consider themselves Muslims (as Timothy McVey and Slobodon Milosovic may have considered themselves to be Christians) and may even have twisted the teachings of their religion to justify their actions, but terrorism is not the act of any person who understands anything about the teachings of any of the world’s religions. There is no religious justification for such actions.”

TAM has an entire section that can be reached from our main page focusing on statements, fatwas, and articles against terrorism and extremism  by clicking on the logo Muslims Denounce Terrorism.  That section opens with an appeal for others to get involved that ends with the statement: “One hand clapping cannot make enough noise to drown out the extremists, but all of us together can make enough noise to be heard around the world.”

I have been a signatory to a number of statements and petitions against extremism and for dialogue and cooperation, and I have encouraged our readers to sign and get involved with these efforts.  Here are a few of those statements:

American Muslim Statement on September 11th
American Muslim Freedom of Faith Statement, Apostasy and Islam
Amman Conference Statement
CAIR Not In the Name of Islam Petition
Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) Statement Denouncing Terrorism
Coalition for Peace Action Interfaith Letter to Alberto Gonzalez
The Common Word appeal for dialogue  
Global Justice Movement, Statement of Shared Vision
International Campaign to Ban Land Mines
Faithful America Interfaith Demand for Release of Christian Peace Team being held in Iraq
statement affirming freedom of faith statement (against any punishment for “apostasy”)
Interfaith Open Letter Calling for Release of Christian Peace Team Being Held in Iraq
Interfaith statement against domestic violence
Interfaith fast to make peace in Iraq
FAITH IN ACTION interfaith National Weekend statement on the Death Penalty
Interfaith peace statement “A Pax on Both Our Houses”
Petition to the Taliban to honour the Pashtunwali code and release the Korean hostages
Resolution of the Sunni Shia Dialogue to Save Lives
Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah NY Times Ad calling for peacemaking 1/2005
Tikkun end the Iraq War ad

I have personally written articles such as:  A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism  attempting to clarify that Terrorism is Not Jihad, backing Tariq Ramadan’s call for a moratorium on hudud (corporal) punishments, and with Bob Crane a Call for Input in Drafting a Fatwa Calling for Justice and Condemning Terrorism.

I have appealed for a calm and reasonable response to the film “Fitna” and in the Danish cartoon incident, defended the cartoonist in the “Opus” cartoon controversy,  spoken out about groups of extremist Muslims, e.g. the Majlis of South Africa and The Islamic Thinkers Society in New York.  I have spoken against the Saudi Destruction of Muslim Historical Sites, against a statement by a Muslim group that sounded like they were encouraging proselytizing in public schools.  I have spoken against extremist translations of the Qur’an, against domestic abuse, supporting Laleh Bakhtiar’s Qur’an translation, etc.

I have not personally written articles about every incident of extremism or violence involving a Muslim that has happened anywhere in the world, but I have published articles about these by others and they appear on the TAM website - just type in MAE for a lengthy list of such articles.  A few of the topics that have been covered have been:  the Indian bomb blasts, the seizure of Bibles in Malaysia, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto
suicide bombing  (there have been many articles on this topic), freedom for Alan Johnston,  against Muslim cab drivers refusing to carry passengers with alcohol holocaust denial, al Qaeda taking hostages in Iraq, the Taliban destruction of Buddhist statues, hirabah versus jihad, jihad in the modern worldagainst terrorismattack on churches in Palestine, the Caliphate, honor killings, etc.

Robert Spencer’s statement that “Sheila Musaji has never written an article about the physical and emotional distress that peaceful Muslims suffer when their coreligionists commit violence in the name of their religion, and why she has never called upon those Muslims to stop committing acts of violence and supremacism in Islam’s name” is a refusal to see what is right in front of him.  His animosity towards Islam and Muslims blinds him to anyting except what he wants to see.  Those that are determined to see a clash of civilizations are determined to drown Muslim voices against extremism, unless of course, those Muslims are either former Muslims or agree that Islam is the problem that needs to be fixed.  This can only be called by the name Islamophobia, and it doesn’t represent American values.  It is an irrational prejudice (and contrary to Robert Spencer, it is uninformed) that lumps all Muslims into one category - the “other”, “them”, “those people”.  Al Qaeda is a declared enemy of the United States, and based on their actions also of all mainstream Muslims.  If this anger is towards Al Qaeda or other criminal organizations, then American Muslims are on the same side in that fight.  If this anger is towards our existence as Muslims and our love for our faith, our book, and our prophet, then that is something else again.  It is Islamophobia, and it is Anti-American.

As I said in my Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism series:

Sadly, one of the things we have in common is that the Abrahamic religions (as well as other religions) have the capability of producing extremists of the most brutal kind - terrorists.  Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths have all been used as a justification for violence and terrorist acts.

It is possible to use verses amputated, distorted, perverted, or misrepresented from religious texts (the Torah, New Testament, Qur’an) to justify terrorism and individuals and groups have done this throughout history.  There are verses in all of these texts that can be easily abused either through purposeful or malicious manipulation of meaning or through ignorance of even the fundamentals of scriptural analysis.

There have been many crimes committed and millions of people killed by individuals, groups and governments in the name of one religion or another - justifying their actions by some perversion of the revealed texts.  The victims come from every race, ethnicity, and religious group.  At the current moment, although many of the perpetrators are MuslimsӔ, the primary victims are also Muslims.  All of us are targets.

And worse, this could not have happened or continue to happen if most of us were not complicit in our silence.

There is self righteousness on both sides - Osama bin Laden exploits powerless people to fight for him by making them believe they are morally superior people - and governments exploit their citizens to fight by making them believe that they are morally superior.

Mainstream Muslims, Christians and Jews regularly condemn terrorism and consider such acts to be an egregious violation of their religious beliefs.  And, yet the violence continues to escalate and spread.

We have to live together. If we are to survive we must find ways to live together in peace. There are no more options left except the option of peace.  Peace between man and nature and between men and other men. Let us focus on what we have in common. Let us take the first step of getting to know one another.

The Qur’an gives us a mandate to do just this.

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has revealed to you. Compete then with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.  5:48

True piety (or righteousness) does not consist in turning your faces towards the cast or west but truly pious is he who believes in God and the last day and the angels and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggar, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and truly pious are they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril, it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God. 2: 177

The Qur’an is appealing to us, both Muslims and non Muslims to acknowledge that we do have different religious practices, but not to allow those differences to stop us from doing what needs to be done, and in fact to compete in doing good deeds. And, the Qur’an is telling us clearly that what is essential to our faith is simply how we treat one another. We need to take this advice to heart. To realize that we are brothers and sisters. That we are in this together. Hopefully, through coming to know each other we will be able to discover our similarities and to find ways of resolving our differences and solving our problems.