This essay is written by an American Muslim to speak to my fellow Americans, as well as my Muslim brothers and sisters, to affirm the fundamental values of pluralism, tolerance, freedom, and human dignity. Taking the Qur’an as a reference point, it is possible to arrive at certain core human values that enjoin upon Muslims the responsibility to unequivocally condemn terrorism in all forms, support freedom of conscience, and to the best of our abilities make a positive contribution to our respective societies.
Why is a message like this of such pressing importance? We believe that what Islam really teaches has often been misunderstood and distorted. If the word ‘Islam’ gives rise to fear or mistrust today, it is urgent that American Muslims clarify what we believe Islam stands for in order to dispel the idea that there is a fundamental conflict between the best values of Western civilisation and the essential values of Islam. We hope to demonstrate that the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ cannot be supported on the basis of any inherent tension or conflict with Islam.
Stories in the news or media that portray problems and injustices in the Muslim world may give the impression that these problems are inherently associated with Islam. Injustices toward women, for instance, may and do exist and may even be given a spurious religious justification. A superficial understanding of the situation might lead one to condemn religion itself, unaware that women in the Muslim world are working to retrieve certain rights and correct injustices using Islamic scriptural sources.
Another example is the problem of violence. It is an obligation on all communities to condemn the use of religion to justify immoral or criminal acts. Thousands of Muslim institutions and leaders, as well as the great majority of the world’s billion or more Muslims, have unequivocally condemned the hateful and violent ideologies that kill innocents and violate the dignity of all humanity.
Who has the right to speak about Islam? If Islam has no Pope and no central authority, are there any criteria to determine what is authentically Islamic?