Empowering American Muslim Voices for Reform

October 16, 2014

American Muslims have proven to be invaluable in countering extremists and their ideology. Yet, with the solution (American Muslims) imploring the masses to have their voices heard, there are very real challenges and obstacles for change. 

  1. Representation. When was the last time you heard a cacophony of mainstream Muslim voices on television countering the ideologies of extremism? The truth is, one would be hard pressed in finding a mainstream voice talking about Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, the environment has become a harsh one for Muslims where they and the faith are being talked about without representation.
  2. Irrelevance. For too long, the voices of the fringe extreme minority have been highlighted and the majority of mainstream Muslims who work for human rights and justice have been marginalized and therefore deemed irrelevant. The key to winning the fight against extremism is highlight the voices of the mainstream and maintain their relevance; the death for any extremist group is irrelevance and we must all work to marginalize their ideology into nonexistence.
  3. Perception of Muslims as a monolith. Muslims are monotheistic but certainly not a monolith; dealing with them as such only serves the myopic view that ISIS propagates when they espouse a war between the West vs. Islam. It is unhelpful for all to remain in this narrow-minded box that all Muslims think, act and care about the same things in the same way. In fact, in America alone, Muslims comprise the most diverse faith group -- there’s no way that millions of American Muslims can be lumped into seemingly similar categories simply based on faith affiliation alone.

In the debate on terrorism in general and ISIS specifically, the voices of mainstream Muslims have either been ignored altogether or added on as an afterthought. What people fail to realize is that injecting the voices of mainstream Muslims and Muslims in the West in particular, is the key to defeating the barbaric ideology of ISIS and whatever copycat group that may present itself in the future. 

The unholy alliance of mosque and state in Muslim-majority countries is inextricably tied to Islam in the minds of the rest of the world. To that end, there must be a declaration of independence from the Middle East and Muslim-majority governments and ideological groups in order to ensure the progression of Western Muslim thought leaders to advance our fight against extremist ideologies. Certainly this isn’t a call for divorce from the global Muslim ummah (community); there are, of course, progressive Muslim scholars who are working for reform from within Muslim-majority countries, and we must help and highlight their work.

Reform from the West is not a novel idea, for decades, American Muslim scholars have written and discussed reform with the bedrock being the pursuit of human rights, justice, human dignity and freedom. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on reform coming from Muslim-majority countries at this point, and if we wait any longer, groups like ISIS will take us back to the days of ignorance; instead, we should be helping the moderate mainstream voices from around the world because we are afforded the opportunity to take the lead on this work. Because American Muslims and Muslims in the West live in societies where freedom of religion is, for the most part, upheld and respected, we have the unique opportunity to lead the reformation without fear of an autocratic or tyrannical regime cracking down on our ideas. In fact, since the 1960s American Muslim leaders like Dr. Fathi Osman wrote about extremism being the foremost immediate threat to Muslims. Further, leaders like Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadlone of the leading authorities on Islamic law and Dr. Maher Hathout, the grandfather of the American Muslim identity, have identified freedom and human rights as the fulcrum of Sharia -- the same Sharia that groups like ISIS hijack and twist to justify their own venomous ideology.

As American Muslims, we can work in a united front to combat extremism and reform the minority of Muslims who fall prey to the twisted ideologies of ISIS and the like. This idea is not novel; thought leaders and reformers have been working to this end for some time. It is up to us to give them the platform and highlight their work to ensure victory. 

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