One of the greatest challenges facing the United States is how to confront violent radical Islam. And moderate American Muslims have a crucial role to play in facing this problem head on and promoting a real and honest dialogue—free of political correctness and comforting lies—about the true nature of radical Islam.
A study done by the Pew Research Center on Muslims and Islam found that 49 percent of Americans find U.S. Muslims anti-American. About a quarter say there is a fair amount of support (24 percent) for extremism among U.S. Muslims; 11 percent say there is a great deal of support.
Islam desperately needs a revaluation and American Muslims must lead the way in openly calling for reform. We must candidly and honestly admit and acknowledge that some challenging verses in our scripture have given doctrinal legitimacy to violent extremism and our failure to recognize this fact and educate the community on the contextual realities has legitimized the violence.
Our continued refusal and unwillingness to acknowledge this phenomenon has frozen much of our faith to a 7th century dogma. Our rush to blame, shame and obstruct the very few who call for reform and change undermines the freedom of expression which is a hard and long fought battle and a strongly enshrined American value.
Just recently the vicious attacks by the Muslim Student Association of Duke University on Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an American Syrian who reads and understand the Arabic Quran and is one of the pioneers of the Muslim Reform Movement, necessitated that meeting venues be changed and event sponsorships rescinded. He was called an Islamophobe and an anti-Muslim bigot. Journalist, Jennifer Kabbany noted “Jasser’s talk has generated heated protest from Duke’s Muslim Students Association, which has denounced the Muslim reformer and his planned speech. So intense is the controversy surrounding this event that the Alexander Hamilton Society had revoked its sponsorship and the remaining sponsors—the Duke Political Union, College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty— renamed the talk from “The American Muslim Identity: Patriot or Insurgent” to simply “The American Muslim Identity,” The MSA went further to allege potential for harm and the lack of safety on campus if Dr. Jasser spoke at Duke.
This dangerous posture of the irrational fear of the exchange of ideas is too dangerous to be left without scrutiny because at risk is our safety and security and the steps we must all take to combat violent extremism. It is also dangerous because it stifles the voices of a vast majority of Muslims here and abroad who genuinely support reform and are desirous of acknowledging how a political Islam has swept across our nation and the world.
I recall with sadness the slings and arrows that came my way for calling out radical Islam. This too found its origins at Duke by a well-respected scholar there, the first Muslim chaplain and the founding director of Duke University’s Center for Muslim Life, a maverick who initiated the MLI (Muslim Leadership Initiative program), a forum that brings together Muslim leaders committed to better understanding American Jews, Zionism and Israel. I was a Fellow of the program until that day when the chaplain from Duke said to me that my fellowship was rescinded because of my associations with certain right groups and my stance on the call for Islamic reform.
Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a list of individuals it labels as particularly threatening anti-Muslim extremists. In the list were prominent practicing Muslim liberal thinkers and reformers.
I have watched with great dismay the compromises that we continue to make in the name of religious sensitivities. If we continue to silence Muslim reformers, it will become nearly impossible for Muslims to abandon an extreme belief in religious purity and embrace a pluralistic nation.
All religions are a set of ideas and must be open for critique. Sadly, in the Muslim world we believe that Islam is above and beyond critique — that Islam, and only a group of Muslims, have everything to teach the world but nothing to learn from it. This is quite contrary to the great mosque at Cordoba, in A.D. 785, a thriving cultural and intellectual center. It was a center for learning that attracted Jewish scholars, philosophers, poets and scientists. Non-Muslims played an important part in the intellectual life of Cordoba. True and lasting commitments to preserve intellect through and across lines of faith took root here.
It’s time for American Muslims to open any and every channel of review of our faith, scripture, and traditions. We must carefully, candidly, and collaboratively address the causes of radical Islam. And we must share some responsibility for the global trends in all terror committed by Islamists. Crucial to reform is the need to engage and empower Muslim women in religious leadership and promote gender equality in our mosques. We must teach our youth a new brand of Islam, one that is compatible to American values and not that of the Middle East.
Only free speech and an open and honest discussion on campus, in the media, and in our daily lives as citizens about the threat posed by Islamic radicalism will allow moderate voices to come to the forefront to expose and drown out radicals.
Soraya Deen is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement and a co-founder of Peacemoms, a group which promotes dialogue between Muslims and Christians