Be Muslim–But Only in Moderation

In his first 2004 presidential debate, Senator John Kerry began the night in the favor-of-the-day. Answering his first question, Kerry explained that America needed to isolate the “radical Islamic Muslims”.

“I have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror by … beginning to isolate the radical Islamic Muslims, not have them isolate the United States of America.”

At first, the statement sounded redundant-even uneducated. A Muslim is, by definition, a follower of Islam, and is therefore, by definition, “Islamic”. Saying “Islamic Muslims” was a lot like saying “American Americans”.

So was Kerry just being repetitive? Or was his statement perhaps more telling that even he realized? Are all Muslims “Islamic”? Well, the truth is-no. Not the good ones, at least.

More and more the underlying assumption seems to be that Islam is the problem. If Islam, as a faith, is in essence radical, the less “Islamic” something is the better. And thus a ‘moderate Muslim’-the much coveted title-is only moderately Muslim and therefore only moderately bad. Saying this would be like telling someone to only be ‘moderately black’ so as not to be too violent.

Conversely, a Muslim who is too “Islamic” is then by definition “radical” – a “radical Islamic Muslim” – and must be dealt with (isolated).

In fact, Mona Mayfield understood these rules well when she defended her husband – wrongfully accused of participating in the Spain bombing.

“We have a Bible in the house. He’s not a fundamentalist — he thought it was something different and very unique,” Mayfield told the associated press of her husband’s conversion to Islam.

To prove his innocence, Mayfield tried to downplay her husband’s commitment to Islam. She even felt the need to justify his conversion-as if that were his crime.

Mosque administrator Shahriar Ahmed took a similar approach to defend Mayfield. “He was seen as a moderate,” Ahmed told reporters. “Mayfield showed up for the Friday ritual of shedding his shoes, washing his bare feet and sitting on the carpets to hear services. He did not, as some devout Muslims do, pray five times a day at the mosque.”

The implication here is that Brandon Mayfield’s guilt or innocence was in some way related to how many times he prayed at the mosque. Ahmed even went on to assert, “He was on the less religious side if anything.”

These ‘less religious’ icons of what an ‘acceptable’ Muslim should look like can be found all over the media. Irshad Manji, media entrepreneur and author of The Trouble with Islam, is one of the most celebrated of these icons. Manji is widely published and has appeared in all the top media outlets. She even received Oprah’s Chutzpah Award for “gustiness”.

Although Manji refers to herself as a “Muslim refusenik”, the media refers to her as the model of a “practicing Muslim”. Daniel Pipes, a board member of the United States Institute of Peace, calls her a “courageous, moderate, modern Muslim”. But interestingly, Manji’s ideas have less to do with Islam than Pipes’ ideas have to do with peace. A Washington Post article describes Manji’s epiphany about prayer-the cornerstone of the Islamic faith:

“Instead, she said, she began praying on her own. After washing her feet, arms and face, she would sit on a velvet rug and turn toward Mecca. Eventually, she stopped this as well, because she did not want to fall ‘into mindless submission and habitual submissiveness.'”

Manji is welcome to her opinion about this practice of 1.5 billion people worldwide. She is also welcome to abandon any and all of these practices. But Manji is not simply depicted as an insignificant woman who decided not to pray. Her personal decision to abandon central tenets of her faith-so long as that faith is Islam- is portrayed as a fight for freedom. A fight against tyranny. She is ‘courageous’ and ‘gutsy’, a model for other not-too-Islamic Muslims to follow.

Making this the model is like asking someone not to be ‘too black’ or ‘too Jewish’ as if these were in essence bad or violent and anyone who struggled only to be ‘moderately black’ or ‘moderately Jewish’ was a freedom fighter.

For example, Manji told the Washington Post, “The violence is going to happen, then why not risk it happening for the sake of freedom?”

Yes. Freedom is good. Manji may have said it better. Kerry may have said it subtler. But a business management professor at California’s Imperial Valley College said it truer: “The only way to end Islamic terrorism is to eliminate the Islamic religion.”

But regardless of how you say it, one thing is for sure: when it comes to Islam these days-less is definitely more.


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  • muslimah01

    I Totally agree with you… It’s about the same problem here in France, they are trying to portray the image of a moderate Muslim, and are constantly criticizing that of what they call ”Islamists”, which really surprises me, because I don’t see the difference between ”islamist” and ”Muslim”.
    And of course, for the image of moderate Muslims, we have a large variety, starting from those supporting the ban of the Niqab, getting to the ”Muslims” who see that even the Hijab should be banned in pubic places. And those are the Muslims who are actually welcomed in France, because they respect the principals of Freedom of this ”happy” country. Freedom? Really?
    Anyway, May Allah help us unite, and be able to stand for what we believe without being confronted by our own brothers and sisters in Islam…
    Jazak’Allahu khayr for the Wonderful Article =)

  • I agree – it’s rather disturbing that individuals who only represent their personal (or political) ‘version’ of Islam are cheered on as ‘authentic’ representations of Islam. It’s very sad, but I believe also part of a deliberate effort of misinformation to confuse the public about what Islam really is.

    Another example of so-called Muslims being touted in the Western media is a group called the ‘Taqwacores’. Look them up, and you’ll see the absurdity and danger of this kind of popular acceptance of people who have very little to do with Islam.

    I think the main issue here – with regard to people like this – is that Islam, at its core, means to submit to what Allah wants from you. And these ‘famous’ people who go astray like this don’t WANT to submit – because they revel in today’s dominant, secular mindset of ego – where the individual knows better, and the individual is right – and nobody else should challenge that. In reality, that’s submission to your own ego – like ‘the one who takes their own self as a god’ (Surah 25 verse 43).

    This is why it’s so important for yourself and other Muslims who are actually ‘submissive’ to Allah – proper Islam and not some weird contortion of it – to write and spread the proper understanding of what Islam is. I think Brother Fadel Soliman (of Bridges Foudation – an international da’wah organization) is a great example of someone working very hard in this field.

    PS: If I may suggest, I think you have a typo – when you say “tenants of faith”, it should be ” tenets of faith” (common mistake people make because the words sound similar).

  • not only islam, every religion in its aim to become the best creates negative vibrations and thus leads to violence, tension, terrorism. so its high time we eliminate all the religion (impractical/frivolous but certainly the need of the hour. if there is anything called Religion then it is one. lets try once more for din e llahi.

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