‘Own it!’ Terrorism is an Islamic issue, say some Muslims

RNS photo courtesy American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Photo courtesy of The Heritage Foundation

A panel of Muslim leaders, speaking at The Heritage Foundation on Dec. 3, 2015, said it’s critical to recognize the religious roots of terror to defeat it. From left to right: Zudhi Jasser; Naser Khader; Farahnez Ispahani, and Asra Nomani. Photo courtesy of The Heritage Foundation

WASHINGTON (RNS) While details are still unfolding as to why a California Muslim couple turned to murder, Muslims in the West must step up and admit terrorism is rooted in extremist Islam, said four Muslim panelists speaking at a conservative think tank on Thursday (Dec. 3).

They criticized major U.S. Muslim groups that lament such tragedies but say their religion is not responsible. They insisted the violence has roots in Islam, and that Islamist political terror is nurtured in Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi branch of the faith.

And they blasted the Obama administration for steadfastly refusing to brand terror as Islamic extremism. President Obama decried the deaths and pledged a thorough investigation of the attack but cautioned against setting blame based on the killers’ Muslim names.

READ: Farook’s coworker: ‘I think he married a terrorist’

“President Obama simply does not embrace reality,” said Farahnez Ispahani, a former member of the Pakistani Parliament and author of an upcoming book on that Pakistan’s religious minorities.

She mocked the way that the administration responds to attacks. Rather than calling in progressive Muslim leaders in U.S civil society, she said: “They call in imams and they hold an interfaith event and they are all happy.

“But there is no clear ideological campaign to fight ISIS or Islamists,” she said, to a smattering of applause in the audience of about 50 people. Islam has been “hijacked” and people are afraid if they admit it, it will spark Islamophobia, Ispahani said.

“Terror is a Muslim issue, an Islamic issue within the house of Islam,” said M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, “and we must own it” to fight it. He moderated the event held at the Heritage Foundation, which had been planned after the Paris attacks.

READ: Muslim Americans fear demonization of Islam after mass shooting

“ISIS calls its magazine ‘Inspire.’ How do we inspire a counter movement of ideas so Muslims are inspired by something else, not radicalism? We have to get past the denial that ‘This is not about us’ and ‘We aren’t Muslims like that,” said Jasser, disparaging the majority of U.S. Muslim groups that step out with this approach every time there is a terror attack.

(Within hours of the shootings, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a press conference, “The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence.”  CAIR announced a candlelight vigil with religious groups in Silver Spring, Md., to be held Friday evening.) 

Naser Khader, a member of the Parliament of Denmark for the Conservative People’s Party, said Muslims themselves must lead the fight rather than hide behind excuses that killers are not truly Muslim. Instead, they should condemn Islamist jihadists ”without any excuses.”

“If we the Muslims do not face the problem of violence, how will we ever succeed in lifting this from those powers and bring it into the 21st century?” Khader asked. He called for rereading the Quran in the light of modern times and presenting strong religious arguments for change.

Khader and Ispahani were part of a weeklong “Summit of Western Muslim Voices of Reform against the Islamic State and Islamism.” Under the umbrella of Jasser’s forum, 20 people from the U.S., Europe and the Middle East identified as “Muslim reformers” met to propose ways to counter “the ideologies which fuel global Muslim radicalization.”

Thursday, the finger of blame was pointed directly at Saudi Arabia, which the panelists said stands on strict Quranic literalism. This takes a seventh-century view of unbelievers, women and minorities that allows for terror, murder and deprivation of human rights, they agreed.

READ: Who are the Wahhabi Muslims? Muslim puritans, United States allies

Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and co-director of a project named for Danny Pearl, her colleague who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002, calls their fight “a struggle for the future of our world.” She lauded a “courageous band of reformers” who will stand up for women’s rights, minority rights, secular governance and free speech.

Ispahani called for pluralism within Muslim-majority countries and protection for Muslim minorities worldwide. “We have all heard ‘Where are the Muslim voices who will stand up to extremism?’ We’re here, standing before you,” Ispahani said.

Their stance against literalist interpretation of scripture, their insistence that Muslims take their religion in a progressive direction, and their support for nonpolitical religion, are themes that are also debated among U.S. Christians.

U.S. Muslims’ responses to the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., have been compared to conservative Christian condemnations of last week’s shooting at a Colorado abortion clinic. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, acknowledged the parallel and urged tolerance for Muslims.

ERLC President Russell Moore. Photo courtesy of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

ERLC President Russell Moore. Photo courtesy of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

“As an evangelical Christian obviously I disagree with Islam fundamentally,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Friday.

“At the same time, I’m very disturbed when I hear the sorts of talk that we’ve been hearing over the last several months about shutting down mosques, about identifying Muslims in this country.

“That is a very dangerous place to be, both at a human rights level but also in terms of religious liberty,” said Moore.

(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national correspondent for RNS. On Twitter: @clgrossman)

About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • RNS welcomes thoughtful comments from all viewpoints.
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  • “He moderated the event held at the Heritage Foundation, which had been planned after the Paris attacks.”

    The Heritage Foundation is noted for its frequent attacks on Muslims as an entire faith and calls for limiting their civil liberties

    American Islamic Forum for Democracy is largely a front for the usual talking points attacking Muslims.

  • Yes, Muslims need to recognize that terrorism is an Islamic issue and work to prevent it. But Christians also need to recognize that extremism, especially among Evangelicals, is a Christian issue and work to prevent it. The Heritage Foundation has often contributed to the extremist Christians who call, for example, for the execution of homosexuals and advocate the murder of doctors who perform abortions. It is somewhat ironic that the Heritage Foundation seems intent on “exposing” Islamic terrorism while ignoring, and even fomenting, Christian extremism. Hypocrisy as usual.

  • As a family physician, I have met many Muslims as colleagues and as patients. I have found them to be wonderful people, with values similar to my own. I am a Catholic and I am grateful that the pope we have now, Pope Francis, sees us all as God’s children, no matter what faith we profess. It does seem as if the extreme form of Islam wants to gain control of all Muslims and everyone else. Do Muslims want to be controlled by the most extreme branch of their faith? Is there a way that Muslims can help the terrorists to have a more balanced view of life so that we can all live in peace? Life is a gift from God to everyone, no matter what faith we believe in. God loves us all and wants us to love one another, which gives God praise, honor, and glory.

  • “I’m very disturbed when I hear the sorts of talk..about shutting down mosques, about identifying Muslims in this country.”

    I absolutely agree.
    Religious freedom must be respected for every person. Shame on anyone who would argue against it. Shutting down mosques would be fascist, totalitarian nonsense.

    It is bigoted to argue against “All Muslims.”
    But it is NOT bigoted to argue against Islam as religions are only ideas – not people.

    Less religious populations are historically more peaceful, so reducing the power of religion should be a matter of urgency.

    People should be encouraged to abandon religion ON THEIR OWN through debate – using words and arguments – never violence.
    Freedom of Speech including freedom to commit blasphemy are the crucial tools to help humanity climb down from religious extremism.

  • like most so-called “Christians”, you assume that the crimes done in the name of Islam are actually inspired by that religion, and that its the responsibility of real Muslims to “fix” things. Here’s a clue — its the United States, and the Soviet Union, who pretty much created these religious extremists. During the cold war, both sides encouraged this kind of religious radicalism in Muslim nations that were affiliated with the other side (for instance, the US supported religious extremists in Eqypt in order to get rid of Nasser, while the Soviets supported the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers in Iran in order to get rid of the Shah).

    Its nothing but religious bigotry to not recognize that its people like you who are ultimately responsible for this terrorism, and its unconscionable to suggest that Muslims need to take responsibility for it.

  • At long last! Unexpected and refreshing honesty on the issue of terrorism, point by point.

    Ispahani, Jasser, and the other Muslim panelists are to be commended for their courage.

  • But the substantive issue here is that the Christian text does not permit the execution of homosexuals, doctors who perform abortions or any violence against anyone, believer nonbeliever etc.; any such act is strictly forbidden. You cannot point to any such act and relate it back to text. The Koran on the other hand contains over 100 threats to me and my family for being a none believer of Islamic ideology – several of these threats involve murder. You can take violent actions that you taking place around the world and relate it back to text. This is the substantive issue.

  • “But the substantive issue here is that the Christian text does not permit the execution of homosexuals…”

    But it used to.

    And now, the violence is still advocated– Steven Anderson, for example. Scalia’s dissent in the sodomy law cases.

    And tohugh violence itself is not advocated so very often anymore, the pretext for violence still is advocated– gays want to destroy marriage, gays are gonna get your children, gays are oppressing our freedom to oppress them, gays will bring down god’s wrath if they are not stopped, gays caused 9/11, hurricanes, earthquakes, riots, massacres.

    The perpetrators of these lies would never ever dirty their own hands. But if someone else does– well, hey, it ain’t OUR fault. We loves us our homosexuals.

  • Hi folks, Just a reminder of the RNS comment rules posted as the very first comment. We are removing the posts of people who disregard this.
    Let’s review the simple RNS rules:
    — RNS welcomes thoughtful comments from all viewpoints.
    — One comment per person.
    — Direct comments to the article, not other commenters.
    — Be civil. Do not denigrate individuals or groups for their ideas or opinions. 
    Posts that violate these rules will be removed.

  • I respect those Muslims who have the courage to move in the correct direction, but there needs to be many more of them if there is to be any real impact. And, although they would risk death at the hands of other Muslims, I would respect them much more if they renounced Islam, or better yet, denounced all organized religion.

  • That’s hogwash. Those murders you list weren’t done because of guidelines of atheism, but the Quran and bible have detailed specs and commands to kill, the Quran especially about “infidels”.

    Again and again, religion causes people to kill, and gives explicit instructions.

  • Well said Glenn. Those who defend Islam and say it’s a religion of peace need to read the Quran and stop comparing to other individuals of other faith and faults of extreme individua’s bad behavior.

  • Given the long reign of unfettered commentary on this site I applaud these sensible rules now in place. Once again this very thread illustrates why such rules are necessary. If nothing else they will end tiresome arguments, though they will undoubtedly keep the moderators quite busy. Succinct, diplomatic, and to the point is the answer.

  • These 4 and others in this group are owed a debt of gratitude, The very fact that in speaking out they risk their lives bespeaks Islam’s misguided loyalty. It is this movement which is honest and faces that interpreting the Qur’an, sharia and jihad as part of Islam as it exists today is wrong that give Islam hope. This group truthfully faces the truth about what Mosques and jihadist fronts like CAIR are fomenting is putting Islam in a war of worldwide proportions which it will lose in the end . These deserve our support and encouragement.

  • It is becoming more and more evident nowadays that ‘liberal minded folk’ are the real peacemakers in our midst.

    I’m familiar with such families, friends, schooling and culture. When religious fervor enters the picture, peace and joy fade away.

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