Taking Back Islam

Parvez Ahmed says it’s time to declare a jihad on extremism


| November-December 2005



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Image by Flickr user: radiant guy / Creative Commons

In the wake of the terrorist attacks that shook London’s transit system on July 7, a proclamation against all things extremist was drafted by a group of North American Muslim scholars and signed by some 250 Islamic organizations. It was not the first time mainstream Muslims had issued such a condemnation. In the aftermath of 9/11, a similarly worded statement barely registered a blip on the mass media’s blood-soaked radar screen.

The difference, it seems, was a matter of vocabulary. The authors of last summer’s document emphasized that their decree was a fatwa, or religious edict. And while no body or person in Islam can issue a binding religious ruling, the Western media in particular glommed on to the terminology.

Besides revealing a newfound savvy among Muslims about how the news cycle spins in the English-speaking world, the fatwa did in fact signal a fundamental shift in the way many Muslims have begun to regard the spread of extremism. “Before [the London bombings], people thought, ‘We have nothing to do with the terrorism, our religion is clear and it should be obvious to everyone else,’” Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told The New York Times in early September. “Now, we can’t afford to be bystanders anymore, we have to be involved in constructive intervention.”

In this interview, we talk with commentator and writer Parvez Ahmed about Islam, how radicals have twisted its central message, and what can be done to prevent impressionable Muslims from turning to violence.

Parvez Ahmed is a board member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which, according to the organization’s Web site (http://cair.com), was set up to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” His writing, published on the op-ed pages of American newspapers coast to coast, addresses common misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and, more recently, has focused on the fight against extremism. In 2002 the American Civil Liberties Union recognized Ahmed’s work with a regional Civil Liberties award. 

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