Championing "Moderate Islam" In the United States
by Rosemary Pennington
In 2004, The Center for Islamic Pluralism was started in Washington, D.C. Described on its website as "a think tank that challenges the dominance of American Muslim life by militant Islamist groups". The center considers itself the voice of moderate Islam.
"For us, 'moderate Islam' means Islam as a religion that is like other religions," says Executive Director Stephen Suleyman Schwartz. "Of course, as Muslims we believe our religion is the best, but that does not mean, for a moderate Muslim, that one has contempt for other religions — or one has feelings of aggression or gets involved in violent activities toward other religions."
Schwartz claims organizations like the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are receiving funds directly from violent jihadi groups in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and that his organization is attempting to counter their influence.
"We're trying to educate the Muslim public, and the non-Muslim public, on the nature of radical Islam," Schwartz says. "We believe that, in the history of Islam, you can see a range between radical views and moderate views. And we represent moderate Islam, we represent an Islam that is not jihadist, that does not believe that jihad is a legitimate form of affirmation or struggle today."
Schwartz says the center's work is not only focused on the United States. He says there is a network of scholars and other individuals attempting to spread the organizations message in about 28 different countries.
In addition to working to counter what it considers "radical" Islam, the Center for Islamic Pluralism also tries to encourage Muslim immigrants to abide by the laws of the country of immigration.
"That is traditional Islamic guidance," he says.
There are critics of the center's mission who say it simply labels those who don't agree with it as radicals.
Prominent Muslim scholar Louay Safi, who has held several different roles at the Islamic Society of North American, wrote in 2005 that Schwartz's organization was creating an idea of moderate Islam that fit into the world view of America's religious right.
And the center does link to a number of reports coming from conservative or neoconservative think tanks and media outlets.
Schwartz says the center only labels groups extremist or radical if they don't fall in line with traditional Islamic doctrine.
"The whole problem that is facing the world now, that most people are baffled by, is the internal crisis in Islam," he says. "It's a crisis based on the challenge of deciding whether Islam is going to continue to go, as it did historically, in a moderate direction or if it is going to go in one of basically several radical directions toward what we could call a reactionary utopia.
"That is an Islam that looks to the past and tries to recreate the past in the present, rather than practicing an Islam that is relevant to the present."
You can read up on the Center for Islamic Pluralism, as well as some of the reports it's issued, at its website www.islamicpluralism.org.
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