The claim that Muslims have not condemned violence in the name of Islam continues to be made ad infinitum, despite its falsity and the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But those who wish to smear Islam and Muslims still make waves in the public domain because the voices of moderation within the Muslim community are largely ignored by the mainstream media in the West. Is this an old argument? Definitely. But it's a true one that must persistently be brought to light as long as various right-winged pundits trot out this allegation.
Every time Osama bin Laden or his deputy Aiman Al Zawahiri makes a statement, it is reported by most major media outlets. Yet, when a highly respected Muslim religious institution makes an announcement condemning terrorism as inherently un-Islamic (or introduces a new program to combat extremist thinking), it is hardly reported.
Case in point: The Deoband Declaration.
Never heard of it? Same here--until a colleague pointed it out to me as a statement released in February to little fanfare in the West. I do not remember anything being mentioned of this declaration in the Western press. In fact, when I did a Google search of the Deoband declaration to get more background, most of the sites popping up were Indian/South Asian sites. (Though Beliefnet did cover it as a news story) It should have been big news.
The Darul Uloom at Deoband, founded in 1866, is the most influential Muslim religious school in South and Southeast Asia. It is, in fact, the second most important institute of Islamic learning after Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. The statements, declarations, and fatwas that come from this institute hold big weight in the Muslim world.
At its "All India Terrorism Conference," held on February 25, 2008, the institute declared:
"[At] this All India Anti-Terrorism Conference attended by the representatives of all Muslim schools of thought organized by Rabta Madaris Islamiah Arabia (Islamic Madrassa Association), Darul Uloom Deoband condemns all kinds of violence and terrorism in the strongest possible terms."
Maulana Marghoobur Rahmad of Darul Uloom said, "There is no place for terrorism in Islam. Terrorism, killing of the innocent, is against Islam."
This statement should have a significant impact as many extremist leaders, including Mullah Omar of the Taliban, have claimed to be associated with Deoband's religious schools. With this statement, the Deoband scholars are trying to pull the rug of religious legitimacy out from under the murderous fanatics who have done so much harm in the name of Islam. They must be commended for it.
Still, this really should come as no surprise. Although I am not a scholar, all my reading of Islamic scripture and teachings have informed me that violence against the innocent is totally abhorrent in Islam. One does not need to be a scholar to fully grasp this understanding; it virtually screams out of Islamic teachings--if anyone is willing to listen. And I do wonder why it took the Deoband Institute so long to make this declaration, especially after the 9/11 atrocity was linked to so-called Muslims.
Still, the declaration has been made. But almost no one in the West--this author included-- even heard a peep about it. (A notable exception to this is Israeli columnist Bradley Burston, who made note of the declaration in his February 29th column in Ha'aretz.) This must change. Having said that, however, we must also realize that the Deoband Declaration is just another salvo in the "war on terrorism"--not the war launched by the West against Al Qaeda, but the internal "war on terrorism" that is being waged every single day within the Muslim world.
In his book, "The Post-American World," Fareed Zakaria writes, "Jihad persists, but the jihadists have had to scatter, work in small local cells, and use simple and undetectable weapons. They have not been able to hit big, symbolic targets, especially ones involving Americans. So they blow up bombs in cafes, marketplaces, and subway stations. The problem is that in doing so, they kill locals and alienate ordinary Muslims. Look at the polls. Support for violence of any kind has dropped dramatically over the last five years in Muslim countries."
And in his Ha'aretz column, Burston wrote: "In Iraq, in Iran, within the Palestinian community and around the world, jihadists are being reassessed for their excesses, for the direct and tragic harm suicide terrorism has caused Islam, Islamic shrines and noncombatants of all faiths."
And let's turn for a moment to this word, "jihadist." Muslims are turning against these diabolical agents of evil because they are seeing them for whom they really are: Not "holy warriors," but murderous agents of Satan. In fact, they should not be called "jihadists," and their acts of murder should not be called "jihad." Because if you don't know this already, "jihad" is a Muslim word about the struggle to do good in a world that constantly tempts us to do evil. It refers to a Muslim's inner struggle to simply be good.
So these fanatics should be called what they truly are: murderers, plain and simple. Some have claimed that the fanatics have "hijacked" Islam and used it for evil means. They have done nothing of the sort. To "hijack" something means to seize it "by force or threat of force." The terrorists have not seized Islam at all; rather, they have attempted to cloak their evil by the garbs of Islamic piety and symbolism. And their attempts have failed miserably.
And we in the West must help facilitate this rejection of the extremists. A first and easy step is to change what we call them. In the struggle against the extremists, words do matter, as deftly explained in a recent article on the misuse of Islamic words by Omar Sacirbey. And the Bush Administration has finally acknowledged this fact. In a memo drafted by the Department of Homeland Security, "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims," it said: "Regarding Jihad, even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have and damages relations with Muslims around the world." This includes using terms such as "jihadists," "Islamic terrorists," "Islamo-facists," and the like. They are terrorists, extremists, fanatics, murderers, and killers. Choose whatever of those terms you like. (I have another word for them, but that is for another column.)
I am hopeful that the tide is turning against the extremists and murderers who use Islam as justification for their evil. I am hopeful that they will, once and for all, be marginalized as Satanic agents sent to sow chaos and confusion on earth. I am hopeful that, as Bradley Burston wrote, "Islamist terrorism as an ideological brushfire is dimming in its ability to galvanize and electrify. If recent indications hold, Islam itself will be the winner." Nay, not only Islam itself, but the world and all of her peoples as well.