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The Jakarta Post
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Speaking for Islam

  • The Jakarta Post

| Tue, March 4 2008 | 01:32 am

Thank heavens for polls and surveys, for they amplify the voice of otherwise silent majorities on the emotionally charged issue of Islam and radicalism. The latest poll by the Gallup agency in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East revealed that most Muslims said religion was important in their lives, but this did not mean they condoned acts of terrorism. Researchers attempted to capture the views of 50,000 Muslims, a sample designed to reflect 90 percent of the world's 1.3 billion believers.

Muslims may have just sighed wearily at the report, which was no news to them; the findings are more important to the public and decision makers of powerful countries directing the "war on terror".

The poll, by a reputable agency, should become a valuable reference to those hearing different voices showing a violent face of Islam.

Several lethal attacks on innocent civilians indeed followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., and they did involve Muslims. But most believers have said the perpetrators were either mad or misled. They expressed shock at the brutal realization there are homegrown terrorists among their fellow citizens and fellow Muslims, be it in Indonesia, Pakistan or the United Kingdom.

It is this majority of Muslims who bear the brunt of the actions of a few. Though they witness many attempts at a "dialog among civilizations", Muslims also see developments they fear will lead to a deliberate campaign of Islamophobia.

Provocative actions such as the printing and reprinting of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark and other European countries do not help anyone. Of course, prompt reactions only confirm perceptions of violent Muslims, and the unproductive cycle continues.

Last month Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was rapped when he said it "seems inevitable" that elements of Islamic law would be incorporated into British law, citing such spheres as marriage and finance. His comments were perhaps too forward for a society still largely ignorant of Islam (Islamic banking is a familiar option in Islamic societies), and indeed provided further fuel to those bent on thrashing Islam.

There will likely be more angry reaction among Muslims over a new film,Fitna, partially released for television in the Netherlands. It reportedly suggests that the Koran encourages wanton violence, and sensible voices will again be drowned out in the furor.

But the researchers at Gallup remind us that it is the voice of a billion Muslims we should listen to -- despite the bombs and the video-taped pronouncements that claim to speak for the concerns of the Islamic world; that claim the United States and its allies are the "real terrorists" and that suicide bombers are martyrs.

It is again up to the educated moderate leaders and scholars among Muslims to continue providing a balanced understanding of Islam, as already described by the Gallup findings, which merely confirm the disgust of the faithful for such twisted notions of jihad.

In Indonesia, such leaders and scholars have frequently tried to bring across the voice of most Muslims. But are they convincing enough? Seven years after Sept. 11, and more than five years after the first Bali bombings, we are not so sure.

It is no longer enough for our scholars to reiterate that Islam is peaceful; nor it is enough for Muslim leaders here to be friendly with "radicals".

They must take on the argument that violent jihad against "infidels" is the obligation of Muslims and is ordered in the Koran. One reason that books on Islam and terrorism may sell so well is that many Muslims feel ignorant of their faith, and wonder if these hardline writers have a point.

Educating fellow Muslims and the world is a thankless and tiring job. However, it is crucial for drying up the potential pool of "jihad" recruits among the ignorant, and countering today's willful maligning of Islam.


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