Islam and Interfaith Relations After 9/11
by Imaad Malik
The American Muslim community must intensify its efforts to oppose radical Islam. We American Muslims must contribute further to the democratic transformation of the Islamic world, in an environment of rapid social, political, and economic change. We must provide stronger support for America's security and take a responsible place in the mainstream of Western society.
Almost six years have passed since September 11, 2001, and radical Islam continues to threaten a meltdown of both Muslim and non-Muslim civilization. But American Muslims collectively have failed to challenge adequately the ideologies of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
The recent bombings in Algeria and Morocco by an al-Qaeda affiliate are part of a new terrorist offensive aimed at reviving the mass murder previously seen in the former country, and now afflicting, Iraq. The Jihadists continuously are searching for weak links in the chain of global civilization. As Western Muslims we must help defend and strengthen civilization, thus bringing the faith of Islam into the global age.
We cannot allow the radicals to keep Muslims oppressed in a virtual dark age. In the progress of Muslim enlightenment, interfaith outreach is essential. The American Muslims must redefine our interfaith relationships and present ourselves, with a humanitarian message, to churches and synagogues throughout America.
Present Muslim-Jewish relations are distorted by the prevalence of anti-Jewish hatred in the Middle East and its dissemination by the radicals throughout the Muslim community worldwide. Anti-Jewish ideology and the constant assault on Israel make it difficult for American Muslims and American Jews to inaugurate peaceable and fruitful relations. But conciliation between Muslims and Jews is indispensable in the adaptation of Islam to the world, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
I have had the honor of speaking at several interfaith forums hosted by American Jewish community groups, as a Fellow of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP). I have served as a panelist before the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA), and was invited as a keynote speaker by the Baltimore chapter of the American Jewish committee (AJC), which sponsored two events at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and the Baltimore Jewish Center.
I learned on these occasions that the American Jewish community sincerely desires better relations with the American Muslim community. But American Jews are frustrated. There is a sense that the American Muslim public profile is antiquated and antagonistic – primarily because of anti-Jewish prejudice and a hard position against Israel.
American Jews, like most Americans, question the lack of articulate outrage by American Muslims when confronted with terrorism against democratic societies and especially mass murder by suicide bombings, as fostered by Islamic extremists.
Many factors prevent open protest against radicalism in the American Muslim community. Conformity is not only promoted but is perceived as essential for economic-cultural survival by individuals and families. The moral and political support system for intellectuals, activists and lay moderate Muslims who wish to speak out against the spread of Islamic extremism is new and improvised.
For many American Muslims, denouncing Islamic extremism and defending Israel's right to exist appears as religious and economic self-isolation. Many Muslims are professionals, including engineers, physicians, and entrepreneurs. Holding such views is condemned as anti-Islamic and can place one's social position in jeopardy.
The few Muslims who do speak out must expend their personal finances and other resources in seeking to restore a peaceful message to Islam. Establishing a countermovement to radical Islamic ideology may therefore remain a slow and painful evolutionary process – while assets are wasted and lives continue to be threatened. Radical Islam will not simply disappear and seems set to remain the dominant planetary issue for some time to come.
American Muslims can strengthen their religious activism in cooperation with American Jews and Christians. This means, first, learning from the methods applied by Jewish and Christian activist and charity institutions that do not merely serve their own congregations but dedicate themselves to the greater American good. At the same time, it means developing activities that serve the whole American community, by defending its social, political, and economic freedoms. At the top of the agenda must be assistance to government in directly and forcefully attacking Islamist extremism.
Over the course of American history, there have been many prominent social-political movements that gained support from religious activists. Religion played an essential part in the development of American democracy. A new kind of interfaith religious activism will help the American Muslim community improve its standing in American and global society.
Islam began as a movement for social, political and economic change in seventh century Arabia. Islam as a religion helped to empower the impoverished multitudes of the peninsula. The first Muslims were poor, downtrodden, and disenfranchised. Arabia was then completely oppressed by a brutal tribal culture.
As moderate Muslims we believe the message of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad transcends economic, class, and tribal affiliation, as well as race and ethnicity. Muslims should review the diversity of Islamic history to develop a new religious activism suitable to the existing and historical culture of their fellow-Americans, without interfering with or seeking to Islamize American life. The Koran says, "Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans -- whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right -- shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or to regret." (Koran 2:62)
Moderate Muslims are not born Muslims who have left Islam. Moderate Muslims are people who believe in Islam as it traditionally has been - as a religion and not as a weapon of expansionist state policy - and who reject radicals and extremists, based on the original teachings of the Koran and Muhammad.
A change in American Muslim attitudes is greatly needed, since Islam appears to most of our fellow-Americans as antithetical to democracy. The time for a new direction is now; it cannot wait any longer.