Excerpted with permission of the author from a speech given to the U.S. State Department's "Open Forum" on January 28, 2002.

When we speak of the rising voice of moderate Muslims, there are two important points: that it is rising because in the past it has been the silent majority, and that it is an authentic moderate voice as a result of acting in accordance with the Quran, not against it.

These two points are critical to the policy-making process and therefore to America's image and interests in the Muslim world. There exists a healthy and eager segment in Muslim countries interested in dialogue and constructive engagement, and in serving as a bridge between our society and the Muslim world. This voice is central to a more effective and representative US policy toward that region. More importantly, former special envoy to the Middle East peace process Dennis Ross stated that one main reason for Oslo's failure was that the environment around the negotiating table sharply contrasted with the environment on the streets.

Seeing that our embassies have become more isolated from the masses, and our channel of information is more technological than human, and our traditional means of relying on foreign government sources is not always reliable, then understanding the moderate Muslim voices become valuable.

Some observations on the moderate voice are in order. The moderate voice is not an elitist or Westernized voice. It is not a lonely or persecuted voice. And it is not a purely secular voice. It is a voice of the Muslim mainstream, grounded in a Quranic verse: We have willed you to be a community of moderation (2:143) and in the admonition of the Prophet Muhammad to stay away from extremism.

There are Muslim extremists, just as there are Christian and Jewish extremists. That is different from saying, however, that there is split in Islam, and unfortunately, moderates are at times defined as those who are not religiously observant or they are fighting, even repressing, other Muslims. The focus must remain on the interests at stake: ending the scourge of global terrorism, promoting Middle East peace, and preventing nuclear conflicts. Consistency on human rights and democracy will help us in achieving these goals. The moderate Muslim voice does not acquiesce to issues of freedom and justice. It is the inevitable voice of the future.

The word reform is found in the Qur'an. In Arabic, it is called islah and is the root meaning of the word maslahah, which means the public interest. Intellectual giants such as Wali Allah, Afghani and Abdu are among the most notable that used reason to create revivalist movements. Wali Allah of India helped to re-open the gates of ijtihaad and condemned blind imitation. Afghani challenged Muslims to think of Islam consistent with reason and science. Abdu believed in educational reforms throughout Muslim society.

These same concerns are raised today with respect to the plight of Muslims as illiteracy, poverty and a lack of effective political systems create an environment that is more susceptible to criminal activity. One challenge for Muslims today is to shift from the paradigm of the colonial model, which perpetuates the notion of Jews and Christians as agents of colonialism. The perception that globalization is merely a tool of Western imperialism, closely reminiscent of the past under colonialist rule, results in antagonism, instead of efforts of change in Muslim society.

One concern over Islamic movements is the apprehension that they will come into power with an anti-democratic orientation. As a reflection of support for the status quo, the official US government response is to remain silent when these groups are banned from political activity. When that suppression takes place, however, the transformation leads to more radicalized groups. Prevention of dissent in Saudi Arabia led to bin Laden's eruption in Afghanistan and hence the formation of the Al-Qaeda. Banning groups anywhere forces them to go underground and creates a more radicalized current. Despite the fact that these radical groups are real and are ongoing, the moderate voice, while remaining alive, has not been heard.

When 500,000 Muslims rallied in Pakistan last October for peace and moderation, it was a footnote in the press reports. In that rally, statements against terrorism and for tolerance were made, yet attention remained fixated on the few who burned effigies. After Sept. 11, Muslims from around the world expressed shock and remorse over the terrorist attacks, ranging from a moment of silence during a soccer match in Iran, to candlelight vigils throughout the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Statements of solidarity with the American people coupled with condemnations of the terrorist attacks were sent from practically every Muslim country.

Lack of widespread hostility toward Americans and even many aspects of American culture is one feature of mainstream Muslims. On a more substantive level, however, is the yearning for self-government and freedom, a sentiment found on the streets of every Muslim city. To some, a form of Islamic democracy is a means to achieve those goals. The moderate Muslim voice is based on the need for equity, civil society within each Muslim country and on rapprochement with the West on the global level.

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