Some Muslims have decided that burning cities in defense of a prophet's teachings, which none of them seem willing to practice, is preferable to participating in rational debate about the myths and realities of a religion whose worst enemies are increasingly its own adherents.
This week's events should compel those of us who claim Islam as our system of philosophical guidance to ask hard questions of ourselves in order to revive the religion's essential foundation: justice, peaceful and tolerant coexistence, compassion, the search for knowledge and unwavering faith in the unity of God.
I am an American by birth and a Muslim by faith. For many of my American friends, I am a voice of reason in a sea of Islamist darkness, while many Muslims have called me an "Uncle Tom" for ingratiating myself with the vested interests they seek to destroy through their violence. Mostly, though, I try not to ignore the harsh realities the followers of my religion are often unwilling to face.
The first truth is that most Muslim ideologues are hypocrites. What has Osama bin Laden done for the victims of the 2004 tsunami or the shattered families who lost everything in the Pakistani earthquake last year? He did not build one school, offer one loaf of bread or pay for one vaccination. And yet he, not the devout Muslim doctors from California and Iowa who repair broken limbs and lives in the snowy peaks of Kashmir, speaks the loudest for what Muslims allegedly stand for. He has succeeded in presenting himself as the defender of Islam's poor, and the Western media has taken his jihadist message all the way to the bank.
The hypocrisy only starts there. Muslims and Arabs have done pitifully little to help improve the capacity of the Palestinian people to be good neighbors to their Israeli brethren. Take the money spent by any Middle Eastern royal family at a London hotel or Geneva resort during one month and you could build enough schools and medical clinics to take care of 1,000 Palestinian children for a year. Yet rather than educate and feed Palestinian and Muslim children so they may learn to settle differences through dialogue and debate, instead of by throwing rocks and wearing bombs, the Muslim "haves" put on a few telethons to raise paltry sums for the "have nots" to alleviate the guilt over their palatial gilded cages.
The second truth — one that the West needs to come to grips with — is that there is no such human persona as a "moderate Muslim." You either believe in the oneness of God or you don't. You either believe in the teachings of his prophet or you don't. You either learn those teachings and apply them to the circumstances of life in the country you have chosen to live in, or you shouldn't live there.
Haters of Islam use the simplicity and elegance of its black-and-white rigor for devious political advantage by classifying the Koran's religious edicts as the cult-like behavior of fanatics.
Ijaz' essay is thought-provoking for both muslims and westerners, and an excellent tonic to news items like this one. But I would submit to Ijaz, who suggests that the West should tell the real story of Mohammed; that it is not the West whose responsibility this is. People are willing to believe badly of Mohammed because many of his followers behave badly--and do it in his and Allah's name.
Most in the West, as Ijaz knows full well, are perfectly willing to let a person--any person--believe in whoever and whatever he chooses. Tolerance of Islam has only become an issue since...well since Islamic leaders have made intolerance of the West an article of Islamic faith, and suggested that we should either convert to their way of thinking or die.
Alternatives like that tend to make "live and let live" westerners (especially Americans) rather testy. I think I said it best in a previous post:
I DON'T CARE ABOUT ISLAM except insofar that people of that faith want to destroy me, my family, my country and my way of life. For more than 50 years of my life, Islam and I got along famously. I completely ignored it; and praise be to Allah, it completely ignored me.
After September 11th, I no longer had that option.
But it is good to get these issues out in the open for the sake of both Islam and the West, and Ijaz' excellent piece is welcome.