Moderate Islam's message

Outside editorial

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

As Osama bin Laden's call for all Islam to rise up in holy war against the United States echoes chillingly worldwide, it is heartening to hear increasing numbers of American Muslims denounce fundamentalist hatemongering. These moderates deserve strong encouragement as they seek to define their faith's proper place in America and to shape Islam for the world.

American Muslims have long been on the defensive about terrorism conducted in the name of their faith. Critics have accused them of resounding silence on the subject, a charge amplified because Muslims in a handful of American mosques voiced support of extremism. Now moderates are stepping forward to demand that their fellow Muslims in this country assertively and unequivocally denounce terror and acclaim democracy and liberty.

"A Memo to American Muslims," circulated by a professor at Adrian College in Michigan, is one such call to action. "Muslims love to live in the United States but also love to hate it," Muqtedar Kahn wrote. "It is time that we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy in the United States are more desirable to us than superficial solidarity with the Muslim world. If you disagree then prove it by packing your bags and going to whichever Muslim country you identify with."

Others, such as Ali Asani, a professor of Islamic studies at Harvard, have called on Muslims to be more aggressive in condemning terrorism carried out in the name of their religion. He has praised America as a setting that supports diversity of opinion within the faith, asserting that the different points of view encouraged by American pluralism are essential to the true spirit of the Koran.

These are emphatic pronouncements for an American community that, because of its very diversity, has not spoken with a unified voice. Muslims come to this country from all over the world. They have no clergy or hierarchy of religious leaders in the United States comparable with the American Catholic bishops to speak for them on policy. Their secular leadership, through groups such as the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, has focused largely on civil rights and has been embroiled in debate over the Mideast.

The time is ripe for fresh speakers to help refine the American Islamic perspective. The United States has provided a place for Muslims to thrive, and their ideas are spreading into the world, undermining what Asani calls the "exclusivist" and repressive version of Islam that has taken root elsewhere.

The strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan force difficult choices on American Muslims. Many are finding balance by openly supporting the counteroffensive against the hijackers of their faith while reserving the right to voice their deep concerns about the Mideast conflict - although some have decided to subordinate those concerns to national unity for the moment.

For these moderates, who regard this nation as the promised land for the realization of their religion's true mandate, now is the time to make a lasting imprint - not just on America but on the world of Islam. We hope to hear more Muslims worldwide pick up their denunciation of terrorism and drown out Bin Laden's foul message.

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