Because we have freedom and wealth, we have a special obligation to help those Muslims who do not--by speaking out against the abuses of Muslim "leaders" in other countries.

In his speech to the nation, President Bush argued that American Muslim leaders and other moderates represent the true voice of Islam. This is true, and we therefore need to raise our voices louder.

So let me state it clearly: I, as an American Muslim leader, denounce not only suicide bombers and the Taliban, but those leaders of other Muslim states who thwart democracy, repress women, use the Qur'an to justify un-Islamic behavior and encourage violence. Alas, these views are not only the province of a small group of terrorists or dictators. Too many rank-and-file Muslims, in their isolation and pessimism, have come to hold these self-destructive views as well.

The problem is that other Muslims may not listen to us, no matter how loud our voices. Surely President Bush wants the moderate voices not only to be raised, but to be heard. American Muslim leaders will be heard only if they are recognized as authentic interpreters of Islam among the global community. This will be very difficult to achieve, because our legitimacy in the Muslim world is intimately linked with American foreign policy. An understanding of some important developments in Islamic history and theology will clarify this apparently odd dependence.

According to Islamic doctrine, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, no Muslim has the right to claim infallibility in interpreting the faith. There is no ordination, no clergy, no unquestioned authority. This does not mean that all opinions are equal, nor that everyone has the ability to interpret religious and legal doctrine. Solid scholarship and a deep understanding of the tradition are essential. But not all scholars are considered authoritative. Most Muslims will accept the opinions only of scholars who demonstrate that they are truly concerned about the welfare of ordinary people. People simply will not listen to scholars who seem to be mostly interested in serving the interests of the government.

Throughout Muslim history, religious leaders who advocated aggression against the state were usually marginalized. After all, most Muslims did not want to be led into revolution--they simply wanted their lives to be better. The most successful religious leaders were those who, in addition to serving the spiritual needs of the community, acted as intermediaries between the people and state. There have been times, however, when hostile forces attacked or occupied Muslim lands--for example, the Mongol invasions, (Christian) Crusades, European colonialism, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At those times, people needed revolutionary leaders; those who were unable to unite the people against aggression were irrelevant.

The question we need to ask is, at this point in history, what do Muslims need to hear from their leaders? What voices will they listen to?

In the midst of a global crisis, it seems that American Muslims are being asked to choose between uncritical support for rebels acting in the name of Islam,

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and uncritical support for any actions taken by the American government. Osama bin Laden has divided the world into two camps: those who oppose the oppression of the Muslim people, and those who aid in that oppression. President Bush has divided the world into two camps: those who support terrorism, and those who fight terrorism.


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