x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Moderate Islam must be heard above the crowd

The voice of moderate Imams is needed to counter radical groups that twist the word of the Quran to suit their own needs.

There was an understandable outcry as news emerged of the latest attack on a polio vaccination team working near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan because it represented another setback to the tantalising prospect of eradicating this devastating but preventable disease. But there was one particular voice that deserved to be heard above the rest: that of moderate Islam.

The past week has seen a surge in attacks attributed to fundamentalist Islamist groups, be it on the polio team in Pakistan, the murder of 59 boarding school students by the anti-education Boko Haram group in Nigeria, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) live-tweeting the amputation of the hand of a man they accused of stealing in Maskanah, near Aleppo.

The factors leading to each of these events tend to be murkier than at first sight. It is possible the Pakistan attackers were targeting the government security detail rather than the polio team, for example, while Boko Haram’s stated focus on fighting western education and imposing its Sharia equivalent is intrinsically mixed up with Nigeria’s tribalism and politics. ISIL’s actions have to be seen in the context of its battle for supremacy against other jihadist groups in Syria, moderate opposition groups and the Assad regime itself.

What is clear, however, is that these incidents are abhorrent to right-thinking people but justified by the perpetrators as adhering to their interpretation of Islam. When a programme with such obvious merit as the polio eradication scheme can be attacked because of paranoid assertions that it is a secret scheme to sterilise Muslim children, it seems clear that simply asserting the science behind it is not going to work.

This is why Muslim scholars have a responsibility to make their voices heard above the rest, using their learning to contend that such acts of violence are at odds with the message of Islam rather than upholding it. In this context, moderate imams who choose to stay silent when the Quran’s words are being twisted to suit the radicals’ agenda are not fulfilling their duty as those who have devoted their lives to studying the fine meaning of Islam.

Speaking up will add a learned voice to counter those who justify the murder of medical professionals working for a better world or schoolchildren sleeping in their beds, making it clear this is not the way of Islam.