As someone who used to call herself a moderate, I am now moving away from that terminology. One reason is a recent interview a cable TV talk show called Bilatakalluf.
On the program were two members of The North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) -- Imam Shehryar and Farooq Khan -- and the discussion was about ISIS and being a Canadian Muslim. Below is a translation of some of the "quotable quotes":
- "I honestly think the news about ISIS is extremely exaggerated – there are other interests fanning the flames -- we do not know if ISIS is Muslim or not, could be anyone."
- "When we look at history and the way the West has lied, it is obvious... I refer to Iraq -- this drama has been done before, so the reports we are getting are not credible as they are coming from Western media, which has a track record of being No. # 1 liars -- once you tell a lie over and over again it becomes credible -- look at the Jihad/Sharia hype?"
- "We must establish authenticity of the [beheading] TV clips -- it is a man wearing a niqab so how do we know whether he is a Mossad guy or ISIS?"
- "I have heard reports that some people living under ISIS are peaceful -- at least the Sunni areas are better patrolled."
- "Having a Caliphate is an integral part of faith. Every believing Muslim prays for a true Khalifah."
And on the topic of Canadians going for Jihad?
- "There are one million Muslims in Canada... only 0.13% have "allegedly" joined ISIS, and they have gone for many reasons -- it is a hot issue with media -- 150 Jewish Zionists have gone to Gaza for a one-sided slaughter."
- "Mossad had an integral part in creating Hamas. The PLO Al-Fatah meetings in 1960's were held in the house of a guy who was an Israeli agent -- a Jewish Zionist Israeli agent."
- "There are vested interests -- 1.8 million Muslims cannot be digested by the powerbrokers so they aim to keep the area troubled -- the grand policy of the West is to have rivers of blood flowing -- they don't say it, but they are at war with the Muslims. The West will keep propping up proxy groups so that the violence does not end."
There is more, but suffice it to say that this was enough. Today, that is the voice of so-called moderate Islam. This cable program reaches over 100,000 homes across North America. These are the voices heard in Muslim homes, where they have credibility because they come from an Imam and his sidekick who are well dressed, well-spoken and articulate. In one short interview, the two speakers had ensured that: a Zionist conspiracy is in place; Western media are liars and cannot be trusted; ISIS is not really dangerous; the West is at war with Muslims, and that the killing must continue to adjust the world population.
Is there concern that most Muslims will believe what was said on this show? Yes. They live within the "Box of Islam," where the majority of Muslims hide today, to avoid facing reality. They are not interested in discussion or debate; they look upon the best years of Islam as during the early Caliphates. This boxed and packaged version of Islam was first branded by Iran's then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who wanted to export his revolution in the late 1970s. At that time, the branding was that of a fiery bearded Mullah with an extreme message.
Since then this brand of Islam has taken on a modern, moderate look; it is "the new normal." Today, it is being exported largely from Saudi Arabia on the wings of billions of petro-dollars in an unobtrusive packaging. Case in point: There is a version of the Quran that is given away free at Dundas Square in Toronto, where the opening prayer has been tampered with. The original ends with the words "keep us on the straight path and not the path of those who have gone astray." To the "Dundas" version have been added the words "like the Jews and Christians."
This brand of boxed and packaged Islam has been so cleverly and cunningly marketed through the mosque pulpits, print media and electronic media that most Muslims do not even know what has hit them. It is beamed directly into their homes and hearts; they are not encouraged to dissent. This point was made by the Imam on the Bilatakalluf talk show: he said that Muslims should not speak out on Western media about sectarian issues or about violence within the faith. He went on to say that those Muslims who do speak out are liars desperately seeking the limelight. So most Muslims either stay silent or deflect the problems into conspiracy theories.
"Boxed" Muslims therefore now believe (among other issues) that anyone who does not toe their line of Islamist thinking is an infidel and will go to hell; anyone who leaves the faith by choice is an apostate (the punishment for which is death); homosexuals should be thrown off the highest cliff; Sharia law and jihad are benign; an authentic Muslim woman must wear a niqab or at least a hijab; every problem across the Muslim world is due to outside influences; adultery should be punished by 100 lashes, and that hanging and amputation of hands is justified.
Then there are those who have moved outside the box -- scholars, reformers and academics who, like me, are considered heretics but are still part of the faith. We do not accept the branded, "boxed" version of Islam that is trying to pass itself off as mainstream Islam. We believe that there are many paths one can follow and that there really is "no compulsion in religion" (from the Quran); that all believers are equal; we accept that there is special mention of "people of the book" in the Quran that includes Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, whom we must respect. Sharia law needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century; we cannot live with archaic laws any longer. Armed jihad is no longer valid. The Quran asks women only for modesty, but the hijab has become a political symbol. The Quran does not speak about killing homosexuals but prohibits lust; and beheading, hanging and cutting off hands should be abolished along with slavery.
The author Ibn Warraq says that "moderate Muslims" do exist, but that he does not believe "Islam is moderate." He is also not optimistic about how quickly moderate Muslim theologians will be able to bring about a religious reformation that will be acceptable.
What does this make us who are genuinely moderate: progressive, liberal or heretics? Whatever we are "branded," we will continue to speak out and light a fire under the feet of all of us: the reform needs to begin.
Raheel Raza is the President of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.