I admit that I have crazy people in my religion. I'm disgusted every time I see a headline like the one I saw on Sep. 5: "Muslim cleric calls for beheading of Dutch politician." How could I not be revolted at such an irreligious, un-Islamic, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting statement like that? How could any thinking individual not wholeheartedly condemn such a vile statement? The vast majority of us Muslims around the world see news headings like this one and groan.
The Dutch politician to which this horrible Muslim "cleric" refers is, of course, Geert Wilders, who is currently being prosecuted by the Dutch authorities for hate speech. He compares the Quran to Mein Kampf, and he has wanted to impose fines on Muslim women wearing headscarves (but not on women of other religions who wear headscarves). He sees no irony in both insisting on banning the Quran and yet insisting on his own freedom of speech. He fabricates statistics, asserting that most terrorists are Muslim (while FBI data indicates that only 6 percent of terrorist acts on U.S. soil have been committed by Muslim extremists). He's made a lucrative career from painting Islam and all Muslims as extremists.
Yet that's no reason to call for his beheading.
Unfortunately, this Muslim cleric is not alone in the panoply of clerics of many religions who preach hatred or death.
For example, last week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual head of the Shas Party, a member of the governing coalition, repeated his 2001 call for the annihilation of Arabs, saying, "It is forbidden to be merciful to them." Pastor Steve Anderson of a church in Arizona says he prays for the death of Obama and calls for death to homosexuals.
The problem with the Muslim clerics is that they get so much press. How can non-Muslims be faulted for thinking that Islam is a violent religion when vicious and un-Islamic statements like this cleric's are the ones that make the news?
In Islam, it is forbidden to take a life. You cannot murder people. You cannot call for their beheading. This violates shariah, which I defined in a previous blog post. This cleric is arrogantly assuming that he can say whatever he wants by dint of being a cleric. (And what are his qualifications, anyway? I'm afraid many of our Muslim clerics are under-educated in their own traditions.)
Ayatollah Khomeini started this idea that you can put a death sentence on someone you don't like. But this is not Islamic! Khomeini violated specific rules of Islamic law when he issued that fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Numerous Muslim scholars around the world condemned it.
Even in medieval Islamic law, you may only take the life of a person who has been convicted of a crime, or in warfare under very stringent rules. In the first case, as punishment for a crime, very often, the burden of proof for proving such crimes is so phenomenally steep that the death penalty need never be applied.
In the second case, lives may be taken in warfare, but there are stringent rules about this: only in legitimate warfare (not terrorism or guerrilla warfare) may lives be taken. Moreover, Muslims may not take the lives of women, children, noncombatants, people taking sanctuary in religious buildings, and men of the cloth. Muslims may not poison the water supply, uproot trees, or destroy property. The clandestine use of force is absolutely prohibited. Suicide is prohibited.
So how possibly can a call for a beheading of someone without a criminal trial ever be legitimate? It cannot. When Muslim clerics who make the press urge death and destruction, I sit around with my Muslim friends and grieve.
The first thing to do to marginalize Muslim clerics like this one is to stop publicizing their views. It gives them power. The rabbi who called for elimination of all Arabs and the preacher who calls for death to homosexuals did not make the front pages because we marginalize them. In so doing, we reduce their power.
And second, we must start solving the problems in the Muslim world, real problems that are the cause of the unrest and discontent: hunger, poverty, low literacy levels, oppressive and authoritarian governments, and socioeconomics. The Muslim world has all the problems of the developing world -- in fact, many of the same problems as Latin America. They're not Islamic problems any more than Latin America's problems are Christian problems.
Third, in a developing Muslim world where education is not accessible for many and Muslim seminaries were dismantled by Western colonial powers, many clerics lack sufficient education. We need to find a way to provide it.
And finally, Muslims must continue to push back against these clerics who are less interested in religion than they are in self-aggrandizement. We're doing it in different ways: Hissa Hilal writes poetry to denounce extremist clerics; high-level imams like Mustafa Ceric of Bosnia advocate democracy and religious pluralism; and Muslim women's movements worldwide are continually challenging any fatwas that deprive women of their place in society.
It's these voices, the many modern and moderate voices, that need to be publicized and given power. It's the clerics calling for beheading, as well as those calling for Obama's death or the annihilation of Arabs, who should be marginalized.