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Islamic Society ( 1 March 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Shrinking Space for Muslims




By Usman Shaukat Eshai

February 25, 2015

Muslims constitute about one fourth of the global population scattered across the globe and a considerable number is living in Western countries. The kind of challenge that Muslims are facing today needs to be deliberated upon in the right context. The overarching narrative in the western media paints the followers of Islam as the believers of some radical ideology aiming to fight and eliminate non-Muslims which is far from the truth. This perception is established mainly because of the presence of a certain mindset prevalent in Muslim societies and an extremist element which is coming out of the Muslim communities living in different parts of the world.

These are the self-proclaimed interpreters of Islam pursuing nothing else other than a disastrous ideology of havoc and destruction. The infamous terrorist group Al-Qaeda came forth after 9/11 with its presence mainly in the Middle East and South Asia. Then emerged the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly functional in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Similarly in the Levant region, emerged the infamous self-announced caliphate of ISIS, not to forget the emergence of Boko Haram in parts of Africa.

One thing which is common for all these terrorist groups is that they are fighting in the name of Islam and are causing a great deal of damage to the perception of the religion and the great majority of Muslims living peacefully across the world looking for prosperity, peace, development and order. The fact of the matter remains that the overwhelming majority of Muslims outrightly reject their interpretation of Islam and their flagitious acts of violence. It is very clear that their interpretation of Islam has nothing to do with the very essence and spirit of Islam.

Today it is has become extremely important for Muslims aspiring for a peaceful and a stable world to convey to people living across the world that these militant groups following the path of extremism and barbarity have nothing to do with the essence of Islam. How can any rational person associate an act carried out by one person to a whole community’s motivations?

Unfortunately today, terrorism and Islam are linked in such a way that they are being perceived as two sides of the same coin.

Western countries are believed to be the champions of justice, human rights and equality but when it comes to Muslims, the standards change in what is becoming a naturally accepted discrimination: Islamophobia. Certainly somewhere, somebody must be benefiting out of it in terms of gaining political leverage or financial gain, but the sad reality is that the space for a large number of ordinary Muslims living in the west, aspiring to have better lives, working hard to improve the living standards of their families, seeking to flourish their businesses, pursuing higher education is rapidly shrinking.

They do not adhere to the false ideologies of these notorious Islamic terrorist groups nor do they aspire to become a part of them. In fact they condemn their inhumane and brutal acts. Yet they are the ones, millions in number, scattered all across the West, facing an uncertain future. Breaking news or headlines highlighting a Muslim involved in an act of terrorism raises red flags for the 1.6 billion Muslims living across the world.

Muslims have been coexisting with the believers of other faiths in the past as Islam believes in plurality. The political and intellectual leadership across the Muslim world has been unable to convey the point of view of the ordinary Muslim to the rest of the world. The leadership looks hapless in the wake of terrorism, slow to form a counter narrative that opposes these extremist ideologies. It is time we came up with a clear and unified narrative to counter these ideologies of hate, which subvert the fundamental teachings of Islam: compassion, justice and peace.

Usman Shaukat Eshai has specialized in broadcast journalism and is currently studying International Relations at the National Defence University, Islamabad