The attacks on Christians in various parts of Sri Lanka by a radical Islamic group have rekindled the debate surrounding Muslims and radicalization. As a Muslim Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, I believe that reform must come from within. It starts by rejecting extreme interpretations of faith and welcoming legitimate voices of reform within the house of Islam. We need Islam that is viable in this age.
A study published in the Guardian lists many Muslim majority countries in which Christians are heavily persecuted, a finding that should appal all Muslims. The targeting of Christian citizens and demolition or banning of construction of churches needs to change.
With such conversations, the obvious must be stated. In my experience, working as an Ahmadi Muslim Imam, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not wish any harm towards Christians or people of other faiths. The majority understand their faith to be tolerant and compassionate towards people of other religions, and adhere to the Quranic teachings that call for protecting all places of worship, including temples, Christian churches and Jewish synagogues (Chapter 22: Verse 40).
However, it is also an undeniable reality that extreme interpretations are also being taught and imparted to the followers of the Islamic faith. Such radical understandings of texts prepare the ground for vulnerable adherents to be drawn towards extremist groups. In this age, social media sometimes make the task even more difficult by replacing brainwashing camps or fanatical teachers with online recruitment.
In our efforts to combat terrorism perpetrated by such Islamic groups, we have to realize that these are ideological movements at their core. A permanent medicine to rid ourselves of this sickness lies in thwarting them by a superior and more viable form of Islamic theology.
We know that violence and terrorism is often carried out in the name of “Jihad” or Holy War. We should reject any such interpretation of Jihad that calls for violence based upon difference of religion.
We know that blasphemy laws are often used to stifle the fundamental right of free speech. We know that certain schools of thought adhere to apostasy laws that pronounce the death penalty on those who renounce the Islamic faith. Such cruelties cannot be tolerated and must be denounced.
When it comes to treating non-Muslim minorities, especially Christians, many Muslim countries have a lot to answer for.
When it comes to treating non-Muslim minorities, especially Christians, many Muslim countries have a lot to answer for. Christian citizens and their pastors have been arrested in the name of national security. Some countries have banned construction of churches and many have forced hundreds of already built churches to be sealed. Blasphemy laws have been used to target and persecute Christian citizens. These are the kind of injustices that create an enabling environment for radicalization and the subsequent abhorrent acts of cruelty we have witnessed over the last decade.
Muslims understand that we need real answers to these very real problems. The issue of reform is being heavily discussed in Muslim circles throughout the world. Working as an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, I have participated in hundreds of such conversations.
The yearning for a peaceful and inclusive Islam can be felt throughout the Islamic world. Moving away from politicizing our faith, we need to understand that religion is a private, spiritual matter between man and God. It should never be imposed on people. In the words of famous Islamic scholar of late 19th century Mirza Tahir Ahmad: “Swords can win territories but not hearts; force can bend heads but not minds.”
We need an Islam that, like other religions, calls for serving God and loving mankind, not pitting people against each other based on their faith. We need an Islam that understands Jihad or Holy War in its proper historic context and rejects the use of such violence in this age. We need an Islam that champions freedom of religion and conscience for all people and does not force anyone to abide by its religious values or lifestyle.
We need an Islam where everyone is free to join or leave any faith and people are not targeted for their speech under religious blasphemy laws. And keeping in mind what has recently transpired in Sri Lanka, we need an Islam that guarantees the protection of all citizens, religious minorities and their places of worship.
These are the kinds of reforms that are required in many Muslim majority countries. Fortunately, such voices can now be seen and heard throughout the Islamic world. Now, it is required that they are emboldened, supported and accepted.
What is helpful is that these changes or reforms come naturally to many Muslims and in fact are supported by their faith. The majority of Muslims view their faith as a peaceful ideology that promotes coexistence and denounces religious violence or discrimination. As for those who practise and preach radical interpretations, we need to call them out and denounce their hatred.
We must not let them use the Islamic faith for their own interests.
Luqman Ahmed is an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Luqman255.