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Will the Real Moderate Muslims Please Stand Up?

The crisis in Egypt has re-ignited the debate of whether moderate Islam is a reality or just a show. In the absence of a unified voice from the Muslim world and with time running out, it seems few have a clear idea.
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The crisis in Egypt has re-ignited the debate of whether moderate Islam is a reality or just a show. Political and religious dissatisfaction, especially in the Third World, demonstrate the need for a new leadership philosophy. In an NBC interview shortly after Faisal Shahzad's 2010 arrest, I was asked, "Do you think more moderate Muslims need to stand up against radical Islam?" "Absolutely!" I replied. In response, I was asked: Well, what exactly is a moderate Muslim? In the absence of a unified voice from the Muslim world and with time running out, it seems few have a clear idea. However, for well over a century the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has practically defined, through the Quran and Prophet Muhammad's life, what it means to be a moderate Muslim.

First, a moderate Muslim recognizes that Islam requires complete separation of mosque and state. The Quran does not endorse any particular government philosophy, but instead requires that justice, not religion, be the determinative factor when governing (4:59). Extremists, like the Wahabbis, ignorantly preach that Islam requires the imposition of sharia on non-Muslims. But since the Quran categorically forbids all religious compulsion (2:257), such an imposition find no Islamic justification.

Contrary to Faisal Shahzad's ambitions, the Quran requires a Muslim to obey and be loyal to those in his charge. Prophet Muhammad added, "You should listen to and obey your ruler, even if you [despise him]." While national loyalty does not forbid dissent, that dissent must be expressed legally and peacefully -- never violently. Critics like Robert Spencer claim Islam allows Muslims to engage in taqiyya, treachery against non-Muslims. However, the Quran unequivocally forbids lying or hiding the truth and Prophet Muhammad instructed, "It is obligatory for you to tell the truth."

Moderate Muslims reject violent jihad, recognizing that true Jihad is the struggle to attain nearness to God through good works. Would-be Portland bomber Mohamad Mohamed apparently never read the Quranic verse, "... whosoever killed a person... it shall be as if he had killed all mankind" (5:33). If Mohamad Mohamed felt persecuted, the Quran requires that a Muslim facing persecution must sooner emigrate than retaliate (4:98). Even after facing 12 years of actual persecution in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad rejected all forms of terrorism, instead ordering his followers to migrate to preserve the peace.

In response, critics cite the abrogation argument, asserting that later "violent" verses of the Quran abrogate earlier "peaceful" verses. Far from abrogating any verse of the Quran, these so-called violent verses permit self-defense and mandate the protection of universal religious freedom. For example, the Quran states, "Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made..." (22:40). A moderate Muslim recognizes that the Quran permits (not commands) self-defense if attacked after emigration. The next verse commands Muslims to indiscriminately protect all places of worship. This teaching is neither unjust, nor does it nullify any prior verses.

Therefore, a moderate Muslim recognizes that Prophet Muhammad promoted freedom of religion and speech for all mankind, without threat of punishment for blasphemy or apostasy. This is one reason why Ahmadi Muslims vehemently reject anti-blasphemy legislation and instead support both the First Amendment and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Moderate Muslims also recognize the equality and empowerment of women. Prophet Muhammad clearly stated that education is a fundamental right for Muslim women. His first wife Khadija was an accomplished entrepreneur and his wife Ayesha was a prolific jurist. While Islam urges both sexes to dress modestly and guard their eyes, women are enjoined to cover their heads and wear an outer garment to conceal their beauty from strangers. Her dress encourages society to focus on her intellectual merit rather than her physical characteristics. Indeed, a December 2010 New York Times article reported that American Muslim women have "achieved a level of success and visibility unmatched elsewhere." Modestly dressed Muslim women are active in every sphere of life as doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers, politicians, as well as mothers and wives. Furthermore, the Quran is clear that both sexes are equal in matters of spiritual salvation (4:125).

Additionally, a moderate Muslim recognizes that Islam does not monopolize salvation. Rather than condemn non-Muslims to eternal hell, the Quran declares that God's prevailing mercy offers salvation to all Jews, Christians and people of other paths who believe in God and do good works (2:63). Extremists await a bloody Messiah who will kill all non-Muslims to attain worldly Islamic domination. However, moderate Muslims recognize that a prophet's only responsibility was the delivery of the message. Compulsion was categorically forbidden. Consequently, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. Ahmad, like Jesus, came to end religious wars, and unify mankind under one flag of peace and tolerance.

This definition of moderate Islam has fared extremely well for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In just a century, Ahmadi Muslims have established themselves in nearly 200 countries with millions of adherents, hundreds of schools and dozens of hospitals. Their membership includes the Muslim world's first Nobel Prize winner in Dr. Abdus Salam and the only Muslim President of the UN and World Supreme Court in Sir Zafrullah Khan. Perhaps most importantly, they live as loyal and productive citizens to each of their respective countries, demonstrating that moderate Islam practically thrives in this world -- not just in theory. As organizations the world over scramble to define moderate Islam, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community extends an invitation to adopt a century old tried and true method -- and you don't even need to be Muslim to endorse it.

This Op Ed originally appeared in the Washington Post "On Faith" Section on Feb. 2.

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