Religion and faith

The moderate Muslim: An endangered species?

There is an endangered species out there – strangely it is not an animal, or bird or plant but is in fact a human being – it is the moderate Muslim. Many hundreds of years ago, the moderate and modern Muslim was alive and well and vocal. It was they who engineered and flourished in the great Islamic empires of old. Education, Science, literature, astronomy, architecture, travel, mathematics and other spheres of knowledge blossomed and prospered under the moderate thinking Muslim. Today, the moderate Muslim has either died out or in danger of dying out. They are in fact under threat. And what is worse is that the threat comes from within their own community.

What has replaced the moderate Muslim is a pernicious breed of human beings who would like to be called the only true guardians of the faith. This invasion of extremists, vocal in their righteousness target the moderate or modern Muslim as being un-Islamic and are in fact the criminal hunters of ijtihad, thought, reason and rationale. It is said that they are well funded by the Saudi government who export Wahhabi versions of Islam for the growth of religious extremism throughout the Muslim world.

Look at any country in the world that has a thriving population of radical Muslims and you will find the Saudi’s behind the madrasahs, the mosques, the community networks. They encourage the development of powerful intellectual, political and other networks which explains how a small minority of radicals can influence and control large numbers. Sri Lanka is no exception. While radical Islam can be defined in many different ways (and of course they would never see themselves as being radical, but simply being true Muslims) a constant feature of radical Muslims is their arrogant self-confidence that it is their interpretation of the religion (Quran, Hadiths, Shariah,) that is correct. There is absolutely no other interpretation in their eyes that could also be Islam. How ironic that attitude exists in a religion that says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

While around the world Muslims like: Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, Tarik Ramadan in Europe, Maulana Waheeduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer in India, Khalid Abul Fadl and Louay Safi in the US, Karim Soroush and Muhammad Khatami in Iran are vocal and committed moderate Muslims, we in Sri Lanka have consistently lacked a strong moderate Muslim voice.

What exactly is moderate Islam? It is in short the aspiration for a society within a Muslim framework that will treat people with dignity and respect. Ijtihad, which is, independent reasoning to articulate Islamic law is used to allow Islam predominant place while allowing the mind to experience freedom of thought. A moderate Muslim is one who while recognizing the importance and necessity of faith, cherishes reflective, self-critical, pro-democracy and pro-human rights contemplation. In fact the two are not an either or option, but co-exist harmoniously complimenting all aspects of life in a moderate Muslim.

What we need are the moderate Muslims of Sri Lanka to speak out at every opportunity, give sermons at Friday jumma, write their opinions, in short not be afraid to speak their minds. Intellectuals, artists, performers, housewives, professionals, students, activists, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, salespeople all have a role to play. There is no qualification in being a moderate Muslim other than in believing that Islam is more than terrorism, gender inequality, intolerance, violent, rigid and judgemental. Islam is one of the few religions where the believer has a direct relationship with Allah. There is no necessity for mediators, no role for priests. Therefore, keeping quiet, is allowing others to speak for you. Taking no action is allowing other to hijack your belief.

It is important that moderate Muslims participate in the definition of what Islam is, instead of allowing others to define it for them. It is ironic but some non-Muslims who may not have Islam’s interest at heart and radical Muslims both have the same agenda – and the victim for both will be the moderate Muslims. While perhaps those particular non-Muslims would like to see a watered down version of a Muslim, similar to the nominal or non-practicing Christian or Jew, the radical Muslim would like to see only one type of Muslim – rabid, unyielding, and judgemental. This is therefore a plea. If you don’t want to see Islam being practiced in a manner that is inherently contrary to the spirit of Islam – speak up. You have nothing to be afraid. Your religion has everything to gain and you have nothing to lose.