Muslim scholars in the United States and Canada released a judicial ruling – or fatwa – last week saying that Islam condemns terrorism, religious extremism, and violence against civilians. A response to last month’s bombings in London and Egypt, the fatwa also reflects the gravity of the struggle within Islam between moderates and extremists.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al- Awsat, said she sees the war on terrorism since 9/11 as a small part of a much larger religious and intellectual struggle within Islam. She described that struggle as being waged between people like herself, who believe in a “more moderate, progressive way” of following a religion they hold dearly, and others who claim their interpretation of Islam is the “only true one.” And furthermore, she said, they don’t believe in pluralism and “hate anyone who is against the ideology they follow.”
According to Pakistani journalist and former ambassador to Britain Akbar Ahmed, even before 9/11, there was an intensive battle for the soul of Islam between what he calls the “inclusivists,” who believe there is more than one interpretation of Islam, and the “exclusivists,” who do not. He said the “inclusivists” are sometimes subjected to violence, threatened, or attacked in print as “Zionist agents” as he has been, rendering their mission all the more challenging.
For his part, Palestinian journalist Daoub Kuttub, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, noted that some Muslims try to justify violence in pursuit of political goals they regard as worthy, despite the fact that verses from the Qur’an forbid the killing of innocents. He pointed, for example, to the widespread belief among many Palestinians that violence against Israelis is justified because they are perceived as “occupiers.” However, Akbar Ahmed and Mona Eltahawy reject that rationale saying that violence against civilians, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, can never be excused.
Mona Eltahawy said, even though several clerics in Egypt have publicly declared that terrorism is against the teachings of Islam, she has little faith in their pronouncements because for too long they have played “word games” over whether suicide bombings are permissible in some situations but not others. She urged Muslim moderates to do more to get their voices heard. But Mr. Kuttub said the voices of Muslim moderates are often “drowned” by those of extremists. Ms. Eltahawy also recommended that governments around the world look carefully at those issues that have generated questions about the fairness of Western foreign policy, especially with regard to authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And finally, Mona Eltahawy addressed a question to fellow Muslims in the wake of the London bombings, “Are they doing enough to integrate into British society?”
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