It must be extremely disconcerting to Muslims to see their religion defined by the extremists of their faith. Regrettably, history is replete with examples of small minorities of adherents defining public perception of a sect. Christianity is often disparaged for the violent crusades of the Middle Ages. But Christianity went through a reformation, renouncing genocidal practices engendered and fostered by theological dogma. Likewise, at some point, the violent extremism within certain fringe groups who claim to represent the ideals of Islam, must be rejected by the whole if it is to ever be believed to be the “religion of peace.”
It’s critical to make a distinction between the faith of Islam, and Islamic extremism. Islam, as a religion, is faith-based, while the sectarian-defined extremism of the Wahhabist movement, or Salafi, is more of an Islamo-Fascist political movement. Even though it has its theological roots in Islam the religion, they are more of a politically ideological sect within Islam that goes far beyond what is reasonable in their interpretations of key scriptures in the Koran and the Hadith or sayings of Mohammed.
Abdallah Al Obeid, the former dean of the Islamic University of Medina and member of the Saudi Consultative Council, confirms that this is politically ideological, rather than sectarian. He calls this extremism a “political trend” within Islam that “has been adopted for power-sharing purposes.” He says it cannot be called a sect because “It has no special practices, nor special rites, and no special interpretation of religion that differ from the main body of Sunni Islam.”
Lt. General Thomas McInerney, who serves on the Iran Policy Committee, said a few years ago in an interview, “Islamic extremism is an ideology just like Fascism and Communism, and it must be fought in much the same way. The West has not acknowledged this and consequently we have not educated our population that it is an ideology rather than a religion. This is confusing people because of our tolerance for the diversity of religion.”
General McInerney declared in the same interview, “Islam needs a reformation just like Christianity had, plus they need a cultural renaissance to bring them into modernity. This must come from within driven by moderate Muslims.”
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, an Egyptian scholar and reformed terrorist, who maintains that his religion has been hijacked by the extremists, wrote a historically insightful book titled “The Roots of Jihad” in 2006, where he describes our challenge with the jihadists. He wrote that Islamic Terrorism has the support of the majority of Muslims and that Islam must be reformed to become a religion of tolerance. Muslims are killing more of their own people than westerners, and until the Muslim world acknowledges this and destroys this cancer from within there will be continued conflict that will continue to spread. This, he states, is catastrophic for the Islamic religion.
Dr. Juhdi Jasser, who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, expressed his frustration last week in an interview. He expressed consternation that the talking points of the administration have been based on the oft repeated line that “the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state,” referring to ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). The President, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have all reiterated the statement over the past week.
Dr. Jasser takes umbrage at their fallacious premise. “Please, if anybody in the administration is listening, stop telling us Muslims what is Islamic. I mean, so he’s saying this is compounding the sin? How about when he shakes the hand and hugs the king of Saudi Arabia for their being the custodians of the Holy Mosque and yet they have imprisoned apostates, liberals, [and] Muslims. They’re a misogynistic nation that treats women as third class citizens. Or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hundreds of millions of Muslims running governments all over the world that line their prisons and torture Christians and Jews and Muslims, and that’s Islamic? And ISIS sort of came out of thin air? ISIS is a by-product of those ideologies. And to deny it and dismiss it, they’re trying to bury us Reformers from having a seat at the table.”
Dr. Jasser continued, “The main laboratory that we can do our reform work against Sharian government and this draconian law that’s still in the 13th century is in the West. So if the West is too busy being labeled as ‘anti-Muslim bigots’ and is on the defense and we’re all victims as Muslims, you can never have this conversation. So moderate Muslims acknowledge that the Islamic State is a threat, that we don’t want to live in Islamic States. Moderate Muslims acknowledge that Sharia, as is interpreted today, is misogynistic, is anti-Western, anti-freedom. And the Islamists want to not have that conversation and want to marginalize us from the mosques and Islamist representation and our voices.”
Muslims worldwide must eventually reject and foreswear the jihadists and their beheading, rapacious, and murdering tactics. The cry must be loud and strong from the faithful to reclaim their religion from the extremists who taint and tarnish it. Reformers like Dr. Jasser and Dr. Hamid must be embraced and supported by their Muslim brethren, as they attempt reformation, and adaptation to the Koran’s standards of moral behavior.
And this reformation must include educational curriculum as well, that teaches primary school children the terrorist mentality. They need to take the reigns of their faith, denounce the 72 virgin myth for martyrs, and expunge those who seek to murder and destroy. By so doing, they can reclaim the heart and soul of their faith. How best to show they are a “religion of peace” than by proving it.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].