American Muslims Have a 'Special Obligation'

An American Muslim leader asks: Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam? Muslims

BY: By Ingrid Mattson
Vice President, Islamic Society of North America

 
This article was written in September 2001.


The terrorist attack on Sept. 11th exacerbated a double-bind American Muslims have been feeling for some time. So often, it seems, we have to apologize for reprehensible actions committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. We tell other Americans, "People who do these things (oppression of women, persecution of religious minorities, terrorism) have distorted the 'true' Islam."

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And so often we have to tell other Muslims throughout the world that America is not as bad as it appears. We say, "These policies (support for oppressive governments, enforcement of sanctions responsible for the deaths almost 1 million Iraqi children, vetoing any criticism of Israel at the United Nations) contradict the 'true' values of America."

But frankly, American Muslims have generally been more critical of injustices committed by the American government than of injustices committed by Muslims. This has to change.

For the last few years, I have been speaking publicly in Muslim forums against the injustice of the Taliban. This criticism of a self-styled Muslim regime has not always been well-received. Some Muslims have felt that public criticism of the Taliban harms Muslim solidarity. Others have questioned my motives, suggesting that I am more interested in serving a feminist agenda than an Islamic one. My answer to the apologists has always been--who has the greatest duty to stop the oppression of Muslims committed by other Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims.

I have not previously spoken about suicide attacks committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. I did not avoid the subject--it simply did not cross my mind as a priority among the many issues I felt needed to be addressed. This was a gross oversight. I should have asked myself, Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims against innocent non-Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims.

American Muslims, in particular, have a great responsibility to speak out. The freedom, stability, and strong moral foundation of the United States are great blessings for all Americans, particularly for Muslims.

Moreover, we do not have cultural restrictions that Muslims in some other countries have. In America, Muslim women have found the support and freedom to reclaim their proper place in the life of their religious community. And Muslims have pushed and been allowed to democratize their governing bodies. Important decisions, even relating to theological and legal matters, are increasingly made in mosques and Islamic organizations by elected boards or the collective membership.

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