Supporting Nonviolence In Islam

In the past decade, we have seen too many instances of violent extremism in the name of Islam. Always, there is a response from Muslims condemning it. However, the condemnation has rarely been heard.

Endorsing their support for an anti-war rally on April 9, 100 imams and Muslim leaders in the United States recently issued a statement "calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, condemning terrorism and thanking American individuals and groups who are standing with the Muslim community against Islamophobia." A statement that walks the fine line, it may be tough to hear when our discourse about Islam and Muslims is growing shrill and polarized. Yet, for the very reasons that it is hard to hear, the imams' message merits our attention.

Some politicians and pundits promulgate "the Muslim Problem," a theory that lays the blame for 9/11 and all terrorism on Islam and its adherents. Proponents believe that the vast majority of terrorists and violent extremists are Muslim, and there is something flawed in the religion of Islam. They don't mean to say that all Muslims are terrorists, but they insist that Muslims simply are not vocal enough when it comes to condemning terrorism at home or abroad. Ultimately, all Muslims are cast as complicit in violence.

The 100 imams' statement directly responds to this "Muslim Problem" mindset, condemning violent extremism. Terrorism does not discriminate by religion, and on a global scale many Muslims are themselves victims. The imams' premise is that such actions deserve the strongest rejection first and foremost by Muslim leaders.

The statement received signatures from a broad range of imams at the grassroots level -- new voices beyond those who have already appeared in the media. Each of these leaders has a constituency of several hundred, if not more, ensuring that their message will percolate and act as a bulwark to negative influences that may seek to infiltrate communities. Of course, it is not the first time that Muslim leaders have issued such a statement, but adds to the growing list of Muslim denunciations of terrorism.

The imams have simultaneously taken a bold anti-war position. When combined with an anti-terrorism statement, it is stance that proclaims nonviolence as the best option. American foreign policy has touched a raw nerve for American Muslims. Experts who theorize about radicalization have little to offer by way of concrete solutions. It is easier to blame Islam for extremist violence and harder to weigh the impact of the United States' international actions and, increasingly, its national approach to Muslims' civil rights. Policy choices that are anti-Muslim (even while claiming not to be) only serve to deepen anti-American sentiments; ultimately, they endanger the lives of American women and men serving on the front lines abroad.

Our nation has incurred more than7,000 U.S. military deaths and nearly 43,000 military injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sadly, there is no careful monitoring of Iraqi and Afghani lives lost. Some estimates suggest nearly 1 million dead over the course of operations. Given these disturbing facts, the 100 imams' statement summons Muslims to constructive civic engagement: to stand in solidarity with those who ask for "justice at home and abroad; for peace and jobs; against wars and terrorism, and to bring our troops home."

Conflicts cannot be solved when either side justifies its own violence but expects the other to stop. If we truly care about the loss of human lives, we must reject terrorism as well as our country's wars -- both have killed too many innocent people.

American Muslim leaders bear the heavy responsibility of shepherding a community that is seeking its rights in a climate of fear and blame. They must condemn extremism, encourage community members to channel their legitimate opposition to international wars and build alliances with movements that share similar goals. The 100 Imams Statement takes a courageous step, asking our nation, and American Muslims, to step away from violent retribution. Its message deserves to be amplified.