Threats of millennial terrorism by Algerian extremist Muslims; a plane mysteriously plunging into the sea with the last recorded words a well-known Muslim prayer; another plane hijacked by Kashmiri Muslim militants; weapons of mass destruction unleashed upon Chechen Muslims. The list is too well known.

Surely this is a season of demoralization and despondence in the Muslim community--a community which is equally horrified by acts of violence against innocent civilians and fearful of irrational backlash that can follow such events.

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

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

When the above headlines are added to the litany of negative images regarding Islam, such as the treatment of women and religious minorities as oppressed victims of the reviled "Islamic law," or shari'a, one wonders what then could possibly attract sane, well-educated, modern individuals to this religion?

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

The answer to the question about what appeals to Muslims, both new and old, about Islam will not compete meaningfully with anything in today'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, like so many matters of faith.

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

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

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

Sadly, many verses are taken out of context by Muslims and non-Muslims alike to promote ideologies or political agendas. But, when read in its entirety as a consistent whole, the appeal of the message may be better understood.

Detractors will point to patriarchal passages, or others that describe tactics in warfare or punishment for certain crimes as evidence the Qur'an itself is incompatible with modern life. While much of this has been explained and reviewed in detail, the general message is often ignored. Patriarchal interpretations notwithstanding, the Qur'an is consistent in its denial of any hierarchy between people. It is addressed equally to men and women, with acknowledgment of the contributions of both to society: "I shall not lose sight of any of you who labors in my way, be (you) man or woman, each of you is equal to the other."

The divine and original intent of the Qur'an has been obscured over the centuries by layers of human interpretation, the most conservative views usually the most widely circulated and emphasized. Yet, we return to the Qur'an as a source of faith and hope, a direct line from our Creator, whose words as a living document are as meaningful and applicable 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 calls upon the conscience of Muslim community to respond to and reject misinterpretations that result in injustice, oppression or subjugation even 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 the faith which promises in the Qur'an that "verily, with every hardship there is relief, with every hardship there is relief."

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

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