Muslims respond in many different ways when they see Islam-inspired violence. Changing attitudes requires a range of responses.
Problems with radical Islam have been escalating during the last few decades and have affected the world in diverse ways. On one hand, the socio-religious-political impacts have directly affected our homeland and national security and on the other hand, they have had a negative impact on freedom of expression and the social stability of many countries that have Muslim majorities or significant Muslim minorities.
An analysis of current responses to radical Islam reveals at least five different approaches or schools of thought.
The Denialists. The first approach, which is used by many Muslims as a defence mechanism for their faith, is to simply deny the existence of any ideological or religious role in the problem. This group typically promotes the view that Islam is a peaceful religion.
This approach cannot work in solving the problem, as it always clashes with the reality that almost all approved interpretations of Islamic core text and Islamic jurisprudence books that exist today promote values such as declaring wars to spread religion, justifying killing Muslim apostates, and allowing the beating of women, polygamy, and stoning for adultery.
In fact, such an approach makes things worse, as many Westerners become angry when they learn more about the Islamic teachings and recognize the reality: not only do these violent teachings exist, but also they go unchallenged by mainstream teachers.
The Bashers. The Bashers are the second group. They can only see the violent texts in Islam, its violent practices, and its traditional interpretations. They conclude that it is impossible to change or reform it. This group promotes the view that peaceful Muslims are the ones that do not apply Islam. In other words, they are peaceful despite Islam not because of it.
For example, a Muslim who does not beat his wife will start beating her if he started to become more religious implementing the mainstream interpretation of the (Qu’ran 4:3) that allows men to beat their women to discipline them. It is hard to explain the motives of the bashers solely on the basis of bigotry, as many of them did not have the same stand against Buddhism or Hedonism. This illustrates that the views of this group are not just an issue of hatred against the “others” but, rather, a specific fear of certain violent teachings in Islam.
Furthermore, it is fair to say that it is virtually impossible to stop criticism of Islam until the mainstream Islamic jurisprudence and interpretation books clearly stop the discriminatory and inhumane edicts in Islamic (or Sharia) Law.
In other words, Islamic teaching needs to change first, before asking this group to stop their criticism of Islam. This group has a problem in that by denying any possibility for reformation within Islam they end any hope in having a realistic solution for the problem. The Bashers simply expose the problem without offering pragmatic solutions for it, which makes many unwilling to accept their views.
The Apologists. The Apologists are the third group, who play a different role by blaming external factors such as socioeconomic and political circumstances (eg, US foreign policy) for being the cause of the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism.
This group completely ignores the role of ideology in causing the problem.
Critics of this group raise the point that if this view were correct, why do non-Muslims who live under the same circumstances not become suicide bombers? In other words, why do these external factors selectively choose and affect young Muslims? In addition, the external factors theory failed as it is hard to convince any sane human being that Islamists kill, behead, and explode their fellow Muslims in a barbaric manner because of elements in US foreign policy.
The Idealists. The Idealists are the fourth group. They assume that we must show tolerance towards any religion just for being a religion. This group fails as well, as tolerance for Islamic Law simply means intolerance for its victims. In other words, tolerance of Sharia Laws means extreme and sometimes fatal intolerance for apostates, adulterous women, and gays who will be killed with such a law.
Idealists have to clarify their position if they are willing to show tolerance to the religious rights of Muslims who practice this barbaric Sharia Law, or respect the religious rights and the lives of the latter groups by showing “intolerance” to these Islamic laws. It is insane to show tolerance to cancer cells and normal cells at the same time as the former will kill the latter. The Idealists need to distinguish between tolerating belly-dancing under the banner of cultural relativism, and tolerating stoning of women under the same banner.
Tolerating the part of Islam that teaches fasting in Ramadan is completely different from the teachings that promote suppression of women and justify killing homosexuals.
The dishonest approach. The fifth group uses an un-objective dishonest approach by selectively choosing information to demonstrate that there is no ideological basis for the problem.
For example, this group uses a peaceful, but atypical, definition of jihad to prove that it is a peaceful concept and ignores the more widely used violent definition and usage of the word. Every sane person who will do honest research in Islamic theology and history will recognize that this approach is unscientific and misleading.
Towards a solution
Each of these groups can contribute to solving the problem of radical Islam. Those who deny the existence of any violent teachings in mainstream Islam must face the unavoidable reality that violent teachings do exist, and are still unchallenged in the mainstream Islamic books. This group needs to provide at least one single mainstream-approved Islam book that negates and theologically refutes the violent Sharia concepts.
As long as this approved book does not exist, the problem will remain. Claiming that "Islam is peaceful" without changing the violent teachings is merely unrealistic lip service that aims at deceiving others.
The Bashers need to continue exposing the violent teachings and practices in Islam because exposing such texts and practices is vital to initiate a true reformation within the religion. However, the bashers can also play a role by declaring that they have no problem of peaceful coexistence with a new Islamic teaching which would refute the violent edicts of Sharia and emphasize the peaceful aspects of the religion. This will put more responsibility on the shoulders of the Islamic scholars to change the interpretations of the violent texts if they are truly willing to stop Islamophobia.
The Apologists need to stop the self-flagellation that ignores the ideological component of the problem, as ignoring the role of the ideology impedes efforts for reforming Islam. Muslims will not feel the need to reform if others are telling them that the problem is all about US foreign policy and that it has nothing to do with religious ideology.
Those who use the Idealistic approach can also contribute to solving the problem by stating that tolerance must only be given to peaceful teachings that do not harm other human beings and cannot be applied to the religious teachings that discriminate against or threaten the lives of other human beings. Failure to make this distinction can be fatal.
Followers of the un-objective dishonest approach must adopt an honest and scientific approach that addresses the facts without trying to distort or hide them to serve certain agendas. This group can convey a better message by acknowledging the existence of the violent interpretations and stating that that we need to foster the peaceful interpretations so that they dominate the Islamic jargon and teachings.
Solving the problem of radical Islam will require us to cooperate with one another rather than fight against each other. The responsibility for solving this problem is a joint responsibility that needs the cooperation of different groups not just the actions of a single group.
This article is a chapter from an ebook by Tawfik Hamid, Understanding Radical Islam (2011). Dr Tawfik Hamid is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. He is the author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam.