Who Speaks for Islam?

Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal

Posted Jun 15, 2002      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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9-11 was a wake-up call: for Americans to take up arms against terrorism; for Muslims to ask who speaks for them. The task for Americans was simple - to identify and neutralize the enemy. The burden on Muslims has been anything but light. Paralyzed into inaction by competing emotions of shame and outrage, humiliation and resentment they have yet to deliver a cohesive response to what they perceive as both germane as well as invidious questions about their religion. Questions such as - Is there something intrinsically violent about Islam that purportedly condones the call to the slaying of Christians and Jews, permits the slaughter of innocents, and sanctions suicide as a ticket to martyrdom in pursuit of these goals? How can Islam be a religion of peace if it legitimizes such a heinous crime in its name? If the answers to these questions are in the negative why were the purveyors of such evil not exposed or brought to justice before they could unleash their horror?

The answers to these questions reside primarily in making the vital distinction between Islam as a religion and the actions of its adherents. Islam is indeed a religion of peace. Specifically it prohibits aggression, forbids the targeting of civilians, even in times of war, confers a special status upon Christians and Jews, and views suicide as an act against God. In this context all scriptures taken out of their historical and moral context can be distorted to promote an agenda of evil. Those who perpetrated 911 knew this. Ironically those who now exploit this atrocity to propagate their hatred of Muslims know this only too well.

While the terrorists of 911 were Muslims, they were deviant Muslims. As such they were as deviant as those Christians who launched the savage crusades and the Inquisition, and conducted countless pogroms against Jews whose “final solution” as part of doing the “Lord’s work” some masterminded. They are akin to those who liken the Palestinians to the Biblical Amalekites who could be exterminated without compunction.

Having negated the premise that the psychopathic individuals who orchestrated 911 had any legitimacy for their actions in Islam, why then did the “Muslim leadership” not condemn the rhetoric before it translated into carnage? The intuitive response is that as Islam is neither monolithic nor hierarchical no single person, country or organization is empowered to speak on its behalf. Within the rubric of Islamic law interpretations may extend from the secular, as exemplified by the democracy of Turkey and monarchy of Jordan, to the theocratic, examples of which are the republic of Iran and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Notwithstanding the obvious ethnic, cultural and religious plurality within the so-called “Muslim world”, the media has long displayed a penchant for portraying all Muslims with one brush the most odious consequence of which has been their subjection to double standards.

Despite protestations against such duplicity for over two decades their arguments have fallen on deaf ears. No other religion, they contend, is defined by its extremists. No other adherents are collectively smeared for the actions of a few. None but Muslims are expected to explain or apologize for the radicalism of their fringe. The religious background of terrorists of other faiths is either totally ignored, e.g. Tim Mcveigh, or if acknowledged as with Baruch Goldstein the act is attributed to insanity. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Catholics of France, Italy or of the US have ever been expected to answer for the acts of the IRA. Nor, despite the boasts of the Serbs that they were “removing the last vestiges of Islam from Europe”, has the Orthodox Church been impugned for their atrocities. Nor is Hinduism held accountable for the massacre of Muslims by fanatic Hindus in India. And rightly so! Yet when any miscreant group with the most tenuous of ties to Islam, as for example the murderous thugs in the Philippines, launches a campaign of villainy, its religious affiliation is unashamedly exploited. Sadly for Muslims this relentless stigmatization by double standards culminated in the self-fulfilling prophecy of 911.

Placed in such an inimical position Muslims have two choices - either to bemoan their plight as unfair and do nothing, or to confront the reality and become proactive. As demeaning as it is to have to respond to egregious depictions in order to seemingly re-establish their legitimacy, given the crusader attitude they currently face, Muslims have little option. In order to refurbish the image of Islam and rescue countless of Muslims around the world, who through the mindless actions of Muslims themselves, have become the victims of the war on terror, the global community of Muslims has to take an unprecedented and hitherto inconceivable step - a step to develop an international jurisdictional council. Such an organization must be empowered not only to monitor and prosecute those who purvey hate and advocate mayhem, but also to build consensus and become the global voice of Islam that speaks for all Muslims.

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