By Tariq A.Al Maeena
November 23, 2013
The title of this column was the theme of a conference held on November 2 at the Islamic Centre of Southern California in the city of Los Angeles, California. The centre’s mission is working towards practicing and presenting Islam in the United States of America ‘by providing religious, educational and social activities for Muslims and non-Muslims,’ as well as ‘to develop and promote a socially responsible Muslim-American identity.’ It also seeks to integrate Muslim-Americans in the pluralistic American society.
Islamophobia has been on an unchecked rise since the September 11, 2001 incident. It has been further augmented by highly publicised dastardly activities of terrorist groups around the world, all claiming to be Islamic and pursuing their ambitions through criminal activities. To add fuel to the fire, there exist a class of the Islamic clergy who advocate extremism and rejection of all other faiths. These clergy could be found anywhere practicing their message of extreme intolerance. They could be found in Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, or any other place on the planet preaching their message of intolerance.
Their extreme ideology is derived from a rigid and unyielding interpretation of all things Islamic, and while they remain in the minority in the Muslim world, they usually make the most noise. They and their followers garner the world’s attention by their words and deeds, many of which have led to the death of innocent people around the world. It has led to a silent alarm that goes off among the psyche of mainstream Muslims whenever any such terrorist activities are carried out in the name of Islam. It has also led to Muslims changing their names or appearance for fear of retribution from an angry public who have come to perceive Islam as a force that breeds terror, thanks to these individuals.
Justice Is Divine
While there have been individual efforts by some governments and organisations to combat the rise of Islamophobia through the holding of interfaith dialogues, such steps have not been enough judging from opinion polls which continue to view Islamic ideology with suspicion. The Muslim Public Affairs Council in the US is making one such attempt to un-demonise the image of Islam through the recent conference held in Los Angeles. The principal outcome of that conference was a key document titled ‘Declaration against Extremism.’
It defines Islam as being ‘from God, an expression of love to all of humanity; In Islam, all human beings are entitled to dignity, regardless of who they are and the beliefs they hold; The Quran declares that justice is divine and should not be subject to prejudices, tribal biases, or subjective desires; In Islam, true faith is incompatible with compulsion; Islam has no mediator between God and humanity; hence, there is no divine clergy or hierarchy with any authority to act on behalf of God. Islam confirms and upholds the teachings of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad (PBUH) and all the other Abrahamic prophets; In Islam, no one has the right to claim they represent God or hold the absolute interpretation of His word or His intent.’
The document recognises that the true meaning of this religion is often usurped by the much publicised activities of extremists and “with this document, together we passionately reaffirm our opposition to extremists of all stripes, particularly all Muslim extremists who betray Islam’s true message. Furthermore, we pledge to collectively condemn and act to prevent extremism in all forms.” It is no secret that many of the nefarious activities of extremist groups shielding their activities under the badge of Islam have been exploited by Islam’s detractors who delight in one more opportunity to display this religion in a negative light.
The document calls on all Muslims everywhere to fight all forms of extremism through positive engagement, constructive communication of theology and a willingness to confront and to reject those clerics ‘who twist religion to further their own political and social agendas.’ It states that “Extremists are defining the public face of Islam, leaving the mainstream largely on the defensive, vehemently wanting to share the true message of Islam. The voices of extremism are very loud; their voices garner false but almost instantaneous authority because they are cloaked in religious garb and theological jargon. The dangerous powers these voices have, mislead people with false claims of religious superiority and authority.”
Other points of the document call for ‘Upholding women’s God-given equal opportunity in society, rejecting the subjugation of women under any circumstances and refusing to accept the notion that women are inferior to men in reason, wisdom and their ability to lead,’ and ‘Embracing the positive contributions of all cultures and civilisations and respecting their cultural origins.’
The document should be taken seriously by all Muslims concerned with the rising injustice due to Islamophobia. It should also be considered as a weapon to stymie the revolting messages spewed out by extremists everywhere. Islam should not be hijacked by the forces of extremism.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.