By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
November 24, 2013
Contrary to American popular opinion, Islam is a religion of peace.
People ask me, how can you say that? Look at the 9/11 attacks, at the killing going on in the world. Muslims are killing Christians. Muslims are killing Jews. Muslims are killing Muslims.
That is true. But Islam is not a violent religion. In fact, the fundamental imperative of all religions — Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism — is peace.
Individuals are violent. Extremist groups that misinterpret religion in their zealotry or self-interest commit acts of violence, prompting a violent reaction. And so begins a vicious cycle of violence and hatred.
These people mask their political or power agendas in false religious doctrine. We must make that distinction — between religion and the power-hungry — and combat the extremists.
For millennia, violence has been committed in the name of religion, as it has in the name of freedom, national security and any value we hold dear.
But we should never think that we are combating a religion. That only plays into the hands of the extremists and, more importantly, wrongly frame the problem — which in turn makes us look for solutions in the wrong place and falsely accuse religion, which is innocent.
Had the violence between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland been framed as a religious problem, instead of the political and economic problem it was, it never would have been solved.
At a recent Richmond Forum, the topic turned to why it appears Muslims oppress women. Some asked why Muslims condone female genital mutilation. Is this something required to be a Muslim?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The prophet Muhammad promoted women’s rights, and many Muslim men and women actively work to continue what he started.
Female genital mutilation is an African cultural tradition, which explains why both Egyptian Christians and Muslims practice It. Female genital mutilation is not practiced in Arabia, where Islam was founded, nor universally practiced by Muslims, and certainly not condoned by the Quran. Culture, which often trumps religion, is the cause of female genital mutilation and the oppression of women. Where is the justice in then falsely accusing religion?
Extremists such as the Taliban, Hezbollah and al-Qaida have distorted Islam to fit their cause. Extremists say they are promoting a pure Islam, but they are wrong. They are being aided — perhaps unwittingly — by Christian and Jewish extremists who insist that Islam itself is the problem.
Extremists of any stripe — religious, cultural, social, or political — want to provoke a fight.
So if extremists are not fighting one another, whom are they fighting?
Moderates — the vast majority of people around the world who would like to see problems resolved so they can build their lives and their economies to provide for their families. They are the ones who suffer in battles between extremists.
We who are moderates must bond together and stand up to extremists. That is why my organization, the Cordoba Initiative, is working to establish a global coalition of moderates who will work together strategically to counter the extremist voices in our midst.
Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by Taliban extremists for advocating education for girls, is the poster child of moderation.
Trying to kill an innocent child is reprehensible in any religion. In addition, the Quran highly values education. It states that the best believers are those who have knowledge. “Seeking knowledge is a duty of the believers from the cradle to the grave,” the Prophet said. “The ink of the scholars is more precious than the blood of the martyrs.” Developing the human mind is one of the six major objectives of Islamic Law.
If blocking women, or anyone, from attaining an education is not in the Quran, and more importantly violates it, then why should we accept the claim of those who sought to kill Malala that they were doing something Islamic? We must challenge them on the basis of a genuine understanding of Islamic Law.
In the past, Muslim moderates may have been falsely considered people who acquiesce to Western power and to Muslim dictatorships. But that is never who we were. The true face of Muslims is the rational, modern people who are comfortable with their faith, stand up for their ideals, and are ready to take their places as equals in the international arena.
Now is the time for moderates of all religions and all nations to rise up and to resist extremism wherever it raises its ugly head. We owe it to Malala and people like her who work for justice and opportunity. And we owe it to God, who wants only peace for all His people.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Founder of Cordoba Initiative — a multi-national, multi-faith organization dedicated to improving Muslim-West relations — appeared recently at the Richmond Forum.