Threats of millennial terrorism by Algerian extremistMuslims; a plane mysteriously plunging into the sea with the lastrecorded words a well-known Muslim prayer; another plane hijacked byKashmiri Muslim militants; weapons of mass destruction unleashed uponChechen Muslims. The list is too well known.

Surely this is a season of demoralization and despondence in theMuslim community--a community which is equally horrified by acts ofviolence against innocent civilians and fearful of irrational backlashthat can follow such events.

The tendency of the public at large to ignore in-depth news storiesand analyses can only worsen the generalizing and stereotyping of boththe religion of Islam and its adherents both here in the United Statesand abroad.

Many in the Muslim community react in anger against the media, whichthey feel exploits hysteria via sensationalized reporting. And others,perhaps not quite so publicly, wonder what in the world has gone soterribly wrong with Islam and Muslims?

When the above headlines are added to the litany of negative imagesregarding Islam, such as the treatment of women and religious minoritiesas oppressed victims of the reviled "Islamic law," or shari'a, onewonders what then could possibly attract sane, well-educated, modernindividuals to this religion?

Indeed, Muslims, in the face of contradictions between faith andpractice, are frequently challenged to explain to themselves and otherswhere the understanding went wrong.

The answer to the question about what appeals to Muslims, both newand old, about Islam will not compete meaningfully with anything intoday's news. It is not seen as a hot item for consumption. The answer,too, will always be elusive as it is different for each individual, likeso many matters of faith.

But it is worth exploring when only one image of Islam seems toprevail.

Now that Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer, self-restraint, religiousstudy and fellowship, is over, we are reminded of the essenceof Islam that is rejuvenated in the believer's heart at this time ofyear. It was in Ramadan over 1,400 years ago that the Qur'an (Koran) wasrevealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia.

To Muslims, the Qur'an, referred to as a "guide and a mercy" isconsidered a direct communication from God to all humankind, aninvitation to the good in this life and the hereafter for theGod-conscious. As a text that outlines creed, refers to lessons impartedin wisdom to previous prophets (descendants of Abraham and others), andprovides guiding principles for how to deal with others based onjustice, the intention of the revelation is to lead humankind "out ofdarkness into light."

Sadly, many verses are taken out of context by Muslims andnon-Muslims alike to promote ideologies or political agendas. But, whenread in its entirety as a consistent whole, the appeal of the messagemay be better understood.

Detractors will point to patriarchal passages, or others thatdescribe tactics in warfare or punishment for certain crimes as evidencethe Qur'an itself is incompatible with modern life. While much of thishas been explained and reviewed in detail, the general message is oftenignored. Patriarchal interpretations notwithstanding, the Qur'an isconsistent in its denial of any hierarchy between people. It isaddressed equally to men and women, with acknowledgment of thecontributions of both to society: "I shall not lose sight of any of youwho labors in my way, be (you) man or woman, each of you is equal to theother."

The divine and original intent of the Qur'an has been obscured overthe centuries by layers of human interpretation, the most conservativeviews usually the most widely circulated and emphasized. Yet, we returnto the Qur'an as a source of faith and hope, a direct line from ourCreator, whose words as a living document are as meaningful andapplicable to Muslims today as they have been over the past 1,400 years.

Like all texts, it is subject to misuse and abuse and which callsupon the conscience of Muslim community to respond to and rejectmisinterpretations that result in injustice, oppression or subjugationeven if perpetrated by other Muslims in the name of Islam.

In the meantime, as we pray for our besieged brethren in Grozny,Muslims gather strength, hope and inspiration from the essence of thefaith which promises in the Qur'an that "verily, with every hardshipthere is relief, with every hardship there is relief."

Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a Los Angels physician and past presidentof the Muslim Women's League.