by Abukar Arman in International Herald Tribune
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the disastrous war in Iraq, the argument that “moderate Muslims” – the so-called MM Factor – are the “only legitimate defense against Islamic extremism” has found its way onto center stage and has found acceptance in certain circles.
But, who are these “moderate Muslims”? What is the ideological engine driving them? What indicators are there to authenticate them? And, more important, who should interpret the readings of such indicators?
Before an objective debate on these questions could get under way, neocon activists like Daniel Pipes have been spinning the whole MM Factor in order to push a handpicked list of what he describes as “anti-Islamist Muslims.” Not surprisingly, the list includes controversial figures like Khalid Duran, a notorious Islam-basher and a friend of Pipes; Irshad Manji, who hosted “Queer Television” on Toronto’s City TV; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-declared atheist who collaborated with the murdered film-maker Theo Van Gogh on a film offensive to many Muslims.
Granted, these are individuals who are exercising their freedom of expression and who may want to “shock the system” from the periphery. But this tack will not moderate the current trend of extremism. Bringing Islam back to its original nature of being a middle-ground faith, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, would require a moderate tone and judicious dialogue. Lending support and a platforms to individuals considered pariahs could simply undermine the whole MM-Factor.
Credibility and sincerity is the name of the game.
For anyone to be accepted as a moderate voice and for his or her message to resonate with the broader Muslim population in the United States and around the world, one must demonstrate, among other things, the following three characteristics:
First, that he or she is a devout Muslim with a track record of community service – an individual without any apparent ulterior motive. Second, he or she is an independent person with an independent mind, an individual not predictably on the same side of any issue all the time, since neither truth nor justice is predictably on the same side. Third, he or she is a sensitive bridge-builder willing to cultivate a peaceful, tolerant community that respects the rule of law, who supports his or her position through Islam’s main authority – the Koran and the Sunnah (the legacy of Prophet Muhammad).
Unfortunately, there seems to be a competing standard for moderation based on one’s position on the Israel-Palestine issue – not on the moot question of whether Israel has the right to exist, but whether the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and to resist oppression and occupation. This is what the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America have gradually come to understand as the real litmus test.
Muslim thinkers and activists who are apathetic or oblivious, or are supportive of the status quo are readily embraced as “moderates” while others, regardless of how moderate or liberal they might be, are declared radicals or terrorist sympathizers.
A case in point is the routine harassment of prominent Muslim activists like Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – who is famous for his peace songs and indeed activism; of widely respected moderate Muslim scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who made a career campaigning against extremism and radical literalism; and of “liberal” thinkers like Tariq Ramadan, who is known for being a pioneer in bridging Islamic values and Western culture. All three were, in one way or another, denied entry to the United States for “national security reasons.”
Recently the U.S. Embassy in Cairo denied Sheikh Abdul Hamid al-Atrash, the head of Al Azhar Fatwa Committee, an entry visa give to lectures and sermons at a number of American Islamic centers during Ramadan. Ironically, in addition to being the oldest and most prestigious Islamic university, Al Azhar is considered the most moderate Islamic educational institution.
It goes without saying that any such subjective alienation and deliberate silencing of those widely recognized as genuine moderates will only fuel more cynicism, anti-Americanism and extremism. If the goal is to defeat extremism in the marketplace of ideas, both Muslims, whose religion has been eclipsed by terrorists, and the United States, whose foreign policy has been highjacked by ideologues, ought to find genuine Muslim moderates to support.
And until a bona fide definition crystallizes, there will always be the risk of blindly embarking on yet another quixotic foreign-policy endeavor.
(Abukar Arman is a freelance writer and a council member of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio.)
There has been many talk about labels which, rather than simplify, complicate matters inextricably into one big mess. What does being a “moderate muslim” mean? Is it a Muslim who remains true to the pure elements of Islam which does not preach death to non-believers but life to everyone? Is it a Muslim who agrees with the western doctrine or American one to end the war on terror? Or is it one which assimilates modernisation and development with Islam and change the seemingly perpetual anachronism at all levels of belief and practices?
Contrary to Samuel Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilisations, Islam does not see the future in such determinist terms. According to Idris Rashid who talked about Ibn Rushd (an Islamic philosopher and law expert) on a series called Islamic Thinkers on Mediacorp Radio,
“The modern civilisation also proved to be heritage of the Islamic civilisation and together, we have to contribute to the good in each other because the fate of the entire human race will be determined by the development of contemporary civilisation. With this, we can reject the current prevailing ideology that instigates the clash of Western civilisation against the Islamic civilisation.”
In today’s Straits Times Review, an article about using ideological discourse with extremists were tried and tested in Yemen proved to be quite successful in reconfiguring their misconceptions about Islam. I felt that this was the right way to defeat the seemingly overpowering force of the Al Qaeda’s brand of Islam and Jihad. I hate to use this analogy but winning the hearts and mind of the Singaporean and Malayan populace during the Emergency did stem the threat and spread of Communism, even though it was during the post war era. More should be done to bring back Muslims to the “moderate” fold, one which does not use violence as a modus operandi to validate its cause.