The people in the United States who made the obscene video that enflamed the Muslim world and the people in Egypt who found it, translated it, and publicized it as the latest Western affront to Islam think they are mortal enemies.
They are not. They are allies in extremism.
The world is divided between those working hard to forge harmony among people of different religions and the extremists working hard to ignite a “clash of religions.”
It is up to the majority—who are coming together as the Global Movement of Moderates—to push back against the extremists of all faiths. We must counter those who erroneously believe that smearing another religion is the best way to defend their own.
And we certainly must condemn those who believe that taking innocent lives—whether it is suicide bombers exploding in marketplaces or killers of American diplomats in Libya—is somehow endorsed by Islam.
As an imam who has spent a lifetime studying the Quran and Islamic law, I know that Islam prohibits taking any innocent life. The Quran states: “No soul shall be held responsible for the crimes of another.” The Quran equates killing an innocent with killing all of humankind.
In the Quran, God tells us not to insult the beliefs of others, lest they take revenge by insulting God. God’s plan in creating and testing humankind requires Muslims to respect every human being’s right to accept or reject God. That means accepting religious freedom and all other religious communities.
By taking the bait offered by extremist Islamophobes, we Muslims embarrass ourselves, reinforce stereotypes held by those who hate us, and sin against God.
In the Quran, God explicitly criticized believers, even the Prophet, for prohibiting that which God has permitted. We must bring that openness to protect religious diversity. We have clear instructions in the Quran that tell us, “to you your religion, to me mine.”
Threatening to wipe out Jews, or Christians, or members of any faith; or Sunnis killing Shia and Shia killing Sunnis, or terrorist attacks against the United States—none of this can be supported by the Quran or any holy book.
The first step is to recognize the enemy. It’s not Islam. It’s not Christianity. It’s not Judaism. It is anyone in any faith who would destroy and kill in the name of religion.
As we have seen, it takes only one extremist action to ignite a counter-reaction from extremists on the other side that lights the world on fire and undermines security and economic prosperity.
Opposition groups then use extremist reaction to their own ends, undermining government and pushing political agendas, some of which are hardline.
Just as Republican challenger Mitt Romney—to advance his own political campaign—used the turmoil caused by the video protests to castigate President Obama’s policies of positively engaging the Muslim world, political opposition parties in Muslim majority nations are castigating their governments for positively engaging with the United States—to advance their domestic political agendas.
That’s why Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak launched the Global Movement of Moderates to galvanize the opposition to extremist ideology in all faith traditions.
“It is time for us, the majority who are peace-loving and moderate, to reclaim our rightful place,” he said.
Western leaders have embraced his movement. British Prime Minister David Cameron told Najib in Malaysia in April, “I’ve been keen to share a platform with you on the Global Movement of Moderates.” Said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “We are eager to support [Najib] and other leaders to take up this call.”
This is a call to action for all moderates. The first step is to recognize the enemy. It’s not Islam. It’s not Christianity. It’s not Judaism. It is anyone in any faith who would destroy and kill in the name of religion. It is anyone who would deny a person’s right to the free practice of religion.
People of good faith in all religions need to turn their backs on the extremists who wish to divide us and not let them dictate events and seize control of the dialogue. It’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s our best hope for a safe, just, and thriving world.