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American Muslims Have a 'Special Obligation':
An American Muslim leader asks: Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam? Muslims
by Ingrid Mattson, Vice President, Islamic Society of North America
originally published on Beliefnet.com 

The terrorist attack on Sept. 11th exacerbated a double-bind American Muslims have been feeling for some time. So often, it seems, we have to apologize for reprehensible actions committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. We tell other Americans, "People who do these things (oppression of women, persecution of religious minorities, terrorism) have distorted the 'true' Islam."

And so often we have to tell other Muslims throughout the world that America is not as bad as it appears. We say, "These policies (support for oppressive governments, enforcement of sanctions responsible for the deaths almost 1 million Iraqi children, vetoing any criticism of Israel at the United Nations) contradict the 'true' values of America."

But frankly, American Muslims have generally been more critical of injustices committed by the American government than of injustices committed by Muslims. This has to change.

For the last few years, I have been speaking publicly in Muslim forums against the injustice of the Taliban. This criticism of a self-styled Muslim regime has not always been well-received. Some Muslims have felt that public criticism of the Taliban harms Muslim solidarity. Others have questioned my motives, suggesting that I am more interested in serving a feminist agenda than an Islamic one. My answer to the apologists has always been - who has the greatest duty to stop the oppression of Muslims committed by other Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims.

I have not previously spoken about suicide attacks committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. I did not avoid the subject - it simply did not cross my mind as a priority among the many issues I felt needed to be addressed. This was a gross oversight. I should have asked myself, Who has the greatest duty to stop violence committed by Muslims against innocent non-Muslims in the name of Islam? The answer, obviously, is Muslims.

American Muslims, in particular, have a great responsibility to speak out. The freedom, stability, and strong moral foundation of the United States are great blessings for all Americans, particularly for Muslims.

Moreover, we do not have cultural restrictions that Muslims in some other countries have. In America, Muslim women have found the support and freedom to reclaim their proper place in the life of their religious community. And Muslims have pushed and been allowed to democratize their governing bodies. Important decisions, even relating to theological and legal matters, are increasingly made in mosques and Islamic organizations by elected boards or the collective membership.

But God has not blessed us with these things because we are better than the billions of humans who do not live in America. We do not deserve good health, stable families, safety and freedom more than the millions of Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world who are suffering from disease, poverty, and oppression.

Muslims who live in America are being tested by God to see if we will be satisfied with a self-contained, self-serving Muslim community that resembles an Islamic town in the Epcot global village, or if we will use the many opportunities available to us to change the world for the better - beginning with an honest critical evaluation of our own flaws.

Because we have freedom and wealth, we have a special obligation to help those Muslims who do not - by speaking out against the abuses of Muslim "leaders" in other countries.

In his speech to the nation, President Bush argued that American Muslim leaders and other moderates represent the true voice of Islam. This is true, and we therefore need to raise our voices louder.

So let me state it clearly: I, as an American Muslim leader, denounce not only suicide bombers and the Taliban, but those leaders of other Muslim states who thwart democracy, repress women, use the Qur’an to justify un-Islamic behavior and encourage violence. Alas, these views are not only the province of a small group of terrorists or dictators. Too many rank-and-file Muslims, in their isolation and pessimism, have come to hold these self-destructive views as well.

The problem is that other Muslims may not listen to us, no matter how loud our voices. Surely President Bush wants the moderate voices not only to be raised, but to be heard. American Muslim leaders will be heard only if they are recognized as authentic interpreters of Islam among the global community. This will be very difficult to achieve, because our legitimacy in the Muslim world is intimately linked with American foreign policy. An understanding of some important developments in Islamic history and theology will clarify this apparently odd dependence.

According to Islamic doctrine, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, no Muslim has the right to claim infallibility in interpreting the faith. There is no ordination, no clergy, no unquestioned authority. This does not mean that all opinions are equal, nor that everyone has the ability to interpret religious and legal doctrine. Solid scholarship and a deep understanding of the tradition are essential. But not all scholars are considered authoritative. Most Muslims will accept the opinions only of scholars who demonstrate that they are truly concerned about the welfare of ordinary people. People simply will not listen to scholars who seem to be mostly interested in serving the interests of the government.

Throughout Muslim history, religious leaders who advocated aggression against the state were usually marginalized. After all, most Muslims did not want to be led into revolution--they simply wanted their lives to be better. The most successful religious leaders were those who, in addition to serving the spiritual needs of the community, acted as intermediaries between the people and state. There have been times, however, when hostile forces attacked or occupied Muslim lands--for example, the Mongol invasions, (Christian) Crusades, European colonialism, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At those times, people needed revolutionary leaders; those who were unable to unite the people against aggression were irrelevant.

The question we need to ask is, at this point in history, what do Muslims need to hear from their leaders? What voices will they listen to?

In the midst of a global crisis, it seems that American Muslims are being asked to choose between uncritical support for rebels acting in the name of Islam, and uncritical support for any actions taken by the American government. Osama bin Laden has divided the world into two camps: those who oppose the oppression of the Muslim people, and those who aid in that oppression. President Bush has divided the world into two camps: those who support terrorism, and those who fight terrorism.

Where does this leave American Muslim leaders who oppose the oppression of the Muslim people and who want to fight terrorism? In the increasingly strident rhetoric of this war, we may be considered traitors by both sides.

Nevertheless, we must continue to speak. We have to speak against oppressive interpretations of Islam and against emotional, superficial, and violent apocalyptic depictions of a world divided. And in our desire to show ourselves to be patriotic Americans, we cannot suppress our criticisms of the United States when we have them.

We have to do this, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because if we do not, the Muslim world will remain deaf to our arguments that peaceful change is possible, and that revolt and ensuing lawlessness almost always cause the greatest harm to the people.

It is in the best interest of the United States that we be permitted to continue to speak. In many parts of the world, those who speak out against corruption and unfair government policies are jailed, tortured, and killed. In such circumstances, very few people - only those who are willing to risk losing their property, their families, their security, and their lives - will continue to speak out. Only the radicals will remain.

Printed with permission from Beliefnet.com

 


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matthew, - wrote on 10/12/2009 10:03:00 PM
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Comment: salaam alekum....what are these "american values"? the USA was not founded on any sound values and it seems there was no part of history where the US government wasnt committing some kind of injustice, whether that was genocide, or slavery....can anyone tell me one moment in US history where the US lived up to some noble ideal?


Kurt, Canada - wrote on 6/8/2004 1:19:07 PM
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Comment: Salaam, I don't think you give North American Muslims enough credit. It is a blessing to live here, perhaps no test from Allah but a reward we deserve. It is also a lot more difficult than you state to speak out - it is even hard to walk in public without getting bothered sometimes. However, I believe we all try our best in moderation. Some of the issues you talk about also are subjective to some extent. Palestinian suicide bombers for example do not like doing such an action, they are forced into action by a world who ignores their pleas. I don't like the killings, but I cannot pretend to know what it is like being a Palestinian, subjected daily to humilation.I just think many Muslims have different feelings on these issues you bring up and who is to say one opinion is better? As you said, nobody speaks for Islam as a whole, yet you seem to have advice in which you feel is correct for us all to follow. I don't know. Yes, Muslims should stand for justice, but they should also stick together. I appreciate your article but it seems to divide us. I think Muslims have it rightwhen they complain about government and foreign polices here in North America. That is the root to a lot of problems. It's almost like you say if we clean up ourselves across the globe that somehow we'll get the respect we deserve and things will change. In Iran, things are changing already with the student bodies, without American Muslims doing anything. Ultimately, your intentions are good, but I feel you are pointing the finger in the wrong direction.


Sarah Mohtadi, Los Angeles, California - wrote on 11/22/2003 9:46:57 PM
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Comment: it was great!! i loved it


Wesley Song, Denver Colorado - wrote on 4/10/2003 4:34:41 PM
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Comment: Thank you for the responsibility that is placed on everyone's shoulder with your article. This goes for all the Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and every other religion out there. We can all blame the problems of our world on the extremists of all faiths. The simple thing is that those of us who believe that the fundamentalists pose the greatest threat to the world, we must make our voices heard as voices of compassion coupled with our deep sense of morality. Thank you for your incredible insight.


, FL - wrote on 3/20/2003 10:57:16 AM
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Comment: So...how do we start getting our voices heard around the world that killing of innocent people...be they Israeli or Muslim...is not acceptable? How do we get the so-called Muslim leaders who repress their own people to change?


Raid Mohammad, Austin, TX - wrote on 2/24/2003 7:16:28 PM
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Comment: {O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? It is most hateful to Allah that you should say that which you do not do} Sura 61 verses 2 and 3. In spite of the full effort war to demonize Muslims by special-interest groups, the damage that was done to us was self inflicted. We Muslims demonized our minority, week, old, and vulnerable long before our enemy ever defamed us. We marginalized the best of us, the progeny of our beloved prophet Muhammed (Allah’s peace and blessings upon Muhammed and his progeny), long before the Americans marginalized us here in the U.S. We defamed the school of thought of the Ahlul Bayt long before the West defamed Islam. We demonized the followers of Ahlul Bayt long before the West started demonizing Muslims. In the recent history, most of the “Muslim” Umma collaborated in the name of Islam to destroy the nation of Iran, yet twenty years later Muslims all over the world continue to be silent about it. We killed our inner self long before our enemy killed our heartless bodies. We Muslims demand from the West the things that we cannot achieve within ourselves as individuals, let alone between us. We demand from the west to treat us with white gloves, yet we bruise each other freely. Muslims path to salvation starts with full condemnation of the atrocities that our ancestors have committed throughout history against humanity in the name of Islam. Failure to do so will leave us to continue to be a floating scum. Although the examples are numerous to count but one stand to be the most horrific. In a few days we will approach the memory of the most barbaric atrocities that were ever recorded in the history of mankind. These atrocities were committed by none other than so-called Muslims. Allah say to us through His beloved Muhammed: {Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives....} Sora 42 verse 23. It is time to show some sincerity to Allah by showing some sincerity to His Messenger’s relations. The master of the martyred youths, Hussein, as well as his companions and their households, gave their lives to preserve Islam yet the majority of Muslims elect to pretend as if nothing happened, or worse yet, it is not for us to judge history. It is no shame on us that our ancestors committed the worst atrocities recorded in history. What is shameful is that we continue to sweep our ancestors’ dark history under the rug. What is shameful is to continue to defame the minority who never fail to commemorate the tragic event. What is shameful is to resort to demonizing those who rightfully state that Islam’s fate was only a matter of days if it was not for the sacrifices of the only remaining true Muslims of that time. Hussein and his family and his companions realized that the only way to wake up the Umma from its deep sleep was to shock them. This shock was achieved at the hands of the most brutal and most violent armies. This shock was propagated to us by the vivid picture that was painted by the captured grand daughters of the prophet as they were being paraded through the markets of Sha’im. Keeping alive one of the bloodiest stories is what kept this religion preserved. May Allah grant us salvation by allowing us to listen to the truth and ponder upon it. In the spirit of building bridges, I encourage everybody that follows Abu Hanifa, Shaffie, Malik, and Ibn Hanbal to take off your cocoon, put on the armor of bravery, and to look for an Islamic center that follows the true tradition of the profit (Allah peace and blessing upon him and his progeny). Starting March 4th, you can join us to commemorate and to learn more about the most barbaric crime committed in the history of man kind. Visit an Islamic center that follows the tradition of Ahlul Bayt to learn first hand from an Islamic tradition that was meticulously preserved through the Profit’s progeny, The Purified Ahlul Bayt (Salaamu Allah upon them). Sincerely, Raid Mohammad. ramohammad@hotmail.com raid_mohammad@yahoo.com


, Chicago,IL - wrote on 2/20/2003 10:07:44 AM
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Comment: I feel Ms. Ingrid Mattson's opinion is also felt by many, many American Muslims more than any are courageous enough to admit. JAK.


Taj-ul-din Bello, Lagos-Nigeria - wrote on 12/30/2002 11:06:28 AM
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Comment: I think Mr Ingrid id doing a good job let those who believe they know better than he does prove it knowledge is only useful if it is shared.


Taufiq Abubakar, Nigeria - wrote on 10/15/2002 1:26:24 PM
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Comment: Muslim Ummah will not accept Mr Ingrid as its spokeman as he always wish to be this is because there are certains stage of knowldege one has to attain before being identified as such. more of that is not the person himself would present himself but rather his deep knowledge of Quran hadith and huristics analyisis are some of the factors that qualifies him. if he really want to become that then the doors are open let him seek knowledege and become full shaykh


s, - wrote on 9/3/2002 2:21:49 PM
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Comment: This is an incredibly well-written and insightful article. May God bless the author for her courage to speak out!


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