Be the moderate you’re looking for

Be the moderate you’re looking for

O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, though it may be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest ye swerve, and if ye distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Qur”an 4:135)

Washington, DC – In a 7 December op-ed in The New York Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali asked where the moderate Muslims were, and concluded that the very notion of a moderate Muslim majority was “wishful thinking”. Ali”s claims are echoed by many prominent commentators on the American right, and judging by the comments left on The New York Times website, by many average Americans as well. But the popular idea that mainstream Muslims either do nothing to condemn (or worse, secretly applaud) the outrages perpetrated in the name of our religion is not only reductive and misinformed – it is dangerously wrong as well.

The vast majority of the world”s 1.5 billion Muslims are indeed moderate, peace-loving people who reject violent extremism and terror. Moderate Muslims are all around us, from the attorney and husband of the rape victim from Saudi Arabia, both of whom expressed revulsion and shame at the decision made by Saudi Arabian courts; to the delegation of British Muslims who travelled to Sudan and worked with Sudanese MP Ghazi Suleiman to secure the “teddy bear” teacher”s release (and prove that the entire controversy was more about distracting international attention from Darfur than it was about Islam); to the literally hundreds of thousands of Muslim individuals and organisations in the United States and around the world that expressed shock and disgust at the events which Ali cites.

Ali conveniently omits these facts from her narrative – just as she plucks a single verse from the Qur”an, devoid of any context – in order to create a black-and-white fantasy world of Muslim radicals versus civilised Westerners. Yes Ms. Ali, verse 24:2 of the Qur”an sets out a harsh punishment for adultery – but verse 24:4 requires four eyewitnesses (an almost impossible standard to meet) and, more importantly, verse 24:5 states that the punishment should not be applied to those who sincerely repent. (So much for your argument that the Qur”an orders believers to show no compassion).

Ali may make headlines by writing polemics condemning Islam as a “backward religion” and “the new fascism”, but in the meantime Muslim organisations like the one I am a member of, Muslims for Progressive Values, will continue to quietly but effectively do what we can to counteract the hateful nonsense that regretfully is being taught as Islam in far too many places. Moderate and even progressive Muslim organisations can be found all over the world, but we are too busy working within our communities to promote a message of reform and tolerance to do as Ali asks and “rise up in horror” every time some lunatic commits a crime in the name of our faith. Nor should we be expected to do so. It seems that Ali would like me and my co-religionists to go about our lives constantly marching around the streets apologizing for the acts of zealots – but I will not do so, for I bear no more responsibility for these acts than she does.

Moderate and progressive Muslims are everywhere, but we are ignored and marginalised by the media and by commentators like Ali. It seems that in our modern age of sound bites and one-liners, strident if uninformed criticism will always outperform calm and reasoned debate. If Ali is serious about supporting tolerance among Muslims, perhaps she should spend less time penning distracting and misleading screeds against Islam and more time reaching out to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha, and Sisters in Islam. The only way to prevent the “clash of civilisations” from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy is to build bridges between our communities. Promoting a black-and-white caricature of reality serves no one – least of all the tolerant Muslims Ali can”t seem to find anywhere she looks.