Many imams in the West -- citizens of the United States, Canada and other countries -- use their pulpits to promote practices that go against democratic values and ultimately lead to terrorism.
Some call on their flock to kill Jews, Christians and "infidel" Muslims who do not adhere either to the strictest interpretation of Islam. Others justify the marriage of grown men to nine-year-old girls. There are those, too, who defend the spousal "right" of husbands to rape their wives.
Contrary to some claims, the type of clerics who preach murder and sexual abuse in North American and European mosques do not suffer from poor socioeconomic conditions and are not mentally unbalanced. Rather, they are loyal followers of an interpretation of Islam that envisions the establishment of a worldwide caliphate governed by sharia law. They deeply believe that the only way to enter Allah's paradise is to live by the letter of the Quran and the Hadith (the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed).
It is from such imams, most of whom are graduates of renowned Islamic institutions in the Middle East and Asia, that Muslims in the West have been receiving guidance. Key among these institutions is Al-Azhar, a Cairo-based Sunni center for higher learning, attended by students from all over the world. Its curriculum includes extremist content, such as tenets that killing "apostates" is a Divine obligation; that it is a Muslim's duty to humiliate female prisoners through sexual abuse; that adulterers should be stoned to death, and that Christians and Jews are the "enemy of God."
Many imams in the West are graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar, a Sunni center for higher learning. Its curriculum includes extremist content, such as tenets that killing "apostates" is a Divine obligation; that it is a Muslim's duty to humiliate female prisoners through sexual abuse; that adulterers should be stoned to death, and that Christians and Jews are the "enemy of God." (Image source: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons)
Whenever confronted by critics in the West calling them to task for spreading such violent teachings, many imams respond by cloaking their real objectives, saying that the texts should be read in the context of the time that they were written, and by highlighting peaceful and tolerant Quranic verses. Other clerics -- those who do not know how to tailor their rhetoric to Western ears -- openly admit their religious ideology's true intentions.
The infiltration of this ideology is reminiscent of the spread of communism and should be defeated similarly -- not with weapons, but by exposing its true nature and providing an alternative. The West first must abandon, however, the notion that radical Islam is an internal Muslim issue, any more than communism was a "Russian issue" that "the Russians" needed to solve.
Islam and Muslims are part and parcel of Western societies, and Islamist terrorism is a global problem.
In addition, the views of liberal Muslim scholars, who reject the whole premise of extremist, political Islam, should be supported and widely circulated. Among these are prominent intellectuals -- such as the late Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd from Egypt; Mohammed Arkoun, an Algerian who died in France in 2010; the late Egyptian Supreme Court justice Muhammad Sa'id al-'Ashmawi; Egyptian talk-show host Islam Bahiri; and the late Sudanese theologian Mahmoud Muhammad Taha -- all of whom have provided evidence, based on knowledge of the Quran and Hadith, that the "caliphate" is merely a project to colonize more land, as all the old empires did, and that the hostility toward Jews connected to the Muhammed's battle with the Banu Qurayza in the 7th century should have ended long ago.
Muslim innovators abound in the West, as well, and should be the ones establishing mosques, educational institutions and media outlets, to provide followers with an alternative to political Islamism. Finally, imams in Western countries must be held to the same standard as members of other professions. They should be required to receive occupational licenses, based on criteria determined by the state, in conjunction with modern Muslims seeking a peaceful life and the ability to integrate into their societies without fear of repercussions at the hands of fundamentalists.
Saied Shoaaib is a Muslim writer and researcher, specializing in Islamic movements. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org