All too frequently in the post 9/11 era, the religion of Islam is often associated with violence, attacks, suicide bombers or despotic practices especially by people in the West who are unfamiliar with the religion of Islam and the way of life that it entails. Given this picture, concepts like liberty, democracy, freedom of speech are considered to be wholly inconsistent with Islam. This is surely a misrepresentation of Islam, since like all of the three Abrahamic religions, it is based on the concepts of love and peace. The word Islam itself is derived from the Arabic word “slm” which means peace.
While some schools of Islam are said to represent the so-called radical Islam, as a matter of fact, there is no such concept. Radicalism, whether it belongs to a religious group, a political party or an entire ideology is the regrettable extreme of any school of thought or philosophy while Islam is a compassionate religion that embraces all humankind with love and affection.
Any group or organization which expresses extreme notions or concepts in fact is not acting in compliance with the spirit of Islam. Consequently, these groups or organizations suffer from erroneous misconceptions. God commands us to treat People of the Book (Christians and Jews) with compassion. In the Koran God says;
“Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way…”[Koran; 29:46]
The erroneous approaches of radical groups mainly stem from ignorance. Thus, it is important to reach out to them since whether in Islam or in any other religion or even in matters of political ideology, radicalism can never bring any good to people. Using this precise information, it is then possible to discern between what is normal and deviant. There is only Islam and there are Muslims. The source of Islam is solely the Koran. Thus, being a Muslim means to abide by the teaching of the Koran. Yes, there is the concept of jihad in Islam. But the word “jihad” means “to strive, to make effort”. It is to approach people with love and compassion and to convince them with scientific and intellectual evidence, it is to communicate the love of God, the magnificence of the Koran and its righteous aspects. That is the “jihad” as defined in the Koran, in Islam; it does not entail beating someone about the head or sending forth suicide bombers to massacre people during their afternoon commute or to pour bombs upon innocent people, women and children. Islam definitely forbids such attempts. The only fighting permitted in the Koran is an intellectual struggle and the only time Islam permits war is when it is purely a last resort left as a self-defense mechanism.
The most important thing to be done against radicalism is to educate people. There is one Islam that the Companions of the Prophet Mohammed had lived by, the understanding of Islam as defined by the Koran. This is the understanding of love, the understanding of compassion, the understanding of friendship which embraces the whole world. And there is another–and false–understanding of Islam which is commonly known in the West, one that is espoused by the bigots, which in fact has nothing to do with Islam. In this erroneous belief, there is misogyny, there is a lack of love, there is killing people for almost anything, there is injuring people by beating them, there is lack of trust in general towards people, there is hatred towards Jews, there is hatred towards Christians, there is hatred towards the irreligious and atheists, even towards different schools of Islam. These people are totally divorced from the Koran and they do not practice what God commands them to. In truth a Muslim, living by the true tenets of Islam, should be compassionate towards everyone, towards every belief. Everyone should be approached compassionately.
It is entirely possible to have people live as brothers and sisters in a world without wars, without shedding blood, without shrill protests, without hurting anyone and this is only possible with unity among people regardless of their faith, races or nations.
It is bigotry and radicalism that the Western world is afraid of, and bigotry is very common and in fact people are quite right to be afraid of radicalism according to their mindset; people in the West have justifiable reasons to be leery of this radical mindset that demands hatred and nothing else. Some people in the U.S. associate Islam with 9/11 attacks, even though in point-of-fact Islam forbids terrorism. A majority of what people are shown in the U.S. media portrays Muslims in a very negative fashion. If what people see continuously being presented is negative portrayals and stereotypes, it is inevitable for them to feel fear.
What should be done is to make this distinction and to educate people so that they see the truth about Islam. What the U.S., Israel and other Western countries should do is to highlight the voice of Muslims who truly believe and abide by the Koran so that the general population will see the true teachings and peaceful nature of Islam. This can be attained through the media. This is what we are trying to do. We are making radio broadcasts and TV shows called “Building Bridges” (http://bit.ly/NYvG5V). Not long ago, we were interviewed on a live radio broadcast and made comments about the recent conflicts between Israel and Palestine, and we’ve consistently given messages of peace. Our articles are being published in the Western and Israeli media. Our radio interviews with US nationally syndicated shows were broadcast, including the Israeli one. We have many other connections with foreign media. Through such efforts we want the world to see that Islam is the solution and that it establishes the foundation of a peaceful world with its understanding of freedom, democracy, peace and beauty.
Radicalism is more harmful to Islam than any other ideology. By presenting the real face of Islam, by encouraging their activities and by taking place side by side with Muslims in all social aspects of life, it is possible to have people see the truth. If that can be accomplished, the bigoted and radical mindset will disappear. It is the time for the world to wake up to these facts and to reach out and build bridges with their brothers and sisters in the Muslim World and thus see the truth of Islam.
If the Western and Israeli media can make it possible to have our voices heard through them, we can then explain to people the dangers of radicalism and how radicalism stands in contrast to the true message of Islam, and thus educate people and be able to stride forth in the spirit of cooperation and mutual love and respect and build a better world for those who come after us.