Recently, on a radio panel about Islamic sharia law featuring two academics from American universities -- a Muslim Professor of Islamic Studies and a Christian professor of Religious Studies -- it was frustrating trying to keep the conversation on track.
Both professors were preoccupied with "The Golden Age of Islam" and "How Christianity went through a similar crises" and other similarly irrelevant information. The real focus should have been: "What is happening in the name of Islam today and what do we do about the atrocities being perpetrated in the name of sharia as we speak?"
Unfortunately, that question was consistently being buried. For many Muslims and especially Muslim organizations, a discussion about Islam and Muslims usually ends up in defense and deflection. Rarely does the conversation focus on half the population: women. That is the crux of the problem. If women are considered only half-human, why dwell on their human rights?
It is our moral and ethical responsibility, as Muslims, to discuss and debate these issues – even though they may be considered "our dirty laundry."
But how are we going to get there when the only picture most Muslims want to paint is one of grandeur and glory of the past? One way is to take a step-by-step factual look at what is taking place in the Muslim world.
Approximately a month ago, more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in the north of Nigeria by a radical Islamist group, Boko Haram – which loosely translated means "Western education is forbidden." Since then, the terrorists have threatened to sell the girls as slaves, force them into marriage and convert those who are Christian to Islam.
Some of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were recently abducted by Boko Haram. (Image source: Boko Haram video)
Boko Haram and other extremists are who they are because they openly reject the values that make up liberal democracies as in the USA and Canada. These extremists have not embraced freedom and modernity: their aim is to live like seventh-century Muslims -- in patriarchal, tribal societies rallying against Western values.
It took the global media and world powers time to connect the dots; we in the Western world tend to look at events in Africa or the Middle East through the lens of the individual freedoms, democracy and human rights that we embrace.
Here in North America, education for both boys and girls is a given and taken for granted. In most Muslim societies, however, education for women has become a challenge, as we know from Malala Yousafzai's encounter with the Taliban. Boko Haram, the Taliban of Africa, are terrified of educated, liberated Muslim women. They prefer to keep women under a cloak of darkness.
Add to this a hatred for the West and its values, and you have an explosive combination of violence and faith being pushed upon innocent citizens. The question is, why did this happen and what do they want? Is it just about education? The answer is simple: Boko Haram has been trying to impose its version of sharia on Nigeria for a long time, and inaction on the part of both Nigeria's government and global powers has led to this latest horrific act of abduction.
This is not the first time Boko Haram has terrorized civilians and it will not be the last. Boko Haram's members believe that they are doing what God wants them to do. They justify their acts in the name of Islam, and Muslim leaders are intimidated into silence. As if speaking out would render them unfaithful to their faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The terrorists therefore feel empowered and emboldened to continue their horrific acts, while the world watches.
In a recent video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says, "These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims." It is obvious that Shekau's idea of liberation is to impose his own brand of Islam on the Christian girls who were abducted.
Many apologists among Muslims like to say that Boko Haram are not really Muslims. This is another easy deflection. Deflection is not new. When 9/11 happened, many Muslims said -- and still do today -- that the 9/11 attackers were not "really" Muslims.
But are we deluding ourselves?
Boko Haram leader Shekau, known as "Darul Tawheed," is an expert in monotheism. He studied first under a cleric and then at Borno State College of Legal and Islamic Studies. He states that the members of Boko Haram are following sharia law, so they are self-defined Muslims.
We can find fault in them for orchestrating horrible crimes against humanity, but we can never fault them for being Muslim. They can throw Quranic verses and hurl hadeeth (secondary commentary) faster than we can say "fatwa."
Muslims globally cannot remain under the illusion that because they put out press releases, or state that Boko Haram is "un-Islamic," or not Muslim, they can distance themselves from these crimes against humanity. This is dishonest. If they do not openly condemn Boko Haram and similar groups such as the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, they are by default supporting those causes.
Boko Haram is part of the same ideology that created Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. All of them follow a violent, misogynist interpretation of Islam with sharia as their guiding policy. They are wreaking havoc on both the Muslim world and the West.
The sharia that they follow is the sharia that the Sultan of Brunei now wants to impose on his people: it is hostile to women and minorities. Its followers want to persecute gays, bring back stoning and impose the terrifying apostasy laws that are a way of eliminating dissent.
Muslim organizations in North America who are followers of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology have encroached on our system. If they are really concerned about the abducted girls they must first reject the aspects of sharia that are creating monsters such as Boko Haram. This means an open and impassioned rejection of the cutting off hands, stoning, gender oppression and terms such as "armed jihad". This means asking hard questions, such as "how can we live in the 21st Century under archaic 13th century laws"?