Can we form a liberal Muslim?

“Minding one’s own business” was the brief definition of liberalism that I offered to a religious Muslim friend who wanted to learn more about liberal values. My friend, whom I can easily describe as an open-minded religious person, confessed to being a committed liberal, as long as nobody interferes with her religious belief and practice. In fact, however, the world has been confronting interference by political Islamists in other people’s lives, and not the reverse.  

The principal aim of many political Islamists has always been to establish a large Islamic dominated society! This proposition has evolved into a greater misunderstanding of true Islamic values and resulted in a less religious society. Our erroneous practice of Islam is the reason behind the poor image of Islam that many non-Muslims have. Muslims’ true dilemma lies in their desire to impose, literally, the teachings of our idealistic Holy Book on universal citizens. Actually, by working on ourselves as individuals we will realize the perfect Islamic society that we desire – without using force.

“Whoever wills, let him believe. And whoever wills, let him disbelieve”; “Whoever is guided is only guided for the benefit of himself” are two explicit verses from the Quran explaining that to believe is a personal, liberal choice made by individuals for their own individual benefit! The widespread implementation of these verses would enable Muslims to improve their lives and establish a progressive Muslim society based on constructing an informed Muslim character. Unfortunately, Muslims are culturally more concerned with preaching to others than with leading righteous lives.  

“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” This Hadith suits political Islamists perfectly; it offers them the option to change evil “by hand”, interpreted, in our era, to mean “by violent means”. It does not occur to many Muslims to question whether they are sufficiently knowledgeable to define evil prior to applying the Hadith (or whether they might be the evil that needs to be changed) – changing evil with the heart might better suite today’s era.  

Meanwhile, one of the core values of Islam is to work hard and eventually reap the reward: “As for those who believe and lead a righteous life, we will not waste the reward of those who work righteousness” (Verses from the Quran).  Nevertheless, this fundamental principle of Islam is completely neglected by the vast majority of Muslim citizens who are known for their reckless attitude to work. We falsely believe that access to Heaven is gained mainly through praying and preaching, completely ignoring the value of working hard to build a better life.

In the present era, Muslim preaching is intermingled with our assorted commercial and political desires. Many preachers tend to have an agenda; they believe that they will obtain additional ‘credits’ by converting more people to Islam. We are the second largest religion in the world and our rapid population growth means that we will be the largest in a few decades. However, and driven by our ignorance, we are certainly the most illiterate, poorest and miserable societies on Earth.  

Some argue that liberalism is about individual evolution while Islam is about building a coherent society. The faults of Muslims are to blame for the failure to build this society and not, as many claim, a conspiracy by non-Muslims against us. A large portion of the Muslim community is ignorant and misinterprets many of our Islamic values, while Islamists who want to manipulate our religion to serve their private agendas are the true enemies of Islam – this is the present reality and the challenge that Muslims must address immediately.

To establish a genuinely virtuous Islamic society, we Muslims need to adhere to the values of our religion by simply working on ourselves: “And say my Lord increase me in knowledge”; “And speak to people kindly” (verses from the Quran). Advancing our individual knowledge and being kind to people should be our present and future mission. Liberalism is the best approach that will prompt us to better address our individual weaknesses; only by being truly good Muslims will we realize our desired coherent Muslim society. 

Politicians need to think before they speak

“Islam does not belong in this country, Germany is shaped by Christianity,” the newly appointed German Minister of the Interior recently declared. His comment, factually correct, but politically inappropriate, was eventually contradicted by Chancellor Merkel, who stated, “Muslims too are a part of Germany; therefore, their religion is also a part of Germany”. Nevertheless, the extent to which Muslim immigrants are accepted in western nations will continue to be a subject of debate for years to come.

More than four million Muslims, 1.9 million of whom are German citizens, live in Germany. A large proportion of Germany’s Muslim society tends to abide by the German work culture, probably more because they are forced to integrate into the German work system than out of admiration. Many have truly ‘suffered’ by working long hours in blue-collar jobs in order to survive and to continue to reside in their adopted nation. However, this ‘suffering’ won’t earn them any degree of sympathy from German citizens who believe that it is the only way to make a living.

Merkel also stated, “I believe that we must do everything we can to allow religions to live together in peace.” Nevertheless, the clear majority of Germans – and perhaps white westerners at large – probably silently favor the departure of non-westerners from their countries. Westerners’ belief in equality and tolerance applies only to those of western national origin; newcomers, even those who have nothing to do with Islam, will always lead the life of second-class citizens.

As usual, international media highlighted the German Minister of the Interior’s initial provocative remarks. However, when his superior tried to mitigate his statements, her remarks were less prominently featured, hardly noticed by universal citizens – similar to the way in which Muslim terrorists’ threats to destroy the West capture the media’s attention while the true values of Islam (or any other religion) receive no coverage.

Culturally, western citizens perceive their society’s shortcomings as ‘natural errors’ that they tend to acknowledge and that some are attempting to rectify. The killing and injuring of 33 students in Florida by a 19-year-old American a few weeks ago was a horrifying accident for Americans, but it was not a shocking one; in the U.S., hundreds of students have been killed and injured in numerous school shootings since the 19th century. Western students’ killing of their schoolmates is a ‘culturally tolerated’ phenomenon that has prompted many Americans to consider arming schoolteachers to turn schools into well-balanced battlefields.

Meanwhile, Islamophobia is spreading rapidly in western nations, intensely affecting their governments and citizens. As the West happily acknowledges and provides media coverage to the arguments put forth by a few Muslim terrorists, ignoring the 1.8 Muslims who want to live in peace, it is no wonder that terrorist attacks by Muslims are perceived to reflect an obvious defect in our religion, Islam!

We universal citizens have become tenser, easily engaging in violence. Nevertheless, prior to blaming ordinary citizens, we need to look at whether our respective leaders have attempted to calm things down – or whether they are working to inflame conditions further. While I don’t see any direct link between the German Minister of the Interior’s comments and potential terrorism, his declaration, and many others like it, are certainly stoking social tensions and increasing intolerance.

For a few days, I wondered whether the German minister (who was fairly elected in the latest parliamentary elections and eventually selected by Chancellor Merkel to join her new government) was speaking his mind or whether his words reflect German society’s views and behavior. Then I learnt about a survey on this matter in which 76% of German citizens endorsed the minister’s declaration. The minister’s remarks may increase his popularity among Germans – but they certainly serve to split the world further and to make life more challenging for millions of Muslims.

Challenging the myth that Islam is behind the world’s problems

The presence of an Islamic element in most current international crises has driven many westerners to believe that the world’s challenges and crises stem from the religion of Islam. Political Islamists who often argue that, according to our holy book, Islam demands that we fight for our rights (“Jihad”) also back up this belief. This proposition, which has made western intellectuals fully accept the accusation against Islam, overlooks political factors and cultural issues that may have contributed to the development of current crises.

Although in our book, Islam prompts us to regain our missing rights by various means, the same book incentivizes us to exert efforts to achieve peace, mercy and tolerance. Moving from one set of advice to another depends on each Muslim’s interpretation of Islam, along with his level of education, his culture, and his nation’s political status. Our lives are shaped and driven by a number of factors; it is difficult for citizens to weight these factors correctly when they are motivated to act and behave.

Since the common denominator in many universal crises is Islam, western thinking pattern and logic conclude, falsely, that the religion of Islam is the clear cause behind these crises, while understating the fact that our forceful Muslim Arab culture drives many of us to act impulsively and immaturely. Not only do we lack good education systems; some of our school curriculums stimulate us to act violently. Additionally, living in a politically heated environment, amidst poor economic conditions, ends up irrationalizing many of our deeds.

Western politicians often want to pursue a shortcut by attributing today’s challenges to various reasons that don’t lay any responsibility on their shoulders; thus, Islam is often designated as the single common denominator in these challenges. Sadly, most western citizens buy into this argument and, unintentionally and foolishly, we Muslims are working on reinforcing this myth. Moreover, the powerful status of western nations enables them to impose their nonfactual understanding on many universal citizens.

Meanwhile, we Muslims are not exempt from blame. We insist on living within our own taboos and are unwilling to apply basic modernization to our patterns of thought and lifestyles, falsely believing that we are thus complying with the true values of Islam. We tend to be obsessed with the element of western interference in the challenges we face, conveniently forgetting that the initial spark was set off by us. Muslims who often believe that it is western nations who light this spark should blame themselves for allowing this to happen.

If we truly believe that a great deal of misinterpretation of Islamic values, along with other factors, motivate Muslim terrorists, then we should not be obliged to accept their claim that they are fighting on behalf of their religion. These terrorists attach the ‘Islamic value’ label to themselves because they can find no better justification for their actions. Nevertheless, terrorists who emerge from Islamic nations will continue to be a shortcoming of our society and a responsibility that we need to address.

Deliberately or unintentionally, the world is mentally trapped within the Islamic phenomenon, limiting its citizens’ ability to solve many of its challenges. We are presently confronting many complex crises triggered by politicians and extremists. The holy book of Islam is misinterpreted and misused in a way that better serves the current political era – and results in expanding universal citizens’ ignorance.

If we truly want to better address our challenges, we should think of alternative methods to solve our problems. From our end, we Muslims need to expend more efforts on exhibiting the positive aspects of our Islamic values – not by preaching, but by putting these values into practice, which the vast majority of Muslims certainly don’t do. Meanwhile, non-Muslims need to work on better visualizing the entire array of challenges confronting Muslims – not in order to condemn them for their behavior, but in order to understand their motives.


Why Does ISIS Always Succeed in Stimulating our Evil Side?

Terrorism is no longer an organizational structure with clear-cut disciplines. It has become an affiliation of evil; people from all over the world come together to express their anger and hatred by committing terrorist acts. ISIS has successfully expanded its terrorist activity across the globe simply by capitalizing on the dark side of human nature and inciting people to attack innocent citizens. Why has ISIS succeeded in spreading hatred while the entire world has failed to prevent its crimes or to curtail its efforts?

The recent attack on innocent civilians in New York by a Muslim Uzbek immigrant led American President Trump to re-stress his immigration policy of barring citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Upon learning that the Uzbek terrorist had come to the U.S. after being randomly selected by the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program”, President Trump also said lately that he wants to terminate the program. Will President Trump’s policies prevent terrorism in America?

Terrorism is on the rise, despite substantial advances in security measures worldwide. The reason is that a segment of society that is living among us firmly believes that terrorism is a moral act, that by massacring innocent citizens they will be able to recover their missing rights or to release their anger. We keep thinking of new methods and tools for preventing terrorist activity; meanwhile, however, terrorist attacks in western nations have shifted from complicated operations to simple ones – all it takes is to invoke cowardly people to attack a random group of innocent civilians.

Actually, President Donald Trump’s proposed policy of preventing large segments of Muslims from entering the United States will provoke more terrorist attacks. The threat that the United States (along with many other nations) is currently confronting comes from some angry, hate-filled residents who would like to get their revenge on society, or from external terrorist groups who disagree with U.S. foreign policy and work on inciting those residents.

“God is great”, the phrase shouted by the Uzbek terrorist, is no longer a novel terrorist statement; it has become a hackneyed slogan, repeated by large numbers of terrorists. Nevertheless, it is still the most appealing label that the media is happy to highlight – and it gives terrorists the satisfaction of imagining that they are abiding by their religious beliefs, bolstering their hope of entering Paradise! In truth, these terrorists are too ignorant to comprehend that, in essence, the fundamental principles of Islam condemn violence.

Billions of universal citizens certainly believe that the world is an unfair place. If we assume that a tiny percentage of these explicitly endorse the principle of “an eye for an eye”, we can easily conclude that a few million people believe that terrorist attacks are justifiable. It is easy to see that, out of this tiny percentage, there will emerge numbers of weak, sick-minded citizens who could eventually engage in terrorist activity.

Many nations have anti-terrorism divisions that are often a part of law-enforcement departments. They work to dismantle terrorist organizations and to identify potential terrorists – but they don’t have the ability to shape their societies and to persuade citizens to condemn terrorism. Furthermore, although it is clearly a universal threat, many nations tend to denounce terrorism less strongly when it is not happening on their soil. Sadly, the debate about who is a terrorist and who has legitimate cause to fight against enemies hasn’t been settled yet.

We live in an era where hatred has by far overcome kindness! The 9/11 “why do they hate us” question needs to be revised into, “how can we better diffuse their hatred”. We need to work on directing people to express their hatred in ways other than engaging in terrorist activities. It is the responsibility of governments and societies to identify both tense issues and aggravated people and to work on mitigating and softening them. Meanwhile, western nations need to think intelligently of new means and methods that can bring about a significant reduction in terrorism – beyond the physical measures that currently dominate their minds and are reflected in their policies.

Being a Muslim: a Righteous Life, Lived Tensely?

Feeling righteous while living a stressful life is a weird combination that exists only in Muslim societies. Regardless of our ethnicity, we Muslims are usually full of pride to belong to our faith, yet the clear majority of us live a tense life that is obviously of a lower quality than that of other societies. We should firmly assume responsibility for the appalling life we have fashioned for ourselves and are now forced to lead – even if a few external factors did contribute to dragging us into an existence where we must live under the label of “Universal Suspects”.

Islam is about peace, mercy and forgiveness, but our practices in daily life are sometimes different to what the book teaches us. Cultural and economic conditions, education, political status and many other factors unrelated to religion play significant roles in shaping the thinking, actions and behaviors of Muslims; these factors are what make individual Muslims moderate, conservative, or extremist (a categorization that has nothing to do with being either a well-educated Muslim or an ignorant one).

Irrespective of profession or social status, being recognized as a Muslim always raises question marks.  We are the universe’s clear and present suspects until we manage to clear ourselves – and attain the better status of “to be watched carefully”. This substandard categorization of Muslims is easily noticeable in the procedures adopted by the governments of the non-Muslim nations that we live in or visit, as well as in the eyes of international citizens at large. This miserable lot in life leaves millions of Muslims with a single advantage: the option to become more spiritual.

A true understanding of Islamic values should have better shaped us, but our ignorance and extreme emotionality are the primary mental barriers that prevent us from moving forward. Non-Muslims may perceive as extremist behavior some of the practices that give us pleasure and that we find to be rewarding. Knowledgeable moderate leaders govern most of the advanced world; in our societies, an ignorant Islamic extremist can falsely claim to be knowledgeable and easily assume a leadership role, harming his own society and many innocent human beings.

The clear majority of Muslim people did not create terrorism or even help in its emergence. Nevertheless, we, to the exclusion of all others, have been charged with this accusation. Sadly, the irresponsible and ignorant actions and behaviors of a few of us did contribute to the development of terrorism – resulting not only in the marginalization of Muslims in western nations, but in banishing us from their social circles altogether. We need to multiply our efforts to prove to the world that we are ordinary inhabitants of this Earth. A small number of Muslims has succeeded in this mission; the remaining bulk will live and die under the label of “obvious suspect”.

The systematic thinking of the West that is primarily based on cause-effect relationships can’t always be applied to our world, where hidden and indirect elements often contribute to the cause factor. Western scholars’ frequent calls for modernizing our book overlook the fact that reformist thinking is very difficult to implement at a time when manifesting a progressive mind requires enormous courage that does not currently exist in Muslim societies. Living a humiliating, ignorant life obviously prevents us from developing broadminded thinking patterns.

Although we all share a single source of religious teaching (the Quran), many people insist that Islam is the source that triggers extremists, disregarding the fact that the clear majority of Muslims are moderates who are simply overshadowed by religiously conservative and Islamic extremist leaders. I have observed many Muslims swing between religious moderation and conservatism and I know that their behavior and decisions are linked to countless surrounding factors and conditions, and are clearly influenced by their peers – meanwhile, our book remains our common religious foundation.

Our diverse cultures and the mediocre lives that we lead impose many things on us that have nothing to do with Islam or the Quran – a book that can be perceived differently depending on individuals’ understanding. For millions of Muslims, Islam is the last fulfilling recourse of value; attempts to attack it are simply undermining the only rewarding option still available to them. Working on empowering Muslims to live an enjoyable, responsible life will certainly help to substantially reduce many of the challenges we face today.