“Why haven’t Muslim leaders condemned terrorism?” This is the most common question that Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), gets on a daily basis from media and other inquirers. Nearly four years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 Muslim organizations disagree on the best way to battle the perception that they are soft on terrorists who attack in their religion’s name. At issue is the public relations strategy of U.S. Muslim groups. At stake is the way Americans view the world’s second largest religion, with more than 1 billion adherents, as the U.S. wages a global war on terrorism. While groups hone their media relations skills and issue immediate statements in the wake of attacks, lingering criticism remains. Frustrated, an increasing number of Muslim leaders say they will focus more on taking concrete actions to eradicate terrorism from their faith communities than on winning the war of words. In this spirit, the Muslim American Society (MAS), another Washington-based national advocacy organization, on Monday announced a national initiative comprised of seven “action items” intended to eradicate terrorist ideology, extremism and violence from the American Muslim community. The MAS said that it planned to partner with the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations, led by Imam Abu Malik-Johari, to ensure that the message did not get stuck in the media stratosphere of published statements, but reached local Muslims in their area Islamic centers. Muslim leaders insist that despite often-repeated claims on talk radio, they have repeatedly denounced terrorism. In the wake of the July 7 London bombings, a panoply of American Muslim groups responded quickly, with the Muslim Public Affairs Council organizing a press conference within hours, and at least nine major groups, including CAIR, issuing a ream of statements decrying the atrocities. Nevertheless, many Muslim leaders say they fear that their message isn’t getting through to the majority of Americans. “It’s really frustrating, sometimes we get the feeling nobody’s listening,” Hooper said. “We often ask ourselves, what more can we do? Shout from the rooftops? Skywriting?” WORLDWIDE CONCERN Joking aside, Hooper said CAIR is stepping up its “Not in the Name of Islam” campaign, airing public service announcements on television stations nationwide to distance the beliefs of terrorists from mainstream Islam. The group is also considering a wristband or lapel pin campaign to raise awareness of Muslim opposition to terrorist tactics and ideologies. The London bombings happened at a moment when Muslims worldwide were already grappling with how to strengthen a global Islam that is politically and socially moderate, one that leaves no room for terrorism. The day before the bombings, more than 150 Muslim leaders from around the world met in Jordan and issued a statement forbidding any Muslim from being declared an apostate, or traitor to the faith. It was necessary, they said, because insurgents in Iraq have used claims of apostasy to justify the executions of Muslim “infidels.” Despite public statements, some commentators have questioned the seriousness with which worldwide Muslims are approaching the reality of terrorists in their midst, given that the London attackers appear to have been native Britons. “It is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst,” wrote Thomas L. Friedman in the July 8 New York Times. Friedman added that “no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” U.S. Muslim groups take exception to Friedman’s characterization, arguing that countless U.S. leaders have condemned bin Laden’s actions, and that an official fatwa, or Islamic edict, was issued in March 2005 by the Islamic Commission of Spain. Additionally, leaders worldwide have issued recent fatwas that decry terrorism and its consequences. Britain’s largest Sunni Muslim organization issued a July 17 fatwa calling terrorism a “perverted ideology” and declaring that the London bombers, if proved to be Muslims, would no longer be allowed to consider themselves part of the faith. Days earlier, another group of British imams and scholars condemned the London attacks because civilians were killed. However, that group distinguished between those attacks and suicide bombings carried out for Muslims to “defend themselves from occupiers,” which they said were sometimes justified. These different interpretations point to the difficulty of managing an “international message” for Islam. “Islam is not like the Catholic Church, there is no central authority who can give you one quote. Therefore it is impossible for all Muslims to speak in one voice, just as it is impossible for all Americans to speak in one voice,” said Muqtedar Khan, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, who studies international politics. Some Muslim groups are frustrated with the task that public relations experts refer to as “reputation management.” Mike Paul, a veteran public relations professional in New York City, says that religious communities should present a consistent message that offers concrete historical examples to back up their statements. “People aren’t going to believe you if you just say, ‘These people don’t represent our faith,'” Paul said, “They’re going to say, ‘Show me the truth.'” WORDS AND ACTION Muslim leaders agree that written or spoken statements increasingly feel inadequate against the perception problem facing the community. These leaders say they don’t plan on skipping the step of issuing written condemnations after attacks, but neither do they plan to rest on the laurels of words over actions. “We are past condemnations; that’s not the page we’re on,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, a national civil rights organization that is part of the Muslim American Society (MAS). MAS did issue a statement of condemnation following the London bombing, but Bray said that his group is far more focused on concrete actions aimed at protecting young American Muslims from being “misguided in Islam.” The group has opened eight youth centers nationwide, including locations in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Minneapolis; Cleveland; Dallas and San Diego. They plan to open even more in the future, including centers in Sacramento, Calif.; Los Angeles; Washington; Raleigh, N.C.; Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle and Chicago. The centers provide “wholesome and good” after-school youth programs and summer camps, and are based on the model that is used to combat gang violence in inner cities, Bray said. Additionally, Bray’s organization is providing media training in local Muslim communities, urging each American mosque to have a trained spokesperson to approach the media without “waiting for a crisis” to strike. “We don’t want to do symbolic gestures,” he said, “We want to do things that really affect the policies for our safety.” A consensus has emerged that more needs to be done. M. Zuhdi Jasser, the founder and chairman of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, is among the most outspoken. He criticizes his fellow American Muslims, saying that with the privilege of belonging to a worldwide Muslim community comes a charge to root out terrorism and extremism from that community. “If we’re going to get the benefits of this community, then a reciprocal responsibility that we have is to say that this community has been hijacked by barbarous criminals,” he said. Jasser, who served 11 years in the Navy, suggests that more Muslims should serve in the armed forces in order to achieve this goal. “Secure the world — this is part of our civic duty,” he said. “Until we clear out and fix the cancer within our faith community, we’re going to have no credibility,” he added. This report was provided by the Religion News Service
As we all began digesting the news of last week’s terrorist attack, most of America’s Muslim organizations issued what has become a predictable, yet empty, round of condemnations. Articulated in press releases, these rote statements are not backed up with sincere attempts to acknowledge and fix the problems within Islam. Listening to these empty pronouncements, I can’t help but ask: Where is our Muslim responsibility–our duty–to protect the world from the actions of our own? It is time for us Muslims to take ownership of our faith by moving beyond empty condemnations and ensuring that Islamo-fascists–those who seek to create an Islamic totalitarian theocracy through the use of any and all means–have no place in our world. These fascists are Muslims who have hijacked and twisted our faith. They subscribe to a medieval code where the ends justify the means. And you can hear their rhetoric not only in the Middle East; radical imams preach in London and in many cities in the U.S. Cutting off this lifeblood and its ideology should be the focus of our collective Muslim response. Many well-meaning Muslims react to news about Muslim terrorists by insisting that anyone who commits violent acts is, by definition, not part of Islam. But who are we fooling? The Islamo-fascists did not come out of thin air. They use our scripture, our prayers, our language, and our tradition–and they come from somewhere within our community. These killers are doing incomprehensibly evil actions across the world in the name of our religion, and because of that, my fellow Muslims and I should act now–decisively, publicly, and in tandem with our leadership–against Islamo-fascism. To argue whether they are Muslims or not–and what is a ‘true’ Islamic society–is only deflection and denial. Every time I experience the joy and spirituality of joining with my Muslim brothers and sisters in devotional prayer, I feel a perfect harmony of thought and movement as we bow and say God’s praises together. Islam is a religion of community, and I know I can walk into any mosque in the world and join the congregation in reciting the same prayers I say at home. While my faith is very personal, without that communal energy, my religion is not complete. But with spiritual fulfillment and community connection come responsibility. Moderate, moral Muslims–that is to say, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims–may see these Islamo-fascists as far removed from our reality; however the unforgiving truth is that we are responsible as a group for our weakest and also for our most corrupt and deranged. Islam has no formal clergy, and so it falls to the community as a whole, all of us, to take on this challenge. Denial serves nothing but the empty ego and is destined to fail. As Muslims we must help bring these barbaric Islamists to justice and assist in dismantling the systems that create them. How many wake-up calls do we need? Most faith groups have at some point in their histories seen their compasses falter, as deviants exploited their altars. However, those same faith groups have also eventually assumed responsibility for exposing, exterminating, and marginalizing the cancers who are their own. The need for Muslims to act now cannot be overstated, for it becomes exponentially more difficult after each horrific bombing. My fellow Muslims must immediately–and in large numbers–become proactive in the war against militant Islamists, or soon it may be too late. We owe it to the nations in which we live, as well as to our truly pluralistic faith. Many people ask what they or their communities could possibly do to counter a cancer like Islamo-fascism. But all Muslims–and all Muslim organizations–can play an active role in this battle. What it would mean to take a true stand against terror Read more >> _Related Features Explaining the London Bombings The Qur’an on Jihad and Violence Fundamentalism & Violence The immediate reaction to the London devastation should be declaration after declaration by Muslim leaders around the free world that we will immediately redirect all of our resources to combat al Qaeda and every other militant Islamist organization, in order to extinguish their barbarism. These barbarians should hear words from moderate Muslims around the globe that make them fear they will never again find a single religious haven for their ideology. As pluralistic Muslims take away from them the mantle of faith and the acceptance of their formative ideologies, they will be left with nothing but the depths of their own evil. It’s time to build an anti-terror ethos within the Islamic community. We can publicly embarrass radical imams and organizations who preach hatred. We can publicly expose the twisted interpretations of the Qu’ran and Muslim teachings perpetuated by radical Islamists who justify killing innocent people in the name of our God. We can focus the public agenda of American Muslims on publicizing our commitment to our citizenship oath and to the American secular form of democratic government. We need to force a public debate with the Islamists, not run from it. By constantly reasserting Muslim critiques of Wahhabism, Salafism, and other fundamentalist Islamist ideologies that feed terrorist networks, we will fight terror at its core. It is time to ensure that Islamic sermons around the world teach Muslims to dismantle terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbullah, and any group that harbors, teaches, and trains the world’s future Islamo-fascists. In addition, we must root out all hate and intolerance from the educational texts in our mosques, which we use to teach our youth and our co-religionists. Anti-Semitism, anti-Western feelings, and chauvinism should be combated directly by American Muslim organizations. And we need to teach our Muslim-American youth to feel a sense of responsibility to our America, which gives us freedom and liberty. Why is it that so many people from every minority in America are dying to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan and free the world from the Islamo-fascists while so few American Muslim organizations have actively encouraged military service since 9-11? We should sponsor public campaigns to encourage our community to join the military and law-enforcement agencies. What better way to ensure that enforcement of the Patriot Act does not unfairly target Muslims than to have American Muslims within law enforcement? Allegiance to our country is in fact a deeply Islamic obligation. The war against Islamo-fascism has many fronts, and moderate Muslims need to be leading the struggle. We must always remember the Qu’ranic teachings on peace and justice, such as: “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for God can best protect both. Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.” (Qu’ran 4:135). At its core, “terror” is simply a barbarically evil tactic in a war of ideologies. Muslims, and only Muslims, hold the keys to the flood gates that can drown militant Islamists in their own twisted interpretations of scripture. But time is running short. Muslims must realize the challenge before us and step forward on all these fronts or risk losing our freedoms and our faith to the barbarism of Islamo-fascist terror. It is time that the majority of Muslims said, “not on our watch.” M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Phoenix, Ariz., physician. He is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He is also a founding board member of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org This column originally appeared at Beliefnet.com and can be found at this link.
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