THE BLOG

Reclaiming Islam

10/01/2013 04:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 01, 2013
  • Ghazala Salam Community and Government Relations Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida, Inc.

Recent media coverage focusing on the Syrian crisis has illustrated the rampant use of the term "Islamist." Many journalist and experts continue to freely use the term Islamist in describing the various factions and political proponents in the Muslim majority world. Historically, though inaccurately, the term "Islamist" has been associated with totalitarian, oppressive, and terrorist affiliations. This negative implication intrinsically vilifies Islam, portraying it as the enemy, therein creating the problem.

There is a legitimate disconnect with the application of Islamist and the context in which the term is used. While there is no such word as "Islamist" in the Muslim vocabulary; this terminology has been used to build an obscure image of Islam. If we had to define Islamist, it would literally be: one who is motivated to pursue the Qur'anic view of humanity in all aspects of life; one who serves humanity first, prevents harm and protects society. For at its very core, Islam prescribes the principles of justice and equity for peace and human development for all of mankind. Not to mention the very root word of Islam itself is derived from the word peace. The Qur'anic worldview is one that inherently places peace at the very foundation of all human development activities, the backbone of Islam.

Continuously placing Islam front and center of activities related to violence, extremism, or tyranny is grossly inaccurate. It actually relinquishes all personal responsibility and shifts blame on religion. This has created confusion and fear of the religion of Islam and its 1.6 billion followers based on misinformation, half-truths, and gross negligence. It speaks nothing of the millions and millions of Muslims, who follow Islam, strive to prosper with peace, justice and equity each and every day throughout the world.

The misconceptions stem from trying to link independent political, violent or radical ideologies to religion. This thought process is not only false but it is impractical and counterproductive; for example when we identify radical factions as "Islamic radicals" or violent extremists as "violent Islamist extremists," we create misnomers, because radical, violent and extreme practices go against the very nature of Islam. For Islam promotes and teaches humans to practice balance in all aspects of life with moderation and without excess to acquire peace.

As humans we are influenced by our culture and traditions; political, economic and psychological experiences not only shape our attitudes and behaviors but separate and divide us. Consequently our world views and religious views differ from place to place, era to era and cross cultures. Thereby continuing to irresponsibly link religion, in this case Islam, to violent and radical elements takes the world's focus away from understanding the overwhelming problems of both the Muslim world and the cause of its troubles. Not to mention, it provides an easy scapegoat for those looking to legitimize their illegitimate actions which are detrimental to humanity.

The critics of Islam say that at best, not more than 1 percent of the world's Muslim population might be extreme, radical or violent. I say, that those in the media, experts and Muslims themselves must stop purporting religion as the reason for radical, extreme and oppressive actions and stop this 1 percent from using Islam in placing a distance between themselves and their evils. We must look deeper to examine the real cause of their actions when the insight to follow the very basic values of Islamic principles is absent from anyone labeled or claiming to be "Islamist."

More so now than ever Muslims around the world must take a stand -- not defensive or offensive, but one to that leads to the path of education and awareness by becoming better acquainted with their Islamic values and heritage. We must first and foremost hold ourselves and others accountable. We must condemn the use of this terminology, whether it refers to groups in Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Africa, Asia or the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. Muslims need to reassert themselves, end this cycle of ignorance, spark the conversation -- or it will not be long before our faith is redefined to us by those with false authorities.

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