Moderate Muslims

I am tired of hearing you say day after day ‘the vast majority of Muslims…’. I wonder, would you include me in that category? I absolutely abhor the attacks on innocent civilians attributed to Muslims, such as in Bali, New York or Luxor. It goes totally against the teachings of the Qur’an and of our Prophet who laid down rules governing behaviour even in a full scale war, such as engaging with combatants only, safeguarding the enemy population’s food supply and protecting their places of worship. Indeed our Prophet prohibited causing death by fire, which no doubt informs why many Muslims consider bombing totally un-Islamic. But I have a great problem with this term ‘moderate Muslims’ you use, because you never define it. What do you mean? Do you mean a practicing Muslim like me, who believes in Islamic Law? Do you mean all those other than the type who blow people up? Or do you mean something else?

I am the son of an Anglican priest mother and preacher father, the nephew of missionaries working in East Africa and, I believe, I am as English as Tony Blair. Yet I have always considered my belief in Islam as a continuation of my upbringing rather than a rejection of it. I have not suffered an identity crisis because of my beliefs. But with undefined phrases such as ‘the vast majority’ and ‘moderate Muslims’ and the claims that are made on our behalf if indeed we are the people you mean, I seriously begin to question my place in society.

I don’t think a friend of mine was wrong when he said around the end of last year, ‘Now I know how the Jews felt in the 1930s’. Having secularized large numbers of Jewish people, speaking about them in a disdainful manner today is now considered unacceptable. But the parallels of history are there; Islam was revealed in a Semitic language after all, and our theology and law is closer to that of Judaism than to that of Christianity. As Muslims in the West, we wrestle with the same issues that Jews of the past did: integration or isolation, tradition or reform? And now, on the part of state and media, it seems like a familiar process has started once more. Like those good moderate Jews before us, we too must become secular, and nationalist rather than religionist. If we are not the moderates, we are talked about as parasites on the social body, burdened with a uniform law, contributing little and scheming in ghettoes, just like the Jews of the past.

I hope by ‘moderate Muslims’ you mean practicing Muslims and that you use it sincerely, rather than as a half-hearted gesture to avoid a flurry of complaints. Historically, Muslims were proud to be a voice of moderation. Compare the reverence with which Muslim scholars treat Jesus, Mary, Moses, Isaac, Abraham etc., to the crude and wrathful ranting of Christians against Jews, Jews against Christians and Catholics against Protestants throughout history. I fear, however, that the modern usage has lost its meaning.

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