Friday, May 18, 2007

Islamism, not Islam is the Problem

By M. Zuhdi Jasser

Most of the attention, scholarship, and punditry in the United States given towards Islam and Muslims since 9-11 have focused upon problems with comparatively little attention toward solutions. Understandably motivated by a need to improve security and understand the enemy, American curiosity about Islam, Islamism, and militant Islamism continues to grow. Yet, comparatively American Muslims have offered few solutions except for the few rare voices of Muslim moderation (anti-Islamism) across America, Canada, and Europe.

At times there is only a binary choice in the public ether between the voices who say that “Islam is the problem” and the tired voices of the Islamists who provide endless apologetics, denial, victimization, and every deflection possible short of responsibility or actual ideological solutions for a counter-jihad and reformation. Certainly, the Islamists, no matter how peaceful, who look at the world through the lens of political Islam are at the core of the ideological problem. They knowingly and unknowingly feed the enemy’s central political construct of society—political Islam. Yet, we so need to separate political Islam (Islamism) from the spiritual faith of Islam as a faith. Is it easier said than done?

An anti-Islamist devout Muslim like myself - and so many others who believe we are in the majority - can only shout in the wilderness for so long, before there becomes a need to begin to address some of the most difficult but central questions, which many Muslims ignore either out of pride, self-righteousness, or impatience. Whether many pious Muslims acknowledge it or not, non-Muslims who believe that ‘the religion of Islam is the problem’ are growing in numbers. I can either dismiss their arguments as “Islamophobic” as so many do, including the Islamists, or I can begin to address some of the central issues raised positively in the spirit of understanding, logic, and most importantly in the spirit of American security.

We need the anti-Islamist Muslims.

Most should understand that strategically, identifying ‘Islam as the problem,’ immediately alienates upwards of one quarter of the world’s population and dismisses our most powerful weapon against the militant Islamists—the mantle of religion and the pulpit of moderate Muslims who can retake our faith from the Islamists. The majority voices in the middle, the non-Islamist and anti-Islamist Muslims who understand the problem, have to be on the frontlines. They cannot be on the frontlines in an ideological battle being waged, which demonizes the morality of the faith of Islam and its founder, the Prophet Mohammed. We cannot win this war only on the battlefield. Political Islam has a viral recurrence in the form of an infection which needs a Muslim counter-jihad in order to purge it. Thus, we cannot win this ideological war without the leadership of Muslim anti-Islamists. The radical and political ideologies of Islamism, Wahhabism, Salafism, Al Qaedism, Jihadism, and Caliphism, to name a few, cannot be defeated without anti-Islamist, anti-Wahhabi, anti-Salafist, anti-Al Qaedist, anti-Jihadist, and anti-Caliphist devout Muslims.

So often, attempts by anti-Islamist Muslims to claim that our faith has been hijacked or our faith has been twisted are dismissed by non-Muslims. They simply take common interpretations of Wahhabis and say rather that, ‘it is the anti-Islamist Muslim who is deluded and who is misrepresenting the faith of Islam”. They use the citations of the militants from our Holy Qur’an’s scripture and from many authentic and questionable Hadith (discussions of the Prophet Mohammed) to marginalize moderate Muslims and claim that they have no theological framework from which to claim legitimacy.

The question remains-- who or what defines Islam, and under what authority? Islam has no clergy and is represented only by a book, the Holy Qur’an (what Muslims believe in Arabic, is the communication from God to Muslims). Islam’s naysayers by accepting radical interpretations of scripture are thus handing the militants the mantle of religion with hardly the benefit of the doubt or patience toward long term opportunities for reform by anti-Islamist Muslims within the general Muslim population.

The process of theological renewal and interpretation in the light of modern day thought—ijtihad—as it is known in Islam is in many ways hundreds of years behind Western enlightenment today arrested around the 15th century. This process can either be facilitated by non-Muslims or hindered by the belief that it is impossible. There is quite a bit to be said for the value of a necessary critical facilitation (nudging) of Muslim reform (as opposed to blind uncritical apologetics). But there is also a fine line between useful criticism of Muslims and especially of political Islam and the less than helpful alienation of all Muslims through criticism of the faith of Islam in general. Most of the same arguments targeting Islam can similarly be made against Muslims and their interpretations while just not blaming Islam as a faith, which needs to be part of the solution.

Too nuanced for practicality? Not necessarily when our most critical allies within the Muslim faith are those that are strong enough to love their faith enough to wake-up and want to take it back from the Islamists and their barbarians like Al Qaeda.

Political Islam (Islamism), not Islam, is incompatible with Americanism and pluralism.

Like most believers of any of the major world religions whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, I, as a Muslim believe that Islam carries the same messages of humanitarianism and compassion shared by the religions of the God of Abraham and deserves an equal place at the table of world religions and is not in conflict with our American Constitutional government. Some Muslims may behave, interpret, and express ideologies which are not from God but contrarily evil and from Satan, but they are still Muslim. I cannot deny that. We have no church to excommunicate them.

However, we also should remember that every God-fearing Muslim believes that the religion of Islam as a faith comes from God in the same way as Judaism and Christianity. The identification of ‘Islam as the problem’ is arguable from a pedantic standpoint since it is hard to disagree with the fact that “Islam is as Muslims do and say.” But academically, when dealing with the faith of one-quarter of the world, and with its history, a central morality of individual Islam (the personal character of most Muslims) has generally demonstrated synergy with Judaism and Christianity. It is just that in the past few centuries, political religious movements, which exploit the personal faith for political oppression and often fascism, have controlled the leadership.

It is important to be academic about this assessment and not assume that what appears to be the silence of the majority of Muslims equates to agreement with the Islamist leadership who exerts a stranglehold over the community. We are doing our national counterterrorism efforts and Muslims a disservice if we assume that the ‘lowest hanging fruit,’ which comprise all currently Islamist organizations (CAIR, MPAC, or ISNA - to name a few) and their proportionally limited membership speak for all American Muslims. Their silence on the need for reformation and the need for Muslims to lead an anti-Islamist effort from within our faith community represents their own Islamist agenda of the members and donors but does not represent the general Muslim population.

In debate, it can become easy to lose the focus of the argument when resorting to criticism based on identity rather than on ideology. For example, so many Islamists locally and nationally resort to attempting to demonize me as an individual rather than deal with my anti-Islamist ideas as a Muslim and as an American. Our Islamist enemy dreams about uniting all Muslims under one nation—the transnational Muslim ummah. To declare our ideological battle against Islam is to hand them the easiest tool toward that unification (ummah-tization) strategy for which they dream and to dismiss our most potent weapon against the jihadists—anti-Islamist Muslims who can lead a counter-jihad from within the Islamic community. Only anti-Islamists Muslims can de-ummahtize the Muslim community and articulate an Islam, which inspires morality but leaves national politics to the governments of our nations.

A shared moral tradition.

For many non-Muslims engaged in the debate to accept the fact that Islam is not the problem, it stands to reason that they must first feel that Islam as practiced and held by Muslims fits into the predominant moral framework of American spirituality and values of the God of Abraham (a Judeo-Christian-Islamic morality, if you will). This is evidenced by the moral behaviors of the vast majority of Muslims in America and around the world. This morality certainly comes from God and for Muslims the faith of Islam is the source of it no different than Judaism or Christianity is for Jews and Christians.

Now, bring political Islam into this mix, and one is left with many questions. Is Islam compatible with democracy? Can Muslims separate mosque and state? Can Muslims be anti-theocratic? Can Muslim behavior and thought today be consistent with modernity while so many current Muslim legal constructs enacted in the name of sharia law seem not to be? How do Muslims reconcile their history of an empire ruled by a Muslim Caliphate, an empire which had varying rules for its citizens based upon faith with today’s more pluralistic universal laws of American society blind to one faith? How do Muslims reconcile the plight of women’s rights in ‘Muslim’ societies with their faith and the West? Those are just a few of the questions so many thoughtful writers have tried to answer since 9-11.

Before embarking upon a discussion of any of those questions, which can fill texts, a more fundamental question remains concerning the central principles of any Muslim’s faith. Is the foundation of Islam as felt and practiced within each Muslim a moral one?

From a counterterrorism assessment, formulating a threat assessment of the ideologies at play are very necessary. Before blanketing the faith of Islam as a threat to Americanism (religious pluralism), Americans first need to be able to separate Islam from Islamism and Islam from what some Muslims do.

Americans will find that for most Muslims generally - as it is for Jews or Christians or any God fearing individual - the central defining principles of faith are not dictated by the specific interpretations of God’s laws (sharia for Muslims) or to any single one of the interpretations of various passages of the Qur’an peaceful or otherwise. As a Muslim, my faith as I see it and as it has been taught to me in its most devotional expression is simply-- my personal relationship with a moral God—the God of Abraham. The stronger and more personal is that relationship, the more pious an individual may be. Thus piety is not measured by others or by outward actions or expressed beliefs, but rather piety is dependent upon the intensity and purity of that internal relationship with God.

The essence of the nucleus of the primary cell of Islam as an organism of faith is a human being’s manifestations and choices for goodness over evil which includes love, honesty, compassion, empathy, courage, integrity, humility, character, behavior, self-control, creativity, discipline, and gratitude to name a few of the faith defining human principles most faiths share. When our families taught us about faith and God, most of the time was spent on these principles. To most Muslims, the countervailing ‘evil’ choices to these positive human characteristics come from Satan and not from God. The existence of evil and its acts only demonstrates that God has given humanity free will. Without the existence of evil, humans would not have choice or free will. Often evil will exploit religion to defeat that which is good.

It is this inherent human tendency toward good and away from evil, which is the central notion of Islam as it is for Judaism and Christianity. From this then arises a spiritual life with a deep personal relationship and communication with God as seen in all of the faiths recognizing the God of Abraham.

From this spirituality, this goodness, then arises the character, which an individual carries to life and to our theological texts and their derived interpretations. While the body of laws available today may not all contain a modernized interpretation, it can certainly be modernized if the Muslims doing the modernizing are of sound moral conviction and integrity and education. It is the corruption, tribalism, and ignorance of so many in the Muslim world, which has poisoned any moves towards enlightenment. But this conflict between good and evil is one, which will be won by the righteous when pious Muslims who fear God, and respect universal humanitarian principles are empowered to stand up to evil under the moral courage of the inspired principles of the God of Abraham.

My family always taught me that a Muslim will not miraculously find his or her character within the pages of the Qur’an or Hadith. But rather, a Muslim’s interpretation of our holy text is through the lens of one’s established moral character, which is developed on a personal human level from within the soul and conscience not a textual one.

Our own moral compass and its inherent principles are a lens for life which is produced in an early stage of youth and adolescence that sets the tone for how we interpret life and religion. While the details of religion can inspire and direct this compass, life’s core direction toward good is formed and maintained internally between an individual’s soul and God early on. Suicide bombers, jihadists, and other militant Islamists are evil at their core and just turn to the language of Islam found in the Qur’an or the Hadith to justify their barbarism, coercion, and doctrine of the ends justifying the means and of political Islam. Granted, this is much easier to do with the ready availability around the world of radical and medieval interpretations so desperately in need of 21st Century enlightened pluralistic re-interpretations.

Accepting this common Muslim formulation of faith is vital to marginalizing the militancy of current radicalized interpretations most of which are of Salafist derivation and rather expressing a core positively guiding morality for the vast majority of Muslims. It will take Muslims who love their faith to articulate a modern Islam to create an etho, which accepts the radical interpretation as immoral.

Certainly, the ubiquitous jihadist and Caliphist interpretations of Islamic literature and jurisprudence are in need of an overwhelming alternative narrative to the fundamentalist interpretation, which so often dominates the airwaves. We must believe that the predominant Muslim morality as derived from God and exemplified in the life of the Prophet Mohammed and in the vast majority of Muslims is one of good, one of the Golden Rule, of compassion, and of humility.

Once we can accept that most Muslims are moral and believe in a faith with an inviolable moral nucleus, than we can find hope that the seeds of reformation of formal textual interpretations will be planted for freedom and liberty, for free will over coercion, over theocracy and over political Islam.

If most Muslims were immoral, the world would have perished a long time ago. It is Islamism, which deserves our combined energies in critique and ideological deconstruction. Muslims, however, who are anti-Islamist and practicing a modern moral Islam are the key to its defeat. Contributing Editor M. Zuhdi Jasser is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and the Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at

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At 8/25/2007 1:31 PM, Blogger Mohamed said...

These Sunni and Shia clerics follow sectarian Islam that relies on hadiths for 95% of its jurisprudence. Hadiths were "compiled" 2 to 3 centuries after the prophet. They are the "supposed" deeds and speeches of the prophet that the clerics use to "explain" the Koran. Each sects have hadiths that refutes the other. Both claim that their hadiths have been rigorously "authenticated". Even if they had to carry out this "authentication" process 2 to 3 centuries after the events. They rely on orally transmitted narrations they claim was "carefully passed down" through the ages. The prophet never left behind him any hadiths. The only text the prophet and the 4 caliphs left behind and spread was the Koran.

The Koran gave COMPLETE freedom for everyone.

The Quran(Koran) Concerning other monotheist faiths:

Not all of them are alike; a party of the people of the Scripture stand for the right, they recite the Verses of God during the hours of the night, prostrating themselves in prayer. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin good and forbid wrong; and they hasten in good works; and they are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knows well those who are God fearing. 3:113-115

And there are, certainly, among the people of the Scripture, those who believe in God and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before God. They do not sell the Verses of God for a little price, for them is a reward with their Lord. Surely, God is Swift in account. 3:199

Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve . 2:62

Say: "O people of the Scripture : Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but God, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides God. 3:64

And they say: "None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian." Those are their (vain) desires. Say: "Produce your proof if ye are truthful."Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to God and is a doer of good,- He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (To stand) upon." Yet they study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but God will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. 2.111-113

If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them 4.124

The Quran(Koran) Concerning who we fight or don't:

As for such who do not fight you on account of faith, or drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to deal with them with equity, for God loves those who act equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of faith and drive you forth from your homelands or aid in driving you forth. As for those from among you who turn towards them for alliance, it is they who are wrongdoers. 60:8-9

Permission (to fight) is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged, and verily, God has indeed the power to aid them. Those who have been driven from their homelands in defiance of right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our Lord is God.’ 22:39-40

The Quran(Koran) Concerning freedom:

2:256 There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God, he has taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and Knowing.

16:82 But if they turn away from you, your only duty is a clear delivery of the Message .

6:107 Yet if God had so willed, they would not have ascribed Divinity to aught besides Him; hence, We have not made you their keeper, nor are you a guardian over them.

4:79-80 Say:'Whatever good betides you is from God and whatever evil betides you is from your own self and that We have sent you to mankind only as a messenger and all sufficing is God as witness. Whoso obeys the Messenger, he indeed obeys God. And for those who turn away, We have not sent you as a keeper."

11:28 He (Noah) said "O my people! think over it! If I act upon a clear direction from my Lord who has bestowed on me from Himself the Merciful talent of seeing the right way, a way which you cannot see for yourself, does it follow that we can force you to take the right path when you definitely decline to take it?°

17:53-54 And tell my servants that they should speak in a most kindly manner. Verily, Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men; for verily; Satan is mans foe .... Hence, We have not sent you with power to determine their Faith.

21:107-109 (O Prophet?) 'We have not sent you except to be a mercy to all mankind:" Declare, "Verily, what is revealed to me is this, your God is the only One God, so is it not up to you to bow down to Him?' But if they turn away then say, "I have delivered the Truth in a manner clear to one and all, and I know not whether the promised hour is near or far."

22:67 To every people have We appointed ceremonial rites which they observe; therefore, let them not wrangle over this matter with you, but bid them to turn to your Lord. You indeed are rightly guided. But if they still dispute you in this matter, `God best knows what you do."

24.54. Say: "Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger. but if ye turn away, he is only responsible for the duty placed on him and ye for that placed on you. If ye obey him, ye shall be on right guidance. The Messenger's duty is only to preach the clear (Message).

88:21 22; And so, exhort them your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe.

48:28 He it is Who has sent forth His Messenger with the Guidance and the Religion of Truth, to the end that tie make it prevail over every religion, and none can bear witness to the Truth as God does.

36:16 17 (Three Messengers to their people) Said, "Our Sustainer knows that we have indeed been sent unto you, but we are not bound to more than clearly deliver the Message entrusted to us.'

39:41 Assuredly, We have sent down the Book to you in right form for the good of man. Whoso guided himself by it does so to his own advantage, and whoso turns away from it does so at his own loss. You certainly are not their keeper.

42:6 48 And whoso takes for patrons others besides God, over them does God keep a watch. Mark, you are not a keeper over them. But if they turn aside from you (do not get disheartened), for We have not sent you to be a keeper over them; your task is but to preach ....

64:12 Obey God then and obey the Messenger, but if you turn away (no blame shall attach to our Messenger), for the duty of Our Messenger is just to deliver the message.

67:25 26 And they ask, "When shall the promise be fulfilled if you speak the Truth?" Say, "The knowledge of it is verily with God alone, and verily I am but a plain warner."

The Quran(Koran) concerning justice:

"And among His signs are the creation of the heaven and earth, and the variation in your language and your colors; verily in that are signs for those who know" (30:22).

"Satan seeks only to cast among you enmity and hate"(5:91).

O you who believe! Stand out for justice, as witnesses to God, and even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be rich or poor. An-Nisaa’ 4:134

"O you who believe! Be the maintainers of justice and bearers of witness for God's sake though it be against your own self, parents and relatives" (4:135).

"O you mankind! We have created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you know each other. Verily the most honored in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous" (49:13).

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety and fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that you do. 5:8

And thus We made of you a justly balanced community that you might bear witness to humankind and the Apostle might bear witness over you. 2:143

O you who believe, observe your duty to God with right observance, and die not except in a state of submission (to Him). And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and do not separate, and remember God's favor unto you: how you were enemies and He put love between your hearts so that you became as brothers by His grace: and how you were upon the brink of a fire and He saved you from it. Thus God makes clear His revelations unto you so that you may be guided" (3:102-103).

"The believers are nothing else other than brothers, Thus make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to God that you may haply receive His mercy" (49: 1 0).

The Quran(Koran) Concerning propagation:

Invite (all humankind) to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation and argue with them in the most kindly manner, for, indeed, your Lord knows best as to who strays from His path, and best who are the right-guided. (16:125)

Had your Lord so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained faith, will you then compel people, against their will, to believe? 10:99

And We have not sent you, but as mercy to all the worlds. 21:107

Islam is peace!

At 8/25/2007 4:17 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

Thank you, Mohamed, for your kind words. The Sunni and Shia remind me of the Catholic and Protestant of the Christan and the different ones of the Jews.

They call me an extremest because I folow my God, I do what is right and I love my God. When you love someone, do you not wish to be obedient?

Oh well. They do not understand the true struggle in this world. It is between Heaven and hell, God and satan. I do not fear, however, for God is in control of all things. He will not one hair on my head be harmed, and if it happens, He will know about it at that exact moment!

No one can know true Peace, not until they have the Peace of God. It is so sad to see so many people unhappy. It is by their choice, though. All I can do is pray for them and try to help them.

You have nice day. Shalom.


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