Saleem Ahmed, Ph.D.
President, Pacific Institute of Islamic Studies and All Believer Network.
This article is based upon the author’s book
“Islam: A Religion of Peace? (2008) (Moving Pen Publishers)

Often, Pres. Obama has found himself in the ridiculous position of having to assure Americans that he is not a Muslim. As if being a Muslim is a plague. Dismayed, some Muslims have reacted strongly and called it a “Zionist plot” to malign their religion. Muslims emphasize, “Islam means ‘peace;’ so how can Muslims be violent?” And to underscore how Muslims have upheld this responsibility over the centuries, they remind the world that, when Jews were persecuted by “Christian Europe”, they were not only welcomed by “Muslim Spain”, but some Jews, such as Maimonides, even rose to high and respected positions in society. Muslims also remind others of the “Golden Age” of the Muslim empire when Muslims led the world in scientific discoveries and intellectual reform.

However, while recognizing past Muslims contributions to society, non-Muslims fear some present Muslim actions – such as 9/11, Bali bombing, Nairobi murders, and Karachi carnage. The only “saving grace” in these indiscriminate killings was that several Muslims were also among the hundreds of innocent people killed. However, targeted killing of non-Muslims by Muslims also takes place. For example, Joel Shrum, a development worker, was gunned down in Yemen in March, 2012 on charges of proselytizing (CBSNews, March 18, 2012). This not only went against the Qur’anic injunction “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2.256), it underscored a latent fear among extremist Muslims that some fellow-Muslims might get converted to other religions by such proselytizing acts. As if Islam is so “fragile” that it needs to be guarded by violent acts! Even members of the Muslim Ahmadiya community, ex-communicated in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are also at times killed in this frenzy (Faiza Mirza, Dawn (Karachi) March 12, 2012).

While some Muslims believe Islamophobia prevails because non-Muslims fear Islam, I believe it is because non-Muslims fear “extremist Islam,” often perceived to be represented by the Taliban. Some of us might recall vividly Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan during 1996-2001: they reportedly implemented possibly the most rigid interpretation of Shariah law ever. Women were forced to wear the veil in public and not allowed to work or be educated after age eight, and until then, they could only study the Qur’an. Women seeking education had to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked punishment if caught. Women could not be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperon, thus resulting in many untreated cases. The Taliban reportedly banned music, shaving of beards, keeping pigeons, flying kites, displaying pictures or portraits, western hairstyles, music and dancing at weddings, gambling, “sorcery” and not praying at prayer times (Ahmed, 124-26).

The Taliban dislike for human images was demonstrated graphically by the destruction in 2001 of two magnificent statues of Buddha (125 and 174 feet tall), carved into cliffs at Bamiyan 1,500 years ago. This destroyed an archeological treasure and a major potential revenue source for the Afghan government. One wonders what was accomplished by this “act of bravery.” If they were trying to follow prophet Muhammad’s example, they made a serious mistake: Muhammad ordered the destruction of images of god. But in Afghanistan, these were images of a human: Shakyamuni Buddha, founder of Buddhism; these were not images of Amida Buddha – the eternal God. Similar to the Muslim belief, Buddhists consider Amida Buddha to be indescribable, eternal, formless, genderless, wise, omnipresent, and omniscient. So, it is impossible to create His statue. And regarding Buddhist reverence for Shakyamuni Buddha, it is similar to the Muslim reverence for Muhammad. Consider the millions of Muslims who visit the prophet’s mosque in Medina and pray for him.

Extremists should also consider: by destroying Buddha’s statues, what did they accomplish? Did the prestige of Islam “increase” and/or that of Buddhism “decrease”?

Then, there are other violent and misogynic acts of some Muslims that non-Muslims fear – such as stoning adulterers, throwing acid on the face of unveiled women, forcing pre-teen girls to marry old men, “honor killing” women on charges of “socializing” with strangers, cutting the hands of thieves, and killing those who may disagree with one’s views. For examples, zealots in Pakistan openly threatened to kill those members of the Pakistan parliament who supported bills providing equal rights to women. And during the Friday sermon on May 4, 2012 in Kohistan (Pakistan) Maulvi Abdul Haleem issued a fatwa warning that women working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will not be allowed to enter Kohistan and that violators would be forcibly married off to locals. He reportedly said that: “if women who are working in NGOs enter Kohistan, we won’t spare them and will solemnize their marriage with local men”. He further stated that it was against the teaching of Islam that a woman receive an education and use it to gain employment (Front Line Defenders, May 12, 2012). Earlier, another Maulvi had warned all parents not to immunize their children against polio because this was a “western medicine.” Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English daily, bemoaned that “religious opposition is among the biggest hindrances” for eradicating polio. Some mullahs claim it to be an American ploy to sterilize Muslims; others philosophized that efforts at eradication are against the Will of Allah (Dawn, Jan. 17, 2009). Thus, Pakistan remains among possibly only four countries around the world where polio has not yet been eradicated. Forced conversions, killings, and kidnappings of Hindus also reportedly take place in Pakistan (Fiaza Mirza).

Groping For A Solution

Instead of protesting against the wave of Islamophobia sweeping across many non-Muslim areas, therefore, Muslim should consider it a blessing if it can force them to look inward to understand how their own actions are contributing to this malaise. Merely saying these acts are committed by “misguided Muslims” is no answer because these “misguided Muslims” commit these acts by following some verses of the Qur’an and/or hadith. For example, here are some “reactive” verses and hadith (A) that extremists follow, and some corresponding “proactive” verses and hadith they ignore (B):

1. A. Intolerance: Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them (versed 9.5)
B. Tolerance: Let there be no compulsion in religion (verse 2.256).
2. A. Against Jews and Christians: Do not trust Jews and Christians (verse 5.51).
B. For Jews and Christians. You can eat and intermarry with “People of the Book” (verse 5.5).
3. A. Veil required: Once, Asma (the prophet’s sister-in-law and Aisha’s elder sister) came to
see the prophet wearing thin clothes. He said, “O Asma, when a woman reaches puberty,
it does not suit her to display her body parts except this and this,” and he pointed to her
face and hands (Abu Dawood 4092). (Note: Since the Qur’an provides no clear-cut
instruction on veiling, this is the most often-cited sacred guidance used in support of

B. Unveiled: During the Battle of the Camels (656 C.E.), Aisha, the prophet’s widow, led her
army against Caliph Ali unveiled (Source: Alim: Ali bin Talib, “The Battle of the Camels”).

4. A. Death for adultery: Muhammad ordered an unmarried Jewish couple found
committing adultery to be stoned to death. (Al-Muwatta 41.1, Bukhari 2.413, 6.79,
8.825, Muslim 793).

B No punishment for adultery: Three men had sexual intercourse with the same woman “in
a single state of purity.” Later, each claimed to be the father of the child born to that
woman. When Muhammad learned of this, he laughed so much that his canine or molar
teeth showed (Abu Dawood 932, 933). (Apparently no one was punished).

Dilemma Muslims Face
Thus, on what basis can we challenge extremist Muslim behavior? One could applaud their actions – even suicide bombing – as a reflection of their unquestioned love for their religion: their unquestioned submission to the “Will of Allah” as they see it. After all, they are unreservedly following the guidance they have been told represents what Allah commands them to do. Can we fault them for following what they sincerely believe to be the “right path”?

What is the solution? How can we deal with these apparent “mixed signals” in the Qur’an and hadith? How can we change Islamophobia into Islamiphilia? This will be covered in the next issue of the Muslim Inquirer (MCA web page), inshallah.

Editor’s Note: What should Muslim scholars do to extricate all of us out this dilemma? What can we do which could make President Obama declare “There is nothing wrong with Islam”? Comments/suggestions from readers will be appreciated).

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