(RNS) A vortex of hatred is sweeping across the globe, from a nightclub in Orlando to an airport in Istanbul to a restaurant in Dhaka.
At its center are individuals who wrap their savagery in the cloak of Islam. But these terrorists — perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims — are a perversion of the faith. They do not represent the Islam beloved by moderates like me.
The Islam that we moderates revere honors diversity, coexistence, tolerance, justice and peace. We believe that the central tenet of the Quran — indeed the verse that is the very heart of the holy book — is the proclamation that God (Allah) made his followers “ummattan wasatan,” a “temperate” or “justly balanced” nation. Moderate Islam honors diversity, because the Quran says: “Had it been God’s will, He could have made them (mankind) all of one religion.”
In contrast to the severe laws enforced by some Islamic authorities, moderate Islam does not condemn individuals due to their sexual preference, because homosexuality is neither proscribed nor punished in the Quran. And moderate Islam is opposed to terrorism, because the Quran condemns the taking of innocent lives.
As a young man, I too was enamored of the path of extremism. Embittered by my family’s 1948 experience in Palestine, I was a radical who believed that Jews could only be my enemies and that cooperation with them was treason.
As I matured, I revisited the Quran and discovered its core message of temperance and moderation. At the same time, I opened myself up to seeing the world through the eyes of “the other.” I learned of the Jews’ victimization in the ghettos of Europe and in the Nazi death camps, and I experienced unexpected moments of kindness and humanity from them. I began to promote understanding, trust and mutual respect as an academic educator and peace activist.